By Tassy Schrader
Midnight found Hollynn Radish digging up purple marigolds in a garden behind the queens’ barn. The dirt flew up into her face, stinging her eyes and caking her lips in mud. The stars looked blue in the blackness of the sky, and the pocketwatch lying on the ground next to Hollynn gave a tiny chime to signal the start of a new day. She muttered something naughty under her breath.
“Shh,” someone whispered almost inaudibly.
Hollynn jumped and raised her shovel. The noise came from the forest to her right.
“Show yourself!” Hollynn whispered, looking anxiously at the queens’ barn. If the queens were to hear her, she’d be dead before morning.
“Don’t speak,” the voice said. It was raspy and quiet. Hollynn tightened her grip. She looked down, and something shining at the bottom of the pit she’d made caught her eye.
“Stars,” she murmured, nearly dropping her shovel in astonishment
“I said, don’t speak!” An elderly wolf sauntered out from behind a large-leaved bush. He was missing an ear, and the fur on his tail was matted. One of his eyes was almost swollen shut. “That’s it, girl-child.”
Hollynn tried to step backwards, around the pile of dirt she’d collected after a night of digging. Her foot caught on her lantern and she toppled with a small cry, falling into the hole.
She gasped for breath at the bottom, chest heaving with the effort of it. Above her, blueish stars twinkled as if they were laughing. The sides of the pit were hard and steep. The top was at least eight feet tall. She had only been able to dig this far by aid of a long shovel and a dirt platform to kneel on halfway down…a platform that was now out of her reach.
“Help me up,” she demanded of her companion. “Or you’ll soon be on the wrong end of my blade.” She groped for her shovel before realizing it was still above her.
“Oh, dear me, how frightened I am!” the wolf whispered. He laughed in near silence. “No, Hollynn, I think we must make a trade.”
“I’m listening.” What other options did she have? She couldn’t climb out of the pit without any tools, and she definitely couldn’t wait here until one of the queens found her and killed her.
“Your freedom and guaranteed safety as you leave here…” the wolf sauntered into view, smiling wickedly. “In exchange for that hole you’re sitting in.”
“Never!” Hollynn gasped. The wolf frowned and walked out of view. Hollynn turned her head quickly, smearing her purple hair in the dirt. She saw the yellow stars she’d caught a glimpse of earlier through a gap in the ground. She began scraping at the gap, widening it desperately.
“Oh, but think it over,” the wolf said from out of Hollynn’s sight. “I leave in five minutes, and I won’t help you out if you don’t agree.”
“Why do you want it?” Hollynn gasped. “It’s just a hole in the queens’ garden.”
“I know who you are, Hollynn. I know what you’re trying to escape and what you think this ‘hole in the queens’ garden’ is. I know that you’re looking for a pathway to another world.”
Hollynn nearly let out a cry of anguish. She’d been so careful to never let anyone, much less a stranger, see her end goal. She continued scraping at the gap, her fingers turning black with dirt, her eyes widening with panic.
“Oh, yes,” the wolf whispered. She could hear his paws hitting the wet dirt around the pit as he paced. “I know everything about you. You’re a runaway at sixteen, and you need this more than you’ll let anyone know–”
“How?” Hollynn cried. “How do you know me?” The wolf tensed, his claws no longer hitting the ground.
“Someone’s in my garden!” a shrill voice screamed.
“The queens!” the wolf said. He ran to the edge of the pit. Hollynn quickly put her hand over the gap. “Farewell, Hollynn,” he said. “I’ll be back to make the deal…if you’re still alive.”
“Help me!” Hollynn whispered fiercely, but the wolf was gone.
She tore at the gap desperately, kneeling next to it. Now her hand could go through, now
up to her elbow…
“Someone’s been digging up my marigolds!” one of the queens shrieked. A large powdered face appeared above Hollynn’s head just as the ground beneath her gave way and she fell into whatever lay beyond.