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Ch. 20 - Haunted

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Lacey sat alone in the woods—in the dark. This was a terrible idea. She didn’t know how she was going to find her way to Devan let alone back to the camp. 

Blayd and Niva and the others had animal senses to keep them from getting lost. Probably every one of the Wished could find their way around the Wood with their eyes closed. Maybe there was a trick to it. She better figure it out soon or she was going to spend the night alone and hungry in the Wood, no better off than Devan. 

The camp was behind her, so the cave was…at least she thought the camp was behind her. She stood up and turned around. Which way had they come from? Which way had Niva gone when she left? Lacey turned again and took a step forward. Black tree trunks rose from the forest floor, straight and regular like a picket fence, each one indistinguishable from the next. It was hopeless; she was too human. She sat back down.

The darkness began to expand like the heaving ribcage of a living thing. Her and her imagination populated the shadows with monsters. More than once she thought she saw golden eyes flashing in the darkness. Her ears swiveled in every direction and she opened her eyes as wide as she could, but it didn’t help.  

When a noise broke the silence, Lacey instinctively threw her hands up in front of her. Something furry landed in her lap. Lacey shrieked and leapt to her feet. 

An indignant rrr-eeow came in response. Two green eyes, big and round as twin moons, looked up from her feet. 

“Meemu!” she said, scooping him up into her arms. “You found me. I guess even you can find your way around out here.”

Meemu purred and rubbed his head on her chin.

“Oh Meemu. What am I going to do? I need to find Devan. He’s hurt. I was going to bring him food and a blanket. It’s all my fault.” She poured her heart out to him the way she always did. She told him everything that had happened; he listened without interrupting and without judgment

After she finished, he leapt to the ground and butted her with his head. 

“But I can’t just go find him! It’s dark. I can’t see a thing. I don’t even know which direction is forward or back.” 

Meemu blinked at her and spun around in a circle.

She couldn’t figure out what he was trying to tell her. 

He sat on the ground and blinked a second time, keeping his eyes closed. 

It occurred to Lacey that this was bizarre. She liked to pretend he was talking back to her, but usually it was random cat behavior, which she chose to interpret as communication. This wasn’t just friendly feline encouragement. Closed eyes meant something. Like he wanted her to close her eyes.

Maybe she wasn’t too human, she just wasn’t wolf or cat or raccoon either. She was a bat. Other creatures relied on their eyes. Bat’s didn’t. Maybe that was the key. 

Lacey closed her eyes and listened. At first, all she heard was the groan of the trees, and a hiss of wind. She kept still, calmed her jangled nerves, and let her troubles melt away. Then, it was like a whole landscape of sound opened up to her: scrabbling noises tiny claws in dirt, swishing of pine needles brushing against bark, drips of dew as nighttime condensation weighed too heavy from a leaf, and so much more. She lost herself in this new world. It was marvelous.

But she still had no sense of direction. Or did she?

The wind was blowing in the direction it always blew. She let the little breezes buffet her face and turned to what she knew was north. She had it! 

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