The neighborhood they were approaching was quiet. No shadows or human life in sight. Bonnie and Raven left the water, and quietly crept down the streets. They didn’t speak. They tried to even keep their footsteps soft. Silence felt like safety. Maybe the shadows hadn’t discovered this odd, ghost-town neighborhood just yet…
Loud music blasted from Raven’s pocket, shattering the silence. She quickly pulled out a phone, and on the screen, the only option was to answer. She hit the button just to silence it. “Hello?” she said.
“Eight. One. Two,” said an unfamiliar voice.
“What? Who is this?”
“Eight. One. Two.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Raven,” Bonnie said, tapping her shoulder. Shadows were emerging from the water behind them. Their eyes were glowing red.
“Run!” Raven said, and they took off down the street, deeper into the quiet neighborhood. “Does eight one two mean anything to you?” Raven asked Bonnie.
“No!” she said. “Unless…” she looked around at the houses. Eight zero nine. Eight one zero. Eight one one. “It’s a house number, I think! Quick, that should be the one!”
A poorly laid stepping stone path led up to a little blue house, and painted on the door were the numbers 812.
“Can we trust some phone voice!”
“Do we have a choice?” Bonnie was already at the door, but it was locked. Raven was a step ahead, and hoisted up one of the stones from the path. She thrust it with all her might through the window, and the two clambered inside.
Raven held a finger to her lips as the whoosing of shadows came nearer. “We can’t stay here!” Bonnie mouthed. She was right. They could stay down, but with the window smashed, they were exposed. “Follow me,” Raven mouthed back, and started crawling deeper into the house. Down a hallway, past an empty kitchen, and finally, to the back door.
The yard was empty of shadows, and in it was a small, abandoned shack.
“Sshh! Stay put, Benny!”
“I think we should open the door.”
“I just have a feeling. I think it’s okay. Plus, if this is all a dream, we’re not in any real danger, right?”
Voices sounded outside the door. Whoever was outside knew there were people within.
“No use hiding anymore,” Josephina muttered. Despite how odd everything was around her, she often forgot it all might be just a dream. It felt like dreaming vividly of strange enough things to slip in and out of lucidity multiple times throughout the night. “It’s just a dream,” she whispered to herself, and opened the door.
Two desperate, human faces stared back at her. Girls—young women, in their late teens or early twenties. One of them dressed in dark enough colors to blend in with the shadows, and the other colorful and bright. Josephina saw the same look of relief she felt reflected on both their faces.
“In!” she whispered. “Quick! Close the door!” Once the girls were inside, Josephina did the same ritual again over the door, covering it while muttering spells of security to herself. When she was finished, she turned and faced the two new arrivals. Benny hurried to greet them too.
“Well! I’m certainly happy to see another pair of humans, although I’m sorry you’re stuck in the same… wherever we are. My name is Josephina, and this young man is Benny.”
“I’m Raven,” said the dark-haired girl.
“I’m Bonnie,” said the other.
“Well. Please come in and make yourselves as comfortable as you can. I’ll make us all some tea, and we can see what we can sort out among the four of us.”
Josephina set about to manifesting and making tea for the four of them. Behind one closed door, she also pictured a blank book, and a pen. She and Benny had several strange experiences in common, and she wondered if Raven or Bonnie were the same as well. If she could compile everything they knew, maybe they’d have a better chance of figuring a way out.
Bonnie told her story first. She started having strange experiences as a teen. “No one really worried about it, though, because I never got in trouble. They’d just explain things away. Like, I was really impatient one summer for my mom’s garden to grow, and suddenly things were producing long before they were supposed to. They just thought it was a good season, but I’d sit outside willing things to happen faster, and sometimes I could actually see things growing.”
Next, Josephina and Benny each told another chapter from their lives. Josephina told how sometimes when she made dinner in a hurry, things in the kitchen seemed to move about of their own accord. Benny told another story about getting in trouble at school.
“One time a dog found me at recess, this little black pug named Bagel. She told me that was her name, and that she was lost. I promised her I’d get her home. Then when this mean kid tried to bully me, she jumped up and bit him. I mean, I shouldn’t have laughed, but it was really funny. Then I got in trouble for telling my dog to attack him, even though I didn’t tell her to do anything, and she wasn’t even mine. But they didn’t believe me, and I’m not even supposed to have a dog at school. I did get her home afterward. She hid out and waited for me. No one believed she could talk to me, though. I’ve never talked to any other animals. I thought she was the special one, not me…”
Josephina began writing in her blank book as the others told their stories. She wrote down their similar backstories, and the few but notable differences between them. There had to be a reason that the four of them were here, and not some other set of people. How strange, that Raven and Bonnie were so close in age, yet Josephina was so much older, and Benny so young. Why such drastic age differences? Why were there three women and only one boy?
When it came to be Raven’s turn to tell her story, she didn’t go into as much detail. She mentioned her parents suspected she was a witch, and that she occasionally had strange things happen to her too, but then asked more questions to the others.
“When did you start noticing weird things, Bonnie?”
“High school. I was sixteen, I think.”
Josephina took note. “I was around the same age, I think. Perhaps a little older. What about you, Raven?”
“A little younger for me, but definitely not before puberty. I was maybe thirteen when I really started to notice. That’s weird. Benny, you must be really special.”
“That is weird,” he whispered.
“What are you writing, Josephina?” Raven asked.
“I’m trying to gather everything we know, so we can figure out what’s tying us all together. Why the four of us are here. What do you all remember about how you arrived?”
They took turns telling how they all woke up in this strange dimension. How they didn’t remember how or when they arrived, how they ran from shadows and sought safety. And strangest of all, how they all discovered the rules of reality seemed bent here. Things seemed to operate as though they were dreaming.
Josephina wrote down all the rules they’d discovered. The sources of help they seemed to receive from the outside. Bonnie and Raven’s “dream rules” of flying and breathing underwater, and how she and Benny could manifest anything they desired.
“If we learn enough about how to alter this world, maybe it wouldn’t be a nightmare anymore. We could even make it beautiful,” Raven said.
“It’s all like magic,” Benny said. “Maybe if Mo—I mean, if Josephina writes enough stuff, it’ll be like a how-to guide for doing magic!”
“Benny,” Josephina smiled. “That’s exactly what it’ll be.” She closed the book to look at the cover. Sure enough, the words “Josephina’s Guide to Magic” had appeared on the front. “Hm… That’s not quite right though, is it? This guide is for all of us, especially you younger folks. Benny, if your magical abilities are the strongest, it ought to be yours before anyone else’s.”
“I don’t think I’m the strongest,” Benny blushed. “Just the earliest.”
“Well, that has to count for something.” Josephina opened the book again, closed her eyes and took a deep breath in and out. She opened her eyes, and closed the book again to the front cover. And there, under the words “Josephina’s Guide to Magic,” was written in parenthesis, “for kids!”