As the panic rolled away, Sally wondered why she was frightened. She shrugged. It didn’t really matter. The sun was warm on her face and shade wasn’t far away. The small orchard of peach trees lay just around the path. It was a friendly orchard with generous trees. They whispered sweetness. Sally knew how to get there without slipping off the path into the Hotbeds of Desolation. The trick was to skip past them, gaze averted.
Settling in under the big tree in the third row, Sally took in the happy breeze and the fragrance of peaches. She closed her eyes just to see the sunlight filter through her eyelids, fluttering redness where it peeked between leaves. So good, this place, this moment. With a deep breath full of the strength they gave her, she got up and dusted off her backside. Time to see what other treasures this place held.
Skipping down the path, she heard voices ahead. They lay beyond a hedge. She listened a moment to the clipped, chirpy conversation. It was enough to make her skip away. Surely that was someone else’s tea party.
Unsure which path to take, Sally looked back the way she came. If she listened closely, she could hear the orchard whispering. She could go back whenever she wanted. She noticed the sides of the path to the right were dry, cracked clay and sand. No more Hotbeds. She tried walking instead of skipping. It worked – no moaning or tears waiting to drag her into the muck. As she savored the journey, sun warming her long hair, she hugged herself.
In the space of a step, the sun disappeared. She looked up for it, but the walls of the canyon blocked it. When she looked back, she no longer saw the hedge. She no longer heard the orchard’s whisper. The Very Bad Voice hissed along the canyon, the Beast trying to find her. She hugged herself more tightly and searched for a place to hide. A crevice, a boulder, some place to hide. Some place to be cornered.
The Very Bad Voice rasped its way toward her. Its fetid breath colored the air with mottled crimson and black, the Beast following in its wake. She opened her mouth to cry for help, but a screech came out, high pitched and wordless. The Beast reached out a claw and touched her cheek. She was able to shake her head away, but she could only hug herself, no matter how much she struggled. The Very Bad Voice muttered soothing lies as the Beast sharpened its claw. She tried to squirm away. She wanted to run for the hedge, turn toward the orchard. She’d skip if she had to, only let her free! Paralyzed with fear, she felt the Beast stab her with its sharp claw. Her thigh stung while the Very Bad Voice came close with its lies.
As the panic rolled away, Sally wondered why she was frightened. She shrugged. It didn’t really matter.