There were very few things that Aurelia Cromwell was afraid of. She had long discovered that what she enjoyed about the darkness was what scared others: the stillness, the unknown. There was an inexplicable sense of possibility in what could not be seen; in what was yet to be found.
This could easily be attributed to her grandmother, Nonna. When Aurelia was younger, while most were playing indoors with toys, the pair found themselves on endless expeditions.
She spent the entirety of her childhood trekking through the great outdoors - mountains, valleys, and deserts - all to adventure through the unknown; to learn about the world around them. It was a common occurrence for Nonna to wake up Aurelia in the midst of the night in lieu of exploring with only fireflies to guide them. Nonna taught her differently - what was unknown was only yet to be discovered - and discovered they did.
Thus it came to be that Aurelia was not afraid of such trivial things, and marched bravely on into the great unknown, anxious to learn and experience the greatness around her.
Yet she was not completely fearless, as she had come to fear the real world much more.
For it was the real world that had corrupted her mother into something horrid, the real world who made her father leave, and most importantly, the real world that suddenly took her beloved Nonna away by an illness impossible to treat. Her deepest, darkest fear was the endless loneliness that had come with losing her best friend and the real world had done exactly that. She was little without the love and adventure they had shared. So here Aurelia sat, barely keeping her head above water.
As fast as Nonna had become the strongest light in Aurelia’s life, her light was extinguished. Now, sitting here in the hospital waiting room, Aurelia was awaiting the appointment that could tell her whether or not she, too, would die of the same disease as her favorite person to have ever existed.
Aurelia turned the page of her book, glancing up at the clock for the fifth time that minute. Twenty seven minutes. She had been waiting for her blood to be drawn for twenty seven minutes now. She could be using this time to be painting, or feeling the fresh air on her skin. She couldn’t ever take those things for granted, after all. Not anymore.
“Aurelia?” A woman called. “Come with me, please.”
Aurelia slowly stood, collecting her items and holding her book tightly to her chest as if it could protect her from what was to come. The nurse’s kind smile and reassuring glances did little to ease her fears.
Begrudgingly, she followed the nurse through the tiled, echoing hallways to an empty room. “I’m just going to go grab the testing labels off the printer and then we’ll get you started, alright?” The nurse said kindly, holding the door open for Aurelia to step through.
Aurelia quickly stepped forward and sat herself on the patient chair and leaned back, closing her eyes, her book still tight to her chest. She dreaded everything about this - the blood draw, the test results, the answers.
The door opened again and Aurelia hesitantly opened her eyes, holding out her arm to get the process over with. Instead of the nurse, however, it was a tall, odd-looking woman in a dark purple cloak. Her black hair was sleek and almost to her waist, with dark glasses hiding most of her face.
“Good morning,” she said in a cool voice as she settled into the chair across from her, slipping off the black gloves that had adorned her hands.
Aurelia took in the stranger’s odd appearance, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “I believe you have the wrong room,” she said, sitting up and pointing at the door. “I’m only here to get my blood examined. Perhaps they have paperwork for your blood work in the next room?”
The woman seemed to find this particular comment funny, though why Aurelia could not begin to guess. A twinge of annoyance worked its way through her body at the interruption.
“Oh, heavens no, dear. Such odd things you do here….I can never get used to it. Where I’m from, I would never….” She motioned with a disgusted face at the space around her.
Aurelia tilted her head.
What was this woman talking about?
Aurelia hesitantly looked around the room and outside the window in case someone was looking for the odd woman who seemed to be a bit out of place.
She looked back towards the woman, dressed as if she were in a medieval world. “You must be from an odd place, I suppose.”
The woman chuckled. “Perhaps. Yet maybe oddity is just what someone needs that’s stuck in a place like this.” The woman glanced around the hospital room as if it were completely foreign to her.
A place like what? Aurelia was about to ask, but the nurse burst in with the test tubes, situating them on the countertop as the woman stood to leave.
“In case you ever need an escape from here….” the woman whispered as she stepped forward and placed an object in Aurelia’s palm, closing her fingers around it. And just like that, she was gone the way she came.
The nurse, now finished preparing the supplies, turned and glanced back and forth between the door and Aurelia. “Who was that?”
Aurelia shrugged as the nurse went to wash her hands and she pulled on her latex gloves. “People are so weird.” She turned to prepare the needle. “Alright, let’s get this over with.”
Before she turned back around, Aurelia opened her hand. Sitting in the center of her palm was a glowing, golden key.