There wasn’t any noise or movement or any other logical explanation that night for Kirsta waking up. She was a sound sleeper and far from the habit of waking randomly during Earth’s dark hours. Her bed was soft, adorned with sumptuous, one-hundred-percent cotton peacock patterned sheets, with matching down throw pillows that she claimed to her mother she had to have.

“Some things were meant to be in sets,” Kirsta had explained to her. “Like drums, or flatware.”

So, discomfort wasn’t to blame. Later, when she had the time to look back and wonder, Kirsta could not actually recall the reason why she woke up, unprompted. But she did.

Her eyelids slid back unceremoniously, revealing enormous, dilated pupils surrounded by clover green rings. A misshapen lump sat directly in her line of vision, and when she slammed her lethargic arm down on it, it proved to be a pillow. Not one of the throws, but a respectable pillow just the same. Groaning and rubbing her porcelain forehead, Kirsta rolled onto her back, annoyed at being awake. Reaching out blindly, her hand found her tiny, cheapest-they-had alarm clock and brought it to her face. 12:07.

“Ullllgg!” she grumbled, flinging it back with revolt. Twelve oh seven at night was a time for insomniacs and those saucy individuals who liked late shows. Not for her. Not when there was school and baton and her complexion to think about.

Unable to determine what had roused her, Kirsta, in turn, rolled her eyes and then her body, snuggling back down into the luscious blue and green sheets. But, before she could shut her eyes once more, a flicker alerted them to the far wall of her room. There, floating as inconspicuously as a fly in someone’s lemonade, was an oval-ish sort of light.

Kirsta blinked. It was still there. She squinted. It didn’t disappear.

“What the . . . ?” she whispered, slowly propping herself up on one elbow. Chestnut hair, straight and silky with tending, fell like drapery over her shoulders and down her back. One of her favorite assets, her collar bones, stuck out as she hunched closer to the edge of the bed, her brows wrinkling in confusion.

The light remained where it was. It did not waver. However, it did seem to glow.

How long she stared at it, reassuring herself that she was really awake and that it was really there, Kirsta did not know. Not too long, though, because her arm started to ache from holding her up.

Shoving aside the blanket, Kirsta lowered her bare, bird-boned feet to the floor, her gaze never leaving the light. Standing up slowly, as if she were afraid she’d spook it, she tentatively walked towards it. It didn’t move. Stretching an arm, she brushed the spot with her fingers, but felt only wall. Sheetrock and interior paint. The glowing oval did light up her hand, though, making the typically pale skin a warm yellow, almost honey like.

Still frowning, only now with curiosity, Kirsta looked behind her to see where the light might be coming from, and saw her window. Her window overlooked the edge of a woods. She used to play there when she was younger, and full of free-spirited emotions and musings, but those were days long past. It had been quite some time since it had even touched her thoughts.

Quickly, yet being careful not to make any noise and alert her fellow house-dwellers, Kirsta glided to the window, her eyes darting back and forth between it and the light on her wall. Looking past the glass and into the inkiness of the night, Kirsta’s breath froze in her throat. There, in the midst of the bark and tree trunks, was another light. Well, probably the same one, only travelling through the foliage, its source somewhere amid the trees.

Kirsta stared, mesmerized. What was it? Not a flashlight. It would have jiggled or something by now. Not a camp fire. Not a lantern. Surely, there wasn’t anything that could make it shine so far and strong, especially with so many obstacles in the way. What on Earth was it?

Curiosity and a long-buried sense of adventure now overrode Kirsta’s reasoning. She could have gone back to bed, yes, but the light still would have been there on her wall, teasing her, haunting her. She couldn’t stare at a mystery all night. She’d go crazy.

Thoughts of tomorrow and what the consequences might be for sneaking out evaporated from her mind, a rush of adrenaline washing away her weariness. Tiptoeing to her bureau, she pulled out some socks and a bra, since wandering through the woods at night just screamed bra to her. After all, she really wasn’t a kid anymore. Slipping on a pair of sneakers and a zip up hoodie, she crept to the door, double checking that the glowing, golden light was still hovering there. It was.

Getting out of the house proved to be easier than she had anticipated. Being so far on the outskirts of town did occasionally have its advantages. Such as, her father hadn’t invested in the pricey, automated alarm system that all the other fathers had. A dead bolt was good enough for him, particularly since he was a man who considered the best kind of security to be an oak baseball bat. This almost crossed Kirsta’s mind as she slid back the dead bolt, but only almost.  Thankfully, everyone was sound asleep. Once on the outside, the night air surprisingly warm and inviting, Kirsta eased the front door shut again and took off around the house.

Scurrying up to the woods, she eagerly looked around for the light, and saw it. Gaze locked on it, Kirsta took slow, measured steps towards the treeline, suddenly well aware of what she was doing, and perhaps maybe she should try for a little caution. Not that anything too unsavory lived in this wood, the worst just an occasional groundhog. But, still.

It almost felt like the woods swallowed her when she entered, but after a quick look over her shoulder at her house, sitting there in the dark, familiar, welcoming, always going to be there if she wanted to go back, Kirsta shook off the feeling and began walking.

She followed the light through brush and dips in the ground and all kinds of trees. Birches and maples and pines, all looming way up over her head, and yet not intimidating at all. Kirsta didn’t feel scared. The trees seemed friendly, almost as if they were happy to see her. It was so warm out, the air alive with the sound of crickets and peepers, that Kirsta couldn’t help but feel perfectly safe. And besides, the light kept her company.

For a while she journeyed, huffing just a little as she trundled through undergrowth and gradually becoming aware that she, Kirsta Sevaan, was roving through a forest in the middle of the night, instead of being tucked in bed, resting up for the next day. Further more, she was chasing after a light that probably was just some nut trying to contact the aliens. What exactly was she thinking?

However, before her common sense could return and force her to go back the way she had come, something else caught her eye. Up ahead, the trees came to an abrupt halt, because there was a clearing. The light was also getting brighter. Larger.

Her mental chalkboard wiped once more, Kirsta headed for the clearing, green eyes wide. As she emerged from the cover of the treetops, her mouth bobbed in awe. There, in the middle of the carpet of soft, long grass, was a tent.

Of course, ‘tent’ might be too commonplace a word for it. ‘Tent’ is typically used to describe the canvas-walled lean-to things people camp in, or the huge, hold-a-city striped forts erected at the circus. Kirsta didn’t know who had put this one up, but they were certainly not camping or from the circus. It was small and circular, its plush sides purple, orange, and blue swirls, as was its pointed roof. Gold, tassel-ly trimming hung all around where the walls and roof met, with various object dangling from thin chains every yard or so. And then, crowning it like the star on a Christmas tree, was the source of Kirsta’s excursion: A vibrant, dewy, raindrop-shaped lantern that sat atop the point on a rod. As she approached, Kirsta could make out ornate designs adorning the lantern, which might have been the size of a street light.

Of all the explanations Kirsta had conjured in her head, this didn’t even come close. As stunned as she was, somehow she managed to keep walking, though her footsteps were much smaller now. She circled around the mysterious, incredibly out-of-place tent, giving it wide berth. The oxygen around her was quiet now; all the insect life and swifty sounds made by the breezes through the leaves had died away.

The intricate lantern up above illuminated the tent enough for Kirsta to make out and appreciate the details in its fabric, as well as its ornaments. Baffled, not just at its majestic appearance, but at the fact it was standing there at all, Kirsta paused just to gape at it. Who had put it there? And why there, of all places? In the center of a nondescript forest that was only still around because developers hadn’t taken notice of it yet. Just what was so important about here? And of course, the final, most crucial question: What was inside?

Both caution and curiosity burning within her intensely, Kirsta continued surveying the tent at a distance, until she finally arrived at the opening; the mouth, as it’s been called by some. It’s door was nothing more than a flap of the luxurious fabric, and it been drawn back and tied with a coil of satin. Though the unguarded entrance radiated – nay, insisted welcome, the inside of the tent was pitch black, and Kirsta couldn’t see anything. It might not have been her brains that were getting her places in life, but she still knew better than to go barging into a strange, unlit confined space.

Disappointment dousing the wonder and mystique, Kirsta prepared to turn away. She had followed the light and found its source, precisely what she had set out to do. Now what else was there? She couldn’t go in; so, there was no going on, only going back. And she would have gone back, too. . . .

But just as she began to avert her gaze, a sound broke the pocket of stillness surrounding the tent.

“Ki – irst – ahh.”

It was a voice.

“Kir – irst- ahhhhhh.”

It was coming from in the tent.

Kirsta froze, all of her, except for her heart, which beat with an intense iciness. She knew she hadn’t imagined it, the same way you know you didn’t imagine five ice cubes falling into your glass instead of three.

“Kirsta. Come in, dear. Don’t linger on the doorstep, where the wind blows fiercest.”

The voice, unlike other disembodied voices Kirsta had experience with, such as in horror films or ghosts on a haunt, didn’t sound eerie or threatening. It was clear and solid, without a hint of malice. In fact, it almost sounded pleasant. However, something about it was off. Almost as if the person speaking were . . . very weak.

Facing a paramount moment of indecision for the second time that night, Kirsta, against the advice of speaker, did take the liberty of lingering before the door, frightened and unsure. The bizarre quality of this excursion was increasing dramatically, and she didn’t know how much more she could take. Whatever was inside that tent, whoever it was that wished her to enter, she didn’t know if she could handle finding out the what and who. But . . . could she possibly walk away now? When the tent knew her name?

She didn’t. Again, she fought her flight mode and stepped forward.

Walking into the tent felt akin to walking through foamed milk. Kirsta had taken a large step, because she couldn’t see where she was going and wanted to first feel around for anything that might trip her. Instead, she passed over the threshold in one fell swoop, the blackness of the door way feeling like the above mentioned foam milk, and suddenly found herself in a tiny, brightly illuminated room.

However, she had no time to marvel at how this difference was accomplished, or at the various mysterious looking objects that littered the area, matching the mysterious-ness of the exterior. As soon as her eyes readjusted to the light, they fell upon the middle of the tarp floor, and the man laying there. He almost gave her a heart attack, which, based on his appearance, was a possibility he had just recently suffered as well.

Outfitted in an overly big, flowwy navy robe, the man was extremely skinny, knobbly, and wrinkled. Every inch of his coffee brown skin sagged with age, great black pools beneath his eyes, and a scraggly white beard hugged his chin. He was bald, though a floppy, elaborate beret lay about a foot away, too far for him to reach. Truthfully, he looked as though someone had pushed him over onto his back and he hadn’t the strength to get back up, so he simply had been lying there, for a while it seemed like.

If Kirsta’s reaction to this stranger’s existence was total shock, his was the polar opposite. When his sunken, blood-shot eyes alighted on her, standing in pajamas and sneakers, considerably paler than usual, a delighted smile split his face.

“Ah,” he gasped, stretching a claw-like hand in her direction. “You made it. I am ever so grateful. There’s not much time left.”

Kirsta, wrapped up as she was in the world of high school baton-ning and the mall, had never seen a dying man before. Yet, there could be no mistake. Right away, she knew this man, whoever he was, was not long for this planet.

“Please,” he wheezed, gesturing for her to draw near. “Please.”

It might have been pity, it might have been fascination, or it might have been out of obligation, but for some reason Kirsta found herself edging closer. And closer. She knelt beside him, suddenly a thousand questions popping into her brain, washing away her astonishment.

“Who are you?” she inquired, a tremble in her voice. “How do you know who I am? Why are you here? Did you want me to come here? Did – ?”

He raised his aged palm for patience, a cough guttering deep in his throat.

“Peace,” he whispered. “I know you must be confused. And for that I am sorry. I am sorry about so many, many things, and that you will stay confused for some time joins them. For there is no time for a proper explanation. How I wish there were, but there isn’t.”

Pausing, he hacked miserably and then took her hand. “Kirsta,” he moaned. “I don’t believe that fate is an unavoidable thing. I believe that it tries to chase you down and bang you over the head, but if you are clever enough you can, in fact, evade it.”

Briefly, is watery blue eyes met hers and he smiled sadly. “Ah, but, my dear, you never were very clever, were you?”

With a hand that shook viciously, he reached into the right pocket of his robe and pulled something out. Turning over her hand, so that her palm faced up, he lifted his other hand, quavering, and placed an object in hers, curling her fingers around it. Drawing back with an exhausted gasp, he lay back down on the ground, his face drained of all color. Weakly, he regarded her with tranquil eyes and a slight, final shake of his head.

“Such cruelty to be thrust into a position of ignorance,” he whispered. “May it not last long. I leave you all that you see, though what will help you most is what you now hold. Humorous, isn’t it, that the purpose and the plan be one and the same?”

“What?” Kirsta managed to choke out, her heart hammering. “I – I don’t under- understand . . .”

But already the man was staring beyond her, his chest falling still and the windows to his soul glazing over dully. The man, whoever he had been, why-ever he had stopped, was gone now.

Stunned, Kirsta could feel her own breath hitching, her own eyes smarting for the loss of a human she didn’t know and now never would. Wiping away a straying tear, she looked down and unfurled her hand to see what she had been given.

There, hard and cold against her taut, white skin was a glass vial about six inches long, an ornate pewter stopper at one end, shaped like a face swallowing a flower, a star, and a bird.