Yeah, now I’m just enjoying myself. I’m sorry it was too good a cliff hanger to resist.
So I died.
One moment I was lurching to my feet, the next the whole side of my head was on fire. And then, as if it had all been one long dream, I was somewhere warm and safe. I could hear water trickling over rocks. It smelled earthy and rich — good, in a totally primal way.
“I told you I was going to save your dumb ass,” Madelyn said. I’d have known her voice anywhere.
I opened my eyes.
We were in a cave. To my right the cave went down deeper, a yawning darkness. To my left the cave bent around a corner so I couldn’t see the cave entrance, but it must have been close because light shone in around the corner, illuminating the downy moss and the enormous tree roots interrupting the cave walls. A stream trickled along rocks beside me, rounding the bend into the light on my left, and down into the darkness on my right. It was running uphill.
Madelyn was sitting on a rock across the stream from me. She looked like she did last year — plump and fresh and well rested. She was smiling at me.
“You bitch,” I said and she laughed. Her hair — dark but sun-streaked — flicked back over her shoulder. I could have cried.
There was a long awkward quiet. There was too much to say, and too much too long unsaid between us.
“Where are we?” I finally asked.
Madelyn shrugged one brown, sun-freckled shoulder. She was wearing a white tank-top and denim cut-off shorts. She still had a friendship bracelet around her ankle. She was barefoot.
She said, “Between.”
I knew what she meant at the time.
“So you’re not …dead,” I said and she looked away, slightly shy.
“I’m not super sure how to answer that,” she said. “It’s just… different.”
I waited for her to explain.
“I drowned in the lake,” she said. “You have to die before you can transform.”
“Transform,” I repeated.
She smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “I told you in the letter — she’s making me like her.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“You saw her,” Madelyn said. “The creature.”
“Well… her kind doesn’t procreate like we do. They choose their children. She chose me.”
I stared at her and vision of her as my Madelyn shifted uncomfortably, shimmered like a mirage. I looked away.
“So we’re… in utero,” I said, fully aware that it was the strangest, most surreal moment of my life. Lol or maybe death. Idk how these things work.
“Exactly,” Madelyn said.
Too weird. I covered my face with my hands.
“Look, I know,” Madelyn said. “But it’s how it is now and —”
“It’s how it is now? Jesus Madelyn.”
We were quiet for a long time.
“So what do we do?” I asked.
“You have some choices,” Madelyn said. “You can go back into the cave or you can go out into the light. Or you can stay.”
“What’s in the cave?” I asked.
“Your life,” she said. “Just the same as it was. No time will have passed and you won’t remember this.”
“And in the light?” I asked.
Madelyn looked towards the cave entrance. “I don’t know,” she said. “Your death.”
I shivered. “And if I stay?”
She looked down at her feet. “If you stay you’ll be like me. And like her.”
“So I’ll die,” I said.
“Sort of,” she said. “Your body will. The rest of you will stay here for a while, until we’re ready to go back.” She dared a glance at me. “We’ll be sisters.”
A shiver ran through me.
“What will it be like?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“How long will we be… creatures?”
Madelyn shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. But then: “I think forever.”
My skin prickled. When I looked at Madelyn her eyes had changed. They were too far apart, and they weren’t their usual shade of deep warm brown but a strange, glassy blue. I looked away from her.
“Mad, I want to be human,” I said. It was an instinct. The longer I sat in the cave with her the more acutely aware I became of her alienness.
“I know,” she said quietly. Her smile was slightly forced when she said, “You know where to go.”
And I did. All I had to do was follow the stream down into the darkness. I got to my feet.
“Madelyn,” I said. “If you weren’t here, would I still have this choice?”
She didn’t answer for a moment. Then she said, “ask what you really want to ask me.”
“Did you really need to die to save me?” I said, and the tears came all at once. I didn’t look at her. I was no longer sure what I would see.
“You’d have the same choice,” Madelyn said. “But I wouldn’t be here to help you.”
I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to tear up the moss and kick at the little trickling stream. All of this just so she could sit across from me in the cave and say go back down into the dark???
She must have seen my rage because she said, “Which way would you go if you didn’t know what it meant?”
I paused to consider. I looked down into the darkness of the cave. The air was colder that direction. The water wasn’t flowing that way.
In contrast, the light around the bend in the cave was golden and warm. It was strange, but I could hear birds singing.
“I don’t know,” I said, but that wasn’t entirely true. That light was too warm. I could see it glittering off the stream as it rounded the bend.
I took a step into the dark.
“Shiloh,” Madelyn said suddenly.
I looked back at her before I could stop myself. She was even stranger now, different and unfamiliar in a thousand small ways. Her head was too big. It filled me with dread.
“Drink from the stream,” she said. If she noticed me unable to look at her she said nothing about it.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I can see the future,” Madelyn said. “And I’m telling you to.”
I didn’t move.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
She put me through so much shit for months just so that now, when I had the choice to walk back down into the dark or out into the sun, I knew what the choice meant and now she’s asking if I trust her?
Lmao i did. Of course I did.
I knelt and cupped my hands. The water was ice cold and sweet going down. I’ll spend the rest of my life searching for water so pure.
“What will it do to me?” I asked.
“Nothing good,” Madelyn replied. “But you’ll be glad for it someday.”
When I looked at her again my brain stuttered. I don’t know what I saw. It was too big and too terrible and too bright to comprehend. I looked back down at the water.
“Come back with me,” I said.
“Someday,” she replied. And then, “It’ll be easier then.”
I hope that’s true because seeing her in that cave was excruciating.
I stood again and looked one more time at the place where the stream rounded the bend and light flashed off the water. Then I closed my eyes and turned back towards the dark.
There were a thousand things I wanted to say to her, but nothing adequate.
“Hey, Shi?” she said before I could go. “Tell Georgia — I’m sorry I called her to the woods. I didn’t mean to.”
I walked down into the dark. I walked until there was no more light, until there were no more tree roots, until I wanted to lay down and sleep by the stream.
Then I woke up.