Author: CatLu4416 PM
Enjoying the sun after one hundred days of continuous rain. Visiting friends you have not seen in months. All is peaceful but will it always be?Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Mystery - Words: 8,060 - Reviews: 3 - Published: 05-01-11 - id: 2911964
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Waking up, the thin light of dawn streaks feebly through the dirty windows, reflecting in my eyes. The air has yet to warm from the sun's rays and the chair I had fallen asleep in was cold, leeching off my body heat. I listen for the soft patter of water. Nothing. Small particles of dust swirl in the air, made visible by the sun's rays. The sun.
"The sun!" My voice is soft, coarse the way it is after just waking up. But even so, the words roll beautifully off my tongue. Not quite daring to believe my lips, I look again out the window. Yes, there it was. It is finally here.
Slowly, I get up. Placing my cheek on the cool glass, I imagine what it would feel like after so long. And then the excitement can't be contained any longer. My right foot moves, a hesitant step, followed by another and another. Too excited to be cautious, I jump through the open trapdoor in the middle of the floor, pulling it shut behind me and using the handle to swing down to the floor below, only slightly grazing my legs on the stairs. I am sprinting, then tugging on my worn, cracked leather sandals, and pulling the door open and running to who cares where.
Instantly, the light blinds me, back, and was it, brighter than I remembered? Of course: because in one hundred days of rain, stuck in perpetual dusk, the image of light can fade. My eyes close, unable to handle the harsh whiteness. Still though, a bright tone of orange makes it through and I bask in its warmth; feel the chilliness of the morning air mixing with the warm sunbeams. Overcome, I sink onto my knees.
The grass is moist and muddy, sucking at my feet. It's then that I'm aware that I'm still in my flowing white nightgown. Sunspots dancing in front of me, I peek out beneath my lids and see the world through the strands of my eyelashes. The lace rimming the bottom is now stained with dirt, but if I do care, I can take care of it later. There's no mud close to the house I live in. My surroundings look vaguely familiar; definitely somewhere I had been before. Where? I didn't have the mind to figure out.
It's hours before I hear anything other than the crickets' songs dying away or shift my eyes aware from the beautiful blue of the sky, slowly taking over the gentle, rosy pink.
It's the soft, squelch of boots on mud that first alerts me to the presence coming up toward me.
"Drey?" Says a voice from behind me, snapping me out of my stupor. "Get up, you're all dirty." The voice sounds concerned.
"It's fine, I'll cash in for some more soap." I didn't turn around. Why bother, when I already knew who it was?
"And can you afford to use more for cold medicine? Come on Drey, at least change first and then you can stare at the sun." Warm fleece touches my skin as his large leather jacket lands on my shoulders, making me realize just how cold I am. I could be incredibly stubborn at times, but I knew when a battle was worth fighting. He was right; I couldn't bet my chances of getting pneumonia. Swiveling on my knees, I turn around to face him.
"Okay, Reeve" I say, holding out my bare arms. "But you have to carry me back." I stifle a laugh at his surprised face. I haven't asked him to carry me in years. But today was a special day.
"I'll consider it" he smiled devilishly, "if you give me half your food at supper tonight. After all, I am a gentleman."
"Stingy!" I sniffed, giving a teasing toss of my long, dark, chestnut hair. "And a gentleman? Please!"
Gently, Reeve hoists me up onto his back. It was warm, broad. "Whatever Drey. Let's go back." I remember, faintly, that the last time he had carried me piggyback style was two years ago when we were in the forest. That day, we had been looking for acorn tops. They were great for whistling: better, sturdier and longer lasting than grass. Early in the morning we snuck out to go look for some. The acorns hadn't fallen off the tall oaks yet and it was his job to go and retrieve them. He wasn't exactly the best climber, but had no fear of heights like I did. The branches had been slippery that morning, and just as Reeve's fingers snatched two especially nice acorns, his foot slipped off and he fell. I was stupid and tried to catch him. Reeve was bigger than me though. I did cushion his fall but ended up taking a big bump to the head. If I think back now, I don't really remember it hurting. But it must have been bad if I had asked Reeve to help me back.
"Here we are." Reeve's arms release me and I land softly on my toes. Shrugging off his jacket, I hand it back to him. The soft hide cracks slightly against my clenched fingers, worn like my favorite leather sandals. As soon as I push it into his hands though, he pushes it right back. "You can take it for now and stay out with me a little longer," he says. "Anyway, I'm not cold."
I smile at him. "Thanks."
Without another word, we both perch ourselves on the soggy stack of chopped up logs next to the doorway. The sunlight gently increases over time as the sun rises higher into the sky like a phoenix. And as if suddenly alerted by another, a bird lands on the thin, metal gutter stretched on the roof. It was a wren or maybe a robin? I never could tell birds apart. Out of nowhere, more and more start appearing. One chirp links to another and pretty soon we are listening to a chorus of sound.
I must have a good look on my face because when Reeve talks, he sounds amused.
"You always did like the mornings and nights the most," he says. I stay silent. A statement like that wasn't meant to be answered, only to be said.
But it was true. I did like mornings when everyone was asleep and it was like you were all alone and at night where somehow things almost seemed livelier in the darkness than at noon.
I glance sideways at Reeve. I had known him since I was about two. Our village wasn't really all that big. So it was one of those places where everyone knew everyone else. That might sound nice, and it is sometimes, but having a small town means that as much chance you have of bumping into somebody you like is also as much chance you have of bumping into somebody you don't. Silently I thank whatever guiding spirit was out there that it was Reeve that found me instead of…well, certain other people.
Right now, Reeve's dark eyes are fixed on a point in the horizon, his eyebrows, twisted as if in thought. Normally his mop of shaggy hair was a deep amber color, but if the light hit at just the right angle, it turned into a blaze.
"Maybe you should die your hair black," I blurt. I immediately press my lips together. I had said it as a thought because my eyes are starting to hurt from the shine, but you never know with Reeve. He's blessed with the patience of an angel that can really come in handy at times, but if you press the right buttons, it vanishes in an instant. "Sorry," I say.
"No. It's alright." That's what Reeve says, but I know it isn't true. He's actually very sensitive about his hair color, hates how it lights up, thinks it's embarrassing. Even his spine has stiffened just a bit and the relaxed slouch that had shaped his shoulders before is now gone. Too quiet for him to hear, I sigh.
"Reeve. Do you want to play a game?" He looks at me. Surprised. "But only if you're up to it," I add. Reeve could never resist a challenge. I can see his eyebrows travel an inch up his head. Perfect.
He looks me in the eyes. "I never lose," he says, nods. He's saying bring it on.
I stare even more intensely at him. "So the rules are that there are no rules. And the game starts now!" Punctuating the final word, I poke him in the forehead.
"Wha…" I don't hear the rest because I'm pulling the door to the house open, standing by the side opposite Reeve.
"Anyways," I smirk, "I'll see you later." I grip the doorknob with one hand and toss Reeve's jacket back to him with the other, taking about half a step forward as I do so. Then I look over my shoulder and give a last fleeting smile as the door separates us. "Tag. You're it."
Eyes closed, I imagine Reeve's face right now, giving a loud laugh at the thought. I would definitely see him later. My face bumps into something soft as I walk forward and I look to see Rory gazing down sternly at me. Rory's my cousin, seven years my senior. She's looked after me for five years of my life. Ever since mom and dad went away to travel the country and never came back.
"Hullo Rory!" I purposely sound cheerful, as if I had done nothing wrong. Actually, going out early is nothing, but Rory doesn't like it when I catch a cold.
She must have decided to let it go though; cause all she replies with is "Morning."
"Thanks," I smile. "I'm going up to change." The stairway is narrow and steep, sparing a few inches of room on each side of my shoulders, making me raise my legs slightly higher than what was comfortable. I am so absorbed in making sure I don't scrape my shins that I don't notice that the trapdoor leading to my attic room is closed. My head makes contact with the wood but also with the brass knocker shaped into an unknown coat of arms. Taking a step back, I rub my head. It wouldn't swell today, but tomorrow was sure to bring a sizable lump. The door swings upward easily as I push on the coarse grains of wood. This morning when I had used the knocker handle to swing down the stairs would explain why the normally open hinge was shut. Irked at my own ignorance, I pull myself into the small room. The roof of the house was a slant, so the attic room was also disproportioned. At the low point, it was just three feet off the ground, while at the peak it was about eight. The trapdoor, fortunately, was in the middle of the room toward the taller side. Rory insisted on me getting the upper level of our small house as a bedroom because of the large window it offered on the east wall. She knew I hated the artificial electric light and took the small, windowless room annexed to the kitchen for herself. I look toward the light streaming in through the glass.
I notice the small goose bumps on my arms and realize that I still hadn't changed. I didn't have that many clothes anyway so anything would be fine. I shrug on a light, airy sleeveless shirt, the color of a fair sky that reaches a few inches above my knees, more of a dress than a shirt, and a pair of half-length trousers that are dyed a messy scarlet red. My old ski goggles hang loosely on my neck, the iridescent surface of the lens' directing color slightly onto the fabric of my shirt. Most ladies preferred trousers to heavy gowns and stockings now. Just a few decades back it was still considered ill mannered. But supposedly, according to myth, thousands of years ago the fashion was even odder.
Taking a few steps, I sit down on my goose feather bed, the black iron frame squeaking slightly, sending a cloud of dust into the air. From underneath the mattress I pull out a book. It's old, you can tell just by looking at it. The paper cover is worn out, so you can't read the title anymore, scratched and bent with age. Gently, I stroke the binding, something so calming that the paper was already almost worn to the glue.
Once again I stare and stare at the sun until my eyes dry out and I lose the image for the mere fraction of a second it takes to blink. I had stayed up too late last night wanting to be there for the first sight of the sun. Already I feel like I'm slipping away. Faintly my brain registers that I am hungry and that I should eat, but it to has already succumbed to sleep.
It's the sound of music, wafting through the air that awakens me later. The sleep still clutches at me like fingers on skin, but something in my mind was telling me to wake up. Grudgingly, I push myself into a sitting position. The colors of the sky earlier had changed. It is a deep indigo blue.
Downstairs, I can hear music playing. It's a clarinet. The tune is familiar; Rory's favorite song, a complicated tune played by her nimble fingers. When I had first heard her play it, she had explained that a person called Be'oten had written it thousands of years ago. It was a beautiful, old piece, slow and moving and just a bit sad.
My stomach growls suddenly, interrupting my thoughts. Frowning, I trace the bed frame with my fingers before carefully slipping through the door and down the stairs. The kitchen table is set and on it is a white plate stacked with pancakes topped with whipped cream. To the side is a bottle with the rest of the fluffy cream paired with a tin top with a spray nozzle. I put this in my small red shoulder sack hanging off the coat rack.
I walk back over and dip my finger in the cream, dabbing a bit on my tongue. It's standard milk, nothing special. The pancakes also, just regular wheat flour and an egg, maybe just a bit of sugar that could be spared. The way breakfast had been made was more than usual but the ingredients had not changed. It was just a refreshing variant from the usual wheat oatmeal and glass of cows' milk.
I grab the edge of one of the four chairs surrounding the symmetrical square table and tip it backwards, making room for me to move and sit. Even though the ingredients are the same, the pancakes are drastically different from the regular oatmeal. The whipped cream itself was good enough to tide me over for the day. It must have taken Rory hours to whip it to this state. Flipping my fork in my fingers, I cut a bite-sized chunk with the edge and pop it into my mouth. The dough just melts and breaks on my tongue, the whipped cream leaving a pleasant, whole aftertaste. The frown has left my face, replaced by a happy, full feeling.
There is a newspaper on the table. I read it while I eat, skimming through the contents. Most of the articles are boring, uniform, but one catches my eye. It's about sorceresses, witches. In fact, the situation is a lot like in one of my books, one of my oldest books, 'Salem Witch Hunt' it was called, only vamped up and more violent. It's really odd how exactly it follows the contents. My mind registers this as a coincidence.
I had found the book in the forest, in a metal toolbox that had the words Time Capsule painted on it along with my ski goggles, a teddy bear, and a phone. The goggles were unique, colorful and the only pair I have ever seen. The lens is perfect, not a single scratch, but you can tell that it has been worn many times because the strap is faded from its original black and stretched.
And then there was the phone. It's weird, really. We have phones but they look nothing like this. Our phones are bigger, rather clunky and I never liked to use them because it only ever took me a few minutes to run across the town to say what I wanted. This phone though was very small, smaller than a man's wallet. It flipped open with a small black screen on the top and a number pad on the bottom. It didn't turn on and was quite useless so I put it in my drawer of junk that I couldn't bear to throw away.
The book had an amazing fantasy plot. A town called Salem that was tricked into believing innocent women were witches. They were convicted of black magic and then tried in court unfairly and killed. Exactly the same as what the article I hold details, except the people that were convicted here were not tried but kidnapped and torturously killed. It's all very gruesome, the process being much gorier and terrifying than my book and by the time I finish my breakfast I have a sick feeling in my stomach. Also the fact that it follows so entirely the contents of my book gives a nagging feeling in my head. I put the newspaper down, not really wanting to read more, just wiping it from my thoughts. Think of happy things. Puppies, puppies are happy.
With my hunger contented and my mind calmed down, I move out of my chair and move into Rory's room. She stops playing when she senses my presence behind her and looks over. "You're up late," she remarks.
"Rather stupid of me, huh? Tried staying up all night to watch the sunrise and then fell asleep for the rest of the day," I say. As the thought is voiced, it impacts me that I have wasted the whole day in bed. On the first day of spring. Unacceptable.
Abruptly, I run to the door with so much speed that my feet do not offer enough friction to the floor, causing me to almost stumble. At the last minute, I remember my pack and grab it before rushing into the frigid air. Without pausing, I run blindly into town. Sensations of wind and the wetness of the ground take over my world. When I bother to stop, I am winded and gasping for breath. I wish the air were cooler. After several months at home, shut in by the rain and unable to exercise, I am in no shape for such a long sprint.
I walk through the streets, enjoying the outdoors, the sky getting a shade darker every second. The houses in the heart of the town are different from those on the outskirts. They are tall, two stories, and narrow, the sides stuck together with no space in the middle looking more like apartments than houses. Lights are strung from each and every one of them, connecting them more than they already were. I keep walking. As I pass the bakery, I can hear the yell of the baker rising over the workers. He tells them to hurry, looking for mistakes, making sure nothing burns. Of course he wants to get as many cupcakes or buns or loaves of bread done tonight because tomorrow, tomorrow would be one of the best business day all year. If you listen carefully you hear all around the sound of masters working their trade preparing for the festival tomorrow and with that festival, the open market.
I'm almost to Reeve's house when the chill starts creeping in. While earlier I had wished it had been colder, I now regretted that thought. I had not expected to fall asleep earlier and had dressed for the hot afternoon. Now the thin clothing on me offers no protection against the evening cold and slight breeze. In my haste to get out of the house, I had only worn sandals, not ideal for running. The road is soft, muddy from the rain.
By the time I am knocking on the door, the tips of my fingers are just starting to go numb. Reeve's father, Davis, opens the door. His eyes widen as he sees me shivering in the doorway. Quickly he ushers me in. I can hear him behind me calling Reeve's name. I smell lemon and turn to find him handing me a warm cup of tea. Reeve's family was a little better off than most in town, even able to afford tea at this time of year. It's because his father is a blacksmith, the best in town. Smiling at me, he adds some sugar and basil to my tea, a weird habit of mine. He then leaves the room, back to the forge in the back, like all the other tradesmen.
Reeve enters the room. He sees me, grins in greeting and then frowns. The change between his expressions is so quick that it's almost comical, making me laugh. He walks over. Right when he's about to knock me on the head, mouth open, probably to chastise me about earlier, I duck, grab the bottle of whipped cream in my pack and spray a big helping on his tongue, filling the space and causing him to splutter. It happens again, the changing of expressions from surprise and indignation to happiness. Its obvious he likes the cream, tasting something so fresh and whole after many days of watered down soup and stale bread.
In fact, the joy so apparent on Reeve's face is just so funny that I burst out laughing. I am still laughing when he is licking the rest off his face where I had sprayed a bit too much. It's not really that hilarious but I can't seem to stop. Reeve doesn't even attempt to stop me. He knows that when I get like this, I just have to let it all out.
It takes a whole four minutes for me to stop. I am racked by the heavy chokes of sound that gradually turn to chuckles and then only occasional giggling. When I have finally settled down, I calmly sit down on a chair and sip my tea, pretending that my hysterical fit never really happened.
"So, were did the whipped cream come from?" Reeve asks. He takes the can and presses the nozzle, topping my tea in a circular motion so in the end it looks like a white swirl of vanilla ice cream.
"Rory," I answer simply. I take another sip; the milky flavor mixes well with the mildness of the tea. There is silence now. I'm not exactly sure if it's awkward or not but I do know that even though I came here excited and having many thoughts in my head, right now there isn't a single thing I want to say.
The silence continues, not so much like brittle grass, seeming to snap, but like taffy, sweet and pulling longer and longer. I decide that this is companionable silence. It's good, warm, comfortable silence.
I look out the window at the dark blue, so blue, sky. I find something to say.
"Are you ready for tomorrow?" I inquire. It's not much more than a conversation starter but seems right somehow.
"Yeah." He doesn't say much but I can tell from the tone of his voice just how excited he is.
"Well you better come watch my performance," I chide. "I have something very special planned."
"I'm sure you do," he replies. Then breaks, "tell me." Reeve frowns in concentration, imagining what plan to do. Unable to think of anything, he looks at me. "Tell me!"
"I'm sure you wouldn't be interested and besides, it's meant to be a surprise." I want to tell him but I don't. Still, it's the sort of surprise that you can't resist wanting to tell. I take another glance outside; the sky is now an inky black. "Hey, can I stay over? It's too late to walk home now." Reeve has gone back to thinking and I have to ask another two times before he answers.
"Do you mind sleeping on the couch?" He asks. I reply no and then ask if I can use the phone to call Rory. I don't know the exact time but it must be about ten by now.
When she answers, I am almost immediately yelled at for several minutes for staying out so late.
"What if you had been kidnapped?" Rory demands. "What if you had been stolen from or assaulted?" She has always been rather paranoid about these kinds of things but that's how you know she loves you. I wait out the tirade and when I get the chance, ask if I can stay the night at Reeve's. The phone lines must have been damaged by the rain because suddenly there is a lot of static. In between the bursts of static and clear, I think I hear Rory saying yes, but I'm not quite sure. I yell goodbye and hang up.
"So? What's the verdict?" Reeve asks.
"Request approved, I think." Even though I slept through the day, my head is heavy.
"Guess I'd better get a blanket or something," Reeve yawns. Before he runs upstairs to get one, he reaches to the nearby coat rack and takes one of the cotton sweatshirts, looping it over my head. "Wait here."
I have already warmed up but the sweatshirt is fleecy and warm, bringing me a nice cozy feeling. It's Reeve's and since he's taller than me and likes his clothing on the large side, the bottom falls to mid-thigh and the sleeves hang limply past my fingertips. My eyes close and before I know it, listening to the wind outside, the world goes black.
Vaguely I'm aware when time passes and I can feel myself being lifted; my back being stiff from the chair, leaning my head against someone, and then getting enveloped by something soft. I'm probably asleep.
"Hey." I nudge off the hand shaking my shoulder. Even though I really want it to go away, it keeps shaking me. "Hey, get up Drey."
Those words echo in my head, forcing me to open my eyes. The sunlight hurts but that's okay. The person who was shaking me is gone and I sit up in the bed: the bed, not the couch. The soft thing that I felt yesterday was the blanket. Throwing it off, I swing my legs over the side of the mattress. I'm still wearing my clothes from yesterday and the sweatshirt. That plus the blanket and I have a thin layer of sweat. I take off the outer layer of my clothing and I'm dressed perfectly for the weather today. I spring downstairs where I see Davis trying to wake his son who is sleeping on the couch.
"Reeve!" I scream his name and sit down right on his stomach, using it as a sort of trampoline to jump back to my feet again. In response I get a loud oomph sound. Reeve sits up and doubles over, gasping.
Mr. Davis gives me a thumbs-up, "nice."
"Come on Reeve, today's the festival, it's already started!" I keep rambling on while Reeve buries his face in his pillow. When I refuse to stop talking, he turns, glares at me and then asks his father, "Can I kill her?"
The way he says it is so serious that for a second I am shocked. Then, annoyed, I punch him in the arm. "Get up Reeve Londons!" I take a hand and forcefully pull him off the couch. He lands on his knees on the floor. Mr. Davis comes in and dumps a cup of cold water on his face.
"Who's on my team?" Reeve grumbles. Finally he stands up and shuffles upstairs to change into some decent clothes. On the way up I can hear him muttering.
Davis comes and gives me some coins. "For breakfast. Use the rest as you like. I can have Rory pay me back later."
"Thanks," I say.
"I have to go set up for the market so come down when you and Reeve are ready." When he leaves, I count the money in my hand. This would be enough to buy breakfast for Reeve and I with some spare to spend at the fair.
A few moments later, Reeve comes down dressed in a dark green shirt and some denim shorts. He seems to have gotten out of his bad post-wake up mood. "I guess we're eating breakfast at the festival?" he offers.
I nod and we start out the door. I grab my pack and sling it over my shoulder, pulling my goggles slightly lower on my neck and slipping into my sandals. The ground is still muddy but that's to be expected. It would take a few more days before it was firm again and the water soaked away. We were headed to the clock tower where the festival was held. Every year when the one hundred days of rain ended, a spring festival was held there, the center of the town. On the second day of spring, everybody that was in their right mind would come and celebrate. The first day was passed so that the ground could dry slightly and so the craftsmen could work their trades to sell at the open market where people would try to get the goods they couldn't get during the turnover.
And of course. Of course at the very end at night, lit by lanterns and lights of different colors, there would be the extravaganza: a flurry of performances, the best event of the year. I will be there. I will be performing.
"You want to hit the market first to get some food?" I ask Reeve.
"Sure, I haven't eaten since last night anyway," he replies.
When we get close enough, I can hear the music from the small ensemble of people who can play instruments. Then gradually I see the stands. One of the first ones we encounter is the baker's stand. From him we buy two chocolate chip muffins for a few pieces of copper each. The baker seems in a good mood and throws in an extra one for Rory. "She probably hasn't eaten yet. Thank her for the music," he says.
Knowing Rory, she probably was here at the crack of dawn, organizing the other musicians, even though most of them were older than her. Reeve thanks the baker for us and we leave to find her. The next stand we stop at is Reeve's fathers. He has an impressive display of silverware, pots, tools and even a few small pieces of jewelry. We actually have to push past a small crowd of people to get to the front. Davis is smiling from the good business and greets us heartily. We only have enough time to exchange a few words before more people push us out of the way.
When we get out of the mob, a foot at the very edge of the crowd trips me and I fall forward, bumping into someone. "Sorry," I say.
"Watch where you're going Drey! Someday you're going to stumble right into a war or something." I look up to see the person that I had bumped into: long, strawberry blond hair, average height, and slightly droopy hazel eyes. A wide, dimpled smile.
"Oh, it's just Morie. Never mind." I tease. She sighs, helps me up, and then says hello to Reeve.
"I'm bored so I'm going to walk around with you guys," she says.
"Like you don't do that enough," I say. Morie was seventeen, one year older than Reeve and I.
"True," another voice chuckles from behind Morie. A face appears over her shoulder: short, strawberry blond hair, slightly taller than me, and slightly droopy hazel eyes. A wide, dimpled smile and seventeen years old.
"I was wondering where you were," Reeve notes nonchalantly. "Didn't think you'd be away from Morie."
He steps out from behind her. The twins: Morie and Wilt.
I'm surprised and step back but Reeve is not and walks forward, clapping Wilt on the back. "Got a kick out of that didn't you?" he says.
"Maybe I did," Wilt laughs. He looks over at me. "What did you expect? You know Morie and me are always together."
"W-well I didn't think you'd be behind her," I say. After all, Wilt was a good three inches taller than Morie who was a bit shorter than me. I don't know how I missed him.
"Hah," Reeve chuckles. He looks at me, "idiot" and then again to the twins. "You guys should come with us. Have you seen Rory?" They shake their heads. Without any other clues, we head in the direction we think the music is coming from.
The smell of bread and fresh grass is carried by the warm, mild wind. I use the rest of the coins to buy some loafs of fine white bread and a few greens. The greens are not the freshest. They're from the huge storehouse south of the clock tower where the crops from the previous harvest are stored for after the turnover until we can grow more. Still, I haven't had any tomatoes or lettuce or any kind of vegetable in weeks.
When we find Rory she's taking a break from the ensemble, sipping water from a leather water pouch. It's already late afternoon, but when I hand her the muffin, she gobbles it down hungrily and I can tell even though she's been playing for hours, this must be her first bite of food the whole day.
"Thanks, I needed that," she says.
"It's from the baker," I reply. "We're going to go walk around. See you at the extravaganza." We say goodbye and then leave.
We wander around until we get to the creek. There are some flat rocks in the middle and we jump to them, almost falling into the water. The rock has been heated by the sun and is nice and toasty. We sit and eat the hard candies that Morie had bought earlier from the candyman. They're sweet, melting very slowly in my mouth and tasting of lemons and citrus. Disregarding our clothes, we wade in the water and splash each other with the cool spray. By the time Reeve bothers to check his watch, it's already seven o' clock.
We half walk, half swim back to shore. Most of our clothing is wet but the air quickly dries them. "Come on!" I shout as we head back to the fairgrounds. "It's almost time for the show!"
It's just started when we get to the stage. The first performer is singing. The song is silly and odd but keeps a driving, consistent beat. The audience claps along to it. When the singer leaves, she gets a loud standing ovation and an encore, this time going on a slow ballad. The song makes me sad and happy at the same time. It reminds me of the times I spent picking apples with my dad before he disappeared.
After she left for the second time, next was a fire show. It was Davis. Being a blacksmith, he wasn't afraid of the fire. He held two thick wooden batons in his hands maybe four feet in length each and then lit the gasoline tipped ends. The sticks flipped and spun in the air when he threw them, drawing circles of light in the air, seeming to float before landing safely back in Davis' hands. Finally he blows the fire into the crowd, almost searing some of their faces as they back away. The last embers float down like thousands of tiny lightning bugs onto our clothing. There are no cheers for an encore, Davis had frightened them quite a bit with that last part, but he too gets a standing ovation.
After that, the other acts aren't as exciting but still very enjoyable. A few before my performance, I tap my friends on their shoulders and then slip backstage. Behind the red velvet curtains of the stage, it's like a whole other world. Away from the lights and drama, the back is an organized place where all the acts and their sets are calmly grouped. Right now a person is onstage as a magician. It's amazing what things a person has time to learn when they're shut in their homes with months of time.
"Drey!" I hear Rory call me and I turn around. In her hands she's holding my boots. They're not really boots but more like stockings. Made out of leather and fireproof. They reached up to my knees, hugging my shins tightly.
The curtains shift, the magician comes in and I hear clapping coming from behind the fabric. I peek out nervously from behind them and see the black curtains in the front have also been drawn. In the dim light, I see multiple metal rods of varying heights with the tallest about seven feet, being placed around the stage in strategic places. Also to the side is a bathtub-sized bucket filled with a shiny substance.
I start whimpering. It's not like I didn't want to be up there but I've never done the show before. And it's just right now that I figure out that I have stage fright. That performing in front of audiences is not my forte. The whimpering turns into shaking.
Firm hands grip my shoulder. Rory. "Maybe I should tell you not to look at the people, but I won't," she whispers. "When you step on the stage, Drey, the audience is yours. Look them straight in the eye and know they're yours completely. When you stand on to the stage you bring elegance. When you perform, you step with grace."
"Okay," I breathe. Now I can hear the announcer say my name. "Drey Rhodes," he announces.
As I walk past the curtains, Rory says one more time, "grace."
Then I am pass through that calm backstage world and back to mine. My eyes find Reeve and Morie and Wilt. My eyes find everybody else. The music starts and I start. I think it's a violin. A stagehand comes and sets the stage on fire. The flames get higher but are controlled enough to only come up mid-shin.
I take the baton leaning against the bucket. The end is slightly wider and cupped, like a spoon. Dipping the end into the shiny substance I pull it out. It has the consistency of taffy, except it's glass. Under the heat of the fire, it stays in the molten state while I dance. The glass follows like a ribbon behind my baton, swirling and sticking where they hit the rods. I dance.
I follow the moves I practiced in my room. They're fluid, beautiful moves, starting out low and rising higher and higher as my hands travel the same direction. My mind just follows my hands, going blank and following the instinct of moves practiced many, many times. Actually I guess it's in my blood. This glass was infused with something else, various stronger materials. My mother was a glassmaker. I'm a glassmaker. But this is a dance, a ritual that only a few families know how to do anymore. A ritual that requires not glassmakers but glass couriers, messengers. Before she left, mother took this knowledge, turned it into ink that filled pages and bound those pages in a book. I do remember her gently teaching me from it before.
I look as I spin and glide in between the rods and see the glass hanging like strings. I extend my arm out, bring it around, dance my feet around the flames, the leather protecting them. Spin on my toes, leap as high as I can and then come back down into another swirl. In between my flurry of limbs, I can see glimpses of people I know, faces stretched in amazement and eyes filled with curiousness and admiration. Rory was right. They are mine.
Distantly, I know I am in time with the music and when the last note is left ringing in the air is when my arm is making the final arc in my dance. A blast of air puts out the fire. Without it the glass cannot maintain its fluidity and freezes. All around me is now hardened crystal. I crawl out of the largest hole I can find, at the very bottom, and then turn to see what exactly it is I have been doing.
A spire, that's what it is. A crystalline spire that reaches two feet about my head, where my hand had made its final arc is where the spire tops. Somehow, even though the tendrils are thin and fragile, they cling to the rods and create a sculpture fit to be the centerpiece of a King's banquet. This is the first time I've tried to do this. I'm glad I did.
I look out at the audience. They just stare, captivated. Embarrassed, I lower my head. Somewhere applause starts and it's almost uproar. When it has finally quieted down for me to speak I say that this piece I would like to have given to the town to do what they liked with it. After all, they had supplied the sand and melted it into the glass. And finally, I whisper "thank you" and leave. There really isn't much more to say.
I get backstage and am instantly enveloped by Rory. She squeezes me tightly and exclaims, "that was amazing Drey! With the skill of your mother." She lets go and smiles at me. "Go on, it's time for my performance now." Her eyes turn serious, and behind that seriousness, a brittle fear, for a moment; then turn back to their cheerful, excited state. She hurries off to prepare, leaving me behind. That's something that bothers me though, her eyes. A bad feeling. I don't like it.
Brushing the feeling off, I hurry outside. It's cool now but I like it after dancing in the flames. As I walk out from behind the stage, Reeve is waiting for me. He offers a smile. "Quite a surprise," he says. He doesn't have to say much more, I know he loved it. Morie and Wilt come next. They, unlike Reeve have much more to say.
"How did you do that?" Wilt exclaims.
"Never mind that question. Did the flames hurt?" Morie asks. They keep interrupting each other with different questions until they realize that I'm not going to be answering any of them.
They seem to think before collectively saying, "It was lovely."
For the next five minutes I am surrounded by people coming and saying things about my performance and I have to admit, it's a wonderful feeling.
My glass spire has now been removed from the stage and set to the side. Rory has moved to the stage, dressing a flowing white dress that flatters her figure and sitting on a simple wooden chair. In front of her is a single sheet of music. It's something she composed herself, especially for this event. Even I haven't heard it yet. She looks up at the people, then specifically at me, smiling with confidence. Rory raises the instrument slowly to her lips. She blows the first clear, long note.
That's when the hands appear. Hands gloved in white that tear at Rory's clothes and cover her mouth, muffling her screams. The chair tips back, Rory is pulled behind the curtains. The calm before the storm. There is quiet and then pandemonium breaks loose.
There is panic in the streets: people running around and trying to find their loved ones and family; to protect them; to reassure themselves that they weren't harmed. Drinks are spilled, splashing over the cobblestones, staining then ugly colors. Lanterns are torn, the mobs of people stampeding them to nothing.
I am in shock. What had just happened? I probably should be doing something but I'm not. I should be trying to find Rory and saving her, but I'm not. I'm just standing there uselessly. A person suddenly runs past, pulling my hand, tugging me with him.
"Reeve," my voice is choked. "Reeve, what's happening?" He doesn't answer, only continuing to pull me along. It's like swimming against the tide, the way we're moving. The people who were at the front of the space are pushing backwards, trying to get away from the danger while we are running towards it.
Rory's scream is still in the air, high from fear and sharp enough to hurt my ears. It stays like that, unbroken and I wonder how she can breathe. Reeve's hands grip mine, nails digging into my palm and I know he is just as scared as me. When we finally get to the stage, there is no time to round it and take the steps. Reeve lets go of my hands and puts his on the top of the wood, using it as a support to vault over. I follow.
The scream stops, abruptly. All of a sudden, I need to find Rory. I sprint past Reeve and to the curtains. Right when I am about to pull them apart, my fingers let go. Part of me wants to run away because I am afraid of what I will find behind it, but the moment passes and I rip them apart, crashing into the backstage area. There in the dark moonlight, I see a figure slumped against some crates.
I walk cautiously over, expecting and dreading to find Rory. But I don't. Occupying the space I thought I would find my cousin is a mannequin. Sort of like the kind you would find in a tailors shop. There are three differences. Over the place where a human's heart would be is a red X, which I first think is blood until I touch it and find it rub away on my fingers – chalk. On top of the head is a black hat. The rim extends out in a large circle over the head and the top coming to a long point at the top. Also there is a slit cut on the face, letting the stuffing spill out. Stuck in the slit is a piece of paper, folded and stamped with a wax seal. I don't want to open this. I know what has happened. I learned about it just last morning.
Reeve has now arrived behind me. By the way his face twists I figure that he too knows. He takes the paper, breaks the seal, and unfolds the edges, revealing the contents. The word is scribbled, written sloppily and with malice, the points of the letters puncturing the paper. Convicted.