Chapter 4: Flight from Shadow
The boy led Annabelle and Grace down a long twisty hallway, even while carrying his friend. He made several turns though without much rhyme or reason. Annabelle had already lost track of where she was within the house, but the boy seemed to know where he was going. She wondered how the two knew each other and what they were doing here in the house.
He wasn’t dressed like any boy Annabelle knew growing up. He wore a large fur coat and close-fitting trousers with high boots lined with more of the same fur, though Annabelle couldn’t guess what. His face was hard, though Annabelle supposed that must be due to the situation they found themselves, rather than an observation on his general nature. He did not speak much or at all, instead beckoning or signaling with his fingers to move this way or that.
Still, it did not take long for Grace to become impatient.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Grace said as she shook off Annabelle’s hand and walked up to the boy’s side. “Who are you anyway? Are you helping us or are you leading us closer and closer to that awful man?”
The language barrier still made it difficult to communicate with one another. The boy calmly raised a finger to his lips, shouldering his companion who he had called “Cid” into a more comfortable position, who grunted in pain in response. Then, he peeked out over a corner, watchful for any sign of movement.
And yet though he was a stranger, Annabelle felt sure they were in the presence of a friend. That seemed like an unfounded assumption, and one she turned over and over in her mind, but she could not shake it either. She glared at her sister to keep quiet, but Grace either didn’t see or didn’t care what she thought.
They wandered like that for several minutes or perhaps even longer, when the boy came up to a room with a row of large windows on one side and a wall full of mirrors on the other. The glass from either window or mirror was dirty and rusted throughout the room. The boy crept towards the closest window and set his companion onto the floor as gently as he could and looked out the window, rubbing at the glass with gloved fingers.
“What do you see?” Grace whispered. Annabelle also peered out and could see that they were several floors above the ground, despite her having no memory of climbing so high. The boy ignored her sister and instead set about tapping at the glass. Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap-tap. Annabelle could not discern a pattern to it, but she thought there must be one, for he was so purposeful in his motion.
It was only for a moment, but beyond the window, within a tangled hedgerow down at the ground level, Annabelle saw a fiery light glimmer. She gasped, surprised at seeing a light in the almost perpetual gloom. A small figure down below began to stir within the hedge, and the boy picked up Cid once more and beckoned the sisters to follow him out of the room.
All of a sudden, Annabelle was hit with that same feeling that things she did not comprehend were afoot, and her mind could only try to desperately keep up.
“Was there someone down there?” Grace asked the boy, but of course she received no answer. She began to try a different tact, which was to ask her sister instead. “Do you think that was someone down there?” she repeated.
“I don’t know.” Annabelle shook her head, though she wondered if her sister wasn’t onto something. The boy seemed to be well prepared with signals and routes and purpose. If he had come for Cid, maybe he had not come alone.
Maybe they were in good hands after all. Maybe they would get out of this awful house and back into the safe walls of their home, curled in a great big chair next to a warm fire with a book to read.
There came a great uproar like clap of thunder from almost right behind them. The sisters looked at each other in fear and then at the boy carrying Cid. They began to run as fast as they could, heedless of who might see or hear them, running so fast that Annabelle’s her side began to burn from the exertion.
“Behind us!” Grace pointed at some figure that Annabelle only caught out of the corner of her eye. Annabelle dared to glance behind and immediately regretted her choice. A large group of shadows swarmed after the four of them, cackling madly with glee.
“Keep running!” Annabelle grabbed her sister’s arm and pulled with all her might, though she might have just yelled gibberish for all she knew.
They came to a great hall with a vaulted ceiling and stairs leading down to a door. Without thinking, Annabelle took the stairs two at a time, following quickly on the boy’s heels, and keeping a firm hold of her sister’s hand.
Then, Annabelle tripped at the last step, and the sisters fell together into a heap. The boy flung the door open and shouted at the girls in some foreign tongue. Annabelle picked herself up and helped her sister to her feet, but as she did so, she saw the hordes of shadows chasing them, and her heart grew cold.
Perhaps Grace saw the look on her sister’s face, for she turned to look back as well. Grace squeezed her older sister’s hand and pushed her back towards the door. “Let’s go, Annie!”
Annabelle felt her feet come unstuck, and she ran to the door where the boy was waiting and holding it open, all while carrying an unconscious Cid. As Annabelle crossed the threshold, she heard her sister scream.
Turning back, she saw a shadow in the shape of an elongated figure had plucked her sister up into the air, its red eyes full of eerie merriment.
“Grace, no!” Annabelle reached for her sister’s hand, but the boy pulled her back with a strong arm. Annabelle wriggled out of his grip, but even as she did so, she saw more and more shadows pour into the hall, each one laughing and giggling in a strange harmony. Behind them, standing all the way up on the mezzanine, was the man in the dapper coat with his top hat smiling widely.
“Please, don’t go!” he said spreading his hands wide. “I would so much like for you to stay.”
“Annie!” Grace cried, reaching for Annabelle with outstretched fingers.
Annabelle cried out and reached as far as she could go. As she did so a line of liquid fire lanced out from the floor above, striking the shadow holding Grace aloft. Annabelle winced from the brightness of it and the heat, while the shadow-man arched its back in pain and dropped its struggling captive. Grace screamed as she plunged into the shadows, and Annabelle could see her no more.
She froze there, not knowing what to do. She couldn’t think, couldn’t even scream. And she couldn’t see her sister amid a mass of red glowing eyes and shadowy flesh.
The boy grabbed Annabelle roughly by the arm and pulled her back toward the door. Her feet stumbled a bit as the boy led her away. All she could do was place one foot in front of the other, until the boy shut the door behind them.
Even then, as they walked down a path to the hedgerow and then took a turn onto rougher, rockier ground, Annabelle didn’t know what to do. All she knew was that she’d lost her sister.
“I have to go back for her.” Annabelle was quiet at first. But she found strength in her voice like her sister would have. “I have to go back! My sister needs me!”
The boy ignored her and continued on whatever path only he could see.
“Let me go!” Annabelle yanked her arm free. First one step, then two, she turned back the way she came.
The boy caught her wrist, but she wrenched it free.
“No! Stop!” Perhaps what made her stop was hearing him speak words she could understand where before he had been almost silent.
“You—you can understand me?” The boy nodded. “Then you understand my sister is back there, and I have to go to her.”
They stared at each other, her eyes only now just beginning to gain a bit of strength, his eyes calm and cold as ice. Then, he sighed and said simply, “Too many shadows. You will die. That will not save your sister.”
Her shoulders shuddering, Annabelle thought back to how the shadows had swarmed over them so quickly. She felt her lip quaver, her eyes sting with tears, and she shook her head. “I know that. But what else am I supposed to do?”
“Come with me.” He held out a hand to her, open in invitation. “Later, we will come back and save your sister. I promise.”
Tears began to flow freely down her cheeks. Somehow Annabelle knew in her heart that if she left now, she might not see her sister for a very long time. But at the same time, she felt sure that this boy who she did not know would keep his promise.
“Okay.” Annabelle took his hand, and together they walked over the rocky hill and deeper into the gloom.