No email, no calls, no contact. That was my personal pledge. I was determined to get away.
To forget work.
To forget her.
I rarely visited the cabin at Hatchet Lake. It was the perfect spot to hike, explore, and train for marathons, but most importantly, I could unplug from the stresses of global investment banking there.
After a nightmarish Friday tying up every loose end, I hit the road as soon as the sun went down. Interstate traffic dwindled until only nocturnal truckers hugged one side of the road.
“Last time,” I promised myself quietly. Then, louder, I said, “Check voicemail.”
The dashboard monitor lit. My admin left the first message, updating pending issues, but the second caught me off guard: “Hey, Silas . . .”
My guts knotted up. I’d barely spoken to Cassie all month, just a few pleasant nods in the break room. We ended up on the same conference call once or twice, but nothing had been the same since she transferred. What could she have to say now?
“Look, I wanted to tell you this in person, but last week, I gave Mikaela my two weeks’ notice. So, after your vacation . . . I’ll be gone. I figured this would be easier.”
The road stretched in parallel with her pause. For a moment, the breath fled my lungs. Rumble strips thundered under the tires and I jerked back into my lane as a silver SUV blared its horn and sped around me.
“We were wrong to think I could just switch departments,” Cassie finally continued. “Being under the same roof, working for the same company . . . it’s too hard. I appreciate that you tried, but I owe it to my family. And myself.”
Tears blurred highway lights.
“Listen . . .” Another pause. “Nobody else can give you this perspective, so I wanted you to know that you need people in your life. Not just a career.”
What’s she talking about? I wondered. I surround myself with people, twenty-four seven.
“Passion shouldn’t be scheduled into your 70-hour workweek.”
I shook my head. That was exactly what had worked. Cass and I were ambitious people, accomplishing so much together.
“We both have patterns. I just want to leave you with something positive.”
“Salt in my wounds,” I muttered. “Very positive.”
“What we had was primal and beautiful, but . . . destructive,” Cassie said. “We both need to reinvent ourselves. I hope someday I’ll hear your name and know that . . . there was some kind of fresh start. Rebirth. That’s what I want for you. And . . . this thing is going to cut me off so . . . Good luck, Silas. You deserve happiness.”
The message ended.
“Close voicemail.” I wiped my tears.
She was right, of course. Smart to leave.
But I liked having Cass under the same roof. I needed to believe that time would end her marriage.
It was selfish—callous—to think of her husband and children as abstractions.
I hated myself for that.
Soon the interstate fell away, and my Lexus rolled through dark backroads. A swollen gold moon cast long pine shadows.
By 10:20 p.m., my tires crunched gravel alongside the secluded cabin. I had no appetite for dinner. Confining dress clothes hit the floor, and I collapsed on the bed.
Cricket songs and a summer breeze drifted in through the open window, carrying in scents of pine and moss. Late meetings, rife with tension, played across the darkened bedroom ceiling. Long hours. Hard deadlines. The curl of Cassie’s hair and the taste of her cinnamon breath mints.
A dull pain sank into my chest and lingered—like genuine grief.
Cassie isn’t dead, I thought. But for me, she might as well be.
A destructive passion swelled in my ribcage, and Cassie’s final prayer for rebirth clawed at my insides.
Perhaps her prayer drew it to me.
The pink sun of dawn coaxed me awake. Birds chittered.
I stretched, reached for my phone, and then chided myself. No emails. No texts. Don’t even check the time.
I wondered again if there could be another message from Cassie.
Don’t. Any message—from anyone—can wait.
An iron clang erupted from the kitchen and earthen odors drifted down the hall. Gravelly breaths scraped the stillness of the morning.
An intruder? An intruder at Hatchet Lake? The thought dripped with absurdity.
All these back roads look the same. So many cabins look alike . . .
Someone had to be lost or confused.
I stepped out of the bedroom and halted at the sight of a tall brown mass—an animal—searching the walk-in cupboard. A large hand clutched the door frame.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked again. The thing standing there registered as neither human nor animal.
My heart steadied as—for a moment—I became convinced I must be dreaming.
The creature stood over six feet tall with a mop of mahogany curls, like sheep’s wool, atop its head. Its back and shoulder muscles rippled under its olive skin. The beast’s bodybuilder arm ended in the large, dirty hand.
Silky hair coated its lower half, like a horse’s haunches. My bleary eyes traveled over its unkempt swishing tail, enormous thighs, and cloven hooves.
The beast-man slammed the cupboard door shut with a wood-splitting crack. The thing stomped its hooves and turned, revealing a hairy muscular chest—like a man’s—and a face unlike anything.
Black marble eyes peered at me from a face as flat as a frying pan, save for a vaguely equine nose with flared nostrils and a wide, snarling mouth, packed with crooked teeth. Donkey ears pointed back as it tilted its head to meet my eyes.
Past the kitchen, the front door hung open.
I struggled to process what I was seeing—some creature out of mythology. A lost word snagged in the back of my skull. Not a nymph. Not a griffin or a centaur, but—what?
The beast held something in its other hand: a gnarled, wooden club, with the girth of a parking meter.
In a heartbeat, it strode across the kitchen and hoisted its weapon. I raised my arms to defend myself. The club came down on my wrists and I fell to the floor.
I knew then—I wasn’t dreaming.
The beast raised the club again and I shielded my head with my arms. It struck me in the shoulder, hitting me with the force of a truck. I squeezed my eyes closed, screaming, crying, begging it to stop.
The creature snorted. My eyes opened as the club hurtled downward, cracking against my ribs. I writhed in pain, struggling to maintain consciousness, unable to tolerate breathing, let alone screaming.
The beast snarled as my senses faded in and out. Rough hands seized my ankle with an iron grip and I felt the floor pass underneath me. The front door’s threshold bumped under my spine. The welcome mat scraped my cheek.
Orange sunrise warmed my face. Morning dew tickled my ear. Grass massaged my neck. The green aroma of summer called forth delirious memories of happier times, and I drifted into unconsciousness.
The first time with Cassie had been raw chemistry. That day, we closed the biggest deal of our careers and stayed late working out details. The cleaning crew came and went.
Soon, Cassie retrieved the small bottle of vodka she kept tucked in her bottom drawer and opened it in celebration. A black coffee mug and an orange teacup from the break room stood in for proper glassware, but we toasted just the same.
We clinked. Drank. And leaned in.
Somehow, we both knew it would be okay.
That night, we simply kissed.
Fiery flowers came into focus. Orange petals formed delicate shapes, like Cassie’s teacup. An emerald green hummingbird with a magenta neck hovered like a fairy. The bird sipped nectar and darted to and fro. Although every part of my body hurt for reasons I couldn’t quite remember, for that moment, I felt content. The hummingbird reminded me of Cass, busy and beautiful.
Then, the creature’s dirty hands snatched the bird, and the details of my morning came rushing back.
The hummingbird’s paddle jutted between hairy knuckles. Its head twitched as the beast lifted it to its crooked jaws and decapitated it with a slow, deliberate bite. Fragile bones snapped, and the green wing stopped moving.
My abductor’s cloven feet, hairy muscled chest, and hideous donkey-eared head finally added up. A sixth-grade vocabulary word swam to the surface of my mind: satyr.
He was bigger, less spritely than a classical painting would have depicted, and not quite goat-legged. Also, he wasn’t drinking and merrymaking with the wine-god Dionysus, but nevertheless, this monster was certainly a satyr.
The satyr spit the hummingbird’s head out. Then, he pinched the bird’s slug-like torso like a tube of toothpaste and gushed the innards onto his pale pebbled tongue.
I attempted to sit, and found my limbs bound in front of me; coarse twine wrapped around my ankles and wrists. I squirmed, shouted, “Help! Help!”
How far could I be from the cabin? I didn’t have close neighbors, but there were plenty of people at the lake this time of year: fishermen, hunters, vacationers. Someone had to be in earshot.
The satyr finished slurping the red tissue and tossed the hummingbird husk. He wiped his chin with the back of his fist, licked his snout, and stared at me.
“Somebody, help!” I shouted.
The satyr plucked his caveman club off the ground, and I fell silent.
“Don’t,” my voice trembled. “Please, don’t hit me again.”
He tilted his head, ran calloused fingers along the gnarled wood of his weapon. The black marble eyes widened.
“Do you speak?” I asked. “Can you understand me?”
The satyr snorted. Stared.
“Please, let me go.” Tears stung my eyes. “What do you want from me?”
Bug bites stung my thighs. Scrapes crossed my arms, legs, and back from being dragged. My gym shorts and undershirt were torn, stained with dirt and grass.
The satyr hoisted his club over his shoulder with one hand. With the other, he reached down, grabbed the end of the rope that bound my legs, and dragged me straight through the tall orange flowers. Leaves scratched my face. Plant stalks snapped beneath me.
I squeezed my eyes shut. Gasped for breath. Tried desperately to escape back into the dream of Cass.
But the poking, stinging hell of the moment assured me that our love had been exactly that all along—a dream. The euphoria that followed our first kiss had helped me ignore all the signs of Cass’s conflict.
The private moments she found to call her children.
How she turned away after we made love.
Her panic attack on the plane to Beirut—so uncharacteristic of the calm, charismatic professional I fell in love with. That had been about us. Not work.
I now knew that I could never truly revisit our bliss, our rhythmic unity. Not even in memory. Not without seeing her turn away in a shadowy hotel bed.
Sticks scraped my sides as the satyr yanked me from the brush into a dusty clearing. The sun was higher now, burning my eyes, scorching my face. Rocks jabbed my back. Dirt and pine needles itched inside my shorts. I let out a moan that escalated into a scream.
The satyr stopped, glared, and raised his weapon.
I quieted. I knew I wouldn’t survive another clubbing.
He snorted, turned, and continued dragging me.
I tried to take in my surroundings and get my bearings. To my left, gray peaks skewered the sky. We were on the other side of the mountain, I realized. We traveled a long way—hours from the cabin, judging from the distance of a familiar arrowhead-shaped bluff.
People sometimes hiked this way, but I couldn’t afford to waste a shout—and take another hit from that club—unless I was absolutely certain somebody would hear.
I scoured the trees on my opposite side for signs of humans. Please, I thought, let there be somebody. A hunter. A hunter with a gun.
Something sharp blocked the sun. Treetops? No, the angles were too sharp and the shadows were too complete. A roof.
I wrenched my hips, tried to pull myself upright to see where we were going, but the satyr kept yanking me down. The ground beneath me felt damper, colder.
The satyr pulled me around a bend. Mud walls eclipsed the circle of light. We were going underground. For a long while, I saw only darkness, smelled only stale air, and heard only the sounds of the satyr—his heavy breaths and soft snorts; hooves chuffing through wet earth. The twine rope burned my wrists as I desperately tried to free myself.
A firm yank jerked my head against a flat stone and knocked me unconscious again.
Cass and I spent months in exhilarating freefall, but we never knew how to land.
With previous office affairs, there had always been seduction. Signals. A period of teasing and testing.
With Cass, we were just two driven people, working together, not realizing what we were becoming. And as I sank in cold quiet, I finally saw the ugly side of our love. The pit we plummeted into.
I sank to that same shadowy place where I first sensed the empty air beneath us.
I saw the shape of her back and the spill of her dark curls over crisp hotel sheets. She whispered, “The company paid for two rooms. You should probably sleep in your bed tonight.”
“Is that what you want?”
She sighed. “It seems worse when you stay, somehow.”
“To me, it feels worse when we’re apart.”
She turned and traced her finger down my chest. She drew herself against me and kissed my shoulder. “Am I crazy? To feel worse lying next to you than I do when we’re making love?”
We had agreed by that point not to bring up Cass’s family when we traveled for business. I told myself it was her situation to navigate. “You have to find your own way forward,” I told her. “But I love you. And I’ll support you however I can.”
After a long silence, I said, “I’ll leave if you want.”
She held my hand. “You don’t have to.”
So I stayed.
Torches flickered along the satyr’s tunnel, casting an eerie glow on tree roots, wriggling worms, and spiders popping in and out of subterranean crevices. The satyr’s muscular back formed a hulking silhouette as he passed between them.
Suddenly, the tunnel opened up. We entered a large chamber where a small fire cast an orange glow on the stalactites above. The satyr let go of my ankle, huffed, and glanced my way with a snarl. I got the message. He sat on a large rock formation, setting his club to the side.
I had no idea if he was resting, or waiting for something, but I didn’t intend to stick around and find out.
I rolled toward the fire and thrust my bound wrists into the flames. Heat seared my hands and arms, blistering my skin almost instantly. I screamed.
The satyr spun in, his black marble eyes wide with surprise. The skin on my hands burned like hell, but the singed ropes weakened. With a surge of adrenaline, I pried my arms apart. The flaming bonds snapped. Cinders spread like fireflies.
The satyr lurched forward, but I rolled just in time. His club hit soft earth with a dull thuck. I pushed onto my elbows and tackled the satyr’s legs. He fell backwards, into the fire, letting out a thunderous pained roar.
Ashes, charred logs, and burning sticks scattered everywhere. I grabbed one, keeping my blistered palms far from the flaming end. The satyr rolled onto all fours and lunged in my direction, so I swung it at him, like a baseball bat.
The torch connected with the beast’s head. White-yellow fire swept over the satyr’s mop of wooly hair. The noxious stench—like rancid permanent marker—filled the cavern as the satyr bellowed.
Pain flared in my burned fingers and I dropped the torch. My fingers shook and curled into useless claws. I tilted my legs toward the flaming end of the stick, trying hard not to burn my ankles. The twine bonds caught fire, snapped, barely singing my leg hair. I crawled forward on my elbows.
Behind me, the satyr roared—a furious, guttural sound, like a lion. The monster swatted his hair, snuffing out flame, snarling with rage. His eyes seared like hot coals.
Don’t think. Run!
I struggled to my feet and raced deeper, away from the monster. All I wanted was distance from my captor, giving little thought to how far underground the tunnel led.
I rounded more bends, flanked with torches, my bare feet slapping against stone, then cold, packed dirt. The pale light of day appeared at the end of the tunnel, and suddenly I was running on damp soil. I couldn’t hear the satyr pursuing over my throbbing heart.
I emerged into a woodland clearing, but what I saw beyond the pines gave me vertigo.
Above, instead of sky, I saw another forest, upside down.
Snow-capped pine trees stabbed downward. White hills rolled up to inverted valleys and frozen rivers. Two forests: winter in the sky, summer on the ground.
Between the mirrored hills, a sun blazed, centered between the right-side up and upside-down worlds. Their tree-lined peaks reached to one another, barren, snow-glazed branches commingling with vibrant green leaves.
The thought of the beast compelled me to race further from the mouth of the cavern. Pine needles pricked my feet as I hurried between rows of trees. I pushed through a thicket packed with sharp twigs and emerged at a cliff overlooking a tall plateau.
On topsy-turvy peaks, upside-down and right-side-up evergreens alternated like sharp interlocking teeth, the upper set frosted with snow.
A long crowing echoed, drawing my eyes to the plateau. On top, an enormous mound rhythmically heaved, nestled among blue and purple flowers. A huge head was tucked beneath the folds of massive avian wings. A sleepy eye, as big as a car tire, opened, revealing a shimmering gold iris.
The eye slowly, lazily closed. The creature’s feathers shifted colors, from gold to the blues and purples of the surrounding flowers. Another mythological beast—not a dragon, but . . . something.
The bird shifted its head again and revealed a hawkish face. Its hooked beak shimmered chrome in the sun’s rays. The bird emitted a hypnotic aura, the scenery around it wavering like summer heat over concrete.
Twigs snapped in the brush behind me. I spun around. My captor was close. Blue sky peeked between pine branches and tall thickets.
Either I squeeze back through the brush and make a break for the cave, or attempt to climb down, further into the unknown.
Only the sleepy crooning of the bird-monster cut the silence.
The second I glanced down the cliffside, branches snapped behind me. Muscular limbs grabbed me from behind, wrapping around my body like an anaconda. The beast pulled me off the ground, holding me tight against his massive chest. It squeezed me, harder and harder. The breath fled from my compressed lungs, and I felt the sharp pop of a cracked rib.
The satyr removed one of his arms, grabbed my hair, and yanked my head back, exposing my throat. Far above, the frosted tips of upside-down branches sparkled. I struggled to breathe, but each rasping inhale felt like sucking in broken glass.
“Please,” I whispered.
The satyr bit my right ear. Skin and cartilage tore; blood oozed into my ear canal. The satyr spit over my shoulder, and I saw the pink folds of my shredded ear plop into the dirt, as disposable as the hummingbird’s head. The pain came a second later, a blinding, searing sensation that turned my vision white. I screamed.
In response, the dragon bird unleashed a low, irritated screech.
My vision hazed, and my hearing faded in and out. The beast’s breath steamed over my neck.
The satyr dropped me. Instinctively, I broke my fall with my burned hands. I curled over and howled. Again, the bird let out a sharp screech.
The satyr scowled. Red blisters marred its face and chest. Its fists squeezed into medieval maces.
“You son of a bitch.” I spat, wheezing. “Just end it.”
A low musical sound echoed over the mountains. Not the dragon-bird this time, but a trumpet or horn.
The satyr glanced toward the pine teeth of the mirrored peaks. The anger melted from his burned face. He snatched my ankle and dragged me.
“No!” I screamed. “No more! Stop!”
He didn’t look back. I didn’t have the energy to fight.
Beyond the monstrous face of my captor, I spied a mountain, the place where the underground passage had ended. It rose like a skyward pillar and blended into its mirrored image—a snow-streaked mountain in the wintery upper-world. Somewhere in the heart of that mountain was a winding passage home that I would never rediscover.
I stared at the tops of snow-crusted trees and suddenly felt as if I were floating, like a winter skydiver.
I thought of Cass. Her gentle smile. Her soft hair. Her warm skin.
The world went white again, and fell away.
The last time with Cass, everything changed. Only in those quiet solitary moments, few and far between, did I consider how wrong it was. Each time, I pushed those feelings aside. All those business trips—England, China, Switzerland—made it easy to escape into our private world that had nothing to do with her family.
Catching a flight home from LAX, I asked Cassie to join me at the cabin. No work. No family. Nothing to distract us.
“Tell him it’s a business trip. It’s not like he’s going to follow up,” I explained, smirking.
The color drained from her face. She looked at me like I was a complete stranger.
“This feels different,” she said, the corners of her mouth pulling down. “If I start lying about where I’m going and who I’m with, saying I’m working when I’m not . . .” She stared out the hotel window at the city outside, clutching her glass of whiskey close to her chest.
“Cass, we’ve built so much together. We’ve earned this. We owe it to ourselves.”
And then she sobbed.
I reached out to comfort her, but she pushed my hands away.
“Help!” The screams that roused me weren’t my own. The right side of my head ached where my ear had been, but I heard well enough.
“Plee-ee-ee-ease! Please! End this—ARGH!” The man had an accent—Australian.
His pained cries intensified. My eyes popped open. I was seated and bound again, those same coarse twine ropes wrapped around my midsection, securing my torso to the tree behind me. My legs were splayed apart, but intricate wrappings wound around both limbs.
Sobs echoed. Ropes crisscrossed between the toothy trees of the upside-down and right-side up hills.
The pained man hung in the space between treetops. From my perspective, he was upside down, but I realized he was being hoisted from the winter side. His face looked bloody beyond recognition, his clothes filthy.
Sunlight glistened against blood and wet tissue as he was yanked toward the center. Spokes ropes straightened. Standing upside down on the snowcapped peak were four more satyrs, some with dark gray fur, some brown. The winter satyrs appeared paler than the one who had captured me. They pulled the man into position.
On my side, the summer forest, another troop of satyrs yanked ropes connected to the man’s arms and torso. Screams echoed as the man’s arms stiffened. The satyrs pulled taut and knotted the ends of their ropes around tree trunks. The man’s weary cries died down.
They’re quartering him.
I spotted the charred face and singed hair of the monster that claimed me. “What is this?” I whispered. “What are you all doing?”
A taller satyr with gray fur and a prickly crown of leaves trotted forward; he passed around a green bottle. They each took a long gulp. Above, the winter tribe drank from a brown bottle. An older satyr with a creased brow lifted a brass horn to his lips and blew. A low note resonated. The winter tribe returned the call with their own horn.
This is some kind of ritual. A weight, like a stone, settled in my gut.
“Help me, please . . .” came the voice of the upside-down man.
“I’m here!” My voice cracked. “I . . . I can’t help you, but . . . you’re not alone.”
A long silence followed. The man’s head hung slack, and I wondered, hoped, that he had slipped away, his agony ended. Finally, the Aussie coughed out a weak laugh. “They got you too, huh mate?”
I couldn’t help but realize it was winter now in the southern hemisphere.
The satyrs snorted, drank, and listened to us.
“It found me, in my cabin,” I said, “Where are we?”
“Underground, mate,” the Aussie choked. “Far underground.”
“Why?” I asked. “Have they spoken to you?”
“I asked for this,” the man said wearily. “Needed a clean beginning . . .”
Rebirth, the word came back to me. Had something in me, in us, called to this place, these creatures of myth?
“I needed a fresh start too,” I said.
“I didn’t know it would be this hard,” the Aussie said, his voice cracking. “That it would hurt so much.”
“They’re savages,” I said. “It’s not your fault.”
“They are,” he replied. “But I wasn’t talking about them.”
As if by magic, a wooden shaft appeared in the man’s eye socket. Blood squirted from his face and dripped off an arrow decorated with red fletching.
“No!” I screamed.
A second arrow skewered the man’s other eye. Then two more sank into his chest. The man convulsed.
Above and below, archers circled his position and unleashed volley after volley of arrows, two and three at a time, from long mahogany bows. They drew and released so quickly that their arms blurred.
Not one missed.
Arrows lodged and stuck in the man’s face, neck, cheeks, arms, legs, wedged into his armpits. His back. His crotch. When they were through, he looked like a human pin cushion.
Blood ran down the man’s arms and legs, dripping in both directions. It trickled on his chest in strange, swirling patterns, as if unsure which set of gravity to trust.
The satyrs roared with approval. They gathered under the body and gazed up with crazed delight. The monsters opened their mouths wide, drinking in the droplets raining from their sacrifice, each grunting with greedy delight.
I stared at the strange knots that wound my own body, and their horrifying purpose sank in. I was next. The Aussie was the winter satyr’s sacrifice. I was summer.
Once my captor had his fill, he stumbled away. His muscles swelled and his black marble eyes changed—reddened. Slowly, the sores and blisters on his face began to fade.
My captor reached for the green bottle and drained it, then spiked the bottle on the ground. Glass shattered. My eyes fixed on those glinting green shards. Somewhere above, I heard the winter satyrs shout, growl, and smash their own empty bottle in response.
They’re going to string me up over there, by the trees that look like teeth, I thought with eerie rationality.
My captor snarled and stormed in my direction. His blistery face, charred hair, and animal eyes scrunched with hatred. But his horsey smile widened as those burns continued to fade, half-healed.
I smiled. “I turned out to be more trouble than you expected, didn’t I?”
His massive hand reached out.
“I wish you could understand me, so I could tell you to—”
He struck my jaw hard enough to clack my teeth together. He worked at the knots on the tree, releasing me. Two other satyrs each grabbed one of my ankles and dragged me uphill, toward the peaks’ pine grin, but my injured hands trailed behind me, unbound.
The satyrs focused on the task of securing my bonds. Drunken delight danced in their eyes, and I remembered again Dionysus, the god of wine and mirth.
The patron god of pleasure-seekers.
Maybe the myths weren’t so far off after all.
I swept the grass with both hands until at last I felt a smooth shape, and I clenched my fingers around a triangular piece of glass. My fingers burned as I concealed it in my palm. The sharp tip jabbed my thumb, but I dared not reveal it. Not yet. I wanted to get that burned satyr, somehow. I was determined to take him with me.
The sun remained perfectly centered in the sky between worlds.
Does the sun ever set here? I wondered. Is this even my sun?
Then I heard the bird again: a long, crowing sound that rumbled like distant thunder. Another idea started to form, crazier—better if it could work—but I would need my captors to hoist me up first. I needed a vantage point.
After the satyrs secured my leg bonds to the trees, two more secured my arm ropes to arrows. They drew their bowstrings and fired the ropes into the sky.
Slackened ropes spiraled past snowy, upside-down pines, until winter satyrs caught them. They tied those ropes to their own snow-capped trees. It wouldn’t be long now.
I struggled to lift my head, searched my surroundings, scanned the summery hills for the plateau.
The ropes tightened, jerking my arms above my head. Blood trickled from my palm. My arms inched higher above my head. Until at last, with a sudden tug, my whole body left the ground.
I screamed, sure that the ropes would rip my arms from their sockets, but the network of ropes around my torso was more elaborate and supportive than I expected. I felt some measure of relief. My eyes turned to the dead man, upside-down, to my right—a human sea urchin of arrows. Our tormentors didn’t want us to die from being hoisted up. They didn’t want to yank our limbs from our sockets. They took care to make our pain last.
As my legs left ground, the burned satyr trotted up to me and bared his crooked teeth. He hacked up something in his throat and spit on my face.
Cold satyr phlegm ran over my lips. Below, they drank and snorted with satisfaction while the winter crew pulled me higher. My eyes found the sun, blazing in that same spot between worlds.
At last, I spotted the purple-blue mound—closer than I had realized.
My fingers ached as I repositioned the shard of glass. “I’m here,” I said, weakly.
Another tug yanked my arm sockets. I screamed, “I’m here!”
I moved the glass in my hand, craned my neck to see how it caught the light. I tilted the green triangle until the sun flared off its surface. White flashes gleamed against the glass. “I’m here!” I shouted. “Please!”
The tips of summer trees were disappearing below me. More ropes pulled taut. The winter treetops grew closer. My arms ached. I flashed my piece of glass, shouted at the enormous bird-dragon, slumbering away. “Please, help me!”
I cried, blocked out the pain in my fingers and wiggled that glass faster.
They had me in position, in the center of the sky, between the two peaks. It was a bizarre, comforting feeling, gravity tugging my legs and arms in opposite directions, holding me in place. My body felt weightless, a strange euphoria in that perfect spot where worlds impossibly collided.
Then, the ropes yanked all four of my limbs. My shrill, agonized cries echoed off the hills. As the satyrs tugged, and I screamed and screamed, the enormous eagle eye popped open. Its golden iris glittered.
I tilted my glass shard. The reflected light struck that giant eye, and the dragon-bird flinched.
“Help me!” I screamed. “Please!”
Pain fired through my body, and I dropped the piece of glass. I watched my only weapon plummet high up into the snow.
The satyrs above readied their bows. One of them brought the horn to his mouth.
Instead of the horn, the sound that followed was a deafening, echoing screech—the loudest noise I had ever heard. The cry vibrated through my being, shook the snow from the evergreens, and cast horror on every satyr’s face.
I managed to lift my head. The beast from the plateau stood, its wings shimmering with a fiery rainbow aura. It stretched its chrome beak and shrieked again, like rusty trains on rusty tracks. It spread those beautiful wings, its wingspan wider than a jet plane. Blue and purple flowers burned as golden fire swept the sides of the plateau when the bird took off. It ripped through the sky, leaving streaks of flame and a pillar of smoke behind.
The satyrs scrambled into a new formation and aimed their bows at the fast-approaching enemy. They fired, and a wall of arrows sailed from above and below. The wooden shafts shriveled into charred twigs and incinerated before they reached the bird.
The ground quaked as the magnificent creature dove onto the summer peak, knocking over trees, setting them ablaze. The satyrs panicked and fled, but not fast enough. I watched with satisfaction as the old gray satyr’s horsey face and crown of leaves disappeared into those terrible hooked jaws.
The bird spewed a wall of fire from its beak. Streaks of golden flame swallowed three more satyrs, who unleashed guttural brays of pain. Their black husks collapsed in the blaze.
More arrows whizzed past me, charring into smoke before they reached the bird. Radiant heat seared my skin as the bird spread its wings again and set its sights on the winter satyrs above. The ropes securing my legs burned and snapped. I swung by my arms and torso as the bird ascended toward the upside-down forest.
The shouts and cries of the winter tribe filled the air, and the snowy peak erupted with steam. Fire pulsed within a cloud of vapor. The ropes that held my arms snapped and slackened. I hung now, by my torso alone. Steam wafted over me, and I smiled weakly. My broken rib knifed into me as I attempted a laugh.
On the summer ground below, the magical fires of the bird died into blue and copper embers, and the burned satyr—my burned satyr—glared up at me. He readied an arrow, pulled the bowstring until red fletching met his charred cheek.
He unleashed his arrow just as the ropes that held my torso snapped. I felt a strange feeling of vertigo. I was free-falling, but I didn’t know in which direction. Time seemed to slow down. I watched my captor’s arrow miss and disappear into sublimated snow vapor.
Then I fell—up. Wet air wrapped around me. A snowdrift broke my fall. The icy cold soothed my broken body.
As the mist cleared, I saw the bird nearby, spreading golden wings, screeching with the force of a thunderstorm.
I lay between the burned husks of winter satyrs. High above, my captor readied another arrow and hunted for the spot where I had landed.
The dragon-bird fired like a rocket back to the summer forest.
My captor raised his arms in vain to shield against the onslaught of flame, just as those jaws snapped up his head and neck. The bird chomped, and I heard the snap of the satyr’s backbone. Then, the bird jerked its head and discarded the flaming, headless body.
I spread my aching limbs in the snow—delirious, exhausted—and marveled at the magnificent creature.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
The golden eyes changed to a sparkling silvery color. The bird’s scaly legs glowed white hot. It flapped its wings and called to me, then it took off again, swooped upward and fanned warm, white light. The bird was glowing so bright now, so hot. I was sure the fire would consume it. Consume us both.
And I thought of Cassie.
I no longer wondered why I was there, beneath a canopy of magnificent feathers turning to ash. Silhouettes of huge hollow bones crumbled to dust.
Soon, nothing remained but that beautiful glow, and Cassie’s prayer for rebirth.
The pain disappeared. A word from my childhood flew to the forefront of my mind and lingered there.