I’m incredibly late today! One of those days, but here you go, a new Green Lake tale for the Daily Post prompt 🙂
Rachel sat quietly, allowing her mind to empty, her hands folded in her lap. The fire crackled and popped in the hearth and she smiled at the occasional fire sprite dancing in the flickering orange shadows. The clock candle melted slowly, closer and closer to the red line drawn within an hour of its base. Rachel was supposed to be the only person in the village with 25 hour candles, but she had her suspicions about Grandmother Ida. That woman managed to fit far too much into her day for someone running on normal time.
Rachel stood, the candle dripping close to the extra hour, and began to gather the things she would need. Her roomy cloth bag, a parting gift from the previous Guide at the end of her life, was quickly filled with assorted bottles, pouches and a large red book. She paused on her threshold, sending a quick plea for mercy to She Who Watches, and stepped into the cold night. An icy north wind blew around her ankles, whirled up and tugged at her hood, Rachel leaning into the playful element, ignoring the rushing whispers that begged her to stay and play;
“Not tonight, Chill of the Heart; I have work to do, but you may aid my progress, should you choose.”
It always paid to be polite when talking to the wild, free spirits of the elements; they were well known for their capriciousness. Tonight the wind seemed to catch her mood, withdrawing on a low, mournful breath and leaving her to approach the row of cottages without distraction. The night appeared to know her chore, shielding all sign of moon or stars, the vault of the sky a heavy black curtain. The cottages lay sleeping under their roofs of thatch, dark and unwelcoming, but one flame shone steadily, her beacon; she was expected.
Rachel reached to tap gently but the door sprung open the moment her boots hit the flagstone. A pinched, white face looked up, winced in recognition and ushered Rachel inside. The door closed and she followed the bent-backed shuffle of the mistress, her house silent, brooding. They entered the gloomy, stifling atmosphere of the back bedroom, Rachel’s gaze going to the figure in the bed, drowned under multiple blankets. She turned to the woman, now hovering at the bed head.
“You have said your farewells, Mistress Flaherty?”
Some nodding, some sniffles, a stray tear.
“Then I will proceed. Do you wish to remain?”
For a moment there was indecision then a shallow sigh from beneath the blanket mound seemed to push Mistress Flaherty into motion. She shook her head, laid a hand on an unseen brow and hurried from the room.
Rachel shut the door softly and released her tension with a brief shudder. It was always better if the relatives didn’t stay, especially in cases like this. She crossed to the bed and peeled back several layers to reveal the waxen visage of Ewan Flaherty. Only a year Guiding, Rachel still found the young ones hard, and Ewan was barely six. He’d been fading for three months, a disease of the lung. He opened his eyes and Rachel saw he was ready.
“Good evening, Ewan.” Rachel smiled, perching on the edge of the bed and holding the boy’s cold hand in hers, “How are you tonight?”
“Tired, Mistress Rachel. Has my mother said I can go?”
Rachel swallowed fast against tears at the weakness buoyed by hope and nodded, squeezing his hand gently.
“You mustn’t be cross with her, Ewan; she loves you so much it is hard to let you go.”
“I know, but I can’t stay now. There’s not enough of me left, Mistress.”
“Then I shall Guide you, child. You are certain you are ready?”
Ewan nodded, and closed his eyes, dwarfed by the blankets and pillows filled with a mother’s love.
“Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them, Ewan. Can you promise to do that?”
No energy to open those heavy, bruised lids, but a nod; good enough. Rachel pulled the red book out of her bag and opened it on her lap, retaining her hold on Ewan’s hand. She knew the words now, but somehow, having the book open gave the proceedings an air of gravitas she felt absent without it. She spoke the words in a steady stream, scaling up and down intonations, feeling the twenty-fifth hour gather about her. A shimmer in the air was followed by a steady vibration, then a constant tick, building and building until the room slipped through the veil and lay between worlds. In that secret hour Rachel was the Guide.
She spoke one more couplet, felt the magic whirl about her and the child, watched everything fade to black and white and then explode with brilliant colours, as if the world had been drained and remade anew with her very words.
“You may open your eyes, Ewan.”
With a child’s wonder and acceptance, Ewan wasted no time on questions, accepting that his bed lay in the centre of a vast field of wildflowers beneath a cloudless blue sky. His colour returned as he slipped from the bed and buried his feet in the waving grass, his eyes clear, filled with joy. He danced around the bed, rushed in and hugged Rachel, ran off to dance again. Rachel smiled, allowing him to be an innocent child once more, brimming with life after death, then she called him to her.
“I must go soon, Ewan, the twenty-fifth hour is almost over, and no living soul can stay when it ends.”
“Will I be on my own… forever?”
“Do you want to be?”
Ewan considered this question for a long moment and then shook his head.
“I don’t think I should like that. Can I be with other people?”
“Listen carefully, Ewan, for this is what a Guide can teach you. Where you are, here in the secret hour, will be the same forever. You will never change and nor will your world, but first you must make your world. If you wish for people, there will be people, but be very certain who you wish for, for you cannot wish a live person to be here with you.”
“What about animals?”
“You may call upon animal spirits to be with you, if you wish. Ewan, you must make your choices for I am leaving and can help you no more.”
Rachel was bathed in Ewan’s radiant smile, his wish materialising even as she faded back from the secret hour; her last vision was of a small boy and a large, floppy dog running across the meadow under the sun.