This story is by Rachel Zembrowski and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She let the flame dance over her fingertips. She shouldn’t—the mundanes could see, or it could light up all her papers and waste all that work. Not to mention the cleanup! But she didn’t care. She sighed. What a way to be spending Mabon. Stuck at work while her sisters were out enjoying the beautiful, mild autumn day. At least they were having a party tonight; she wouldn’t miss ALL the celebrations.
She extinguished the flame and got back to work, tapping away at her computer. Her mind, though, was off in the woods with her sisters where they were already celebrating the holiday. She imagined them planting seeds for the coming year, weaving leaf crowns and besom brooms, feasting on harvested fruits and some of their freshly baked breads. She was so focused on what it must be like under the autumn sun that she could feel it in the office (as could everyone else).
When the clock ticked over to 5:00 PM she couldn’t have left faster. She jumped into her car, opening the window to enjoy the crisp breeze blowing through her newly-freed hair. She drove off to where she hoped the girls were still spending their early evening. With a little magic, she turned all the traffic lights on her route green so the drive to the park was smooth-sailing. After parking she exchanged her stiff dress shirt for a comfortable sweater. A kick and her shoes were gone so she could sink her feet into the grass; she relished the feeling of it between her toes. She smiled and made her way to their gathering place, fully aware of the grass under her feet, the sun on her back, and the breeze in her face.
When she reached the great oak at the edge of the clearing, her shoulders slumped in disappointment. They were gone. She wasn’t surprised—they had the party tonight; they would be busy decorating and cooking up a storm—but she had hoped. She plopped down at the foot of the oak and sifted through the discarded accouterment of their celebration. Weaving together twigs, leaf stems, herbs, and flowers she made herself a small besom. She didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone until the man tumbled over her.
“Gah!” she yelped.
“Oh, my gosh, I am so so sorry! I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going! Are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay!” She didn’t think he breathed once as all those words spilled from his mouth. His earnestness was endearing. She put up a hand to steady him.
“I’m fine, if a bit bruised and dirty. Are YOU okay?”
He checked himself over. “I think . . .” He noticed a book on the ground. “Oh no! Oh no, look at you!” and he bent to the task of straightening out creased pages.
“Is it bad?”
He sighed. “It’ll never be the same. But that’s what I get for reading while walking.” He grinned sheepishly. “How about your . . .” He gestured to her creation.
“Besom,” she supplied. “It’s fine, actually. You only caught ME in your attack.” She smirked, which stilled the excuses that were bubbling up his throat. “Fall of Man, huh? Religious?” She tensed, prepared for the usual judgment.
“Hah. No. Just a nerd and intellectual. It’s a zombie apocalypse novel with parallels to the Biblical expulsion from Eden. It’s awesome! You a bookworm?”
“Tsk. I’m a book wyvern, thank you very much! Much more impressive.” She relaxed and punctuated her statement with a facetious hair flip, which made him laugh. “Of course, with work it’s hard to find the time.”
“I get that. Why do you think I was sneaking time while I was walking?” They both laughed. “So, what’s that . . . besom?”
“Oh, it’s a magical broom!”
“Witch, huh?” He cocked an eyebrow at her, but there was no judgment in his voice.
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“I don’t think I am.” His tone was thoughtful.
She looked him up and down, a smirk twisting her lips. He was unexpected, and she liked it. She stuck out her hand.
“Arthur,” he chuckled. A jolt went through them as their hands touched and they locked eyes, a little surprised. Arthur relaxed and turned her hand over to kiss it. “Well,” he straightened. “Is there any way I can make up for disturbing your ritual?”
She considered him. “You can come to our celebration tonight.” He raised both eyebrows this time. She wrote out the address and her phone number on a piece of paper fished from her pocket. “Bring something harvest-y.” She smiled and left him to help her sisters.
The party was in full swing. The girls had decked out the whole house and yard in fall colors with mood lighting to go around. There was a full spread of harvested fruits, vegetables, and baked goods piled high. Little of the bakery was ordinary. Everyone there knew to eat the apple pie if you wanted a spike of good luck, but to go for the walnut bread if you were feeling a little more adventurous. Plenty of both items were already gone. Colorful lights danced in the air. The bonfire in the backyard kept twisting itself into incredible shapes. There was magic in the air. Gwen was enjoying the party, but she felt a little separate, watching and waiting. Arthur was going to show up, it was only a matter of when.
She picked a perfectly shaped, bright red apple off of the table. With a silent prayer of thanks to the goddess, she sank her teeth into the crisp skin, savoring the taste. She carefully wiped up the juice that dripped from the corner of her mouth with a thumb. When she looked up, she saw him across the room. He hadn’t seen her yet so she took the chance to study him while she finished her bite. He fit in here. There was an ease and confidence to his manner that took most of them some time to acquire. Only his look of wonder set him apart. She swiped another apple from the table and made her way through the crush of people to him. They shared a smile and she offered him the intact fruit. He surprised her by taking the one she had already bitten into. He held her eyes while he took a bite right next to hers. She smiled, her heartbeat quickening. He probably had no idea of the significance of that action so she wouldn’t hold him to it, but her heart raced anyway. Ignoring her pulse, she took his hand and led him out into the open air.
“Did you remember to bring an offering?” she asked.
“My aunt’s spiked homemade cider. Someone inside told me to put it with the rest of the food and put a little cup of it at the foot of the statue on the table.”
“Yes.” He was sincere. Gwen treasured his respect and understanding of what was important to her. She let go of his hand and joined the dancers around the bonfire, letting her inner fire flow from her fingertips. Arthur joined without persuasion, his awe in the face of true magic not disturbing the rhythm of their dance. It felt right that her fire didn’t harm him, instead simply caressing his body the way it did hers. She took his hand, coaxing his fire out of his fingertips. His eyes widened in surprise and joy. He felt like she was opening his eyes to things he’d long forgotten. Suddenly the world wasn’t missing something. He stroked his fingers through her hair as their fires played and joined in an intimate display. Their matching smiles were blissful.
After some time, Arthur took Gwen’s hand, his chest heaving. He drew her away from the fire and they found their way to the shadows of the trees where they lay on the ground to gaze at the stars, which were unnaturally bright. Arthur’s reeling mind fixated on the familiar.
“I always wished I knew the constellations. The only one I know is the Big Dipper.”
“Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Perseus,” Gwen pointed at each constellation in turn. “I’ll teach you.”
Arthur was enchanted by her. “I’m so glad I fell over you.”
“Fell over. Fell FOR,” she winked at him. Her expression grew thoughtful. “In the fall!” Arthur laughed. He took her hand and they felt that electricity again, and the longer they kept hold, the more it built. It wasn’t painful, but powerful and pleasant. If they looked closely they could see light and color radiating from them. It floated into the sky, forming their own personal aurora across the brilliant stars. Voices from the trees tickled the edges of their consciousness and mingled with the voices of the revelers around the bonfire. It was pure magic and all Arthur and Gwen could do was look at each other and smile.