Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2019.
Ada sat still, crouched against the knotted wood of the wall behind her; the crook of her knees stung with sweat in the cool room.
In front of her, Moss lounged against a purple pillow, one of many strewn about on the compact dirt ground of the building. Ona sat upright, staring into the frightened woman’s eyes with her single shrunken pupil floating in a sea of gold iris.
Ada took a shaky, shuddering breath, and then slowly let it roll out her nostrils. The short pieces of her brown hair stuck unpleasantly to her forehead, and she swiped them toward her ears with a drizzle of salty sweat before she spoke. “What do I do?”
“You asked us to tell you about your past,” Ona said levelly, but the swish of her tail reminded Ada of a cat ready to pounce. “We never said we had an idea of how to help you.”
Moss looked from Ona behind him to Ada, and the scraggly gray chunks of hair on his chin brushed the fabric of the pillow with a slight swoosh. “Ona is right; we cannot truly help you.” Ada shuddered at the words. The chill of the dirt seeped through the light fabric of her sweatpants, but the heat in her body that amplified with every arduous beat of Ada’s heart kept her from caring.
“However,” Moss continued, whitish-yellow eyes fixed on Ada, “we want you to regain the memories of your powers, too. It’s possible that we can give you some sort of guidance in this situation.”
“I don’t want to use my powers,” Ada whispered, forcing her dry tongue to expel the words from her mouth. “I want to stop this thing from attacking me in my sleep.” She closed her eyes tight for a moment, almost sure that she saw the shadowy figure from her room lurking behind Ona now, but when she opened her eyes, there was nothing.
“You act as if those things are mutually exclusive,” Moss said, his gray-orange tail waving leisurely. “If you want our help, you need to finish our painting. If you want to finish the painting, you must know how to use your powers.” The old fox licked his paw as Ada took another deep breath.
Silence filled the spaces between the three of them—silence, and the gentle blue ball of light that separated the human from the foxes. Ada rested her head against the wall behind her and stared at the ceiling of the building, away from the dull brightness; there, she could see where all of the trees that made up the building morphed together and intertwined their branches to create a singular unit. She looked down at her hands, her fingers, and she clasped them together.
“How do I finish the painting?” Ada finally asked, staring at her clasped fingers.
Ona walked forward a little and stood on all fours next to Moss. Ada could see now how dark red Ona’s coat was compared to the older fox, and how much longer the fur reached out from the sides of her face. “You’ll have to find the witch who painted you. Follow me.” With that, Ona began to walk out the mossy doorway, leaving Ada to scramble to her feet and trip over the untied lace of one of her sneakers.
“Oh.” Ada ducked back into the building, nodded at Moss, and squeaked a quick “thank you” before chasing after Ona.
Making her way across the lush field of Home, Ada noted that the other foxes didn’t pay her much mind. She almost wondered if it was because they recognized her, but decided that maybe it’s more likely that they collectively found her a nuisance, as Ona seemed to.
Since she woke up without her memories, Ada had interacted with only two other living and speaking creatures: Priddy and Ona. Moss made three. Even coming into contact with so many other alive things made Ada feel queasy somewhere deep in her gut.
It was a strange sensation, waking up; she wasn’t scared, or uneasy, when it happened. She accepted the talking animals with grace. The warning notes throughout her home didn’t feel out of place, and even her home wasn’t a surprise. It was as if she had seen all these things before, but they were never hers. She even knew that her name was Adathis, but something about it made the back of her head sting, so she took to calling herself Ada.
Ona, though, hadn’t readily accepted that decision.
“Adathis,” the one-eyed fox said from a few feet ahead of Ada. Ears tingling at the name and heart throbbing with fear of the unknown, Ada jogged to catch up. “Stay close to me, human. We’re going to the library.”
“Ona,” Ada began, “what did you mean earlier about the witch who painted me? Why are these paintings so important?”
The fox quickened her pace through the field, and a group of young foxes tumbling in the grass hurried to get out of the way, either with reverence or fear. “Someone much older than you has the same powers that you do. They painted you.” Ona ignored the second question, and Ada decided against agitating the creature further by asking again.
Without another word, Ada followed Ona into a large, vine-y structure at the other end of Home. The vines reached down from the treetops that make the ceiling of Home, thick green arms that formed an oval and dangled so close to the ground that their tips kiss the grass.
Between the vines, Ada could see beautiful tables of dark wood covered with stack upon stack of books. Ada gasped, and her feet stuttered in their steps, when she saw a tall, blueish creature standing next to each table.
“What is that?” Ada mumbled, catching at her chest.
Ona stopped walking and took a moment to laugh, but the sound was heavy and dry. “They help us get the books. I believe your people call them the Bigfeet?” The creature stood two or three heads above Ada, who felt that she was tall for a human but had no recent experience to back that up. Their head blended in with their neck, and the hairy shoulders were hunched high up near where ears could be. Ada noted the passive face, almost as if the creature was bored, and the strange periwinkle tint to the hair covering their entire body.
“Bigfoot,” Ada whispered as the two keep walking, but she wasn’t sure she’d heard the term since she woke up—it must have been ingrained in her as Adathis. She finally peeled her eyes away from the “Bigfoot” and looked down at Ona, who pranced carefully past the vines and into the library area. The light here was brighter, a pale white that emanated from orbs floating above Ada’s head like a rising trail of bubbles.
“Have I, uh—have I been here before?” Ada looked at everything with fresh eyes, the first newness she had felt in the few months since she lost her memories. About three months, she thought; she’d found an unfinished calendar—all the dates up until the middle of July were marked out—but that wasn’t until a few weeks after she woke up, so she could only guess.
“You haven’t,” Ona replied. “You’ve only been to Home a few times at all.”
Ada’s dark eyes darted around the library, noting the exceptional quiet of this area compared to the rest of Home. No voices but Ona’s and Ada’s stirred.
Shining tables that reached in height to Ada’s hip ringed the area, just inside the loose enclosure of vines. Next to each table stood a large blue creature, and the stacks of books that adorned the tables ranged in height and number. In the center of it all rested a round fox with pale orange fur and a red ribbon tied daintily around their neck. The fox lounged atop a fluffy red pillow, similar to the one Moss was lounging on earlier.
Ada scanned the library floor, which was really just very short grass, and noticed other such large pillows, upon which foxes sat to read. She watched a small fox with a larger one—a parent and child, she assumed; the larger one coached the smaller one on how to turn the page by waving their tail from one side to the other very deliberately. Ada marveled at the fox magic, but felt she had seen it before.
“Hello, Po,” Ona said as she approached the ribboned fox. Ada pulled her attention away from the magic and followed, but her presence elicited a tired glare from Po.
“Greetings, Ona,” Po replied with a gentle voice that melted like cheese in Ada’s ears.
Ona sat back on her haunches and flicked her tail toward Ada, which nearly made the woman jump in defense—after all, she’d just seen a child fox perform magic with a tail. Ona simply scoffed at her and looked up. “Adathis, this is Po. She’s the bookkeeper for our library. Po has contact information for many witches and magical creatures in this country.”
Ada nodded. “So, who is this witch I need to find?”
Po lowered her head and twisted her neck back and forth with a sigh. “Let me see. Do you have a name?”
For a moment, Ada is shocked—no, she does not have a name, so how will she find the witch now? Fear coursed through the ligaments of her muscles until Ona gave another swish of her tail and answered.
“Dole,” the fox said. Her eye darted to Ada, then back to Po. “Their name is Dole, and they live in Michigan.”
“Michigan,” Ada whispered, suddenly feeling the coldness of that once-familiar word. “Ona,” she said, leaning down to the fox’s level. “Ona—are we in Michigan?”
Ona looked at Ada for a second, blinked, and shook her head. “No. We are in Pennsylvania.”
A sense of familiarity washed over Ada, bathing her in a comfort at knowing the name of her own home after months of wondering. Priddy didn’t know; after all, she was simply a talking dog, a little more sentient than most, sure, but she likely never thought to ask Adathis what state they were in.
“Pennsylvania. How could I forget a word like that?” Ada mumbled as Po walked away in a huff to find the information on Dole of Michigan.
“You’re much odder than you were before.” Ona stared at her paws as she spoke, seeming uninterested.
“I wouldn’t know,” Ada said slowly. With the mystery of her life before coming undone, she could only hope that soon things would begin to make more sense.