A broken branch scuttled across the windshield. Lucetta jerked her eyes up to the window. “What the heck?” she sputtered, taking in the landscape. The wind had blown away the mist to reveal a small town only minutes away. She glanced back at the crumpled map that laid across her lap. According to it she was miles away from civilization. “How strange,” she muttered to herself as she shifted into drive and returned to the empty road.
It was only moments later when she came upon the small, barren town. Lucetta squinted at the welcome sign as she approached. The green painting was faded and chipped. Rust streaked the sign like claw marks and there were so many holes that she couldn’t make out the words. She blinked and instantly the sign looked like any old road marking. It greeted Lucetta with the words: Welcome to Circantis.
I must be low on sleep, she thought suddenly feeling exhausted.
Lucetta drove through the town for a few minutes before finding a coffee shop. As she pushed open the door a loud screeching radiated throughout the café. She cringed, but no one else in the shop seemed to notice. She hurried over to the counter, eager to escape the cold creeping into her bones. “One large coffee with extra cream please,” she said, smiling politely at the waitress.
The waitress ignored her smile, and turned around to fill a styrofoam cup with coffee. As Lucetta waited, a potent and rotten smell touched her nose. She looked around the café. For a second it looked as if all the chairs and tables were decaying, the walls moldy, and the floor a swamp of debris. Confused, she rubbed her eyes and as if it were magic, the shop was replaced with plush plum booths, shining silver tables and multiple floral paintings lined the walls.
“One dollar, seventy five cents.”
Startled, Lucetta turned to find the empty eyes of the waitress staring at her. Her coffee sat on the counter in front of her, steam curling in the air. She pulled a couple bills out of her jeans and handed it to the waitress before grabbing the coffee and taking a big sip, desperate to fill the cold pit in her core. “Thanks,” she chirped before rushing towards the door. Right as she was about to grasp the handle, the door swung open, shoving her to the ground.
“Good gracious, I didn’t see you there! Are you okay?”
Lucetta looked up to see a willowy young woman standing above her, her hand outreached. The woman had long honey golden locks streaming down to her waist. She was dressed in a floral sleeveless dress that stopped short in the front, but cascaded down her back to her heels, along with a pair of chocolate colored ballet flats. As the woman helped Lucetta up, she gasped. The woman’s eyes were amber and her pupils weren’t circles, but slivers, just like a cat’s! The corners of the woman’s mouth turned down and suddenly Lucetta realized she was mistaken; the woman’s weren’t feline, but completely normal with greyish green hue.
“Sorry about hitting you and causing you to drop your drink.” The woman said, gesturing to Lucetta’s coffee spilled all over the floor.
Lucetta had been so surprised that she had forgotten about her coffee. “Oh, it’s no big deal. I’ll just buy another.” She mumbled, still a little stunned.
“There’s no need,” the woman said before calling to the waitress, “Miranda, come get this lady another coffee and then clean up this mess!”
Within seconds the waitress had placed another coffee in her hand. The woman’s authoritative tone had surprised Lucette. Who was she?
As if she had read Lucetta’s mind, the woman said, “Oh, I’m sorry; I haven’t introduced myself. My name’s Alcina.”
“Lucetta,” she replied.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Alcina said shaking her hand, “So, are you planning to stay long in Circantis?”
“No, I was actually just on my way out now.” Lucetta stated as she began to edge towards the door.
Alcina moved with her, once again blocking her path, “Oh, but you must at least stay the night! There’s a horrid storm drawing in.”
And at once thunder sounded and rain began the pound on the ground like a stampede of animals. Lucetta glance outside, contemplating. She had no set final destination, no time limitation for her trip. She was taking a gap year before college, touring the states; hoping the open road would allow her to find herself. Maybe this is a sign, she thought, Maybe this is where I’m supposed to discover who I am.
“That sounds like a good idea,” Lucetta replied, turning to face Alcina.
“Great!” Alcina exclaimed, clapping her hands together like a little child, “Here, let me write down the directions to our inn.” She pulled out a paper and pen from an umber suede purse Lucetta hadn’t noticed before, and started scribbling.
“I’ll stop by the inn tomorrow morning so I can give you a tour of the town.” Alcina said as she handed the paper to Lucetta.
“Okay…” Lucetta drew the word out, surprised by her statement.
Alcina opened the door to leave but then turned around to face Lucetta once more, “Once you see this town, you’re never going to be able to leave it!” She smiled as if she held a secret, then vanished into the downpour as if the storm was no concern to her.
It wasn’t until she had pulled up to the inn that Lucetta had realized that Alcina hadn’t bought anything from the café.
Lucetta stood in the dimly lit lobby of the inn, a small duffel bag in tow. Everything looked well, normal. Beautiful petite maroon columns lined the entry way, a rug of burgundy and mustard yellow flowers stretched across the doorway and clusters of seating arrangements dwelled in the corners of the large parlor. And yet, something seemed off to Lucetta. Frigid breezes seemed to swirl around her, constantly petting her body as if she were a cat, and yet the room was completely closed off from the outside. Splashes sounded after every step she made as she strode across the room. It was as if puddles littered the floor. She kneed down to touch the floor and sure enough felt liquid envelope her fingertips. And yet the floor looked as dry as a desert. Startled, Lucetta drew her hand away and watched droplets glide off her fingers and disappear into oblivion when they touched the ground. Terrified, she scrambled to the counter at the other end of the room.
Just as she reached the middle of the room she felt her right foot dip down and catch, causing her to sprawl out on the floor. She turn over to look for the hole and saw nothing but a gleaming bronze wooden floor. “What is happening?” she shrieked, becoming hysterical.
Lucetta jumped up and ran for the counter. Once she reached it she realized that the desk was deserted. A lone key with the number 13 laid across the top. “Screw it!” she said as she grabbed the key. She didn’t care how odd the situation was. All she wanted to do was close her eyes and leave this nightmarish reality.
Lucetta bounded down the left corridor, creaks running alongside her. When she saw her room number she slid to the door. She jammed the key into the lock, jerked it to the left; releasing a squeal that resonated throughout the hall, and thrust her weight into the door. The door gave away easily and she fell into the room. She quickly turned and locked the door behind her. She flung her bag to the side and then collapsed on the bed, her frightened state instantly rendering her unconscious.
Lucetta jolted awake. She frantically looked around the room, panting. Where am I? She took a deep breath. Oh yeah, I’m in Circantis. She shivered, remembering her experience from the previous night. Was I hallucinating? Was my brain playing tricks on me? The water from the lobby seems so unreal now. I must have been imagining it all.
Feeling more at ease, Lucetta swung her legs over the side of the narrow bed she inhabited. She placed her feet on the sleek wooden tiles and shuffled over to the bathroom, picking up her duffel bag on the way. She set her bag on the counter, raised her eyes to the mirror and gasped. Her skin tone had jumped down to reside at a pearly white. Her hair once the color of a lightly creamed coffee now hung limp, dull and ashy. Dark circles hung beneath her eyes. And her eyes, oh her eyes. Up until today her eyes had been robin egg blue but now it was as if the life had been sucked out of them. There was no trace of blue left in them, all that remained was a birch gray color.
What is going on? Maybe I’m becoming color blind, she repeated the excuse to herself.Grimacing, she swept her hair up into a messy bun. She then changed into an emerald green and black plaid shirt along with charcoal gray leggings and her copper colored combat boots. Trying to revive the color in her face she splashed water on her face but alas; it was no use.
Leaving the room Lucetta felt something scurry something across her feet. Seeing nothing, she panicked and ran to the inn’s lobby.
Upon seeing Alcina waiting for her, Lucetta slowed her pace. Alcina smiled as she approached. “Everything all right?”
“Yep; I was just worried about keeping you waiting.” The white lie slipped off her tongue; she didn’t want Alcina to think she was crazy.
“Don’t worry; I haven’t been waiting long,” Alcina responded, “So, let’s get this tour started! I have everything plan out.”
“Wait! I never actually checked into the hotel… No one was here when I arrived.” Lucetta admitted shyly, glancing at the wrinkly old man now stationed at the front desk.
Alcina followed her line of vision and released an exasperated sigh, “Don’t worry about him. He’ll be here when you return. Trust me, he wouldn’t mind if you wait till later.”
“Okay…” She replied a little hesitant.
“Great! Let’s get going!”
The longer Lucetta spent in Circantis, the more the anxiety intensified in her body, and everywhere she turned, something seemed off. Every place she and Alcina visited, Lucetta received flashes of mosaics of crumbling walls, moth eaten furniture and broken floorboards, only to be replaced with elegant and grand décor a moment later. And then there was the people; everyone looked archaic. Not a single youthful face seemed to mingle in the crowd, excluding Alcina. Everyone was ashen and wrinkled with dark circles prominently etched beneath their eyes. Even the way they spoke was depressing; their voices lacked personal melodies. Every single one provided monotonic and taciturn conversations.
At the end of the tour Alcina turned to her and grinned, “So what would you like to do tomorrow? Now that you’ve seen the town, I thinking that we could going hiking through the woods…”
“Actually, I was planning on leaving after I returned to the inn. It was nice meeting you though. Thanks for showing me around,” Lucetta interrupted, smiling hesitantly.
“Oh c’mon, you can’t stay a few more days?” Alcina whined.
“I’m sorry, but I’m on my way to see my grandma. She’s expecting me tomorrow. I’m already gonna be running late because I spent the night here,” Lucette replied, quickly making up the lie. Circantis was seriously freaking her out, there was no way she was going to stay a moment longer.
“Don’t lie to me!” Alcina screeched, “You’re on a road trip; you don’t have anywhere to be!”
“How would you know?” Lucette narrowed her eyes.
“You mentioned it earlier.” Alcina stated, smirking.
Suddenly the idea did sound familiar. Lucette could almost picture revealing the fact as they left the inn that morning. She shook her head and pushed the memory down. It didn’t feel natural; it was dull and empty. She could hear the words “I’m on a road trip,” and see Alcina’s smiling face. She could sense that they had been at the inn but she couldn’t access the scenery, the emotions she had had at the time or any of the smells in the memory. No, this memory wasn’t natural, somehow Alcina was messing with her mind.
“No,” she shook her head once more, then lifted her eyes to Alcina’s, “No, I didn’t.”
Surprised, Alcina took a step back. “Are you sure?” She questioned Lucetta.
“I’m very sure. Now if you’ll excuse me; I’m leaving.” Lucette responded glaring, before scooting around her and heading down the sidewalk towards the inn.
As she walked away, Lucetta thought she heard the wind carry the words, “We’ll see.”
The wind raged against her car, making it hard for her to control the steering wheel as she journeyed down the twisty forest road. Trees pitched leaves at her windshield, making it nearly impossible for her to see where she was headed. Just as she left the town’s limits, water began to storm down from the sky. Despite the prevailing weather, Lucetta was relieved; she was free of Circantis.
Suddenly a dark figure dashed across the road only a couple yards away from Lucetta. She slammed on the brakes, but the rain caused her to hydroplane. The steering wheel twisted out of her grasp, leading her into a ditch on the shoulder of the road. As the car crashed into the grassy hill of the trench, her head slammed into the steering wheel and she was wrapped up in darkness.
Green eyes with a golden halo floated above her as branches tickled her back. She could feel slippery, cold pebbles run down her face.
“You see, this is my paradise. No one leaves without my permission.”
Icy rocks bit at her legs. She watched as colorless stone rainbows followed her path. Winged beasts nested in the corners.
Lucetta woke to the pounding in her skull. She tried to lift a hand to touch her forehead but she couldn’t move her limb. Blinking her eyes she looked down to see her arms and feet chained to the wall. She shrieked and desperately began to pull at the metal restraining her.
“Calm down. There’s no point. There’s no way to escape,” an emotionless voice to her left said.
Lucetta whipped her head towards the voice. Alongside her were twelve other men and women also shackled to the wall. Everyone was dressed in rags, crusty with blood stains, each gifted with their own personalized set of gashes and bruises. Her lip began to shake in terror. She was lost, scared, confused, and alone. Her heartbeat began to ramp up. At any second she knew she was going to explode. Tears swelled up in her eyes and slid down her face.
“STOP THAT!” the man beside her shouted.
Obediently, Lucetta closed her eyes to suppress the tears and took deep breaths to calm herself, but her lip continued to tremble. “I don’t understand; what’s happening?”
The man grimaced in sympathy. “You know that woman you met? Alcina? Well she’s a witch. No joke; she literally has magic. She controls the whole town with some kind of sinister voodoo magic. She has this twisted idea that everyone under her control will provide her with a happy life.” The man explained, fury building on his face as he spoke.
“Then why aren’t we under her control? What are we doing here?”
“Alcina can only gain control of you if you cry. But it’s not any tears she needs for her spell, but a tear of total defeat. When hopelessness has completely ransacked your soul; you offer your body up for the taking.”
“So simple; we don’t give up hope. People are bound to come looking for us eventually. They’ll save us.” Lucetta stated, hope sprouting inside her.
“Maybe. If we can last that long. But Alcina has her methods.”
Years later, a young woman with faded brown hair dropped her head. And a tear rolled down her cheek.