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Awake in a Dream

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You had ended up somewhere new one night while you had been sleeping. It wasn’t anything unusual for you to do that, but it was always a surprise when it occurred. You were far away from the city life you had grown to expect and were now in what appeared to be a small town. You were nestled perfectly between the fences of two different properties with just enough space between the edges of fences to not touch your own stone wall that surrounded your garden. You doubted that your neighbors had even noticed, if indeed there were any neighbors in the houses beside you. You didn’t notice any normal signs of life and you were so close to just open land that you doubted it.

You settled yourself very quickly into your new surroundings and adjusted to the slow flow of life in the village you lived now. People always shot you nervous and strange looks at your new face among their populace as well as at the house and abundant garden that had not existed before one sudden night, but none confronted you. Whispers of “witch” and “evil” followed you through the streets and most steered clear. Nobody kept you out of the local stores or buildings, but nobody encouraged your approach or offered you services. The local church kept its eye on you. Some people blessed themselves as you passed.

You had only sighed to yourself. It was always so much harder to gain the trust of smaller towns like this when they had a label to place on you before you had the chance to accommodate their needs.

There was a reason you were in this town. There was always a reason you appeared in new places so suddenly. There was something that you needed to fulfill. Some unknown goal that you would figure out along your way. You took your time. You didn’t need to rush anything as far as you knew. If the situation had waited this long to tug on your magic for attention, then it could wait longer while you oriented yourself and established yourself.

Like many things in your life, it started with a meeting.

You were wandering through town considering the upcoming season and the holiday that loomed on the horizon that you needed to prepare for when a flash of red caught your attention. A boy ran by with his hair as bright as the warning sun on the ocean the morning before a storm. Your heart had jumped at the sight of it. Such a color was not common in the village. You stared after the boy, watching as he dashed away with grim determination towards the grocery store down the street. You stayed on the stone wall under the shade of an oak tree and tilted your head a bit to the side, curious. The very air itself seemed to shift with the boy’s passing. The wind’s direction changed and flowed after him. Your fingers trailed across the stone you were sitting on. You were alert now.

The boy came back out a few minutes later with a bag on his arm and a frown marring his face. He stared at his hand and mouthed words to himself as he counted his money, glancing upwards and scrunching his face as he checked his calculations. It gave you enough time to notice something else about the child. He had golden eyes that reminded you of Midhir before his eyes had changed on you. The boy couldn’t have been much older than thirteen. He looked like he had really just started hitting puberty, although it was hard to tell on his skinny features. He didn’t appear starved, but certainly not healthy either.

He walked past you with only a glance in your direction as he put his money away. He kept a wary eye on his surroundings, his shoulders stiff and his hand gripping the bag tightly. The air was charged. You could taste curiosity and anxiety on your tongue. You wondered where it came from. You watched as the boy tensed to take off in a sprint again, but instead came to a dead stop. The wind rushed around you and the boy as if it was trying to push the child back towards you. You wondered if the boy would heed its call.

You did not move as the boy seemed to struggle with himself before finally whatever thoughts he had overwhelmed him and he turned suddenly to face you. You kept your gaze honest and open with gentle curiosity. It wouldn’t do to disturb a child who was already terrified enough of the world to have a haunted glaze to his young eyes. He took a step towards you, stopped, and then took another. You blinked. He came to a stop at the edge of some invisible boundary. He was too far away for you to grab.

“You…” The boy hesitated, eyes darting to gaze at your attire, then to the wide brim of your pointed hat, and then finally at your face. Your bare toes pressed a bit harder into the stone of the wall you were sitting on. Bits of dirt and rock danced down your feet. “Are you…the witch?”

He was a scruffy child with clothes too big for his body and eyes too old for his youth. His hair was a mess of fire and wind and his face was pale with sweat and lack of sunlight. There was fear in his stance, but you could sense it wasn’t because of any silly thing like rumors spreading around the town. No, this child was too busy watching his surroundings. Even as you deliberated on how you would answer his innocent question, he glanced over his shoulder as if expecting a spector to appear.

“I guess I am.” You confessed with a small amused smile. “I mean, I am certainly a witch, but I’m also probably the only witch in this area. So I must be the witch, right?”

The boy appeared taken aback by this kind of response before he crept a bit closer, leaning a little past the boundary he had set up between you two. “Well, I’ve only heard people talk about one witch. So I guess you are the only witch.”

Your smile broadened. “Then yes, I am the witch! How could you tell?”

You could visibly see some of the tension leaving the boy. “Well, you look like one.”

“Black dresses and hats are not that uncommon, are they?”

He raised his eyebrows. “You look like the witches in my books. Most people don’t look like that.”

“That’s true.” You admitted. “That, and it’s really hard to find a hat like this just anywhere.”

The boy came just a tiny bit closer, tilting himself to the side some to see more of your hat. He was probably gazing at the strange crookedness of the top, unnaturally folding and holding itself up despite the material. You really liked this hat.

“Are you a bad witch?” He asked, tucking his bag behind his back with a small frown. The wind blew from behind him and into your face, clearing your forehead and eyes from any of your hair while his own curly hair mottled itself in front of him. He quickly wiped it out of his face.

“No, I’m not.” You assured him with a passion, You relaxed back onto your hands and rolled your shoulders as you wiped the dirt off of your feet on the side of your calves. When they were clean, you slipped them into the black flats you had left on the ground. “I try my best not to do bad things.”

“Why?” He asked.

“Because whatever you do will come back to you three times as much. So if I do bad things, it will come back to me much worse than the bad that I had done. But if I do good things, I’ll find myself to have a lot of good come into my life.”

He contemplated your words with a hum. Neither of you moved. Hidden somewhere in the depths of the tree above you, some cicada made their announcements to the world. It was becoming late. Your back was slick with sweat despite the material of your dress being quite breathable.

The boy hopped up onto the wall next to you decidedly, placing his bag down beside himself. He sat far enough away that you would have to stretch your arm out fully to reach him, but close enough for companionship. You could see some bare provisions of food and drink in his shopping bag. It looked meager for even one person.

“I like that.” He told you. “Does life really work that way, though? Do bad things really come back to hurt bad people?”

“Yes, almost certainly.” You assured him. “Although the timing on it may take a long time, karma does not hesitate to return a boon or a slight.”

The boy smiled sadly at the ground. “That would be nice.” He murmured. Neither of you spoke for a few long moments, just taking in each other’s companies. A mother with their child wandered by on their way to the store. The boy beside you ducked his head while the adult stared at you both with wide eyes. She tugged her child close to her and continued. The boy turned his head to take in his surroundings again. You waved to the little girl as she stared at you and was hurried along by her mother.

The boy jumped off of the wall then, not content to sit still and backed up from you a few paces. “If you’re a witch, can you do magic?” He asked.

“Yes, I can do a lot of magic.”

“Prove it, then. I wanna see some magic!”

You stood from the wall and brushed off the seat of your dress. “What kind of magic would you like to see?”

The boy faltered then, apparently surprised that he would have to think of something to see. He recovered very quickly and asked you with a serious face, “Please show me the stars. I can’t see them during the day, but I’m not able to go outside at night.” He set his jaw. “I want to see the stars.”

You smiled at that. It was an unusual request, but it was not something you couldn’t fulfill. “Okay.” You moved closer to him. He held his ground. You kneeled down so you were closer to his height and held out your hand. “Watch closely.” You told him.

You thought of the night and the stars you had seen by your own eyes and through telescopes. You thought of the marvel you felt when you had first seen what a planet looked like and the infinite cosmos that soaked starlight into your skin when you had breathed in the sight of a sky without light pollution. You felt the sky enter you and the earth ground you and you coaxed it through your body, down your arm, and to gather into your palm. There you shaped it and pushed it through the thin layer of your skin and into the visible realm

Under the shadow of the tree, a shade formed and flowed into your hand. A multitude of colors swirled gently together and created bubbles that transformed into tiny dull stars and brilliant planets. You could see Saturn and shooting comets and the Milky Way and you could hear the very faint tinkling of music. You wiggled your fingers and the cosmos swirled.

The boy gasped and his hand flew to his mouth, leaning in very close to take in the sight in front of him. You smiled gently and tucked your free hand under your jaw, watching the beautiful sight before you with as much joy as the boy in front of you. His hand reached out to touch, and then pulled back to hop up and down with ecstasy.

“Wow!!” He cried, the loudest you had heard him so far. “That’s amazing!!” He looked at you then, and you wondered briefly how it was that the stars had transferred to his eyes before you realized that these were just how they looked when he was happy. “You...You really brought the stars…!”

You closed your fist and released the excess energy into the earth before it could make you too lightheaded or jittery. Star energy always made you want to release yourself from your body and travel for a while. You couldn’t really afford to leave the earth today. You had much to prepare for.

“I told you that I’m a witch.” You whispered teasingly. You leaned in and cupped the sides of your mouth like it was a secret, “But don’t tell anyone!”

The boy grinned and his entire face lit up. You expected a laugh, but it was restrained at the last moment. You leaned back onto your heels and accepted this as a consolation prize. He was so wonderful to gaze upon. You liked this boy much better than the one you had first met.

“Everyone already knows!” He bit his lip. He opened his mouth to say something else, but froze. His entire demeanor changed then, what previous joy he had been feeling suddenly collapsing into the ground like a splash of cold water. Your smile dropped too in concern.

The boy grabbed his grocery bag quickly. “I have to go right now.” He told you seriously, eyes on the end of the road where he had first arrived from. “I’m already late. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. You should go home before it becomes dark anyway.” You stood up and felt cold along your shoulders and back. The air itself hung still. The cold was unpleasant and unnatural in the hot summer evening.

“Y...yeah.” He agreed. He looked back and forth between you and the road before he made up his mind. “Thank you for showing me the stars.” You could feel his longing to stay tugging on you. You did not follow through on the urge to invite him back to your house. “I…” He swallowed his words and shook his head. “Bye bye!” He said instead with a wave and quickly ran away.

Your eyes followed him until he disappeared from sight. You could hear singing in the air. Without words, you knew you had found what had called you and your garden here to this small village. You wondered what kind of help that child needed.