Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2019.
It was eight hours and one bus transfer later that Ada stepped onto the sidewalk of Easty, Illinois. She stretched her arms high above her head, and the sleeves of her freshly cleaned sweatshirt fell down her wrists.
“I can appreciate public transit, but Lord, those seats kill me,” Maeve said as she followed behind Ada. Priddy trotted off the bus step calmly and shook out her fur. Ada had put the green-and-blue plaid scarf back around Priddy’s neck when the temperature dropped at night. She got comment after comment from fellow bus riders about how adorable and well-behaved she was, and it all made Ada highly uncomfortable—she was sure Priddy would finally break and bark a very human “Thank you!” at someone, sending them into shock in the middle of the highway.
After Dole gave Ada the shadow cleaning birch dust—which they burned just before leaving in Dole’s square-shaped fireplace—she did their laundry for them and agreed to keep Ada’s fox painting until she knew what to do with it. Ada had leaned in close to Dole’s weathered face, so close that she could see the hinges of Dole’s yellow glasses, and made her promise not to do anything to the painting.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to. But I don’t want to,” Dole said, rolling her gray eyes. “This is so Adathis’s style, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, even your style and ability is tied up in the magic now. You can’t paint anymore, right?”
Ada had shrugged at this but nodded a moment later. She was furious that she even felt the urge to paint anymore, furious that the one thing she knew about herself—that she was a painter—was seemingly thanks to him. It made her warm skin hot to the touch, and her tan cheeks turned an angry shade of crimson.
She hoped with all the might in her heart that visiting the witch Belèn would bring her one step closer to stopping him, or being free of him, or anything that allowed Ada to live her life at all. Dole had given them Belèn’s address, bus fare, and a stack of cash (“When you get to be my age, paper money is meaningless. Personal debts, on the other hand, can be very useful,” Dole had said as they waited for the bus together.) She’d also taken a page from Ada’s notebook and written down the information for five other witches who upheld a pact with him. It took everything Ada had not to crumple it, but she couldn’t say why.
When Ada read the sign for EASTY MONTHLY FLEA MARKET, she felt a jump in her heart. This is where Dole said the witch would be, and an air of excitement filled Ada’s lungs. This witch, if what Dole said was true, would help Ada take the first step toward ending her deal with him: getting a good night of sleep.
“Easty,” Maeve said toward the canvas sign suspended between two metal poles. “Or was it Eh-sty?”
“Eh-sty,” Ada replied, walking forward over the cold ground. Priddy pranced beside her, tongue lolling and tail wagging at a nearby chihuahua in what seemed to be a red handknitted sweater. The smaller dog growled and skipped over to its owner, but Priddy just shrugged and, with an approving glance from Ada, took off running into the crowd.
The flea market was outdoors, as are all good flea markets. Tables were arranged in long rows, some with huge white tents above them, but most just sat against the gray, flat horizon. The absolute endlessness of the landscape gave Ada a start every time she took a look around; she was used to being surrounded by trees, hugged snugly against herself, and alone. The expansive mid-west made her feel trapped, somehow, by the depth of the sky and the distance of the horizon.
Ada walked slowly on the yellowing grass between each table as she looked for Belèn amongst the merchants. Maeve followed behind her, commenting on the things they saw. Snowflakes floated down from the sky every few minutes, landing on Maeve’s curly hair and enticing pale purple frizz to reach out toward the moisture. She’d been complaining about losing her hair straightener on the train, but Ada didn’t understand why Maeve would want to constantly hide her ringlets. Ada had been happy to wash her own hair at Dole’s apartment, but the water didn’t make a crease or a wave in the thick, brown strands on her head.
A table came into view, one piled so high with quilts that Ada couldn’t see the person sitting behind it.
“I think this is her,” Ada said, and she whistled for Priddy, who came running from a large group of people huddled over her. Her mouth was pulled back in what looked like a smile; Ada guessed she’d been the center of attention, and happy for it.
Maeve tried to peer around the mound of blankets. “Huh. She must be really short. I can’t see her at all.”
The group moved closer. There was a pile of neatly folded quilts on both ends of the table, and between them, Ada could see the face of a very short, brown-faced woman. She wore a pink, green, and red quilt around her shoulders like a shawl, and her white hair was wrapped precariously in a scarf of the same colors atop her head. Large hoop earrings hung against her sagging cheeks, and an array of colorful beaded necklaces were draped over her chest.
“Welcome!” Her voice was small and high but clearly shaky with age, like the creak of an old door. Her smile lines and crow’s feet were deep, but she looked happy, and she stood, lifting her small hands in the air to gesture toward her quilts. “These are handmade quilts, made by my hand, and the finest quality you’ll find in the whole state.” She leaned forward on those small hands and winked a twinkling eye. “I can give you a discount, since you look so cold in that jacket—it’s chilly out here, my dear—maybe a stack of three for one thousand dollars? That’s two hundred off the normal price for three, and I’ll even throw in—” She paused, and sniffed the air thoughtfully. Then, the old woman sat back in her chair. “Who are you?”
For a moment, Ada was speechless, but she shook her head and stumbled to reply. “Oh, I’m—uh, my name is Ada. Are you Belèn?”
“I’m Maeve, by the way,” Maeve interjected, waving her hand in greeting and throwing a cold look Ada’s way that made the young witch blush, ashamed.
“I am she,” Belèn replied, crossing her thickly-sweatered arms. “Who sent you?”
“Dole told me—”
“I knew it!” Belèn stood and pointed with a wide mile that exposed a missing front tooth. “I smelled her on you. Ah, Dole.” She sat back and crossed her arms once more. “So, for what are you here, darlings? Quilts, maybe? Don’t let my ample supply fool you. I keep it well-stocked, but I’ve made many sales today already.”
“Well, we—or, I—I can’t sleep.” Ada’s eyes darted from Maeve to Belèn nervously. How could she explain that he was haunting her sleep without exposing herself as a witch to Maeve?
Belèn stared for a moment, and Ada noticed her small face focus in on Maeve for a second. Then, a huge smile drew across her face. “I’ll drive you to my house after the market wraps up. Do you have somewhere to spend the night yet?”
Both women shook their hands, and then thanked Belèn after she offered her home to them. She told them it would be about an hour before she would leave, but she would be able to find them if they wanted to look around. Just before the three walked away, Belèn winked at Ada mischievously, as if they were in on some secret together. Ada gulped, and supposed that they were.
“I wanted to look at that awesome sword display that we passed earlier,” Maeve said as they meandered once again through the flea market.
“Sounds good to me,” Ada said, but she trailed off at the end when she was sure she spotted a black-tipped orange tail behind the legs of someone a few feet away. She blinked. Ona’s one yellow eye stared at her from between passersby.
Ada saw Maeve with her back turned as she inspected a table covered in scented candles. “Priddy,” Ada whispered as she bent to the dog’s level, scratching her behind the ears but keeping her eyes on their friend. “Ona’s here. Can you distract Maeve while I talk to her?”
“I would love to,” Priddy whispered back, and she scampered off, barking at Maeve and leading her deeper into the sparse crowd.
A gentle wind blew through Ada’s jacket, but she couldn’t feel it against her warm skin. She bolted off after Ona and found her behind a table covered in a thick tarp. “What are you doing here?” she whispered as she knelt next to the fox.
Ona looked around suspiciously. “He’s found your cabin. It’s practically destroyed. I saw him looking for you—we all felt it at Home when he passed by the entrance. Everything is covered in a thick layer of black dust.” She sat down, but her muscles were tensed, ready to run. “I hope you didn’t need to return.”
Ada’s heart sank a little at the thought, but the feeling was mingled with something colder and more uncaring; it wasn’t her cabin. It belonged to Adathis. “I wasn’t planning on returning. But thank you.”
“I needed to tell you something else. You said a white, cloudy creature tried to kill someone—the woman you’re with, correct?” Ada nodded, and Ona continued. “I saw a group of them with him. It looked like he was riding a huge puff of smoke through the trees. If they were the same creatures as the one that tried to kill your friend, you need to be careful. He could be tracking both of you.” Ona adjusted her paws on the ground, leaving no trace of shifted dirt under them. “You might be better off leaving her to fend for herself.”
Ada bit her tongue to contain the newfound anger that had been boiling deep within her body lately. She simply shook her head.
“You never were very good at making decisions, Adathis,” Ona replied with her eye fixed on Ada’s face.
“You know more than you’re letting on,” Ada said between gritted teeth. She felt the red-hot, old anger bubble up into her head, burning the back of her throat.
Ona tilted her head in surprise. “Oh, Adathis—I didn’t think I’d see this side of you again. You always were quick to anger. I’m surprised it took this long to come out again.”
Priddy barked. It sent a quick zap of shock down Ada’s back and she stood so fast that her head began to spin. When she looked down, Ona was gone.
“I told you I would find you!” Belèn said. Ada looked toward the sound and found Maeve standing with Priddy a few feet away from the table. Belèn walked up from behind them with a paisley duffel bag nearly as big as she was. She wobbled as she walked with it, and Ada noticed how stout her body was under the thick quilt.
“Did you sell everything?” Maeve asked, squinting at the duffel bag.
Belèn simply laughed, patted her bag, and winked at Ada again. “We’d better get going. My truck is this way.”
Ada stepped around the table to follow, but Maeve grabbed her arm. She narrowed her dark eyes and peered into Ada’s face. “What were you doing back there?”
“Tying my shoe,” Ada said, hoping behind hope that both of her sneakers were, in fact, tied now. Maeve licked her lips, brows knit, and then let go.
The drive to Belèn’s house didn’t take long, but Ada had felt numb as she sat in the window seat of the truck bench with Priddy on her lap. Maeve sat in the middle, Belèn’s duffel bag on her lap. Every pothole that forced their hips to bump against each other made Ada very aware of Maeve’s unnerved presence, and it gave her a stomachache.
Everything was different inside the small house. Once Ada entered through the wooden front door, she felt a wave of calm wash over her. Belèn turned on lamps in all corners of the living room, and the gentle orange glow illuminated a cacophony of quilts.
Quilts covered the walls, the couches; even the hardwood floor was covered by a thick rug that was woven to look like a quilt design. Each one had different fabrics in various colors. Most had small floral designs somewhere in them and some had ocean scenes stitched onto the squares.
“This is beautiful,” Maeve whispered. Even Priddy felt the energy. She sat by the front door, gazing around, and completely silent.
Along one wall, to the right of the entrance, was a couch and a table with an ancient looking sewing machine, and across from that were two doors, one that Ada could see was a bathroom. She blinked for a moment at the wall directly behind her when she saw a big screen TV nearly as tall as the wall and as wide as the couch.
Belèn put down her bag in her bedroom and saw Ada staring at the TV. “I’m old,” she began, “and it’s hard to see far away when I’m squinting at thread all day.” She folded up the quilt that was over her shoulders to reveal a pale pink, simple dress. “Follow me and I’ll take you to the guest room.”
They followed her through the kitchen to find a bedroom at the back of the house, likely a later addition. Belèn turned on more lamps to show a dusty four-post bed with a plastic sheet over the mattress. “I’ll make up the bed for you after dinner.”
They eat a meal of spicy vegetable soup and some sort of sweet bread that Ada didn’t recognize. Nerves took over as Ada realized she’d be sharing the king-sized bed with Maeve, giving the woman ample opportunity to ask questions. She took spoonfuls of her soup too slowly and then too quickly, trying to both prolong and speed up the time it would take until Maeve would confront her.
“I’ve laid out a quilt and a fresh sheet for the two of you,” Belèn said, returning from the guest room. “Hopefully you’ll sleep well.” She winked at Ada, but this time, Ada wasn’t sure why.
“Thank you so much for everything,” Maeve said. “Can I help with the dishes?”
Belèn waved her hand with a smile. “No need. You girls have been travelling all day. You should rest.”
Maeve smiled tiredly. Ada could see bags forming under her eyes, and her skin looked more pallid than usual. “I’ll turn in for the night, then. Sleep well, Belèn.” She looked to Ada and her smile dropped at the same time as Ada’s stomach. “Goodnight.” Ada nodded.
After she left, Belèn took a seat at the table and let out a loud breath. “She’s not in a good mood, huh?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Ada replied. She stirred the remnants of her soup around with her spoon. “She doesn’t know I’m a—you know.”
“Oh, I know, dear. I could smell it on you, under the strong scent of Dole. You haven’t used your powers for a while, am I right?”
Ada nodded and sighed. “I’m trying to find a way to stop the creature I got my powers from. Apparently, I tried to stop him a few months ago, or I was trying to figure out how, and I ended up losing my memories. Nobody is sure if it was on purpose or an accident.”
The older witch studied Ada for a moment, and then stretched out her legs with a groan. “No, you didn’t just get your powers from him. There’s something underneath that, too. Something old.”
Ada just shrugged. She didn’t know. “Dole suggested I visit you so that I can sleep. The creature, he haunts me in my sleep. It’s so real, and terrifying, but I can never move when it happens. I had some sort of herbal remedy for it, but I’ve run out.”
“And you can’t remember how to make it.” Ada nodded. “I can help you.” Belèn stood and left the kitchen. She returned with an incredibly small folded quilt. Ada wasn’t sure how such a tiny blanket would help her, but when Belèn unfolded it, the thing became a full-fledged, queen-sized quilt. The images of lavender and sheep were stitched around the perimeter and in the center. The rest of the squares were alternating circles of purple and green, and it smelled like a bushel of lavender. “This will keep the dreams away. I’ll make you something better tonight.”
“Aren’t you going to sleep?” Ada asked incredulously. She already felt weighted down by fatigue; she couldn’t imagine staying up much longer.
Belèn just winked again. Ada stood and took the quilt, thanking the old witch. When she got to bed, she saw that Maeve was under a nearly identical quilt, except that hers was in a slightly paler shade of lavender and a darker shade of green. She peered at Maeve’s face in the lamplight, trying to discern if she was awake. When Maeve snored, Ada felt safe to crawl into the empty side of the bed. Priddy laid stretched out between them. As soon as Ada crawled under the quilt, she was met by sleep.