Adelina trudged through the darkened woods in her shabby rain boots. The force of her steps spattered mud over her bare arms and legs. She didn’t bother to wipe it away now. There would be a better place and time for that later. Accustomed to the density of the wood, she plowed on despite the mess of silt and sticky underbrush. She moved east with the warm breeze as it tickled the nape of her neck—welcoming the mild weather for it allowed her to travel comfortably. Adelina never attempted the wood in the frigid cold. The stories of frostbite eating fingers and toes and turning bones into icicles caused an icy chill to drip down her spine. No, she never traveled in sub-zero temperatures. She wasn’t about to be stuck inside an ice pop, too. It had been more than enough to be trapped in this dome of darkness.
Today, the early morning fog, thicker than usual, obscured the well-worn path. She slunk low to avoid the tendrils of mist creeping down upon her; making her way through the wood by swinging her twisted, wooden walking stick side to side and in front of her, knocking the bark from brittle trees. She knew the way by heart and if the haze hadn’t been so heavy, she would see dead trees overturned with exposed roots, creepy vines tangled in knots, and overgrown, thorny bushes—all in various shades of gray. At least the fog veiled the depressing environment.
The smell of decay and waste wafted around her like the smell of week-old rubbish in the bin beneath their kitchen sink. Adelina pressed her shawl to her nose and breathed in the pleasant scent of lavender. She learned to always enter the forest with the shawl her Ma knitted—for comfort and to quell the abundance of horrid odors. The branches of frail trees curved down and scraped against her and every now and then gripped her garments; leaving red scratches on her arms and tiny holes in her clothes. But still she went on.
Soon, she would be upon the highlight of her days. She had timed it down to the minute. Ever since she was little, she lived in dreary, dark conditions, so her imagination had been limited. It was a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” How could she possibly imagine life any other way? One little seed had planted itself inside her mind and was the reason why she traveled through the forest once a week.
Pulling dried corn kernels from her satchel, she trailed it in her wake—a surprise her forest friends would find when the haze lifted. She reached the rocky creek and sloshed water over her boots and herself to clear the caked-on clay that weighed her down like an extra layer of clothing. It would help her move more freely for a while until the sea of sludge on the other side of the creek spawned more of a mess. But no matter the amount of soil she endured for the two-mile walk; it was all worth what awaited her. A large bullfrog sat on a nearby rock, croaking and watching her, ready to jump at the slightest indication she would capture him.
“Hi, big fella,” she said, and it hopped away. The sporadic appearance of wildlife made her feel less alone and broke the mostly deafening silence of the dank thickets. Adelina wiped her hands on her gray, threadbare dress and secured wisps of hair into her bun. She sprung onto a mossy, slimy log, careful not to slip. Minnows swam beneath the water’s surface. Foot over foot she moved in slow steps across the log and above the frothy creek until she arrived at the bank. She dug her stick into the muck and climbed the small slope. Her calf muscles tightened with each step, reminding her to take a swig of water to stay hydrated before her legs cramped like last time. As she stopped for a drink, two squirrels scurried by her. A swarm of bees buzzed and guarded a hive in a hollow tree. She was used to the harmless creatures of the forest. She wished she could share this journey with her sister, but Bethany had no desire to go beyond the town or spend any amount of time in nature. Adelina had begged her, but to no avail, Bethany would never come near the woods and disobey Nan.
“Lina and Bethany, you are not to enter the woods under any circumstances. There are goblins and ghouls that lurk inside and will steal your soul.” Nan had drilled into them.
Adelina heeded Nan’s warning for six long years by standing on the outskirts of the woods listening for any signs of evil. At age twelve, her curiosity had gotten the best of her. One day she decided she didn’t care if the goblins sucked her soul. The town of Dimshire had succeeded in paralyzing it anyway from The Prince of Darkness’ curse.
At first, she only went so far into the wood to test it out. Those days in the forest with her hair standing on end, heart racing, and goosebumps traveling up and down her arms from fear were long gone. She had quickly realized there were no scary monsters hidden in the forest. Now she experienced similar reactions not out of fear, but out of hope.
Every day for a week she set out and went farther and farther until she saw a sight that stopped her dead in her tracks. The clouds had parted. The sun shined. A few steps away, light and shades of color melded together and stretched out in all directions. Her pulse quickened. Her breath caught in her throat. After a brief mesmerizing moment, she ran toward the great vista, arms outstretched to embrace the deep, vibrant valley that lie before her. She could almost feel the soft grass under her feet and the smell of fragrant flowers. Freedom coursed through her veins. Laughter bellowed from her belly, sweetly meeting her ears. She had never seen a sight so beautiful and peaceful. She ran like the gates of heaven had opened before her.
BANG! She clonked her head hard against something solid, smacking her down into the mud. Once the shock of the collision wore off and she realized what she had run straight into, she clenched her hands into tight fists and furtively pounded and pounded on the solid surface until her hands bruised and ached. Then she opened her hands and smacked the surface until her palms were as red as raw meat. She yelled and screamed and yelled some more until her throat became scratchy and sore like sandpaper. Then she kicked and kicked until her toes bled. Angry, tired, and sad, she finally slid down the wall, sat in the mud, threw her head in her throbbing hands, and sobbed as if the sky had fallen upon her.
She had discovered the invisible shield that kept all of Dimshire in and all the outsiders out. Just beyond the glass was a world full of color where she couldn’t live. She realized then why Nan had never wanted her to see. For once she saw, she would always desire to leave the town of Dimshire.
Nan was right. Since grasping there were beautiful places, she felt more trapped than ever and longed to escape. She often wondered if Ma and Pa had found the border and a way out. She fantasized that they were just on the other side and they would someday come back for her. Seven years ago, her Ma and Pa showered her with kisses, hugs, and lots and lots of love. Their surroundings were dismal and drawn, but the energy in their home was always light and airy like freshly popped corn. Over the years, the memories of her Ma and Pa were fading like the sweet scent of chocolate carried away in the wind.
Soon, she came to a craggy, old tree. Adelina jumped and grabbed the first branch, swinging her legs up and over it. She pulled herself into a sitting position. Then she placed her hands on the tree trunk for support and carefully rose to her feet. She reached for the second branch and clambered up, continuing to climb the gnarled, familiar branches until she arrived at her favorite spot—roughly ten feet from the ground.
Adelina scooted across the branch until her back sat against the lumpy bark of the tree’s trunk. Only then did she allow herself to look. She gasped. Once a week, except in winter of course, she braved the fog and the uneven terrain of the forest to experience five breathtaking minutes. A butterfly fluttered around Adelina and landed on her shoulder.
“Hello there,” she greeted it, imagining the butterfly to be bright with speckles of color arranged in a pretty pattern. She really didn’t know. Dimshire was devoid of all color.
But through the glass border, just on the other side, soft and glowing light swept the horizon like paintbrush strokes creating a mosaic of vivid colors. The sun burst over the valley in a fiery ball. Adelina imagined the silky sunrays wrapping around her like her warm, lavender-scented shawl. As she absorbed the beautiful moment, her mind grasped a fleeing memory and reeled it back front and center before it became a wisp of smoke. She stood in the kitchen, barefoot and beaming. The melodious sound of her Ma’s singing glided to her ears. Her Ma gently took Adelina’s hands in hers. They twirled and whirled and swayed. Her Pa stepped in, scooping her up and over his head. She outstretched her arms, diving in rhythm with her Pa’s movements like a fledgling’s first flight.
Blotches of dark spots floated in her eyes from the brightness of the sun and brought her mind back to the present. She shifted her gaze away from the sun. A blurry movement caught her eye. She blinked and rubbed the tears from her eyes.