3.5 Bustle in the Hedgerow

by Matt P.

The forest was larger than Antigone had expected, a dense verdant mass almost dripping in the late summer humidity. The cicadas were deafening at first but once they were into the forest proper they dropped off significantly. It left the woods with a faint buzzing in the distance matched by the shuffle of their feet, in a dark lit only by the moon and the fireflies.

“Bonnie…” Annie whined, before she flushed a little bit angrily at herself for how whiny she sounded. “I didn’t wear hiking boots for a reason.” She grumbled. “Cause I didn’t want to go hiking, mostly.”

“Shh.” Siobhan responded simply as she continued to walk along carefully, stepping under low branches and thick leaves.

“And your perverse desire to see people doing it is…” Antigone struggled momentarily for a word. “Perverse.”

“You covered that. Now shut up, this is…sisterly bonding.” Siobhan said breezily as she continued walking along. Annie sighed, carefully stepping through some particularly sharp looking branches before she stepped out into an opening.

The first thing she saw was the gate. A stone arch held a large wooden door, pitted and partially rotted and looking as ancient as the night. Little stone clumps all around it indicated what had once been a house or a wall, the gray sharp and clean against the natural green. Beyond it lay carved stairs set with old flag stones that had as many chips and cracks as they did solid pieces. Unlike the gray stone they were a rich brown that seemed to grow from the very earth itself, and lead up to the flat top of a hill.

Antigone’s grumbles died on her lips as she walked after her sister. A dozen fireflies flitted around the scene, casting flickering shadows and fey light. The cicadas were utterly quiet, the stillness broken only by the flitting of wings and the shuffling of sandals and combat boots. Soon, before Antigone even realized, they were at the top of the stairs.

Rough gray stones lay in a circle, each slightly different but the same size and general shape. Though each was of dull stone they all contained little veins of glittering quartz that flickered with the firefly glow.

“Beautiful.” Siobhan said breathlessly, and Antigone couldn’t disagree. But it was a haunting beauty, like a mist-shrouded lake or the sight of a fire running wild across a plain.

“It is.” She agreed softly. Now entranced, she took her cell phone out and checked it—3 bars. She took a step to the edge of the circle, and stopped for a moment of consideration before she stepped out of her sandals.

“It’s a fairy ring.” Siobhan said, looking around the stones at the small mushrooms growing between them. “Like mom used to point out.”

With a tentative step Antigone passed into the ring, and her cell-phone immediately displayed ‘No Service’ where the three bars had been. She shook her head in wonder as she looked at it. “Check yours.” A shiver crossed her skin, a cool caress like fingers on her arms and the back of her neck. The stones flickered with the firefly’s dance for another moment, but it was gone so quickly she couldn’t be sure it had been real.

Siobhan took hers out, and paused for the same moment before she struggled out of her boots. Tentatively she stepped in to the ring as well, reaching for her phone. Her hand touched her pocket for only a moment before her eyes widened, her face going pale and a thread of blood began to trickle out of her nose. She fell down to the soft green grass, a silent scream on her darkly painted lips.