Halley ran through the woods as fast as her feet could take her, and the Sisters followed.
She made her way through the underbrush, trying desperately to ignore the slight tugging sensation in the back of her head. The Sisters were calling her. The woods broke into the hillside. Hailey scrabbled up through the dry grass and risked looking up into the night.
The sky was empty. There wasn't a star or light to be seen; even the moon was gone. A horrible sinking feeling crept into her stomach and the world suddenly seemed that much darker.
A bolt of white light struck the ground beside her. Halley shot to the left.
"Come out, Halley," said one of the Sisters. "We don't want to hurt you."
Another flash of light, this time striking just behind her. She kept running.
She made over the crest of the hill and had to stop herself from crying. There was a town. It was a small town, she could tell. In other places it might've been called a village, but a town nonetheless. Streetlights and porch lights and headlights dotted the valley below. She made her way down the hill, trying to keep her head low in case the Sisters hadn't seen her yet. At the last, she tripped and fell, rolling down until she hit a wooden fence leading into someone's backyard.
Without missing a beat, she was up again and heading for the back porch.
"Hey," she said, hitting the door. "Hello? Please let me in."
She glanced behind her and saw the tell-tale glow of the Sisters, coming over the hill.
"Please let me in! Hello? Anyone? Please-"
The door was opened by a small girl, about a head shorter than Halley, wearing a white nightgown. She squinted up sleepily. In her arms was a stuffed white rabbit.
"What?" she said, half-yawning.
Halley pointed to the hill. "They're coming for me. I need to find my Grama before they get to her first-"
The girl rubbed her eyes and looked to the hill. "Oh," she said. "Them." She sniffed and tucked the rabbit more securely beneath one arm. "Come on, I'll take care of that lot."
"Are you sure?" said Halley, nervously. "They're bigger than we are-"
The little girl grinned, showing off a row of baby teeth. "Size isn't everything, cuz. Come on."
Before Halley could answer, the girl had breezed past her and was climbing over the fence. She made her way up the hill, and Halley followed after. With every step, the girl seemed to get more sturdy. The air thickened around her. Everything got heavy. It pressed down on Halley's head and chest, making it hard to breathe.
One by one, the Sisters oozed over the top of the hill. The light surrounding them was nearly blinding.
"Hey," said the girl, apparently unfazed by the light. Her rabbit stuck out from between crossed arms. "What d'you guys think you're doing?"
"Hello, cousin Ickle," said Maia. "How is wittle Ickle today?"
The girl didn't rise up to the bait. "When my mom finds out what you're doing-"
"Oh, you gonna tattle on us?" said Merope
"Only if you keep being big, stupid jerks-"
One of them threw bolt of light. Halley screamed as it hit the smaller girl straight in the chest. The girl, however, didn't seem to mind in the slightest.
"Oh that's real nice," she said. Her nightgown wasn't even singed. "You want to pick on someone littler than you. I get it."
She took her stuffed rabbit and tossed it into the air. Halfway through the arch and starting from the nose back, it morphed. Fluff and cloth changed to something that looked like flesh, but was far too wispy to ever be solid.
The Sisters screamed, though Halley didn't understand why. She thought the rabbit was cute.
The rabbit leapt through the air, barely stopping to touch the ground. Immediately, it began attacking the Sisters, taking nips out of their clothes and hair and any other bits it could get its teeth on, only to hop backwards before they could hit it.
The Sisters ran up the hill, pursued by the rabbit.
"We're gonna tell on you!" screeched Maia. "Wait 'till Grama hears about this!"
Halley and the girl watched them go. The other girl wasn't laughing, so Halley did her best not to as well.
"Is your name really Ickle?" she said instead.
The girl sighed. "Close enough. Nobody ever remembers my name." She opened her arms out to the hill.
"I'm sorry," said Halley. "I've got a lot of cousins to memorize, you know?"
Slowly, the rabbit loped back up over the hill, hanging in the air for long seconds before gently coming back down the earth. The spectral rabbit leapt into Ickle's waiting arms. The moment they touched, the ghostly miasma was stripped away, leaving nothing more but a stuffed toy rabbit.
Ickle nodded. "I hear you. Come on, lets go find Grama before they do." A small, defiant smile crept out. "I'm not supposed to do the rabbit trick like that when I'm visiting."
Ickle took Halley's hand and lead her back down to the yard. Together they went through the sideyard and out onto the front.
"Do you know where she lives?" said Halley as Ickle lead her down the street. "I haven't been around for so long- I think they moved everything around while I was gone."
"Don't worry," said Ickle. "I know this place like the back of my hand. I'm down here all the time."
The neighborhood was quiet. All around them, the lights in houses flicked off, one by one.
"Don't worry," said Ickle, reading her mind. "It's nine o clock. The people around here always turn out at nine. It's kind of a quiet town."
The bushes to the left began to rustle. A scorpion roughly the size of a dog crawled out, hissing and cricking as it did. It stopped briefly to look at them, wagged its tail threateningly, then went off across the street.
"I must have forgotten to close the gate when I came down."
"Don't worry," said Ickle. "I'm sure Ryan will get it."
They went on, nervously keeping watch for any lions or dragons that might crawl out of the bushes.
The house Ickle lead them to was small and comfortable looking, with a garden full of yellow night-blooming flowers Halley didn't know the names to. Two women were sitting on the front porch, chatting. One was large and motherly looking, with skin as black as coal and eyes that spilled out white fire. The second was the exact opposite, slim and pale, with silver colored hair that shimmered in the porch light.
Ickle ran up the walk first. "Mommy!" she shouted, wrapping her arms around the neck of the pale lady.
"Achel!" said Ickle's mother. "Honey, what are you doing out?"
"Girls," said the older woman, setting her mug down. "What's going on? And Halley, hon, you're late! You were supposed to be here a couple days ago." She got up out of the rocker and opened her arms for a hug.
Halley broke. She ran to her grandmother's arms, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Grama, they were mean to me!"
"The Sisters," said Ickle. Halley couldn't speak: she was crying too hard into her grandmother's shoulder. "They chased her. And they were throwing light around. I saw the burn marks in the ground."
"Oh they were now, were they?" She looked over at Ickle's mother. "Selene, do you want to call them, or should I?"
Selene shrugged. "They'd listen to you."
She nodded. With one arm still cradling Halley, Nox stood up and stamped her foot on the ground. The entire house rattled with the force of it.
"All right, you lot! Get out here this instant!
For a second, there was only silence. Then, a scream, followed by another, and another. Then all seven of the Sisters fell out of the sky and landed in a heap in the middle of the lawn.
"You didn't come fast enough," said Nox, disengaging herself from Halley.
"Grama!" said Merope, picking herself up from the pile. "Grama! Ickle did the rabbit thing-"
Nox snapped her fingers and Merope's mouth snapped shut.
"We'll talk about that later. What I want to know now is, what do you think you're doing, picking on your little cousin like that?"
"Quiet, Electra, I'm not finished. How often does Halley get to come visit?"
The Sisters all went quiet, rubbing their arms or staring at their feet.
"The answer is 'not often'. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, acting like that when you're all so much older. Apologize. Now."
"Sorry," they mumbled.
"Yeah, sorry Halley-"
"-didn't mean anything. . ."
"Still friends, right?"
"Sorry. . . "
Even Merope looked apologetic.
"There," said Nox. "Now were all settled, then. Selene, you want to make sure they," she jerked her head towards the sisters. "Don't cause any more trouble on their way home?"
Selene tried to hide her smile. "Yes, Grama." She got up out of her seat. "Come on, you seven. You can bet I'll be having a word with your lady about this."
The three watched them leave from the porch. "Alright, then," said Nox. "Halley, you go inside. I'll be there in a minute to cook you two up some dinner. I'm guessing you haven't eaten today, have you?"
Halley shyly shook her head. "No, Grama."
"A crime," she said. "Halley, you'll be staying with me until the visit's over. I'll show you where the guestroom is in a bit. The place was renovated a few years back, so you might have trouble finding it." When Halley did not immediately leave, she waved her off. "Go on, shoo. It's warm in there. I'll be in in a second."
Halley nodded and did as she was told. The last things she heard before the door gently clicked close were:
"Now, Achelois, what's this I hear about you letting your rabbit run loose?"
"Aww, but Grama-"