Summer was burgeoning in the air around her, soft golden trickling between the treetops like honey, the air sweet with flowers’ promise. Her eyes opened, the almost lavender grey irises unfocused and dreamy. She stretched, splaying her toes in the soft green grass, her arms trailing in the stems of scattered daisies. A smile skittered across her face until the world came sharply into focus.
Pushing herself up to a sitting position, Anna looked around at her. This could be the lake that her grandmother had taken her every holidays. A pang of loss for her Marmie made her sag for a moment. She hadn’t thought about Marmie in years. Not since…
Anna was instantly on her feet. This would be the first time she had met a supernatural that could conjure so vivid an illusion. And one cast from her past. The fighter’s stance engaged, Anna’s eyes narrowed, scanning the field. Nothing to see beyond the waving of the heavy grass heads, the tremble of leaves. The back of her neck prickled, her extra sense was never wrong. Anna couldn’t feel anything particular in the lengthening shadows, but there was a certainty to the prickling.
Cursing whatever had caused her to be in this field, and in a frilly sundress no less, Anna took off across the field. She would start moving, keep into the edges. It would mean she could see less, but their vision would be impaired too. Just enough time for her to think about her next move.
If this was the field at the house, then over there would be the lake and the willow trees. Sliding between tree trunks, sinuously side-stepping, light on her feet. Twisting her head back, she didn’t see anyone, but there was a rhythm in the air like footsteps and Anna wasn’t fooled.
Beyond the trees, beside the brightly reflective lake, was the farm gate. It wasn’t as she remembered it. Burnished, it shone in the sun. Yet, beyond it was definitely the farmhouse, with the sagging porch and swing.
She ran. Bounding through the grass toward home, she stopped, one hand on the gate when a voice, mirth so dry it would tinder easily, said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Anna turned. Standing beside her in a sharply tailored suit was a young man, his face without a line, angles in all the right places. She crouched defensively.
His laughter was cold and crisp, like a brook bubbling in the depths of winter. His head was thrown back in a vulnerable position. Anna felt confused. This one was toying with her. They never normally had the patience for that. And the pull of his power was great, much more than the apparently irresistible allure of hers.
“Why not?” Gritted teeth kept her voice muted.
His expression was deadpan. “Because those, dear Anna, are the gates to your heaven.”
Anna was not falling for that one. She would not take her eyes off this creature, whatever he was, no matter his human suit. She did not trust one word out of his mouth. It was then that the voice drifted to her, light as air, but unmistakable. Her heart wrenched.
“Marmie,” she whispered. She desperately wanted to turn, her gaze to fall upon that familiar face. Rigorous training kicked in. She was being manipulated.
“What do you want, trickster?”
“Some of your rapidly running out time, Anna Forsythe.” A slender hand extended to her, as if to help her back to an even stance. Anna’s glare stopped that. The offer was withdrawn.
“Who are you?”
Chin dropping, the stranger looked at her. Immediately his skin began putrefying, pulling back tightly against his head, greying and withering before her eyes. Wind whipped up around them, the sands of time moving with hideous grace. He didn’t relinquish her gaze, even when one eye lolled in the deepening socket. A snap in the air around them, and the beautiful young man stood before her again. In a voice dearth of life, he replied, “I am the other inevitable.”
With a genuine inclination of his head, he admitted, “At least, I am the messenger of the inevitable.”
“Now you know, that if I wanted to overpower you, I would already have done so.” He extended his arm to her. “Shall we?”
Anna smoothed back the ashen pixie cut she wore. “You are not the first elemental I have met, you realise. I know not to take any of you at face value.”
With an expression of pity, he replied, “That you liken me to an elemental shows your fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. I am far older than they are. I have seen stars and worlds born and die. They were foundlings upon the doorstep of life.”
“But I promise,” he added, “that no harm will come to you while we talk.”
Anna felt the truth of his covenant stamped into the world about her. She let out the breath she had trapped.
Longingly, she looked backwards over the fence, to a familiar figure kneeling amongst the garden beds, the wide shady brim bobbing as weeds were tugged from their comfortable homes.
“Is that really her?” Anna’s voice trailed off with a vulnerable and wistful note.
“But if you go over that fence now, you aren’t ever coming back.”
Anna bowed her head for a moment. She let the longing and the hope wash over her, crashing into the hard wall she’d put up around herself since Marmie had died. Since she’d become the target of a world full of creatures who would do anything for power. It was so long ago that she barely remembered what safe felt like.
Leaving the gate behind with a resigned sigh, she took the man’s arm. Anna studied the scrawny figure, the hollow cheeks.
“What do I call you?” she asked. “I can’t this weedy casing death with a straight face.”
The light blue eyes twinkled as they looked back at her from beneath a shock of black fringe. “Why don’t you just call me Morte?”
Another prompt from Chuck Wendig, this time about a setting. Love to know what you think.