I floated in nothingness. I tried to raise my hand to look at it, but could not see it, and felt nothing there. There was a buzzing, static hum in the air that surrounded and absorbed me, until I lost all sense of where I was, and drifted. Thoughts moved around through space, swirling in the black, and I could not tell if they belonged to me, or someone else. Maybe some version of a boy that was lost and scared, but I did not recognize who he was, or if there was really anyone there at all.
It was unpleasantly warm, the air stifling and muggy, and I felt as if I were choking, and could not breathe. Everytime I tried to, it only felt like I was sucking on a velvet rag that was shoved in my mouth, and down my throat.
Other than the mild discomfort, it was almost something like sleeping, almost like how I imagined death would be like. This was it. The end of the line. Nothing and nothing, forever. But if there was nothing, and I was dead, how was I thinking these thoughts? I tried to follow a line of logic, but could not keep more than one thought from creeping into my mind at a time. They were frayed, and disconnected. Random spurts of memory and feeling. A snapshot here, a fragment there. Images of a man vaguely familiar to me, getting into a car and starting it. Pangs of sadness, a tugging at my heart. A picture of a ruined birthday cake, candles smashed in and crooked, frosting smeared, the number seven on it warped and smudged. I wondered who it belonged to.
Then back to nothingness again, and it stayed that way for some time, I was not sure how long it was. It could have been seconds or minutes, or days or years. But however long it was, eventually, I heard something. A voice. It spoke through the darkness, ringing loud and clear, like a shot through the night.
“Hold on to yourself, boy.”
It was the voice of Ms. Cleary, and then suddenly, I came back to myself, was no longer slipping further away, and into the dark. My mind clung to those words, and repeated them over and over, like a mantra. And every time I repeated them, I heard her voice again, and I could see her face, and knew that she had arrived at last to help me. But she was too late. There was little she could do to help me now. It was over. But still I repeated the words, and still, I held on to my hope. That was all that I had left then. All that I was.
Then, a pinhole of light. A faint star in the distant black, light years away from me. It flickered and shone, and was growing, gradually. I could see nothing else, just the blinding white light, or the suffocating black sea, there was no in between. The white light grew and grew, until it enveloped me, and swallowed me whole, and I was forced to stare into it. All the while, I repeated the words of Ms. Cleary in my head. Hold on to yourself, boy. I knew, that if I ever stopped listening to those words, and did not repeat them to myself, I would be lost once more, and never be able to find my way out.
Suddenly I was cold again. I could feel. I raised a hand to my face, and saw it there this time. Light pooled outward from my hand, and when I looked down, I saw that it was coming from my entire body. I glowed, and shone, with a light that blended into the dazzling whiteness around me.
As I stared closer at my hand, trying to see the point where the light from it stopped and the whiteness began, it started to blur, and vibrate, making a small, humming noise. The humming grew, and turned into a large, thrumming rattle, that shook my whole body. I was jolted upward then, one great shake up, and then back down. Again, the jolt, but this time larger. The third time, I felt something like a hand grabbing hold of the scruff of my shirt, and yanking me up and out. The whiteness vanished back to its small dot, then briefly, I was in the dark, until at last I was being coughed out, and thrown up, onto the grass and out of Owd Hob.
Ms. Cleary was there, and already at my side, and she was holding me. Owd Hob was crouched on the ground just above me, on his hands and knees, and panting.
“I told you, this is it,” she was saying to him. “You’ve done what you came for, what I brought you here to do. Now get!” I could hear my uncle behind me, no longer frantically scooting away. His breath was harsh and ragged. It came slow, and was unevenly spaced.
Owd Hob snarled. “You can’t stop me, wench! You have no power to send me back.”
Ms. Cleary hacked back something in her throat, and spit it on the ground.
“Maybe not,” she said. “But I don’t have to.”
Owd Hob lunged forward, and then there was a sound of a thousand whips all cracking at once, and he was flat on his face, on the ground. Another crack, and he was lifted up, and into the air, laid flat, wis arms and legs out. Then with a slow, grinding sound, he was stretched out. He made a sound like screeching tires and power tools, whirring and screaming in pain. He was stretched, further and further, until he was so thin and so fine, that he was not much else but a line.
Ms. Cleary was standing now, and her hands were held out, fingers twitching in the air. The line wiggled, and contorted, and then flew, straight as an arrow, and through the walls of Ms. Cleary’s house. And then there was silence, and Ms. Cleary lowered her hands. She looked down at me, and smiled.
“It’s okay now boy,” she said to me. “It’s over.”
I had no energy at all, and felt as if I were only a cloud of smoke, that could be blown out into nothing with the wave of a hand. It was then that I realized that I was still gone from my body, but it was only a passing thought, as weariness overcame me, and I fell back. I felt my eyes closing, and then a sudden rush of motion and wind.
I hit the ground hard, as if I had fallen straight down, and landed on my back. The breath was knocked out of me, and I gasped, strained for air. My eyes teared open to the sight of trees and branches above me, and a dark, cloudy sky. I was back in the forest. Back in my body, at the fairy ring.
I struggled to my feet, and managed to stand still, and steady, hold my balance. I felt dizzy, and slightly nauseous. I picked up the mirror from the ground, looked into it, and thought of Ms. Cleary.
She was kneeling above my uncle, staring down at him. He was gasping for breath now, and looked very pale. She cradled his head in her hands, and was speaking so softly, that I couldn’t hear what exactly she was saying, or if she was saying anything at all, and not just mumbling to herself.
My uncle’s eyes were foggy, and distant, and seemed to be looking just over Ms. Cleary’s shoulder, and into the mirror, as if he could see me watching him. There was blood running down his chin, from out of his mouth.
Then Ms. Cleary spoke.
“You should come now,” she said, and I knew she was speaking to me. “And fast. We need to move him, and I can’t do it by myself.”
I was taking off then, down the path and through the forest, as fast as my legs could carry me. My knees pumped up, and my mind was focused, and centered. I tore through the winding path, holding tight to the mirror in my hand, cupped it like a football to my side. I broke through the line of trees, and out into the field, speeding ahead now that I could see the fence across the meadow.
When I reached the fence I jumped up, and clung onto it like Spider-man sticking to a wall, and clambered up and over it as fast as I could carry myself. I held onto the mirror the whole way, and was careful not to drop it, and when I swung over to the other side I dropped down, nearly the whole ten feet, and stumbled on the ground, and fell. Then I was back up, and running again.
Ms. Cleary was still there, kneeling down next to my uncle. His shirt was covered in blood, and his hands were clasped over his stomach. His eyes were open, but they looked glassy, like they weren’t really seeing anything. Ms. Cleary’s face was grave, and she barely inclined her head in acknowledgement at my arrival.
“Come on, and help me lift his legs,” she said to me. “We’ve got to get him into the garden.”
I walked around the side of her, and she stood up. When I grabbed onto my uncle’s legs they were stiff, and cold. She and I carried him around the hedge and through the fence, and an awful stench followed us as we brought my uncle into Ms. Cleary’s garden.