19. Under a pale moon

Nadia pulled back her head from the window to speak again to Peter but him, her aunt Sandra and the entire car had disappeared. Nadia was no longer seated in the back of the doctor old automobile on a sunny afternoon. She was in the middle of a forest, alone, and it was getting darker. Unable to speak, Nadia closed her eyes, hoping to open them and find herself again in the car, but even with her eye still closed she knew she was not in there. The chill air of a winter evening was pinching her cold nose and filling her lungs. She moved her hand to her head, to touch Peter’s headphones but she was not wearing them. The walkman had disappeared as well.

“It’s not funny.”

Said Nadia opening her eyes on a darker sky. All around there were trees and frozen grass, shimmering in the feeble light of a pale moon. She made a step and the grass cracked under her boot with a crunching sound.  She crouched, placed her hot hand on the iced grass and the hand cooled and wetted. Looking at her wet forefingers with a trembling lip Nadia felt on the verge of tears. She shouted in anger, instead, and she did it with all her breath. Her shout went away fastly in the sharp cold air, but no answer returned. With a sour throat, Nadia stood up on her feet and moved forward.

Like the day before the cold air had played with the hem of her skirt, that night the chilling air was blowing under the rim of her flannel shirt. She wrapped her bust with her arms as best as she could, for the breeze had got even colder and continued to walk straight forward. For an odd coincidence, no tree grew on her path. The only sound to accompany her was the cracking sound of the grass, as Nadia walked by. Her breath came before her in a soft white cloud which had the same pale colour of the moon above her.

Since she had started her self-taught practice of the Great Art, Nadia had had some very vivid dreams. She had experienced unusual coincidence. She had foreseen events. She had sent thoughts to people emotionally close to her through their dreams, and she had been able to conjure small spells. But nothing of that had come close to what she was living.

Nadia walked and walked. She walked until her nose was frozen and her lips were blue. After a while, she noticed a group of thicker trees ahead of her. Those trees had white slender trunks, thin, skeletal branches and cracks like eyes over their bark. No leaves hung from their nests of branches but on the ground, in the centre of the tree circle, Nadia noticed stacks of little white things, like small leaves or petals. Someone was seated upon the biggest pile, in the exact centre of the circle of white trees.Nadia kept on walking steadily towards those ring of trees and the figure in the centre.

Nadia kept on walking steadily towards those ring of trees and the figure at the centre. She wasn’t anticipating the moment of their encounter, but she was not hoping to escape it either. She knew that she could not avoid it, so running towards it was childish, and running away from it was futile. Regardless, all she really wanted at that precise moment was a blanket.

“You came!”

Said the pale woman when Nadia entered the circle of white trees.

“You dragged me.”

Wanted to say Nadia, but something in the lonely woman kept her from speaking. She seemed to be young, but something had robbed her of the looks of youth, like if her life energy had been sucked away. Her hair was dry, fuzzy and white like cotton candy. Her skin was like thin parchment paper. Her lips had deep cuts and her voice was hoarse like straw shaken by the wind.

Instead, she said: “Were you calling me?”

The woman nodded and the sound of her arid hair scratching against the tree bark made Nadia’s skin crawl.

“I was calling for help. I always call. See? I can’t walk. I can’t even stand.”

She moved her hand through the white petals, trying to push herself up, but she wasn’t strong enough. Nadia came close to her and sat in front of her, among those strange petals.

“Do you like my tears?”

Nadia regretted her action but didn’t dare to move.

“What or who did make you cry like this?”

The pale woman sighed and a single opaque tear surfaced from her reddened eye. It flew along her cheek and dried in a thin flower petal before falling from her chin.

“They stole my power!”

Whined the woman, lowering her head.

“How? Who?”

Asked Nadia with curiosity.

“Why do you want to know?”

Nadia didn’t know what to say.

“Do you care? Do you care about me?”

The white petals trembled. The trees seemed to bend over Nadia to better listen to her answer, to spy the truth on her face with those black eyes which opened in the cracks of the bark.

“I thought you cared about me. You visited my seal today.”

Nadia was happy the woman was not looking at her. She was in astonishment, and at the same time, she felt so silly. Of course, it was her! It could be no one else but her, the Roaming Witch. Then a hand colder than death crawled among the petals and closed itself around Nadia’s left wrist and she repressed a scream biting her lip.

“There, there. No need to tremble. – Said the pale witch, raising her head, and smiling to Nadia with sharp, thin, white teeth – Now we are together. Now we can fight back. Will you?”

Nadia opened her mouth to breath deeply, feeling like if she was drawing. The witch was piercing her with her red eyes and Nadia mirrored the nodding movement of the witch’s head.

“I take it as a yes.”

Nadia gasped again.

“Now I will tell you my secret and you will tell me yours.”

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