Yaz opened her eyes and breathed out. The exercises the school counsellor recommended weren’t helping. Thinking about them made her think of school. Thinking about school made her think about Izzy Flint. Cruel words couldn’t reach her on the moors. That’s what she liked to pretend. But Yaz could feel it. How it had started with just someone hating her, then as more people seemed to get scared, and how their fear turned to hate. And she could feel what they felt. And she hated herself.
Somewhere in the woods below someone was shouting.
“THETE SLOW DOWN”
Yaz moved a little closer to the edge to look. A tall boy in a long black coat was being chased through the forest by a girl with dark, frizzy hair. He laughed and turned to look at her.
“We have half an hour before Missy wants us back home”
“Yeah yeah it’s just that you run like a penguin with his arse on fire”
He turned back to the path and carried on running in silence.
Yaz smiled slightly. She didn’t have long before her mum got home from work. Maybe long enough to walk back through the forest. As long as they didn’t have to worry about her. When they got worried it was overwhelming, and she already felt it enough from Sonya.
It must have been almost half an hour when she heard the teens who had been shouting in the forest earlier approaching on the path. She could feel happiness radiating from them before she even saw them. He was humming some Lewis Capaldi song while the girl talked excitedly. As they came into view they stopped walking. Yaz froze. Despite his age, appearing maybe 18, the boy had fluffy, silvery grey hair and thick eyebrows that seemed to default to anger.
“What is this?” He asked his friend, gesturing towards Yaz.
“Uhh, it’s a person Thete”
“Great observation Bill but why is it staring at us?”
Bill turned to look at him. “Maybe you should try acting normal”
He smiled and took off running, past Yaz without another word. Bill apologised to her and ran after him. Yaz looked at her watch. Maybe a little more time wouldn’t hurt. Thete had seemed weird but he and Bill didn’t hate her, or were scared of her. It was refreshing and she needed to talk to them. She ran.
They ran down to a stream, where the ground was muddy and Yaz could hardly keep up. Thete was jumping from rock to rock like he did this every day and Bill seemed almost as expert, while Yaz had never been there before.
“Please come back! I just wanted to talk!” she called to them. Bill stared at her, shrugging apologetically and ducking into a tunnel that the stream passed through after Thete.
Yaz stopped, catching her breath and debating whether making friends with these people was worth wading through the stream and into the tunnel. It was a warm day, for Sheffield. She took off her boots and rolled up the bottoms of her jeans.
“What am I doing? If I want to find people who don’t hate me following strangers into a dark tunnel is not the way to go” she thought, gasping the the cold water that now reached past her ankles. A few more steps took her into the darkness.
“Hello?” She could no longer hear Bill and Thete walking through the water. The tunnel turned a corner and Yaz couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. She pulled out her phone to use the torch but it wouldn’t even turn on.
“Ok guys, I’m leaving. I don’t know anyone in their right mind that would spend time here”
As she moved towards the exit the water got colder and colder. At one point she thought she felt a chunk of ice being swept past her leg. Outside looked different. Everything was bright compared to the tunnel but this wasn’t the same as what she had left. The ground was frosty and the trees above had lost their leaves, shade now being provided by snow caught in the branches. Yaz realised she was freezing. Everything here was freezing. Her feet were freezing. She suddenly remembered to put her boots back on.
Once frostbite was no longer a threat, the next job was figuring out what had happened to the weather. Yaz was sure she had been in the tunnel a couple of minutes, but last time she checked it was early summer and if she had been there until winter then her parents would have definitely gotten home before her. They must be so worried, poor Sonya would be terrified. Tears began rolling down her cheeks as she sat on a fallen tree, burying her face in her hands. What had she done? How could she do this to her family? What did they think had happened to her? She sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes until a hand rested on her shoulder. She glanced up to see Bill there, smiling softly.
“Disorientating, isn’t it?” She said.
“What is?” Yaz whispered, embarrassed that this stranger had seen her cry.
“We’ll get you warmed up and fed first. There’s a lot to explain. I’m Bill, that old fool over there is Thete”
Thete waved and walked over to help Yaz up.
“I’m not old, technically. I’m 18 my hair is grey for reasons”
The trio approached a house at the edge the wood. It was huge and beautiful, covered in snow, looking like a perfect winter wonderland. On the other side there was a gentle slope upwards, which was crisscrossed with trails from sledges. Grey smoke curled from the chimney and there were other children and teenagers either running around outside or visible in the windows. At the back of the house Yaz could see a large greenhouse filled with bright, tropical plants, a wild contrast to the ongoing mass of white surrounding them. Thete grinned.
“Welcome to our home”