The air bit into her cheeks through the scarf wrapped around her face. She moved with a stumbling grace, as if each time she tripped through the heavy snow was deliberate. A few dark brown curls escaped the cover of her thick, fur lined hood. She was rather small for her treacherous journey; barely reaching five feet with much of her muscle mass concentrated in hips and powerful thighs built for tromping through deep snow.
But that snow was much more commanding than her that night, and her journey was quickly reaching a dangerous chill that sunk deep into her bones.
With a rushing shove from the unforgiving wind, she was sent tumbling down a slight decline she hadn’t realized she was traversing. Her face stung with snow crystals and each somersault reverberated dull pain through her spine while she scrambled, and failed to find purchase beneath her feet again.
She couldn’t see the imminent threat of a sharp drop off ahead of her, but she felt the soft cushion of snow beneath her becoming more solid as it thinned out.
She finally reached a halt as her body made a fleshy thud against something round and hard. It was dark red, glistening wood in the shape of an ornate wheel with strange patterns carved into it. The girl had been saved by the appearance of a deep blue, jewelled carriage with a canopy hiding the cloaked driver. It was pulled by a team of six strong Clydesdale horses the color of midnight, with thick pearl white hair falling like boots around the bottoms of each leg.
The impact had knocked the girl out cold, though, and she made no indications of waking before she froze. The driver turned slowly with a strange jerking motion in his neck to appraise her crumpled form in the snow. He was drawn to the chocolate curls hiding porcelain cheeks, watching silently for a moment longer than appropriate.
The swift wind shifted under the command of his raising hand and a glowing blue thread appeared circling what had been now revealed as a pair of black, abysmal irises. The wind was giddy to obey his unspoken order; it rushed beneath the girl to cradle her in a hundred gentle, ethereal hands. With the care of a loving mother, she was lifted into the carriage and placed on a soft, colorful mandala designed rug between two benches seating three identical men and a fourth, rather strange creature.
Without hesitation, this fourth guest rolled himself off his seat, landed to the ground, and bowed deep at the waist.
“Give her my spot please, sir,” he spoke softly.
Outside in the chill, the driver tipped his head forward slightly and the wind took hold of her again, settling her against the wall between two of the men.
Her luminescent, pale blue eyes fluttered open with the groaning and jostling of the carriage as it lifted into the air. Her gaze was subtly distorted with black drops of oil tainting the cyan shade. The first thing she saw was the strange fourth guest being picked up by a large bearded man and put on the bench laying flat beside him. It was a paper thin, ruler length person; complete with arms, legs, and a very human face that appeared drawn onto the flattened head.
Another groan and tumble of the carriage fully awakened her and she widened her eyes. It was at this moment that she finally realized where she was. The carriage was lined with bright, pale wood. She sat in between two men who were the spitting image of the one across from her with the beard. The only difference was in the clothes the triplets dressed in. Across from her, the man was adorned with a tailored, deep violet suit and a burgundy shirt under the matching violet tie. To her right was one in coveralls meant for work; complete with bright yellow warning lines. The last one to the left was dressed in regular clothes; just a simple pair of blue jeans, a red plaid shirt tucked into the waistband, and a black leather jacket with fur lining the neck.
All three had solemn, shadowed, dark eyes and they seemed to be looking anywhere but at her. She squinted with a breath of confusion before realization struck her. She couldn’t see their noses or mouths even though all other details were clear as day. It was as if their flushed faces had been blurred out below the eyes. No matter the struggle, she could not make out their faces.
Quietly, she observed the tailored man’s fists resting on his knees tightening until the knuckles turned white when the carriage groaned and bucked once again. She concluded safely that fear was clutching at his mind.
Curiosity lead her to the back of the carriage where she sat herself by the edge and pulled back the sapphire curtains.
Her breath ran from her lungs in a sharp rush.
Glittering snow traced the shape of dancing twists and quick sashays in the wind. Below her dangling feet were the tops of towering, deep green trees caressing her boots. Frost touched her cheeks with a soft sting while it sparkled before her eyes, dressing the trees in delicate crystals across their twisting limbs or jumbled needles. Above, the sky was menacingly dark with not a single shining start, yet off to the girl’s left there came a warming glow from the moon which softened the edges of darkness to an inviting shade of cobalt.
Too soon, the magic was soured. The carriage jostled, spiking fear as she lost purchase on the wood beneath her. A solid arm curled around her stomach before she could fall and she was yanked backwards against someone’s warm chest. The girl turned to face her plaid shirted rescuer with gratitude on her tongue, but the skittering horror in his shadowed, brown eyes stopped her.
“P-Please don’t jump. I beg of you. No one leaves. No one gets off. There are no more stops,” he stumbled with short breaths laced in his growing anxiety.
The other two began to whimper like wounded animals while her pale, confused eyes began to glow with the courageous moonlight she’d soaked in from outside. Her saviour returned to his seat on shaking legs, clutching his head as if in pain. All the men stared at the ground mumbling a chant under their breaths.
“No one gets off. No one leaves. No one is free. No more stops. No one gets off. No one…”
None saw the shadow that leaked from her glowing, hardening eyes, nor the way her jaw clenched when the illusion fell. Outside, the driver’s head turned slightly as if he were listening. His pale hands tightened involuntarily on the reins.
With her vision now refocused and the passengers’ faces no longer blurred, she could see small colored creatures dancing over the men. Two were sawing at her savior’s finger where a small, dried cut bloomed crimson. One of them touched the blood and a sizzle rose from the pale green oil of its body. Others twirled around and around on tongues as the mumbling grew louder into ringing voices molding to create one. The well tailored man had a royal purple blob bouncing up and down on the slick muscle, causing his voice to dip at strange intervals.
One creature was dangling off the worker’s eyelashes and spitting in his eye, yet even as it watered and released a long trail of burning tears, he did not close it or flinch.
Yellow and green and blue and red and purple and orange.
They seemed to drop from the ceiling, fly in on the invading wind that lifted her dark curls off her shoulders, and squeeze through the cracks between wood. The carpet was squirming with fluid that stunk like copper and mold while these blobs spilled out of it by groups of five or six. It was as if they sensed that she was not blind to them and in retaliation, they were multiplying to build an army. Light reflected off their bodies like oil and if she were in a mood to be guessing, she’d say they were similar in consistency to acrylic paint.
There was no fear coiling in her chest, even as this tiny army of colored monsters crawled up her jeans slowly. Some bit into the fabric, settling around her legs. One burrowed straight through to her second layer of slacks in one sharp slash of teeth.
She remained silent. She did not move. Blood rose off her hands as their tiny spikes gripped into her skin while they either continued to climb under her gloves or hang from the flesh they pierced. How had they gotten under her coat? She did not wonder.
Her eyes glistened like a warrior’s glowing sword. The pale blue cut into hundreds of tiny diamonds, sighing like the air calmly leaving her lungs. The color appeared to come to life and bulge outward as if it would burst open to rain tiny crystals.
The strange paper guest was in torn pieces on the carpet, soaking into the living colors and disappearing without a sound. The men were nothing but squirming masses of colored blobs and stinking, oily black blood, dripping to the bright wood below. From these distorted drops emerged new creatures, black as the suffocating night sky with rounded bodies covered in long needles that allowed them to roll up the gathering of paint gobs. They would begin to vibrate, shredding colors as they propelled inward and seconds later, quick splatters of proper crimson would spray across the crowded colors. Upon contact, they would hiss with steam and shrivel into hard, wrinkled stones.
One solid crack filled the carriage and all was silent. The pale blue shards were shifting inside her eyes and one had fallen to the wood below, freezing solid the creatures that it touched. Out front with long, spidery hands shaking violently as the clutched leather reins, the driver’s shoulders drew up against his head as if he were frightened or flinching. Inside the hood, beneath layers of thick shadow, black empty eyes now glowed crystalline blue for the space of one long, slow inhale from back inside the carriage.
Upon the exhale, girl and stranger together were greeted by blackness. All fell to the unforgiving forest floor buried beneath cold, angry snow.