(collaborative Haunt piece)
Charon could see the dark lady speaking to him, but he couldn’t hear what she said. She stayed ahorse. The pale one again. This time the lady was trimmed in silver on the edge of a deep maroon cloak. It was enough that she was there… and that he was. In the grove.
The book lay open on his lap, his hands on either side of it, holding the pages still. He was watching her lips move. She seemed to know he couldn’t hear, and made a point of smiling at him. It was the obvious intent – to let him know – that made him love her. He didn’t long to stay. This is all there is, he thought. This world is all there is.
She felt the horse’s back shift under her, and automatically adjusted her weight in the saddle. Side-saddle. She’d never ridden side-saddle before, and the strangeness of it disoriented her briefly. She glanced down, saw her own hands in gloves, long, soft black leather gauntlets, holding reins loosely, expertly. A dream, then?
Yes, it must be…must be a dream. Extraordinarily vivid…she felt a long strand of her hair move in the breeze, stir along her neck. Long hair? She’d cut all of her hair short more than three years ago. But here, in this dream, it was long again, and even longer than she’d ever worn it. Glancing down again, she saw long spirals of it, curls of dream hair, tumbling down the front of a cloak the color of heart’s blood. Hart’s blood. White stag…Was He here? In this dream? She looked up eagerly, looked out
And saw the boy there.
The boy. Of course. She recognized him at once. Her third muse. But he was older here, not a child. A boy. And he was looking back at her, intently, in a way that said he recognized her, too. She felt the corners of her lips move as she smiled at him. Oh, how she loved this boy! She gazed at him, seeing how he was grown into Boy from the child she’d watched running with a lamp in the grassy hollow, in other dreams, times uncounted. Her eyes brushed over the shock of dark hair, the more pronounced brow, his face emerging, maturing from the roundness of childhood. She noted with tender affection the faint blue circles under the watching dark eyes, the bruise along the cheekbone (had he fallen, playing some rough boy’s game?)
He was sitting on the ground, holding a book in both hands. She wondered what was in that book, and even as she wondered she already knew. She picked up the reins, still smiling, and shifted her weight to slide down from the saddle—
When suddenly the boy flinched, raised his hands against a blow she couldn’t see. His face was contorted with fear and anger, and his mouth opened in a sound she couldn’t hear.
“Boy!” she shouted in distress, tumbling off the horse in a rush. “Boy!” But even as she reached him, he disappeared, the book falling off his lap, and she was waking up, struggling awake, fighting with a long red cloak, fighting with a green flannel sheet, and sitting bolt upright in bed! And breathing hard, disoriented, she glanced around in the dark, and her eyes caught the glow of the clock across the room. Three. Three a.m. The hour of the wolf. Yes. Yes, of course it was.
She lay back down, slowly. But sleep was long in coming again.
The sting on his face made the grove collapse like a bag. The book was falling. Blows. He struggled with his mind to make the book stay in place, to hold the Lady there, or rather hold himself with her, but already his hands were covering his face. She was gone. And he was looking through his hands at the waist of someone… hitting him on the top of his head, and around the hands, and pulling the hands away to hit him. It was the woman he called “mother”.
And then the book and several others were added to the fire. He watched them burn. He wouldn’t leave the fire until they were consumed, and they were delighted to leave him there. Delighted at his anguish. He bowed his head, as if in prayer. To his mind, it was the whole world that was leaving him in the flames, leaving him in the place of smoke and screams. Charon could see. And he had realized that the world hunted him, and hated him. In his mind, he’d already made the decision never to really live in it. If he hadn’t known… about the other world… and her… he would have chosen death as his home rather than stay. But he did stay, and he listened to them calling at him, “freak”, “misfit”, and sometimes he believed them.
Charon was eleven years old.
The embers were damp from the rain-laden air, and there wasn’t much fuel that wouldn’t smoke. He sat listening to it crackle, looking into the thickened air, and he thought he might go there for a while.He started to reach out, with his mind, and the smoke began to take shape, but a voice called,
“Charon! Come with me. Come walk with me!”
And it was just a smoking fire, and he answered with a moist “Yeah. I’ll be along.” Even with friends, he often preferred to be alone. With them, but a little to the side.
He packed up his books in the sack. Charon never went for a moment without them, and they never left the bundle except when he was using them.
She held back for him, though he wasn’t really trying to catch up. She kissed him on the cheek, lingering a little, and smiled at him. “You could kiss me back someday, ya know.”
He shrugged, and looked down the path. “Well, we’d best be off then.”
She looked back at the source of the smoke. “Tell me why you don’t kick it out, again?”
Charon knew that she hadn’t forgotten, but he preferred not to think about why she’d ask him again so often. “I’d rather let it die naturally.”
She sighed, took his arm, and led him down the path.
She’d been sitting in class, taking notes, efficiently, turning the professor’s lecturing voice into a neat black outline on the page, when she heard the  calling, felt it whispering along inside of her, a caress that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She’d let the pen in her hand continue its work, and gathered up the rest of herself, turning sideways, slipping through, following the voice of the .
And so now she was here, in a clearing. She remembered it, felt the strong dejà vu, and knew she’d dreamt about this place, probably more than once. She was in the , and it was twilight. She smelled the air. Smoke.
And then she saw the embers, there on the ground, of a tidy fire. They were still glowing. She crossed to them, knelt, and held her hand over the warmth that rose from the coals. “Boy,” she thought, then. The boy had been here. Had been here not long ago, and built this fire, even though the wood was damp. Of course he would have.
But he was gone, now. Where? How long ago? Could she follow him? She’d never tracked a person through the grey before. When she met the far wanderer, it was always because he wanted her to find him. Was the boy diffferent? She looked up, looked around the clearing, searching, thinking.
She found that she strongly wanted to find him, to find the boy. Could she do it? This was her world, but only in the sense that she lived in it fully. She could not make it bend to her will. That was not the way of the . What if the boy didn’t want to be found, a small voice whispered inside of her. But she grimaced at that voice. It was not a  voice; it came from somewhere else, and she could ignore it as long as she was in the . She straightened up from her crouch, and walked out of the clearing, into the , looking.