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The young girl pushes past branches and yellowing leaves, ignoring her grandmother’s overprotective calls. She ducks beneath a low limb, and walks into a small clearing near the bank of a shallow muddy stream. A small boy is waiting for her, sitting on the ground with his feet in the creek. She quietly joins him on the sandy mud, pockmarked with footprints of unseen animals. A crow mournfully caws above her. The girl looks up, startled. She spots the dark spot against the sun, high in the branches, and lets out a small sigh of relief to see such a familiar sight. The cold water shocks her toes at first, as she gingerly lowers them in. Tiny minnows swim amongst old brown and orange leaves as they swirl around her pale bare feet. Giggles fill the air as small silver fish gently brush against her. The child looks at the boy next to her, and tilts her head wordlessly. He stares back, and begins to get up. Small but sure hands, still pudgy from being in the years of childhood, dirty from supporting himself as he leaned back on them, are a sign of familiarity in his surroundings. Tamara reluctantly puts her feet back on the ground, mud instantly forming on her soles.
She scrambles to follow the boy back into the jungle of green. The familiar form disappears from her sight for a moment, and she blindly tries to find it. She sees a flash of his white blonde hair and blue striped shirt through the gaps in the leaves, and runs through the foliage in his direction. Tamara comes upon him absolutely still, standing in a stretch of the forest that seems no more different or special than any other place he could have chosen to stop.
He briefly meets her eyes once more, his a pale green, hers the colour of fresh bluebells in the spring. He nods, much too at ease in his place of control for a child of no more than six years. He quietly disappears amongst the trees, leaving just a whisper of his blue shirt against the wind.
Tamara walks to the base of a nearby tree. Gently, she places a hand on the lichen-covered trunk, and rests her head against it, cool in the summer heat. Her eyes close for a moment, and she imagines the wonder in store. The boy had been wordlessly promising her for weeks, and now, tonight, she finally gets to see the reality of the fantastical whimsies that have taken root in her mind, the unreal secrets he had unmasked to her imagination.
It’s odd, she thinks, as her eyes open, that she has never once heard him speak. Yet he never has had to say a word for her to understand every thought that seemed to pass across his cool jade eyes. He has the ability to be able to plant thoughts and images in her mind, able to communicate without uttering a sound.
Late in the day, the shadows grow and stretch, and a hazy red tint is coming over the countryside. A miniature silhouette dances through the fields towards the warm comforting lights of home as they pour over the sloping land. She slows down for a moment when she reaches her grandmother’s garden. The rich purple of the cabbages that line each side of the row is striking against the bleak palette of the sun-bleached dirt and stranded stray leaves. She hurries through, careful not to step out of the crop-lined alleys.
She distantly hears her grandmother’s voice again, calling through the dusk.
Tamara sighs and hurries down the garden, hopping onto the paved stepping-stones to the back door. She quickly slips through the door, crossing the hall to wash up before discreetly sliding into her small chair at the table. Her grandmother returns from the kitchen window, and seems surprised to see the child there, in front of her, from the fading ins and outs of who-knows-where.
Dinner is almost always a silent affair. The food is usually notably more than either of them ever eats. Afterwards, the girl loves to play with the calico mother and her scraggily kittens when she dumps the leftover scraps out the back door. Tonight is no different, barely any words passed over the gaudy steamed carrots and tender pork chops. The grandmother and granddaughter clean up, and each go their separate ways into their evening routines.
The moon rises and the stars fall into their scattered pattern in the sky like drops of sunlight shattered onto the dark outskirts of the heavens. A small head of brown hair can be seen through an open window, tucked neatly underneath sheer sheets. Within moments of audible snoring from the next room, the hazel bulge bobs up, and the young eager face is uncovered. She tiptoes from the bed to the window, taking care to step lightly. Shoes are left behind, for the night will be magical, and nothing drags childhood spirit down like the encumbrance of shoes.
She briefly struggles to lift herself up over the sill, but finally drops out of sight, tumbling to the soft ground below. The fall carpeted by soft green grass protected from the sun by the shade of the house. Crickets and cicadas serenade her escape, as she steals away into the still, swallowed by the darkness, illuminated by only the full moon above her. She easily finds her way back to the creek, treading softly on muddy banks and dry fragile leaves, and has little trouble finding the spot where the boy would meet her again tonight.
She sees the pinpoints of lights long before she realizes the dark outline of the boy, her secret entry into this faraway world, leaning against the same tree as she had just hours earlier.
But the lights. Gleaming in the dark, flying amid the maze of trees bordering the small clearing. Shimmering reds, brilliant as the raspberries she often hunted during humid summer afternoons. Glowing balls of the brightest cobalt, fuchsia, and aureolin yellow flicker as they dance with each other. They swerve, casting glittering beacons of light onto the isolated forest around them, transforming it into a magical land. Both children’s faces are illuminated, and their eyes lock once more. He seems to be saying, Didn’t I tell you? But instead, he gives voice to the only words she has and will ever hear from him;
“As pretty as the lights are. You never. Want them. All around you.” He turns away from her, his point made, emphasized by his halting solemn speech.
She stands, astounded by the flow of words that sound so tranquil, so serious. But he couldn’t, wouldn’t expect her to stay here, stay away from the enhancing beings, the spellbinding energy, the otherworldly scene before them. She feels his arm already outstretching to block her, anticipating stopping her before she goes too far, but it is too late. She feels like nothing could stop her, caught in the surge of the overwhelming desire to join in with the compelling, radiant specks of splendor that agilely leap just beyond her reach. She rushes towards them, despite the images of danger desperately projected into her head. She can see the boy, her only friend. From the corner of her eye…she realizes. And he knows it.
From a distance, it would look as if hundreds of vibrant fireflies alighted upon the outstretched arms of the child, covering her face, an identity absorbed into the whole, a new spirit to join that of those already departed. The false aurora created by the luminescent souls is suddenly extinguished. There’s a thump, and the leaves on every bough of every tree top quiver simultaneously, every sound ceases to be, and the gentle wind dies in its tracks. For a moment, time has died. There is no one, no thing, to note its passing.
As soon as it stops, the moment continues. A thousand years could have passed, or just an instant in the passing of time. But all is still. No little girl sneaks back into her bed that night; no child is found wildly dreaming nor soundly sleeping in the rundown house lined by rows of royal purple cabbages. And in the morning, as the sun rises, and all is covered in layers of orange and pink, a mournful moan can be heard over the lonely countryside.
“Tammy! Tammy! Tamara…”
Along with it, woven quietly into the wind, spoken with the whispering of the trees, entwined with the entity of the forest, is the murmur of a little boy, silently crying out to his long lost friend who was swept away within the beauty of death.