A/N: I changed some things to the last chapter. Hopefully I can actually rewrite chapter 1 when I get home from this trip.
Car accident doesn’t happen, time skip to being at the park with Lena following behind Cora the entire time.
This is unedited. Word count stands at 1,029.
So, this is what Samuel calls the dead circle? Cora raised her right eyebrow, crossing her arms over her chest and staring at the circle of smooth stones that surrounded the patch of dead grass. The streetlamp from the park cast its light down onto the circle, highlighting that the grass wasn’t straw yellow but rather a wilted gray. If she didn’t know better, she'd think the grass was solid ash. She cocked her head to the side, recalling how enthusiastic Samuel was in interrupting her drawing routine to talk about the ‘dead circle’.
She looked behind her to see Lena twirling around in the Disney princess blanket-cape, utterly oblivious to Cora’s investigations. Good, she thought.
She knelt down, ignoring the cold dew soaking in through her jeans. Reaching out a hand, Cora grasped at the grass inside of the circle to get a sense of the texture. Well, attempted to grasp. Her hand sunk into the circle, meeting nothing and not even registering the texture of grass. She wriggled her fingers around, a cool chill passing over her hand.
Romy would know what this is.
Cora withdrew her hand.
She thought back to Samuel’s rambles, scolding herself for not paying attention to his signing. To be perfectly honest, she was terrified at the fact that he thought she was the best person to talk to about death-related matters. What else had he said? Cora remembered the sign for ball, the fact that his mouth was slack-jawed, and his increasing insistence to show her the dead circle.
Had he lost his ball?
Cora took off her drawstring bag, fishing around in the contents — ignoring the itch in her fingertips to sketch the scene before her — and pulled out the apple she had brought along for a snack.
If the grass was dead and things could disappear…
She clenched the red delicious in her hand and submerged it in the circle. Within ten seconds, the apple’s outside had gone from firm to absolutely mushy. Within twenty seconds, she completely regretted every single decision in her life with nausea taking root in her core. Cora pulled the apple back out, marveling at the disgusting, molding monstrosity dribbling down her hand.
That’s one way to test things out, she thought, as she let the apple fall from her hand and down into the portal. There was no sound to signify if it had hit any sort of ground. Now, if someone were to climb into the circle… If I climbed into the circle...
Images of toddlers and unsuspecting park visitors falling into the portal popped up in her mind. It obviously didn't have any warnings around it, so she continued to muse. This… can’t have been here for long.
“Sooo, you wanted to see the circle?”
Cora flinched, looking up to see Lena towering over her with a smirk on her face.
“Sammy won’t let me near it, but he’s not here…”
Cora nodded, scooting away from Lena to face her and signing, “You shouldn’t go near it.”
Lena frowned, the yellowish light glowing against her freckled face. “Can’t be that bad,” she said, signing bad with her right hand covering her lips and then slapping her downward faced palm against her flat left hand. “Sammy just hovers over here sometimes.”
Cora started to gnaw on her lip again, letting the familiar warmth of blood flood her mouth once again. The pain barely registered. “How long has the dead circle been here?” She furrowed her brow.
“Uhhh,” Lena put a finger on her chin and looked up toward the night sky. “You came here… three weeks ago? So yah it’s been here about three weeks, I guess —“ She cracked a smirk, looking down at Cora with a mischievous grin painted across her face like a creepy doll. “Maybe you’re the reason the circle is here, Cora.” With that, the girl burst out into soft laughter, holding her arms around her belly.
With a blank expression, Cora signed, “FUNNY,” as if brushing dirt off her nose with two fingers. Inside, she tried to ignore the rush of stagnation overtaking her body. The circle of apple rot couldn’t be attributable to her — she sharply inhaled a breath of the cool night air, images of her mother and father flashing across her thoughts. The camera in her mind set on a depiction of her 3-year-old orange tabby cat, sprawled out on his periwinkle cat bed, lifeless.
The dead circle couldn't be her fault.
Lena rolled her eyes, stepping closer and placing her hand on Cora’s shoulder, still facing her. “You look like I kicked your dog. I’m just kiddin’.”
Cora stood up to her full height with Lena’s height barely at the same level as her elbows, once again stepping backward to avoid the physical contact. “I’m going back home, okay? This is actually dangerous.” A half-baked plan formed in her mind, trying to figure out how to ditch Lena back at the house and still manage to make it back to the park before dawn. She checked her digital wristwatch, staring at the numbers 3:16 in horror.
“Sammy keeps sneaking out for this — you’re starting to sneak out for this. I could tell Mama and Dad right now what you two are doing, but I’m not gonna. Don’t lie to me, Cora. There’s something about this circle, something weird.” Once again, Lena put her hands on her hips and stood defiant.
Cora picked up her drawstring bag, readjusting the straps and starting to turn on her heel to head back to the Kiplinger’s house.
“Don’t go—I’m sick of you two sneaking out all the time. I’m seven! I can investigate too! And I’ll investigate right now!”
Cora turned back, the sign of “NO, STOP” dying on her hands as Lena flashed a smile and jumped into the ring of stones.
Jump, frantic scream, silence.
Any feeling of irritation Cora had quickly faded away, only the suffocating blanket of terror left behind. The apple. Cora fought against the instinct to jump in with Lena, remembering how her hand had been fine when she reached it in there. It was only the apple. Frantic thoughts connected themselves together in a broken jigsaw puzzle. I need help to get her out.
With that, Cora broke into a run.