The Writing Quarter August 2021 Competition WinnerPosted 9 months ago under Uncategorised,
Shell St.James is a New England writer living in an 1895 farmhouse with her musician soulmate, feline muse, and a benevolent ghost. An excerpt from her first novel, “The Mermaid of Agawam Bay” will be featured in Shenandoah Magazine’s Fall 2021 issue. Read more of her stories at www.shellstjames.com.
When Kira was five years old, the moon had called to her. She had been found standing in the pasture in her pink footed pajamas gazing up at the luminous orb, singing a garbled version of Frere Jacques, oblivious to the coyotes that cried in the hills.
She didn’t know if she remembered the incident, or just remembered the story being told over the years…how, upon finding her bed empty, her adopted parents had thought she’d been kidnapped, and called the police. They’d rushed out to the car, with her mother’s coat hastily buttoned over her nightgown, when her father had looked toward the pasture and saw the glint of moonbeams on Kira’s fair hair. As he’d carried her back to the house, she’d told them the moon was lonely. It had called her to come out and play.
By the time Kira was seven, her parents realized she was not like other children. As the kids in the neighborhood played tag and hopscotch, Kira could be found sitting quietly alone, arms extended, waiting for a butterfly to land. And land they did! Butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, ladybugs, they all flocked to Kira, perching gracefully on her outstretched palms, tentatively exploring the tanned skin of her arms.
Her aunt called her “The Butterfly Whisperer”, but really, anything with wings seemed to drawn to her….as she was to them. Countless crayon renderings of winged creatures decorated the walls of her room, and she constantly searched through the magazines and encyclopedias in the house, dog-earing glossy pictures of colorful birds and butterflies.
The winter that Kira turned ten, she became alarmingly withdrawn. She seemed to be teetering on the brink of clinical depression. She didn’t want to eat. She wouldn’t speak unless spoken to, had no interest in schoolwork, or movies, or friends. She slept as much as her mother would allow, never seeming to be rested. She took naps after school, went to bed early, and still slept the day through on weekends, only getting up when her mother insisted. Counseling didn’t accomplish anything; when asked if she was unhappy, Kira would simply shake her head and blink, puzzled.
“No. Why would I be?” she would answer, leaning back in the counselor’s chair and closing her eyes to rest. After conferring with doctors and therapists, her parents decided to give it some time, allowing her to sleep and hoping it was just a phase.
When springtime warmed the air, and the flowers on the farm bloomed, Kira became filled with energy. She bounded outdoors, happy to escape the confines of the house. Enjoying the gentle feel of the wind in her hair, she walked the pasture, delighted to see birds and bees zipping about. Stooping down, she laid a palm on the earth, and imagined she could feel life stirring in the newly thawed depths.
A sound suddenly floated past, carried by the breeze, and she turned to face the woods. What was that? Shading her eyes, she scanned the tree line, and saw something flash at the base of the majestic oak marking the entrance to the deep forest. Curious, she walked towards it.
Fifteen feet from the edge of the woods, she stopped, wondering if she’d imagined it. A fox suddenly peeked around a moss-covered trunk, cautiously taking her measure. His eyes gleamed with intelligence as they studied each other.
“Mr. Fox,” Kira called softly. “Don’t be afraid. I would like to be your friend.”
She watched him, his ears flicking softly at the sound of her voice. His fur gleamed russet and she wondered if he might let her pet him. She waited. Patience had always served her well with wild creatures.
After a few minutes, he stepped forward, rounding the tree, and Kira smiled. He was beautiful!
His feet were black, his legs resembled black stockings, and his tail was the most wonderful plume of auburn, tipped in sable. He shook his ears, and Kira heard the tinkling of a bell. Peering closely, she saw the small golden bell hung from a collar around his neck. He gazed into her eyes for a moment, then turned and walked into the forest, looking back once over his shoulder.
She knew she was to follow him, as clearly as if he had spoken… maybe he had spoken, she mused. Maybe it was Mr. Fox’s voice in her head now, telling her to hurry, come along, and mind her step!
She glanced down at the instruction, and barely avoided treading upon a small green snake crossing in front of her. “Misss…tresss…” it greeted her, and continued on its way, disappearing into the fallen brown leaves of winter.
Kira looked around in wonder. She’d been in the forest many times before but had never heard its music so intensely. She could hear the trees breathing, and the heartbeat of the earth. The twitters of the birds in the canopy were like lyrics to a song, the words clear to her as they sang of breakfast and romance and sunshine and spring.
As she traveled deeper into the woods, the vegetation grew taller. Mushrooms grew to her knees, and ferns brushed her shoulders. Kira noticed that even Mr. Fox had more than doubled in size, as he trotted on ahead, his golden bell tinkling.
It was only when a butterfly flitted past, its wings as large as her head, that Kira realized the truth. It was not that everything had grown larger… it was that she had grown smaller.
Startled, she stopped in her tracks, looking down at her hands and feet. What was happening? She didn’t feel much different, except for a little bit of an itch between her shoulder blades.
Mr. Fox turned to regard her. His voice sounded in her head. “Don’t be alarmed. They will explain everything.” He turned and trotted on.
“But who are ‘they’?” Kira called out, as she trailed behind him. She followed him down a hill and into a glade, the warm golden sunshine filtering through kiwi-colored leaves.
There they stopped. Before them was the largest tree Kira had ever seen. It was ancient and scarred, with odd knots and furrows, and its branches were as wide as a horse’s back. There was a door set in the hollow at the base, the top edge of it just taller than Kira’s head. She wondered if she would have even noticed it at her former height.
Mr. Fox tapped his front toenails smartly on the door.
“I am fleet of foot and fair of face,” he intoned cryptically, as Kira watched, puzzled. Her back was really starting to itch, but she resisted the urge to scratch, afraid it would be impolite.
The door swung open, but no one was there. Kira could see an ornate spiral staircase, curving up out of sight inside the massive tree trunk.
“You must climb to the top,” Mr. Fox advised her. “There, you will find your destiny, and all your questions will be answered.”
He bowed slightly, and Kira attempted a curtsy, while her mind spun with questions.
She straightened and opened her mouth to speak, but he was already gone.
Kira looked around, marveling at the strange events of the day, then took a deep breath, entering the tree. She craned her neck to view the curving steps, spiraling endlessly, up and up, but she could not see the top.
She began to climb, but within minutes she was feeling exhausted. She needed a nap. Even the excitement of the day could not keep her adrenaline flowing. She yawned, feeling as if she’d collapse, when suddenly the steps ended.
She’d arrived at a lovely sitting room, complete with twinkling lights and mirrors, and comfy looking furniture. There was an open window, like a port hole, showing nothing but blue sky. Kira sank onto a brocade covered couch, pulling a soft blanket over herself. The questions racing through her mind had faded. The maddening itch between her shoulder blades was forgotten. She needed to sleep.
She awoke with moonlight streaming through the window. A strange sensation tingled on her skin. It was if her skin itself felt electric, alive in the most delicious way. She hopped up, feeling completely rested for the first time in months, and danced happily across the floor of the little treehouse. What an amazing place!
She twirled around the room, closing her eyes, and when she opened them, she was standing before a mirror. She froze as she caught sight of her reflection.
Sparkles shimmered in the air all around her like glitter, hovering just inches above her skin, her hair. It was as if she, herself, was sparkling!
She grinned exuberantly, laughing in joy, then stopped short. An odd sensation had tickled along her back, simultaneously with her laughter. Slowly, she turned sideways, seeing the back of her shirt was in tatters, but not believing what the mirror showed her.
Luminous wings had emerged beneath her shoulder blades, in shades of green and gold. They shone incandescently, as if lit from within, and fluttered gently as Kira twisted to see them better. The wings moved in conjunction with her feelings, opening and closing softly, without conscious intent. Was this a dream?
“It’s not a dream.”
“You’re one of us!”
Kira heard the voices, speaking over each other, and spun around but saw no one.
Instead, the moon grabbed her attention, shining outside the small window. It glowed, large and luminous and unbelievably beautiful. Her breath caught as she gazed upon it, marveling… it seemed almost near enough to touch.
In a trance, she wandered closer, standing before the window, her new wings opening and closing of their own volition. Transfixed by the splendor of the moon, she wished for a way to be nearer to it still.
And suddenly, she was.
Kira hovered outside the window, floating in the indigo night. She felt the moon’s delight at her boldness, bathing Kira in a wave of celestial approval and offering up a name. Luna. The moon was female.
Luna watched as Kira tested her wings, gliding effortlessly through the starry sky. When Kira heard the familiar voices calling her, she looked to her new friend, confused.
Was it not Luna who had called her, both today and long ago, when she was but a child of five?
In answer, Luna directed her light to the branches just outside the treehouse window. Your family awaits, she sang in a voice like liquid silver.
The moonbeam illuminated four beautiful creatures, their silvery-blonde hair a match to Kira’s own, perched together on a branch, waiting for her.
Kira flew closer, greeted with a chorus of applause and happy chatter, and the wings of the fairies waved in jubilation as they were reunited.
Sister, they murmured, gathering Kira close. We have so much to teach you.