Today’s witch is brought to you by the prompt Thorns.
Mud croaks beneath my toes and the yellow sprouts along my arms grow a few inches, fully content. I jump onto a fallen log slick with marsh and time, putting my arms out to balance myself. When I get to the end of the natural bridge carrying me over a particularly wet spot, I leap off into swamp grass.
I land on both feet, disturbing milkweeds and the monarchs who dominate their pink blossoms. The layers of necklaces adorning my bare chest bounce and tangle together. Bones, coins and other trinkets rattle against each other, music to my ears. My highwaters bunch up just above my ankles, collecting thistles and muck. I slip my fingers into my front pockets, whistling Hook’s favorite tune as I continue my rounds.
While I can’t see the beast, I can feel them skulking in the murky depths encroaching on the small floating islands. The precarious chunks of peat, mud and hidden underwater plants provide the only protection and semblance of solid land in this marsh.
But like everything in the swamp, nothing is as it seems.
I collect a few thitwhistle blossoms at peak maturity, tucking their violet heads into a small pocket inside my gathering bag. Buttoning the pocket closed, I continue my search for treasure. I find my namesake, a plant that will be in high demand this winter, and luckily there is plenty of it to harvest. I kneel before it, caressing the broad green leaves that match my hair, then the soft yellow petals that are a perfect match to the flowers growing in the mossy spots on my arms.
This plant is too old, so I look for another with younger leaves and subsequently, younger roots. I find a patch that is close to the water’s edge and debate for a moment, then approach cautiously. First, I trim the leaves and put them in a magicked preserving bag, then dig the plant up and take its roots, careful of the thorns clinging to them. I place the roots in a different bag, one that is magicked not to tear. I do this with a few more plants, not wanting to overharvest but also needing to get as much as I can.
Today is Trading Day, one of the two days I actually interact with other people in the span of a year.
A ripple spreads through the water inches from my fingers and I swallow.
But it’s too late.
A flash of fang is followed by a tremendous splash, then I’m pulled into the freezing water. A massive jaw frames my arm, firmly tugging but doing so in a careful manner, like a dog would do to a pup. Once I’m completely submerged, the pressure releases and I surface, sputtering. I fling hair away from my face, glaring at a set of bright yellow eyes. Vertical pupils watch me intensely and hundreds of cone shaped teeth compose the beast’s smile.
Hundreds, no, thousands of scales compose the crocodile. Each individual piece comes together to form a glorious pattern reminiscent of an oil slick. The exact colors are always changing depending on how the light hits their scales, but the beast is usually a dark purple intermingled with electric blue.
Their maw opens wide and a growl thunders out. I roll my eyes, playfully shoving at their snout. “Fuck off, Hook. You got me all wet, and the plants.”
“Don’t be a dumbass. Next time you won’t be so lucky.” Hook chides, my familiar’s deep timbre voice audible to only my ears. Not like anyone else is around, but if they were, they’d hear some nasty rumbling and grumbling that is completely crocodilian in nature.
My familiar gives me a gentle nudge towards the shore, snout to my back, and I climb back onto the floating island, sopping wet and mildly cold. I haul my gathering bag up into the grass, away from the shoreline, and spread my hands over it.
“Nesiga mayhim.” I murmur, sighing when soft orange magick leaves my body and goes to work. Water molecules and the dirt brought with them wring out from my bag and its contents. The extricated water swirls in a glowing sunset of an orb over my hands, spinning lazily until I lob it over my shoulder. I grin when Hook roars, confirming that I hit my target.
Water magick isn’t my specialty, but water likes me. I feel at peace with the aquatic roots that weave beneath the islands, and what are roots without the water that supplies them?
I stand and sling the bag across my chest once more, ensuring to give Hook a particularly dangerous glower. His eyes blink just above the water’s surface, then disappear entirely. I blow out a raspberry, then continue on with my work.
Today is Trading Day.
I’m absolutely sure my home is not what most people would call grand, but I love it all the same.
Hook follows me there, sticking to the cloudy waters that lead to the largest floating island in Egret Marsh. Cypress and willow trees completely surround a small structure lofted into the air on stilts, still invisible from this distance. The sheer amount of fallen trees and vegetation swallowed by the swamp between here and there is enormous, and I’ve often wondered if there used to be a forest through here. I dodge and weave through a secret tunnel in the underbrush, covering my trail as I go. Threads of roots churn the earth, erasing my tracks.
“Have fun,” Hook says, wandering off once he’s sure I’m home, the bond between us quieting.
I snort. “Oh yes. People. Fun.”
I pass through a familiar look-away ward, sighing in relief when I step into a small clearing, where the stilted house awaits. Strong, thick roots with rough bark form the pillars of my home’s foundation, then taper off to a smaller size which forms the ladder and upper porch railing. Moss hangs from the surrounding ancient trees in great curtains, further obscuring my home from view. Not that anyone visits the marsh, but if they did, they would have to look real hard to find my place. Just because my island is the biggest in the marsh, doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to access.
I cross the small distance, relishing in how the soft grass tickles my toes. Everything is softer in my patch of the swamp, less threatening. Even the snakes are milder. I shift my bag so it’s pressed against my back, then begin my ascent. Dirty hands and feet meet root wrought rungs and I climb for a couple minutes, taking my time. I’m not too proud to admit I’ve fallen a time. Or two.
I pull myself up onto the wrap around porch with a groan, jingling the bells, bones and coins hanging from the open windows trimmed in white. There are multiple windows on every side of the house, each one remarkably different. Most were bartered for or salvaged from the junkyard, a few I made and they didn’t turn out so bad, just a little crooked. I made sure to paint them all white, though. The walls themselves are patched together at best, mostly sheets of painted plywood entangled with roots and thick bark. The roof is more of the same, perhaps more natural than man-made, aside from the solar panels.
The dark green walls, white windows and nature infusing my place in the world sets my heart at ease. I duck my head under the open door frame, telling myself again to just build a taller frame already. It was salvaged too, definitely not made for overtly tall fae. I shrug off my bag onto the round table just inside the front room. A hall bisects the house, the front room rests on the left side and the right is divided between my closed off bedroom and washroom.
The front room is a combination of my reading area and the kitchen, fairly tidy if I say so myself. The only clutter to fill the place are the strange, now potted plants that I’ve found in the swamp and have yet to identify, along with my books. Bookshelves line the wall of the reading room opposite my cozy chair covered in blankets, but they were long ago filled. I make do, crafting leather straps that hang from the walls and hold books, not to mention macrame nets for plants to rest in and hang from the ceiling.
And don’t forget the bones. Or the coins.
Marrow and metal hide in the nooks and crannies of my home, scavenged from the swamp and intentionally placed. To anyone else I suppose my place would seem in disarray, but everything is where it is for a reason. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have my things disturbed. It would be annoying, but that would mean someone was here.
I shake off the thoughts and find a drink, then check the already prepared crates of dried skunk’s cabbage leaves and roots, which is the majority of my inventory considering winter is coming. I have an entire crate dedicated to bags of aetherberries as well, they are always in high demand. As far as I know, the bog lining the northern edges of Egret Marsh is the only place the delicious, bright yellow berries are found.
It’s one of the many secrets the land and I share.
There’s jars of thitwhistles, mushrooms and radical healing moss, along with some knuckle bones. I’ve never met another witch, but I know there’s a population in Levena. I haven’t been there since … Well, since the video store, and I have no plans on going back. While I have my garden and am pretty self-sustaining, there are still things that I need, or want I suppose, to live. Things like the supplies for my house, pots and pans, trinkets and books. I’ve collected quite a few things in my nineteen years, despite the fact I only leave the swamp twice a year.
I make each trip worth it.
Hook doesn’t complain either when I bring home special treats like chicken feet or something equally weird, but whatever makes him happy. My companion insists he isn’t lonely, but I feel like most familiars have much more exciting lives than he does. Nevertheless, I ensure to bring home stories, too.
The communal town of Vieta is much more docile than the metropolis of Levena, if not incredibly distant from the marsh. In the early years, the trip would take at least a week on foot and what I could carry was limited, but then I was given a traveling stone by Gareth a couple years ago. He didn’t want anything for it, but I’ve still been trying to come up with the perfect thing to pay him back.
Between the traveling stone and my strong magick, the trips are more fruitful, and I can spend more time with my friends. For all my griping, the people of Vieta are rather nice. It’s strangers I don’t like.
After taking one last inventory, I clean up today’s harvest and hang it up to dry on the hemp line criss-crossing the open window over my sink. I duck into the washroom and clean up in the lukewarm shower, careful not to use too much water. The tank is getting low and I honestly don’t feel like filling it right now.
I dress in another pair of high wasted pants, but the pant legs tuck into socks and knee high leather boots. I rearrange the necklaces on my pale chest, complexion freckled with spots of moss and sprouting blades of grass and yellow flowers. Upon seeing the flowers in the mirror, I frown. I stare at them, debating on pulling the bright petals.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been made fun of for them, and out here there’s no one to tell me how awful I smell. I caress the soft, tender silk of a flower growing from my neck. If I pull the petals, it won’t be as bad. Gareth, Nienna and Eilae have never remarked on my … scent, but others might. Who knows what has changed since spring, who has moved there. My stomach twists uncomfortably.
I sigh, dropping my hand.
I shake my head, then go about combing my bleach blond hair. Blinding locks interspersed with tendrils of spiraling green and budding broad leaves hang around my shoulders, the longest I’ve had it in a while. For a long time I thought it’d be better to cut it short, but I like it long. I don’t wish that my hair was ‘normal’ anymore, either.
I smile at that, feeling a little better. Fuck people.
The edges of my burnt orange eyes crinkle upwards and I grin wider. The patches of soft green along my cheeks, forearms and stomach bristle with life, as if caressed by a soft wind. I leave the safety of my bathroom, shrugging on a flannel vest over my shoulders, leaving the buttons undone so my chest and necklaces are exposed. I don’t get cold, not until there’s a solid foot of snow on the ground. Even then, I just put on a sweater.
When I come face to face with the stacked crates, I call upon my magick. I put a hand out and whisper, “Kul sheresh.” A net of thick vines conjures to life beneath the neatly arranged pile, rising and neatly wrapping around the stack. They tie off at the top, forming a pretty bow. I smirk, unable to help myself.
Once the goods are secured, I take the small, metal chest sitting atop my kitchen counter. I open it, revealing three things. Three things that matter the most to me.
A traveling stone, polished amethyst in the shape of an oval.
A coin, worn and faceless.
A piece of paper, folded in on itself six times.
I hover over the parchment with shaky fingers and lungs, then draw back. I take the stone, then snap the lid shut. After putting the bomb back where it belongs, I stand with my season’s worth of work, a hand firmly gripping the netting. My heart thrums against its cage and I take a deep breath, steeling myself.
It’ll be fine.
I’m immediately accosted.
I land in a flurry of wind, soft orange light and a solid thud. I blink several times, acclimating to the incredible colors and light greeting me. Music, such heartfelt music, and laughter washes over my ears. My heart pounds at an odd rhythm.
Thump. Thump. ThumpThumpThump.
By the time I comprehend my surroundings, I’m overcome with dirty fingers and cold bare feet, gangly limbs and high pitched voices. My back hits the ground and I laugh despite the assault. Chants of “Lysander! Lys! Lysander! It’s Lys!” ring through the air, bringing the music to a halt. Curious hands tug at my hair and I wince, but thankfully the group of hellion’s parents rescue me.
Gareth says, “Kids! Let ‘em breathe.”
Eilae says, “Oy, Lysander! Long time no see.”
Nienna says, “Hello Lys, you’re just in time for second lunch.”
I chuckle, pushing myself to my feet. One of the oldest helps me up, Martin I think? Honestly they have so many kids it’s hard to keep them straight. I lay a hand over my heart and bow my head to the elves, noting two new faces by their side. My heart thrums oddly again.
Thump. Thump. ThumpThumpThump.
“Hello, friends. I hope I haven’t interrupted anything.” I say, straightening. Not to my full height, considering I’m already twice as tall as everyone else when I’m hunched over.
Eilae scoffs, then breaks away from her partners and hugs me tight. “We’ve been waiting for you kid, it’s Trading Day.”
“Oh.” I can’t help but flush.
“Come, there’s someone we want you to meet.” Eilae demands, not unkindly, and I follow her, leaving still neatly packed goods behind. Eilae is a force of nature, so much unlike her comparatively docile partners, Gareth and Nienna. She’s short for an elf, with blue hair shaved close to her head, big eyes just as vibrant. She’s playful and blunt, but that’s what I like about her. Eilae steers me over to where Gareth, Nienna and company are waiting in their little section of the backyard, surrounded by flower bushes and play structures.
Kleo stands with them, wildflowers tucked into her mismatched socks. It was one of the first things I noticed about her, and years later she dresses the same. Patchwork overalls, sneakers and color. So much color. A knitted sweater lays beneath her overalls, all stripes and glitter. Her hair is longer than last time, shaved on one side with the remaining brunette locs cast over her brown shoulder.
“Hey Lysander,” Kleo calls, grinning wide at me, hazel eyes sparkling. She doesn’t run and embrace me like she usually does, and I’m assuming it’s due to the … witch, (oh my gods, that’s a witch) at her side. “Long time no see. This is Felix, my friend that I told you about?”
Thump. Thump. ThumpThumpThump.
My heart simultaneously explodes and fills with warmth. Yes, I’ve heard a lot about Felix. Every time I visit, Kleo talks and talks and talks, and it’s usually about her friends ‘back at Witch House.’ The person I had built up in my head is nothing like I imagined, but infinitely more.
The man with golden eyes and infinitely long, tied back curls of bronze extends his hand to me. His small palm fits perfectly against my much larger one, and I sigh like a swooning idiot. To be fair, his tanned skin flushes a soft red and his magick rushes against my fingertips for the briefest of moments, but it’s enough.
He smiles, flashing white and slightly crooked teeth. “Hey, I’m Felix. It’s nice to finally meet you, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
And because I’m me, I say, “I’m not a skunk.”
“What?” Felix raises a thick brow, a tenuous smile pulling at his lips.
“Umm.” I choke, grip tightening around Felix’s hand. He doesn’t let go, and that smile widens.
Gareth says, “This is painful, right?”
Nienna says, “Shush, dear, this is a moment.”
Eilae says, “It’s worse than I thought it would be.”
And because Kleo is the only one who is my actual friend, she says, “What he means is, the proper term for his fae lineage is Lysichitum, also known as skunk’s cabbage, but we don’t use that terminology here.”
I remember myself and drop Felix’s hand, immediately shoving my hands into my pockets and dipping my head. Upon doing so, I remember that my flannel vest is unbuttoned. I fight the urge to button it, but then Felix says the most unexpected thing.
He says, “I thought so! Your flowers are so pretty,” Felix chokes on his words and my head jerks up. He continues at a sputter, playing with the end of his ponytail. “We call them swamp lanterns, back at Witch House. Do you light up at night too? Can I touch your leaves? Oh my gods, forget I said that, why am I still talking Kleo?”
I can’t help but laugh, and he does too.
For a moment.
Then, Felix says, “Man, I wish Silas was here. I think you guys would get along.”
“Who’s Silas?” I ask, noticing the exchanged looks between the family standing behind Felix.
Felix blushes furiously, the deep red extends down his throat and under the collar of his sweater. “Oh, he’s my partner, another witch, like us.”
Somehow, we manage to function like adults after that. Gareth, Kleo and Felix accompany me to the main hall, a longhouse centered in the commune where Trading Day occurs. It’s already full, considering I procrastinated coming here in the first place and my … whatever the hell that was that happened back there.
My net of crates drops with an unceremonious thud in the last empty stall, the sound lost to the noise of the crowded and upbeat atmosphere. Music flows from the head of the longhouse, courtesy of some folk instruments. Kleo and Felix find a table while I call upon my magick, whispering words that untie the bow and retract the roots until they’re nothing.
“I’ll find us all some food.” Gareth claps me on the shoulder, smiling softly.
“Oh, okay. Thank you.” I say, unable to refute him because I am hungry. I’m used to Gareth accompanying me, but not Kleo, and certainly not a man that I’m pretty sure is my everything and someone else’s at the same time.
Quit being dramatic, Lys.
I sigh, flowers and leaves curling in on my body. Kleo and Felix fill Gareth’s absence almost immediately, bringing over a long folding table. They set it up and I thank them, then get to work unpacking crates one at a time.
“Can I help?” Kleo asks, and I shrug. She and I set up one jar of each item on the table, leaving the extras in the crate. Felix studies each ingredient from the other side of the table, becoming increasingly excited as he evaluates my selection.
“Ooh, is that hahlama moss? Oh, and are those swamp lantern roots? Is that—” Felix interrupts himself, smiling nervously. “Sorry, I like plants.”
Kleo scoffs. “That’s an understatement.”
I clear my throat, attempting to make small talk. “Yeah, you um, you run the apothecary in Witch House, right?”
“Yes!” Felix nods quickly. “Yeah, Calen and I do. They’re better at the growing thing than I am honestly, but everything that comes after? That’s my jam.” He winces.
“Your jam?” Kleo teases, and he groans.
I chuckle, giving my table one last onceover to make sure everything is out. Kleo watches us with a smug grin, standing at the end of the table between Felix and I. “That sounds nice. So, Calen’s a witch too? I guess probably everyone that lives there is, right?”
Felix shrugs. “Not everyone, Calen’s not, but that’s okay. They needed a home, and Silas wanted them to come live with us, so Dad said okay.”
My brain breaks. “Oh, that’s, good.”
Kleo takes off, muttering something about finding chairs and her sanity.
Felix comes around the table, tapping its surface as he does. “So, what about you? Do you live alone?”
I nod absently, burying questions. Questions such as; Silas invited Calen to stay as … friends? Something more? If it is, then does that mean Felix has two boyfriends? Or is it just Silas that has two? Have I gone insane and am reading into the smallest of things because of a, a … a crush?
“You alright?” Felix asks, standing closer than he was before. When did that happen?
“Yeah, totally.” I fidget with the necklaces hanging around my throat, rubbing a coin between my fingers. Totally?
He chuckles. “Okay. So, you live alone in a swamp, and only visit what … twice a year?”
That snaps me out of my stupor, but when I open my mouth, a customer arrives. I sell them a jar of … swamp lantern (because yes I like that term) roots, explaining to the faun how to boil them properly for a heat inducing tea and to be careful of the thorns. That is what most people use them for, the root tea will warm their bones for hours upon hours, no matter the weather. When the leaves are prepared into a syrup, the plant provides expectorant and anti-inflammatory qualities, perfect for respiratory issues.
After that, Felix and I don’t talk much. Kleo comes back and word of aetherberries spreads, drawing people to my table like flies to a fallen fruit. They leave with so much more than they came for, and when Gareth returns, I’m almost sold out. A wave of calm washes over the longhouse as others partake in early dinner, the crowd ebbing. They eat six times a day here in Vieta, small meals that are filling regardless of their size.
Gareth and Kleo talk about the latest addition to her small farm that rests beside her parent’s. Screaming goats.
“That sounds unpleasant,” I mutter, and they all laugh. Even Felix, who has been quietly studying me for hours.
“And that is exactly why I’m offering sanctuary. Even the most … obnoxious things deserve love.” Kleo declares, and I can’t argue with her. I tell her as much, and she grins. “How’s Hook doing by the way? I have his chicken feet ready.”
I groan. “He pulled me into the water this morning, so his usual cheeky self.”
“Who eats chicken feet?” Felix tilts his head, leaning forward in his chair across from me. Kleo and Gareth flank our sides, a tight circle.
Gareth chuckles. “That feisty croc. Still waiting to meet him.”
I open my mouth to say ‘can’t very well bring a crocodile to a commune,’ but Felix’s eyes widen, magick coloring them a soft pink for just a moment. He whispers, “A crocodile?”
When I nod, his whisper transforms into a shout. “You were almost eaten by a crocodile with chicken toes in its teeth? Oh gods, what if it said, ‘mmm, you taste like chicken?’”
Kleo laughs, face buried in her hands. Gareth joins in, clapping Felix on the shoulder.
I laugh too, the moss and grass spots along my body grow a few millimeters. “Hook is my familiar, he wouldn’t eat me. But you’re not wrong about the chicken toes, it gets to be quite a nuisance for him.”
“Your familiar is a crocodile?” Felix balks, leaning back in his chair. He mouths, “That’s so cool.”
My cheeks warm and I shrug. “What’s yours?”
Felix’s excitement simmers down and he toys with the end of this ponytail again, which is loose now and half undone. “Haven’t got one yet. Dad says that’s alright, it’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen. He didn’t get his until he was older, too.”
“Oh,” I say, unsure how to proceed.
Felix grins at me, releasing his hair. “It’s alright. Tell me more about Hook.”
And I do.
Later, after I’ve sold out and made some purchases of my own, after dinner when Felix tells stories about a man who was a mystery, and even a little while after that, Felix and I find ourselves alone.
I’m not sure how it happened. One moment Gareth, Nienna and Eilae, along with all their children and Felix and I, were sitting around a campfire and eating s’mores, debating how much to cook the marshmallows. Kleo and I were the only ones in agreement that they should be burnt to an absolute crisp, and Felix appalled me by only warming them up.
The galaxies are exceptionally bright overhead and the double moons shine with a full, luminous intensity. The golden and silver celestial beings are centered overhead, physically at their closest to our planet. I love this time of year. It’s colder here than back home at the marsh, but Gareth had loaned me a sweater awhile ago which I now wear underneath my vest. My necklaces rest atop the soft yarn, coins glinting in the firelight and bones absorbing moonlight.
Felix turns to me with a shy smile, we’re sitting side by side on a log bench. Kleo had been right next to me, but she’s gone, and so is Eilae, who was sitting on the other side of Felix. They’re all gone. He gestures to my necklaces.
“You remind me of a crow.” Felix says. I can’t help but laugh, and he blushes. “I didn’t mean it as a bad thing! It’s just, they collect things, you know? There’s a flock back home and they’re always leaving the weirdest things around, not always shiny, but just … random. One time, Marvin left me an acorn top with a piece of red thread pulled through it.”
“How does that even happen?”
“Right? Can’t very well ask them, considering Marvin’s a crow, and yes, I named them.”
I chuckle. “You’re weird. I like that.”
Felix laughs, finally taking the tie out of his hair, considering it wasn’t doing much. “Thanks. I like you too, Lysander. I’m glad we finally got to meet, I’ve been wanting to come up sooner, but, witch stuff, you know?”
I shrug. “Yeah, I guess so. Better late than never, right?”
He nods, fidgeting with the hems of his sleeves. “Can I … Can I ask you a question?”
I stiffen a little, but I say, “Okay.”
Felix stares me in the eyes, his flash pink again. “Could you show me some magick?”
“Oh,” I whisper, then nod quickly. “Yeah, okay.”
I clear my throat and stand, then sit back down, because I don’t want to stand over him. He’s already so much shorter than me, I feel like a giant just sitting next to him. He tentatively presses a hand to my upper arm and I startle. He pulls back, not taking his eyes off me. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you nervous.”
“Oh, I’m not. Nervous, that is.”
Felix chuckles. “Okay. Well, you don’t have to make yourself smaller, for me. Or anyone.”
“Oh,” I say, then stand and straighten to my full height before him. Even the leaves and petals in my hair and along with skin stand to attention, and I blush at the image of preening like a fucking peacock.
“Wow,” Felix says, staring up at me with wide eyes. “You’re really tall.”
I almost lean down, but he takes my hand. This time, he doesn’t let go. “No, don’t.” Felix stands beside me, my hand in his. I stare down at our entangled fingers, then back to his face. His neck is craned and it looks painful, but the determination in his eyes is almost frightening.
I squeeze his hand, then let go. I put my hands up, smiling wide. “Okay, have it your way, tchotchke.”
Oh, how he smiles at that. He pretends to be affronted, but that smile. It’s perpetual, blinding. “I am not a small thing.”
I shrug, turning away from him. I bring my hands to chest level and smile upon coming up with an idea. I close my eyes and murmur, “Abracadabra.”
For a split second, there’s just the sound of leaves crunching beneath Felix’s boots as he joins my side. An owl calling. A soft, chilled breeze rustling the small trees and flower bushes around us. Then, Felix’s sharp intake of air when something groans thunderously beneath the trembling earth. His arm brushes against mine and my magick, it …
It spasms, which is the only way I can describe it. The molecules riding my blood temporarily implode with power, with right, with yes. Then they expand with the feeling, fueling my heart with more energy than its ever pumped before. A soft pink hue colors the edges of my vision and I sigh, fingers shaking.
Four pillars composed of eight thick columns of roots erupt from the ground softly, like a plant would sprout and gently break from the earth. They rise to a height of about ten feet, then change direction and grow towards each other, weaving together to form a platform. As they do, smaller roots branch off the original eight. The foundations of the earth continue to diverge, split and grow together until a tree house of sorts stands before us, a neighbor to the fire pit.
A series of protection runes burn into the smooth, deep brown of the roots, temporarily glowing a bright orange until fading into the realm of invisibility. Although there are half walls surrounding the porch of the tree house, the spell will keep anyone from falling. Last but not least, a ladder unfurls from the upper level, its end hovering just above the ground.
“Oh. My. Gods. That was …” He side-eyes me, mouth working open and closed. “Can we … We should test it out, don’t you think?”
I grin. “Definitely.”
And that’s how the two of us ended up scurrying up a treehouse, squealing like a couple of kids. How the noise didn’t wake anyone up, I’m not sure, but I don’t care.
We flop inside the giant room of the tree house, the root walls to our backs. I catch my breath through giggles and Felix does the same. He grins at me, his golden eyes lighting up the small space between us.
“Show me yours,” I murmur, and he tenses.
“Oh, that’s probably not a good idea.” Felix says, rubbing the back of his neck.
I wave around wildly, as if to say, “Hello, tree house?”
He groans. “Ugh, I hate the word for it.”
I shrug. “So make a new one.”
Felix blinks. “I totally should.”
I elbow him and he gives me another shy smile. “Fine, fine. I’m a Super Teleth.” He waves his fingers dramatically and I raise a brow.
“Yeah, I’ve got no idea what that means.”
“What?” He asks, voice high pitched. I give him a look and Felix clears his throat, trying again. “Oh, that’s … Kind of nice actually. Um, I can read minds?” His voice lilts and upon seeing my horrified face, more words spill out. “Not all the time! I have wards up, you know? Otherwise that would be a lot. I can move stuff too though, and talk with people in my mind, even if they’re not a Teleth. I can tell how people are feeling too, just by their auras. The super part of it means I have more than one specialty. Or something like that, I’m still trying to figure it out.”
“Wow.” I breathe. “You’re like a superhero.”
Felix blanches. “Oh, please don’t. I’m really not, and it can be annoying. I’d much rather have your awesome plant powers.”
I shake my head. “No way. I can only control roots, not necessarily plants. That’s boring compared to … mind stuff! Have you … read my mind?”
“No, no. I don’t ever do that without permission.”
“Did … you want me to?”
I shift, our knees knock together and my heart does that thing again.
Thump. Thump. ThumpThumpThump.
Felix laughs, but there’s no heart in it. “Nah, I probably shouldn’t.”
“No, really! I want you to. Only if you want to, that is.” I say, cursing myself. I never talk, and I can’t seem to stop talking around him.
“Okay. Just, put away anything you don’t want me to see.” Felix says, and it’s quiet.
“Okay.” I say, closing my eyes. I try to clear my mind, which is an impossible thing to do.
“Are you ready?” He asks, and I nod.
I focus on Hook, and home. I picture the gardens around the house, the books on my shelves, the marrow and metal detailing my place. I inwardly chuckle at the thought of bringing Felix there, he’d really call me a crow then. A warm feeling settles in my heart and I sigh, thoughts turning to the places around the marsh I’d show him next. Silas too, if he wanted to bring him. And Calen, if that’s … if whatever they are to Felix warrants such a thing.
I tumble through thoughts, waiting for Felix to start, but all I feel is peace and questions and his pant leg crinkling against mine. I open my eyes and mouth, turning my head towards Felix, but promptly shut my lips. His eyes are closed, a peaceful expression upon his face. A slight smile plays at his lips and I swallow something heavy.
Felix opens his eyes, golden irises focusing directly on me. He murmurs, “I would very much like to visit your home. And if Silas and Calen are welcome, I’m sure they’d love it there too. It seems peaceful, beautiful. Thank you for showing me.”
He must’ve been so gentle, I didn’t even feel him in my head. Unless that was the warm feeling.
“Felix, do you …” I start, then clear my throat. “Nevermind, it’s not my business.”
Felix smiles. “Yes, we’re all together, meira, but Calen is only Silas’ … romantic partner, not mine.”
“Oh,” I say, unable to come up with anything else after hearing his endearment for me.
“I like you, too, you know. Your feelings were pretty strong.” Felix taps his temple and I die a little inside, burying my face in my hands. “But we can’t … I have to talk to Silas, and maybe we could try being friends first? I’d like to be your friend, regardless of anything else. I feel like we …”
I look up at him then. “What?”
Felix twirls a lock of hair around his finger. “I don’t know. I feel like I already know you. Is that weird to say?”
“No,” I shake my head immediately, heart racing. “My heart does this weird thing around you.”
Felix blushes furiously. “Oh.”
“I want to be your friend too, Felix.”
Felix smiles then, my words effectively erasing his nervousness. “Okay, let’s be friends.”
A few more hours pass in the tree house and dawn is a very real threat. I’m not sure as if I’ve ever stayed awake this long, but I don’t care. I soak up everything that is Felix, and he wants to know everything that there is about me, too. I tell him about being left behind at the video store, and he tells me he doesn’t remember being left behind, but he remembers the bruises.
We lay on the floor of the tree house, heads together. He’s delighted by the fact that yes, the parts of me that are plant do glow softly underneath the moonlight streaming in through the open windows.
He asks, “Why did you tell me you weren’t a skunk?”
“I went to school for a little while, after they left me. Everyone, even the teachers, would comment on how I … smell. It was a distraction to the class and I … I spent a long time hiding because of it. I, I used to pull my petals out, because it makes it not so bad. But I don’t do that anymore.”
“I’m glad that you don’t.” Felix whispers immediately. “For the record, I like your flowers, and I like the way you smell. You smell real, like earth and spring and Dad’s pot.”
I bark out a laugh. “That’s amazing.”
“I know,” He murmurs.
I ask, “What’s your Dad like?”
And he talks and talks and talks.
Much later, after saying a reluctant goodbye to Felix and promising that I’ll send him a letter, I lay atop the roof of my home and watch the sun come up. Warm rays of purple, pink and gold wash over the marsh, thawing the frost my swamp suffered last night. I flip a large coin between my knuckles, a new addition to my collection. It’s golden hue matches that of the man’s eyes who gave it to me.
Felix had said, “If you ever need Witch House, say the words and someone will answer. Dad gives these to witches in case of emergency, but you can use it for communication, too. You’re part of the family now, whether you like it or not, swamp witch.”
And I smiled.