The day was bright and the air was warm, so Eddie's dad let him play in the park.
So out little Eddie went, free to roam the largest stretch of parkland in the country, his very own summer playground. He ran across the grass, breezed through the hedge maze, across the bridge, skirted past the duck pond, only pausing to smell the tulips before heading for a clump of oak trees where he stopped to catch his breath. The air was clear, and Eddie could see all the way back to the entrance of the park where he had run from. It was so clear, in fact, he reckoned he could probably see forever if he climbed that hill just ahead of him.
The hill was steep, the dirt was soft and the grass didn't provide much in the way of handholds, but Eddie clambered up anyway. His knees went green from grass stains and his fingernails filled with dirt, but he didn't mind that much.
On reaching the top, it was almost as if he could see forever. The entire world he knew was spread before him in miniature. Directly below him was the town where he lived, a sprawl of adobe houses crisscrossed with cobblestone lanes. Overshadowing the town was a castle, an impressive square structure, and further along was the harbour, lined with row upon row of fishing boats and galleys. To the north was the countryside, speckled with sheep and the occasional barn, and beyond that were the wheat fields, a sea of dusty yellow. When Eddie squinted, he was certain that in the far, far distance he could see the outskirts of another city, an enchanted city maybe, perhaps in another country.
What he didn't expect to see was the girl.
She'd been there without saying a word, so he hadn't noticed her. He turned, and there she was, sitting on a bench, smiling sweetly. She had been watching him climb up, a look of curiousity and fascination on her face. Eddie stared back, not knowing what to make of her.
"Hallo" she said, "Are you tired from your climb?"
"Jus… just catching my breath" was all Eddie could reply.
The girl shuffled along the bench, making room for him.
"Come sit down", she said, patting the empty part of the bench.
Eddie walked over cautiously and sat down. She sidled up to him so that their legs touched ever so slightly.
He looked over to her. She was about his age, about the same height too. Her hair was brushed perfectly, her porcelain features sparkled, and the mahogany brown dress she was wearing was immaculate. It made Eddie feel rather grubby by contrast.
"My name's Rosie" she said, after a moment of silence "What's yours?"
Eddie managed to blurt out his name.
She smiled again and looked out into the horizon, beyond the horizon. Almost beyond forever.
"What are you looking at?" Eddie asked, trying to follow Rosie's gaze.
"Everything" she replied simply. "The rivers, the sea, the beaches, the clouds too, even the gray ones" she sighed. "There's so much to look at. Like over there in the distance, past those fields, is a forest, and if you look real far, you can see some mountains in the fog" she pointed excitedly, "And look! A rainbow!"
Eddie looked up to where she was pointing, there was a rainbow, framing the forests in the distance. How come he hadn't noticed that before?
"It's all so very pretty" she sighed
She turned to him, looking him right in the eyes. Almost through his eyes.
"Do you think I'm pretty?"
Eddie stared at her crystal blue eyes, and nodded a little.
"Yes", he breathed.
Suddenly feeling shy, he turned his gaze back onto the horizon.
"Would you like to be friends?" she asked
Eddie nodded, and faced her, more confident.
"Yes" he said.
Rosie giggled, reached across and held his hand gently. They both looked out into the distance.
"I can see we are going to be very good friends"
* * *
In another time, and another place, a man was staring out to sea, contemplating suicide.
He was on the edge of a cliff, toes over the edge, pushing loose pebbles into the gray water lapping below. He bit his lip. Above him, thunder rumbled between blackened clouds.
He turned to the twisted figure beside him, the one that had been watching him as he stood. The one that had watched him while his friends and family had betrayed him. The one that had heard their lies. The one that had seen them take advantage of his once good nature. His face twitched, holding back tears.
It was the only thing that had stuck by him.
"You feel wronged" it said, it's voice ice-cold and hollow.
The man nodded quickly, and turned away.
"You feel betrayed. You feel ashamed. You feel lost"
"I do," admitted the man, his voice cracking.
The Twisted Figure moved closer to him. He could see its mangled shadow play on the rocks.
"If you had a chance for all to be put right, would you take it?"
"Of course I would!" the man snapped, gritting his teeth, "But that's not going to happen, is it?"
The Twisted Figure moved closer. The man blocked the corner of his eye with his hand and shivered. He didn't want to face it, not now.
"It will be made right," it said, bluntly.
The man choked back another tear and turned in disbelief.
The Twisted Figure was silent as it slowly reached out for him. Countless gangly limbs, reaching out for him, grabbing him, piercing his skin, bringing him closer, enveloping him. Although it hurt a little, he knew he wasn't going to die. At least not today. Meanwhile, out at sea, lightning struck the water.
* * *
Allie woke up in darkness, and nature was calling.
She fumbled her way out of bed, out of her room and out of the house, accidentally knocking over her father's shovel that had been propped up against the wall. It fell to the ground with a clang, giving her a fright. She let out a stifled scream. Fortunately, neither of these sounds woke her parents up.
She closed the door to the cabin and looked out into the forest that surrounded it. The oaks took on a different personality at night - the darkness gave the trees an air of mystery, as if the forest had something to hide. Tonight was more mysterious than usual, as it was dead silent. No bird song, no running water, not even the swish of the wind passing through the trees. Just quiet.
Allie made her way into the forest, and did what she had to do, quickly and as quietly as she could. Normally, she would have gone right back to her bed, away from this creepy forest. But tonight she didn't. Tonight she has seen something.
A single beam of light, tall as a man, moving slowly and silently through the trees. As it moved, the trees it passed cast long, sweeping shadows. This light was heading away from Allie, deeper into the forest.
It had to be her father's lantern, Allie thought. He sometimes came out in the middle of the night to check for bears and such, making sure the cabin was safe for the night. Sometimes he couldn't sleep, and he'd take a breath of fresh air before going back to bed.
He didn't usually go that far into the forest, though.
The curiousity got the better of Allie, and she decided to follow this light. It wasn't going that fast, and her little legs were able to keep up, though the darkness meant she was stumbling from time to time.
She had followed the light down a gully when she saw a movement in the corner of her eye, something blurred and unbelievably quick. She stopped and turned, but saw nothing. It was then that she realized how far she had strayed from her house. Maybe she should be heading back…
She saw a movement in the corner of her other eye, just as fast as the one before. She saw it long enough to realize it was another light. That scared her. Would there really be two people out in the forest at night? Could anyone run that fast?
She was still looking to the side when she saw another light whizz past, down and along the gully. It was exactly like the one she had been following. She gasped. Another passed, even faster than that one, dodging trees at a phenomenal rate, and overtaking the first light she had been following. They all seemed to be headed in the same direction.
She began walking again, continuing to pursue the first light, less sure it was her father, yet still drawn by curiousity. She saw more of the lights flitting by, some in front of her, some to the sides, some lightning fast, others floating along, all of them keeping their distance from her and all of them silent. Allie didn't know what to make of any of this, all she could get herself to do was to keep following that first light.
The gully soon widened and the trees soon thinned to reveal a clearing. What Allie saw in that clearing would have made her scream again had she been less tired, young and confused.
Before her were hundreds upon hundreds of lights, streaming in from all angles. The clearing was lit eerily, and Allie could see that none of these lights were lanterns at all. They were lights by themselves! Two metre tall beams of light, moving around through their own will.
Not only moving, but organized, shifting objects into the clearing. Shifting people. People she knew, everyone she knew. Her mother, her father, her grandma, all her friends, they were all there, pushed into a long line. They didn't resist, didn't speak, they just stared straight ahead, eyes glazed over. Each began to take small steps forward, the line was moving. Moving toward one of the lights. A light slightly taller than the others, and twice as bright. All the people she knew were moving towards it, and one by one stepping in, where they vanished for the moment, light flaring.
Then fading, the people who had stepped in collapsed out the other side. Their skin had turned a deep indigo. Their bodies were crumpled and unmoving. As each person fell out of the light, their body piled limply on top of the one that had gone before them. Allie was terrified, but couldn't turn away. She could only watch in horror as all of her friends fell through to their death, watching as her parents came closer and closer to the end of the line. She watched as they stepped through, falling out the other side, just like the others. Dead like the others.
That was all Allie could take. She whimpered a small "no", and ran, tearful, in the opposite direction, away from these horrible lights. She scrambled through the forest, faster than she had ever run before, the fallen twigs of the forest covering her legs in small cuts and sores. She had no idea where she was running to, after all, there was no place she could run to that was safe. The whole world she knew had been killed. She just ran blindly, her vision blurred by tears and darkness.
That's why she didn't see the light that came at her. She ran straight into it, and her world, what little there seemed left of it, was consumed in a blinding pulse of white.