December 21, 2015 | Posted in The Mermaid & The WolF Adventures

Summers and winters, through snowy Decembers
Sat by the waters, minding the embers
Missing the lives that they held once before
Planting the seeds and dreaming once more
Of poppies in spring
And three bells that ring
And a forest that lets them go…

There’s no bird in the cave.

This becomes painfully clear after just a few minutes of looking. The family of centaurs are the only living creatures in the cave. Twin tunnels split off at the far end, but the dark is all encompassing and it’s impossible to figure out what’s down either of them.

WooFZee gives a snarl of a sigh and sinks down onto the ground. “Got any more bright ideas, MeaZea?”

“The flowers are pretty,” says MeaZea, breathily. She reaches out with one hand, letting her fingers brush against the bright red petals. Unlike with WooFZee, the flowers don’t slip through her skin. They’re real and unimaginably soft.

The wolf flicks one ear. “I think they’re part of the problem.”

Pick the flowers, pick the flowers, pick the flowers, goes the voice in MeaZea’s mind. It echoes on a loop, just like the song. The longer they’re in the cave, the more familiar it seems. Like a friend, whispering a secret in her ear.

She thinks, I like it down here, and then shakes her head, terrified at the thought. It’s not nice down here! It’s a bad, awful place. There’s something wrong with the air, and there’s something even worse going on with those poppies.

“We need to pick a tunnel,” says MeaZea, voice thick. She’s trying hard to swallow down her fear and brush away those sordid thoughts, but it’s proving really hard to do. “We need to find that bird, WooFZee.”

Exhaustion weighs at WooFZee’s mind, but he forces himself up onto his paws. He looks down one tunnel and then the next. Nothing. It’s just – blackness, sheer and awful. “Alright,” he says, more to himself then the mermaid clinging to his back. He shakes his head, like he’s trying to shake off the fatigue.

It doesn’t work. He starts down the tunnel on the left, anyways.

There’s no algae on the walls. There’s no gleam from the poppy flowers. For the longest time, it’s just darkness and singing and that whispering, urging voice.

Pick the flowers, it says, pick the flowers.

Twice, Elena reaches down, fingers wrapping around the stem of a poppy flower. Both times, Elena stops herself at the last minute.

“I don’t like this,” grumbles WooFZee.

In an attempt to block out the impulse to pick poppies, MeaZea wraps her arms around WooFZee’s neck and buries her face in his thick, gray fur. “Am I the only one that’s tired?”

WooFZee shakes his head. “No. There’s something in the air. It’s the flowers, I’m sure o-“ He cuts off, stumbles to a stop. There are lights, everywhere. Rather than a cave, the duo are standing in the middle of a cavern formed completely out of stunning crystals. They shine with a light that’s all their own, illuminating the room. At the very center of the room, there’s a nest woven from poppy flowers, strips of copper, and deer antlers. It’s twice as wide as WooFZee is long, and filled with brilliant black and brown feathers.

Katelynn E Koontz – Author