This was supposed to be the last episode, however, the story took a bit of a left turn. I am sure I have at least one reader (M) who would be most unhappy with me if I left it as is. So the story will continue–I just don’t think it will be tomorrow!
The lavender door opened to reveal an expanse of flat plain, grass floating tall. In the distance a white tree glowed, even with storm clouds gathered above it. The clouds tapered out to an oddly pewter sky.
Haily glanced at Irene, expecting disappointment. Irene was staring at the storm clouds, an odd look on her face.
“We need to get to that tree, “she said.
The tree stood, tall and bright. Must be a birch, Haily thought. She sighed, then gathered her bag. Billy grabbed one of Irene’s and they started walking.
Irene seemed driven, leading the way. As they finally reached the tree, Haily heard a rumble.
A single horseman galloped over the rise behind the tree, but he was swiftly followed by more that fanned out around Frankie, Haily and Irene. The riders blocked them from the tree. Irene made a sound of frustration.
The lead horseman sat, relaxed, watching them. His lean face made Haily think of Native Americans-tanned, with deep eyes and spiky dark hair. He reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
Irene shook off Frankie’s restraining hand. She stared at the horse in front of her, looking from it to the one next to it. She put her hand up, tentatively, almost as if she thought it might go through the horse’s face, instead of resting on soft hair. She looked wonderingly at the lead horseman, ignoring the other riders.
“How do you do it?” she asked.
The horseman looked surprised. Haily looked at intently at all the horses surrounding them, wondering what Irene saw. That horse was brown, the other looked tan, and the last, well, Haily didn’t know anything about horses, but it was a darker brown. The riders looked similar, lean men sitting comfortably looking at them solemnly. Warriors, Haily thought, unsure why that word came to mind. But it fit.
Another man, on foot, came to stand beside the first rider; placing his hand on the rider’s knee.
“What do you see?” he asked Irene in a deep voice.
The man looked like an older version of the rider, Haily thought. In fact, she thought, her earlier thought on the rider’s familiarity rising again, they both look like—she turned to look at Irene again. Irene who always looked slightly tan, who had always hated her long rangy legs and torso, Irene who was wiping her sleek dark hair out of her face as she turned to face the new man.
“They aren’t real,” she said simply. “I don’t know how, but they aren’t really there.”
She walked past the rider in front of her. The rider made no move to stop her as she walked past, although the lead rider looked like he would jump off his horse as Irene approached the white tree. The older man restrained him, watching interestedly.
Haily went to follow Irene, who walked towards the tree with a bemused look on her face. Frankie reached out to grab her, shaking his head when Haily gave him a dirty look.
“Um, Irene? There is something you might not know,” Haily called. “Have you noticed-“
“NO,” the young rider burst out, “you must not!”
The other horse and riders disappeared. Frankie and Haily whirled, trying to figure out where they had gone. The older man still held the rider, although he was on foot now, and struggling to reach Irene.
“Uncle, she cannot! You know this-she will be killed!”
“Frankie!” Haily screamed.
Frankie raced after Irene just as she reached out her hand. He stopped, a horrified look on his face as Irene placed both hands gently on the trunk, taking in a deep breath.
The clouds roiled, twisting upon themselves above the shining tree. They suddenly dissipated, fleeing outward in a circle towards the edge of the pewter horizon, leaving a bright blue sky behind.
“Ah,” the older man whispered. “Blood will tell.”