“Are you sure you understand what we are about to do?”
Ivy nodded her head. She looked down the narrow path that wound among tall, leafless trees until it disappeared into a yellowish fog.
“Nodding isn’t good enough, Ivy,” said Sable. “Do you understand your choices? You have to tell me clearly. I know you are only twelve but I can’t make this decision for you.”
“Yes,” said Ivy peevishly. “You’ve told me a hundred times. I can go back if I want to, instead of staying here. I don’t want to go back. My grandmother is dead.”
“And your parents? Your friends?”
Her cat was her greatest friend, and he was wandering somewhere in the cave or in this strange, misty landscape. He would come find her.
As for her parents, she had a sudden snapshot image of them— her mother in front of the mirror at her dressing table, applying impossibly crimson lipstick, and he with his hand on her shoulder, wearing that ring, the gold one with the square cut emerald.
The snapshot turned into a moving vision, and her mother turned her gaze slightly in the mirror until her eyes were locked with Ivy’s.
“I don’t want to go back,” said Ivy.
“You can’t change your mind, after this,” said Sable.
Ivy sighed. How many times?
“And,” said Sable carefully, “the dying. To come back here again, and we must, you will have to die again.”
“It didn’t hurt,” said Ivy.
“It might this time,” said Sable. She reached out and touched Ivy’s freshly cut hair, short and practical, like her own, but without the curls.
“I don’t have any choice,” said Ivy. She frowned. Couldn’t they just get on with this?
“You do, honey,” said Sable. “You could stay here.”
Here? What here? An endless cave, lit by distant fires, smokey, barren, lifeless— or this plateau, with an invisible landscape, colourless, stifling?
Ivy said, “Can we go now? I can’t breathe here. Can we just go?”
Sable burst into a broad smile. “Let’s go have some fun.”
They started down the well-trodden path. “We’ll arrive just outside Nettle River,” said Sable. “We can hike into town, find the outfitters and get directions to the ranch.
“It’ll be a lark.”