Emma and the Minotaur By Jon Herrera Copyright 2013 Jon Herrera All rights reserved. www.jonherrera.ca
Contents 1 The Music in the Forest 2 The Disappearing Boy 3 Wizard Falls 4 Dinner and a Conspiracy 5 The Forbidden Forest 6 Strike Three 7 A Girl and a Tree 8 The Missing 9 The Portents of War 10 Mr Jingles 10 Mr Jingles 12 Invasion 13 The Lost 14 Battle Song 15 The Wizard and the Lightning
1 The Music in the Forest This is a story about a girl and a tree, and about how the music that they made together changed the whole world. There was a time when the forests cloaked the Earth. Long ago, a sequence of events was begun by the song of a tree. The tree’s voice, joined by that of its twin, brought forth a kind of creature that was like none that had existed before it. The creature possessed a special gift that enabled it to control its own destiny and it was because of that gift that the forests of the world were now diminishing. Glenridge Forest was located at the centre of the City of Saint Martin and it was being consumed by a housing project. Andrew Milligan’s job was to go into newly built house-skeletons and stuff their walls with insulation. He worked with two other men at a construction site run by a company called Paigely Builders. The site was a sprawling mess of machines, building materials, and houses in various stages of completion, ranging from bare foundations to fully built homes awaiting only a layer of paint. During the day, the site bustled with activity as workers went around moving dirt, wood, and concrete from one area to another. Today, it was late in the afternoon, however, and most of the site employees had already gone home. Andrew and his co-workers had remained behind. They were paid based on the amount of work they completed so putting in a few extra hours now and then meant a little more pay. The summer was nearly at its end and Andrew’s son needed a new backpack for the coming school year. The three men were sitting on the exposed floor of the house that was their current project. They had placed floodlights around the area to illuminate their work and these cast their shadows on the walls. The scene reminded Andrew of sitting around a campfire telling stories. “What grade is the kid going into?” Bill said. “He’s starting middle school,” Andrew said. “He doesn’t know anyone here.” “I’m sure he’ll be good,” Bill said. “Lots of friends in no time.” Joel was the youngest of the three. “I don’t know how you guys do it,” he said. “I can’t even take care of myself.” Bill chuckled. He tipped his cup back, drank the rest of his orange juice, and then threw the empty container at him. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s get this done so we can get out of here.” Andrew stood up and pulled his face mask over his nose and mouth. He walked to the back of the house where he had been working before the break. The insulating material came in rectangular pieces that were made to fit into the frames of the walls but often they had to be cut into smaller fragments in order to fill in the nooks and corners. He went to work, stuffing the walls with the fluffy material or cutting it into pieces with his utility knife. An hour passed before Andrew finished insulating the back wall. He took off the face mask and leaned on the open frame that would eventually become a window. It looked out into Glenridge Forest. The moon was full and it shone down on the tops of the trees but its rays failed
to penetrate the darkness underneath. It was a hot night but a lazy breeze cooled the perspiration on Andrew’s face. He stared into the darkness of the woods for a long while and, in time, he heard music, faint and uncertain. “Ready to go?” He turned and saw Bill and Joel standing there. He hadn’t heard them approach. “Yeah,” he said. “Hey, do you hear that?” They joined him at the window and together they stared into the night. “Crickets?” Bill said. “No. Really listen. Don’t you hear that music?” “What are you talking about?” Joel said. “Have you been inhaling this stuff?” Bill patted Andrew on the back. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go home and get some rest.” They picked up their tools, left the house, and walked to the parking area. Their vehicles were the only ones remaining there. Bill and Joel threw their things into the bed of Bill’s truck and then jumped into the cabin. Bill honked the horn as they drove away. Andrew put his tools into his aging sedan’s trunk. He slammed the door down twice before it stayed closed. He walked around the car toward the driver’s door but stopped in mid-step. He heard music again, more clearly this time. He recognized violins, trumpets, flutes, and drums, among other instruments that he couldn’t name. It was a sweet sound that made him think of honey and silk. He reached into his car and pulled out a flashlight. He walked toward the source of the music and passed many of the house-skeletons that now hid in darkness. When he reached the edge of the forest, he shone his light into it. The music was coming from somewhere in there. A hesitant step took him into the woods. He walked for a while before he reached a part of the forest where the undergrowth was thick and the going was slow. He considered turning around but wavered. The strangeness of the music nagged at him and begged him onward. He breathed in deeply and fumbled with his flashlight. During that moment of indecision, there came a sound from another part of the forest. It was a great thudding that sounded as though a giant was pounding on the forest floor. There was a rumble like thunder and, no more than twenty paces away from him, a monster appeared. In the darkness, he made out only a mass of muscles, glowing red eyes, and great horns like a devil. Andrew turned and ran. He felt the earth shake as the creature gave chase. Branches struck his face and arms and pulled at his clothing, but he stumbled forward as quickly as he could. He dropped the flashlight and his flight became a blind sprint. Before long, Andrew thought that he could feel the creature’s warm breath on his neck. A bestial snarl made his head rattle. He dove forward. His head bounced off a branch and he fell. He landed hard and felt a trickle of blood run down his forehead and into his eye. He scrambled to his feet and saw that he had come to a clearing. The full moon revealed a tree, enormous and ancient, in the middle of it. The tree was the source of the music that he had been searching for. He turned back toward the edge of the clearing and saw, in the darkness, a pair of fiery eyes looking back at him. The creature stepped forward and its massive frame was illuminated by the moon. Andrew backed away, using his hands to feel for the trunk of the tree behind him. The monster took a step forward and the ground rumbled. Andrew fell back toward the tree and then he found himself in another world.
Emma Wilkins was eleven years old and she lived on Belle Street. It was Sunday morning, on the day before the start of the new school year, and Emma was sitting on the window sill in her living room, reading a book, when she saw a man walk up the lawn. The man saw her through the window and waved to her before he reached the front door and rang the doorbell. Emma dog-eared her book and put it down. She went to the door and opened it but her father came up behind her before she could speak. “Good morning,” he said. “Good morning. You’re William Wilkins, right?” “Yes, that’s right. What’s this about?” “My name is Bill,” the man said. “One of my friends went missing near here and we’re trying to get some people together to go search for him.” “You’ve called the police, obviously.” “Yeah,” Bill said. “They’re looking for him but we don’t think they've looked hard enough. See, me and my friend work with Andrew and we were with him the night he disappeared. We work at the Paigely site over that way.” He pointed in general direction of Glenridge Forest and Emma’s father nodded. “So we’re sure he got lost in the forest somehow,” Bill continued, “and they don’t think he could’ve got very far but we know Andrew better. He’s a stubborn son of a gun.” “Why do you think he went into the forest? Hiking or something like that?” “Yeah,” Bill said. “Something like that.” Mr Wilkins took a moment to look out into the street behind Bill. “Okay,” he said eventually. “I’ll be right out.” “Thanks,” Bill said. “Meet us down the street at the intersection when you’re ready.” He turned and walked on to the next house. Emma could see now that there was another man across the street doing the same thing that Bill was doing, knocking on doors and talking to people. She turned back toward the house. “Dad, can I come?” “You’d better stay here,” he said. “It will be boring for you. We’ll just be walking and looking.” “But I love the forest, Dad,” she said. “And I like walking and looking too.” There was a closet next to the front door. Mr Wilkins opened it and took his running shoes out. He sat on the bench next to the closet and put them on. As he tied his shoelaces, he said, “Okay, go get your brother. He can help keep an eye on you.” “Okay!” Emma said and ran to fetch Will. Down at one end of Belle Street was Lockhart Road. It was a small road that ran alongside the edge of the forest, segregating it from Emma’s neighbourhood. Toward the west, the road led to The Hill, and toward the east, it terminated at the main entrance of the Paigely Builders construction site. Glenridge Forest straddled it from the north. It was at this intersection that Emma and her family gathered with half a dozen of their neighbours and a few strangers. Bill stood in front of the crowd with the other man who had been knocking on doors with him. “Last time we saw Andrew Milligan, it was at the construction site,” Bill said. “We think he’s in the forest because his car was still parked there next morning and he mentioned earlier that he’d heard something out there. I think he probably went to check it out.” “What did he hear?” someone said. Emma couldn’t see who it was but he sounded familiar. She made her way to the front of the crowd and saw that it was their next door neighbour, Mr
Arnold Thornton. He was a biology professor and he worked at the University of Saint Martin like her father did. “He said he heard music in the forest,” Bill said. “I know, it sounds ridiculous so we didn’t pay it any mind. But it’s possible he went looking for it.” “So you think he just got lost?” Mr Thornton said. “I hope so,” said Bill’s companion. He was younger than Bill and he looked very worried. After he spoke, he patted his pockets down looking for something but he didn’t seem to find it. “Hello,” Emma said to him. “What is your name?” The man blinked down at her. “I’m Joel,” he said. “What’s yours?” “Emma.” She offered her hand and Joel shook it. Bill drew their attention again and explained his plan. They were going to spread out into the forest in pairs and circle back after two hours. “I know that four hours is a long time to take away from your Sunday, folks,” he said, “and I apologize but Andrew is a decent guy and his wife and son miss him very much. They moved to Saint Martin recently and they were only just getting settled in.” Emma’s father spoke up from the back of the group. “Don’t forget to call out his name from time to time,” he said. “Maybe he’s stuck or injured somewhere.” The assembly dispersed and they entered Glenridge Forest. Emma took the lead and walked on a few steps ahead of Will and her father. She took glances left and right as she went and saw the other searchers moving through the trees. The rustling of their footsteps on the forest floor mingled with the chirping of the birds in the trees. As time wore on, she saw the other groups move farther and farther away from her own until they were completely out of sight, though the calls of “Andrew!” continued to make their way to her for a while longer. Emma decided to take charge of her group’s yelling duties. “Andrew!” she called out as loudly as she could. She turned and waited for her family to catch up. “Come on, Will,” she said. “If you yell too then we’ll be twice as loud.” “It’s okay,” Mr Wilkins said. “One yeller is enough.” “Maybe just once?” Will said. Mr Wilkins adjusted his glasses as he considered it. “Okay,” he said. “Just once if it’ll get it out of your systems.” “Count down for us, Dad?” Emma said. “Ready? Three, two, one, now!” Together, Emma and Will screamed the missing man’s name. Mr Wilkins covered his ears and grimaced. They kept going for another hour, with Emma walking in front and doing the shouting, but there was no sign of Andrew Milligan or anyone else. Somewhere along the way they had reached a part of the forest that was unfamiliar to Emma. She thought that if she had been there alone she would have become lost. Even the type of chirping in this area sounded different from what she was used to. She looked up into the trees to see if she could spot one of the birds but she only saw the movement of the leaves in the wind. “I like that,” she said. “What’s that?” Will said as he came up beside her. “The leaves in the wind.”
Will joined her and looked up. After a moment he shook his head. “I don’t—” “Hold on!” Emma said. “What?” “Don’t you hear that?” Mr Wilkins caught up with them and stopped to listen. “It’s just the wind in the trees,” he said. “No,” Emma said. “Don’t you hear music?” “I don’t hear anything,” he said. “How about you, Will?” Will shook his head. “Nothing. Just birds.” “Come on,” Emma said. “It’s over there!” Emma ran. Around trees and over branches and brambles she ran. The forest became a blur of green and brown. She tripped and tumbled forward but just managed to keep herself from falling. She giggled at the feeling that it gave her. She felt like she did when she went on a roller coaster and her heart became big and jumpy. A little more running brought her to a clearing. There was a big tree in the middle. It was tall and wide and looked like it was very old. There was a music playing and it sounded like the symphonies that her father listened to. Emma was certain that it was coming from the tree. She walked up to it and stretched out her hand to touch it. Just as she was about to make contact, she heard her father’s voice behind her. He sounded agitated. “Emma,” he said. “What do you think you’re doing running off like that?” Emma turned in time to see Will and Mr Wilkins emerge from the forest. “Sorry, dad,” she said. “But the music, it—” she paused to listen and realized that the music was no longer there. “It stopped.” Mr Wilkins pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I’m telling you, Emma,” he said. “It’s just the wind in the trees.” “No,” she said. “It was coming from the tree.” Emma approached the oak once again and put her hand on it. “You were singing, weren’t you?” she whispered. “You were singing and you’re alive.” “Of course it’s alive,” Will said. “Learn some biology.” “Funny,” she said and pushed him as hard as she could but he barely moved. He grabbed her hands and turned her around and restrained her in a tight hug. Emma squirmed and punched and kicked at him. “Kids,” Mr Wilkins said. “Come on, we have to keep moving.” Will released her and she gave him another shove. From under the shadows of a thick coppice on the edge of the clearing, a horned creature watched the scene. Within the boundaries of the forest, the creature could remain unseen whenever he wanted to, and he had remained in hiding as he’d followed the man, the boy, and the girl. He had heard them call for the one named “Andrew,” the one who was lost, and he had followed them through the forest. It was out of idle interest at first but then the girl had heard the music. The creature had stood close behind her when the music had called to her in the clearing. He had almost reached out a hand to touch her, but then the others had come, and so the creature had gone back into hiding. And so he was watching and waiting. The girl was so young and so small and fragile.
He watched the humans leave the clearing, completely unaware of him, and then he walked up to the ancient tree. He looked quizzically at the great oak for a moment. “So you are sure,” he said at last. “Emma is ready.”
2 The Disappearing Boy Early into the new school year, Emma became obsessed with a boy who disappeared. It all began on the first day of school during morning recess. Emma was sitting on a swing in the playground swinging her feet and reading the book that she had smuggled out of class. She was keeping half an eye on a few boys who were bouncing a tennis ball off the side of the building. She was wary of them because she had been the victim of a stray ball or two before. It was during one of her glances up from the book that she noticed the disappearing boy quite by accident. He was a plain-looking boy and he was walking around the playground with his hands in his pockets. There was something about him that made Emma believe she had seen him somewhere. His face looked familiar but she couldn’t remember if she had ever met the boy. She watched him for the remainder of recess and noticed that he was avoiding the other kids. Whenever someone looked at him, he would look down at the ground and walk away. Emma decided that she would try to become his friend. The bell signalling the end of recess went off and the teachers who were in charge of supervising the playground herded the children back inside. Emma tried to keep an eye on the boy as she walked toward the school doors but she lost him in the crowd. She stopped to look around for him but then she saw Will approach from the other side of the school, where the basketball courts were located. “Hey, what are you doing?” he said. “Nothing,” Emma said, still looking through the crowd. “You better get to class, Emma. Don’t want to get in trouble on your first day.” They entered the school together but Will went straight down the hall to his classroom on the first floor. Emma’s class was on the second floor. She went to the stairs but stood at the bottom and watched as the remaining children walked or ran past her on their way up. The boy wasn’t among them. “Go to class, please,” someone said. Emma turned and saw one of the teachers. He was a tall man with gray hair and a round belly. “Sorry,” Emma said. “I was just looking for someone.” She fled up the stairs. When she reached her classroom, Emma saw that the boy she had been looking for was sitting at the desk nearest the door. “You’re in my class? How did you get here?” she said. Everyone in the class turned to look at her, including the teacher. “Emma,” she said. “Please sit down. And try not to be late next time.” Emma turned pink. “Yes, Miss Robins,” she said and took her seat. Emma tried to catch the boy again during lunch time. She entered the busy cafeteria and sat down with Will and his friends, Kevin and Joey. The room was filled to capacity. Laughter erupted now and then from one table or another. “So full in here this year,” Kevin said. “It’s all the stupid grade sixes.” “Yeah, so many new ones,” Joey said. He motioned toward Emma with a tilt of his head. “Sorry, Emma,” Kevin said. “You’re not actually that stupid.” When she finished eating, Emma scanned her surroundings as she sipped out of a box of apple juice. There were too many kids and she couldn’t see very far because she wasn’t tall
enough. With a sigh, she climbed on top of her chair. A carrot stick flew by her head while she looked. From her vantage point, she estimated that she could see maybe two thirds of the students in the cafeteria but that she would miss the boy if he was somewhere on the periphery. If the boy didn’t have any friends, and wanted to avoid company, then he was certain to be somewhere along the edge of the room. She needed to go higher. Without thinking, she climbed on top of the table. “Emma, what are you doing?” Will said. “Looking for someone,” she said absently. A pizza crust sailed past her. “Mr Clarence is coming,” Joey said. “Who?” She spun around in time to see the arrival of the elderly man from before, the one she had run into at the bottom of the stairs. “Oh. Hello,” she said. “Emma, he’s the principal,” Will said. “Oh. Hello, sir.” “What is your name, young lady?” Mr Clarence said. “Emma, Mr Clarence.” “Please get down from there, Emma.” “Yes, Mr Clarence.” Emma looked for the boy again during the afternoon’s recess period. She climbed up the slide in the playground and stood at the top like a sentry. Over by the basketball courts, Will and his friends were bouncing a ball around. Emma waved to him but he didn’t wave back. On the soccer field, there was a gathering of eighth graders. They were hanging around the goal posts. The playground was filled with younger children. They were running about and playing. Emma scanned the school in this way for a few minutes. From school building to basketball courts, over to the soccer field, and then to the playground. She saw no sign of the boy. It was like he was invisible. When she finally spotted him, it was where Will and his friends were shooting the basketball around. He was standing on the grass beyond the court, leaning under the shade of a tree. Emma went down the slide and ran through the playground. She took her eyes off the boy for only a moment but when she reached the basketball courts he was nowhere in sight. Will saw her and stopped in mid-dribble. “Emma?” he said. “Hey, Will.” “What are you doing?” “Just looking for someone,” she said. During dinner that evening, Emma didn’t say much. She was lost in thought trying to figure out how to corner the disappearing boy. She imagined a giant box and a stick with a string tied to it, but she couldn’t think of anything that she could use as bait. “Who were you looking for today, Emma?” Will said, interrupting her imaginings. “A boy,” she said. “A boy?” Mr Wilkins arched an eyebrow. He was at his normal place at the head of the table. Will was to his right while Emma was sitting at the other end of it. She snapped to attention. “Not like that!” she said. “There is a boy in my class and I think he
has powers.” “Powers?” Emma nodded. “One, at least. I’ve been trying to become his friend and he keeps disappearing.” “I don’t blame him,” Will said. “I’m serious!” She was about to explain her failed attempts to catch the boy when a peculiar idea occurred to her. “Dad, what if Andrew Milligan disappeared on purpose,” she said, “just like this boy does? What if they both have powers?” “Like maybe they’re wizards?” Will said. “Yeah!” Emma said. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe they’re both wizards.” “Now,” Mr Wilkins said, “while that’s entirely possible, maybe there’s another, more reasonable explanation. Do you know the boy’s name?” “No,” she said. “How can I find out his name if I can’t even talk to him?” “Don’t they take attendance at Briardale?” “Brilliant, Dad!” Emma said. The next morning during attendance, Emma kept her eyes fixed on the suspected wizard. He was plain and hard to notice. The boy was slunked down on his seat but not so much that it would draw attention from the teacher. His hair was neat and his clothes were clean, if a bit faded. As Miss Robins called out the names of the students, the boy sat perfectly still and avoided looking at the teacher. “Collins, Suzanne,” Miss Robins said, and the girl who sat behind him raised her hand. “Close!” whispered Emma, but then she realized that was silly. The teacher went on down the D’s and the E’s and so on. “Grieger, Eric.” Another boy raised his hand. There was also “Johns, Jeff” and “Laurier, Molly” and other names that were familiar to Emma from previous years. Even when Miss Robins got to her name, way down the list, Emma didn’t stop looking at the boy. She raised her hand and barked a swift, “Present!” “Good,” Miss Robins said. “Everyone’s here.” She walked back to her desk and put her clipboard down. “What!” Emma yelled. “Emma, is there a problem?” Everyone was looking at her. She hadn’t meant to shout. Even the wizard boy was watching her. She hadn’t taken her eyes off him during all of attendance. She was sure that his name simply hadn’t been called. “Do you people even see him?” Emma said, still more loudly than she intended. “Is he invisible too?” “Emma, settle down,” said Miss Robins. “Who are you talking about?” “Him!” she said and stood up and pointed at the boy. Her hand hit her notebook and it flipped up and hit the boy in front of her in the back of the head. Jeff Johns turned to glare at her as he rubbed his neck. “Emma Wilkins!” Miss Robins said. “Sit down right this minute. That’s one strike for disturbing the class!” Over on the side of the room, on the wall, there was a poster board with the word
“STRIKES” written at the top of it. The rest of it was blank but Miss Robins took a permanent marker and wrote on it: EMMA WILKENS: X Emma was mortified in equal amounts by being the first one on the Strike Board and by the misspelling of her last name. She tried to protest but the teacher hushed her down and threatened to give her another strike immediately if she didn’t stop talking. She pressed her lips together into a thin line to keep herself from speaking. She reasoned that at least now she knew that the boy was, in fact, a wizard and there was a strong indication that she was the only one who could see him. She was more determined than ever to find out his secrets and question him about the disappearance of Andrew Milligan. The chase went on that same way for the next day. Emma didn’t give up trying to catch the boy but he always got away from her somehow. He was always in the classroom before she got there and he always rushed out before she could catch up to him. He wasn’t in the cafeteria during lunch time. On Thursday morning, the boy didn’t show up at school at all and his desk stood empty. Emma raised her hand. “Yes?” “May I go to the bathroom?” Miss Robins nodded and continued her lesson. Emma stood up. On her way out, she paused in front of the boy’s desk. Suzie Collins gave her a quizzical look. “Are you here?” Emma whispered at the empty chair. She waited a moment but when there was no answer, she waved her hand through the air above it. “Oh, alright,” she said and looked up to see a look of puzzlement on Suzie’s face. “Emma,” said Miss Robins. “Are you going to the bathroom or are you just going to stand there all day?” Emma ran out of the room. The worst time of the day at the Wilkins household, as Emma saw it, was right after dinner because it was time for violin practice. Mr Wilkins, being a physicist, idolized Albert Einstein. Because Einstein had played the violin, he was trying to learn to play it as well. Emma was sitting in the living room trying to do her math homework on the coffee table but the screeching from her father’s office was making it difficult. She put her pencil down, went to his door, and knocked on it. The screeching continued uninterrupted. “Dad!” she screeched back and knocked again. The door opened and she let herself into the room. Early on, Emma had figured out a trick that cut down on practice time. Mr Wilkins always set a countdown on his computer for exactly one hour. If someone interrupted him, he never remembered to pause the timer. Her father’s office was messy. There were bookshelves full of physics textbooks mixed with fiction hardcovers. On the floor, there were boxes overflowing with scientific papers. His desk was really a long table in the shape of an L that fit into the corner of the room. On top of the table sat his monitor and his computer. The screen showed a paused instructional video and an unpaused timer applet. Emma sat down on a great, big book that was lying on the floor. It was called “The
Handbook of Physics.” This edition was from 1989 and it had close to two thousand pages. Emma knew this because she had tried to read it once before but it was made up of mostly number tables and funny math symbols. “Hey, Dad,” she said. “Hey, Emma, I was just practising,” he said and sat down on his chair. “I know, Dad,” she said. “I could hear you. I just wanted to talk to you.” He put the violin down so that it leaned against a box on the floor. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing much,” Emma said. “Have you heard anything about Mr Milligan?” “No, not really. He’s still missing, and there have been rumours going around the school about more people disappearing, but they’re just rumours, I’m sure. No one can name any one specifically and that usually means that it’s just a rumour.” “I still think he’s a wizard,” Emma said. “That’s possible, of course, but very unlikely,” he said, smiling. “Have you caught the wizard you were chasing yet?” “Nah,” she said. “No luck. I think he can turn invisible too.” “He must be very powerful.” He spun his chair sideways a short distance like he always did when he was thinking. “You know, Emma,” he said, “if he isn’t actually a wizard then maybe he’s going somewhere outside of the school when he disappears, don’t you think?” “Maybe. But we’re not allowed to leave the school during lunch.” “I know,” he said, “but just suppose he did. That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?” “Well, yeah, I guess so.” “And if he’s leaving the school, then he probably leaves the same way every time. How many exits are there at Briardale?” “Uh, three or four, I think. Why?” He smiled. “I’ll leave the rest as an exercise to the student,” he said. “Dad!” she said, but she knew that it was pointless to argue. Her father did this sort of thing all the time. Emma stood up. “Thanks,” she said and gave him a hug. She went back to the living room to work on her homework and mull over her new puzzle. It didn’t take long for Emma to figure out what her father had meant and implement it into a plan. She found out from Will that there were four ways in and out of Briardale Middle School. There were the main doors at the front of the building, the big doors leading to the playground in the back, and two smaller side doors. If the boy was leaving the school during lunch time, then he had to go through one of those exits, and if he always left through the same exit, then all Emma had to do was to wait for him at the right one. If she waited at a different door each day, then it would take her four days to catch him at the longest. But Emma narrowed her options down even further. She didn’t think that the boy would leave through the main doors because they were the main doors and not good for sneaking. The back doors were also out of the question because one or two teachers were always near them during lunch as they watched the playground. The only possibilities that remained were the two side doors. This meant that Emma had a fifty percent chance of catching the boy on her first try. There was a small problem that she had to overcome. The boy, because he sat closer to the door, always ran out of the room before she could. He seemed to be always prepared for a quick exit. Emma needed to think of a way to leave the classroom before the boy did. She came up with a solution and decided to try it out on Thursday. She would probably only
have one shot at it and she thought that Miss Robins would perhaps be in a good mood because of the approaching weekend. Friday would be better but Emma didn’t think that she could wait that long. It was twenty minutes before lunch time when she raised her hand and put her plan into action. “Emma?” said Miss Robins. “May I go to the bathroom please, Miss Robins?” She had decided that if she waited too long to ask, then Miss Robins would make her wait until the end of class. Twenty minutes before lunch seemed about right. “Can’t you wait until lunch?” “Sorry, Miss Robins,” she said. “I really can’t.” “Okay, go ahead,” the teacher said. She didn’t seem all that happy about it but Emma got up and left the classroom. It wasn’t until fifteen minutes later, as Emma crouched outside right around the wall from one of the side doors, that it occurred to her that her father would never suggest that she leave class early. Only then did it occur to her that if the boy left the school during lunch time, he also had to come back at some point. “Dang it!” she said. “Too late now.” A moment later, the door opened and out came the boy. He stuck his face out and peeked around like a mouse looking out for cats. He almost spotted Emma but she hid behind the wall just in time. She thought that she could catch him right then, but she was also curious about where it was that he went when he left the school. She decided to follow him. Emma kept her distance as she walked behind him down the street, past the school’s soccer field, and into the surrounding neighbourhood. Disapproving houses looked down on them from either side. They walked for five minutes until they came to a park. It was a rolling expanse of grass with a trail running through it. In the near distance, Emma could see the tops of a few trees that peeked above the grass beyond where the field sloped down. The boy went into the park and onto the trail. She followed him and they went on down the slope. Emma saw that the trees that had been peeking over the rise were only the tallest among many others. To one side of the path there was a creek that wound its way through the woods. The boy walked up to the creek and then stopped to look around. Emma hid behind a tree so that he wouldn’t see her. When the boy was satisfied that no one was near, he went across the creek by walking on a log that lay across it. On the other side of the creek, there was a steep hill and the boy climbed it and disappeared over it. Emma followed. The climb gave her difficulty because of her small size and so it was something of a scramble. When she finally reached the top, she stood up and looked down on the disappearing boy. He was sitting cross-legged on top of a big rock. There was a small waterfall behind him that fed the creek, which then wound its slow way around the hill. Across the creek the woods were thick. The boy was occupying the space where woods, waterfall, hill, and creek intersected. It was his own secret hiding place. His backpack was there next to him and there was a brown lunch bag in front of him. He was eating a sandwich and drinking from a can of soda. “Hey, boy!” Emma called down to him. “Are you a wizard?”
The boy almost fell off the rock. “A wizard?” he said, looking up. He put his sandwich down and stood up, knocking his soda over in process. He wiped his hands on his pants. “I’m just Jake,” he said. “Jake? What Jake? Jake who?” “Jake Milligan,” he said. Emma went down the slope. This side of the hill was easier to manage than the climbing side had been. She stood next to Jake’s rock and looked up at the boy. She thought that, with the sun shining behind his head like it was, he did look sort of wizardly. “Hey, Jake,” she said. “I’m Emma Wilkins.” “I know,” Jake said. He crouched down and packed his things into his old backpack. It was too small for him and there was a hole at the top of it that had already been mended, but now the mending was coming apart. “Why do you come here?” Emma said. “You know we’re not allowed to leave the school.” Jake shrugged. He kicked the now-empty can of grape soda and it flew into the water. He jumped off the rock and started for the hill. “Where are you going?” “Back to school,” he said. He didn’t look at her. “But why? I’ve been trying to catch you for ages!” “I know,” he said, not slowing down. “I’ve seen you.” “I only want to be your friend,” she said. “I don’t want any friends,” he said and walked on up the hill. Emma followed and tried to talk to him but he ignored her. When they were outside of the park, Jake started to walk faster and Emma couldn’t keep up unless she ran. She wasn’t about to run after a boy so she ended up trailing behind him all the way to the school. They reached Briardale before the lunch period was over. Jake ran through the basketball courts and into the playground. Will was playing basketball, as usual, and he saw Emma approach. “Was that your boyfriend?” he said. “That was Jake,” Emma said. “I finally caught him.” “Doesn’t look like you did. It looked like he was running away.” Before Emma could respond, Miss Robins came storming toward them. “Emma Wilkins!” she said. The teacher looked furious. She stopped in front of her and crossed her arms, towering over the girl. “What do have to say for yourself?” Emma opened her mouth to speak but Miss Robins didn’t let her answer. “What do you think you’re doing disappearing like that? You’ve been gone since before lunch! I was worried sick and I thought I had lost a student. Come with me right now,” she said. “You’re in serious trouble.” Back in the classroom, Miss Robins gave Emma a long speech with lots of yelling, and she marked strike number two beside her name on the Strike Board. She also wrote a note for Emma to take to her father regarding her bad behaviour. “Now go to your seat and just wait there quietly for the rest of lunch,” she said in the end.
3 Wizard Falls On Thursday nights, Emma’s father taught a night class from seven to ten. Normally, he would come home at four in the afternoon and wait until after dinner before returning to the school but today he had called the house shortly after Emma and Will had arrived. He'd said that he had a lot of work to do and that he would be staying at the university until the late class was over. Will had filled a plate with yesterday’s ham and asparagus and he’d taken it to his room. Emma hadn’t felt much like eating or doing anything at all. It had started to rain just after they'd arrived at their house. It was now six o’clock and the rain hadn’t relented. The clouds only looked angrier as darkness and night approached. Emma was sitting on her window sill watching the falling raindrops as they splashed into potholes. Now and then, there was lightning, and it illuminated the street and cast flitting shadows across the faces of the houses across the road. Emma was holding the note from Miss Robins in her hand as she watched the rain. During the best times, the rain made her sad. All that had happened that day only made things worse. She wanted to talk to her father because he was always comforting when one of Emma’s moods snuck up on her but she didn’t want to give him the note from Miss Robins or tell him about her two strikes. Emma checked the clock on the wall and made a decision. She went to the closet beside the front door and put on a yellow raincoat and a pair of red boots. There was a flashlight hanging on the wall and she grabbed it and put it into one of the coat’s oversized pockets. She opened the front door and went out on the street in the rain. For a moment, she stood there and looked up to the sky and felt the cool raindrops as they fell on her face. She decided that being in the rain was nowhere near as bad as sitting inside watching it. There were many puddles and potholes on Belle Street and Emma jumped into most of them as she made her way down the street and onto Lockhart Road. To get to the University of Saint Martin, Emma could walk down Lockhart to Glendale Avenue and then turn right, straight up The Hill, but the journey would be shorter if she cut through the forest. She wasn’t allowed in the woods after dark but she figured that having the flashlight with her meant that it wouldn’t be all that dark in there. Not really. When she reached the edge of the forest, she took the flashlight out of her pocket, pushed the switch, and peered into the darkness of the trees. She stood for a moment and listened to the whisper of the wind among the leaves and the dripping of the rain. When she was satisfied that it was perfectly safe, Emma went in under the trees. The wet leaves underneath her feet made squishing noises as she walked. Emma found that she wasn’t getting nearly as wet in there as she had been on the road. A clear indication that taking the shortcut through the forest had been a good idea. Some moments later, her flashlight started to fail. The flashlight blinked off and on twice before its light became dim. Without knowing why they did it, Emma tapped the back end of it with her palm like she had seen grown-ups do. It didn’t work. She didn’t want to be stuck in the forest if the light went out, so she tried to judge if it would be faster to go on or to turn around and go back.
Before Emma could make up her mind, there was movement ahead that gave her pause. It had only been a shadowy blur among the trees but it had startled her. “Deer?” she said and shone her light toward where the motion had been, but she saw nothing. She took another step forward and the shadow moved again. It didn’t look like a deer. “Mr Milligan?” she said and backed away. There was no response. She kept her eye on the shadow and continued to back away slowly, now and then turning her head to look behind. Lightning flashed and she saw a man with horns. Emma turned and ran as thunder struck. She was afraid to look back in case the horned man was chasing her. She ran into a branch and its leaves slapped at her face. There was a rotten tree trunk in her way that she saw at the last moment. She managed to jump over it, though she almost slipped and fell when she landed on the other side of it. Emma's mad dash soon brought her out of the forest. She saw the light of a street lamp as she slipped on wet leaves and tumbled forward. Her momentum carried her out onto the road where she landed hard on hands and knees. The flashlight broke into three pieces and the batteries flew away. “Okay,” Emma said, “that was dumb. It probably was a stupid deer.” She crawled to the side of the road and sat down. Her jeans were torn. Her hands and knees were bleeding. On top of how she was already feeling, she now felt silly. The bright side of it was, she thought, that if she showed up to see her father looking like that then he might take it easy on her. She stood up and turned down the road toward The Hill. The wind and the rain beat at her face and pulled at her coat. She walked along the forest for a couple of minutes until it gave way to houses. Emma thought it was interesting that the people who lived in those houses had Glenridge Forest right in their backyard. She arrived at Glendale Avenue and, to her right, there rose The Hill, the steep incline over which the road had been built. The way up The Hill was a walk of fifteen minutes, but in the bad weather it took Emma twenty-five. There weren’t many cars on the road but some still passed her in both directions. Next to each sidewalk, on either side of the road, there were railings that separated them from the clumps of trees that grew beyond. At the top of The Hill, the ground levelled off, and the property that belonged to the University of Saint Martin began. The buildings that made up the school stood on the right side of the street. Across, to the left, there was a residence building for students, as well as a plaza full of fast food restaurants. Emma turned into the school grounds and entered the mathematics building. She left a trail of water as she made her way to the second floor and into the physics department. When she reached the office of Dr William Wilkins, she found that his door was closed. She tried to open it but it was locked. She knocked and there was no answer. Around the corner there was a clock on the wall and it showed that the time was close to seven. “Class time,” Emma said. She leaned back against the wall and slid down to the floor, sitting in her own puddle. Two hours later, Emma woke up when she felt someone pick her up off the floor. She opened her eyes, blinked at her father, and then she put her arms around him. He carried her into his office where he sat down on his chair and held her there for a long while.
“Dad,” Emma said eventually. “Yes, dear?” he said. “I caught the wizard boy.” “Oh? And what happened?” “He didn’t want to be my friend,” she said. “I’m sorry, Emma.” “No, it’s okay,” she said. “I know why. I realized something.” “What’s that?” “The boy’s name is Jake Milligan,” she said. “Same last name as Andrew Milligan.” Her father nodded. “I see,” he said. When they were ready to leave, he locked his office and they walked out of the school together. The rain had stopped and, as they walked down The Hill, Emma told him all about the day’s events, including how she had left class early and how she had waited for Jake outside the school. She told him about how she had tried to get to the university by taking the shortcut through the forest and the fright that she had received, along with some scrapes and bruises. When she showed him the teacher’s note, he shook his head. “I guess you already paid enough for it,” he said. “But we’ll still have to have a chat on another day.” They were almost home when he asked her what she planned to do about the boy. “Are you going to leave him alone?” he said. “What did you call that place where he goes?” “Wizard Falls,” Emma said. “Because he’s a wizard and there are waterfalls there. I think I know how I’m going to become his friend, Dad.” “Oh? How’s that?” “I’m going to buy his friendship.” The following day, Emma stayed home from school. She woke up after Will and her father had already left. The bandages that had been on her knees during the night had fallen off and her sheets had little stains of blood on them. She showered and put on new bandages before she got dressed and went into the kitchen to make herself toast with peanut butter. There was a note on the table and it had one word on it. “Rest!” said the note. Emma took it and put it in her pocket. After her small breakfast, she went back to her room and pulled out an old yellow lunchbox from under her bed. The paint was chipped and the metal was rusty in places. It had belonged to her father. Inside, among other odds and ends, there was a small fortune in bills and coins. She took some of the money and put it in her empty pocket. Emma left the house and she was greeted by birds that were singing their morning songs. It was a cheery, sunny day. She walked to the end of the street and then to the bus stop on the other side of Glendale Avenue. There was a girl standing inside the bus shelter. She looked older than Emma and she was wearing pink headphones on her head. Emma went inside the shelter and sat down on the bench. The older girl watched her from the moment she arrived until she sat down. Emma waved. The girl lowered the headphones to her neck. “Hey, don’t I know you?” “I don’t think so.” “Are you sure? My name is Lucy. What’s yours?”
“Emma,” Emma said. “Emma,” the girl said. “You really do seem familiar, Emma. Emma what?” “Emma who,” said Emma. “What?” “Never mind. My name is Emma Wilkins.” “You’re Professor Wilkins’s daughter. That’s where I’ve seen you. Must’ve been at his office.” “Yeah, that’s my dad.” “I’m in his physics class,” Lucy said. “Nice to meet you, Emma.” Emma stood up and walked over to the girl. “Nice to meet you, Lucy,” she said and stuck her hand out toward her. Lucy shook it and Emma winced. When she took her hand back, the older girl noticed her scrapes. “What happened to your hand?” she said. “I was attacked by a deer.” Emma’s bus arrived and she got on it. Lucy followed and they sat down together. They continued to talk and Emma found out that Lucy was seventeen years old and that she was in her first year studying biology. It turned out that she was also going to the mall. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be in school?” “Nope,” Emma said. “Are you?” “No,” Lucy said. “I don’t have class until later. Physics class, actually, with your dad.” “What a coincidence,” Emma said. They arrived at the Penhurst Mall and Emma walked with Lucy from store to store. There weren’t many people there and the girls wandered around without any real purpose at first. Emma was surprised to find that for Lucy the fun of going to the mall was all in walking around and looking. “Well,” Lucy explained. “I like the mall. Gets me out of my house and away from school.” “You don’t like your house?” “Not all the time,” she said. “Why are you here?” “I’m looking for bait,” Emma said. She paused to have a look around. There was a store directory nearby. She went to it and read through the listings to find the store that she was looking for. “Here,” she said, pointing at it on the map. “Luggage?” Emma nodded. She led the way to the store and they went inside. When she had completed her purchase, they left the mall and walked to the bus stop out in front of it. Lucy had to take a bus to the university but Emma had somewhere else to go. They waited together until Lucy’s bus pulled up. When the older girl had gone, Emma sat alone and swung her feet back and forth in the air, enjoying the sun on her face. She clutched the bait to her chest and smiled as she waited for her own bus to arrive. Wizard Falls was bright with sunshine. The light glinted off the slick, wet rocks that were scattered about inside the creek. There were faint rainbows floating in the air where a trickle of water hit a protruding rock on its way down and became a spray. Now that she’d had more time to look around, Emma saw that the “falls” were in reality no more than a few trickles of water that came out of the rocks above. She decided that she liked the
name “Wizard Falls” much better than “Wizard Trickles” despite its inaccuracy. Emma was hiding behind a tree. She was on the bank across the water from the rock that Jake had been sitting on the day before. She had placed the bait on the rock and was lying in wait, ready to spring her trap. It wasn’t long before she spied Jake coming over the hill. She slunk down and made herself even smaller so that he wouldn’t see her. She watched the boy walk down the slope and approach the rock. When he saw the bait, he stopped where he was and looked around. It took a few moments for him to appear satisfied that he was alone. Emma was sure that he hadn’t seen her. The boy moved on and stood in front of the rock. A brand new backpack rested upon it. It was black and blue and just about the right size for a boy of eleven. Jake stared at the backpack for a moment before he picked up the envelope that Emma had placed on top of it. On the envelope she had written the words, “For Jake.” He turned it this way and that and looked around once again before he opened it and took out the card that was inside it. It was a square, blue card and it had a single word written in the middle of it. “Magic,” it said. The boy frowned at the card and turned it over and around just as he had done with the envelope. He put the card down on the rock and then climbed on top of it himself. He took out his lunch from his old backpack and started to eat, looking at the new backpack the entire time, seeming to consider it. Emma watched and waited. When Jake finished his lunch, he emptied the contents of his old backpack. He stuck his hand through the hole and wiggled his fingers before tossing it aside. The boy took one last look around and then put his things into the new backpack. Emma imagined a giant box on top of the boy and a big stick holding it up. She pulled the imaginary string and imagined the box falling on him and trapping him. “Okay, crazy girl,” Jake said. “You can come out now.” “What!” Emma yelled from behind her hiding place. She stepped out from around the tree. “You knew I was here?” “I saw you,” Jake said. “Anyway, who else would leave this here?” “Yeah, I guess,” Emma said. She made her way back across the creek. Jake watched her hop from rock to rock, holding her arms out to the sides to keep her balance. “This isn’t how the plan was supposed to go,” she said. “How was it supposed to go?” “You weren’t supposed to know it was me,” she said. “You were supposed to think it was from a magic school or something. Wizardry.” “That’s completely insane,” he said. “And then what?” Emma blinked. “And then… I don’t know. That was as far as I got.” “You really are crazy,” he said. “But why?” “I want to be your friend,” Emma said. “That’s it?” She nodded. “Okay, but really. Why?” “No reason.” Jake looked from Emma to the backpack and paused as if he was considering her words. He
looked back at her and frowned. “Okay,” he said finally, “I’ll be your friend.” For the remainder of the lunch period they sat on the big rock together. Emma had a lot of questions for the boy but she tried not to interrogate him. Nevertheless, she found that the boy was eager to talk once his hard exterior had been cracked. “Then my dad went missing,” he was saying. “I don’t know anyone and my dad is gone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.” Emma told him about Bill and how he and Joel had come around to their house. She told him about searching in the forest and even about the music that she thought she had heard, the music of the tree. “But I think I must have imagined it, right?” she said. “My dad says I have an imagination. Yesterday, I thought I saw a man with horns. Got scared but it was probably just a deer.” Jake jumped off the rock and went to the edge of the water. He picked up a few stones and tried to skip them. Most of his throws went straight in and sank to the bottom. After several attempts, he flung the rest of the stones at the falling trickles. He came back to the rock wiping his hands on his jeans. “You think you could find that tree again?” Jake said. Emma thought about it. She knew the general direction in which they had gone, and she decided that she could probably get close, at least. “Maybe,” she said. “But why? I mean, it’s kind of silly to think that there was music coming from the tree. I’m probably just going crazy.” “I think you’re already crazy,” he said. “But can’t we just go look? What do we have to lose? Maybe it’s a mystery or a puzzle.” “Maybe it’s magic!” she said, eyes lighting up. “Yeah, probably is,” he said. “So help me find it?” “Okay, yeah, I think it’s a good idea!” The time came for Jake to head back to the school. He asked her why she hadn’t been there that morning and she told him that she hadn’t been feeling well. “But I’ll see you on Monday,” she said. “Good,” he said. “Oh, I can’t really keep the backpack.” “You put your stuff in it already.” “Yeah, I was just… I don’t know, trying it on or something.” “You have to keep it now,” she said. “You can’t give presents back.” “Fine,” he said, “but I’ll get you back.” He turned to the hill and nodded toward it. They set out on their way and clambered up and back onto the path on the other side, beyond the creek. “Wait a minute,” Emma said. “But why isn’t your name called during attendance?” “Oh,” Jake said. “The teacher said I’m not on the attendance sheet yet because I’m new. They print them each week, see, so I’ll be on it starting next week.” They left the park and Emma waved goodbye as Jake turned back toward the school. She walked in the opposite direction, toward the bus stop at the end of the street. When Emma arrived back home, she went to her room and put the money that she had left over back into the yellow lunchbox. She also put the note from her father in there. She always kept her correspondence. She spent the rest of the afternoon filling out workbooks for school. She felt bad about having missed it and she didn’t want to fall behind. Emma had no idea what homework had been
assigned for the weekend so she worked ahead as far as she could. When her father came home, Emma ran out of her room and rushed to him to tell him all about her day and about how she had finally made friends with Jake. She arrived in the living room just as he finished taking his shoes off. “Dad!” she said and then realized her error. She was supposed to have been resting all morning and if she told him that she had been out and about, he would be angry with her. When she saw the look on his face, she realized that he probably already had some idea about what she had been up to somehow. “I need to talk to you,” he said. Dejectedly, she walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. Her father went to the refrigerator and poured himself a glass of orange juice. He sat down across the table from her. “Emma,” he said. “One of my students talked to me today during class. She was very excited about having met you.” “Lucy,” Emma blurted out. “Yes,” he said. “Lucy Leroux. She said that she met you at the bus stop and that the two of you spent the morning at the mall. I told her that she had to be mistaken because you were supposed to be at home resting all day but she was able to describe you very well, Emma. She even talked about the scrapes on your hands.” “Snitch!” she said in a whisper. Then, “I’m sorry, Dad. I wasn’t thinking.” “You agreed last night that you were going to rest, Emma. I didn’t let you stay home from school so you could go riding buses around town. Didn’t you see my note? Whatever were you doing, anyway?” There was nothing Emma could do and no excuse she could make. She just hadn’t thought things through. “I caught the boy,” Emma said and explained her trap. She told him about Jake and how she had agreed to help him find the singing tree. “Absolutely not,” Mr Wilkins said. “I forbid it. I don’t want you going anywhere near that forest anymore, Emma. There has been another disappearance. Another construction worker. Something is happening on that site down the road and I want you to stay away from it and away from the forest.” “But I promised to help, Dad.” “I don’t care what you promised,” he said. “You’ve been acting strangely lately and I’m not happy with your behaviour. Consider yourself grounded until further notice.” Emma didn’t argue because she didn’t know what to say and because she knew that her father was right anyway. “Dad, who went missing?” she said instead. “It was in today’s paper,” he said and took it from the kitchen counter and handed it to Emma. He left and went into his office. The Saint Martin Guardian had a front page article about a construction worker named Steven Marks. He was a heavy machinery operator. The photograph on the article showed him wearing a hardhat and safety goggles. The article went on to explain that Paigely Builders had hired security guards to patrol the construction site day and night and that they were doing all they could to help the families of the men who were missing. Emma’s grounding lasted only for the weekend but the ban from the forest was in place indefinitely. This was going to complicate things but she had made a promise to her new friend and she wasn’t about to let him down.
4 Dinner and a Conspiracy “Matter has mass and occupies space,” Emma said. “Good, Emma,” Miss Robins said. It was Monday morning and the lesson was about the difference between matter and energy. Emma had been answering a lot of questions because she had worked far ahead during the weekend. She hoped to change the opinion of her teacher and maybe even erase her strikes, if that was possible. She glanced over to Jake and saw that the boy was looking at her. He smiled and then turned back to face the front of the room. Emma couldn’t wait for lunch time. That morning, just as Jake had predicted, Miss Robins had called out his name during attendance and he had raised his hand and given a quiet, “here.” During recess, Jake and Emma sat on the swings and he told her about his previous school in Toronto. His family had lived in a small apartment on a busy street next to a shopping plaza. Jake’s old school was within walking distance of the apartment and he’d had plenty of friends. One day, his dad had come home talking about the City of Saint Martin and how it was expanding and there were lots of new jobs there. It wasn’t long after that that Jake had ended up at Briardale. At lunch time, Emma and Jake snuck away to Wizard Falls. There was enough room on the big rock for the both of them and they sat on top of it under the sunlight with the sound of trickling water providing a backdrop for their conversation. “How did you find this place?” Emma asked him. “I just walked down the road trying to get away from the school,” he said. “I found it by accident.” “But why did you leave the school?” Jake took a bite of his sandwich before answering. “Some kids made fun of me on the first day. I didn’t feel like being there and didn’t know where to go.” Emma pulled out an apple and a banana from her backpack. “You want one, Jake?” He considered the options and nodded toward the banana. “Thank you,” he said. “Why would kids make fun of you?” Emma said. “You’re just a plain, average boy.” “Thanks,” he said and pushed her lightly but she almost tumbled off the rock. “They made fun of my bag. It was old and lousy though.” “Yeah it was,” she said. As the days went on, they continued to sneak out of school to have lunch together at Wizard Falls. Slowly, the boy became less and less apprehensive. He told her more about his previous school and about his old friends. He told her about the move to Saint Martin and how he had spent the entire summer doing nothing at all because he didn’t know anyone. “That’s what I do,” Emma said one day. “I read and I play in the forest with Will and that’s about it. But I guess we won’t be doing that for a while.” “What do you mean?” “Oh, my dad won’t let me go into the forest now,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t
help you find the singing tree. I just have to figure out a way to do it.” “I don’t want you to get in trouble,” he said. “Nah, I won’t, probably. My dad is a physicist. He’ll probably forget all about the forbidden forest pretty soon.” “What does your dad do?” Jake asked. “Oh,” she said, “he thinks a lot and writes stuff down. Mathy stuff, you know. At the university.” “Sounds complicated,” Jake said. “My mom works at a grocery store.” When Emma had relayed Jake’s story to her father, the physics professor had taken an interest in him. He’d suggested to Emma that she invite him over for dinner. She was only too happy to comply. It took some convincing to get Jake to agree. “Come on,” Emma said. “They don’t bite. We’re not vampires.” “I don’t know…” “Why not? They really want to meet you.” “I… My mom won’t let me.” “Really?” Emma said. “Well, why don’t I go ask her? I bet I could convince her to let you. We can go after school.” “She’ll be at work,” he said. “That’s okay,” she said. “We can go to her work.” Across the street from the Penhurst Mall there was a shopping plaza. It was dominated by a grocery store but there were a number of smaller stores that huddled around it. Emma and Jake arrived on a public bus. They made their way across the busy parking lot to the automatic doors of the grocery store. As they entered, Emma looked almost straight up and saw, written in big, colourful letters: “Agostino’s Food Market.” The store was busy with shoppers. Emma and Jake walked through the produce department, past the bakery, and to the other end of it, where the deli was located. “That’s my mom,” Jake said and pointed to a woman behind the glass counter. She was working in front of a slicer, using it to cut through a chunk of meat. Emma watched as Jake’s mom took the slices and weighed them on a scale before she wrapped them up, put a sticker on them, and gave them to a woman on the other side of the counter. She then pressed a button and the digital display on the wall above changed. The number on it was two hundred and twenty-six and it went up to two hundred and twenty-seven. One of the customers who milled about stepped to the counter and gave her a slip of paper as well as his order. “I guess we’ll have to take a number,” Emma said and went to the side where there stood a ticket dispenser. There was a paper tab sticking out of it and she took it. On it was the number two hundred and thirty-four. While they waited, Emma watched Jake’s mother work away. The area behind the counter was a constant flurry of activity as the Agostino’s employees dashed here and there to slice the meats and cheeses that the customers asked for. Jake’s mom was so busy that she didn’t notice the two of them standing around next to a canned olive display. It took almost five minutes for Emma’s number to come up. The display changed to two hundred and thirty-four and she went up to the counter. “Two-three-four!” Jake’s mom called out. “Two-three-four!”
“Down here!” Emma said and raised the hand holding the ticket. Jake’s mom leaned over the counter and looked down at Emma’s beaming face. “Hello down there,” she said. “What would you like?” Jake walked up to the counter. “Hey, Mom,” he said. “This is the girl I told you about.” “Emma!” she said. “Hello, Mrs Milligan,” Emma said. “Call me Vicky,” she said and smiled. She turned to one of her co-workers and told her that she was going to take her break. Mrs Milligan took off her hairnet and apron and put them on a chair. She came around the counter and then walked with the children to the front of store. Next to check-out lane number ten there was a hallway that led to a lunch room. She took them there and sat with them at a lunch table. “So what’s up?” Mrs Milligan said. “It’s nice to meet you, Emma. Thank you for the backpack. I can’t believe you did that. I told Jake he shouldn’t have accepted it but the boy has no shame, really. Don’t worry, we’ll pay you back for it. Actually, since you’re here now I can get you the money right this minute if you’ll just wait in here.” “Oh, no,” Emma said. “Please, don’t worry about it. It’s not a problem, Mrs Milligan.” “Vicky,” she said. “Call me Vicky. But really, you must let me pay you back. We do appreciate it, of course.” “Okay, maybe another time, Mrs Vicky,” Emma said. “Thank you. We’re here to ask you something though. Can Jake come over this weekend for dinner?” “Sure he can,” she said. “You didn’t need to come all the way out here to ask me that, but I appreciate the visit. Come over to see me whenever you want, Emma. One of these days you’ll have to come over to our place too. We’ll be happy to have you.” “Thank you, Mrs Milligan.” “Vicky, Emma. Call me Vicky. What a nice, polite girl you are. I’m glad Jake finally made such a nice friend. He didn’t keep the best company back home. They were a bunch of trouble-makers, really. I was afraid they’d have a bad influence on him.” “Mom!” Jake protested. “Sorry, kid,” she said. “But it’s true.” “They were my friends,” he said. “Well,” she said. “Now you have Emma here and I’m glad for it.” Emma blushed. “Thank you, Mrs Milligan,” she said. “Vicky,” Mrs Milligan said. Saturday night came around and Emma was sitting on the window sill waiting for Jake to come over. It was close to six o’clock when she saw the boy walk down the street and up the driveway. She waved at him and ran to the front door and opened it. “Hey,” he said when he walked in. As soon as he had his shoes off, Emma grabbed him and dragged him to the dining table. “Hello, Jake,” Mr Wilkins said. “Hello, sir,” said the boy. “Did your mother drop you off? I didn’t hear a car.” “No, sir,” Jake said. “My mom is at work. I took the bus.” “I would’ve picked you up if I had known.” Emma and Jake sat down at the table. Mr Wilkins went to Will’s room to tell him that dinner was ready.
“Hey,” Jake said. “After dinner I want to go look in the forest.” “I can’t,” Emma said. “I’m not allowed.” “I know. But I can go alone. I just need you to tell me which way to go, that’s all.” Emma shook her head. “It’s going to be almost dark after dinner.” “Don’t worry,” he said. Mr Wilkins came back with Will. The older boy sat down at the table and waved hello to Jake. Emma’s father brought a lasagna from the kitchen and gave them each a portion to go along with steamed vegetables. “What does your mother do, Jake?” Mr Wilkins said when they were all digging into their dinners. “She works at a grocery store,” Emma said. “Let Jake answer, Emma,” he said. “Which store, Jake?” “Agostino’s, sir.” Dinner went on in that manner, with Mr Wilkins alternating between asking Jake questions and hushing Emma whenever she tried to speak for him. For Emma, it was a good time. After dinner, Will went back to his room and Mr Wilkins locked himself in his office for violin practice. It was Emma’s turn to clear the table and Jake helped her. They talked as they carried plates and pots and utensils to the sink and put left-over scraps of food into the compost bin but the screeching from the violin kept interrupting. Nevertheless, they managed some semblance of a conversation that eventually got around to the subject of going into the forest. “It’s going to be dark,” Emma said. “I’ll take a flashlight. I’m not scared.” “My dad is going to want to drive you home,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll let you take the bus.” “But I like the bus,” he said. “What if I tell him I like to ride it?” “Really? No one likes the bus,” she said. “Well, except me.” “What if I just leave?” “That wouldn’t be polite.” Emma leaned against the kitchen counter and stared out the window. There was still a little bit of daylight out but night was quickly approaching. Though she was sure that the thing she had seen in the forest the other night had only been in her imagination, the thought of Jake walking around alone in the dark still scared her. Two people now had disappeared into the forest and she didn’t want Jake to join them. “I’ll go with you,” she said. “But tomorrow. Can you come back tomorrow? Why don’t you sleep over? Then we’ll go to the forest in the morning.” “Really?” Jake said. Emma nodded. “I’ll call my mom,” he said. “Thanks, Emma!” Jake woke up in the middle of the night. He was disoriented at first, and he was a little frightened because he didn’t know where he was. He was lying on a couch and there was a thin blanket on top of him. He pulled the blanket off and stood up. His evaporating sweat cooled him off. A clock that ticked on the wall showed that it was a little past midnight. It took him a moment to remember that he was in the Wilkinses’ living room. He spotted the kitchen on the other side of a counter and he walked there and poured himself a glass of water. The kitchen window was open and Jake could hear the night noises that drifted
in from the darkness. He drank his water and put his glass down but, as he was turning to go back to the couch, he heard hushed voices speaking outside. The first voice belonged to William Wilkins. The other voice was deeper and strangely musical. “Does it have to be her?” Mr Wilkins said. “You know it does,” said the other voice. “She’s only eleven.” “I know,” said the voice. “It’s early but he is moving already.” From where Jake was standing he couldn’t see either of the speakers. He stood on his toes and tried to look out the window but they were just outside his field of vision. “I was hoping it wouldn’t happen,” Mr Wilkins said. “I was hoping to be long dead by the time he returned.” “I understand.” Jake climbed up on the kitchen counter to get a better look. He could see that there was a veranda just outside and Mr Wilkins was standing at the edge of it, leaning on the railing. Beyond the veranda, to his right, there stood a tree. Under the tree there was a strange figure cloaked in shadow. “I want you to leave her alone. Don’t get her involved in this. Don’t go near her.” The shadow shifted. “You know that I won’t. She has to come willingly but when she does, I will help her.” “Then I’ll make sure she doesn’t come,” Mr Wilkins said. “I think you’ll find that there is nothing you can do about it, William,” said the shadow. “Just like before.” The shadow shifted, there was a rustle of leaves, and then it simply wasn’t there anymore. With a frown, Jake got down from the counter as quietly as he could. He went back to the couch, lied down, and pretended to be asleep. He heard the back door open and then heard Mr Wilkins’ footfalls as he moved through the house. Jake stayed up for a long time, unable to forget the shape of the shadow under the tree. It had looked like a man with horns.
5 The Forbidden Forest Sunday morning came and Emma rose early. She thought that Jake would be eager to get going and she was excited to return to Glenridge Forest. There was a lingering hope that the singing tree had been real. When Emma went to the living room, she saw that Jake was still sound asleep. He was sprawled on the couch with his arms pointing out at odd angles. She shook the boy awake and he opened his eyes and blinked in the sunlight. “Hey, Emma,” he said groggily. “Am I at your house?” “Yeah, come on,” she said. “We have to leave before my dad wakes up.” Jake nodded. He stood up, still in his clothing from the day before. He went to the kitchen and drank a glass of water before they both left quietly out the front door. On the way to the forest, Jake told Emma what he had overheard the night before. “They were talking about me?” “Of course,” Jake said. “You’re eleven, right? Who else could it be?” “But who could he have been talking to?” “I have no idea. I didn’t get a good look at him.” Emma frowned. A Blue Jay was watching her from a branch on the side of the road. “Are you sure?” she said. “Maybe you were dreaming.” “I’m pretty sure,” he said. “Didn’t seem like a dream. Hey, don’t tell your dad about it, okay? I don’t want him to think I was eavesdropping.” “You were eavesdropping,” she said. “Well, yeah, but I don’t want him to think it.” They arrived at the edge of the forest and Emma paused in front of it. She took a deep breath and then stepped forward. “I’m officially breaking the rules now,” she said. “It’s for a good cause.” That early in the morning, the forest was welcoming. Birds sang their hellos. Soft rays of sunlight brushed the moist leaves on the trees and on the ground. They walked on without aim for a little while. “Do you play here a lot?” Jake said. “Yeah,” Emma said. “Me and Will used to come here all the time. More in the summer when there’s no school.” “What can you play in a forest?” “Lots of stuff. Hide and seek.” A squirrel scurried in front of them and stopped for a moment to stare at Emma before running off into a bush. “What’s going on today?” Emma said. “What do you mean?” “That squirrel was staring at me. And there was a bird doing it back there too.” “You’re so weird,” he said. “Which way do we go now? Do you want to ask one of your friends?” “Maybe if we see an owl,” she said.
She took the lead and tried to recall the way they had gone when she had found the singing tree. As she picked her way through the forest, Emma hoped that she would be able to hear the music of the tree again and that it would show her the way. It was almost half an hour later when Emma saw movement through the trees. Someone was coming. “Hey! What are you kids doing here?” A man in uniform ran up to them. There was a German Shepherd with him and it sat down and stared at Emma. “What are you doing in the forest?” the man demanded. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous? Where are your parents?” “We’re just playing, sir,” Emma said. She peeked behind him and beyond the trees she could see a bulldozer and the beginnings of the Paigely Builders construction site. “But I think we got lost.” “Do your parents know you’re here?” “No, sir,” Emma said. “You kids better come with me,” he said. They were taken through the construction site, past the parked bulldozer and in between newly built houses and construction equipment. The entire time the German Shepherd walked along beside Emma. They ended up at a portable office. There was a sign next to the door and it said “Security” on it. When they entered, the German Shepherd sat down in front of the door, just inside, and from there he watched Emma. Inside the room, there was a desk, some filing cabinets, and three chairs. The walls were bare and the place looked more like a prison cell than an office. The security guard sat them down before leaning against his desk. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a pack of gum. He started to chew a piece loudly and then crossed his arms. “I’m going to have to call your parents. What are your names?” the guard said. Emma read the man’s name off his chest. His name tag said, “Aaron Humphries.” “Emma Wilkins and Jake Milligan,” she said. “Milligan? Are you related to Andrew Milligan?” Jake looked up at the man and nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said. “He’s my dad.” Emma couldn’t think of anything else to do but come out with the truth. She told him that they were in the forest looking for Jake’s father. She told him also about how her own father had forbidden her from doing so and that she would be in a lot of trouble if he found out. “Alright, listen,” Aaron said when she finished. “I won’t call your parents. But you have to stay out of that forest. The police are doing everything they can to find the missing persons.” “It’s been almost a month,” Jake said. Aaron nodded and spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. He led them back outside, out the front gate of the construction site, and onto Lockhart Road. The German Shepherd followed. “Now go straight home and don’t go back in the forest again,” Aaron said. “Stay out of trouble.” They walked back up the road with the trees of the forest looking down on them from their right. “How did we end up there?” Jake said as they went. “I have no idea,” Emma said. “It wasn’t on purpose.”
“Also, I didn’t think you’d tell him everything!” “He asked! What was I supposed to do?” They walked on in silence until they turned down Belle Street. The Blue Jay, the one from before, Emma thought, was still there, though on a different branch. It watched them walk by. “So what do we do now?” Jake said. “You still want to do this?” He nodded. Emma sighed. She had already broken the rules anyway. “Okay,” she said. “I have a plan.” The Blue Jay chirped and flew away. The following day after school, Jake rode the bus with Emma and Will on the pretense that he was coming over to visit again. When the three of them were walking from the bus stop to their house, Emma grabbed Will by the arm. “I have to tell you,” she said. “What is it now, Emma?” “We’re going to go to the forest,” she said. “To look for Jake’s dad.” “You’re crazy,” he said. “Dad will kill you.” She nodded. “Yeah, I know. That’s why I need you to promise me you won’t snitch. I’ll be back before he comes home from work.” Will shook his head and walked around her. Jake looked at Emma questioningly, but she could only shrug her shoulders. The older boy didn’t speak at all until they were back inside their house. They put their bags down on the floor, just inside, and Will turned to Emma. “Okay,” he said. “You won’t tell?” “No,” he said. “I’m coming with you. Someone has to take care of you.” Emma was happy to add Will to their search party. The three children went to the forest. Because of what had happened the day before, with their getting turned around and ending up at the construction site, Emma made sure this time that they were headed in a northerly direction. “We keep the sun to our left,” she said, “and it’ll keep us going north.” “So you think we can do better than we did with all those other people that one time?” Will said. “In only an hour and a half?” “No,” Emma said. “We’re going to do this every day.” “That’s the plan then? Come to the forest every day straight from the bus and then try to get back home before dad gets there and kills you?” “Yup.” “Alright,” Will said. He turned to Jake. “She’s crazy, you know?” Jake nodded. “I know.” The boys laughed together. Emma punched Will in the shoulder. They continued on toward the north for a while, with Will keeping track of the time on his watch. Though Emma made sure that they did not deviate from their intended direction, eventually the Paigely Builders construction site appeared in front of them. “Look,” she said. “It’s the construction site.” “How is that possible?” Jake said. “I don’t know. It’s to the east of where we started. There is no way we could’ve ended up here.”
“Maybe you were distracted,” Will said. “Me? You were the ones not paying attention!” “Well,” said Will. “We have to go back anyway. Time’s up. We’ll just have to pay better attention tomorrow.” They went back home and Jake picked up his backpack before he left on his way to the bus stop. They repeated their search the next day but this time, before they left the house, Emma went to the lunchbox under bed and took out an old compass. It was a clunky, metal thing on a yellow and black lanyard. She pulled it over her neck and ran outside to where Jake and Will were waiting. “I got this thing,” she said. “We won’t get lost with it.” Once they were in the forest, Emma looked at the compass every so often to make sure that they were following the needle. The two boys kept quiet for the most part but they jostled with each other now and again. “Are you sure you can handle the compass?” said Will. “Big responsibility.” Emma ignored him. They came across an enormous log that lay across their path. Jake and Will climbed on top of it and pushed at each other. Emma rolled her eyes but soon she climbed up as well. She stood at the end of log and tried to get a better look at her surroundings in order to memorize any landmarks that she could see. A few metres ahead, a small rabbit was sitting up on its haunches. It was staring her and, presently, it cocked its head to the side before it ran off into the forest. “Hey, I have an idea,” Emma said. “What?” Jake asked. “Well,” Emma said. “This is weird. I’m sure we’re going north but something’s off. This area doesn’t look familiar. But what if we mark the places where we’ve been?” Will jumped off the log. “Let’s bring a knife and carve arrows into the trees next time,” he said. “No,” Emma said. “Don’t hurt the trees. I have a better idea.” They continued to search and, as they went, Emma began to look at the compass more often. Eventually, she ended up holding it in front of her as she walked. A while later, she stopped them. “Oh no,” she said. “Are you sure you can use that thing?” Will said. “We’ve been following the arrow the entire time!” There was a soccer field ahead of them beyond the trees. Past it, there arose familiar buildings that were part of the University of Saint Martin. To the right of the field, there was an enormous parking lot. “What’s the matter?” Jake said. “We can’t be here if we’ve been going north this entire time,” Will said. “There is just more woods to the north and eventually a lake. To get to the school you have turn west at some point.” “Huh,” Jake said. “That’s weird.” “Really weird,” Emma said. “Impossible,” said Will. He looked at his watch and then turned them around to head back on home. “We’re doing something wrong,” he said. “Yeah,” Emma said, nodding. “I have another idea though. But I need to get some things. I’ll do it tomorrow after school.”
“What are you going to do?” Jake said. “We’re going to get organized.” The next day after school, when the bus dropped her off, Emma walked up The Hill to the University of Saint Martin. It was hot and sunny, and the road was busy. On her way up The Hill, Emma passed university students who were walking both to and from the school. The journey didn’t take her as long this time as it had in the rain and soon she was under the shade of the building housing the geography department. At that time of day, there was plenty of commotion in the hallways and she received more than few odd looks and smiles. She was out of place, being only eleven and small for her age on top of it. Her destination was on the second floor of the building. In the middle of the hallway, there was a doorway that was flanked by rows of big windows. Above the door, there was a sign that read, “Map Library.” She peeked inside and saw that there were maybe a dozen students sitting in a study area and a few more were moving about in between the shelves and cabinets where the maps were kept. There was a desk next to the door and an elderly woman was sitting in front of it typing on a keyboard and looking at a computer screen. When Emma walked in, she waved and smiled at the woman. The woman cocked an eyebrow in response and then went back to her typing. Emma had been to the Map Library before. At one point she’d had an obsession with maps and her father had indulged it by taking her there and showing her how to find the ones that were interesting. The maps Emma liked the most were the old ones that were sometimes incorrect about certain details. Today she was looking for an accurate map. Local maps were on a shelf in the middle of the room and Emma made her way to it. There was a crowd gathered around it as two students poked through the map collection. One of them, a boy who was wearing thick glasses, found what he was looking for and removed a book from the shelf. He walked past the crowd and sat at one of the tables. Another student, one of those who were waiting, took the boy’s place at the shelf. Emma approached the boy with the glasses and asked him what was happening. He informed her that they were all first year geography students and that they were working on an assignment. She decided to try to squeeze through the crowd rather than wait for them to finish. Her size proved an advantage in this as most of the students got out of the way of the small girl. It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for. She slid a big binder out of the shelf and went to a table and spread it open. In the binder there a number maps of the area surrounding the university. She paged through it until she found a map that consisted of stitched-together aerial photographs. The map showed the entirety of Glenridge Forest. She took the map out of the binder, walked to one of the photocopiers at the back of the room, put in a quarter, and copied it onto two pages. She put page back into the binder and the binder back on the shelf before she left the Map Library. The woman behind the front desk cocked her eyebrow at her again. Out in the hallway, she turned to go back to the stairs but then she heard someone call her name. She turned left and right and saw that halfway down the hall, coming toward her, was Lucy Leroux. “Hey, Emma!” Lucy said when she reached her. She leaned down to look at her at eye level. Her pink headphones were hanging around her neck. Emma could see now that they had stickers of black skulls on them. “Hello, snitch,” Emma said.
“What?” “You told on me.” They were in the middle of the hallway and they were blocking the flow of traffic so Lucy motioned for them to go sit on one of the benches next to the wall. They did so and Emma put her backpack on the ground, still holding onto the new map. “What do you mean I told on you?” “You told my dad that I was at the mall. I got in trouble.” “I didn’t realize you’d get in trouble. I’m really sorry. I thought he knew.” Emma studied her face and decided that she was telling the truth. She nodded. “What’d you got there?” Lucy said. “A map,” Emma said. “Oh? A map for what?” “The forest. We’re looking for someone.” Lucy asked to see the map and Emma handed the pages to her. “Are these photocopies? Where did you get these?” Emma pointed back to the Map Library. “From there,” she said. “Didn’t you know about it?” Lucy shook her head. “I’m in biology,” she said. “Who are you looking for? Why do you need a map?” “You have lots of questions, you know?” “Yeah,” Lucy said, seeming a little embarrassed. “It’s okay. I’m just saying.” Emma took the pages back and put them into her backpack. “My friend’s dad is missing and he disappeared in the forest. We’re searching for him. I’m going to plan it all out.” “Is that safe?” “Oh, yeah, for sure,” Emma said, nodding. “What’s your plan?” Emma took the pages out of her backpack again. She pointed out where the Paigely site was located and the point where they normally entered the forest, the intersection of Belle and Lockhart. “We want to keep track of places we’ve searched already,” Emma said. “So we’re going to mark the trees, but I’ll also be marking the areas on the map.” “You’re so smart,” Lucy said. “But isn’t it going to be hard to use the map from the ground when you’re in the forest? This is from way up.” “Yeah,” Emma said. “That’s a big problem but you can use landmarks.” She pointed out a clearing here and an unusually tall tree there. “That way you can at least get close. Doesn’t have to be perfect.” “Wow,” Lucy said. “You’ve thought of a lot.” “My dad taught me a bunch,” Emma said. “Your dad! I was actually on my way to see him!” She took out her cell phone and checked the time. “Damn it. So late. I gotta run, Emma.” They both stood up and said goodbye. Lucy ran down the hall toward the physics department. Emma picked up her backpack and made her way back outside through the thinning crowd. Emma spent the remainder of the afternoon in her bedroom, cutting ribbons out of a couple of old dresses. She came out for dinner and to do homework but the rest of the time she spent cutting away carefully with a pair of old silver scissors. The ribbons were approximately the
length of her forearm and the width of her index and middle fingers put together. When the ribbons were ready, she placed them inside a shopping bag. In math class the next day, Miss Robins’ lesson was about measuring and calculating the areas of parallelograms and triangles. Emma was still far ahead of the class and she’d figured out all about the subject on her own. For this reason, when the lesson was over and it came time to solve problems from their workbooks, Emma had nothing to do. She could work farther ahead but she decided instead to use that time to refine the search system that she had come up with. She reached into her bag and brought out the aerial photographs of Glenridge Forest. The two pages were now taped together neatly into one continuous map. She took a purple marker and set about marking the features of the area that stood out and that would be easy to find from the ground. “Emma!” Miss Robins said. She was walking around between the rows of desks, checking on the progress of their work. She paused by Emma’s desk and looked down at what she was doing. “What is all this?” “It’s a map, Miss Robins,” Emma said. “I can see that, Emma, but why aren’t you working on your math?” “I finished it already,” she said. She took her workbook from her desk and handed it to the teacher. Miss Robins gave her a skeptical look but checked it over anyway. Emma glanced over at Jake and he gave her a questioning tilt of his head. She shrugged to him. “I guess you did finish it,” Miss Robins said after a moment. “Well, I can’t have you playing games in class even if you’re done. Please put that game away. You can work ahead in the book.” “But it’s not a game,” Emma said. “No buts, Emma. Put it away now.” Miss Robins glanced at the Strike Board and Emma decided that she'd better play it safe. She put the map away and took her math workbook back as Miss Robins handed it to her. By the time class was over, Emma was starting to worry that she was going to run out of work to do very soon. Over the next few days, ribbons started to appear on the trees of Glenridge Forest. They spread out from the point closest to the intersection of Belle Street and Lockhart Road, and moved out in a northerly fashion. There were blue ribbons and red ribbons and they were tied into neat bows onto the lowest branches. Just as this was happening, as if in response, the leaves of the trees began to change colour, signalling the beginning of autumn. By marking the forest with ribbons, as well as marking their progress on her map, Emma could keep track of where they had already been, and it would prevent them from becoming disoriented and searching places that they had already searched. It worked well in the beginning, Emma found, but as they moved farther north, mysterious cracks began to appear in the system. There were, with increasing frequency, times when a mark on the map did not match a ribbon on a tree as though someone had gone around and rearranged some of them. Will questioned Emma’s ability to keep track of the endeavour but she checked and double-checked her map every night. Nevertheless, she let Will take charge of it for a couple of days and they found that the same inconsistencies continued to creep up. At one point, Jake objected that maybe their map was out of date and Emma was forced to admit that it could be a possibility. She thought that she had been careful in her selection of it but just to make sure that they had current data she made another trip to the university’s Map Library and found the original map again. The date on the binder was from the previous year.
In two weeks, they ran out of ribbons and Emma had to find additional clothing from which to cut more. She was forced to go into the basement where they kept their storage boxes. These were stacked or strewn about and covered in dust. She stumbled across Christmas ornaments and winter clothing but she thought that she had better not cut into any of these or her father would be upset when winter time came around. She found something that she could use in one of the boxes farthest back. There were dresses and skirts in it but they were much too big for Emma. They looked as though they belonged to a grown woman. They helped Emma replenish her ribbon supply and she was able to continue to decorate the forest in that manner. Emma made sure to always be the one to wrap the ribbons. The boys were too careless and could never tie a nice bow. She, on the other hand, made sure the ribbons looked good, as though they really were for decoration. Despite all their care, the troubling paradoxes continued to arise and Emma became increasingly frustrated with their difficulties. She considered asking her father for advice but she couldn’t think of a roundabout way of doing it that wouldn’t reveal the entire enterprise to him. It was at the peak of Emma’s frustration when everything came unravelled.
6 Strike Three It was Tuesday morning and the sky was angry. Emma woke up in a gray mood. She could tell immediately upon waking that it was a cloudy day. With heavy feet, she got out of bed and prepared for the day ahead. Everything started to go wrong when Jake wasn’t on his bus. Emma waited for him by the school’s main entrance. Jake’s bus came and all the children inside filed out. There was no sign of the boy. Emma stood there for a few moments, not sure about what, if anything, she should do. She imagined that Jake wouldn’t just disappear again without letting her know. There was probably a reasonable explanation why he wasn’t there but, in the back of Emma’s mind, something of a small panic began to grow. It was the fear that whatever had happened to Mr Milligan had now happened to Jake. When she finally went to her classroom, Miss Robins saw her walk in and took a pointed glance at her watch. Emma looked down at the floor and made her way to her desk. The day’s math lesson was about reflections, translations, and rotations of different shapes. Emma knew all about it already but she tried her best to pay close attention and not to think about the empty chair near the door. When it was time for recess, Emma stopped by the teacher’s desk to ask about Jake. If there was a reason for his absence then his mother might have called the school. Miss Robins told her that she hadn’t heard anything about the boy. Emma went outside. The sky appeared as though it had every intention of pouring buckets of rain down on the school. She sat on her usual spot on the swing and wrapped one arm around its steel chain and leaned against it, hugging herself against the wind. She'd forgotten to bring a jacket. Emma’s feet didn’t reach the ground so she swung them in the air in little circles as she glanced around at the drab morning. The chill wind and the darkening sky seemed to have absorbed the joy out of the playground. To Emma, it appeared as though everyone was moving more slowly than usual and without aim, like wandering ghosts lost in a graveyard. She was filled with an impulse to leave and race home or to the university to find her father. She was in the same sullen mood when she found herself alone at Wizard Falls during lunch time. Emma had hoped that she would find Jake waiting there for her as she came up over the hill, that he had just slept in and missed the bus in the morning, but when she’d arrived at their secret hiding place, it had been empty. Now she sat alone on the big rock with her lunch lying untouched beside her. She had a strange feeling that she was waiting for something but she didn’t know what that something was. The wind picked up and howled through the trees. Along with the drip-drip-drip of the waterfall, it was like a lonely symphony just for Emma. She regretted again having forgotten her jacket and wrapped her arms around herself, watching the tops of the trees sway with the wind in front of the black rolling clouds. The sudden boom of thunder made Emma jump. She glanced around into the woods until she realized what the sound had been. A moment or two after her heart settled back down, the first
few drops of cold rain sputtered into the creek nearby. Emma looked up to the sky and felt a giant raindrop land on her cheek. The drop was followed by a downpour. Emma grabbed her lunch bag and jumped off the rock. She ran up the hill and slipped when she was coming down the other side. Her lunch flew away and she watched it slide down into the creek. Emma stopped her own slide by grabbing onto a root that was sticking out of the ground. She slipped again at the bottom of the hill on the mud by the water’s edge and, by the time she crossed over the creek, she was soaked through and covered in mud. She made it back to school without rushing, figuring that she was already as miserable as she could be. She shrugged as she saw that the rain had washed off most of the mud. The only problem now was that she was soaking wet. She would have to explain what she had been doing outside. “Maybe I’ll just go home,” she said to herself but Miss Robins was likely to have a fit if she disappeared again. She would probably call her father about it, or even the police. Emma entered the school through one of the side entrances. She was looking down at the water that dripped off her clothes and onto the school’s floor so she didn’t notice the man that stood off to the side as she passed by him. “Emma Wilkins,” said the man. She stopped on her tracks and turned in place to face him. It was Mr Clarence, the school principal. “Hello, Mr Clarence,” she said. “You’re all wet, Emma. Whatever were you doing outside?” “I don’t know, Mr Clarence,” she said. The principal gave her a peculiar look and began to walk. “Come with me, young lady,” he said. “Yes, Mr Clarence,” Emma said dejectedly. She followed him down the hallway that led to the part of the school where the teacher’s lounge and the principal’s office were situated. “You’re in real trouble now, Emma,” she said softly to herself. “Did you say something?” asked Mr Clarence. “No, sir,” said Emma. Inside his office, the principal told Emma to wait a moment and left the room. He came back with a heavy towel and handed it to her before he sat down behind his desk. He opened a binder and wrote some things in it while Emma did her best to dry off. “Sit down,” he said when she’d finished. Emma put the towel down on one of the chairs in front of the desk and sat on it. “How are things, Emma?” he asked. “Fine.” “So you don’t know why you were outside?” “No, sir.” The principal tapped his pen on his desk. Emma couldn’t help but fidget as she waited to hear how much trouble she was in. “You’ve been playing with Jake Milligan, haven’t you?” he said. “Do you know about his recent misfortunes?” Emma looked up, half hopeful and half fearful. “Yes, sir,” she said. “I know his dad went missing. Do you know where he is today, Mr Clarence? Jake, I mean.” He frowned and took a clipboard from the corner of his desk. After flipping over a few pages
he found what he was looking for. “Milligan, Jake,” he said, “absent.” He put the clipboard down and looked back at Emma. “No, I’m sorry, there was no reason given for his absence. Hopefully he will bring a note tomorrow.” Emma nodded. “Well, Emma,” Mr Clarence said. “The reason I brought you in here, aside from the fact that you were soaked, is that I wanted to let you know that if something is wrong, anything, my door is open to you.” “Sir?” “You’re a good student. I looked at your records. But this year hasn’t got off to a great start, has it?” “No, sir.” “Your grades are excellent but your behaviour has been upsetting Miss Robins.” “Yes, sir.” “In any case, don’t be afraid to come to me if you should need help with anything at all. That goes for Jake as well.” “Yes, sir.” He took a blank piece of paper and scribbled on it. “Here,” he said, and handed it to Emma. “Take this to Miss Robins so you won’t get in trouble.” “Thank you, sir,” she said. When Emma reached her classroom, Miss Robins turned from the board and cast a furious glance at her. Before the teacher could speak, Emma rushed to her, waving the life-saving note above her head. Miss Robins took it and read it. She frowned at Emma and then pointed to the girl’s desk without saying a single word. Emma could tell that she had been very angry and the fact that she couldn’t yell at her had only made her angrier. Emma sat down at her desk. Her clothes were still moist. She was cold and she shivered for a while. It was hard for her to pay attention while her teeth were chattering but she tried her best to seem fascinated by the lesson. She didn’t want any more trouble today. She considered herself lucky to have escaped the day unscathed. The afternoon wore on and the rain continued to beat upon the windows on the side of the classroom. The children had to stay inside during recess, something for which Emma was glad. She took that time to pull out her map of Glenridge Forest and mull over its puzzle again, glancing for a moment at the empty chair where Jake should have been. He was probably sick at home and she had been worrying all day for no reason. She was going to have to help him catch up with what he’d missed today, starting with the lesson on translations of objects. “Wow,” she said without intending to speak out loud. A few kids looked her way but quickly went back to chatting with each other. A strange thought had struck her. It was an impossible idea but a fun one to consider, and it would explain a lot. The way Emma thought about translating an object was that it just meant that she moved it around. She thought of drawing a circle on a piece of graph paper in the corner. If she were translate it to the centre of the paper, then the circle would remain exactly the same, only its location would change. This idea of moving shapes around made Emma wonder what it would be like if maybe it wasn’t her ribbons that were being moved, but what if it was the trees themselves that were translating? If Mr Milligan had gotten lost in the forest, all he would’ve had to do was to walk in a single direction and, eventually, he would have come out of it somewhere. But if the trees were moving around and changing the layout of the forest then it could be that he was trapped inside a sort of
labyrinth. This would also explain why she and the boys had never been able to stay on a course due north. It was a crazy idea but she knew that it was one that Jake would like. She took a hard look at her map and decided that she would go back and make more copies and use a different copy each time they went into the forest. If the trees were actually moving then there could be some pattern to their translation, and if they kept track of how the forest changed each day, then they could possibly be able to figure out the pattern. “So cool!” she said. Emma looked around and noticed that the class was silent. All the students were back at their desks and they were looking toward the front. A few heads were turned in her direction and she saw Suzie Collins roll her eyes at her. Recess had ended and she hadn’t noticed. “Emma!” said Miss Robins from the front of the room. She stormed to Emma’s desk and looked down at her map. “This again?” she yelled. “I told you that you can’t be playing around during my class. You’ve been a nuisance since day one, Emma. Just because your father is a university professor doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.” “Miss Robins, I…” “I nothing! I had just about enough of you!” The teacher went to the front of the room and picked up a permanent marker from her desk. Beside Emma’s name on the Strike Board she put a third “X.” This one was much bigger than the previous two. “Strike three, Emma Wilkins. To the principal’s office. Now!” And so Emma found herself back at Mr Clarence’s office. He raised an eyebrow at her when he saw her standing at the door but motioned for her to come in. Emma saw that the towel she had used was still draped across one of the chairs so she made her way back to it and sat down. “What’s the matter, Emma?” asked Mr Clarence. “Miss Robins sent me, sir,” she said. “Now, why did she do that?” “I disrupted the class. She gave me a third strike.” “Are you playing baseball in there?” “No, sir, it’s just that there is this board…” “I know, Emma,” he said. “It was just my little joke. Well, here’s the thing. Miss Robins takes her strikes very seriously so I can’t just send you back there. She’ll kill me if I don’t give you detention for at least one day.” “Okay, Mr Clarence,” Emma said. “Not today though. I think today you’ve been through enough. Maybe tomorrow at lunch time. Just come to my office then.” Emma nodded and stood up, wondering if the principal was this nice with everyone. Before she made it to the door, he spoke again. “Emma, you know we have to call your family?” “Yes, sir. My dad.” “Maybe I can tell the secretary to hold off until tomorrow so you can explain this to your parents yourself and prepare them.” “No parents, Mr Clarence. Only a dad. But yes, please. Thank you, sir.” As soon as school let out for the day, Rebecca Robins made her way to the Main Office of Briardale Middle School. There was no one there except for the secretary, who was sitting behind
a counter typing into her computer. “Hey, Dory,” she said to the older woman. “Hello, Rebecca,” the secretary said, looking up. Rebecca leaned against the counter. “Listen, did you call Emma Wilkins’ parents yet?” Dorothy stopped typing. “No, I didn’t,” she said. “George said to wait until tomorrow.” Rebecca frowned. “Now, why would that be?” “I have no idea. He didn’t say.” “Can I have their number?” Rebecca said. “I think I want to talk to her parents myself. It’s important.” It was still raining when Will and Emma were dropped off by their bus. The ride home had been a quiet one because Will was good at sensing when Emma wasn’t in a talking mood. They ran from the bus all the way to their house without slowing down. Emma got soaked for the second time that day. They went to their separate rooms without saying a word. When she was in her bedroom, Emma changed into her pajamas and put on a pair of pink slippers. She wanted the day to end already but she knew that the hardest part was yet to come. She had to tell her father what she had done and the trouble she had gotten into. When she had put her things away, she reached underneath her bed and took out the yellow lunchbox. From it, she withdrew an old and tattered copy of her favourite book and snuggled into her blankets to forget the world. She started reading and in her mind she was taken to a hole in the ground where she found some quiet comfort before tired eyelids closed on their own and she fell asleep. When Emma woke up, it was dark outside. Her book was resting on her chest and against her chin. She blinked a few times and it took her a moment to notice the voices. One of them sounded like her father’s. The other voice was also familiar, but less so. She got out of bed and put her book under the pillow, thinking that she may need it later when this was all over. She walked out of her room, down the dim hallway, and into the living room. Her father was speaking but he stopped doing so as he saw her enter. Seated across from him was Lucy Leroux. The girl looked up and Emma saw that her eyes were streaked with tears and there was black makeup running down her face. She gave Emma a little wave and a forced smile. “Hey,” Lucy said. Mr Wilkins wasn’t smiling as he beckoned Emma over. She sat on the edge of the armchair opposite the windows so that the three of them formed a triangle. She was still disoriented and she wasn’t sure what time, or what day, it was. “What’s going on?” she said. “Emma…” Mr Wilkins said. He shook his head. A pulse of panic beat in Emma’s chest when she noticed his expression. A deep-set frown dominated his features. He took off his glasses, closed his eyes, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Emma had never seen him that way. In the pause that followed, for just a moment, he seemed like a stranger to her and she felt afraid. “It’s just… you’re such a good girl, Emma, but lately...” “Dad,” Emma said, “what is happening?” “It’s my fault,” he said. “I’ve just let you run off and do whatever you want. Your mother—” “Dad, what are you talking about?” Lucy Leroux spoke up in a small voice. “Professor, maybe I should go?”
“No, no, it’s alright. I’m sorry, Lucy.” He turned to Emma and sighed. “I know you’ve been in the forest,” he said. “That’s why Lucy is here.” Emma stood up, a flood of thoughts crashing in on her mind. The first was that she was in a great deal of trouble, more than she had thought. Then the rest of the day’s events came back to her. Jake was missing and she hadn’t heard from him. Maybe he was lost forever. She had her third strike at school. Now, on top of it all, she had to explain her excursions into the forest. And then there was Lucy. “You did it to me again,” she said, almost yelling at the girl. “You’re just a giant snitch!” “Emma, calm down!” Mr Wilkins said, yelling back at her. He stood up and in his anger he seemed taller than before. Emma cowered back a step. At that moment, there was music. It was a symphony, a cascade of sound that inundated the room. “Why are you being so difficult lately?” Mr Wilkins said, still yelling. Emma looked around frantically. “Don’t you hear that?” she said. “Hear what? Stop playing around, Emma. First this obsession with the forest and now I get a call at work that you have detention. What is wrong with you?” He was shouting. Lucy Leroux was looking at the floor, trying to disappear. The music filled Emma’s head and her thoughts were in a jumble. Lucy had betrayed her again. Mr Clarence had also broken his promise and now she was in a heap of trouble. Her father was yelling at her and she couldn’t remember ever seeing him so furious. “I’m sorry,” she shouted and tears began to flow. She brought her hands up to her ears but she couldn’t stop the music. It grew and grew until she could no longer hear what her father was saying to her. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said, and it was all she could do. She dropped to her knees, feeling betrayed by everyone except Jake, who was now lost. She took a glance to her side and saw that Will was standing in the hallway. He appeared to be shouting something at their father. Emma could hear nothing but the music. She looked back at Mr Wilkins and saw him take a step toward her. She ran. Out of her house and into the night Emma ran.
7 A Girl and a Tree Emma ran. Pink slippers slapped the cold, wet street as she ran. It wasn’t raining anymore but the clouds that lingered shrouded the light of the moon. The street lamps shone feebly and their light glinted off a parked car here and there. She was halfway to Lockhart Road when she stepped in a puddle and sent water spraying up all over her pajama bottoms. As she slowed down, she saw that there was a dog on the side of the road and he was staring at her. He was a small dog with big ears. “What?” she said, but she couldn’t hear her own voice over the music. The little dog tilted his head. He barked twice, though Emma could not hear him, and then rushed toward a house where a woman was standing just inside the door, waving him in. Emma put her head down to avoid the gaze of the woman. She walked on and, before she knew it, she found herself facing the darkness of Glenridge Forest. “The music!” she said. She tried to calm down and think things through. This could be the the music that she had heard once before, and it could be the music that Andrew Milligan claimed to have heard. But it was so loud that it was almost painful. It hadn’t been that way the first time around. The first time she had heard the song of the tree, it had been sweet and it had made her happy. Maybe this was something else. Just as she was thinking this, the intensity of the music relented and it didn’t feel as though her head was filled with it. The music wasn’t everywhere at once anymore but it seemed to be coming from a particular direction. It was as though the source of the music had read Emma’s thoughts and, where before it had had a great sense of urgency, now it was content to let Emma figure things out. “You wanted me to come?” she said. Emma could follow the music if she chose, and maybe if she did, she would find out what had happened to Mr Milligan and now, possibly, to Jake. Emma took a step forward. The image of a man with horns flashed in her mind. She remembered that night in the rain when she had seen something in the forest and it had frightened her. She imagined a horned monster taking Jake away and she shuddered. She knew that it was ridiculous, that there was no such thing as monsters or men with horns but, in the dark, in the middle of the cold night, it was hard to shake away the feeling of fear that filled her stomach. It occurred to her that the music may not last for long and that if her friend was in there then it was her responsibility to find him. She took a deep breath and walked under the cover of the trees. Emma took two steps and then looked back to where she had come from. She couldn’t see the road. The light from the street lamps had disappeared. She walked back a few steps and found only more forest waiting for her. She sat down where she was and waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. From far away there came a long howl. The noises of night drifted to her as gradually as her night vision did. It took a long while but eventually she could see the dark outlines of the trees and of the
undergrowth in every direction. There was nothing she could do but follow the music now. As she walked, the normal sounds of the night were joined by a different sound altogether. It was the deep groan of strained wood, like a log being bent, and it was coming from everywhere around her. She couldn’t see what was causing the sound but her mind conjured up the inevitable image of walking trees. She walked on for a long time and, as she went, she started to notice bright eyes that were staring at her from the dark of the night. She could hear the scurrying of little feet as though the owners of the eyes were moving all around her. There was motion in the trees as well, an almost imperceptible flapping of wings. It was an eerie feeling to be watched in that way by animals that she couldn’t see. She was scared, but the eyes looked small, like they belonged to little critters and nothing that could cause her serious harm. They walked on in the dark, Emma and the animals and the trees, so she supposed, until the night became cold and Emma had to wrap her arms around herself for warmth. When the tree appeared, it happened quickly and suddenly. Emma didn’t realize that she was approaching a clearing, and she later thought that it was possible that the clearing hadn’t been there until she had arrived inside it. It seemed to her as though the trees in front and the clouds above both parted at the same time, the trees to reveal the clearing, and the clouds to let the moon illuminate it. It was as though a curtain had been pulled back and a giant spotlight had been turned on so that Emma could see the source of the symphony. It was in the centre of the clearing: a great, ancient oak. Emma approached the tree slowly and stood under its brown-green leaves. “Are you singing to me?” she said softly. She reached the trunk of the tree and ran her hand against its bark. There was warmth there and she felt as though she was being caressed in return. She knelt down where she was and listened to the music, and felt its caress, for a long while. It put her at ease and made her forget all the bad things that had happened. She wondered if maybe the other people who had disappeared were sitting beside their own trees somewhere and they had simply lost track of time. It would not be hard to forget herself, close her eyes, and sleep and dream long dreams while the tree sang its lullaby. The music stopped abruptly and the earth shook. Thunder boomed somewhere inside the forest. Emma jumped to her feet. “What is happening?” she said to the great oak. There was a rustling of leaves. It was as if all the branches of the tree were shaking at the same time. She looked up and saw nothing but darkness except when, once or twice, the leaves parted enough to allow a little bit of moonlight through. Even then, Emma could see nothing but leaves and branches. When the shaking died down, she saw something drop to the ground. She approached it and saw in the moonlight that it was a smooth rod, plain and bare but for a line of holes running up one side. “A flute?” Emma said. “Yes,” came the answer from somewhere in the darkness beyond the clearing. There was thunder again and Emma was afraid. This time, the thunder was followed by what sounded like footsteps, huge and furious, at first distant but coming closer and closer. The girl clutched the flute to her chest and watched as the creature who had spoken stepped into the clearing under the moonlight.
“Be afraid, Emma, but don’t fear me. Fear the one who comes next.” The voice belonged to a man, tall and lean, with horns like those of a ram protruding from his head. His upper body was bare but, as he approached, Emma saw that his lower half was covered in fur and in place of feet there were hooves. His face under the moonlight was frightening. It was human-like but unnaturally elongated and seemingly always on the verge of grinning. When he spoke again, Emma saw that his teeth were fanged. “Who—” Emma said softly, and it was all she could manage before thunder interrupted her once more. “Call me Domino,” the creature said. “I’m a faun of the forest. You have little time for he is almost here. You shouldn’t have come at night. I stopped you when you tried once before in the rain.” “I don’t understand what’s happening,” Emma said, her voice cracking. The faun sighed. He nodded to the flute that she was holding before her. “Take care of that,” Domino said. “It is a gift from the tree. But now you must go. Come back when the sun is out and I will explain. Come to the forest and I will find you.” “How do I leave this place?” “I can remain unseen whenever I’m in the forest,” he said, “but you must rely on other means until you learn how.” He motioned toward the great oak as the sound of the giant footsteps drew near. “He will take you where you need to go,” Domino said and raised his hand toward Emma. She was afraid but the thunder, loud enough to crack the world now, made her take it. The faun walked her up to the oak and pushed her toward it. A portal of light opened on the tree’s trunk and Emma was swallowed up by it. As she was falling back into the light, she saw Domino dart into the forest just as a great beast burst into the clearing. It was an animal that had the face of fury. It had the head of a great bull with eyes that burned, and the body of a man. Emma tried to cry out in fear but she was ripped apart into a million pieces by a noise that was like hundreds of windows shattering all at once. Emma was sitting on a bench next to a bus stop. It was morning on a busy street and the road in front of her was full of traffic. There was a bus shelter next to the bench and there were a few people inside. They were looking at her. A woman was sitting next to her but she stood up and walked away. Emma glanced toward the people in the shelter and they all looked away at once and pretended that she wasn’t there. She looked down at her lap and saw that she was holding a plain flute made of wood. She swung her feet back and forth as memories began to creep back to her. There was something about a forest. She hummed and waited patiently for all the memories to return. A black cat came and jumped up on the bench beside her. “Hello, Mr Cat,” she said as she watched him lick his paw. The cat paused in mid-lick and looked straight at her and then at the people behind her in the bus shelter. “They see a girl appear out of nowhere and that’s how they react,” he said. “They try to disappear her right back again.” Emma blinked. She looked around and behind the cat and under the bench. He watched her the entire time. She wanted to giggle. “I can talk to animals!” she said and raised her hands in the air in delight.
The cat blinked at her. “I can’t understand anything that you’re saying,” he said. “You’re just talking nonsense like the rest of them.” The cat leaped down from the bench and ran off across a lawn and around the building behind it. Emma lowered her arms and frowned. After a moment, she raised them into the air again. “I can listen to animals!” she said. A bus pulled up at that moment and the people who had been waiting for it climbed in. A number of them cast quick glances at Emma as they departed. When the bus drove away, Emma saw that there was a hospital across the street. There was a sprawling parking lot in front of it. “He’ll take me where I need to go,” she said as her memory returned. “A hospital? Am I hurt?” She checked herself over and thought that she was uninjured but she realized that she was still in her pink pajamas and slippers. They were still wet and dirty. Maybe the hospital would give her something clean to wear. She walked to the corner and pushed the button for the crosswalk. When she was across the street, she walked straight through the parking lot and to the hospital’s main entrance. Automatic doors slid open and she went inside. A voice from a speaker somewhere told her to sanitize her hands using a dispenser that hung on the wall. She did so and then went through another set of doors into the main foyer. It was a spacious room and there was a help desk off to the side. She couldn’t think of anything to say so she took one of the many chairs in the waiting area and considered it. At that time of day the hospital was busy, with people coming in and out for whatever reason. She didn’t see anyone actually use the help desk and she wondered how it was that they all seemed to know what they were doing. An old man rolled by on a wheelchair. He had a cigarette in his mouth and he winked at her as he went out the door. An elderly couple sat down on the chairs opposite Emma’s and smiled. She smiled back. The woman spoke to the man in a whisper. A voice came over the public address system announcing a “code green” in the mental health ward. “Emma!” Down the hall came Jake. Emma stood up and ran to him and threw her arms around him. “You’re alive!” she said. “Emma, you’re filthy,” he said. “What are you doing here?” She backed up and blushed as Victoria Milligan walked up behind him. “Hello, Mrs Milligan,” Emma said. “Hi, Emma,” she said. “Call me Vicky. What are you doing here? Look at you! What happened?” Emma took a breath. “There was a singing tree in the forest and he gave me this flute. Then a thing with horns came and there was another bigger thing with horns and it was very scary but the smaller one pushed me into the tree and I showed up here. It was night then but it’s day now. I’m not sure what day it is though.” “I see,” Victoria Milligan said. “Is your father with you, dear?” “No, he’s still at home. I ran away crying!” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I think I understand what happened now, Emma. You sure got far running away. Well, we should get you home, don’t you think? We were just heading out
ourselves.” “Yes, Mrs Vicky,” Emma said. “I guess I’ve been bad and I should apologize to my dad.” Mrs Milligan offered Emma her cell phone and she called her father. She was surprised to learn that he wasn’t angry with her and that he already knew about her adventure. He told her to get home safely and that they would talk about it then. “I don’t understand how he knows,” she said as they were leaving the hospital. “It’s all so weird.” They left the building and went straight back to the bus stop across the street. They sat at the bench to wait for the bus that would take them to the station where they would transfer to the one that would take them home. “Why were you at the hospital?” Emma said. “Grandpa,” Jake said. “He had a stroke yesterday,” Mrs Milligan said, “and we were here with him all day and through the night. It’s Wednesday, by the way, my dear, in case you’re still not sure about the day.” “Thank you, Mrs Vicky,” Emma said. “I’m sorry to hear about his stroke.” “Just Vicky please,” said Mrs Milligan. The bus ride home took almost an hour and a half. During that time, Emma recounted the previous night’s events in more detail to Jake and his mother. As she told the story, she became animated during the parts she considered to be the exciting ones and she drew glances from the other passengers. When she described the great monster at the end, she put her hands on her head like they were horns and roared loudly. Many of the passengers laughed. “A minotaur, was it?” Mrs Milligan said. “And the other one was a faun, right? From the stories...” Emma didn’t think that she was taking her seriously. It seemed more like she was playing along with a child’s made up stories. She didn’t blame the woman because the story really was outrageous and Emma would’ve found it hard to believe it herself if she hadn’t been there. Jake did appear to believe her and he had been caught in rapt attention the entire time. “Yes, that’s right,” Emma said. “I didn’t think about it then but that’s what they looked like. The minotaur is scary, Mrs Milligan.” “Yes, he is. Do you know the story, Emma?” “I do. But he’s supposed to be in a labyrinth,” she said. Jake’s eyes lit up. “Maybe he is,” he said. “It would explain a lot. You said it was like the forest was moving.” “Uh huh,” she said. When they arrived at Saint Martin’s bus station, Mrs Milligan went inside to use the facilities. “Why did the tree send you to the hospital?” Jake said. “That’s weird.” “I think it’s because you were there,” Emma said. “The faun said that it would take me where I needed to go. Yesterday was the worst day, Jake. I got three strikes and detention. It started when you didn’t show up at school. I thought you’d gone missing.” “But why would it send you to me?” “I think because you’re special to me,” Emma said. “Oh, I…” “Because you’re my friend, I mean,” she said and punched him. “I just needed to know you
were safe.” “Okay, okay,” he said. “Listen, I want to come with you when you go to the forest. This faun person might know about my dad.” Emma nodded. “Yeah, for sure. But I have to go talk to my dad first and straighten things out and he might kill me. But after that we will go.” Mrs Milligan insisted that they would ride the bus with her all the way to her stop. They did so and then they walked her right up to her front door. After a brief introduction, Mr Wilkins invited them in but she declined. “Thank you,” Mrs Milligan said. “But we really should get on home. It’s been a rough couple of days.” Off went the Milligans back down the street. As soon as they were out of sight, Mr Wilkins pulled Emma inside and shut the door. He looked tired and his eyes were red as though he hadn’t slept. “Dad, I’m sorry—” Emma began. “Are you tired? Do you need rest?” “No, not really,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a whole night went by.” “Well, it didn’t for you,” he said. “Go change, Emma. We’re going to the forest.” “I don’t understand,” she said. “I know. I’ll explain on the way.” She went to her room and changed into clean clothes. Soon, they were outside. She walked alongside her father, holding the flute that she had been given. “Where's Will?” she said. “He’s at school. It’s Wednesday. You’ve already missed much of it today.” She nodded. “So you met Domino,” he said. “Yes, I know him and that’s how I knew that you’d disappeared somewhere. He came to me in the night and told me. I’ve known him for a long time, Emma. There are some things I’ve kept from you and I’m sorry. I guess it’s time you found out.” Emma nodded again and neither of them said any more until they reached the forest. “He told you to come and that he would find you, correct?” “Yes, Dad.” “Okay, come on.” They walked into the forest and Mr Wilkins set a leisurely pace. The air was still cool from the rain of the night before. The forest didn’t seem as frightening now as it had in the darkness and Emma thought that maybe she wouldn’t be too scared of the faun, especially with her father next to her. Mr Wilkins spoke as they walked. “Do you know why Lucy was there last night? It wasn’t to tell on you, Emma. She did tell me all about your search but it was because her parents have gone missing too. She was looking for your help, Emma. The girl likes you and seems to think you are well capable of helping.” “Oh,” Emma said. “Yes, you should apologize to her.” “I will, Dad.” She noticed that three small birds appeared to be following them by flying from branch to branch and keeping pace. They were chirping and she thought that it sounded as though they
were saying “Emma! Emma! Emma!” in their tinny bird voices. “Emma…” Mr Wilkins said and then a faraway look came over his features. He gazed into the forest as though searching for someone, but then he sighed and turned to the girl. “Emma,” he began again. “You’re special. It may seem crazy that here I am marching my daughter into the forest toward a mythical creature but it’s because, though I’ve tried to protect you from this, to keep you from this world, it seems that it’s now too late. That there—” He pointed at the flute that Emma was holding. “I’m told that everyone knows about you now because word has spread since you heard the music of the tree. And there are those who would mean you harm.” “I don’t understand, Dad.” “I know,” he said. “It’s all very complicated. Domino will explain it to you. The point I was getting to is that there are dark things in the night that are interested in you because you’re special.” “Why am I special?” “Again, it’s complicated, Emma, and I don’t think I can tell you right now. Domino will help. But the reason I’m bringing you to him is because you are. He has been trying to convince me for a very long time of this and I’ve refused and refused but now I have no choice. But I’ve made him promise me that he will only teach you how to defend yourself and that’s it. I don’t want him getting any big ideas in your head or putting you into any danger.” Ahead of them they saw the faun. He was leaning against a tree and he was playing the flute that he carried. Mr Wilkins stopped where they were and he waved to him. Domino took his flute from his lips and raised his arm in the air for a brief instant. “Go ahead, Emma,” her father said. “He will not teach you unless you go alone.” “Alone?” Emma said, and her voice quivered. “Dad, I’m scared.” “I know.” He put a hand on her shoulder for a moment then leaned down and hugged her close. He kissed her forehead and then stood up and went back the way they had come. Emma took nervous steps up to where the faun was standing. He watched her make her slow way to him. When she arrived before him, he made a face that looked like an attempt at a smile but his strange features turned it into something frightening. “I’m glad you came,” he said. “Do you know why you’re here?” “Not really,” she said nervously. “I don’t understand any of it.” Domino nodded. “Emma,” he said. “We need you to save the world.”
8 The Missing It was almost dark and the rain had stopped. Aaron Humphries arrived at the security office and bid goodnight to the daytime security guard. After he pet Oliver, he went to the desk, sat down, and signed his name on the security log. Aaron did not like working nights. He didn’t understand why it was that the Paigely Builders construction site needed a guard there at all times, even when no one was working. The reason for the security was that some workers had gone missing but if there were no workers to guard, then why did he have to work through the night? He figured that it had to do with company policies thought up by management types. The security guard opened one of the desk drawers and pulled out a long, hefty flashlight. He took a piece of gum and put it in his mouth. With a sigh, he left the portable security office and began his first round of the night. Oliver walked along by his side. The usual round took him first around the perimeter of the construction site along the edge of the forest and then past the main entrance on Lockhart Road. He was somewhere near the centre of the site when he saw a light inside one of the half-completed houses and headed toward it. The exterior of the house was all exposed plywood. There were rough steps in front of the door and he climbed these and went inside. When he entered, two men looked up from their work. Aaron recognized them as the insulators Bill and Joel. Those two often worked later than the rest and Aaron was familiar with them. “Boys,” he said. “Hey, Aaron,” Bill said. He stopped what he was doing and walked over to him. Joel stayed on the ground where he was working but he waved to Aaron. “How are you guys doing?” Bill shrugged. “Well enough, considering,” he said. “Still not used to not having Andrew around. Sometimes I still expect to see him working when I turn a corner.” “Have you found a replacement yet?” “No,” he said. “No one yet. This is a good town. Lots of employment. No one wants to work here.” Aaron motioned to Bill and they walked toward the entrance of the house. He lowered his voice to a whisper as they looked out into the night. “How’s Joel doing?” “Oh, you can imagine,” said Bill. “He plays it off like it doesn’t bother him as much as it does but I can tell. He’s been in bad shape.” “Can’t say I blame him. Vanished just like that, didn’t he?” “Didn’t leave a trace.” “What are you guys talking about?” Joel said from where he was crouching. He stood up and joined them. “We were just wondering about that Steven Marks,” Bill said. “You ever talk to him?” Joel shook his head. “Me neither,” Bill said. “He was a—what did he do again?”
“Heavy machinery,” Aaron said. “I read up on him a little bit when I came here and also on… uh, your friend.” “That’s funny,” Bill said. “He was an older guy, wasn’t he?” “Yeah, he was.” Joel sat down on the steps and pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He took one out of the pack and lit it with a cheap plastic lighter. “Those things will kill you, man,” Aaron said. Joel nodded sadly. “I know,” he said. “I used to smoke,” Aaron continued. “Try chewing gum instead. Worked for me.” A silence followed and then Aaron told them that he had to get back to his rounds. He walked around Joel and down the steps to where Oliver was waiting. The dog stood up and followed him deeper into the construction site. Aaron hadn’t walked twenty paces when the soft sound of music drifted to him in the night air. Oliver perked up. “It’s alright, Ollie,” Aaron said to him and leaned down to pet him. They walked together briskly until they passed the boundaries of the site and entered the forest. Aaron paused just inside the cover of the trees, feeling that he had forgotten something, that maybe he should’ve called someone before venturing in after a mysterious music. There was an idle thought in the back of his mind as well, a detail about Andrew Milligan’s story that he couldn’t put his finger on. He thought that Bill and Joel could probably tell him what he had forgotten since they had been the man’s friends. He turned to go back but, as if his thoughts had summoned them, he saw the two insulation installers walking up the gentle slope toward him and the forest. They arrived beside him. Bill was a little out of breath. “The music,” Bill said in between pulls of air. “It’s Andrew’s music.” “What are we waiting for?” Joel said. “Come on.” Aaron shook his head. Something was wrong but he couldn’t think clearly. The music was filling his head and drowning his thoughts. He tried to argue but he couldn’t think of the right words to say. When Joel led the way into the forest, there was nothing he could do but follow. The night snuck up on them and the darkness that surrounded them was a deep kind of darkness that seemed to shut out the rest of the world. Aaron had his flashlight and it was all the light that they had with which to illuminate their path, but they found the going easy. Aaron thought that it was as though an orchestra was hidden somewhere deep behind the trees and it was guiding them along the way. It didn’t take long for them to reach a clearing. There was a tree in the middle of it, an imposing, great monument, dark and frightening. Its branches were like fingers that reached out toward them. “We should leave,” Aaron said. “This is wrong. I need to report this. Yeah. That’s what we should’ve done in the first place.” “You’re right,” Bill said. “Where’s Ollie?” Aaron said. The dog was no longer with them. “Who?” said Joel. There was thunder somewhere inside the forest. It hadn’t come from far away and the booming footsteps that followed didn’t take long to reach them. Before any of them could react, a monster emerged from the darkness of the trees. Bill gasped.
The beast was tall, eight feet or more, and heavy with bulging muscles. Its head was that of a bull, its nostrils flared in anger, and its eyes glowed red with fire. The creature’s horns were long and black and ended in sharp points. Its body was an exaggeration of a man, impossibly large and full of power. In place of feet, the monster’s legs had great hooves on their ends. Aaron tried to yell the word “run,” but before he could speak, the monster was upon them. It was impossibly fast, so fast that it almost seemed like it had transported in front of them. Aaron jumped back and landed hard on the ground. He watched as Bill and Joel were snatched up like dolls. He saw the men kick and punch at the beast as they tried to escape its grasp. The monster’s hands were big enough hold Bill upside down by his thigh. There was pain on Bill’s face as he struggled. Joel was being restrained by the elbow and he managed to swing around and kick at a giant leg. The monster twitched its wrist and Aaron heard the sound of breaking bone as Joel’s elbow shattered. Joel screamed. Aaron struggled to his feet as the monster made his way to the tree. He saw a line of light about the height of a man split the ancient oak down the middle and open up to create a portal. The beast threw the screaming men inside the tree one by one. Aaron turned to run. He took two steps before he slammed hard into the chest of the monster, who now barred his way. He looked up at the fury in its eyes and despair overtook him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, behind the fear, he realized that the music in the forest was still playing behind him. The monster picked him up with both hands and Aaron felt like a small child in the arms of a strong adult. He knew that it was pointless to fight. It would be no contest. He resigned to his fate and the demon threw him into the tree. Just before the light of the portal enveloped him, he saw a pretty woman enter the moonlight of the clearing, but he didn’t believe that she could be real. Rebecca Robins was running. She had left her house at precisely eight o’clock as was her routine. It was a stringent one that she rarely deviated from. Her weekdays were spent always in the same manner: she stayed after work at Briardale Middle School to do marking and lesson preparation until five o’clock; she arrived home at five thirty and made dinner, which she ate at six o’clock at her dinner table; at six thirty, she went to her living room with a cup of tea and read a novel until seven forty-five when she changed into her running clothes. Rebecca ran for an hour every night. There was a jogging trail that snaked through an old quarry near Rebecca’s house. For years, she had run that trail to the point that she could probably do it with her eyes closed. She was not one to deviate from routine but tonight she was running along a dimly lit street near the woods. Rebecca wasn’t sure where she was or how she had ended up there. Something had been nagging at the back of her mind since she’d arrived home that afternoon. She had felt as though she had forgotten something important and it was pulling at her from somewhere but she couldn’t remember what it was no matter how hard she tried. Something told her that it might have to do with the girl Emma and her awful behaviour. She considered the little girl to be a monster, hell-bent on causing chaos in her class. Today she had given the girl a third strike and sent her down to the principal’s office. A cool drop of water fell on the back of her neck and she stopped and looked up in fear that it had started to rain again. Above her head there were branches that protruded from the woods. The wind had caused some of the rainwater to fall down just as she’d passed underneath.
Somehow, looking up into the leaves made her remember why she’d gone off course. It had been a sweet kind of music that she had heard, faint but enchanting. It had felt as though it had been calling to her. Just as she thought about the music, it began to play again from somewhere inside the darkness of the forest. She had no choice but to follow it. Rebecca didn’t know how long she followed the music. It was a wet journey because the forest was still moist from the rain. She hardly noticed. The music was sweet and lovely and it made Rebecca happy. It filled her senses and it was all that she cared to notice. There were booms of thunder and what sounded like giant footfalls but they were to Rebecca like irrelevant background noise to the beautiful symphony. Even as she came within sight of the clearing, she was not taken aback by the violence within. There were three men there and a monster. There was screaming and crying out and struggling. The monster crushed the arm of one of the men at the elbow with a squeeze of its great hand. Two of the men were thrown into a hole of light in a tree. The third man barely put up a fight. As he followed the others into into the tree, he looked directly at Rebecca, and Rebecca looked back at him. When he was gone, she raised her hand awkwardly almost as if to wave goodbye. Then it was just Rebecca and the monster alone in the clearing. She took a few delicate steps forward. The monster watched her. She looked it over under the light of the moon and saw raw power in its body and fire in its eyes. She began to feel afraid and, as she did so, she saw the creature’s muscles tense up as if they were readying for an assault. Before Rebecca could panic, the music became louder and it filled her senses again. She turned toward the tree and, though she could not forget that the monster was there, she became so intoxicated by the sound that its presence did not seem to matter as much as it had a moment before. The school teacher smiled dreamily and took brisk steps toward the tree. The beautiful music was coming from inside it. In her peripheral vision she saw that the monster was watching her but that it did not make any move toward her. She reached the tree and tried to look inside but the light was like a wall and her gaze could not penetrate it. A small voice inside her head cautioned that this was dangerous and tried to point out the strangeness of the situation but the music was so sweet that it made her heart ache. It called to her and made her want to be closer to it. She needed to know its source. Rebecca Robins took one last look at the world around her, and at the creature standing guard near the tree, and then she walked willingly into the portal to another world.
9 The Portents of War “There is a war coming.” Emma was standing near the ancient oak and Domino was leaning against its trunk. Now that Emma had a good look at the faun in the daylight she could see that his skin was tattooed everywhere except for his face. There were lines and shapes all over his body, except where there was fur, but Emma could not understand their meaning. It occurred to her that maybe they weren’t tattoos at all, but a part of the creature. The flute that the faun carried with him was longer than Emma’s and, whereas hers was plain, the one belonging to Domino was elaborate. Emma was afraid and uneasy. “There are two worlds, Emma, this one and the World of Light, and their fates are intertwined, as they have been for a very long time. In that other world there lives a great power. He rules there and waits for the time to strike, when he will return to this world and make it his own again like it was once before. “That time is here, Emma. He is coming and this is only the beginning. He means to make war with this world and rule over it. There is no one that can stop him but you.” The faun’s voice was deep and musical. He spoke in a manner that sounded as though he was making a rehearsed speech. As she listened, Emma tried not to stare at the tattoos but she thought that they shifted about as he spoke. This did not help her unease. “Me?” she said. “You, Emma,” he said. “So my friend has foretold.” He motioned toward the tree. “The trees are older than all of us and they understand far more about this universe than we do. We all come from the trees. The trees all have names and purposes and will guide all of us along if we let them.” “What is his name?” asked Emma. “I can’t tell you. The tree may tell you his name one day.” Emma frowned. “I’ll call him Mr Oak,” she said. Domino smiled and it frightened her. “I don’t think I understand anything,” she said. “Emma,” said the faun. “All stories are true. The trees and the Lord of Light were here first, but it’s not known to anyone if he made the trees or the trees made him. He ruled over this world once and then he left, to his World of Light, but now he seeks to return to make the world his own again. “That is the mission of the minotaur. He is the vanguard. He comes to prepare the way. The humans who have disappeared are the first prisoners of war.” “So they’re alive?” she said. “Where are they? We have to tell everyone so they can be rescued!” “No one can go where they have been taken and no one can save them. No one but maybe you, Emma, and of that I’m not sure.” “Why me? How can they not be saved?” “They are in another world. When you are ready, maybe the trees will send you there but I don’t know. First you must stop Minotaur. This, I do know.
“You see, they are all coming back, Emma. All the creatures that once inhabited this world. Every story you’ve ever heard, they are all true. These stories did not come from nothing, and they now inhabit the World of Light. They left this world long ago but now more and more creatures, my brothers, are coming back. “Minotaur grows ever stronger. So far, he comes only at night and he cannot leave the forest, but soon he will be strong enough to do so and to remain awake for a long, long time. Soon there will be no turning back and no one will be able to stand against him. What you must do, Emma, first and foremost, is to defeat Minotaur before he gains the power to conquer the world.” Though, in reality, the encounter had occurred the night before, for Emma it had only taken place a few hours back, and the vision of the one called Minotaur was still vivid in her mind. She recalled the monster, and his impossible size and power, and she almost shivered. “How? How can I fight such a thing?” There was a long pause before Domino spoke again. “I don’t know, Emma,” he said. “I don’t think anyone does. Not in the time that we have left.” “This is crazy.” “Yes.” “I can’t believe my dad would agree to this. He told me you’d only teach me to defend myself.” Domino nodded. “That is what he believes and what I have led him to believe. You must let him keep believing it. We have argued for years about this in the event that you were truly meant to be the one to bear this burden. In effect, we’ve argued over the fate of the planet like a fated game of chess. We hoped this wouldn’t happen so soon but no one can predict what the Lord of Light will do, not even the trees.” Emma sat down where she was. Her head was swimming with information and possibilities. There was a whole other world that she had been unaware of and that her father had known about all along. What other secrets had he kept from her? “I’m sure this all seems like too much but there is little time. Come to me every day from now on and I will teach you the things that you need to know, starting with how to use the gift that you’ve been given. Go now and rest. What is to come will not be easy.” As Emma walked back home, it felt as though none of it was real, or as though it was happening to someone else. The strangeness of it made her feel like she was in a dream. The walk home felt interminable and, when she finally made it, she felt exhausted with the weight of it all. She had dreamed of saving the world like the heroes in her books did. She loved the stories about unlikely persons destined for greatness. But all of it seemed so far above her head, so much bigger than she was. She didn’t know if any of her heroes had ever been so plainly confused. On top of it all, when she imagined the eyes of the creature, the minotaur, she was filled with cold fear. When Emma entered her house, her father was waiting for her just beyond the doorway. She walked up to him and hugged him tightly and closed her eyes. She felt his arms wrap around her small frame. Emma tried to speak but she only managed two words. “Why me?” she said and then sniffed as a tear or two formed in her eyes. Her father took her in his arms and carried her to the armchair. He sat down and Emma curled up into him. “Let me tell you a story,” he said. “About the day you were born.” Emma sometimes had those days when her mood was so low that nothing could make her
feel better. Whenever of those days came, she always found herself like this, snuggled up against her father, listening while he read a book to her. “It was the sunniest of days when you were born, my little girl. A beautiful day in April.” “April?” Emma said. “Dad, I was born in May!” He laughed and continued. “I know, my dear. I’m just teasing you. It was a beautiful day in May. Will was just a toddler, a two-year-old hurricane of a kid, and Grandma was taking care of him at her old house. “I was there at the hospital when mom was giving birth. It was an easy labour, she said later. They had the windows open and birds were chirping and they were welcoming you into the world. I was there in the room and you came out just like that. You were so little back then that I could almost hold you in one hand. “It was so easy and you were so healthy that we brought you home right away. We drove back with the windows down. Mom was holding you in the car and your little eyes were opened wide and you were staring at everything in your new world and laughing sometimes at what you saw. The most beautiful sound it was when I first heard you laugh. “We were almost home and we were driving by the forest when it happened. It was very quiet at first but then I slowed the car down and we listened carefully and it only got louder.” “What was it, Dad?” Emma said sleepily. “It was the forest,” he said. “All the forest was singing to you and welcoming you home. I found out that it all started with a single tree, one you’ve now met. He started singing for you and the whole forest took up his song. The song was heard all over and no one could explain it but we knew it was for you. This is how we know you’re special, Emma. The forests sang for you on the day that you were born.” Emma smiled, closed her eyes, and fell asleep. It was later that afternoon when Emma woke up and found herself tucked into her bed. She was still wearing all her clothes from the day before. She sat up groggily and took a look around for a moment, trying to decide whether she had dreamt it all. There was so much to think about but one of the first things that came to mind was Lucy Leroux. Her parents had disappeared. Emma had been so rude to Lucy that she decided the first thing she would do was to find her and apologize. Her stomach rumbled and she decided that visiting Lucy would be the second thing she would do. She found her flute on her nightstand, took it, and tucked it under her mattress. On her way to the kitchen to fix herself something to eat, she stopped by her father’s office. He was all smiles and he agreed that she should go apologize to Lucy as soon as she had some food. Emma made herself a sandwich and poured a glass of orange juice. She ate in the living room while looking out the window. The clock on the wall showed that it was three o’clock. Will wouldn’t be home from school for another half hour. Emma finished her sandwich and went into the bathroom for a shower. After she changed into clean clothes, she and her father got into the car and drove off. Lucy Leroux’s neighbourhood wasn’t too far from the University of Saint Martin. It was a neighbourhood of big houses and giant driveways with two door garages. When they pulled into Lucy’s house they saw that it was a big thing full of windows that stared out at them. There were two cars in the driveway and both of them seemed fancy and
expensive to Emma. “I’ll wait here,” said Mr Wilkins. “I think it will be better that way so you girls can talk.” “Okay, Dad.” Emma exited the car and went to the front door, not sure of what she was going to say. Lucy’s lawn was large and green and littered with flower beds. It was all very pretty and looked as though it took a lot of work to maintain. She rang the doorbell and hoped that Lucy was home. It was the middle of the afternoon, after all, and so it was possible that she was in class. The door opened and Lucy looked down at Emma with surprise. Her eyes were red and her clothes were wrinkled. She wiped her face with a sleeve and made an attempt at a smile. “Hey,” Lucy said. “Hi, Lucy. Can I talk to you?” The older girl looked past Emma at the car in the driveway and waved. She then stepped aside so that Emma could enter. They went inside and sat down in an expansive living room full of old-looking furniture. It was all very clean and polished except for one couch that faced a giant television. On that couch, there was a pile of blankets and a box of tissues. “Sorry,” Lucy said. “I kind of slept here.” “It’s okay,” Emma said. As she spoke, a striped cat entered the room and walked along its periphery, casting a glance at her now and then. “I wanted to say I’m sorry. I was very rude. I didn’t know what had happened. I’m sorry. You’re always so nice to me. I’m sorry, okay?” “Yeah, don’t worry, Emma,” Lucy said. “It’s so weird, though, isn’t it? They just vanished like that. I mean, I talked to my mom and dad that day and then they were just gone when I came back. I don’t know what’s happening in this town.” Emma didn’t know how much she could say to Lucy about what she had learned. It was probable that the girl would think she was crazy if she told her everything. She felt as though she had to say something but didn’t know what. All she could think of were general words of comfort that everyone said when there was a loss or a tragedy. Somehow, those words always sounded empty to Emma but she could think of nothing else. She opened her mouth to speak when the striped cat landed on her lap. He looked at her face and then strode off to sit on one of the armrests. “Hello,” Emma said to the cat. “That’s Sprinkles,” Lucy said and turned to him. “Hey, kitty. What a good cat you are.” “Hello, Mr Sprinkles,” Emma said and reached out to pet him. “Don’t you dare put a hand on me, foolish girl,” Sprinkles said and Emma withdrew her arm. “I’m sorry,” Emma said to the cat. “It’s okay,” said Lucy. “You don’t have to apologize anymore, okay? Don’t worry about it.” “You didn’t hear that?” Emma said. “Hear what?” “Nothing, I’m just imagining things, I guess,” she said. “Her sobbing has been worse than ever since the others went away,” Sprinkles said. “That’s what’s wrong with the way humans cling to one another…” Emma tried to ignore the cat as he rambled on but he just kept on talking right over Lucy. The girl appeared to be saying something about her parents while the cat was going on about the reliance of young humans on old humans. Related topics, Emma supposed, but it was difficult to listen to both of them. “Please stop,” she said to Sprinkles. Lucy stopped talking but the cat continued: “…eighteen
years or more. It’s no surprise they can’t find their own way after all that time.” He jumped off the couch and went to the window. He jumped onto the ledge, still rambling. “I’m… I’m sorry,” Lucy said, confused. There were tears welling up in her eyes. “No, I didn’t mean you!” Emma said. “Sorry, I was… I’m sorry. I always end up being so rude to you. It’s bad luck, I swear, and I don’t mean it. I like you, Lucy.” “You do?” “Of course,” she said. “I’m just the worst. I never know what to do or say.” Lucy wiped at her face again with her sleeve and said nothing. She tried to smile but it was a weak little smile. Emma berated herself silently. “Look at her arm,” Sprinkles said. He was back from the window. “Huh?” Emma said. “Look at her arm, foolish girl,” the cat said, and then he strolled out of the room. Emma decided to listen to Sprinkles, even if he was only a cat. She stood up and walked over to Lucy’s couch and sat beside her on top of the blankets. She put an arm around the older girl and Lucy looked to her and smiled. Encouraged, Emma took her hand and squeezed it. In response, Lucy put her own arm around her. Gently, Emma pulled Lucy’s arm and turned it over and saw that her sleeve was stained. “Lucy…” she said and rolled the sleeve slowly, revealing fresh cuts next to older scars. Lucy seemed ashamed. She took her arm back and rolled her sleeve down and looked away. Emma took hold of her hand again and stood up. “Where is your bathroom? We should clean that.” Lucy nodded and led her to a bathroom that was almost as big as Emma’s bedroom. Emma made Lucy take off her shirt and then she washed her cuts under the tap. Sprinkles came into the bathroom, sat on the toilet lid, and watched the proceedings. When Emma had cleaned the cuts, she asked her where they kept the bandages and Lucy took a handful from a cabinet on the wall. Emma bandaged Lucy’s forearm and then gave it a light pat. “There,” she said. “All better.” “Thank you, Emma,” Lucy said. “Are you sure you’re eleven?” “Pretty sure,” Emma said. “We don’t have a mom so we’ve had to do everything for ourselves.” “What happened to her?” “She died when I was a baby. I can’t even remember her.” “I’m sorry,” Lucy said and she put her hand on Emma’s shoulder. After a moment, she left to go put on a clean shirt. Sprinkles jumped up on the sink. “Maybe you’re not so foolish after all, foolish girl,” he said. “Can you understand me?” Emma said. Sprinkles didn’t respond. He jumped off the sink and left. During the drive home, Emma explained to her father what had happened at Lucy’s house, including the part about her injuries. She had decided that her on-going policy of secrecy had proved to be a massive failure. “Can she come live with us?” Emma said. Mr Wilkins raised his eyebrows. “What?” “She’s in really bad shape, Dad. We could take care of her.”
“I’m her teacher, Emma,” he said. “That would be incredibly inappropriate.” Emma spent the rest of the short drive deep in thought until they turned into Lockhart Road and the forest came into view. Somewhere in there was a monster who was taking prisoners and he had Jake’s father and now, probably, Lucy’s parents. “Tell you what,” Mr Wilkins said. “We’ll keep a good eye on her. She can come over anytime, have dinner with us every night if she wants to, but she’ll have to go home at the end of the day.” “Okay, Dad.” They arrived at their house and Mr Wilkins stopped Emma before she could get out of the car. “Here, I got you this,” he said as he removed a box from the glove compartment. Emma opened it to reveal a small gray watch with a cartoon mouse on it. The mouse was giving a thumbs up. “Thank you,” she said. “It’s my favourite colour. Never had a watch before.” “I know, and it’s about time you did.” They went inside the house and found Will waiting for them. “Ems,” he said. “I guess you’re some sort of superhero now or something?” Emma laughed and punched him in the shoulder. She smiled up at him and then hugged him tightly.
10 Mr Jingles It was Thursday morning and Emma returned to school. She passed Mr Clarence, the principal, on her way into the school building. She put her head down and hoped that he wouldn’t notice her. She had missed detention. She made it to her classroom without incident and sat down at her desk. Miss Robins wasn’t there yet. Emma wished there was some way that she could avoid her too. This school year had so far been an awful mess and she couldn’t wait until it was over. At least her marks were good. Jake came in a few moments later and he rushed over to her. “So what happened?” he said. “Lots!” Emma said. “There’s lots to tell. I’ll tell you at recess, okay?” “Mr Milligan, please sit down,” said a familiar voice. Emma looked up and saw that Mr Clarence had entered the classroom. He was standing beside Miss Robins’ desk. The teacher was nowhere to be seen. Jake rushed to his seat. “Since there were a couple of absentees yesterday,” Mr Clarence said. “Some of you may not know that Miss Robins is unable to teach at this time so I’ll be taking over her teaching duties for at least today.” Emma and Jake exchanged a glance. She wondered if Miss Robins was another disappearance or if she was just sick. As the morning’s lessons went on, Emma started to think that she could get used to Mr Clarence as a teacher. There was something about the way he spoke and conducted himself that was both authoritative and engaging. She couldn’t put her finger on it but she thought that maybe it was because his manner was like that of a grandparent, or maybe a grandparent’s grandparent. When it was time for recess, Mr Clarence asked Emma to stay behind. Jake looked back at her from the doorway as he was leaving the room and she shrugged and mouthed the words “lunch time.” The boy nodded and walked out of the room, leaving her alone with the principal. “It won’t be too long now,” he said. “Have a seat, Emma.” He motioned to one of the desks in the front row and Emma sat down. She wasn’t sure what it was that he was talking about. “Rebecca Robins has disappeared with the rest of them, you see,” he continued. “It won’t be long now. Not long at all.” “Sir?” Mr Clarence smiled a kindly smile. “The storm is coming, Emma. Very soon. I give it no more than a week. Time is running out for us all.” Emma looked out the window but she didn’t think that he was talking about a literal storm. Outside, it was sunny. “I suspect they will decide to close the school soon. Temporarily, of course. And who knows what the reaction will be like out there.” He swept his arm in the direction of the windows. Emma didn’t know what to say. “I’m just a rambling old man,” Mr Clarence said and he sighed. “Anyhow, I’ll get to my point. You are very far ahead in your lessons, correct?” “Yes, sir.” “I think, then, that you should take the next few days off to make time for your…
extracurriculars. I know you’re very busy with certain projects. Musical ones, I’m sure.” “Yes, sir,” Emma said again. She was baffled. “Time is running out, Emma, and these projects of yours are very important. Not much time now. You must hurry.” “I will, Mr Clarence,” Emma said. She had no idea what was happening but she wasn’t going to argue with the principal. He smiled. “Well,” he said. “Now that that’s done with, let’s see what you got there.” He approached the desk and took her hand. “Now that’s a funny little watch, don’t you think?” “Yes, Mr Clarence,” she said. “But really look at it, Emma. Quite funny, isn’t it?” She looked down at her watch and at the little cartoon mouse. He was grinning. It was a very silly watch, she agreed. Emma giggled and Mr Clarence laughed with her. He released her arm and sat down at the teacher’s desk just as the recess bell went off. Emma frowned, not sure where the time had gone. The other children streamed back into the room and Emma made her way back to her seat. Later, during lunchtime, Emma and Jake were sitting on the rock at Wizard Falls. Emma told him everything that had happened to her in the last two days, leaving nothing out. She told him of the minotaur and the faun, and what Domino had told her about a coming war. She still did not understand much of it herself. “So you know where my dad is?” “Well, no,” Emma said. “Not really. It’s all very confusing. It’s so much and so confusing. This minotaur thing has taken him, is what I understand, and I’m supposed to save him and the rest of the world somehow. But no one can tell me how I’m supposed to do this.” “I want to go with you,” he said. “I’ll ask, okay?” Jake nodded but he looked disappointed. “Jake, if it’s up to me, I’ll do anything I can to find your dad. Trust me.” The boy smiled. He took her hand in his. “So you can talk to animals?” he asked, grinning. “Well, sort of,” she said. “Not really. They can talk to me but they don’t understand what I’m saying. And I’ve only listened to cats so far, and they just go on about weird stuff. Oh, and some birds I think were saying my name the other day but they had tiny little voices.” “And the tree…” “Mr Oak,” she said. “Yeah, you sure he’s not a professor?” “Very funny,” Emma said and punched him. “Quite sure.” She leaned her head against his shoulder and they said nothing more until it was time to go back to school. That afternoon, when Emma went into the forest, it didn’t take her long to find the ancient oak’s clearing. She didn’t even look for it. It was as though the clearing came to her. She entered the clearing holding her flute in hand. Domino was nowhere to be seen. She walked up to the tree and put her other hand against his bark. “Hello, Mr Oak,” she said. “My dad told me you sang to me when I was born. I thought he was just making up a story but maybe it’s true.”
“He has been watching over you all your life,” said Domino. She had not heard him arrive. “As have I. I’ve watched and waited for him to signal that you were needed, that you were ready. We know the former is true, but I’m not sure about the latter.” Emma turned to face the faun. “You don’t think I’m ready?” “We don’t know for sure,” Domino said. “The Lord of Light has made his move a lot sooner than expected.” “Well, I don’t think I’m ready either. How am I supposed to do this? What makes me different from anyone else? This thing,” she said, motioning with the flute, “does it do anything? Is it like magic wand?” “That is what I’m here to teach you,” Domino said. He brought his own flute to his lips and played a long melody. It was sweet to Emma’s ears. “We all come from the trees,” Domino said. “And from the trees comes the music. It’s in all of us, even in those who have forgotten it, like most humans. You can understand animals now but that is not a special ability. The animals communicate using the music still and anyone could understand if they would only listen. When the tree spoke to you it made you remember, it opened you up to the music, the light.” “But they can’t understand me,” Emma said. “No, they can’t. You’ve remember how to listen but you don’t know how to speak.” “Do I have to play this?” she asked and wiggled her fingers over the holes of the flute. “If you like but, though what this instrument, and all instruments produce is part of the music, it is not the whole. The music that travels through the air as sound is but a subset of the true music, the song, the light, that comes from the souls of all living creatures. It is this music that you must learn.” “So what is the flute for?” “The flute takes the music of your soul and gives it strength and power. This power can be used to communicate farther than you ever could on your own, or it can be used for violence. First, you must learn to use this power to speak, and then you will learn to use it for other purposes.” He drew her away from the tree and close to the edge of the clearing. The faun stared off into the forest. Emma took this opportunity to study his skin and saw that the lines that she thought were tattoos really were writhing about, though the motion was slow and subtle. She noticed also that the flute that the faun was holding had started to glow faintly. It was hard to tell in the sunlight, but there was a light that surrounded it like a shy fire. Presently, there was a rustling of leaves from the direction that Domino was facing. Emma turned to look and, as she did so, she saw a group of rabbits emerge into the clearing. There were a dozen or more and they hopped about around the faun. It took her a moment to see it but then she realized that they weren’t really rabbits, at least not normal ones. On their heads, just in front of their ears, each of them had a small set of antlers like those of a miniature deer. The animals noticed Emma and hopped along over to where she was and they surrounded her. There was a chorus of little voices: “Miss Emma!” “Hello, Miss Emma.” “Welcome, Miss Emma!” “Glad you’re here, Miss Emma.” Emma could not help but laugh. She knelt down to pet them. Soon, she was on the ground
with a flurry of the little beasts dancing around her and over her. They were tickling her. “Jackalopes,” said Domino. “Friendly, forgiving, and playful. They are the perfect creatures for helping you learn.” The faun leaned down and picked up one of the jackalopes. He scratched the animal’s chest and the little creature settled into his arms in delight. “Settle down for a moment,” Domino said. When he said this, Emma knew somehow that it was not in normal words. He was speaking in the way that the animals did. The jackalopes backed off from their playful attack on Emma and gathered around the faun. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Domino said to the assembly of jackalopes. “You are here to help Emma learn to speak.” There was an excited commotion among the creatures. Domino quieted them down with a wave of his hand. He put down the jackalope he’d been holding and the little animal ran over to Emma and sat down by her side. “Hello,” Emma said. There was something like laughter from the herd of jackalopes. “They think you’re talking nonsense,” Domino said. “Try saying something else.” “Umm. Nice to meet you, ladies and gentlemen.” More laughter. This time it was uproarious and a few of the jackalopes even went around in little circles where they stood, or slapped at the ground with a hind paw. Among the excitement, there were also many apologies for their laughter. “Sorry, Miss Emma!” “Can’t help it, Miss Emma.” “You’re so funny, Miss Emma.” Domino quieted them down again. “Music is light, and light is music,” he said to Emma. “Sit down and close your eyes.” She did so, right in front of the jackalopes. “Try to relax,” he said. “Take a big deep breath through your nose and let it out through your mouth slowly…” He guided her in this way and told her what to do. Emma breathed and focused on the feeling of air flowing into and out of her. He talked her through relaxing her entire body, starting from the top of her head and moving down through her neck and shoulders, all the way to her feet. He told her to clear her mind of everything except her breathing and his voice. It seemed that many minutes passed while she did this but then she lost track of time. There was nothing but cold air going in through her nose, down into her lungs, and back out through her mouth. Emma felt that she was becoming isolated from the rest of the world. It was as though everything was fading away except for herself and the voice that was guiding her. “There is a light inside of you, Emma,” the voice said. “Deep within, maybe faint and frail. Find it now.” In the blackness that was the universe, she saw herself as a vessel. A girl-shaped container holding a single spark of light. It danced inside her, small and tenuous, but part of something eternal. “Good,” he said. “This is your voice. Use it. Speak now!” “Hello,” Emma said. She did not do so only with her body, but also with the light that was inside of her. For just a moment, it flared up to the size of a lamp and shone the word that she had spoken. Emma was brought out of her meditative state by cheering. She snapped back to the world
and opened her eyes, startled. In front of her, the jackalopes were jumping about in delight. Their laughter was now appreciative. “Hello, Miss Emma!” “Hello!” “You did it, Miss Emma.” “Way to go, Miss Emma.” The jackalopes rushed to her and soon she was rolling on the ground again with the little creatures swarming all over her. When the celebration died down, Domino informed the jackalopes that they would not be needed anymore for the day and they hopped away into the forest after many utterances of “Bye, Miss Emma,” and “See you soon.” “The state you were in,” Domino said when they had gone, “that is where you must return when you wish to speak. Today, I guided you there, it took a long time, and you managed a single word. This is excellent for your first try. You must practise what you did today, finding your light, until you can assume that state instantly and without guidance.” “I think I understand,” Emma said. “But it sounds impossible.” “It seems that way, I’m sure,” Domino said. “But with practice and inspiration it can be done. I suggest you go home now and rest, and then begin practising.” Emma looked at her new watch and was surprised to see that it was already six o’clock. She had spent far more time there in the clearing than she had thought. She turned toward the tree and said, “Bye, Mr Oak.” Then she turned back to the faun. “Thank you for helping me, Mr Domino,” she said. She walked back into the forest to find her way home. Emma didn’t notice her new companion until she was back on Belle Street. One of the jackalopes was hopping alongside. “Well, hello there,” Emma said, but realized that the jackalope probably didn’t understand her. She stopped where she was and wondered what she should do. “Are you following me?” The jackalope stopped in front of her and sat on its hind legs. “Hello, Miss Emma,” it said happily. “Home. Let’s go home.” Emma frowned. She pointed back toward the forest but the jackalope shook its tiny head. “No. Home!” “You want to come to my house? I don’t know what Dad will say but at least you can help me practise, I suppose. Okay, come along.” She resumed walking and the jackalope hopped along all the way to her house. They went inside and found Will and Mr Wilkins sitting at the dinner table. “There you are,” said her father. “Who’s your friend?” “Are those antlers?” Will said. “Yep,” Emma said. “This is a jackalope. But I don’t know its name or if it’s a boy or girl.” Will stood up and then walked over to pet the animal. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “You didn’t glue these on, did you?” “No, that would be silly.” “Okay, kids,” Mr Wilkins said. “Come and sit down. Is your friend over for dinner?” “I suppose,” Emma said. “But I don’t know what it eats.” She went to the refrigerator and waved to the jackalope. It obliged and hopped over to her. She searched around the vegetable drawer and brought out a few things. “Do you like Brussels sprouts? Broccoli? Kale?”
Emma put some of these on a plate and placed it on the floor for the jackalope. “Thank you, Miss Emma,” it said and started to eat. Emma sat down at the table in front of an empty plate and served herself dinner. “This is all crazy, you know,” Will said. “I know,” Emma said. Over dinner, she told the two of them what had happened during the day. When the meal was over, she went down to the basement and searched through their Christmas boxes. She dug through one of them until she found a small Santa hat that had belonged to her when she was younger. It was a little big for her purposes but she was able to make adjustments to it using a needle and thread that she took from her yellow lunchbox. When she was done, she tried the hat on the jackalope. There was a little bell on the end of the hat that jingled whenever the jackalope moved around. The hat would serve to conceal its antlers if ever any strangers happened to see the animal. “I think you’re a boy,” Emma said. “And I don’t know your name so I’ll call you Mr Jingles for now. We’ll pretend you’re my pet rabbit when anyone’s around.” Emma spent the rest of the evening in her bedroom, practising the meditation that Domino had taught her, the trick of finding her inner light. She practised speaking to Mr Jingles, who was very enthusiastic about helping out. Her progress was slow but she could tell that she was getting better at it already. It was a great motivation that the jackalope became extremely happy whenever she was able to say a simple “hello.” Emma wondered if this had been the real purpose behind Domino inviting the jackalopes into the clearing. At some point in the night, both Emma and Mr Jingles became tired and she lied down and hugged the jackalope close to her chest. The creature nestled himself against her and closed his eyes. Emma smiled, and then they both slept.
11 Dinner and a Unicorn Emma woke up early the next day and went down to the kitchen with Mr Jingles. She put out some vegetables for the jackalope to eat and a bowl of water for him to drink before she fixed breakfast for herself and her family. For Will and her father she made eggs and bacon, while for herself she made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The smell of food brought first her father and then her brother out of their rooms. They sat and ate breakfast while Mr Wilkins read the morning paper. “What’s the occasion?” he asked of Emma. “I don’t know,” she said. “Well, okay, I do. Dad, my principal, Mr Clarence, he said I shouldn’t go to school for a few days. That I should take some time off. I’m not sure what he was talking about but I think it’s probably a good idea with all that’s going on and I need to practise —” “Absolutely not,” he said. “How could you even consider that? Why would he suggest it? What kind of principal is this man? There is no way you are missing school, young lady.” Emma blushed. “But, Dad, it’s like the end of the world or something!” Will opened his mouth to say something but before he could speak, Mr Wilkins cut him off. “No, Will, you can’t skip school either. You’re both going even if the world is burning.” Will closed his mouth and then continued eating. “Well, this is curious,” Mr Wilkins said. “They are halting operations at the Paigely site. I wonder what caused it. Maybe they had more problems with disappearing workers.” “They won’t build anymore?” Will said. “Well, it’s temporary,” Mr Wilkins said. “Until they sort out ‘unforeseen complications,’ they say.” “It has to have to do with the minotaur,” Emma said. “I’ll ask Domino. He probably knows something.” “I’m sure he does,” Mr Wilkins said. “By the way, dear, though ‘the minotaur’ refers to any member of his species, this one is the proper ‘Minotaur.’ There are none quite like him.” “Dad, you seem to know a lot,” Emma said. “I think there are things you aren’t telling me.” “Maybe too many things,” he said. After breakfast, Emma took Jingles out into the backyard and tried to tell him that she had to go to school and that he couldn’t come. Because she wasn’t able to speak more than one word at a time to him, and because it took her a long time to even get into a state where she could say it, the entire process was laborious. She was able to get through to him eventually by pointing at herself and miming climbing into a bus and driving away. It seemed that Mr Jingles had been outside of the forest before and that he wanted nothing to do with motor vehicles. She assured him that she would be back by saying the word “return” and pointing around to the yard. When she arrived in her classroom later that morning, she saw that there was a substitute teacher sitting at Miss Robins’ desk. He was a thin, wiry man and he was wearing thin, wiry glasses. Emma spent the morning recess, as well as lunch time, with Jake. She told him everything she could about all that she was learning and all that Domino had told her. He was amazed and amused and couldn’t wait to meet the jackalope.
During afternoon recess, Emma went down to the administrative area of the school. She was going to tell Mr Clarence that her father had forbidden her from staying home but his door was closed. She went to the main office to ask about him. The secretary was there and she was typing behind her counter. “Excuse me,” Emma said. “Could you tell when I could see Mr Clarence?” The woman stopped typing and looked down at Emma. “Who?” she said. “The principal,” Emma said. “Mr Clarence.” The secretary gave her a skeptical look. “Clarence? There’s never been a Mr Clarence here, little girl.” Emma’s eyes went wide with shock. Who had been the man that she had spoken to before? It was true that he had been very strange, but she hadn’t expected something like this. The woman behind the counter looked at her for a moment and then chuckled. “I’m just playing with you, little Miss Wilkins,” she said. “George— Uh, Mr Clarence, I mean, has gone away on a family emergency. Don’t you worry. He’ll be back before you know it.” “Oh,” Emma said. “Thank you, Missus.” “Call me Dory,” said the woman. “Okay, Mrs Dory,” said Emma. After school, Emma found the jackalope napping under the shade of the tree in the backyard. She sat down beside him and he opened his eyes and jumped up when he saw her. Emma pointed toward the forest and the two of them set out to meet Domino. The jackalope didn’t say much but he seemed to be happy as he bounced on his way beside her. Halfway down the road, they came upon the little dog with the big ears that Emma had seen before. He was lying on the porch in front of his house but, when he saw the girl and the jackalope, he sauntered over to them and stood in their way. Jingles went ahead and said, “Good day to you, good sir.” The dog tilted his head at him. “Hi, Mister,” he said and got closer to the jackalope and sniffed him all over, walking right around him. When he was satisfied with his inspection, he licked Jingles’ antlers and then tried to chew on them in a bashful manner. “Mister, please don’t do that!” said the jackalope and the dog backed off. “Sorry,” he said. “Have you seen any squirrels? Or a cat maybe? There is a cat that comes from that house down yonder and lies under the car but I always chase him off.” “No,” Jingles said. “I haven’t seen any cats today.” “Okay, goodbye,” the dog said and walked back to his porch. Emma and Jingles resumed their walk toward the forest. “That’s funny,” Emma said. When they reached the clearing, Domino was not surprised to see that Jingles was accompanying Emma. “It appears that he has fallen in love with you,” he said. Domino made Emma show him the progress that she had made and he was impressed with it. They practised communicating using the music for a long while before he let her have a break. She sat with her back to the ancient oak and felt his warmth giving her strength. Emptying herself and becoming a vessel for the light was a tiring thing but it was becoming easier the more that she did it. “So you said that the missing people are in another world, Mr Domino,” Emma said. “But how does Minotaur get them there?”
“This tree has a twin,” Domino said. “In another place in this forest.” “But why would the trees help him?” “The trees all have their own identities and their own motives,” Domino said. “No one truly understands why they do the things they do, not even the Lord of Light. They are not with or against him, but only choose to do what they will. Not all the trees can make portals. In this forest there are only two, this one and his twin. Many of their brothers who once could are now dead.” “Because of us?” Domino nodded. “Because of you,” he said. “There will come a time, if we don’t stop him, when the Lord of Light will return. He will come through here because here lies his portal of old, and this ancient tree and his brother will open it once again.” “But I thought Mr Oak wanted to help me stop him.” “He does,” said Domino. “And he will. And when the time comes, he will help open the portal for the Lord of Light.” “That’s very confusing.” “It’s the way of the trees.” Emma frowned. She looked up into the leaves of the great oak and sat for a moment and watched them dance in the wind. “So is it our fault? Is he coming back now because the forests are getting chopped down?” Domino smiled. “Indeed, I think that is the case.” “Then why can’t we chop down the other tree? Wouldn’t that stop him?” “I think you’d find that to be impossible, at least by normal means.” After the break, Domino made her stand close to the edge of the clearing. “Now I want to teach you to call the creatures of the world,” he said. “To reach them from afar you need to use the aid of your flute. You must become the vessel of light, and the flute must become an extension of you through which the light will flow.” “Like a teapot!” The faun laughed and it was a sweet, rich, and strange sound to Emma’s ears. “Yes,” he said. “Like a super-powered teapot.” He instructed Emma to close her eyes and do what she’d been practising. It only took her a few minutes this time to become the vessel with the dancing spark inside it. “All stories are true,” said the faun. “Do you know of Cerynitis? The Golden Hind? He now inhabits this forest. You must know his name if you are to call him.” The voice of the faun changed and Emma knew that he was now speaking using the music. “Cerynitis,” he said, and the spark inside Emma danced in response. Emma saw the creature in her mind’s eye and it was like looking at the wind, golden antlers in flight propelled by bronze hooves. She said the name of the hind using the light that was inside of her and she directed it toward the flute that she held in her hand. The word flowed around her vessel and out through the instrument, and then the light exploded and shone forth into the world. As soon as she said the word, she felt the wind. When she opened her eyes she saw first the creature, the Golden Hind, standing before her. He was like a great deer but for the antlers and the hooves made of metals. Next, she looked toward the faun and saw that his eyes were wide with something like fear. Domino noticed her looking at him and he composed himself quickly but did not say anything.
Emma looked back to Cerynitis and reached out to touch him. Before she knew it, the creature was gone and it was as though he had vanished into nothingness, but for the wind of his departure. “That was extraordinary,” Domino said. “It will do for today.” The next week followed the same routine. When Emma wasn’t at school, she would spend her time in the forest learning from the faun until it was time for dinner. Then she would go back home to be with her family and do homework and practise the things that she had learned. Though Jake was becoming restless about going to the forest, Domino was not interested in meeting him and forbid Emma from bringing him. Jake was somewhat pacified when he got to meet Mr Jingles, the jackalope. The creature made Emma’s stories seem more real. Meeting Jingles gave Jake hope that his father really was alive in another world, waiting for rescue. Emma made the time every day to call Lucy Leroux to see how she was doing. Lucy was appreciative of Emma’s phone calls and she seemed to be doing as well as could be expected. Emma decided that they had to have Lucy over for dinner very soon and so, when Friday came, Emma invited both Lucy and Jake over to the house. It was on that day that the forest started to leak. Lucy arrived an hour before dinner time. Emma was in her bedroom with Jingles when she heard the front door open. She took the Christmas hat from her bedside table and put it on the jackalope to conceal his antlers. The two of them went out to greet Lucy and found that Mr Wilkins was already leading her toward the living area. “Hey, Emma!” Lucy said when she saw her. Her eyes lit up with delight when she saw the jackalope walking along beside her. “And you!” she said. “Hello, little guy… or girl?” “It’s a boy,” Emma said. “His name is Mr Jingles because he loves his hat.” “Hello, Mr Jingles,” Lucy said and she knelt to the ground. “Good morning, Miss,” Jingles said. He moved close to the girl and sat down in front of her. Lucy pet him and scratched the side of his neck. “He just walks around like this?” Lucy said. “No cage or anything?” “Yeah, he’s well trained.” “I’ll start dinner, girls,” Mr Wilkins said. “You two have a seat. Would you like something to drink, Lucy?” “No, thank you, Professor.” The girls sat down and talked about animals. Half an hour later, there was another knock at the door. Emma jumped up from where she was sitting. “That must be Jake!” she said. “Is that your boyfriend?” Lucy said. Emma went red and looked toward the kitchen and saw that her father was watching her. “No,” Emma said. “He’s just a friend.” She went to the door and, when she opened it, she was surprised to see that Jake wasn’t alone. His mother was there beside him. “Oh, hello, Victoria Mrs Milligan,” Emma said. “Just Vicky, please, Emma,” she said. “Hello, dear. Is your father home? I hope he doesn’t mind that I stop by unannounced like this. I got home and straightaway Jake says he’s coming
over so I thought I’d stop by to talk with your father. I hope it’s not a problem.” “No problem at all,” Mr Wilkins said from the kitchen. He came around the counter that separated it from the living room and the front foyer and approached her, hand outstretched. They shook hands and Mr Wilkins brought the visitors inside and they exchanged pleasantries before he went back to the kitchen to continue with the dinner preparations. Emma went with him to help and left the Milligans to get acquainted with Lucy Leroux. Emma checked the roast in the oven while William Wilkins mashed some potatoes. “How much do they know?” he asked her quietly so that the visitors wouldn’t hear. “Lucy knows nothing, Jake knows everything, and his mom knows something in between, probably,” Emma said. “I don’t know what Jake has told her.” She closed the oven door and looked up over the counter to see that Lucy saying something to Mrs Milligan. The older woman was sitting on a couch with Jake while Lucy was sitting on the one across from them. Next to Lucy, sitting like he was part of the conversation, was Mr Jingles. “Okay,” said her father. “Let’s keep it quiet then.” Will came in through the front door and put his backpack in the closet before he turned and greeted the visitors. He then went into the kitchen and filled a glass with cold water and leaned on a counter to drink it. “How was basketball?” Mr Wilkins asked him. “Good,” Will said. “Joey broke his arm but we won.” “Worth it then?” “Totally,” Will said. When everything was ready, they all sat down at the dinner table. “The roast looks delicious, Professor Wilkins,” said Victoria Milligan. “Thank you,” he said. “Oh, and just call me William, please. I’d say to call me Will but then we wouldn’t be able to differentiate between me and the boy.” They all ate and the adults did most of the talking. They spoke about adult things like jobs and the economy. Both Mr Wilkins and Mrs Milligan seemed very interested in Lucy’s plans concerning her education. Lucy confessed that she didn’t really know what she wanted to do for a living but she had liked biology in high school and that’s why she had chosen the program. “Lots of kids don’t know what they want to do,” said Mr Wilkins. “They’re too young when they finish high school. There should be at least another year.” Mr Jingles ate a bowl of vegetables and then went for a nap in a corner. After dinner, they all moved back to the living room and Mr Wilkins brought each of them a slice of cheesecake. He poured coffee for himself and Mrs Milligan. “Lucy tells me her parents are missing as well,” said Victoria Milligan. “Yes, that’s right,” said Mr Wilkins. “Most unfortunate.” “Funny that both she and Jake are such good friends with Emma,” Mrs Milligan continued. “You know, Jake here has been telling me some crazy stories. I know they can’t be true but he thinks you know something about all the missing people.” “Mom, come on,” Jake protested. “No, it’s alright, Jake,” said Mr Wilkins. “Well, what are these stories? Maybe we can clear things up for you, Victoria.” “Oh,” she said. “Crazy things Jake talks about. Monsters and magic things. He’s said that there is a minotaur in the forest and he’s the one capturing people and that Emma knows where all the missing persons are. Of course, that can’t possibly be true, can it?”
“Well, no, of course not,” he said. “But you know how kids are, Professor Williams—” “Just William.” “William,” she repeated. “They believe things and Jake has his hopes up that his father can be found, by Emma no less, while the truth is far from that, and you can imagine how disappointed he will be.” “I see what you’re saying,” Mr Wilkins said. Emma also saw what she was saying and she was a little taken aback by it. She wanted to speak up and let Victoria Milligan know that it was all true and that they weren’t just crazy stories. The last thing she would ever want to do was to hurt Jake. Lucy was staring at her cheesecake, trying to pretend that she wasn’t there. Will seemed on the verge of saying something. Jake had turned red. “Let me assure you,” Mr Wilkins went on, “Emma has no intention of making up lies and, while she may be telling stories, they are just that. Stories. You know how kids are and their imagination. Emma loves books, especially fantasies, elves and hobbits and all that. But, of course, she knows them for what they are: stories. They aren’t real. They aren’t true.” As if summoned by his words, outside on the road, clearly visible through the window, a magnificent white unicorn trotted past, its long horn shining brightly in the dying sun. “Oh, my lord,” Victoria Milligan said and her mouth remained opened. There were wide eyes all around. Lucy gasped. “I told you it was true!” Jake said. “Emma,” Mr Wilkins said and he nodded his head toward the front door. She stood up quickly and ran outside and down the street, giving the creature chase. Jake followed her. The unicorn wasn’t moving very quickly. It seemed like it was only out and about, enjoying an evening walk down the street, glancing at houses here and there. Nevertheless, it led them all the way to the intersection of Belle Street and Glendale Avenue where it paused to observe the traffic. Emma and Jake caught up to the unicorn and saw that it was receiving many disbelieving stares from the people in the vehicles that passed by. Emma didn’t know what would happen if someone stopped and approached the animal. She stood in front of the unicorn and tried to speak to it but it didn’t understand her. “It’s my fault,” Emma said to Jake. “I’ve been learning to speak to them but it takes me a few moments to be able to say anything.” “We better do something soon,” Jake said. The unicorn studied her for a moment and then it leaned its head down in what appeared to be a bow. “Princess,” said the unicorn. “Greetings.” Emma frowned and shook her head. “I think he has me confused,” she said to Jake. “This could work. He might let me ride him if he thinks I’m a princess. Help me up!” Jake said, “How do you know what he thinks?” “He told me.” “Oh. Of course.” Jake intertwined his fingers and motioned to Emma to put her foot on them but when the unicorn saw what they were trying to do he lowered himself to the ground. Emma climbed on top and told Jake to do so as well but the unicorn stood back up before he got the chance. “Well!” was all Jake said.
The unicorn turned his head toward Emma and looked at her with one huge eye. “I am named Titanius, Princess,” he said. “I am honoured to be your steed. Where would you like me to take you?” Emma pointed back the way they had come and, without hesitation, Titanius rushed down Belle Street toward the forest. Emma took a look back and saw that Jake was running after them, but he was quickly left far behind. The rest of the dinner party was standing outside in front of the Wilkins residence. They were all looking down toward where Emma and Jake had run off chasing after the unicorn. Some of the neighbours had also come out and they were looking in the same direction. Arnold Thornton, the biology professor next door, was standing at his veranda. “Was that a horse that just went by?” he said to William Wilkins. “I heard hooves.” William shrugged. “I don’t think it was a horse,” he said. “But I don’t know.” They saw what appeared to be a flash of light before they heard the sound of hooves on concrete. It all happened in a moment but there was no doubt about what they saw. The flash took shape and they could see the unicorn clearly as it galloped down the middle of the road. On the unicorn’s back there was a girl who looked just like Emma but she was surrounded by light and her long, white dress glittered in the twilight. The unicorn and the rider were gone as quickly as they had come. Those who witnessed them were left speechless and some were afraid. On the Wilkinses’ lawn, no one stirred until William Wilkins turned to Victoria Milligan. “I suppose we have some explaining to do,” he said. He took them all inside and tried to explain everything. Emma arrived at Glenridge Forest. The run through the street had been a blur. The unicorn slowed his pace when he entered the cover of the trees. There was a sudden movement to their left and Emma turned to look just as Domino dropped to the ground from a branch. “There is something wrong,” he said. Emma climbed off the unicorn and nodded and waved in an attempt to thank Titanius for letting her ride on his back. “It is my honour,” Titanius said. “Farewell, Princess. Till we meet again.” With that, he was gone, and he was like lightning. “Something is wrong,” Domino said again. “The forest is leaking. This is not supposed to happen so soon. I believe we may have been duped. It’s possible that Minotaur has been feigning weakness in order to take us by surprise.” “What does that mean?” Emma said. “It means you could be in danger. The world could be in danger and we’re not ready. Not even close.” “What can I do to help?” “Absolutely nothing,” Domino said. “You can barely speak, much less fight. It’s likely that it is too late now. We haven’t so much as dreamed up a way to stop him. You must leave now. Go home and stay there and wait for me. I will investigate. Go now. Run!” Domino leaped back into the trees and he disappeared into the forest. Emma turned on the spot and ran home.
12 Invasion Saturday. 9:00 AM. Phillip Matthews, Mayor of Saint Martin, was sitting on one of the outdoor tables outside Marcy’s Cafe. The coffee shop was located on Main Street. At that time of morning, there was little traffic on the street. The mayor was reading the newspaper and sipping on a cup of black coffee. The weather had turned and the morning was cool. He wore a long scarf over his business suit. A black car pulled up in front of the cafe and from it emerged the man that Phillip had been waiting for. “Morning,” he said as he approached the mayor’s table. Doug Peterson, Saint Martin’s Chief of Police, was in his uniform. He was a severe, gray-haired man whose nose looked like it had been broken many times in the past. “Good morning, Doug,” Phillip said. “Have a seat and please tell me why we’re here.” “I think we have a crisis in our hands,” Chief Peterson said. “I have a plan and I have people ready to do something about it. All I need is the go-ahead from you.” “You’re talking about the missing people,” said the mayor. Doug Peterson nodded. A young waitress came by the table and refilled the mayor’s coffee. Doug asked for a tea. “There are more reports every day,” he said. “We’ve been doing our best to keep it quiet but you know how things get out. People are especially suspicious now that the construction site is closed.” Phillip took a long pull from his coffee and looked out onto the street. Saint Martin had always been a quiet town for the most part, except maybe near the university. But even there it was always harmless. Mostly just kids being kids. “You’ve heard these rumours about monsters, of course?” “Of course,” Doug said. “That’s just people giving a face to their fear.” “What do we think is actually happening, Doug?” “Gangs, maybe. Or some psychos holed up in the forest. Cannibals. Maybe they come out to hunt for food.” Phillip chuckled. “You know Ottawa is going to want in on this as soon as they get word of it?” Doug Peterson nodded. “With this plan, it’ll be over and done with before they can muck everything up.” “We don’t want them interfering with our town.” “Of course not.” Phillip motioned for the waitress to come over. “I’m going to get something to eat, Doug. You want anything?” The Chief of Police shook his head. Phillip ordered Marcy’s specialty: a cinnamon waffle with whipped cream and a cherry on top. “Thanks, Marianne,” he said to the serving girl. When she had gone, he turned back to Doug Peterson. “So, Doug,” he said. “Indulge me for a moment. What if there really are monsters in that forest?”
“Cannibals, monsters, whatever they are,” Doug said. “They’re no match for a hundred men with guns.” 10:30 AM. Lucy Leroux was wandering around the Penhurst Mall. She planned to visit the Wilkins residence in the afternoon but she didn’t feel like sitting at home all day until then. When she was alone, she couldn’t help but miss her parents. She walked past an ice cream shop near the food court and saw that a woman behind the counter was watching her. It was the third time that she had walked through that area already. She headed toward the little shop in order to buy something, just a small thing because she wasn’t ever hungry anymore, but then she heard some sort of commotion from around a corner. Lucy followed the sound and saw a good number of shoppers who were standing around and looking toward a jewelry store. People were coming out from inside it and then running away. They looked terrified. Lucy moved closer to the store and she saw what she could only describe as goblins. There were six of them and they were breaking the glass displays and taking the jewelry that was inside and putting it into sacks. There was a befuddled security guard standing there while the store manager yelled at him and pointed at the goblins. It didn’t take long for the creatures to clear the place out. When they were finished, they ran out of the shop and left the mall. 1:00 PM. The widowed Mrs Welcher was on her lawn watering her begonias when she saw a tiny man come walking up the sidewalk. He was no more than three feet tall. He wore a red hat and sported a long beard. Mrs Welcher stared as the little man walked to her and tipped his hat. He said something in a language that she couldn’t understand. She could only frown and wave. The little man seemed satisfied and he walked on until he reached one of her garden gnomes. The little man poked the ceramic ornament and then tilted his head back in laughter. He then turned back toward Mrs Welcher, said something that sounded apologetic, tipped his hat once more, and continued on his way down the street. 5:00 PM. Out of Glenridge Forest there came a fox. He emerged onto the grounds of the University of Saint Martin and ran across the soccer field until he was near one of the student residences. A group of students came out of the building and walked away toward a parking lot. The fox was not seen as he walked to the entrance. He looked into the building, through the glass door, and became curious about what was inside. The kitsune assumed human form, pulled the door open, and walked through. 8:00 PM. Madelyn Edinburgh was working at the University of Saint Martin. She was frustrated as she marked first year English papers. There were too many students in the course and not enough teaching assistants to go around. She put down her red pen and sat back a moment to take a sip of her tea. After a shake of her head, Madelyn decided that she would have to return the following day to finish her marking.
The professor packed up her things and left her office, locking it behind her. Madelyn was outside, on her way to the parking lot, when she saw a group of people who were standing around on the soccer field. They were looking toward the forest. There were dozens of students there and even a few faculty members. Madelyn couldn’t see what was so interesting. She walked toward the group and soon realized what it was that they were doing. They were listening to music. Madelyn joined the throng and stood with them. They all stared into the darkness of the forest. Madelyn noticed that some of the people in the front of the group were walking into the woods, though most of them seemed content to simply stand and listen. 8:10 PM. Arnold Thornton was driving home from the University of Saint Martin. He’d had to come in on this Saturday evening to prepare some laboratory samples for experiments that would be conducted by first year students on Monday. There were too many students, he thought, and not enough faculty. Everyone seemed overworked lately. Arnold didn’t notice it at first, as he drove down The Hill, but when he neared Lockhart Road it became obvious. There were an unusual number of people walking the streets for this area of the city at this time of night. Stranger still, they all seemed to be heading in the same direction: toward Glenridge Forest. He turned onto Lockhart Road and saw a long line of people that were standing at the edge of the tree line. Arnold squinted into the trees but he could see nothing but darkness. There were people along the entire length of the road and most of them were simply standing there, staring, although some of them were venturing into the woods. He shook his head at the many strange things that had been happening lately. 8:20 PM. Emma was sitting on the floor of her living room with Lucy Leroux, who was telling her all about the goblins that she had seen earlier that morning. Jingles was lying on her lap, snoring away. Will was sitting with Mr Wilkins at the kitchen table reading a comic book, but he was also listening to their conversation. Mr Wilkins was reading a thick hardcover and listening to the radio. There was a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 on the public radio station. Lucy was describing the appearance of the goblins. They were maybe four to five feet tall, brownish green, and they had long fingers. Emma sat straight up and interrupted her. “He’s here!” she said. “Who’s here?” Mr Wilkins said. “Domino. He’s calling me.” Emma stood up and ran out to the backyard. She saw the faun waiting there. He was standing just beyond the light that escaped from the house. “It has begun,” Domino said. “It’s too late. Minotaur is too strong. He is strong enough now to remain awake and to go anywhere he pleases. The forest no longer confines him.” Mr Wilkins came up behind Emma. Lucy and Will followed. “What did you say?” he asked of the faun.
Domino shook his head slowly. “We’ve lost,” he said. “It’s over.” 8:30 PM. Madelyn Edinburgh was transfixed. The music of the forest was the most lovely thing she had ever heard and she never wanted it to stop. None of those remaining alongside the edge of the woods made any move. All the ones who had wanted to seek the source of the music had already gone. It seemed like the music would go on forever but Madelyn was startled by another sound. It was like the heavens had fallen. The ground shook and there was a noise like the end of the world. It sounded like a stampede of titans. Madelyn’s heart raced and she thought of running away but the music was still there, beneath the rumbling, and it was as sweet as ever. She listened carefully and felt the delicious music mix with her sudden fear and she found that the result was pleasing. It was fun and frightening like a roller coaster and beautiful like a painting. She saw doubt in the faces of others followed by resolution and she knew that they had gone through the same battle that she had. No one fled. Madelyn smiled and closed her eyes and let the music fill her. She swayed left and right slowly and tears began to pour. She had never been so happy. There was a scream. She opened her eyes and saw that from the forest there had emerged hulking creatures of many sorts and that they were grabbing anyone they could and taking them back into the darkness. There were great trolls and orc-like beings. There were centaurs and chimeras and ogres. Some of the bigger creatures carried off more than one person. There were some who tried to fight, but they ended up screaming in pain as the creatures snapped their bones or tore their flesh. It was a scene of violence and horror. Madelyn turned to run but she found her way barred by the most terrifying creature of all. It was a minotaur. He was the largest of all the monsters and he moved as though he had lightning in his veins. His eyes were red like fury. The minotaur picked up Madelyn Edinburgh with one hand and threw her toward a passing centaur. Sheer terror made her lose consciousness. Sunday. 6:00 AM. Phillip Matthews woke up to the ringing of his cell phone. He picked it up from the bedside table and squinted to look at the number that was calling. “Hello,” he said, picking up. The voice on the other side was alarmed. Phillip thought that it must be a prank or that maybe he was dreaming. He turned on the lamp beside the bed and sat up. “Is this a joke?” he said. He was assured that it certainly wasn’t a joke. “Fine,” he said. “Set up an emergency meeting as soon as possible. I will be in right away.” He hung up and dialed Doug Peterson’s number. Laura Matthews stirred in the bed beside him. “What’s happening?” she asked. “Trouble,” he said. Then into the phone: “Yeah, Doug, looks like you were right.” “I hope it’s nothing too bad,” Laura said sleepily.
Phillip only nodded as he listened to what the Chief of Police was saying. “Yeah,” Phillip said into the phone. “I guess you’d know about all the reports. Anyway, we’re meeting now. It looks like your plan is our only option.” 11:00 AM. Emma was sitting on the grass in her backyard with Mr Jingles, trying to talk to him. She was still too slow but over the past week she had managed to get her time down to a couple of minutes. “It’s no good anyway,” she said to the jackalope, and that was as much as she could say in one go. It was much better than in the beginning when she had only been able to say one word. “Don’t be sad, Miss Emma,” said Jingles. “There is hope.” Emma was about to meditate again so she could respond but Will called her from the house. “Emma! Dad says to come see this!” he said and ran back inside. Emma and the jackalope followed. They went into her father’s office where he was watching something on his computer. “Come look,” he said and moved aside to let them see. There was a video on the screen from the local news. Mr Wilkins clicked a button and the video filled the screen. “For this reason I called an emergency meeting this morning,” the man on the screen was saying. Underneath him a caption identified him as Mayor Phillip Matthews. Emma had never seen him before. Beneath his name, written in big letters, were the words: “State of Emergency.” “Last night,” the mayor went on, “the City of Saint Martin suffered an unexplained and horrible tragedy. Emergency lines were overloaded and this has continued throughout the day. We ask that you refrain from calling about missing persons. Instructions about what to do will be given shortly. “There have been reports of strange occurrences and disappearances everywhere throughout the city. There are, early counts show, hundreds of residents missing. The nexus of this activity appears to be Glenridge Forest. “It is due to these conditions that I am now declaring a State of Emergency. Citizens are advised to stay home. Schools and public areas will be closed while we deal with this crisis. “Please do not panic. You will be safe as long as you remain indoors. As we speak, there is a plan being put into motion to find the missing persons and to get to the bottom of this.” The mayor went on to instruct those who knew of anyone missing to fill out a form at a page on the city’s website that had been set up specifically for this emergency. When he was finished, he introduced the Chief of Police Doug Peterson. He moved off the screen as the new speaker took his place. “What can they do?” Will said. As if in response, Doug Peterson outlined a plan for a search of Glenridge Forest. “We have put together a massive search party comprised of police, firefighters, army, and civilians. They are all armed and they are gathering at the Paigely construction site as we speak.” “What do you think will happen, Dad?” Emma said. “I don’t know,” he said. “We are close to the end, it seems. Emma, call Lucy and Jake then we’ll get in the car and pick them up. His mother too. We’ll be safer together. At least here we’ll have Domino to help us, if he will.” “Won’t he help?” Emma said. “I don’t know,” Mr Wilkins said. “He might have his own troubles. Soon we all will. Maybe we’ll have to leave town, though that would only delay the inevitable. Still, it would buy us
time.” He shook his head and sighed. “But at some point we’ll probably find ourselves under siege,” he said. “That’s inevitable now, I think. This town will be overrun, starting with that search party, and then the next and the next. Then maybe the world.”
13 The Lost The streets of Saint Martin were nearly abandoned. Emma and her family were in the car on their way to pick up Jake. Will was riding in the front passenger’s seat while Emma was sitting in the back with Jingles. As they drove, Emma counted the cars that she saw on the street. There were no pedestrians. “I still don’t understand anything, Dad,” she said. “Why did the tree sing to me if this was going to happen? Doesn’t it all seem like a waste?” “I don’t know, Emma,” he said. “Maybe he had the best intentions but it didn’t work out. Maybe it was for some other reason.” “Something seems very wrong, Dad,” she said. “Another thing I don’t understand is why did you only want me to learn to defend myself? Domino said only I could stop Minotaur for some reason so, I mean, what was your plan if I wasn’t supposed to do anything?” Emma’s father did not say anything for a long time. They arrived at Jake’s driveway before he spoke. “You know, my dear. I don’t know very much of anything. I know that it seems that adults know what they’re doing but we get confused as well and we make mistakes. Sometimes we do things for no good reason. Sometimes logic takes a backseat to feelings.” He sighed like an old, tired man. “I want to say,” he said. “I want to say that I’m very sorry.” Emma knew, of course, that adults made lots of mistakes, but she didn’t think that this applied to her own father. He was the smartest person she knew. William Wilkins smiled suddenly. He turned and looked at Emma. “Maybe I traded the world for my little girl,” he said. Emma couldn’t tell what was behind the smile. Perhaps it was regret. When Jake came out of his house, Mr Wilkins inquired about his mother but he said that she was at work. Her workplace was still open despite the State of Emergency and she couldn’t get the day off but she wanted to thank them for taking care of Jake. He also said that she planned to pick him up after work and take him to Toronto to be with his ailing grandfather and the rest of their family. They drove on to Lucy’s house. When the girl got into the car she was holding Sprinkles in her arms. “I can’t leave him, right?” she said. “I have no idea how long I’ll be gone.” “That’s good thinking, Lucy,” Mr Wilkins said. Sprinkles didn’t seem happy about sitting on Lucy’s lap the entire ride back. The cat ignored Jingles and the jackalope didn’t pay him any mind either. Halfway home, Sprinkles began a monologue about life aboard a moving prison. No one could understand, of course, except Jingles and Emma. She closed her eyes. In a moment, she was able speak to the cat. “Shut up!” Emma said. Jingles laughed his jackalope laughter and the cat did indeed shut up, but he glared at Emma for the remainder of the trip. When they arrived back home, Mr Wilkins turned on the radio and they sat around in the
living room to listen for news. He fixed some iced tea for everyone and offered to make snacks but no one felt like eating. “I wish there was something I could do,” Emma said. “Like what?” Lucy said. “I don’t know. I’ve been learning these things for a reason, I think. I’m getting better. I think I’ve almost got it so I think I should go practise. Maybe I’ll try calling for Domino. See if he will tell us what to do.” “Maybe that’s a good idea,” Mr Wilkins said. Emma went outside with Mr Jingles. She sat down on the grass to practise her meditation. The jackalope was happy to assist her. “We’ll warm up with a little conversation,” Emma said and closed her eyes. “Hello, Mr Jingles,” she said. “Hello, Miss Emma!” said the jackalope. A moment passed while she emptied her mind again. “How are you?” “Fine, Miss Emma. And you?” A pause. “I’m okay, Mr Jingles. A little sad.” “Why?” Another pause. “Well,” Emma said, “I think I’m pretty useless.” And so they went on conversing in that manner. Mr Jingles did his best to comfort the girl but she couldn’t get rid of her feelings of confusion and helplessness. After a while, she went inside and got her flute. When she passed the living room, she saw that Lucy was reading one of her books while Jake and Will were talking to each other. Her father was sitting there drinking iced tea and listening to the news. She went back outside and sat down again with Jingles. She tried to use the flute to send her voice to the forest, to Domino. “Music is light,” Emma said, recalling the faun’s words. “Light is music.” “So you don’t think it’s going to go back to normal?” Jake said. “It can’t, can it?” Will said. “How could it?” Lucy looked up from the book and watched them as they spoke. She had many questions herself and she hadn’t been able to pay attention to the book that she was trying to read. She was looking at the words but they weren’t being absorbed at all. She had no idea what was going to happen from then on or if she would ever see her parents again. “So what actually will happen?” Jake said, as if reading her mind. “Well,” Will said. “Dad says that there is a guy called the Lord of Light and he’s going to come and take over the world.” “But what happens to us? And to my dad?” Jake said. “I don’t know if anyone knows,” Will said. “Maybe he’ll give back the prisoners.” “The ones that survive,” Mr Wilkins said suddenly. He looked at the children as if he hadn’t realized that they had been there. He shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said and then went back to listening to the radio. He seemed as though he was far away. “I want to see what Emma’s doing,” Jake said. He stood up and went to the back of the house. Will and Lucy followed. They walked onto the veranda and saw that Emma was sitting on
the grass holding her flute in her lap. The instrument was aglow. Her eyes were closed. “What is she doing?” Jake said. “I’m not sure,” Will said. “She sits there sometimes and that’s how she practises talking to animals.” “Emma!” Jake called out but she didn’t respond. They watched her in silence for a few minutes. The jackalope eventually nestled himself in her lap and closed his eyes. “I wish we could do something,” Jake said. “Well,” Lucy said, “they’re searching the forest today, right? Maybe they’ll find something, you know.” “My dad thinks it’s going to go really bad,” Will said. “Hey, you know,” Jake said. “Maybe we should go help them. We know all this stuff they don’t.” “That’s crazy,” Will said. “My dad will never let us.” Jake sat down where he was and looked at the ground. “I just feel so… bad, you know? There is so much going on and we’re just kids. I wish I had my dad back. I just want him back, that’s all.” Lucy looked down at the boy. She knew what he was going through, having lost her parents herself, and she wasn’t sure that Emma or Will understood. Maybe she and Jake were the only ones in the group who had that same emptiness all the time. The feelings of hurt and abandonment. She sat on the ground next to the boy and put her arm around him. “I’m really sorry, Jake,” Will said. “Yeah, Jake,” Lucy said. “Everything will turn out okay.” “Everyone always says that,” said the boy. “Listen,” Will said. “My dad will figure something out, don’t worry, okay?” Jake stood up. “Really?” he said. “It looks to me like he’s given up.” There were tears in his eyes. “And Emma’s just sitting there.” He went inside. “Poor kid,” Lucy said and stood up. “You too,” Will said. “You’re missing both your parents.” “But I’m older. I don’t know if that means anything though.” “I don’t know,” Will said. “I miss my mom as much as always.” “I’m sorry, Will,” she said and realized that they all had their own losses and sorrows. She looked out toward Emma again and wondered what her loss was. The little girl did somehow seem different from all of them but Lucy couldn’t figure out how. She had liked her from the beginning and she believed in her. Nevertheless, maybe there was something to what Jake had said. They did know more than the people who were searching the forest did. It was possible that their information would be helpful if they could find a way to make anyone believe them. Lucy realized that it was also true that Mr Wilkins would never allow them to go into the forest. Emma lost track of time. She had no idea how long she had been sitting there calling for Domino. When she opened her eyes, her vision was swimming. She was dizzy. Mr Jingles was fast asleep in her lap. She looked to the sky and saw that the sun was well on its way to setting. It was probably close to dinner time and, soon, nightfall. She didn’t know what the night would bring. Emma took Mr Jingles in her arms, careful not to wake him. The jackalope nestled himself
into her and resumed his snoring. She walked to the door, almost stumbling once or twice, and entered a quiet, dark house. The radio was still on and it was playing light jazz music. Mr Wilkins was nowhere to be seen but she found Will sleeping on the couch in the living room. He was leaning on the armrest as though he’d fallen asleep without intending to. Emma checked her watch and it showed that it was almost six o’clock. She went to her father’s office and saw him sitting in front of his computer, clicking his mouse to refresh the news. “Dad?” she said, but he didn’t seem to hear. She approached him and touched his shoulder and he trembled slightly, startled. “Oh, hey,” he said and rubbed his eyes. “Lost track of time.” “It’s almost six, Dad. Where are Jake and Lucy?” “What? Aren’t they in the living room? I guess I should get about making dinner. Why don’t you go look for them?” Emma went through all the rooms in the main floor and even checked the bathroom. She went downstairs into the basement and turned on the lights but there was nothing there but boxes, old furniture, and spiders. When she came back upstairs she reported that they were nowhere to be found. “Do you think they went home?” she said. “I don’t think they would,” he said. “Maybe Will knows what happened.” Emma put Mr Jingles down on the couch next to where Sprinkles was sleeping and then went to Will. She sat down beside him and shook him gently and whispered his name. “Oh,” he said. “Hey. I fell asleep.” “I know you did, silly,” Emma said. “Did you see where Lucy and Jake went? They’re not anywhere here.” Will sat up straight, suddenly very awake. “What? Are you sure?” “I looked everywhere,” Emma said and she became very worried because of his reaction. “They wouldn’t sneak out, would they?” Will said. “I don’t know,” she said. “What do you think happened, Will?” “Jake was talking about going to the forest,” Will said. “I think Lucy probably wanted to also.” William Wilkins came over to them and sat down heavily with his two children. He looked out the window into the darkening sky for a long while before hugging them both to him. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “But now we’ve lost them too.” Emma felt like crying. Everything had gone so very wrong. She looked around her dark house and felt as though the shadows were closing in on them and the night was coming for them. “No,” she said. “They can’t be lost, Dad.” Mr Wilkins held her closer. “Please no,” she said. When Lucy and Jake arrived at the Paigely Builders construction site, they followed the sound of chatter until they came upon a throng of people who were gathered around the portable security office there. The crowd was separated roughly into three groups. Off to one side, there was a group of men from the army. At the front of the crowd, there were uniformed police officers. Behind them, arrayed in a loose fashion, there were people dressed in plain clothes.
Everyone was armed. They were all watching a tall, gray-haired man who was standing just outside the security office. “…spread out but be sure to keep visual contact with the men on your flanks,” he was saying. There was a big map taped to the side of the portable office and he was pointing to it and drawing on it with a marker. “Who’s that?” Jake said to Lucy. She shrugged but a man from the back of the crowd turned toward them. Lucy recognized him as the Wilkinses’ next door neighbour. “He’s Doug Peterson,” he said. “Chief of Police.” “Thank you,” Lucy said. “Mister…” “Thornton,” he said. “I live next door to Professor Wilkins. I saw the both of you there a couple of days ago when the horse ran through the neighbourhood.” “I remember,” Lucy said. “Hang on a second, haven’t I seen you around the biology department?” Lucy nodded. “Biology student. First year though, and I’m thinking of maybe switching to physics.” He laughed. “Wilkins is getting to you, eh? Well, I teach biology at Saint Martin. You’ll certainly be in one of my classes in your upper years if you stick with the program.” “Cool,” Lucy said. Doug Peterson finished his speech and the crowd started to disperse. “What’s happening now?” Jake said. “We’re moving into the forest,” said Professor Thornton. “Well, the rest of us are. But what are the two of you doing here?” “We’re coming with you,” Jake said. “We have information.” “Oh, you do? Well, we must speak to Chief Peterson immediately.” He led them through the crowd until they reached the security office. “Doug,” said Professor Thornton. “I found these kids here. They say they want to come help search and that they have some information.” Lucy knew that the tone that Professor Thornton was using meant that he didn’t take them seriously. She rolled her eyes. “Well,” Chief Peterson said. “What is this information?” He looked at Jake. The boy stood up straighter. It seemed that he was impressed by the uniform. “It’s about the monsters in the forest,” Jake said. “There is a minotaur and he’s taking people and he’s got my dad and her mom and dad too.” The two men exchanged glances. “You two are both missing your parents? Who’s looking after you?” “My mom is working,” Jake said. “And no one is looking after Lucy.” “Okay, Jake,” Lucy said. “I think we should go. This was a bad idea.” “But Lucy,” said the boy, “someone is finally listening and doing something.” “Indeed we are, my boy,” said Doug Peterson. “Please, step here into my office and you can give us more details.” He opened the door to the portable office and waved them in. Jake didn’t hesitate. Lucy rolled her eyes again but followed after the boy. She couldn’t leave him alone now. As soon as she was inside, Chief of Police Doug Peterson slammed the door closed and Lucy heard it being locked. She looked at the door and saw that the lock could only be operated using
a key. “These things are used to detain people,” Doug Peterson said through the door. “They roll them out at demonstrations and the like. Nothing permanent, just until they can be taken away. It should hold you kids in there for a bit. Hang tight. Someone will be here soon to pick you up.” They heard the two men walk away. “It’s for the best,” Professor Thornton said. “We can’t have them following us into the forest…” Their voices faded away. “Well,” Lucy said, turning to Jake. “So much for that.” She frowned. Jake was laughing. “What?” she said. “Look up there, Lucy. The windows.” It took her a moment to think it through but then she laughed as well. There were windows in the portable office. They were high up and they were too small for an adult, but maybe one of them could squeeze through. They pushed the desk next to the wall and Lucy climbed up to inspect the window. “Okay,” she said. “I don’t know, Jake. Emma could probably fit through here but I don’t think either one of us could.” Jake went up on the desk with her. They tried to open the window but it wouldn’t budge. “We could bash it with something,” he said. “But I think you’re right. I don’t think we’d fit.” Jake climbed down and took a look around the room. Lucy leaned against the wall and watched him. The boy looked in all the desk drawers and in the filing cabinets. He frowned. “Wait a second,” he said. “We came here once. Me and Emma. A guard found us in the forest and brought us here. I remember he was chewing gum. It was annoying.” Lucy didn’t understand but she watched the boy drop to the ground and crawl under the desk. She climbed down just as Jake found what he was looking for. There was a piece of gum stuck to the underside of the desk and attached to it was a shiny silver key. “Maybe it’s the spare,” he said. She tousled the boy’s hair. “Let’s see,” she said and they went to the door. The key slid into the lock easily. They were free. They left the security office and went on their way toward the forest. When they came within sight of the trees, they saw the last of the searchers disappear under their cover. They ran after them. As they reached the forest, Lucy signalled for Jake to stop. “Okay,” she said, “we should follow behind someone but try not to let them see us.” “Okay,” Jake said. They took one step into the forest and suddenly they were surrounded by it. In every direction there was nothing but trees. The construction site from which they had come was nowhere to be seen. “That’s weird,” Lucy said. Somewhere in the forest there was thunder.
14 Battle Song “You’re right.” Mr Wilkins stood up. He walked to the window and looked out down the the road toward the direction of the forest. He was hunched over like a tired man, defeated, but as the moments went by they watched him breathe in and out. With each breath he stood a little straighter, a little more determined. He turned toward them. “You’re right, Emma. We can’t just give up. I’ll go look for them. Maybe I can get Domino to help.” “I’ve been trying to call him all afternoon, Dad,” Emma said. “I’m afraid something might have happened to him.” “Well, I have to try,” he said. Emma nodded. “So do I,” she said. She could see that he was going to object or maybe try to forbid her from leaving the house. Emma thought that it might be easier to just let him order her to stay and then go to the forest when he was gone. She decided against that because whenever she had tried to be sneaky, everything had turned out wrong. “No, Emma, you stay here,” he said and turned to the boy. “You watch that she goes nowhere. Restrain her if you have to.” He started toward the door but Emma stood up and blocked his way. “No, Dad!” she said. “I have to go, you see. You need me. You won’t be able to do anything at all if something has happened to Domino. I can talk to anything, Dad. I can ask for help and like you said before, maybe it doesn’t matter where we are in the world because this thing will eventually get there.” William Wilkins took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Emma knew that he was really thinking about what she had said. He always considered things carefully, often slowly, and he was a reasonable man. “I think she’s right, Dad,” Will said. He stood up and joined them. “Besides, I’ve been thinking about it. I know I haven’t said much since the beginning but all this has been really hard to believe. But I’ve been paying attention and listening and I don’t think all this could’ve been for nothing. It seems to me like the trees know things so there is probably a part for Emma to play.” Mr Wilkins frowned. “And a part for us, Dad,” Will said. “Me, you, Jake, and Lucy.” There was a long silence and then a sigh. “Okay,” Mr Wilkins said finally. “Will, go to the basement and get us some flashlights. I don’t know what else we might need. We don’t have any weapons and it’s not like we’d know how to use them.” “We’ll use our best weapons. Our brains!” Emma said. “You used to say that.” “I did,” he said and chuckled. Emma ran to her room. She went under her bed and took out her old yellow lunchbox. Beside it there was a plastic bag filled with leftover ribbons from when they had been searching the forest. She took out the longest of these and tied both ends to the lunchbox’s handle. They probably weren’t going to need anything that was inside the lunchbox but it contained all her
most valuable possessions and she didn’t know what was going to happen from then on or where they might end up. She slung the strap over her shoulder and walked out into the hall just as Mr Jingles rejoined her. “What’s in there?” Will asked her when he saw her come out. “Just knick-knacks, mostly.” “Why are you bringing it?” “I don’t know,” she said. “Probably just so that it gets in the way.” “You’re a dork,” he said and handed her a flashlight. She took it in her left hand while she held her flute in her right. As they were about to leave the house, Mr Wilkins turned toward Will and said, “Where are you going?” “I’m coming too, of course,” he said. Mr Wilkins seemed about to argue but instead he shook his head. “Of course,” he said and stepped outside. Emma and Will exchanged a smile. Will nodded and they both exited into the night. They didn’t know it then but it was the last time that they would ever see the house where they had grown up. The three Wilkinses and the jackalope walked down the street under the darkening sky. They neared the little dog's house and saw him sitting on his porch. When he saw them pass, the dog with the big ears stood up and let out a great, big howl. Emma knew that he was wishing them good luck. As they approached Glenridge Forest, they began to hear the sounds of the battle. There were gunshots and there was thunder. By the time they reached the tree line, the sky was dark, the gunshots were less frequent, and the thunder was more intense. A squirrel ran out into the road and fled down the street. A group of large birds squawked overhead and sped past them into the night. “Another step,” said William Wilkins, “and there’s no turning back.” “It’s true,” Emma said. “The forest is like a labyrinth.” Before anyone could say anything more, Emma put the end of her flute into one of her pockets and the end of the flashlight into the other. She reached out and took her brother’s hand in hers and then did the same thing with her father. Mr Jingles, she knew, would follow. “Here we go,” she said and stepped forward. They were surrounded by the forest. From inside it, the sounds of fighting and screaming were loud and clear. There was a dull thudding there also, like drums beating a regular rhythm underneath it all. “What now?” Will said. “Seems easy from here,” Emma said. “Just follow that noise and hope Domino or someone on our side shows up.” “Who else is on our side?” Emma pursed her lips. “I have no idea.” They turned on their flashlights and started to walk. As they moved, they heard the sound of creaking wood that had accompanied Emma the last time that she had been in the forest during the night. She was frightened and she could see that Will was too. Mr Wilkins had a curious look on his face but she thought that maybe underneath it there was fear. Emma had no idea what would happen, and she hoped that Domino would come and that he would tell them what to do.
They walked for a while. Emma looked down at her watch and saw that it was already seven thirty. There was something funny about the time but she couldn’t figure out what it was. The cartoon mouse made her want to laugh. Maybe it was because of the contrast between the happy watch and the horrible sounds that she was hearing. “My batteries died,” Will said suddenly. They stopped where they were and looked at the boy. His flashlight had gone out and he was shaking it, trying to get it to work again. Mr Wilkins asked to see it but, as he was about to take it in his hands, his own flashlight went out as well. “This is strange,” Mr Wilkins said. “These should be fresh batteries.” “I don’t think it’s the batteries,” Will said and the last of the light went out as Emma’s flashlight stopped working also. They were blind in the night. “Give me your hands,” Mr Wilkins said and the children did so. “We’ll wait for our night vision.” He sat down on the ground and pulled them down with him. Emma felt Mr Jingles jump on her lap. From the dark of the night there came a new sound. It was as though someone had whistled. It was far away at first but another whistle followed it. It sounded closer. “Someone’s coming,” Will said. Emma squeezed his hand. “Quiet,” Mr Wilkins whispered. “Maybe they won’t notice us.” A third whistle sounded much closer this time and it was answered by yet another one from a different direction. There was another whistle, and another, and another. Emma’s heart beat hard in her chest as the whistlers came closer and multiplied. They were coming from all directions and they sounded as though they were moving straight toward them. It was a mad cacophony of whistling that made her ears hurt. Even her father was squeezing her hand too hard. “Maybe we should run,” Mr Wilkins said. “Blind in the dark.” Emma took her hands away from them and clutched her flute. “Music is light,” she said and began to hum. She hummed a song she’d heard maybe once or twice before but she had never forgotten. She didn’t know the name of it but she hummed and hummed as the mad whistling came closer and closer. When it seemed as though the whistlers were right upon them, Emma’s flute began to glow and it lit their surroundings. She stood up, as did her brother and her father. The light of the flute revealed that they were surrounded by steam but it was quickly dissipating. The whistling ceased. In the light of the flute they saw, stopped in their tracks, short creatures with stubby legs. They were like dogs but they had the ears of cats. Will couldn’t help but laugh. “What are they?” he said. They were just standing there now, staring at them. Mr Wilkins chuckled. “Teakettlers,” he said. “Very shy creatures, supposedly.” He raised his hands in the air. “Shoo!” he said, gesturing. “Off you go now! Shoo!” The teakettlers moved away from them, walking backward, until they disappeared into the dark. “What a teakettler?” Will said. “Those things,” Mr Wilkins said, grinning. “You should look them up when this is all done. They whistle like a teakettle, that’s why the name, and they only walk backwards.” “All stories are true,” Emma said.
Mr Wilkins turned to her. “The humming. I didn’t know you liked Beethoven. But the light is still on and you’re not humming anymore.” “I didn’t either,” she said. “But that’s strange. I guess I don’t need to hum with my voice. I’m still doing it on the inside.” Emma looked at her watch. It was seven forty-five. Funny, that, she thought, and smiled at the cartoon mouse. They walked on into the night, their way shown by the light of the flute. “I wonder what else is out there,” Will said as they walked among the trees. “Everything,” Emma said. They said no more until they reached the clearing. The grinning gray mouse on her watch told Emma that it was eight fifteen when it happened. Emma almost giggled at the mouse but before she had the chance, the thunder was upon them. It was like waking up from a dream. A single step had taken them into an enormous clearing with a single tree in the middle. This clearing was big. It was a great, roughly circular field with a lone giant tree in the middle. Emma knew that this wasn’t her tree, not Mr Oak, but it was his twin, the one that was helping Minotaur. She also knew that this enormous clearing wasn’t a normal part of the forest but it was as though all the trees had moved away to make room for what was happening inside it. It was a picture of chaos. Surrounding the tree, there were dozens upon dozens of restrained human beings guarded by creatures of all kinds. There were centaurs, chimeras, trolls, gorgons, and harpies, among others. More creatures were coming into the clearing and they were carrying or dragging screaming or unconscious humans. Now and then, one of the prisoners would get away and run for the trees but he or she would be caught almost immediately and dragged back to the group and punished. Near the great tree in the middle stood the minotaur. He was like a general watching his troops. He was standing next to a portal that had opened in the great trunk of the tree and he was supervising as trolls snatched up the closest humans and threw them into the opening, one by one. “Oh my god,” Mr Wilkins said. Emma stopped her humming immediately so that they wouldn’t attract attention. They didn’t need the light anymore for the sky was scorched there. It was red and it seemed broken like someone had taken a hammer to it and shattered it. “Lucy,” Will said. Emma turned to where he was pointing and saw her. She was one of the prisoners near the edge of the group. She was sitting on the ground and she was bloody and dirty. Her head hung down to her chest. There was a gash across her forehead and streaks of blood ran down her face. Emma didn’t see Jake anywhere near her. “What now?” Will said. “I don’t know,” Mr Wilkins said. “It doesn’t look like there is anything we can do.” Lucy looked up from where she was sitting. She looked straight at them and her eyes widened. She took a frantic look around and then stood up and stumbled toward them. The girl looked like she could fall at any moment. Lucy only took a dozen steps before she was noticed by one of the trolls that was lumbering about. He ambled toward her at a leisurely pace but its giant steps brought him upon her quickly. Emma ran toward them. She got to halfway between them and the edge of the clearing and then she raised her flute in the air and hummed. “Hey!” she called to the troll. “Here!”
The beast stopped for a moment and looked at her, seemingly puzzled. He gave her a frown and then looked at Lucy, who collapsed to the ground. He left her there and moved toward Emma. “Dad, get Lucy!” Emma said, and ran away from the girl and away from her family. Will and her father ran to Lucy and, together, they helped her up and walked her hurriedly toward the tree line. Emma ran, but the troll was too big and too fast. He was upon her quickly. He reached out with his enormous hand. Like a blur, the faun was between them. He crouched down on his goat legs and jumped forcefully into the troll, using his horns to batter the monster’s ribcage. Emma heard the loud crunch of breaking bones and saw the troll go limp and fall to the ground. “Why have you come here?” Domino said. “I needed to help my friends,” she said. “I called you but you wouldn’t come.” “Domino isn’t my real name, girl. I am called Satyr. No matter. There is nothing you can do now. He is too strong and we must go. Hurry!” There was thunder. They looked toward the great tree and Minotaur was no longer there. Thunder boomed again and the monster was standing next to them. A pained expression crossed Domino’s face but it was followed by determination. “Go!” he said to Emma and almost threw her toward the forest. She ran but looked back and saw the faun attempt the same thing that he had done to the troll. This time his opponent easily swatted him aside and he fell hard to the ground. Domino stood up and went at the minotaur again. Emma reached the forest and found Mr Wilkins and Will tending to Lucy. “Where is Jake?” she said. Lucy shook her head. “Gone,” she said and pointed toward the tree in the clearing. Emma thought she could hear her own heart breaking in half. She felt dizzy and her body went limp. She found herself sitting on the ground somehow. “Oh no,” was all she could say. Mr Wilkins came over to her but Domino burst in on the group. “What are you doing? Run!” he said. “Now!” They could hear the rumble of the ground behind him. “Lucy,” said Mr Wilkins, “can you run?” “Go!” shouted the faun. He picked up Emma and put her on his back. The others helped Lucy stand up. They ran together at first. Jingles hopped beside Domino. The thunder gave chase. “What can be done?” Mr Wilkins yelled as they ran. “Nothing!” said Domino. “If Minotaur could be stopped then maybe the rest would retreat, but only to come back again. It’s over.” “Can Minotaur be stopped?” “No,” shouted the faun. “There is no power in this world strong enough.” From her place on the back of the faun, Emma cried. Jake was gone and the world was ending. The roar of thunder was nearly upon them, and then the Minotaur would take them too. “I never showed Jake my present,” she said. “My new mouse watch.” She looked at the time and the grinning mouse said it was eight thirty. It made her giggle through her tears. “It’s eight thirty,” she said. “That’s funny.”
They broke into a clearing. It was Mr Oak’s clearing. Emma realized what it was that the faun was doing. Maybe there was a way out of this. They could be transported out. When Emma saw Mr Oak, the tree began to sing what sounded like a lullaby. It seemed that it was his way of saying that everything would be okay. “Retreat and regroup,” she said as the faun reached the ancient tree. “Hello, Mr Oak.” A line of light opened in the middle of the tree and it became a portal. The faun put her down and they both turned to look back the way they had come. The rest of the group wasn’t as fast as Domino. Emma managed a smile when she saw her family and her friend Lucy emerge from the forest and into the clearing. They had made it, and they would be safe for a while longer. Maybe they would be able to figure out some way to survive the end of the world. Mr Wilkins and Lucy smiled back at her. Will gave her a grin. There was thunder. In an instant, Minotaur was upon them and he burst into them and sent Will and Lucy flying. He picked up Emma’s father by his leg and twisted, drawing a scream from the man. Emma screamed along with him and started to run toward them. Domino grabbed her. The minotaur threw William Wilkins down to the ground. His leg was bent at an awkward angle. Emma punched at the faun to no avail. “No! Let me go!” she screamed. Domino picked her up and threw her at the portal in the tree. As Emma disappeared into the light, time seemed to slow down. She saw Minotaur raise a fist into the air to strike down her father. Behind the monster, inside the forest, there was lightning.
15 The Wizard and the Lightning Emma was floating in light. She was in a space without bounds. There was new knowledge inside her and she didn’t know how it had gotten there. One of the things Emma knew was that she was inside of the tree, and inside every tree, and that this was the place where every creature had come from. Another thing Emma knew was a song, but she did not know its purpose. A third thing she knew was the tree’s real name, and Emma realized that being told this was something very special and that she was privileged to hear it. The tree’s name was a song that was impossible to sing, but he was known as Life, and Yggdrasil, and Iusaaset, and more. A fourth thing she knew was that the tree had once been greater, but it had waned as all things, even the trees, someday must. A fifth she knew was that the tree’s twin was Knowledge. Emma was not able to measure the passage of time in any manner. She tried to look at her watch but she was only able to see the things that were shown to her. It was peaceful there, where she was, and she became content to just float alone with her new knowledge. A sixth thing she knew was that she would be betrayed, but not by whom. The seventh thing she learned was a big thing that could not come to her all at once because it would drown her. It had to be given to her a little bit at a time. Emma saw the world like it had been long ago, before any animal ever crawled or walked upon it. There were forests everywhere and they stretched from sea to sea. The planet was all green and blue and it seemed to ripple as the wind brushed the tops of the trees and made them sway. For a very long time the world was like this and so it would have remained but for the Lord of Light. It began on a day when a concept appeared. It was a new thing unlike any that the trees had ever imagined. Among their forests, there came a creature who could move about by his own will, one that could affect the world in the ways of his choosing. The creature was the Lord of Light. The trees saw the concept and they were curious about him and imagined more like him. In the light of the void they sang the new concepts, and they gave life to them, to the imitations of the original walker. It was in this way that the elves came to be, and the dwarves, and the unicorns, centaurs and minotaurs, gnomes and goblins, and dragons and all the beasts and creatures that ever walked the earth. They all came from the trees. They were birthed by their magic. They all came from the music. The Lord of Light was the first and he ruled over all the creatures of the world. A long time passed, and then everything changed with the arrival of a creature unlike any that had existed before it. In an unprecedented, impossible event, both Life and Knowledge defined a concept and contributed equal parts into it. The creature that came from this union was different. It was not as strong nor as fast as many of the others but it was cunning and it had a freedom to devise its own destiny in a manner that would prove devastating. While the rest of creation, save
the Lord of Light, had to abide by the will of the trees, these new creatures, human beings, could choose to follow their own ways. The reason for their independence was that no other intelligent creature could procreate like they could, in the manner of the animals. The rest relied on the trees to replenish their number but the humans could multiply among themselves. They soon spread throughout the world. In time, the Lord of Light came upon a human woman that he took as his wife. The woman became the night and she gained power over it. She was called the Queen of Darkness. For millenia, the Lord of Light and his Queen of Darkness ruled over the creatures of the world and all was in harmony. But there came a day when the Queen of Darkness fell in love with a human being and took him to her bed. The Lord of Light, heartbroken, fled the Earth and went to a new place that he created. The new place was called the World of Light. When they saw that the Lord of Light had gone, the humans ran amok. They found themselves unrestrained by his power. They could do as they would with the world. They brought down trees and they built houses. They killed the creatures that inhabited the forests and they ate them, and they wore their furs and made trinkets from their bones. The Queen of Darkness saw the destruction and she tried to interfere. The humans killed her and celebrated as they burned her body in a great pyre. As the humans went on with their mad conquest, many of the world’s creatures ran away or went into hiding. The majority of them followed the Lord of Light into his world and they were not remembered on Earth but for the myths and the legends that remained behind. In his world, the Lord of Light waited. He waited for the day when his heart would be mended, and the day when he would return and retake the earth, and punish the humans who had raped it. Emma was sitting on a bench. She was looking out into the night where the light spilled out into a bare field. She was on a porch in front of an old house. The bench and the porch creaked and groaned when she swung her feet. She looked down at her lap and saw that she was holding a flute. On her shoulder there hung a strap of blue cloth that was attached to the handles of a yellow lunchbox. She was sweaty and dirty and she didn’t know how she had gotten there or what she had been doing. “Hello, Emma,” said a voice. She looked to her right and there was a man sitting there on a big rocking chair. He was reading a tattered old book. “Hello, Mister,” Emma said. “Do you know how I got here?” “Yes, I do,” he said. “Can you tell me?” “You just appeared there,” he said and snapped his fingers. “Just like that. It’s an old trick. Old as the world.” He stood up and the porch creaked loudly. “Come on inside, Emma,” he said. “You look a mess.” The man went inside and Emma could think of nothing else to do but to follow. He led her to a kitchen and sat her down at an old rickety table. He poured her a glass of water and put it down in front of her. “Drink this,” he said. “It’ll help you remember.” Emma looked at the glass suspiciously. It was old and chipped, but she picked it up and
started to drink. She was thirstier than she remembered. She chugged the entire glass down. When she was finished she said, “More please, Mr Clarence.” His eyes twinkled. “Mr Clarence!” Emma said and her memory returned. She looked all around and stood up, alarmed. “Settle down, Emma,” he said. “You’re very far away from the forest now.” She sat back down. “Why am I here?” “The trees take you where you need to go, remember?” “Why do I need to be here? I don’t understand.” “Oh, probably just to talk to me,” he said. “Would you like some pie? I have some leftover apple pie in the fridge.” “No, thank you, Mr Clarence,” Emma said. “Alright, mind if I grab a piece?” “No, Mr Clarence.” The old man went to the fridge and took a great pie out of it. He pulled a plate out of the cupboard and cut a giant slice and sat down with it. “Are you sure you don’t want any? It’s delicious.” Emma’s stomach rumbled at the thought but she refused politely. “Have you read this book, Emma?” he said and passed the old, tattered volume across the table. Emma picked it up and looked at it. Her eyes widened. She knew the book well. “This is my favourite book!” she said and tapped her lunchbox. “I have my copy right here but it’s not as beat up as yours.” The old man laughed. “Well,” he said. “My copy is incredibly old so I have a good excuse.” He stood up and went back to the fridge and poured himself a glass of milk. “Would you like some?” “No, thank you,” Emma said. “I’m lactose intolerant.” “Yes, yes,” he said. “I’m trying to give up the stuff myself.” “What?” “Never mind,” he said and sat back down. “Now, listen to me, the reason you’re here is because you’ve let all these people get into your head and made you think that there is nothing you can do.” “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” “See,” Mr Clarence said. “There you go believing it. They all say that it’s all hopeless and that he’s too strong, and because they’re adults you believe them. But adults don’t always know what they’re talking about. They just try to sound that way to you so you don’t question them.” “I’ve been figuring that out,” Emma said. “So let me tell you,” Mr Clarence said. “They all have different reasons for saying there’s nothing you can do. Some of them may believe it, some might be trying to protect you, and some others might be doing it because they have secrets. But the point is, what I’m trying to get at is— hey, why is that your favourite book?” “I— well, I’m not sure,” she said. “I just like it, is all. I mean, he’s so little and almost no one believes in him and then he proves them all wrong.” The old man winked. “Well,” he said. “That didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it should. You’re much more than even I think you are, it seems. Come now, time for a little push out the door.”
He stood up and left the kitchen. Emma followed after him and soon they were right back outside where they had started. The man sighed a long sigh. “It’s all coming to an end soon,” he said. “Seems like forever and now the time is finally here.” “You sure seem to know a lot,” Emma said. “Well, yes, I do know a lot so it’s proper that it seems that way,” he said. Emma pursed her lips. She looked closely at the man and turned her head and squinted. “Who are you?” she said finally. The old man grinned a toothy grin, full of mirth. “A good wizard,” he said, winking again. “You need one in every good story.” “Did you know I was coming?” He nodded. “Of course, Emma. All I’ve been doing all these years is waiting for you.” He leaned down on one knee so that his face was in line with hers and looked her straight in the eyes. “Emma,” he said, and he placed a hand on her shoulder. “You are more special than you can imagine. You are going to go on to do great things, if I’m right, but you must start listening.” “Listening to what?” “Everything,” he said. “You haven’t been listening, Emma. Not at all. You must do so now. And to begin, you must go and save your friends and your family.” When he mentioned her friends and family, the reality of the situation crashed back down on her. She held back tears. “Nah,” she said. “It’s too late. Minotaur had them already when I was transported out.” Mr Clarence stood up and laughed. “Emma,” he said and grinned. “Is this your first time being transported by a tree?” “No,” she said. “It happened once before. Mr Oak saved me and sent me to Toronto.” “Mr Oak, eh? Good name,” he said. “Well, Toronto was the place where he sent you. But the question is: when did he send you?” Emma blinked. “It was the next morning.” He nodded. “What time is it, Emma? Let’s have a look at your funny little watch.” She frowned and looked at the gray mouse. “It’s eight thirty,” she said. “That’s funny…” Mr Clarence laughed a deep hearty laugh that made Emma giggle along despite it all. “Not a second to lose!” he said. “But if I’m so far aw— ah!” Emma jumped down from the porch. “Thank you, Mr Clarence!” she yelled as she ran off into the field. She saw him wave goodbye. When she was a good way away from the house, she raised her flute over her head and shouted, using the spark that was inside of her. It came to her easily now that she’d passed through the light of creation. “Titanius!” she said and her voice went out into the world like lightning. It was lightning that answered her call. The unicorn came in a flash of light and bowed. “Princess,” he said. He leaned down and she climbed onto his back. “Where shall I take you?” Emma pictured the clearing in her mind. “Be the lightning, Titanius,” she said and the world became a blur as the unicorn took her into the night.
The unicorn and the girl were like lightning. They were like lightning that had come down from the sky to run through the streets of Saint Martin. The residents of the city were, for the most part, locked inside their homes because of the state of emergency, but when Emma and Titanius approached, they felt a charge of electricity that compelled them to look out their windows. Those who saw them saw lightning but in their minds there burned the afterimage of an armoured princess on her steed, riding into battle. The world was a blur. Emma held on to Titanius, though her arms could not reach around his neck. His galloping was impossibly fast and she didn’t know how it was that she was holding on. In a blink, the black blur of the night became an autumnal rainbow and Emma knew that they had entered the forest. They snaked through the trees and soon they were back in the clearing. When they arrived, Emma saw the closing of the portal through which had she left. She was the lightning that she had seen. The rest of the scene was as she remembered. Domino was next to the tree with his arms outstretched as though he had just thrown her into it. Jingles was beside him. Will and Lucy were lying to either side of the monster. Minotaur had his arm up and he was about to strike her father. “Minotaur!” Emma shouted and the monster looked up at her. All eyes turned to the girl who sat astride the unicorn. “You have returned,” Minotaur said. His voice was a mad growl. The fire in his eyes was more intense than Emma remembered. Emma jumped off the unicorn and approached the minotaur. She spoke, and her flute was alight. “You must leave this world, Minotaur,” she said. “Go back to where you came from and return all the prisoners.” There was a vicious growl from the minotaur and Emma knew that he was laughing at her. He took a step toward her and, despite herself, Emma stepped back. “Is that so?” Minotaur said. “And how do you suppose you’re going to enforce this decree, Your Serene Highness?” There was mockery and evil dripping from his voice. Emma didn’t have an answer to his question. “You don’t know, do you?” he said. “You don’t know anything, little girl, and the things you know are all lies.” The monster threw his head back and filled the night with a great roar. “They all have lied to you and you don’t know it. The faun most of all. He never even told you his real name, did he? Domino, he calls himself, because he’s the one to set the pieces in motion.” He took another step toward Emma. He was all power. She stood her ground but trembled. “Even this one,” he said, pointing at her father. “Even this one has been lying to you all along.” Emma saw her father look away from her. He was in pain but, despite that, she could see that he was ashamed. “What does he mean, Dad?” Emma said. The monster roared again.
“You think he’s your father?” Minotaur said. “You’re just talking,” Emma said. “I don’t believe anything you say.” “Why would I lie to you, little girl? I could crush you in a moment and be done with it.” The minotaur turned suddenly and snatched something out of the air. It was Domino. He had tried to sneak up on the monster. Minotaur held him by the head in one giant hand and the faun hung like a doll. “I had enough of you,” Minotaur said and he squeezed. The horns of the creature crunched under the monster’s grasp and he howled in pain. Minotaur threw him aside. “What now?” he said. “Who else will come to your aid? Who else is left? The horse? I will crush him as well, but no, he will not interfere in this. Will you, Titanius?” “I do not have to,” Titanius said and turned to Emma. “Princess, how long will you suffer this fool’s speeches?” There was a certainty in his voice that reassured her somehow. “In my favourite book,” she said. “Almost no one believes in the hero but he proves them wrong.” Emma looked from Titanius to Mr Oak. The tree was glowing softly and there was a hum, a little song, coming from him, and it was as though he was singing to himself, content. Mr Jingles was nestled in the tree’s roots and he was humming along. She looked from the tree to Will and Lucy. They smiled at her. She looked to her father. There were tears in his eyes but also hope. He smiled as well. “Almost no one,” Emma said. There was a roar from the beast as he laughed once again. Minotaur looked down at her. “Enough,” he roared. “Enough of this game.” He took another step toward her and he was upon her, towering above her head. The girl and the monster faced each other beneath the red sky. Emma was trembling but she held her ground. “You’re right,” she said to him, and a light surrounded her. “That’s enough.” From the edge of the clearing came the voice of Titanius. “Finally,” the unicorn said. “You see,” Emma said to the minotaur. “What I said, that’s just in the children’s stories. I’m just wasting time. Tricking you, see. What I’ve really been doing is listening.” Emma had been thinking it over as they had been speaking. In her new language, the language of the music, she had spoken and she had hummed and she had shouted. There was one thing that she hadn’t done yet and the tree had been showing her what it was. It was the most powerful thing, the thing from which everything had come, and the thing that gave the trees themselves their power. Emma sang, and it was not with her voice but with the light that was inside of her. It was the song that she had learned when she had been inside the light of creation. It was a song of power and a song of life, and she knew that there was no one in this world who could stand against it. The light that surrounded Emma grew and exploded from the flute that she held. She raised her hand over her head and a beam of light shot to the heavens. The red sky shattered and the pieces fell to the ground like glass and revealed the moon and the stars. The minotaur cowered and he winced at the light. He covered his ears as though the song caused him great pain. “Leave this world,” Emma said. “Now!” Minotaur ran. He reached the edge of the clearing and found that he could not pass into the forest. The trees that surrounded the clearing stood so close together that nothing could go through but the smallest critter. There was no way out but one. It was an opening in the trees that
led to a tunnel that they had made. The trees stood as walls there, and their leaves were like a ceiling. The minotaur ran into the tunnel. Emma and Titanius went after him. When they entered the passage, she saw that the trees that had made it all wore one of her ribbons. They sang to her as she passed and she knew that they were thanking her for the gift that she had given them, and that this is what they were giving her in return. The tunnel led straight to the larger clearing where all the prisoners were gathered and where the monsters guarded them. Emma burst into it and all eyes turned toward her. They all saw the battle princess, bathed in power and light, and they saw the great Minotaur as he cowered and ran before her. Though they did not fully understand what was happening, the prisoners rejoiced. A cheer went up among them. Arnold Thornton saw the girl and the unicorn and he remembered the sight from before. “Emma!” he shouted and the crowd took this up. Shouts of her name spread through them as they cheered. The monsters who were their guards panicked and they fled. They ran over each other in their scramble to go through the portal of the tree. When Minotaur reached it, he pushed aside any who were in his way and threw himself into it. Titanius pulled short and they watched the rest of the monsters flee into the opening. Some moments later, the rest of Emma’s group emerged from the tunnel. Emma jumped off the unicorn and ran to them. Mr Wilkins was being helped on his way by Domino. “It’s broken,” he said, pointing to his leg. “I’m not surprised,” Emma said. Domino’s horns were crushed and there was blood coming out of them. She could see something like veins inside of what remained. Lucy was walking with Will’s aid. The gash on her head was still bleeding. Jingles ran up to Emma and she crouched down and picked him up. “Well,” she said to him. “Looks like you got the best of the bargain.” “I did, Miss Emma,” Jingles said and he sounded proud. “Will?” she asked. The boy shrugged. “I’m just bruised,” he said. “Nothing broken so I came out okay. How did you do all that?” “I went and had a chat with a wizard,” she said. She put the jackalope down and then put her arms around her father’s waist, careful not to hurt his leg. “My little girl,” he said. She sighed and squeezed him tighter and then looked up into his eyes. “I have to go after him,” she said. “I know,” he said. “He has Jake and everyone else. I don’t think I could stop you if I wanted to, anyway. Not after what you’ve done.” “I know, Dad.” “I’d come with you if it wasn’t for the leg,” he said. “I’d slow you down and get us killed. Someone has to sort out this nightmare, anyhow. We need to get all the injured home and everything. But maybe if I can find something like crutches—” “Dad,” Emma said. “You know I’m going alone.”
“Like hell,” Will said. “There is no way that I’m not going with you. I don’t care if you’re some sort of hero or something.” “You better hurry,” Domino said. “The portal won’t stay open for long.” “You won’t come?” Emma said. “No. I am forbidden from ever returning to the World of Light.” “Really? You must have done something really bad.” “Of course,” he said. “It had to do with you.” He winked as though he was joking but Emma thought that he was mostly serious. She turned to Lucy. “Listen, you take care of my dad, okay? He’s a physicist so he doesn’t know how to take care of himself.” “I will,” Lucy said. “Good luck, Emma.” “I’ll look after them too,” Domino said. “But you must hurry.” Emma nodded. She felt a scratch at her jeans and she looked down to see Mr Jingles. “You want to come too?” “I do, Miss Emma!” he said. Emma pursed her lips. “Listen to me,” she said. “Lucy is taking care of my dad but someone needs to take care of Lucy. Do you think you can do this important job for me?” The jackalope’s eyes went very wide. “Yes, I can, Miss Emma!” he said. “I’m honoured!” “Thank you, Mr Jingles,” she said. Emma hugged them all again one by one and then she stepped back and took a deep breath. “Come on, big brother,” she said. Emma and Will Wilkins walked toward the tree in the middle of the clearing and the crowd parted before them. As they walked, there was clapping and cheering from all sides. There were shouts of Emma’s name. Later, after all the prisoners were returned home, they would tell the tale of the Battle Princess and how she had come to their rescue on a great unicorn, straight out of a storybook, and saved them from the minotaur who had taken them. But the tale wasn’t over, and an even greater threat was on its way, a crisis that would envelop not only the City of Saint Martin, but the entire world. When Emma and Will reached the Tree of Knowledge, they turned and waved goodbye to the crowd and to their friends and family. “Are you scared?” Emma asked him. “Terrified,” Will said. “Me too.” She took his hand in hers, turned toward the tree, and together they walked into another world.
the story continues in Emma and the Prince of Shadows www.jonherrera.ca
All stories are true. Emma Wilkins is eleven years old and she lives on Belle Street. In the forests of Saint Martin, a great power has a...
Published on Oct 1, 2013
All stories are true. Emma Wilkins is eleven years old and she lives on Belle Street. In the forests of Saint Martin, a great power has a...