Miya dug her fingers into the round, succulent organ’s plump flesh, enjoying the squishy feeling as the juices seeped over her hand.
She thought it seemed much like blood without the viscosity and colour, then vaguely wondered if there was something wrong with her to enjoy inflicting violence on a fruit…or was it a vegetable? Tomatoes were hard to pin down. Whatever it was, it made an excellent stress ball.
Growing bored of the sticky sensation between her fingers, she scanned the open field but was unable to discern much between the throngs of people meandering from one vendor to the next. Eight-year-olds weren’t very vertically endowed. Through the crowds scuttling back and forth, she could make out something near the forest—a playground with a rusty old swing set and a seesaw. It looked long abandoned, making it the perfect place to flee the bustle of the farmer’s market.
Not only that, but it brought her closer to that deep, dark sea of trees. Maybe she’d even find an elf or a fairy.
Her father always warned her that wolves lurked within, waiting in the shadows to devour children who grew too bold and wandered too far. Yet the more forbidden the woods became, the greater the appeal to find its monsters.
Dropping the slaughtered tomato to the ground, Miya licked the juice off her fingers and shuffled away from the stall, weaving her way through the din until she was on the other side of the field. As soon as she stepped onto the playground, she felt more at ease, the distance and newfound quiet settling her nerves. She didn’t like crowds much; they frazzled her senses until she felt lost. Ironic, she thought, since she was moving towards the very place people really did get lost.
Plunking down on the swing, she kicked her feet out and closed her eyes, enjoying the breeze as it swept through her long, dark brown tresses. As she swung higher and higher into the air, a smile broke out on her face. Who needed friends when you could fly?
Just then, there was a rustle to her right, loud enough to shatter her mirth. She lodged her heel into the sand and the swing screeched to a halt. The noise had come from the woods—that she was sure of. Her heart raced in anticipation and her eyes darted about when the snap of twigs came closer, louder.
An animal was nestled in the bushes—a dog, perhaps? As Miya leaned over and squinted, it poked its head forward through the shrubbery, ears erect and attention trained on the human child only paces away.
Miya sucked in a sharp breath, frozen and unblinking as she recognized the animal staring back at her through bright, almond-shaped eyes.
It was a wolf.
The immediate urge was to run, but there was no chance of escaping a seasoned hunter. Instead, Miya stayed where she was, a lamb awaiting slaughter. Still as stone, she kept her murky green eyes on the wolf—watching, waiting for something to happen. But the wolf remained motionless, mirroring the child’s apprehension.
Gradually, uncertainty gave way to curiosity, and both child and wolf grew more secure in each other’s presence. All else sunk away as the market behind Miya faded out like sparks dancing on firewood at the end of a cold night. Something welled up inside her heart—dreadful wonder that threatened to burst through the seams of her body. It was pure magic. The monster of lore awaited her on the borderlands of its dark realm.
It was a dream within a dream, and it was begging her to come closer.
Art by Valentina Remenar