Child of Fire - Part II
An uneasy stagnancy enveloped the forest as Rob pressed onward. At times her voice seemed to emanate from all directions, which he assumed meant he was close. The dew on the ground had discolored his boots and his feet were beginning to grow cold. As he followed her voice through the woods, the trees evaporated in front of him, opening into a small teardrop shaped field, a sixty-foot tall magnolia as its centerpiece.
The magnolia seemed to glitter as Rob approached, the moonlight reflecting off of nails, spikes and chains which decorated the tree. Running his hand across the gnarled and cracked bark, Rob realized that sap oozed from its punctures. Rob ground his hand into the right leg of his jeans, and though the sap came off surprisingly well, it left his hand stained a violent combination of crimson and yellow.
“Come,” her voice descended from above him. Rob started at the soft severity of her voice, as if she were attempting to speak while hands squeezed the oxygen from her lungs. As he examined the tree Rob hesitated. There was no easy route up the trunk. Between the metal and wire he would be lucky to reach the top without injuring himself. Even if he reached her, the sap would stain his skin and his parents would know he had left.
“Come,” she repeated and Rob wrapped his fingers around the largest spike he could find. Rob couldn’t see the top, but he couldn’t leave either.
"Come." Hoisting himself upward, he carefully avoided the broken limbs and climbed skyward.
As Rob pulled his way higher, the limbs became smaller and wobbled side to side, making the climb increasingly difficult. Rob straddled the last branch large enough to support his weight. Though he was worn out and panting, Rob hushed his breath, not wanting to miss her voice.
“Come.” Her voice came from behind him and to the right.
“I’m here.” He was sure he had spoken loudly, but the words emerged no more than a whisper.
The moonlight grayed her as she floated underneath one of the branches, but Rob thought she would’ve been the same even if the sun came.
“Are you a ghost?” Rob asked as he examined the loose, pale skin that sagged from her bones.
“No,” she whispered,
“Why are you here?”
“They put me here.” Her mouth didn’t move, but her response was clear.
“I’m sorry,” Rob lowered his voice to match hers, and his eyes followed suit, widening when the saw the stains covering his skin and clothes.
“You should’ve followed their rules. You’ll end up here with me if you don’t,” though quiet, her voice carried an unmistakable urgency.
“I’d like that.”
As the moon labored down the dotted sky, the two sat in strained silence. For as gray as the rest of her was, her eyes remained blue, unmoving but vibrant.
“You should go,” she said as the first rays of the rising sun scattered through the limbs.
“I’ll come back,” Rob said as he swung his leg over the branch. Going down proved more difficult than climbing up, however, and he didn’t reach the ground until the sun was fully visible over the horizon.