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“Hurry!” I shout again. “We don’t have much time!”
Raindrops go pitpat on my head, and if I didn’t come back soon with a catch, Mr. V is going to pluck the feathers right off me. Oh, I remember the last time he trusted me enough to let me leave my nest and go searching in the forest for one of our visitors. I'll never forget that night so long as my heart beats and my head turns and my eyes go blink in the morning.
Thruuuuuush! The wind nearly knocks me over. It would be such a good night for flying games. But no! No, focus! This isn’t time for flying games. This is my chance to help Mr. V bring the final catch to his island. If I get this girl on the boat and to the island in one piece I will get my golden block! When I bring it back to my nest, all the other omens will say, "How did you get such a shiny golden block?" and I’ll say, "Mr. V asked me to catch the visitor," and they’ll say, "I don’t believe you!" But they’ll have to believe me. The golden block will be my proof.
Focus, focus! Is that her? Is it? There’s something coming through the trees.
It is! I almost flap my wings together, but I remember to stand tall (as tall as a little omen like me can!) and greet her with authority and poise.
“Ahem,” I say. “I see you have found the passage.”
I can’t help it! Flipflapflip! My wings sputter together and she jumps back in surprise.
“The passage?” she mutters.
“Why yes. The passage is right this way.”
I know if I stand there any longer she will ask more questions. That was my problem the last time, with the boy. I almost had him with me and he said, “Where does the passage lead?” Instead of saying, “It will take you right home,” I said, “The island of Mr. V, where all the children go.” He dashed into the forest and we never saw him again. Oh, how stupid of me! An amateur move. A thoughtless amateur move.
I hobble down the path as quickly as I can, but not so quickly that I get too far ahead of her. Her footsteps still make noise, crackling over the forest's debris behind me.
“Right this way!” I say. “Just a little further!”
At the bottom of the slope, the branches and the bushes clear and we are standing before the lake, the boat bobbing at the end of the dock. And there he is! Oh, what a sight he is, there in the flesh, waiting for me —for me! His horse mask catches the light from the moon and for a second it looks like those false eyes are generating the light themselves, that Mr. V’s eyes are made of fireflies. Just to be in his presence, to feel his power—that’s worth all the golden blocks in this forest.
“Good evening, Mr. V!” I shout. “Our guest has arrived!”
She emerges from the trees and her mouth opens at the sight of the water, but she does not speak.
“What’s your name?” I whisper. “I forget to ask you your name!”
“R—Ruth,” she stammers.
The rain starts to pour down all over us, cleansing the mud off both our bodies.
“Don’t worry, Ruth. Mr. V is strong, and when he starts rowing, the wind will dry you good as new. Now let’s go! We don’t have much time!”
I run to the edge of the dock and puff out my chest as she picks up her pace behind me.
“Ahem,” I say, bowing before Mr. V. “Ruth is here!”
“Hurry!” says the voice. “Walk this way. No, not that way, this way! Let’s go!”
I am lost, and the world is dark, and the forest’s mossy floor is cool on my bare feet. I was maneuvering blindly for—for how long? How long could it have been? I had opened my eyes in the depths of the silence, my head on a pillow of wet leaves. Heavy, swollen raindrops lost their grip on either the clouds or the trees and came down in soothing thuds on my face, drawing me awake and into this world.
I stood up and walked for what felt like hours, trying to avoid tree trunks and rogue branches, praying for the sun to rise. The wind kicked up every so often nearly tossing me aside, or perhaps I just let it toss me aside. I was tired and wanted sleep. Under the covers in my own bed would have been ideal, but I would have fallen asleep anywhere, just so I could close my eyes, because if I closed my eyes I would not be here, lost in these unknown woods.
“Hurry!” A voice. It doesn’t sound human, but I follow it anyway, tumbling over fallen trunks and roots. Mud gets lodged under my fingernails and I can’t get this grime off my skin.
“I’m coming!” I say, though I can’t be sure of which way I walk. This darkness is so thick I can’t even tell if my eyes are open or closed, if I am awake or lost in the labyrinth of my own dream.
It was almost impossible to even get her to come on board. That stupid, little creature could barely look her in the eye and lie. Eventually she came on after that little omen made up a pathetic story about a waterfall at the end of the lake, a waterfall that would take her home.
This will be the last time I ask this one to do anything. He’s more of a fool than I thought if he actually believes he will be flying back to his nest with one of my golden cubes. With him keeping watch I wouldn’t be surprised if we sailed into a rock. But he did get the catch. He got the girl. She’s the last one I need. The last one I need for the island.
Just then she talks. Her voice is feeble and meek.
“You aren’t taking me home, are you?” she whispers.
For the first time since she has been here, I speak.
“Nowhere near home," I whisper, letting go of a deep slow laughter that reverberates off the lake and echoes softly, deep into the darkness of her dream.
The Passage – Ignited Monochrome