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Ch. 36 - Siren Song

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They walked in hushed silence through the Wood. Mama clutched at Lacey’s elbow, whimpering now and then, and mumbling about Ella in the hands of Goeden. Lacey tried not to think about it.

A thought tugged at Lacey’s mind each time Mama tugged at her elbow. Cooper said the Wished had all wished for themselves. What if Mama hadn’t wished for Lacey? What if Ella had been her wish? It wasn’t exactly a new thought to her, but this time she started thinking about how she might have made her own wish—something had to have created her.

Her memories of being a bat were lost to her. But what if a young bat had stared up at the Night Mother, wishing for a mother of her own, at the same time Mama wished for a daughter? The two wishes might have crossed over, but not combined. Both wishes granted separately might have made a young bat transform into a human girl, to be adopted by a young woman eager for a child--while at the same time planting the child of the young woman’s wish in her belly. It sounded reasonable, in the same way the well and its wishes were reasonable.

Mama reached around Lacey’s shoulders and hugged her tight, as if knowing by instinct that her daughter needed comfort. Then Lacey realized it didn’t matter if Mama wished for her. Mama loved her. Lacey hugged her back and smiled for what seemed like the first time in ages.

Shadows lengthened as they walked. It was going to be night soon. The idea of being at the well in the dark was frightening enough, but the darker it got, the closer to the well they got, the creepier the Wood became.

These were the pines that surrounded the well. Whatever curse was on the well, or whatever magic gave it the power to grant wishes, affected the trees here. Or—a horrifying thought occurred to Lacey, what if not all of the wells transformations involved animals and humans. What it there were Wished trees? What about all the people who went missing in the Wood—the stories went back generations. Suddenly, she remembered what Blayd communicated to her that day he found her too close to the well: The trees have eyes.

Everyone was as nervous; they all sensed something was wrong with these trees, even without those creepy words echoing inside their head. People started looking this way and that at the slightest noise. Lacey told her self that, logically, if these trees were Wished, they would be on her side, not the well’s. She stared at them trying to guess at their intentions, or see something that would tell her it was all her imagination. But the trees did nothing but sway in the breeze, and whispered their secrets amongst their branches high over head.

“The well,” someone said. “We have to get to the well.”

Lacey jumped at the sound. Everyone had been so quiet for so long, it was like a shout. Murmurs of agreement answered the speaker. At first, Lacey was puzzled. They were going to the well. That was the plan.

“Is there a faster way?” the hunter Fergin asked.

Heads turned to her and a shudder ran through her. In the dying light, everyone’s eyes looked like dark pits. A thread of a song wrapped around her heart and squeezed. The well was calling.

“Don’t listen to it,” Lacey said. “It wants you to wish. Don’t give in. You don’t need anything the well can give you. You are happy with what you have. You already have everything you ever wanted.”

As she said it, she tried to believe it. She tried not to think of how desperately she wanted to save Ella, or all the little things she wanted to be different. She had fought the well before--she could do it again.

“I wish…” Arley turned her gaze longingly toward Golden-Eyes. He looked at her with the same longing, he couldn’t speak but he didn’t have to.

“Don’t!” Lacey shouted, as much at the song in her heart, as at the two cats.

“I wish my hut did not get so drafty in the winter,” someone else mused.

And the floodgates were opened.

“I wish I had Ella in my arms.” Mama let go of Lacey.

“I wish Sunny wasn’t dead.”

That one tugged hard at Lacey’s heart. Sunny had been a good hunter and a good friend.

Everyone started saying wishes out loud. Even Riley, who was repeating the wish that Sunny wasn’t dead, and adding a few other names. They were the names of her friends. Friends she had last seen at the road that day Goeden and the cats had attacked them. People around her were crying, and she wished she could cry with them. Cry for her fallen friends.

“No!” she shouted at the trees, now nothing but dark silhouettes in the last waning light of the day. “I don’t wish for anything! I refuse!”

Silence followed her outburst for a few seconds and then someone, Tiny Tee by her small size, bolted forward.

Lacey called after her, but more people started to run. The song in her heart intensified and so did the urge to run with them.

“Stop! That’s the wrong way!” They were heading directly for the well, but that was not the way they needed to take. Lacey could sense an echo ahead, something dark, damp, and hollow. All of her instincts told her to turn and go around it.

Suddenly Lacey was alone. Everyone had left her--everyone was running. She ran after them shouting to stop but they wouldn’t listen. The more desperate she got, the tighter the song clenched her heart, and the less she could sense anything about her surroundings. She no longer knew what direction she had even come from, let alone which direction she was headed; she only knew it was the direction she had to go.

The siren song surged in her heart.

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