The fire was a warm sort of purple edged with scarlet, a halo of light against the shadows that crept in around them.
With Madge’s help, Ally lowered herself to the ground beside the blaze, the heat lapping comfortingly against her skin. She was shivering as though her bones had been infused with ice, her ankle stiff with pain.
“Do you think it’s broken?” Ally voiced aloud the worry that had haunted her the entire walk back.
Madge dropped down beside her, frowning, her brown eyes shimmered somewhat eerily in the lavender haze of light. “Is it swelled up? Can you move it?”
Ally rolled the leg of her trousers up and took off her shoe and sock. The cold air prickled against her skin. But her ankle didn’t look too bad, it was swelling a little, but it wasn’t out of place or anything, and when she tried, Ally found that she could move it.
“It’s probably a bad sprain.” Madge winced in sympathy, then giggled. “Well. No more walking for you! I’ll set up camp.”
“Oh you don’t—“ Ally began, but the words died on her lips. She knew Madge was right. If she wanted to make it on foot back to the treetop village tomorrow, she would have to let her ankle rest tonight. Still. She felt helpless. A burden. “I’m sorry.” Ally murmured.
“That’s alright.” Madge got to her feet and began rummaging through her own knapsack. “Although you don’t need to apologize. It’s not like you asked that gargoyle to attack you.”
“I know, I just—“ Ally swallowed. “It was a shadow nymph too. That’s why I was acting so strange before, and I’m sorry about that. I should have noticed. I shouldn’t have listened to it.”
“Mightier than you have been swayed by the whispers of the shadows.” Madge recited dramatically. She flashed Ally a small smile. “It’s really alright.” Her voice was suddenly soft. “But…Thank you for saying that.” Madge cut herself off and frowned at the ground. She pressed her lips together, and her cheeks suddenly flushed. “Was it… Was it all the shadow nymph?”
Ally blinked at her. “What?”
“Are you angry with me? At all?” Madge turned to face her, the light of the fire flickering over an expression mixed equally with confusion and worry.
“No.” Ally curled her hands around fistfuls of her sweater, guilt pricking her insides. She wasn’t sure how to tell Madge… Well. Anything, really. She didn’t want Madge to dislike her. She liked Madge. Oh, why was everything so twisted up? “I’m sorry.” She murmured again. “I’m not angry with you. I…Going home isn’t going to be easy for me, and it’s been difficult to think about other things.”
“Oh.” Madge’s eyes widened a little. “Why?”
“Well, my mother is ill.” Ally kept her eyes on her hands. “She’ll be alright, but she’s very tired and she needs some help while she recovers.”
Madge, in the middle of pulling something else out of her pack, froze. “I’m so sorry.”
“That’s…” Ally felt her cheeks warm. “Thank you.” She hesitated, the heaviness in her heart beating hard against her chest. Did Madge want to hear any of this?
Ally looked up to find Madge holding out something to her. A thick slice of cranberry bread wrapped in paper.
“My mother sent it with me,” Madge explained, sitting down beside Ally. “Take it! I have my own slice.”
Ally accepted the bread with a smile and another expression of gratitude. For a while, the two of them sat in silence, eating. The bread was sweet and tart. The warmth of the fire was beginning to melt away the cold fear lodged in her chest. The sound of crickets and night birds swelled in the air.
In Ally’s mind, memories circled like vultures, daring to pick apart her present.
“Do you have a lot of friends back home, Madge?” Ally said the words quickly before she could second-guess herself.
Madge glanced up at her. “Not really.” She said easily. “Not many people live in Tanglewood. I know some people from Vista Cove, but…” Madge shrugged. “I don’t see them much. I dunno if they really consider me a friend.”
“That’s still more friends than I have in Vista Cove.” Ally laughed softly. “And I live there.”
“Does the Lighthouse keep you that busy?” Madge tucked away that paper that had contained her cranberry bread, now eaten, and turned her curious brown eyes on Ally.
“It does.” Ally wrapped her arms around herself, tucking her knees into her chest. “Well… Not always. But when I have time to myself, I’m already quite tired.”
“Wow.” Madge raised her eyebrows. “That’s…A lot!”
“It is.” Ally frowned down at the earth beneath her. “But I like it. I like the lighthouse. I just… I’m supposed to have someone else doing the job with me, and I don’t yet.”
“Ah.” Madge nodded. She opened her mouth, as if to say something more, then closed it again.
Directly above the two witches, an owl hooted, a sound full and rich as apple cider.
Ally caught Madge’s gaze, both their eyes wide. Madge raised a finger to her lips, a gesture of silence, and both girls tilted their heads back to the tree that overshadowed their campsite.
Illuminated in violet flame and moonlight, a Great Horned Owl stood on a branch far above. A sharp face, brown feathers, and yellow eyes like twin lighthouses. As they watched, it turned its head slowly, surveying the nighttime world.
Ally glanced down to find Madge grinning ear to ear, her eyes sparkling.
“I think we made a friend,” Madge murmured.
“I think we did.” Ally smiled back.
This story is also available on WattPad!
docendo disco scribendo cogito
(I learn by teaching and think by writing.)