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2012 Writer's Duel: A New Kind of Love by HPFF United
Format: Short story collection
Chapter 17: Only Adventures by gingersnape
She reached out her hand and let the stars fall into her palm. Her eyes were closed and the chill of the night hung around her in the eerily still manner only the darkness could manage. Her hand was heavy with her growing collection, but she did not clasp her fist shut until she could no longer bear the weight of the world. She held her stars close to her and whispered how they were safe with her. And all the while, her mother listened and softly plaited her daughter's hair.
She reached out her hand and let the rain fall into her palm. It was sticky and sweet and her colourful dress was soaked and clung to her legs uncomfortably, but she loved the rain anyway. She wanted to dance and wanted to run and wanted to show the rain how much she loved it, but she simply stood on the steps in front of her house, holding the rain in her hand. It slipped between the cracks, no matter how tightly she kept her fingers together. Every now and then, she would just open her hand and let all the water crash onto her bare feet.
Her eyes remained closed but she knew everything around her was dancing in the rhythmic beats of the rain. How could anyone not want to dance, even if only in their minds, when a rain like this was upon them? She hugged herself as the chill from the rain crept onto her skin and inside her. And all the while, her mother watched and thought of how she had stood in the rain so many years ago.
She reached out her hand and let the leaves fall into her palm. The autumn breeze was harsh and whipped her hands raw. They were dry and cold, threatening to crack open at any minute, but she kept her hands stretched out anyway. It had never bothered her before, so she told herself it was of no consequence. She winced when the wind pulled at her skin anyway.
She could hear the trees bending in the wind and the creek that ran behind her house, but she did not want to open her eyes. They were comforting when she could only hear them and she knew seeing them would mean she was in a real place. When all she did was listen, the world was her own and hardly a world. She just was.
Her legs were stiff from standing for so long and all she wanted was to sit and soak up the sliver of sunlight still hanging in the air. The night was approaching though, and she knew if she sat down, she would not stand back up. Falling asleep was nice enough, she supposed, but she could not let herself stay for too long. She was only there to wait and wait she would.
Her mother was inside, working away at some new adventure. Adventure. It was what she called her experiments. They were no more adventures than the times her daughter spent standing at the edge of the creek, really. But that did not stop her mother from thinking of her experiments as forays into the great unknown.
She crunched the leaves into a dust as she balled her fist up and held the remains of the summer close to her. “Luna! Luna, come inside!” her mother cried, and with that, the dust trailed behind her as she ran inside. Bits and pieces caught in her hair, but she didn't mind because she was returning to her mother. And all the while, she watched her mother stare into space with a look of confusion on her face.
She reached out her hand and felt her mother's hand fall into her palm. It was cold and dry and it squeezed Luna's hand, but not like it usually did. This was a squeeze to say she had no more strength to do more than that. Her mother's eyes were open in their sad lonely way, but Luna could hardly hold a gaze at her. This did not happen to little girls. Little girls had mothers whose eyes were filled with happiness and hope. Little girls had mothers who held hands like they would never let go. But there she was, a little girl, holding her mother's hand and promising not to let go.
Her father knelt on the floor, taking his wife's other hand with both of his. He clenched his teeth and had shaky breaths, interrupted by his attempt to mouth something, but the words getting caught in his throat. Luna could not look at him either. She could not look at the floor, where her mother's snapped wand lay, still fresh with the burnt smell of an adventure. She could not look at the curtains that shimmered like sunlight no matter the time of day. They too were a product of an adventure. After looking back at her mother, she closed her eyes.
Her cheeks were sticky with the streaks from salty tears. The seconds felt like hours but every light squeeze from her mother was so fleeting she could hardly tell if it was real. She did not like how real it felt. She wanted it to just be her mind. She wondered if she should have warned her mother about adventures. They always made her worry, if only a little bit. But she had never really said so.
The reality was slowly worming its way through her mind, sinking into her thoughts and weighing down the possibility of a mirage. A dream. Anything other than truth. The air was getting thicker and she had to think about each breath she took. She knew nothing had changed other than her mother, but the illusion of it all gave her something to think about. In and out, inhale and exhale, expand and sink, was all so much nicer than focusing on the reason she was rocking on her heels, waiting for something, anything.
“It was the adventures, wasn't it?” she whispered, not even meaning to be heard. She held her mother's hand close to her and hugged her mother's arm as tightly as she could. She would not let go until she got her answer and the answer changed what might happen. Answers meant knowledge and knowledge meant solutions and a solution she needed.
She opened her eyes to look at her mother, whose eyes were softer and happier, if only for a moment. “Is. It is an adventure. Don't forget that, love. I'm just at the beginning of my adventures.” Her voice was hoarse and her face contorted with pain, like it was difficult to move, let alone talk. She grew quiet again and all the while, her mother's words echoed in her mind.
She reached out her hand and let a dark nose fall in her palm. Her stomach twisted as she looked at the castle looming in the distance. She had been alone since that morning. A few others had sat in her carriage on the train, but the did not pay her any attention. She simply sat in the corner, absorbing their conversation. Piecing together the people and the places.
Those students had been older; they had been through this before. It was not a new adventure. She stiffened as she thought of adventures. She fancied the idea of adventures. They were exciting and filled with opportunities, but she could not control how nervous she was. She played with her hair and looked out the window, but that did not help her either. After giving up on not thinking about what would happen, she had closed her eyes and listened to the tiniest piece of a world she was a train ride from entering.
The people around her were giving her funny looks. It was almost as if they thought she was a fool for holding her hand out. One person almost ran into the skeletal horse she was with. The first years were to go in the boats, she knew, but she wanted to desperately to ignore the large man directing her towards the dark lake.
The horse seemed almost surprised she was paying attention to it. It was gentle and calm and unlike any other horse she had seen. She mostly wanted to stay because it was focused on her, as opposed to everything else that day. “Miss, you can see 'em?” The large man towered over both Luna and the horse, but his smile was gentle and almost sympathetic. “They're thestrals. You're a bit young to see 'em, aren't you?”
She did not know what that meant, but she nodded and followed the man to the boats. The evening was colder than usual and she felt like her cloak was like a dress after she had danced in the rain. The wind blew right through it, chilling her skin, but the thick material clung to her. She could not escape how cold she felt, unless it was not just the wind. She rubbed her hands together and sat down in one of the boats. She would be inside soon enough.
As the boat rocked back and forth in the water, she closed her eyes. She imagined the water was really just the creek that ran behind her house. The wind was rustling through the branches and the leaves were tangled in her hair. She was sitting even though she wanted to stand. Sitting might let her sleep and if she fell asleep, she did not know when she would wake back up.
The air was thick with careful whispers. They too had their stomachs pulling at their insides with worry. She thought about her own worries. Thestrals. He had looked so concerned when he had told her of the creatures. And some people couldn't see them. Very few, by how he had led her toward the boats. She felt so small in his presence, but he seemed to think of her as much older than she was. How could she be such a little girl and nothing like the little girl she had been so long ago all at once?
The rocking stopped and she stood up as straight as she possibly could after she climbed out of the boat. She wanted to be as tall as the castle. She wanted to soar off the highest towers and dance with the flags as they swayed with the wind. She wanted to be free. It was all an adventure. That was all. Not something to be scared of. Not something to close her eyes at. Just an adventure.
She bit her lip and let the cool air hang around her. Her palms were sweaty and she thought of what had once rested there. All of the stars. All of the rain. All of the leaves. Her mother. The thestral. She could feel them as she pulled her hand close to her and looked into the night sky. And all the while, she hoped her adventure might be as exciting as whatever adventure her mother was having. It was just the beginning, after all.