Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire



But they were already making more than enough noise. The librarian burst into the room, demanding, “What is all this ruckus about?” as she glared at the pale-faced Laurel and the shaking Regan. Laurel pointed at Regan, beginning to babble about liars and deceitful boys who wanted to get close to girls for wicked reasons. Regan ran.

She brushed past the librarian, who stared in bewildered shock as she made for the door. She ran out of the library, not bothering to wipe away the tears that now streamed freely down her cheeks. The scope of her mistake in trusting Laurel was just beginning to sink in, trickling down through layers of confusion and hurt.

She believed her parents when they said there was nothing wrong with her, because they were her parents and they had never lied to her. If they thought she was perfectly fine the way she was, they must be right, and since she’d been herself since she was born and it hadn’t hurt her yet, there was no reason to think they’d start lying now. She’d just been confused and overwhelmed—was still confused and overwhelmed, if she was being honest with herself. This was a lot to try and wrap her head around at once, and reaching out to her best friend had seemed reasonable and logical. And it had been wrong, so wrong, so very, very wrong. Laurel looked out for Laurel before anything else, and Laurel’s ideas about the world were black and white and starkly drawn, leaving no room for anything that didn’t fit into her little boxes.

For Laurel, there was one right way to be a girl, and it was Laurel’s way, always. Laurel believed in destiny. Laurel believed you had to be what people told you to be. And she’d almost convinced Regan to think the same way, that following Laurel’s rules would be enough to keep her safe and ordinary. But that had never been the truth. Destiny had never been an option.

So Regan ran, and Regan kept running, barely slowing down when she hit the parking lot. She knew she’d get in trouble for leaving school grounds before the final bell, but she didn’t care. Laurel was probably already rushing to the cafeteria to tell all the other girls what Regan had told her. Thinking Laurel would be capable of keeping anything in confidence had been the biggest mistake of all.

Regan ran across the street, into a small residential neighborhood. She’d been there before, trick-or-treating with Laurel and some of the other girls; she knew where she was going. At the end of the block there was a gap between fences through which a skinny girl who had yet to start the pressures of puberty could just fit, shoving herself through into an empty field filled with mustard grass and scrubby thorn bushes. She paused, chest heaving as she fought to catch her breath, then started to run again, loping across the field with the long, ground-eating strides of a child who’d been running for pleasure almost as long as she’d been able to walk.

At the end of the field was a slope, grass giving way to smooth, bare earth, hardpacked and streaked with reddish clay, shadowed by the branches of the nearby oaks. It angled toward the banks of a narrow creek, clear water dancing with catfish and crawfish. Regan slid down the slope on the sides of her feet, stopping at the water’s edge, ragged breaths giving way to angry sobs that wracked her bones and burned her eyes and made her feel as if the entire world was shaking apart at the seams.

Bit by bit, her breath evened out and her lungs stopped burning, and her tears tapered off, leaving her feeling damp and oddly sticky. Frustrated, Regan swiped a hand across her mouth to wipe the wet away, tasting salt. She straightened, looking around. She knew this creek. It ran all the way through the woods; if she followed it long enough, she’d come out behind her own house. It would take hours.

She couldn’t go back to school. Going back to school would mean facing Laurel and her army of giggling girls, all of whom would already have heard and accepted Laurel’s version of the truth. It would also mean facing the adults responsible for her care, who wouldn’t be happy about her unauthorized departure from school grounds. The damage was done. Why not go home?

Regan sniffled, smelling salt, and started along the bank of the creek, heading for the woods, heading for safety, heading for home.





PART II



HOOF AND HORN





5



THE DOOR IN THE WOOD


THE NAMELESS CREEK CHUCKLED softly as it ran along its bed of mud and waterweed and small, polished stones. The water looked cool and inviting, but Regan knew better than to take off her shoes and wade. Stepping into the water would kick up clouds of silt and make it impossible to see the bottom, and the last time she’d done that, she’d stepped on a chunk of glass big enough to go all the way through her foot. She’d limped home, bleeding, and barely made it to the back porch before the pain overwhelmed her. Well, she was miles from home now. Better not to risk it. So she stayed on the bank, watching the water tumble by, and enjoyed the shade of the trees and the sweet morning air.