by Hannah Streett
photo by Hannah Streett
Ellen cradled the tiny white sandal in her palm, clutching at her chest. A pink leather flower missing two petals because Shelby found scissors. A black scribble on the side where Shelby had tried to write her name in Sharpie. A grungy strip of cloth taped to the back strap because Shelby complained it cut into her heel.
A golden insignia of a blooming orchid glowing on the sole.
“Oh, please no,” Ellen whispered, trembling from head to toe. Each breath caught in her throat and came out as a small gasp. Not Shelby. Not her baby. Couldn’t They have stolen someone else? Someone she didn’t know and didn’t care about? Why did it have to be Shelby?
Stomach churning, Ellen stumbled forward, her legs nearly giving way. Only the chill, driving sensation rushing through her veins kept her moving. One step, and then another, and then she was sprinting through the lush grass alongside the road. Her bare feet slapped the ground in a frantic rhythm, oblivious to the sticks and stones biting into them. Home. She had to reach home.
To the right, a gravel lane melted into churning shadows cast by a symmetrical pathway of ancient oaks. Ellen plunged in. Dappled light sparkled in the air, drifting through the web of branches overhead, and a puff of air hissed through the leaves. Ellen’s chest tightened, and her heart beat against its walls.
Before her eyes, the stone house of her youth rose from the fading light, standing stark against the clouds grumbling in the sky. Ellen raced over the blurred colors of the flower-bed. Up the cold steps. Into the empty foyer where she finally paused, legs aching, her every ragged breath echoing in the stillness.
“Mom?” she cried, then more desperately repeated, “Mom!”
Nothing. Just the creaking of the screen door shutting behind her.
Shaking, Ellen swept a hand across her eyes. Two hours on her own, and this was what she got? A lifeless mansion?
“What have I done?” she murmured, arms hanging limp at her sides. It should have been safe to leave Shelby with her mother—her mother, who had been so helpful since Will passed away, and who was now also missing. Ellen should have known better. It seemed that They were bent on taking out her entire family, one by one.
Clenching her fist, Ellen took a deep breath and approached the only piece of furniture in the room: an elegant, dark-wood cupboard with ornate swirls and plenty of corners for hiding secrets. “No,” she muttered, yanking open a small drawer on the left, “I won’t let Them win this time.” For once, she would fight back.
In the dying hours of day with thunder shaking the air, Ellen withdrew a small, yellowed envelope from the compartment. She held her breath and dumped its contents into her hand. It was a key. Old fashioned, bronze, only the length of her thumb. It was the key, gifted to her early in her childhood.
The envelope fluttered to the floor, and Ellen focused on the sacred item she now held. Perhaps it wouldn’t work. More likely, it would lead to trouble. But her daughter’s life was on the line.
“Open the path, Lord Faolán,” she whispered, clasping the key in her hand. “You said long ago you would grant me one free passage. Now I call upon the power of that vow.”
As Ellen closed her eyes, the metal began to burn in her hand, and she felt tendrils of mist licking her skin. I’m coming, baby, she thought. Already, the wooden floor was transforming to spring grass, and the storm was being drowned out by chirping birds.
“Welcome,” said a husky voice, “To the Land of the Fey.”
Hannah Streett is an English student at Hagerstown Community College where she edits its literary magazine, the Hedge Apple. When she isn’t drowning under waves of schoolwork, she occasionally releases the characters in her mind so they can tell their stories. Her creative work has appeared in a recent issue of “Spark: A Creative Anthology.”