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Ch. 13 - The Boundary

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The moon was not much for dancing under; its light winnowed down to a dim sliver circling a sooty globe. The stars shone brighter in it's absence, but the farm was still muffled in darkness outside the pool of the house light. Judging by the horde of insects attacking it that light might not last much longer, and it didn't reach more than about 20 feet away from the house.

Gretch's clicked the flashlight app on her phone.

Light blinded Rhianna. "Turn that off!" she whispered. "Gran's window is on this side!"

"You should conserve the battery anyway," said Raisen.

The light went out and the darkness closed in again. The ground seemed much more uneven in the dark than in the day. Rhianna stumbled in a gopher hole before her eyes adjusted to the dark again.

They stole across the field to the edge woods. The darkness of the woods thrummed with insects, and the sounds of a thriving nightlife.

"What did your Gran say when she told you to stay out of the woods? Anything about fairies?" Gretch asked, staring into the noisy blackness of the forest.

"Or maybe coyotes?" Jenny swallowed nervously as a high pitched squeal interrupted the chorus of the night.

"She didn't say anything. She doesn't really talk much."

Gretch took step forward.

"Wait," Jenny grabbed her arm, "We're supposed to take the same path in as out? How do see anything, let alone the path."

"If we drop bread crumbs we won't see them even if the forest hasn't eaten them behind us," Raisen said.

"Ugh, make me think of Hansel and Gretel right now."

"I got this covered guys," Gretch said pulling something rattly out of her back pack. "And you should know, that whole Witches eating children thing was a just a bunch of Christian fear mongering maligning innocent women. Besides, I brought granola bars. We won't need to resort to eating candy houses."

There was more rattling as their fearless leader struggled to untie a small sack in the dark. Then she took a small glowing green orb out of the sack and tossed it to the ground at her feet.

Jenny drew in her breath sharply. "Magic!"

"I wish." Gretch chuckled. "Glow in the dark marbles."

"Cool," said Raisen.

Gretch seemed to have everything figured out. Rhianna basked in the freedom of not being the responsible one. She couldn't remember the last time she could just tag along on an adventure and not have her mom to worry over. Even on the farm she had responsibilities taking care of animals or doing chores.

"Come on Gretch, let's just go back. This is more than enough adventure for me," Jenny said.

"Maybe Jenny is right." The constant edge of humor had disappeared from Raisen's voice. In the short time Rhianna had known her, the girl didn't seem to have a serious bone in her body, but either the darkness of the sounds of small animals being murdered had opened up a whole new world of seriousness for her.

Gretch tossed another glowing marble between the trees in front of her, grinning widely, and launched herself over the threshold of briar in one giant step.

She turned around holding her arms out. "See nothing to worry about, come on." Then she was off.

"At least she is clearing all the spider webs ahead of us," Raisen said.

Jenny shuddered. "Well, we can't leave her by herself."

Neither of them moved though, so Rhianna went second. She followed the sounds of Gretch crashing through the underbrush and a watched for the intermittent trail of glowing green marbles.

After a moment she could hear the others following behind her—at least she hoped it was them. The darkness was ripe with imaginary monsters.

They traveled in this fashion for a long time, or at least it seemed unending. The forest was like a heavy invisible presence. She imagined it would feel this way to walk into a herd of elephants blindfolded. She could feel something all around her, massive and alive, and knew that it could crush her at any moment.

A bright light winked on about 10 feet in front of Rhianna.

"Gretch? Is that you?" she said, shielding her eyes and trying not to notice how much darker everything outside the circle of light had become.

"Check this out." Gretch stood up from a crouch, the light shone up at her face, casting her eyes in two deep black shadows, like eye socket pits in a skull.

A small scream escaped Rhianna's lips. "Gretch you almost gave me a heart attack!"

The Raisen and Jenny came crashing from behind. "Are you ok?"

Gretch swung her light toward them. "O-M-G. Are you guys holding hands?"

The pair were holding hands, but only for one more split second before they broke away like similarly charged magnets repelling one another.

"Neither of us wanted to be the last one." Jenny said, defensively. "It's always the poor girl bringing up the rear that gets picked off in the movies."

"Why do you think I went first? The heroine always goes first. But check this out." Gretch shone her light at the ground and nudged at something with her toe.

Rhianna could only make out a gray lump at first. Then she realized it really was a gray lump—or rock. But as Gretch's toe moved some leaves out of the way she saw a strange shadow on it. Just a black circle at first, then as Gretch moved the light around and shifted the shadows, Rhianna realized it was a spiral.

She knelt down and traced the deep groove of the spiral carved in the rock. "What is it?"

"Must be a marker," Gretch said. "Maybe a boundary?"

"A boundary of what?" Jenny asked, her hand seeking out Raisen's again.

"Let's find out!" Gretch said, snapping her phone shut and plunging them all into impossible darkness.

"Why don't you two go on ahead this time," Rhianna said. "I will go last."

She didn't really want to be the girl bringing up the rear, but she could tell Jenny was terrified. She almost called out to Gretch to turn around and go back. But the girl was like a lemming with a cliff in front of her. There was no turning her back.

Raisen and Jenny went on ahead, close enough together that they must still be holding hands, if not clutching at each other's arms. But Rhianna wasn't going to call them out on it.

Once they had gone ahead she followed, stepping over the marker. As she did a chill passed through her. She wasn't sure if it was the stone or the fact that the entire forest had gone silent as she crossed over it—they chill and the silence seemed to happen at the same time.

The forest was silent, but Rhianna's head was not silent. It was full of whispers. She was reminded of the dreams she had been having. Whispers of conversations that she couldn't hear but instinctively knew were about her.

During the day, these whisperers had felt like helpers. All those things that went her way, she had attributed to them—her own private pantheon of pagan gods granting her prayers. Maybe Gretch was onto something with her studies.

In the dark, with her heart pounding, imagining a faceless group of beings hovering over her was not a comfort. Please be good faceless beings! She prayed.

Which way did the others go? Her eyes darted about frantically looking for a telltale green marble. Everything was black.

Then her eyes caught the edge of a glow and she kicked aside some underbrush to reveal the next marble in her path.

And while you're at it, she thought to her whispering companions, please don't let me lose my marbles!

A/N: Wow, I can't believe I have managed to stick to my schedule 3 weeks in a row! Maybe if I keep this up I can start getting 2 chappies out a week. That would be fun. I hope everyone is liking the story so far, please comment and vote so I know you are out there and I know I have readers depending on me to write more chapters!

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