Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2019.
Ada’s eyes fluttered open to the sound of a high-pitched whirring. When she could focus her vision, she saw Priddy’s ears perked up, people in other seats standing and talking in rushed whispers, and then, with a crash, the train car lifted like a rollercoaster up a hill.
Crunching metal assaulted the silence of the night. Ada threw her arms around Priddy, who was whining under the wails of the other passengers. Ada saw a woman trip and roll down the aisle of the inclined floor. She threw out her arm to help the woman up, but they all stumbled as the car slowly began to fall on its side.
“Hold on!” the woman yelled. Ada grabbed her seat, Priddy in her other arm, and held tight for the impact. The lights of the car flickered and went out when the metal met ground. The air was knocked out of Ada’s lungs as they were thrown against the wall of the car.
Ada tried to focus in the dark, but she couldn’t tell if the other woman was breathing. “Hello?” she cried, but no one responded. “Priddy?” she whispered over a steady hissing sound.
Priddy whined again under Ada’s arm. Ada’s mind was racing. She needed to get out of the car, but her breath was shallow and short, panic setting into her already anxious bones.
The woman near them began coughing. Ada crawled over to her, grabbing the woman’s shoulder. “Can you crawl?” she asked, trying to look through the woman’s straight, purple-dyed hair and into her face. The woman nodded feebly. “Priddy! Come help me, please!”
Priddy stumbled over and the two of them helped the woman to her knees. Ada’s eyes darted around the dark, crushed car for an exit. The hissing sound became louder. She spotted the emergency exit windows, now above her, and she pulled the woman to her feet, grabbed her shoulders, and looked into her eyes. “Can you get on my shoulders?”
The woman—maybe young enough, even, to be called a girl—nodded again, her face streamed with tears. “Okay,” Ada said, squeezing her shoulders. She bent down. The girl stepped over Ada’s shoulders, straddling the back of her neck, and Ada stood with the force of adrenaline. The woman wasn’t much shorter than Ada, but she was slimmer. Still, Ada’s legs shook to rhythm with the hiss.
“I got it,” the woman croaked from above Ada’s head. Ada heard the latch of the window pop open, and she used her hands to help push the woman up and out. She looked up, the woman’s face looking down at her from the window.
“Priddy, come here,” Ada said. Priddy ran over, her tail between her legs. “I’m going to life you, okay?”
“But, Ada,” Priddy said, shaking, “how will you get out?”
Ada looked around. “I’ll—I can climb on top of something. I’ll figure it out. Just, please come.” The darkness made it difficult for Ada to find the best grasp on the dog, but she eventually scooped Priddy up, supporting her behind with one of her arms, and lifted her to the window where the woman clumsily pulled her up the rest of the way.
Now, both the woman and Priddy looked down at Ada. She could feel an intense, flowing pressure in her veins. She was afraid of the dark, and she was alone here. Something told her that the other passengers were dead, and she was, in all honesty, too frightened to check.
Ada pulled her backpack over her shoulders and pulled someone’s luggage from an overhead bin to stand on. Her lungs released a flood of air when she pulled herself through the window. A cold wind blew through them, hard enough to knock Ada out of her own head. She pulled Priddy shakily into a hug.
A loud thump, and they looked to see the woman lying unconscious on the train.
“Hello?” Ada said, crawling over the biting metal to get to the woman, but a wave of opaque white, like that of a snowstorm, covered the woman in swirls and streaks. Ada screeched in shock, and the mass of white seemed to look toward her with one end of its shape; she saw two eyes glowing yellow. It moved back around the woman, pulling something violet-colored out of her chest. Ada’s eyes darted to the thing and to the woman, and she saw the woman’s chest rise and fall much more slowly than before.
Priddy ran in front of Ada, her nails tapping on the train side, and barked ferociously at the mass. It looked again, more quickly this time, and took off into the night. The woman heaved a deep breath and her eyes fluttered open.
“Are you okay?” Ada said, scrambling over. With a growl toward the sky, Priddy joined them, and Ada could see her shiver.
The woman sat up and let out a sob. “I’m okay. We need to get out of here.”
Ada nodded. “I’ll slide down first. The roof is curved, so we shouldn’t fall too far.” A flurry of snow began whipping across their faces as they slid, one by one, down the roof of the train and onto the hard ground. Ada felt the tingles of pain up her knee like a colony of ants making home inside her muscles. They split up to walk along the wreckage and look for survivors. The pit in Ada’s stomach grew with every yell, until, when they met back up—only Ada, the woman, and Priddy—she thought she was so heavy she could sink down through the earth.
“Let’s go,” she whispered as she bent down to take the collar and leash off of Priddy. She stuffed it into her bag.
“Won’t she run away?” the woman asked, looking down at Priddy.
Ada shook her head. She began walking, and the other two followed. As she went, she checked the fox painting wrapped in her bag. It seemed undamaged, so she put it away, hoping for the best. “Do you know where we are?” she asked.
“No,” the woman whispered, hugging her arms against herself. “Somewhere between Philly and Cincinnati, though.”
“Cincinnati?” Ada whispered, recognizing the name but not enough to know what it means. “That’s not in Michigan, is it?”
The woman scoffed. “No. Ohio.”
Familiarity washed over Ada for a moment. She knew Ohio, somehow. “Let’s find a town, then. Hopefully we don’t freeze.”
For a while, the woman followed in silence. Ada and Priddy walked side by side, sharing no words but feeling the tension between the two of them. It felt to Ada like her heart would burst out of her body at any moment as they followed along the train tracks, the snow flurry dusting them with flakes.
“Oh,” Ada said, suddenly remembering and turning to the woman as she walked. “What’s your name?”
The woman sniffled. “Maeve.”
“I’m Ada. This is Priddy.” Ada pulled her backpack in front of her. “Are you hungry?”
Maeve walked closer to Ada and Priddy. “Yes, a little.”
The wrapper of a large granola bar crinkled as Ada handed it to Maeve. When their fingers touched, Ada shrunk at the cold of them. “It’s not much,” she said, but Maeve only thanked her and ate quietly.
They walked until Ada couldn’t feel her toes through her old tennis shoes. Priddy whined with every step of her frozen paws on the dirt, and Maeve held herself in a perpetual hug. The snow built up slowly, but it built, and every step was an ache. A corn field on the other side of the tracks almost looked like an invitation to keep warm, but Ada knew it wouldn’t do much, except make them more lost.
“Can we take a break?” Maeve asked, and Ada could hear the tears in her voice. “I can’t feel anything.”
Ada stopped walking, but her muscles fidgeted under her skin. “I don’t know how to start a fire, and I think everything is too wet, anyway.” She stepped in place. “Moving will keep us warmer than sitting.”
“I can’t keep going,” Maeve said, and she crouched down on her heels. Ada could barely see her in the faint, foggy moonlight, but she heard the despair in the woman’s voice.
With a small sigh, Ada crouched next to Maeve and grabbed her cold hands. A twinge of something warm fluttered through her stomach, but it went away quickly. “We can sit for a little bit. Eat some more, okay?” Maeve sat down onto the snowy ground and thanked Ada.
She handed Maeve another granola bar and moved over to whisper with Priddy. “Can you sit with her? Warm her up, maybe?” she asked. Priddy nodded excitedly and carefully walked over to sit in Maeve’s lap. Ada figured Priddy was just as happy for the warmth.
Ada looked up at the sky. It was clouded and dark, but she didn’t feel much fear for the amount of exhaustion gnawing at her insides. She walked a little ways away from the other two, toward the train tracks. She was sure it couldn’t be long before they came across a town, a house. The cornstalks made her hope that someone lived nearby, and she stared as hard as she could to try and make out shapes past the field. Before she knew it, she was walking toward the cornfield.
With a start, Ada realized she was already stepping over the tracks. She saw, at the edge of the crop, a deep blue orb floating a couple of feet above the ground. She felt easy, dreamy; she followed the light. When she came close and blinked, it appeared further in the field, dancing between the stalks.
Something about the orb felt so familiar as it flickered in the back of her mind. She walked with a purpose, but she didn’t feel herself move, except for every few steps. And, when she would get close to the orb, it would appear farther away.
Ada arrived at the edge of the field, and, beyond that, was a clearing in the woods with a large tree stump in the center decorated richly with bright yellow flowers that seemed to glow in the moonlight. With a sweet, soft feeling, like sleep wrapped around her body, Ada looked up to the moon, and saw that it was full.
When she looked back to the stump, a person was sitting. Ada’s sense of time and place returned with a shock, and she shuddered at the sudden cold nipping at her body. The person smiled.
They had impressively long, yellow hair partially braided into an intricate crown on their head. It looked almost like a basket woven out of fine straw. They wore a dress of fine, butter-colored fabric tied at the hands with ribbon of the same color and falling over the feet in a ripple of fabric like light on water. Their pale skin was covered in so many freckles that it nearly looked tanned, and their face was a round, welcoming star in the frigid night. Ada took a step closer, and the person smiled wider.
A witch, Ada thought.
“Come, Adathis,” they said. “Surely you aren’t so shocked to see me.”
Ada started again, confused. “Did you know me?”
The person cocked their head to the side with a hurt laugh. “Did I? I do know you, my darling.” They stood and walked toward Ada, and their dress pooled in wrinkles at their feet, leaving their curved, round body shape perfectly visible. Ada looked down at her own wet, ragged jacket, joggers, and tennis shoes, and felt a shred of embarrassment.
“I’m sorry,” Ada finally said as the person neared her. “If you knew me as Adathis, then I won’t remember you.”
The person lifted a warm hand to Ada’s face and studied her. Ada drew back slightly but felt a sense of strange comfort and apprehension while staring into their deep brown eyes. They sighed and dropped their hand.
“I can’t believe you actually did it,” they said, crossing one arm over their chest and using the other to prop up their chin. “I can’t believe you don’t remember me.”
Ada stood awkwardly across from the person. “Well, what’s your name? Maybe that would help.”
The person pouted and dropped their arms with a sigh. “I am Ostra.” They raised their hands to gesture at the field before them. “I grow this corn.”
“You’re a farmer?” Ada said, looking over her shoulder at the crop.
“No, Adathis. I’m a witch.” Ostra waggled their fingers toward the corn. “It is my corn, but I don’t do any work for it. Just magic.”
Ada nodded, pleased with herself for recognizing another witch. “What did you mean that I ‘actually did it?’ What did I do?” she asked. She was hopeful she could find answers here.
Ostra sighed and sat back on their stump. “Well, I thought you were just threatening me, since I kept trying to get you to come back to me.”
Ada froze. “Like—like a prisoner?”
“No, dummy,” Ostra laughed, holding a hand to her cheek. “Like a lover.”
A blush spread over Ada’s cheeks, but she welcomed the warmth. She remembered that she couldn’t feel her fingers or toes anymore. “Oh.”
“Oh,” Ostra repeated, laughing again. They looked back at Ada with a twinkle in their eye. “I like this version of you better, I think. Much cuter.” Ada cleared her throat, embarrassed. Ostra looked at her for a long time before clicking their tongue and walking back to Ada. “You look so cold, my darling.”
“I am but I—I can’t remember why,” Ada said, trying to think about how she got into the field in the first place.
“Oh, that’s just because of my will o’ the wisps,” Ostra said. “Do you mind if I touch you here?” They pointed to the middle of Ada’s chest, and she instinctively covered herself. After a beat, she nodded. Ostra placed the tips of her fingers on Ada’s sternum and a rush of gooey, honey-thick warmth poured into Ada’s body, dispersing through her veins to the tips of her fingers and the heels of her feet. She gasped with the sudden comfortable warmth.
Ostra took a step back and rubbed their hands together. “That should help with the cold.”
“Thank you,” Ada breathed.
“You’re so cute, with your cheeks all red like that,” Ostra said, tilting their head and lacing their fingers together. They looked at Ada as if she were a small animal.
“Thank you,” Ada repeated, awestruck. A memory zinged in the back of her mind and she felt the need to ask Ostra. “Could you tell me anything about my past—”
A deep barking broke through their conversation, and Ada’s memory of the night came crashing back with a force that made her double over. Priddy came running through the corn stalks, her barking louder and louder, with Maeve on her heels.
“Priddy wait—” Ada cried, but when she turned around, Ostra was already gone.
“What were you doing out here?” Maeve said, shivering so hard that her teeth clattered.
“I was—nothing. I thought I saw someone,” Ada said. She felt the warmth inside her pulse for a moment, almost as a reminder that her friends were freezing. “Come here, you two.”
Ada approached Maeve and engulfed her in a stiff hug. “What are you—how are you—?” Maeve exclaimed, but she quickly melted into Ada’s inexplicable warmth.
“Priddy, you too,” Ada said, and the three of them sat at the junction between cornfield and forest, hugging until sleep overtook them.