Chapter Four: Mirage
My eyes followed the path of her finger and I ended up looking like I had a bloody nose. Hm. Storm clouds. Which, again, weren't there before. She must have magic or something. I kicked my self inwardly. There's no such thing as magic, stupid. I chanced a glance at Autumn. She looked extremely serious, as usual. Was she trying to make a joke? If she was, it wasn't funny. But best not tell her that.

"So you're saying," I said slowly, gesturing around, "that this is what it's like in space?"

"Space?" A dark strand of hair fell over her eyes, and she brushed it away, looking rather confused. She stared at me as though I were crazy. The nerve. Then her expression cleared and she was back to being the impassive mystery. "Oh. You mean the S├Žndalin."

The what? I shrugged, scratching my head. "Yeah. Salalellan, space, it's all the same gravy."

Oh geez. I kicked myself. Enough with the lame jokes already. She already thinks you're a nut.

Autumn was not amused, as I expected. She shook her head, sighing. "Caster, Caster, Caster. You are uninformed. Your nosy explorers give you false images of what is really up there." She chuckled; I had the urge to correct her but decided that a chuckling psycho path was not someone to be deal with. "Not that I can blame them," Autumn added, recovering herself.

I waited for explanation, but none came, so I looked up at the sky again. "Actually, I'm pretty sure that's space," I began hesitantly. "I mean, you do know what space is, right? Stars, asteroids, meteors, planets, aliens - "

"I get it," she snapped, cutting me off. Touchy. Another addition to the list of female synonyms. "And once, again, you are wrong."

A rare feeling of annoyance was beginning to itch. I dared a scratch. "Look, Autumn, I don't know where - "

"Don't believe me? Look straight at my face and tell me you don't believe me."

I started, not expecting this. Aw, man. I do not want to have a staring contest with this maniac. Taking a deep breath, I faced Autumn. "I don't believe you," I said, fighting to keep the tremble out of my voice.

"As I thought."

She extracted a long piece of cloth from out nowhere. I backed away quickly, muttering, "What are you going to do with that?"

Autumn smiled; sort of strained and tight, but a smile nonetheless. She's kind of pretty when she smiles. I kicked my self.

"Blindfold you."

Pretty but insane. Remember that, stupid ass. "Why - "

"I don't want you to tell him - anyone the way in case you try to come back," she said, inching toward me as I did the same in the opposite direction. "Though you might forget by the time you escape; you'll be there for a while."

Backing up faster, I started babbling nonsense. "Look, I believe you, it's not space, it's a Salallenaling thing. Please, I'm too young to die" - Autumn raised an eyebrow - "so please don't kill me, I'll do whatever you want, and besides, you won't abduct me because my parents are going to wonder where I am and will call the police - no wait, forget what I said, I'm completely harmless and you won't get into trouble at all if you just don't hurt me, I'll give you all my money - "

"I wouldn't be worried about your parents if I were you," she cut in, sounding almost sympathetic. "Look, I'll show you." Despite my doubts, I stopped talking to watch.

She turned her back to me. Run, idiot, run for your life while the killer has her back to you, has the American cinema thought you nothing? My legs wouldn't obey. I stared at the back of her head. Autumn began to make soft whistling sounds; sort of like a flute, but higher. A piccolo? No, even higher. So high, it almost escaped human hearing range. And before my very eyes, the landscape began to change.

The broken bottles, the scattered glass, the crumpled cars all began to disintegrate, melting into the air, fading away completely. And in their place were the objects of the world I knew. Trees. Bushes. Bare sticks. Nature. Like a tape on rewind, houses began to repair themselves. The windows were piecing together. Sidewalks were erased of cracks.

Soon, the street was one I recognized: Haven Road. There were even people there; I could see men and women in their cars, driving home from work. There were children playing in the gutters, there were dogs and cats and strays. But one thing was missing -


"What's wrong with them?" I choked. Out of a corner of my eye, a pigeon was in mid flight. "Why aren't they moving?"

"Time," Autumn said quietly. "Don't you see? The image of the broken town that you saw was imaginary. Time in reality stopped, allowing me to put my own layer over it. To show you what it's like - there."

At that precise moment, if I weren't so scared, I would've asked if she was a witch. If I weren't so scared, I would've noticed that her black eye was gone. If I weren't so scared - but I was scared, so I did none of that.

A feeling of dread was sinking its way in. I couldn't go anywhere. If I managed to run home without her catching up, the police, my parents, everyone would be stuck in time and I would have no way to communicate. Which meant Autumn could easily take me and bring me - there.

"Autumn," I said, "where are you taking me?"

"Where you belong. Hold my hand."

She held out her hand. I took it, feeling her cold fingers. Why do girls like guys to hold their hand? What, she wants me to shake it?

"Do I need to blindfold you, or can I trust that you will not tell a soul."

"Autumn, where are you - "

"Can I trust you or not."

I felt a lump in my throat and nodded. Autumn led me to the middle of the street. Releasing my hand (thank goodness), she took out a small pouch from - nowhere, actually. She pulled the string, and what looked like glitter fell onto the concrete.

At first, nothing happened. Then, the glitter began crackling, making popping noises.

Pop! Pop!

They began to rearrange themselves. And slowly, they formed a set of stairs that lead -

Into the sky.

"Come on, we're going up," said Autumn, sharply, "and remember. If you come back - "

"I know. Don't tell him."

She stared. I didn't know why I said him instead of anyone, but she ignored it. "You know, Sky," she said, climbing the glittering stairs, "you're alright for a Caster."

I would've asked questions, but Autumn was already way ahead, so I went up after her.

I suddenly realized that she'd called me Sky.