The Hidden Glade was just the kind of place where she would expect to see and Oracle of the Falls. Julia thought that perhaps the upcoming trip to Granite Falls would just a vacation with friends. Depending, of course, on what the Oracle told her. This place had been at the top of her list since it was close to home and had a name that just begged for an Oracle.
Here the light filtered green through the leaves of the tall trees. The sun hit the ground only in dappled splotches and filled the air with a green haze. It was a magical area and Julia was the only soul around. That surprised her. Despite its name, the Hidden Glade wasn’t actually hidden, everyone knew where it was. It was just a long hike to get there so she had expected to see others picnicking or whatnot.
Julia looked around intent on making sure that there was no oracle here. She could already hear the waterfall although she couldn’t see it yet. As she walked through the glade, the already eerie silence continued. As she walked, she only heard her footsteps breaking the occasional twig and the drone of insects. There wasn’t even any birdsong which felt particularly wrong.
The whole place felt off. Like a ringing in the ears. She shook her head, perhaps that was why the place was so untouched. She wasn’t sure she wanted to stay any longer than she had too. A pressure built at the base of her skull, but she pressed on. The sounds of the waterfall continued to grow.
Clusters of deep purple flowers grew along the path and Julia crouched. Were these Death Flowers? As she bent close a burst of laughter from inside the push surprised her and she jumped back.
She looked around wildly hoping to see the pranksters in the bushes. No one was around. Julia hurried to the waterfall. The faster she could get out of here the better!
Finally, she burst out into a small clearing surround a deep pool. The water was crystal clear and she could see strange fish swimming deep below. Julia didn’t know fish, but she was certain fish had scales, not leaves. The air here was heavy with a cloying perfume from the flowers that bloomed near the water and wet with mist.
Julia looked around. Nothing.
“O-Oracle?” She called not much louder than her own voice. It felt wrong to break the silence. Even the insects stopped droning. It felt like the area was waiting. Julia felt eyes on her and she spun around. Nothing. Her skin prickled despite the warm air. She shivered.
“Hello?” She swallowed. There was definitely something out there. Something watching her. She could almost see eyes in the bushes. Red eyes. Unfriendly eyes.
She had to do this though, for James. She squared her shoulders. She had met the Grim Reaper in her bedroom. She wasn’t going to be frightened off. She looked around the falls. There was a painful beauty here. It was too perfect, the falls trickled down into the still pool below. There was even a little rainbow dancing where the water hit the pond. The air was filled with pollen dancing in the sunlight.
“Look,” she said. “I don’t mean to upset you, whoever you are.” She firmed her voice and was pleased that it didn’t quiver. She was pretty sure it was listening. Whatever it was. It felt like power, waiting to descend on her, but waiting, questioning.
“But I’m looking for the Oracle of the Falls, if that’s not you, I’ll leave.” And gladly, with haste, her mind added. “The Grim Reaper told me to talk to them.” She wasn’t sure what made her do it, but she held out her hand with the tiny scythe scar.
She’d noticed it when James had asked her about it. The scar was cold to the touch, but very small. At first, she’d thought it was just a coincidence. But when she’d borrowed her mom’s magnifying glass to look at it, the details were too perfect to be an accident. Had he meant to mark her?
The feeling of impending doom lifted suddenly. Julia blinked. All feelings of unease and being watched were gone. Julia was standing in an ordinary glade. A small waterfall trickled lacklusterly into a scummy pond below. Beer cans and the remains of the many people who visited the glad on the sly were evident. She heard laughter again, and turned to see two people coming down the path. Although they had a picnic basket in hand, they were not here for that she knew.
Blushing, she hurried past them and away from the glade. The forest now was normal. Ordinary. Exactly what she had expected. Whatever that had been, she was pretty sure it hadn’t been the Oracle. One down. She mentally marked these falls off her list of potential site.
As night fell, I glided through the space between our rooms. Julia wasn’t in her room. Curious I looked around.
I really hadn’t been in her room much without her. It no longer resembled the room I remembered from James’s life. But instead of feeling wrong and uncomfortable it was okay. When I’d first come back I couldn’t stand anything to be in the room that wasn’t exactly the same as in my memories. It had felt like I was being stuffed into a too small box.
I had spent a lot of time in this room with Julia.
While she’d put some furniture in the same place as James had growing up, over the years she had slowly changed the layout. First, the bed to the opposite corner, then adding a desk. It felt right though. It felt like Julia.
I smiled as I saw the picture still hanging on the wall. She’d kept her drawing table, even though she was too tall to use it. Her sisters apparently were more into science experiments than drawing and hadn’t wanted it. Tacked above the table was a picture she’d drawn of us years ago. She still had it.
I sat down in the seat and tried to grab a fresh sheet. My hands didn’t connect with the roll of paper. I sighed and went to find Julia. She was downstairs, the rest of the house was either asleep or not home. I could only sense her. She was in the living room dancing. I grinned.
We’d spent many a late night dancing before I’d disappeared. Julia grinned at me as she saw me. And executed a quick, but outrageous twirl. I stifled a laugh. I knew this game. First one to laugh lost. We danced to the music until the song was over, trying out more and more ridiculous moves.
Fighting back laughter. When the song ended, we collapsed on the couch laughing.
“Hahahaha,” Julia giggled catching her breath. I just grinned. “I missed that. I was hoping you’d show up tonight.”
I wasn’t sure how long it had been since I’d last been there, but her tone implied it had only been a few days. I’d tried hard to keep track of the pull of night. I smiled. I had done that much right. She looked at me like she wanted to say something. Had it been long enough that she’d found anything about the oracle? Should I ask? Although I’d said I wanted to help, there wasn’t much I could do. And we both agreed returning to the Darkness wasn’t a good idea. What if she found the ambrosia and I wasn’t around because I was lost?
“I went to the Hidden Glade today,” she said at last. I perked up.
“Was the Oracle there?”
“Something was there.” She rubbed her arms absently. Was she cold? “I don’t think it was the Oracle though.”
“Oh.” I wasn’t disappointed. Not really, right? She’d told me that the Grim Reaper had said this was the long process. How long was long? A year, five? Would she be an adult before we finished and I would be alive. What did that feel like? When I was alive again, I would be able to use the table upstairs. The first thing I’d do would be drawing a picture for Julia.
“But,” she said brightly, interrupting my daydream.
“Next weekend I’m going to Granite falls with Bre and everyone. There’s a lot of falls up there. And they’re famous. I’m sure one of them will have the oracle.”
I nodded. The Grim Reaper wouldn’t have made this impossible, right?
* Random teenagers are Violet from CitizenErased14’s Dust to Dust and Guppy Pigglewiggle (Julia’s cousin)
* Couple Pose by Juoo – Unfortunately, the creator has disappeared poses and site are not available
* Small (or rather sensibly-sized) dollhouse by PlasticBox
* Challenge details: CitizenErased14’s Ambrosia Challenge