Alyssa sat on the riverbank near the watermill to the south of the market, as she had done for the past few months. Yellow-winged Blackbirds making for the pastures outside the valley cast small, ephemeral shadows, over the stream, as she listened to the rhythmic sound of flumed water spinning the turbine of the mill to her right. She was eating a tray of spicy potatoes and reflecting on recent events.
It had all happened so fast: the shadow, the heat, the chase; just what would she have said to her scrutiniser if she’d caught him? Nothing that wouldn’t reinforce the epithet of crazy-girl she’d already attained, that’s for certain. She might’ve imagined the figure reacting to her birthmark, and he – Alyssa was certain the being was male – had simply fled when the zany girl had made for him.
But still, there was something deeply ominous about his reaction, and that filled her with doubt. The shadow saw her; really saw her. Was there a connection between the way her birthmark reacted to his attentiveness, and the way he then responded in turn?
Oh Gods it sounded so crazy!
As Alyssa took small, distant bites of her meal with a small wooden fork, she thought about voicing her snafu with a blood curdling scream, but fearing for her already tattered sanity, decided against it. What was the use anyhow? The knowing shadow in the market only added to an anthology of questions already plaguing her mind. And what was one more between cries of insanity?
Confused and bordering on miserable, she sat watching a cluster of bubbles rising in the whispering stream whilst eating lunch. Her tongue delighted in the aromatic spices added to perfection to the potatoes she’d purchased from the Budic Food stand at the opposite side of the marketplace to Edna’s potion stall. It was her favourite meal, and she had it practically everyday.
The mill churned and the stream flowed, and still the bubbles rose. This was when she realised something wasn’t right. There was a congregation of bubbles the size of large mushroom caps in the middle of the flowing stream, yet they remained stationary, and continued to grow and multiply. On a quick count there seemed to be ten of them, but more rose to join the throng. Alyssa then realised they weren’t so much transparent as they were translucent, and the surfaces were jelly-like, rather than watery.
Then, as the not-quite-bubbles rose even more to the size of bowls and began advancing towards the perplexed girl, their morphologies were exposed. They looked like the jellyfish she and her uncle would find along the southern beaches of Elemenphis during her younger years, except these creatures had dimples representing hollow facial features on their form facing Alyssa, who was now picking up her feet, and slowly edging away from the riverbank. The creatures then pulled themselves so high out of the water they were now the size of large wheels, and shaped like vast gelatinous domes with a metropolis of nerves and membranes throbbing within. They crawled out of the river and up the bank on a multitude of white, fleshy, spider-like limbs, and edged closer to Alyssa, gargling through a wide slit in their dome crowns.
The scene, though terrifying, seemed oddly surreal as Alyssa stepped back in fright.
‘He’s coming . . .’ the gargled voice proclaimed, as the creature advanced slowly.
‘He’s coming to reap revenge for what she did to him,’ another one said, in a waterlogged voice.
Alyssa managed a response, yet her voice wavered in fear. ‘Who’s . . . coming?’
‘Chaos is coming!’
She had a hard time discovering which of the jelly-spiders spoke at which time, as there seemed to be no real unity between them.
‘Chaos is coming?’ she asked, edging further back still.
‘Yes, and everything will die!’
‘Everything?’ she asked, not quite knowing what to make of the revelations.
‘Yes, and nothing the chosen can do will stop it!’
The creatures suddenly rushed towards her, and a soul-splitting scream pierced Alyssa’s mind, causing her to drop to the floor holding her head in agony. Once the scream abated, she looked up; half expecting to be probed by those spider-like limbs, except the riverbank was completely vacant. Not a single vestige of the creatures remained. Again, like back in the market, she felt a hand touch her shoulder, and as she jumped round she screamed, only to find a young boy clad in a black cloak standing behind her.
‘Are you okay? Only you were talking to yourself,’ the boy said in a soft voice.
Great, she thought, I’m losing it completely. She hoped, however, that maybe Edna’s potion was still having an effect on her; she said that sometimes hallucinations can come on suddenly, long after the main effects had worn off. She looked back towards the bank one last time, and still no trace of the revelatory creatures existed. She felt relieved.
‘Yes, I’m fine. I always talk to myself, really I do,’ she babbled.
‘You seemed to have dropped your lunch,’ the boy said, his gentle tone calming her nerves ever more.
She turned to see the tin upturned and the contents scattered around the bank. ‘So it appears, how clumsy of me,’ she said, not really knowing how to explain what just happened.
She gazed at the boy. The hood of his cloak was pulled over his head, leaving two small eyes glaring through the shadow. ‘Are you sure you didn’t see anything here, on this bank?’ she asked.
‘What are you talking about?’ the boy said, eyes portraying confusion.
‘Oh nothing, I must just be losing my mind, that’s all.’
‘What’s your name?’ the boy said, his gentle tone turning somewhat forcefully inquisitive.
She was about to answer when her birthmark suddenly became hot, and without hesitation she put a hand to it, and heeded the boy’s eyes slant in a gleeful realisation, taking on a temporary menacing veneer. A distorted voice seeped through her mind, it said:
‘Alyssa, get away from the boy!’
She turned, thinking the voice had come from behind her, and scanned the riverbank. There was nobody there of course. And then, she turned back, to find the boy had also disappeared. Just what in Gaia’s name was going on?
Feeling utterly perplexed to the point of no return, she attempted to straighten herself up the best she could, and started to traipse back towards the marketplace, distinctly aware that she was being watched. How she knew this was unfathomable, but she felt it just the same. She knew one set of eyes belonged to the boy, and the other, her uncle.