“Stay within earshot… 20 minutes, then it’s time to get ready for bed”
“Yes Mom,” Sophie called back, her words already lost in the evening air, as she careered down the expansive yard at the back of the house.
The damp dew of the evening grass felt glorious against her bare feet, as she fumbled Grandad’s heavy silver torch in her small, sticky hands, puffing wisps of strawberry blonde hair out of her eyes with pursed lips.
“Wait for me, Soph!” came a little voice from the back door.
“Come on Sam!” she yelled, the torch beam bouncing along in front of her, a searchlight hunting the shadows for scurrying night insects.
Up ahead, the outline of the old willow tree loomed, its majestic presence now silhouetted against the gleaming full moon behind. High up in it's tangled limbs, an owl hooted a night-time sermon from his hidden pulpit.
Sophie scooted underneath, the snoozing tree’s fingerlike branches brushing her shoulders, as she weaved through the familiar openings and raced out the other side.
Five seconds later, a small cry of pain had her skidding to a halt
“Oww… Oww... Owwwww!”
She ran back to Sam, who’s clenched fist was cupped in his hand.
“My hand… I caught it on a branch."
“I told you not to grab on to them when you’re running, they'll rip your skin… Look!”
She shoved her own palm into the torchlight. A vicious red welt was still visible on the skin, partially covered in a half-picked scab.
“But I was trying to catch you…,” his voice cracking, “you were going too fast… I couldn’t keep up!”
Her face softened.
“I’m sorry, let me see”
She tucked the torch under her arm, balancing it carefully - a small but deep gash was visible across the palm of his hand, blood now dripping onto the grass below.
“We can go back if you want,” trying to mask her disappointment, “but, we’ll miss them if they’re there…”
"But what about the blood…" his lips quivered.
She dug her hand into her pocket and fished out a crumpled, pink cloth… “I have the hankie Nanna gave me,” she announced, eyeing him hopefully.
He dragged his sleeve determinedly across his wet eyes and nose.
“Ok, wrap it up tight...”
They scampered on quietly together, until finally slowing to a stop at a natural clearing at the bottom of the garden. This place always had something magical about it.
Sophie remembered the names Grandad had taught her; magnolia and wisteria, and nearby, the sweet scent of Nanna’s lavender. Her chest expanded as she sucked in a potpourri of smells, all melting together in the thick night air.
"This part of the garden always tickles my nose," said Sam, scrunching up his face.
“Do you think we’ll see anything tonight?” Sam whispered.
“I don’t know… hopefully”
The moon flitted in and out behind feather-wisp clouds as Sophie pointed the torch towards a small natural archway, sitting neatly between two towering artemisia bushes.
“There…” her little finger pointed towards the gap.
"That's where I saw them before"
She pulled Sam over to a spindly trunk of wisteria opposite the archway and dragged him under the trailing vines.
“Keep very still…” her lips barely moving.
The moon dimmed again, and Sophie pointed the flashlight across the clearing. Moths and other insects danced playfully around the spotlight in an impromptu evening performance.
Something stirred to her right and she inhaled sharply, as Sam’s little hand grabbed her arm.
She spun her torch towards the sound.
A little fuzzy head with big, brown eyes stared back at them
“It’s just a rabbit..,” releasing her breath.
Suddenly, the rabbit's ears jerked upwards, his little nose twitched and he scampered back into the bushes.
Sophie watched her torch flicker pitifully in her hand and then go dead.
"Shhhh…."-raising her finger to her lips in the dim glow-”look”.
From the archway opposite, several thin ribbons of what looked like light, flowed gently into the clearing - long, luminous strands swirling and rippling in the calm night air, passing inches from where the two children sat in silence, their hearts drumming loudly in their chests.
The air was electric. Sophie could feel the fine hairs on her arm tingling with static, rising up like soldiers standing to attention. She watched as separate strands of white light flowed and weaved around in front of them, eventually melding back together in the centre of the clearing, spiralling upwards and intensifying, as if drawing down light from the moon itself.
Sam's hand slipped into hers and squeezed.
The light suddenly became too much and Sophie threw her arm in front of her eyes.
When she looked again, the bright light was gone and two small, luminous orbs remained, shimmering and revolving gently in the silvery moonlight.
“Am, Soph…”-Sam’s voice was trembling now-”I think something’s looking at us”
“It’s ok, Sam…” she squeezed his little hand tighter.
The orbs had stopped spinning now, and Sophie could make out two pairs of piercing blue, oval eyes, staring curiously towards the bush where the kids were hiding. A thin ribbon of light then floated towards them, parting the wisteria blooms like curtains, exposing their pale, terrified faces behind.
In that moment, a pulse of orange light seemed to emanate from the creatures. As it reached them, a gentle wave of warmth passed over the children and they felt their bodies relaxing.
“They’re telling us they’re friendly” Sophie whispered, amazed.
Sam nodded, he could feel it too.
Instinctively, Sam lowered his hands and placed his palms out in front of one of the creatures - it moved gently over his cupped hands, with strands of spiderweb mist swirling around his little fingers and bandaged palm.
“It tickles,” he giggled.
Sophie copied him, watching the second orb float gently into her outstretched palms.
Her hands glowed in the luminescent light, like a thousand fireflies on summer nights. She could feel the same warm sensation that was tickling Sam, her hands tingling with energy inside.
She studied the creatures as best she could; their centres seemed almost solid, the eyes soft and warm, yet the children's hands and fingers seemed to pass through the outer strands like fine haze.
“What are you…?” she mouthed to herself
At that moment, a familiar shout rang in the distance.
"Sophie, Sam… bedtime!"
The kids watched the creatures retract slowly to the middle of the clearing and resume rotating around each other, pulsing slightly, silvery strands of energy intermittently linking them.
Sophie grabbed the dusty torch from the ground as the bulb flickered back on.
"Come on Sam," grabbing his arm and yanking him upwards, they raced up the moonlit yard.
"Don't say anything to Mom, Sam, ok… it's our secret for now!"
They reached the house and flung open the back door. Their mother sat at the table with her ‘Best Mom Ever’ mug cupped in her hands.
"Your bath is nearly ready, did you see any of your insects out there?"
Sophie placed the torch on the table.
"Yeah, em… loads…" she could feel her cheeks flush red, as she avoided meeting her mother's eyes.
"Oh Sam… what happened to your hand??" their mother exclaimed.
She took Sam's hand gently and examined it. A large patch of crusted blood showed on the makeshift bandage.
"I cut it on the willow tree, Sophie bandaged it though, it doesn't hurt"
"That damn tree, your grandad needs to cut back those branches… that's the two of you hurt now!"-she carefully unwrapped the hankie-"let me see"
She stared curiously at Sam's open palm for a second, examining it carefully.
"Well my kisses are magic," winking at Sophie over the top of Sam's blonde curls.
She took his palm and made an over exaggerated kiss sound with her lips.
"Mmmmwah… all better now," a quizzical smile still on her face.
"Now Sophie, put that torch back in the cupboard, I'm just going to check if your bath is done"
As her Mom left the room, Sophie hauled open the heavy door of the kitchen cupboard, flicked off the switch on the torch and placed it carefully on the shelf. When she turned around, Sam was still examining his hand.
"It'll be fine in a few days Sam, don't worry," touching his shoulder.
"Are Mommy's kisses really magic??" Sam's voice was quivered slightly.
“What do you mean?” Sophie replied.
He showed her his palm, a hint of blood remained on the skin, but no trace of the deep cut.
It was completely healed.
"But that's…,” Sophie slowly turned over her own palm and looked for her old cut. Her skin was a little dirty, but like Sam's, perfectly smooth.
She felt a warm tingling sensation.
“It wasn’t Mom’s kisses, Sam” showing him her own healed hand.
“What are the lights, Soph??” stepping over to the back door, staring out into the darkness.
“I don’t know Sam, I don’t know…”
This short story is my entry to Inkwell prompt #49 'By the light of the moon'. It's my first real attempt at a short story and I found it very hard to keep it short, but snuck it in just under 1500 words! :)
I loved deep diving into the idea, and then trying to edit myself afterwards. I didn't get it finished for the DreemPort part of the challenge, but I learned a lot of lessons on my writing process along the way.
If you read it all, thank you very much, I appreciate you taking the time.