Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2019.

Each step felt a little more tedious for Ada as she made her way to the porch of her cabin. Her meeting with the foxes ended with her being coldly—but politely—shooed out the exit of Home with a slip of paper in her hand detailing the exact address of the old witch, Dole, who she was meant to visit. Ada has asked Ona once more about why the paintings were so important, but Ona had only let out a low growl and walked along.

When Ada came out from between the glowing trees, she was swaddled in darkness. Her eyes were drained of light so suddenly that she dropped to the ground in fright, feeling for something solid.  She grasped at a handful of leaves. The thin, sharp stems crackled in her hand and poked against her skin until she blinked, released her fist, and stood.

Now, she felt the weight of change looming over her back, pulling over her body like a blanket. She trudged on through the dark with her heart pounding religiously in her chest, her belly, her arms and neck, until she saw the familiar outline of her own home, and Priddy’s silhouette in the dark window. For a moment, she felt easy, but just as soon as the moment passed, she was running inside to escape the dark.

“How was it? Did you learn anything? Will they help you?” Priddy asked frantically when Ada came through the thick, wooden front door. She shut it, bolted it, and sighed.

“They told me to meet someone named Dole.” Ada looked down at the dog and placed a hand on her head. “Priddy, we’re going to Michigan.”

Priddy sat back on her haunches. “Michigan?” She tilted her head. “Ada, we can’t leave the cabin, or he’ll get in.”

As Priddy spoke, Ada took off her traveling clothes, tossing her shoes by the door, her shirt and joggers on the table. “It doesn’t matter if he gets in if we aren’t even here,” she said, walking toward the bathroom and stripping more, turning on lights as she went. Priddy heard the water start in the shower, and she sat outside the door. “We can take just what we need,” she continued.

Priddy sat in silence for a moment, her tail still against the hard floor. “But he’ll find us. He will.”

Ada said nothing. Priddy began walking in anxious circles outside the door while the sound of water filled the small cabin. Finally, it stopped, and Ada came out of the door in a raggedy green towel. “He can find us?” Ada asked.

Priddy sat back down. Her whole body was tense under her brown and white fur. “I think so. I think he can. He found us before, and he can find us again.”

Ada squeezed her face in contempt of this mysterious he. She sighed loudly and walked to her bedroom, Priddy following in her wet footsteps. Once again, Ada cursed her past life and whoever Adathis was and everything that she did. “We have to go, Priddy. It’s the only way we can try to escape him.” Ada pulled on clean pajamas and ran the towel over her short hair.

“Why?” Priddy asked suddenly, scaring Ada into dropping the towel. Priddy stood on all fours, her ears pressed down against her head. “Why can’t we stay? Why can’t we live like this?”

“Because we have an evil creature haunting us every night, and he is apparently coming here very soon!” Ada yelled, picking up the towel and holding it close against her body. She shivered as a chill blew through the room. It would be winter soon, and she could feel the urgency through the thin cracks of the cabin’s walls.

“Priddy,” Ada said, bending down to Priddy’s level, “we have to go.” She petted Priddy slowly down her head until the dog relaxed under her hand.

Priddy sank slowly to the floor and let out a sigh. “Okay. Okay. We can go.” She lifted her head. “But when?”

“Tomorrow,” Ada said. “Now, let’s get some sleep.”

She was sure to take her medicine before she got into bed.

~~~

“This isn’t necessary,” Ada said as she tossed another decrepit farmer’s almanac over her shoulder. Priddy scurried behind her, picking up unimportant things and moving them out of the room, or bringing things she thought Ada might want to bring on their trip.

They’d been at it for the last three hours. Ada’s fingers were stiff and sore from picking through the unimaginable number of things hidden throughout the cabin. She stood up, dusted her hands, and looked over the mess she’d created. “Well, I think we’re done.”

Priddy ran over, skidding on the hardwood. The two of them looked over to Ada’s green backpack stuffed to the brim with travel necessities: there was an old map of America that they’d found under Ada’s bed—she hoped the country hadn’t changed shape since it was printed in 1987; there was an amount of non-perishable food that would last Ada at least two days, and a gallon bag of dog food for Priddy; clothing for at least three days; Ada’s tin of herbal medicine to take at night; water bottles that at least looked somewhat new; the foxes’ painting, wrapped haphazardly in an old blanket and sticking out the top of the bag by a few inches; and a wad of cash that added up to almost a thousand dollars. Ada was proud of their progress.

Priddy went up to the window and placed her paws on the ledge to get a better view of the woods. “I’m going to miss it. I really am. I’ll miss these squirrels,” she said.

Ada cracked a small smile at that and patted the eager dog on her soft head. “Do you want to go outside, Priddy?”

Priddy’s ears perked up and her tongue peeked out between her teeth. “Oh, please. Yes, please.”

With a laugh, Ada opened the door to let Priddy out for one last backyard romp. Sometimes, she wished she could go out and play with Priddy—throw some sticks, or something; she didn’t really know. But ever since she’d woken up, Priddy had been warning her that someone always had to be in the cabin. If they both left, he would arrive in no time at all. Ada hated him, whoever he was. She looked at the bruises on her legs left by the night of her night terror, but quickly pulled her joggers back down over them.

Once Priddy came back in, Ada prepared to leave, finally. She wrapped a thin, plaid scarf around Priddy’s neck to keep her warm as they walked, and she put on a light jacket herself. With her tail wagging apprehensively, Priddy stood by the door. Ada took a deep breath, grabbed the doorknob, and pushed.

The two of them tentatively stepped onto the porch together. The air was crisp with autumn and Ada could smell the dead leaves littering the ground. It felt like a time for change. She locked the door and bounded down the stairs of the porch with a smile.

“C’mon, Priddy!” she said, waving her arms. “We’re free!”

Priddy barked and took off running after Ada. They ran together until they were out of breath, but the hot sting of cold air in the back of Ada’s throat felt like something new, and so she liked it.

After half an hour of aimless walking, they emerged on the side of a busy highway. Another half an hour along the side of the road and the arrived at a small town. A sign welcomed them to Delaware County, and Ada felt a twinge of recognition at the name.

The air of the town was thick with history. Ada had a feeling that she always felt that thickness in the fall, a thickness that matched the clouds looming over them in the sky; it wasn’t heavy, but ever-present, and it reminded her of the smell of burning leaves. She pulled her jacket tighter around herself, but she didn’t feel cold.

“I think that’s a train station,” Ada said. She pointed at small, square, gray building at the edge of the town, before the rows of brick buildings began lining the main street of the town. Priddy walked at Ada’s side as they inspected the building: it was rectangular, with a green roof pointed in the middle. They spotted letters above the glass doors marking the building as MATTSONVILLE TRAIN STATION.

Inside, they found only three people in the main area: a young man in a ball cap and a duffel bag holding the hand of a snot-nosed younger boy in matching clothes but holding a miniature baseball bat, and an old woman sitting on a bench with her earbuds in but the sound of a video playing through her phone’s speakers.

“Priddy,” Ada said, bending down to the dog’s level. “Can other people hear you?”

Priddy sat, tail wagging. “I’ve never met other people since Adathis found me, and I couldn’t talk until I met her. I don’t know.” She lowered her head and wagged her tail harder. “I’ll be quiet, though. I promise.”

Ada nodded and located the ticket window, where a tired looking man was leaning on the counter. When he saw Ada and Priddy walk up, he straightened with an incredibly small smile on his incredibly small mouth.

“How can I help you today?” he said, and Ada tried not to look long at his receding hairline over his egg-like head.

“We’d like a ticket to Michigan, please. As close to Brigue as possible, please.” Ada smiled. It felt tight and fake on her face, as if she hadn’t smiled at another person for a long time, longer than she had control over.

The man behind the window looked confused. He leaned over, evidently staring at something on the wall. “Brigue, Michigan? Let’s see.” He wrinkled his eyebrows and pointed at the wall separating him from Ada. “I think the closest station is Lapeer. You’ll have to walk the rest, though.”

“That’s fine,” Ada said, pulling her backpack around to her front and rifling around for her cash. “How much will it be?”

The man typed something into a computer. “That will be $250. You’ll have two transfers, and the entire trip will take about two days. The train leaves in one hour.”

Ada looked down in annoyance at Priddy and mouthed two days? Priddy shrugged as best as a dog could. Ada shrugged, too, thankful that she prepared for a long trip.

When she looked back at the man, he was staring with his eyebrows more wrinkled than before. Ada handed him a crumpled stack of bills. “$250,” she said.

He took the money with a smile even smaller than his first and handed Ada her ticket. She thanked him and put her backpack back on. As she walked away, the man stopped her. “Oh, ma’am,” he began, nervous. “Dogs must be leashed at all times.”

Ada blinked. “Leashed? But she has a scarf.”

The man made tiny, squeaky, defeated sound. “She needs a leash, ma’am.”

“Well, where am I supposed to find one of those?” Ada asked, slapping her hand against thigh. Priddy shook her head slowly, and the man drew back.

“The gift shop might have something,” he said, pointing to an orange-lit room at the other end of the building. His voice shivered a little as he spoke. “Have—have a nice day.”

Ada threw back her head with a sigh and began walking away. She waved with the ticket in her hand as she went. “Thank you!” she said.

~~~

Priddy’s neck twitched for the fifth time in the past hour. “I’m sorry about the collar and leash,” Ada said with a gentle pet on the dog’s head. “They made those rules for non-magical dogs.”

“It’s not your fault,” Priddy responded with another twitch. “I just want to scratch it so badly. So badly, Ada.”

“I’ll scratch for you, then,” Ada said, and she proceeded to scratch Priddy under her new, pale blue collar for medium-sized dogs, matching pale blue leash in her other hand.

They’d been sitting on the train for only a few minutes. It was a shock to both human and dog when the vehicle began moving. Priddy had let out an involuntary bark, and Ada had gripped the arms of her seat with her heart in her throat. Once they were moving smoothly, though, both eased into the ride.

They talked in low whispers in the back of the train. Only a few more passengers were scattered throughout their car, and no one seemed to pay them much attention anyway. “Can you use a toilet?” Ada asked suddenly, and Priddy cocked her head. “I just mean that our transfers are pretty short, and I don’t want you to have any accidents.”

Priddy turned around in her seat and rested her head on her paws. “If it’s as easy as it looks, then, yes.” Ada chuckled at the idea of her dog studying her bathroom habits—it’s not like she ever shut the bathroom door, since she lived all alone. “I’m going to sleep now, Ada. Wake me up if you need me.”

“Sleep well, Priddy,” Ada said, squeezing Priddy’s paw gently. After a beat, when Priddy’s breathing was even, Ada picked up her backpack and dug into one of the smaller pockets.

She pulled out a small book, tied shut with a thin piece of hemp rope. Quietly, she untied the book and opened the cover. Inside the pages of the notebook, she had copied down every single one of Adathis’s notes over the course of the past three months. She hadn’t told Priddy that she brought it because Priddy could read as well as talk, and one of the notes in particular made her doubt her decision to leave.

No matter where you go, he will always find you. If not him, then someone else. You are never safe.

I’m sorry for this.

Ada closed the book, tied it up, and hid it back in the bag. She took a deep breath. Priddy had the window seat, but Ada was cozy in the middle, with no one to her right. Out the window, the gentle slopes of Pennsylvania—a place that she became more and more aware of knowing—passed by in a quick rotation, like scenery in an old movie. The sun was still lurking at the edge of the sky, but it would soon be dark.

Soon, she hoped, she would be able to be free. Adathis wouldn’t have to be sorry.

Ada found the tin of medicine in her bag and took one. She would think more when she woke up.

A young West Virginian living in the chilly embrace of Washington State, I write for my soul and work for a living, or something like that. My stories are full of things I know that I do not know, like life and death and love, and always contain a pinch of folksy magic, whether that be in the Gothic of an empty forest or the fantasy of fictional creatures.

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