She'd glimpsed it on her way back from school several times; thought she might have dreamt it, but no, there was definitely something out of place about that flash of blue amidst the thatch of tangled trees, down in the valley where the old railroad tracks ran but no trains passed through any more. One day she plucked up the strength to push aside the thoughts that curled around her, chains on her ankles to drag her down-- nothing ever comes of fantasies, of mysterious things in the woods; it's some discarded bit of trash, an abandoned car, nothing special-- and picked her way through the brambles and the steep, unwandered drops to the woods where the strange blue lay.
It was a old caravan, painted up like the Roma used to travel in, the colour now flaking off in huge thick weals like an unfortunate case of sunburn had struck its frail exterior. No sun would touch it here, though; half-hidden among the straggling trees that coiled around it protectively, as if to say, no, you won't take it from us, this is all we have in the world, it was obviously long abandoned. Whoever had owned it wasn't coming back, had possibly left even years ago by the state of it, though she could have sworn she'd only first noticed the blue a few weeks back. She entertained daydreams of where they'd gone, the grand adventures they were surely now having, whoever had owned this painted lady. She ached to look inside.
She wrinkled her nose as she entered, expecting to smell decay, but to her surprise the interior smelled, and looked, oddly clean. She couldn't even see a spot of mildew. Perhaps she'd been right; perhaps it had only been left recently, had been on its very last legs, and that was why they'd abandoned it here. It was sparsely fitted, barely the base amenities for travel lining its walls; maybe they'd stripped it of anything useful, or maybe someone else had, for now all that lay within was a large wicker chair, taking up far too much space, she thought, for anyone to find practical, and a small cot, both draped liberally with thick blue blankets. How strange, she thought, and took the chair testily, out of curiosity, not knowing if the frame wouldn't just crumble to dust beneath her weight. But no, the chair held, and was surprisingly comfortable, the blankets warm and soft and decorated with intricate patterns in varying shades of blue. Hand-woven, she thought; tribal? She studied the geometric designs with some interest; the pattern never quite seemed to repeat exactly.
The sun was dipping below the horizon, and she had walked far, and the blankets were so warm. Her eye(lid)s began to feel heavy. Soon she was asleep, curled up in the wicker chair just like a cat.
The chill of night awakened her again, and she startled; it was late! She'd meant to be no longer than an hour or two; her parents would worry; oh, this was just no good. With a twinge of reluctance she stood up from the chair and made towards the door; and all thoughts of travel home were cut down in their tracks by what she saw.
Lights! Tens, no, maybe even hundreds of darting, ball-like lights; fireflies? No, these were bigger than fireflies, much bigger. About the size of a plum, each of them, and they swooped and plunged and swirled around each other as if engaged in nothing more than a childhood game of tag, leaving trails in the air behind them that lingered for a second or two before fading into the dark. What were they?
On some kind of instinct she stuck out a hand, tentatively. That seemed to alert the creatures to her presence, and all at once their movement patterns changed; where they had been gathered into groups among themselves, like children huddled on the playground, now as one they flocked to her, circling her head, one or two coming close enough almost to alight upon her hand. She almost shrieked with laughter, but managed to restrain it to a soft giggle; in the back of her mind something boggled. You don't even know what they are! Why aren't you scared? But she couldn't be scared, somehow; this felt so lovely, they felt so safe, harmless... she felt so... at peace.
The lights stayed with her for a time, darting into and through her long auburn hair, barely shifting the strands of it-- they passed through it just like light. Then as a whole, like a shoal of fish, they turned and swam through the air towards the edge of the woods, where, if she strained her sight, she could just make out a larger, faintly glowing outline. I guess that's their 'mother', she thought, or maybe father, I suppose-- but the shape looked oddly familiar to her, and she squinted more, as if that would help her mind focus on the concept of the thing.
Then she recalled what she'd been thinking of, and at once shook her head. Just the moonlight shining on the back of a horse, she thought. But something in the back of her mind still niggled; what about the lights, after all? Those had certainly been strange. If something like that could happen, then maybe, just maybe.... She turned back towards the glowing figure, holding in her breath, but the outline had gone.
I should get home. I should really get home.... She half-stumbled, half-tripped down the steps of the caravan, her mind blinded by the events of the night and her eyes unaccustomed to the sudden dark. She made it to the ground upright, though, and lifted her head towards the now-distant road, the familiar path home, the road out of this fantasy, out of this wonder, back to a world where unappealing schooldays stretched ahead like evening shadows, distorted and dark.
A faint clanking sound startled her out of her thoughts. I didn't know the trains still ran through here! She turned around, expecting to glimpse the lights of a distant locomotive; that had to be one ancient train, by the sounds it was making, more an irregular rattling than a rhythmic clack... no. That's not a train. A shadow was heading towards her; in the dim moonlight gleam she could see a figure outlined, a human one, carrying what looked to be a large knapsack to which were strapped an array of pots and pans. A few of the little white lights milled around him-- or her, and flitted to her side when the figure came within speaking distance, orbiting her head as they had before. It was a man, she could see now; a man or a boy, at any rate. He looked quite young, but the way the moonlight caught his eyes told her something about that was deceiving.
Oh, no, her rational mind thought, this is really trouble-- I'm out here alone in the woods with no one around for miles and now this strange man is here-- but she couldn't make herself believe her fears. Again the calm that had flooded her when the lights had first arrived settled in around her, curling around her heart like a contented kitten, soothing her pulse. She didn't know how she knew, but somehow she knew she was safe.
Safer, perhaps, than she'd ever been in her life before.
"Hello there," the man spoke, and though she couldn't see his lips there was a smile in his voice. "I see you found my caravan."
One of the lights still circled him, and for a moment, outlined in its glow, she thought she saw, upon his forehead, a single spiralling horn.