West Hills. Why did it have to be West Hills?
Heather trudged down the dirt and gravel path that led out of the main section of Ellowwood. A twenty-pound bag of wheat was in her arms, having been tasked to deliver it to an elderly couple out on the west side of town.
And not just west town, West Hills. Outside the town charter, maybe half a mile towards the heavy forest and where the island ended. Where more weird stuff lived, causing her imagination to freak out about what she could randomly encounter. It didn’t matter if it was late afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; the area still carried the same kind of connotations to it.
Heather stood at the outside of the blacksmith’s shop, her thoughts a total mess. She had elected to wait outside, letting Janus return the rope they had borrowed. The last thing she wanted to do was to explain to someone what had happened. And she knew that the friendly blacksmith would ask her questions of what she actually did with the rope.
The door creaked open, Janus coming out down the steps.
“Did he take it?”
Janus nodded. He looked a bit somber himself, as if the joy had been wiped from his face. That look alone made Heather’s heart ache, hanging her head as she shuffled along behind him.
Heather could hear Janus making his way down the hole. She waited pensively, feeling quite alone. How far had Janus gone in? Would he be all right? What was making the glow?
She wished he could’ve taken a lantern with him. Heather didn’t doubt that he had a source of light to go by, but it would’ve put her mind in ease. Her mind was overthinking what could happen or lie in wait.
She paced back and forth a little, listening the best she could. After a moment she looked up back at the hole.
“How are you doing? Are you all right?”
“What do we do now?” Heather asked softly. The question was mostly to herself.
“What do you mean? You’re the one who wanted to come out here.” Janus’ voice had a bit of scolding in his voice.
Heather’s cheeks flushed. “Just…thinking out loud to myself, I suppose.”
She straightened her posture a bit and went forward, coming to the edge of the well. It had aged, covered with a bit of moss and lichens. The mouth was six feet across, cobblestone cemented together. Heather gripped the mouth, looking over.
The well went down a ways, but she could make out a puddle reflecting light out on the bottom. The walls also seemed to narrow but didn’t match up with the dirt that was barely visible.
The dull roar of moving wind filled Heather’s ears. She shivered a little, looking for some point of reference to orient herself. All she could see where rocks and narrow passageways. An eerie amber glow was everywhere, emanating from a hole in the wall. It was too far and small for her to reach in to see what it was though.
Still, she tried. Heather tiptoed and stuck her hand in, trying to reach the strange object without success.
As she tried to stretch further, a low groan reached her ears. Her frantic eyes looked about and saw a large dark form crawling towards her…
Some hours had passed, and the family had left Heather alone in the living room. The room was barely illuminated by the embers in the fireplace, the wind still howling outside. Heather shivered despite the quilt given to her, still fearing the worst.
There’s still time. I can make it home! Heather crept as quietly as she could off the couch, pushing her coverings aside. She slipped off her shoes and tiptoed across the floor towards the parlor.
“It’s pitch black out there. I need some sort of light,” she told herself. Heather’s eyes glanced around the entryway for where the family stored their lamps. Her eyebrows furrowed in frustration upon finding none, making her way into the kitchen. She found a box of matches at least, finally finding an old miner’s lamp near the door to the cellar.
Heather leaned forward, spine tingling a little. “You mean like…I don’t know. Ghosts? Spirits?” Her hands wrapped around her knees.
Elizabeth had a faint twinkle in her eyes as she smiled a little. “Well, they could be called that. They certainly act like spirits, but look very real. More like nightmarish figures.”
With the silence afterwards, Elizabeth knew she had all the youngsters’ attention and it was time to spin her tale. With a deep breath she began.
Heather gave a little grunt of effort as she shrugged into the clothes Tau’mi had given her. They fit almost perfect but were a little roomy; after all, Tau’mi was a bit more robust than a skinny stick and bones girl like her.
Heather had just finished, looking herself over. Despite being generic working clothes, she could clearly tell that Tau’mi had a higher standard of living than her. Heather couldn’t remember the last time she had a clean apron, or when her dress filled out like this with multiple starched petticoats. It made her feel important, warm and a bit comfortable.
It was a rainy afternoon. The sky was gray with rainclouds, visibly swirling form high windows. Despite the warm weather that had graced Ellowwood late into the harvest, this had changed in the past few days. It was a signal that colder weather was approaching, and dubbed by local farmers as “The Storm of Reckoning”.
Despite having seen the weather earlier, Heather had not expected rain to approach so quickly, much less any. People were hardly about, windows shut and cleaning their yards of loose items. Within minutes of strong winds, the downpour had started.
And she was caught in the middle of it.