The voice cuts through my dream. Light penetrates the deep, breaking the dark colors in my mind. I open my eyes.
Dark branches swim in the air. The moon’s silver rays shimmer down through green leaves and play against my skin. A breath of wind touches my cheek. I raise my head, savoring its kind embrace.
A figure smiles at me from the foot of a pine. The trees shadow falls over it, shielding the slim form from my prying gaze. But it is a slim form. Slender and young.
Cold fingers run up and down my spine, raising the hair on the back of my neck. The night’s freezing air presses upon my thin frame, piercing like a knife. The thick layer of grass beneath my hands tickles my pale skin.
I catch my breath. “No! Please… not here!”
“Nightingale!” Something grabs my shoulders.
Shanndrae bursts like a bubble. Golden hair fills my vision and banishes the dark. I focus my bleary eyes upon it. “Mom?” My hands lower from the defensive position above my head.
“Yes, girl,” she soothes. A smiles curls her pink mouth. Pink and gentle, like everything else about her. I don’t resemble her. I don’t resemble Dad either. There isn’t anyone that looks like me.
“Why are you scared, Nightingale?” Reaching down, her hand touches a strand of black hair. “Were you dreaming?”
I hold perfectly still. Mom doesn’t touch me much. No one touches me. Why would they? I’m a demon, the dead reborn. But now I don’t move, savoring this small sample of her love. For she does love me. They both do. I don’t know why.
“No, I wasn’t dreaming. At least… I do not believe it was a dream.” I let the words go. The truth flows out in a steady stream. Not bitter. Trusting for once. “It was real. She was watching me. I felt the wind blowing.”
She smiles, still stroking my hair. “Don’t worry. You were still asleep.”
My mouth opens without my consent. Words crowd to it, ready to explain, to tell her all that needs to be told. I force them back, swallowing as one would with a bitter pill. She doesn’t understand.
“It is time to go, Nightingale.” A sly smile flashes across her face, followed closely by amusement. “Harvest day, remember?”
“Harvest day,” I repeat, rolling my eyes. “Brilliant. I get to spend another evening watching everyone else have fun. I always enjoy that.”
The smiles comes out from hiding. “Not this time. We had a visitor. Peregrine wanted to ask you if you would come to the dance with him, on the condition that you were recovered. You were sleeping, so I took the liberty of giving him your answer. Better get dressed.”
“Peregrine!” I spit the word out. “Hawk said he had a girl, he told me earlier. What happened? You’re joking, right?”
She sits up, hand resting on her knee now. “She got sick. He said she was “moving the contents of her stomach into a bowl.””
I push myself up. Large black eyes look up at her, pleading for a slight ray of hope. “Can I get out of it? I don’t want to go out tonight.”
“Sweetie…” her head cocks to the side. “You can’t spend your entire life up here.” She points out the window, eyes trained on my face. “The world is out there, Nightingale. You can’t hide from your future.”
My gaze follows her fingers, staring out at the darkening scene outside. The sun sinks low in the sky. Birds are returning to their homes. Already I can see families walking towards the gray shape of the meeting hall. “I don’t think this my future.”
“You don’t know that!” She flings the words in my face, hurling them across the room. I glance back at her.
Color has left her features, drained away until all that is white as snow. Blue eyes stare at me fearfully from a frame of golden hair. I’ve frightened her.“You don’t know. Wait a little. Don’t give up all hope. There might yet be a way out for you.”
I look down. Somehow I know, can feel, that she is utterly wrong. My future isn’t going to be found among friends and family. There is no safety in the path before my eyes. Only death and uncertainty. No hope.
My eyes go up, meeting her clear gaze. The black of the night touches and clashes with her blue sky. “No, you are wrong. Mom, I never had hope. There is no memory of me ever thinking I would or could belong. My future is beyond. Under dark trees. And yet…” my voice dies away, thoughts straying to the song that echoes through the night. To the woman that watches me at all hours. “I do not believe it is time for me to go. Not for a while. She is calling me, but not giving it her all. Something is lacking. She waits for something. But when the times comes, I will go. It is what I was made for.”
“You’re followed a dream, Nightingale.”
I nod. “A dream… yes, that was it. Follows dreams of mist and song.”
“You need to wake up. Stop thinking of what has already passed. Let the dead alone. Amber Shanndrae does not concern you.”
“It says “Mingle with the dead.”” My smile grows, beaming at her. A laugh wells up inside. Slightly crazed, more filled with despair than with anything else. “Haven’t you noticed, Mom? I haven’t even passed into the woods. Still I fulfill many of the conditions they listed.”
“You are letting this happen!” Her hand goes out, searching along the floor for the trapdoor. Her eyes stay trained on me, overflowing with despair and salty tears. “This is what you are choosing. It didn’t happen, you permitted it to happen. If it is what you want, then go! Choose for yourself!”
The door comes open. Blinking back tears that threaten to block her vision, she scrambles down it. Her blue dress sticks on the edge. She yanks it down.
I watch her go. The words I wanted to say die on my lips. And so I whisper them to myself. “That isn’t what I mean, Mom. I still love you, don’t think that I don’t. I will always love you. But this isn’t what I choose. It chose me. I’m sorry.”
"Dare to seek the breath of death,
Walk long under tree.
Follow dreams of mist and song,
Mingle with the dead."
The words echo gently through my mind. The voice… low and sweet. A woman’s. Asking, begging for me to follow her. I scan the room, fighting the urge that sweeps up from the depths and consumes me.
The room stares back. Empty and silent. The voice doesn’t come from there. It’s closer than that, more intimate than that. A shudder runs through my body. The voice, it is within. Inside my soul.
There is no escape, she mocks silently. Can you run from me, now? There is no escape. Soon you will come of your own free will. I am patient. I will wait for you.