Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2019.
This will all be over soon, a voice whispered in Ada’s mind. Her eyes shot open, and she could see the outline of a person—or, something shaped like a person—standing over her body. The night sky behind the shape dwindled in her vision, and the warmth she felt from Priddy and Maeve on either side of her dissipated into freezing cold. She couldn’t move.
The shape came closer to her face, bending down at the waist, but Ada could see no arms or legs. Sweat beaded on her forehead and her lungs pulled air in, blasted it out. You cannot hide forever, the voice said. Ada’s head felt numb.
Four arms like vines shot out of the shape, snapping onto Ada’s neck, and she gasped for air until she opened her eyes again, and saw nothing. Priddy was snuggled up to her right side, and Maeve to her left. The sky was clear. Ada raised a hand to feel her neck; her fingers stung with a strange heat.
A few hours later, Priddy awoke with a stretch and a yawn. She stood, shook her fur out, and sat next to Ada. “Wow, Ada, you look really bad.”
Ada dragged a hand down her face and massaged her under-eye bags. “Thanks a lot. I forgot to take my medicine last night, so when he woke me up, I didn’t go back to sleep.” Ada heaved a deep sigh. “I watched the sun rise, though. That was nice.”
Maeve sat up with a grunt, her purple hair sticking to her face. She used the sleeve of her sweater, a light shade of violet, to a smear of saliva off of her chin. “Who are you talking to?” she asked with a groan.
Priddy wagged her tail, and Ada spat a quick “no one” before pulling her tired body into a standing position. Her whole body still felt comfortably warm from Ostra’s magical touch the night before, and she was grateful.
“Whoa, that looks gnarly,” Maeve said, standing and reaching toward Ada’s neck. Ada flinched away. “Where did those marks come from?”
“Skin condition,” Ada replied, zipping her jacket up higher. Ada’s hair, a dark, reddish brown, only came to just below her chin, so the fresh marks on her neck were unfortunately visible.
“Oh,” Maeve said, pulling her hand up into her sleeve.
Ada turned to survey their situation. “There,” Ada said, pointing toward the horizon between the cornfield and the forest. “I think I see buildings.”
Maeve squinted and nodded. “Yeah, I think you’re right. Let’s head that way, then.”
Priddy barked once and spun in a circle before sitting. Ada looked at her quizzically, glanced at Maeve, and bent down to Priddy.
“Breakfast, please,” Priddy whispered into Ada’s ear. When Ada stood, Priddy stuck out her tongue, tilted her head, and looked pleasantly unaware.
That’s a pretty good normal dog impression, Ada thought.
The three ate their meager rations and then walked, Priddy prancing in the lead, until the buildings they thought they’d seen became houses and stores. A small main road went through the middle of the town, a road with a sidewalk on each side sporting sprouts of grass and weeds between the cracks.
It was much warmer than the night before, but Ada only noticed because Maeve kept saying so. She realized that Maeve was a talker, and that she was not. Adathis might have been, but Ada was not.
They arrived at a local grocery store called Dingerman’s Grocery, with a cartoon of the aforementioned Dingerman giving customers a giant thumbs-up on the sign above the entrance. Priddy, unfortunately, was forced to stay outside. Maeve, who was an average-person asset to Ada—since she didn’t remember grocery stores very well at all—was brought in for backup, and soon they emerged with a map and bags of food. Ada pocketed her dwindling wad of crumpled cash with a sigh.
“Oh, what a cute doggy,” a woman said as she scratched Priddy on the neck outside of the store. Priddy leaned into the scratch in pure canine bliss, tongue lolled to the side.
“Priddy,” Ada called, and Priddy’s ears perked. She ran out of the woman’s grasp and to Ada’s side, where she stared up lovingly.
“Is this your dog?” the woman asked. She was somewhere in her fifties, and she wore the sweatshirt of a local sports team over top of baggy jeans. Ada stared at her curly hair, thinking about the limp, oily mop currently on her own head, and she replied in the affirmative. “Well,” the woman continued, “you really shouldn’t leave your dog unleashed and alone.”
“Under normal circumstances, I would agree with you,” Ada said, beginning to walk toward the edge of the parking lot. Maeve flashed the woman a quick, awkward smile and followed, along with Priddy.
“How can you let her off leash like that?” Maeve whispered over Ada’s shoulder. “She’s a really good dog, but anything could happen.”
Ada sat on one of the concrete bumpers in the parking lot and began unloading her bags of food into her lap. Maeve sat beside her, and Ada gave her one of the bags. “She’s a very special dog, I guess. I’m putting the rest of the food in my backpack. Is that okay?” Maeve nodded, not pushing the leash question any further.
“So,” Ada said, chewing on the end of a pre-made sandwich and smoothing out the map on the ground in front of her, “we are trying to get to Lapeer. You’re trying to get—where, again?”
“Cincinnati,” Maeve replied, slowly biting her own sandwich.
“Cincinnati,” Ada said. “It looks like we are here,” she said, pointing to the general area of their town as indicated by the cashier in Dingerman’s, “and there is no train station in this town, so we’ll have to do something else. Taxi, maybe?”
Maeve shook her head and took a sip from a glass jar of juice Ada purchased. Ada noticed how the purple strands on Maeve’s head had begun to twist and frizz since they met. “No taxi would take us that far, and this town is probably too small to have one, anyway. Let me just—wait,” Maeve said, frantically smacking each of her pockets. “My phone! Oh my God, I’ve lost my phone. Wait, it’s here—shit.” She threw her hands down. “It’s broken. It won’t turn on.”
Ada wrinkled her eyebrows and shared a look of confusion with Priddy. “They have a phone inside that you can use.”
Maeve scoffed at Ada, in turn making Ada wonder what she’d said wrong. “My smartphone, geez. I was going to get us a—oh, never mind.” She stopped talking when she saw the look on Ada’s face of noncomprehension. “I’ve lost my phone and my purse, so I’m broke and disconnected from the world!”
With a sympathetic nod, Ada patted Maeve’s knee. “It’s fine. I can get us a motel for the night and you can figure it out tomorrow. Maybe you can call someone you know on a, uh, not smart phone.”
“You’re right,” Maeve said. She buried her face in her hands. “This is the worst trip ever.”
Ada sat on the edge of one of the made-up beds in their motel room. The duvet was a strange, dusty red-orange with stripes of bronze running width-wise. The light above her head flickered as the sound of running water from Maeve’s shower in the adjacent bathroom filled the room. Quickly, Ada took a pill as the sun finished its setting.
The motel television, a square, boxy thing covered in dust, played the local news. Ada heard it in the back of her mind discussing the train wreck, and that no survivors were found, but not all passengers were accounted for. The noise went into her head, bounced around for a moment, and left. Something kept her from being able to focus.
She laid back on the bed next to the napping Priddy and stared up at the light. It almost seemed to blink like a dim, fog-cloaked lighthouse in the distance, but the erratic nature of the flickering would always disrupt the pulsing rhythm Ada built in her head. She stared until her vision was clouded with white and she was forced to close her eyes, but the blinking continued behind her shut lids.
Before the water had shut off, Ada was asleep.
A scraping sound woke Ada, and she opened her eyes to darkness. Priddy was still sleeping next to her on top of the duvet, and, when Ada’s eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw the form of Maeve sleeping in the bed to her left.
The scraping came again, and Ada looked toward the window. Through the slight smidge of space between the two curtains, she made out a small silhouette; a paw moved up to the window again, and she heard the scraping once more.
She took a deep breath to try and calm her adrenaline-drenched body. Ada slid out of bed as quietly as she could, crawled over to the window, and drew back the curtains. She saw a flash of dark red fur dashing into the woods, and then a bright yellow eye staring at her from under the leaves of a wild blackberry bush.
Ona, Ada thought. She took one last glance at her sleeping companions before slipping out the front door. She held her breath at walking out alone in the dark, but her feet kept on moving for her.
Immediately, she regretted forgetting her shoes. Her toes curled on the grimy cement step of the door. She turned the corner of the building—her room was at the very end of the long line of beige rooms, and sat against the edge of a small line of greenery—and watched for broken glass and gravel as she made her way to the bush.
“Ona,” Ada whispered, grateful again for Ostra’s magical warmth as her bare feet dodged a chunk of parking lot that had someone been displaced. “Ona, where are you?”
The fox stepped out from under the leaves. Ada felt a sense of relief and, yet, a new kind of tightness in her chest at finding the fox here.
“How did you get to Ohio?” Ada asked, rushing over and crouching.
“Home is much more complicated than a slice of land in your forest, Adathis,” Ona replied in her usual annoyed drawl. Her fluffed tail wraps around her black paws as she takes a seat. “I only wanted to make sure everything was going according to plan.”
Ada blinked. “Oh. You’re checking on me?”
The fox paused for a moment, but then gave a quick laugh. “No. No, I’m checking on your progress.”
“So did you hear about the train wreck, then?” Ada asked, rocking back on her heels and resting her arms across her knees. “We saw something there. It almost killed someone, I think.”
Ona’s tail bristled for a moment. “What was it?”
“I don’t know,” Ada replied. She ran a hand through her greasy hair, suddenly remembering she hadn’t showered before she’d gone to sleep. “It was huge, and white like a cloud, but sharper than a cloud. It’s difficult to explain.” She put her face in her hands, pressing her palms hard against her cheekbones. “But it had eyes. It looked at me.”
When Ada looked back at the fox, she had her one eye fixed on the sky. “It didn’t kill the someone, then?” Ona asked.
Ada shook her head, and Ona looked straight at her before speaking again. “Be careful, then. Keep Priddy nearby.”
“Do you know Priddy?” Ada asked, suddenly incredulous. Priddy said she’d never met the foxes, and that would have been nearly impossible, in any case.
“No,” Ona said quickly. Her tail began swinging in nervous rhythms. “You had talked about her before. I knew that she helped guard the cabin. That is all.”
A small drop of doubt sprung up inside Ada like a well. How well did she used to know these foxes? “Ona, did I ever talk about someone named Ostra?”
Ona tilted her head to both sides thoughtfully, but she wouldn’t meet Ada’s gaze. “Yes. Many times. Ostra is supposedly a descendant of Hausos, goddess of sun and love. They have a natural affinity for spreading warmth, I suppose.”
Ada blushed at Ona’s tone. “Am I a strange witch, then? Because I wasn’t born with powers, I mean.”
“Oh, you were born with powers,” Ona said, lifting a paw and placing it back down. “Your mother was—” She cut herself off and pawed at the ground.
Ada scooted closer, and whispered, “My mother?”
The fox didn’t reply. “Please, Ona,” Ada said, wringing her hands together. “If you know anything about her, please tell me.”
“You’ll find out everything soon,” Ona replied. She straightened her small body for a moment, then stood. “I’m going. Stay out of trouble.”
“Ona, wait—” But the fox was gone in a breath. Ada fell back onto her bottom and heaved a sigh before dragging herself back to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. She suddenly knew that she had, at some point, a mother. It was an idea she hadn’t consider until this moment, and it planted a pit in her gut that quickly began blossoming.