Sensing she would get no further information from her mother, The Bird turned with a curt “bye,” and ran. Despite not knowing where exactly where she was going — which turn she would make in a hallway, which doors she would open — she somehow knew her legs were always making the right choice, as if she were being pulled by a magnetic or gravitational force.
She found herself leaving the castle, running out into the moist fog of a reluctant dawn. She ran across a verdant field; short green grass gave way to taller yellow weeds, and she felt her sneakers squishing into a soft, boggy mud. There were trees ahead, a dense wood similar to the wild forest that lay well beyond the back of the home she shared with her mother in Bark Bay. Years of playing in that arbor playground helped her move nimbly through the trunks and underbrush, fallen branches snapping under her feet.
She heard the sound of rushing water; the darkness of the wood gave way to a clearing. The Bird stepped forward, her right foot splashing into a rocky puddle. She was at the bank of a gently flowing river, water rippling over black stones several yards in front of her. Voices to her right — the river was wider in that location, cutting an oblong area into the bank and forming a large, eddying pool. At the end furthest from her, The Bird saw a large willow, its white bark peeling in long yellowing stripes all across its massive trunk, the long fingers of its branches reaching up, across the river, then down, many of its leaves dipping into the black watery surface.
Standing in the pool, near the trunk of the willow, was Ophelia, looking with worried eyes off to her right. The Bird looked in that direction, saw nothing — until she heard a splash of water, and saw the pony-tailed figure of Annie.
“It’s OK to be scared.” Annie extended her arms, the momentum carrying her body forward in the damp gray fog. Ophelia stepped back, her feet kicking up mud. Annie stopped — “I’m scared too. I’m a stranger here, like my friends. You probably figured that out by the way we talk, the clothes we wear.” The Bird hoped Annie would leave out the part about being from the future, or that she and her friends were members of an audience.
“When we first got here I thought like Coach Dan, I just wanted us to get back home. But then — remembered your face.” Annie’s smile was as sad as a wilted leaf. “It’s the same face I’ve seen from — a lot of my friends. Girl friends. Your age, our age. Back home.”
Annie stepped forward. Ophelia remained frozen.
“When I was young, I didn’t understand what that look was about — I saw it all the time, but I didn’t know. I was sheltered. Still am. But I was curious, I had to know. So I asked, and when I started asking most girls were like you, just now. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t just another person who wanted to talk down to them, tell them how terrible they were. It took a while, but when they saw that all I wanted to do was listen to them, they learned they could trust me.”
Annie had taken several steps forward, the mud now sopping above her ankles. She was almost within arms reach of Ophelia. “All through this play, you’ve had a lot to say, but nobody’s listened to you, have they? No — all everyone’s done is pass judgment on you.”
Ophelia smiled, took one of the wild flowers she’d been holding, offered it to the athletic teen.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance –
And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.
The Bird sensed Annie’s impatience, as she accepted the flowers with growing reluctance.
There’s fennel for you, and columbines.
“Come with me. I can help you. I don’t care what’s happened, don’t care what he’s — done to you.”
There’s a daisy. After handing the flower to Annie, Ophelia began walking backwards, along the edge of the pool.
“We’ll get you out of here. I don’t know how, but we’ll find a way.”
Ophelia looked down, walked onto the end of a log lying on the gravelly bank, its other end submerged in the black water. Ophelia took a step down the log’s length.
“You can’t — ”
Ophelia’s head shot around suddenly, her face bright with delight. Sweet ladies, good night.
KRACK, the log under Ophelia’s feet disintegrated, and she fell then slid into the pool with an almost supernatural alacrity, as if she were being pulled into the black water by a hidden vortex. Annie ran forward, screaming, but Ophelia had already disappeared under the surface.
The Bird called to Annie, but with wild determination in her eyes and pony-tail flying behind her, the athletic teen stepped briskly into the pool, dark water splashing noisily in front of her once, twice, then she dove, her hands in front of her knifing into the water.
The dark surface of the water swirled, dense fog hovering above. A moment later Annie emerged, gasping, her face contorting in agony, her right arm emerging from beneath the surface and exposing the face of Ophelia, her skin already a deep shade of sickly blue.
Transfixed, The Bird watched as Annie swam with one hand toward the shore. Her feet finally touching ground, Annie lifted the limp body of Ophelia completely out of the water, then carried her out from the pool, past the gravelly shore, and finally dropped her down into a small field of tall grass.
Annie threw herself on top of the body, began pumping the sternum vigorously with both palms. Annie then moved to the head, began blowing air forcefully into dead lungs.
“ANNIE!” The Bird turned to her right, in the direction of the cry, saw Rune running towards them. She looked past him, expecting to see Rex, but no, he was alone.