Updated: Jul 13, 2021
The sky was properly dark by the time they arrived in the village, streaked by the pinprick lights of a billion other suns of a trillion other worlds - none of which, to Edna Star, had any appeal. She had a complicated relationship with her namesake. On the one hand, they made her feel so small and insignificant and alone, which she loved. On the other, they reminded her very much that she was surrounded - at all times and always - just a cog in a machine she would never see, the purpose of which she could never discover. This made her feel lonely, which is different than alone, and worse.
She hadn’t always felt this way, she knew, but the stars had a way of reaching back to her youth - tracing the constellations that had guided her here. As a child staring into that broken dark with her friends, she would listen - silent and incredulous - as they told preemptive tales of the adventures they’d each find among the other worlds.
Tamera was going to find a planet made of milk and honey where there was never any school or chores or bedtime. Marquis would go to a “regular world” and slay a monster with a thousand heads and no hands or butts by getting it to do Ms. Hartley’s arithmetic homework. Priya wouldn’t go to a planet at all, but discover that a beautiful comet was actually a tower with infinite princesses from infinite worlds locked inside. They would find these places, and be called heroes, and the gods or queens or mayors who lived there would thank them for their labors with boons of immortality or true love or twenty-seven camels. Marquis really wanted twenty-seven camels.
On this particular night, once they had all - all but Edna - agreed on the inevitability of these grand fortunes, Priya asked the young Star what she thought. Edna wanted to tell them that she thought a planet of milk and honey sounded a sticky way to drown. She wanted to tell them that she wasn’t sure monsters needed slaying, but that one with a thousand heads and no butt would slay itself eventually, whether you bothered it or not. She wanted to tell them that she thought it unlikely, despite the expansion of the universe, that there would be infinite princesses at all, given the failures of hereditary monarchy.
She wanted to tell them that she didn’t understand why they would want to go anywhere but home. That adventure was well and good, she supposed, but all she wanted was to sit in a soft chair and drink plain black tea for the flavor. That sometimes, boring was the most exciting thing in the world.
She wanted to tell them all of this, and so she did. In return, they told her things, hurtful things. They would apologize for these things later, but it would be too late, for once her friends had stormed off and Edna had been left there alone on that hill on that night, these things had moved into her soul - into her deepest picture of herself - and found homes to raise families in, where they would never need leave.
But that night hadn’t been all bad, she recalled, for as the words of her friends had found their homes and signed their mortgages, she had stared through her tears at the stars and felt something from them for the very first time. In her memories, she likened this to the feeling of clutching her watch - only where her watch was shiny and close, the sky was distant and dark.
She had followed that feeling down the hill, through some bushes, and into an old house she had never noticed before. The house had no locks and no people and no creeping dread. Edna was there and, she knew somehow, supposed to be. It was beautiful and old and broken to bits. She had climbed over piles of debris, walked through rooms full of treasures worth more than she could have understood, and come to a table with only a gleaming silver watch and an old, broken picture. She payed no attention to the picture, for she had none left to give. Her senses were at their very edge - heightened higher than she had yet known - but they were all focused on that watch.
So the sky was dark above the land that should have been Japan (but wasn’t quite), and full of memories. It was also diagonal, but Edna didn’t blame it for that. She blamed Highmond. He had tried to make a run from their captors early on, forcing her to try the same. They immediately tripped over a huge, exposed root. That makes them both sound quite unimpressive, really, which isn’t entirely fair. It was impressive, for instance, that they both managed not to see the massive, obvious obstacle in their path until the precise moment it became too late. They piled atop each other and splayed, the way piled people do.
In total, their grand escape lasted almost three seconds, which, she had to admit, was better than usual when she tried plans such as these. Their captors had tied them by hands and feet to poles after that, and carried them the rest of the way down the forest path to their destination.
Edna was unsure what to expect of a town that had been painted over by another time and place, but she should have just expected... that. Even in the dim glow of lantern and moon, she could see that it was wrong. It was as if someone had built a small, Japanese farming village then laid a thin veneer of old British peasantry overtop - colonialism in a can.
“Disgusting,” she murmured.
“What was ‘at?” the guard at her front called over his shoulder, barely turning his head.
“Dicussing,” she enunciated the word carefully - a lie of pronunciation - “the situation with my friend would be nice. Perhaps you’d consider ungagging him, now we’re in town.”
About an hour previous, Highmond had had the bright idea to try speaking Japanese to their new companions. This had, just the same as when he’d asked the dino cops where they were, caused a lot of distress to their poor abductors. “What was ‘at!” they’d yelled, and “What you fink you’re doin’!” as well as other things I’d rather leave out.
Still he kept going, no matter what they said about his mother or manhood or tophat. He pushed on through their distress until the leader, the woman, was covering her ears, one of the men was screaming, and another was hitting his head on a tree. The last man, the mean one, grabbed a few handfuls of leaves and shoved them into Highmond’s mouth. Then he’d torn some cloth from his waist and wrapped it round Highmond’s head to hold them in.
When the armored lot had recovered, the leader declared Highmond a witch and sentenced him to… she wasn't quite sure, actually. No one else was either. Witches, they decided, were best left to the Queen.
So the man’s response to Edna was, “No. Can’t do, mum. No ungagging him till we reach the Queen. It’s for your own safety as much as mine. No telling what other hexes and spells and such he might try to cast. Best to have the Queen’s protection.”
“Right,” Edna said, “and why will the Queen be able to protect us from his ‘hexes and spells and such’?”
“Well,” he paused, “because she’s a witch, in’she?”