Jan 14, 2018

Short Story: "Spirits by the Campfire"

Stories of ghosts were just stories, even if he moved with uncanny silence and was so pale he was nearly luminous in the glow of the campfire.

(This story idea came from a prompt generator that gave me the first line “The boy hadn’t spoken since his twin had gone” which was perfect for Etri! This takes place about six months before book 1 (Colorweaver) starts.)

Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "Spirits by the Campfire"

The boy hadn’t spoken since his twin had gone. Although, to be honest, he hadn’t said much before that either. Blythe didn’t know what he sounded like, but if was was anything like his brother, it was full of loud laughter that ricocheted off the nearby wagons. The entire troupe was like that and Blythe often missed the less rambunctious company of the Protectorates she had once called family. She supposed this was her family now, loath as she sometimes was to admit it. The performers had taken her in and trained her and for that she owed them tolerance if nothing else.

She settled deeper into the bench by the campfire and stretched her long legs across the beat-up old cushions. The twin – the boisterous one – had left soon after she arrived at the gathering place, then was followed by the other carnies as they staggered back to their wagon-homes and beds. With most of the troupe gone, she finally had the quiet she ached for. All that remained was the silent, dark-haired boy who sat away from the fire, almost hidden by the shadows of the surrounding wagons and the heavy coat he wore despite the summer heat. Blythe had never seen a carny wear black before. They always preferred bright, eye-watering colors that assaulted her eyes the way their noise invaded her ears. She glanced down at her own dark clothes and smiled wryly. She was a still a Protectorate even if she was also a carny and always went for practical. She was certain the boy wasn’t a Protectorate, whoever he was.

Whatever he was.

She swore his eyes shone in the firelight almost like a cat’s before he dropped his head and messy curls covered his face again. Why was he still out here? It was so late it was practically early. Blythe was only awake because the lead healer had needed her help with a complicated healing that had taken most of the night to finish. The performer would be okay, although Blythe couldn’t help feeling that a professional should have been more careful with fire. It wasn’t as though flame had a mind of its own despite the dancer’s claim. It couldn’t possibly have tried to attack her by climbing her supposedly fireproof sleeves. Blythe suspected the girl had simply worn the wrong costume and hadn’t wanted to admit it.

“I may sit, yes?”

Blythe’s heart pounded against her rib cage at the sound of a voice where no one had been. At least she had an answer to her earlier question: his voice was nothing like his twin’s. It was soft and almost lyrical- whatever his accent was, she couldn’t place it, and had never heard anything like it. She looked up into a face as white as the sheets in the healer’s wagon and took a single deep breath to calm her nerves. The boy was just a boy. Stories of ghosts were just stories, even if he moved with uncanny silence and was so pale he was nearly luminous in the glow of the campfire.

She swung her legs around to give him room and held out her hand in greeting. His fingers were cold enough to make her wonder for a moment if stories could be true, but mostly she just wondered why he hadn’t sat closer to the fire if he was that cold. As she nonchalantly tried to rub warmth back into her hand and hoped he didn’t notice, she nodded at him. “I’m Blythe.”

He took the seat next to her, making no noise as he sat on the rickety old bench. She had to strain to hear, but she thought she heard his name was Etri before he fell silent again. She entertained the possibility that she had met the ghost of a carnival performer past, but considering that he was the first carny who hadn’t tried to talk her ear off, she was willing to put up with cold hands and a whisper of a voice. She leaned closer to hear when he spoke again. “There are spirits in this location who do not desire company.”

This one seemed to not mind it, however, assuming this wasn’t some big elaborate joke set up to frighten her. Blythe didn’t scare easily. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back against the seat. “I find that awfully hard to believe.”

Without cracking a smile to prove the joke one way or the other, Etri stood and adjusted his coat, his fingers ghosting over the dark fabric. “Believe me or not as you will. I only ask that the fire performers have more care or their lights will go dark.”

Blythe’s eyes fell on the campfire at the mention of light. It seemed no longer as bright, as though this strange conversation had lasted longer than a few minutes- or as though Etri walking past had dimmed the flames. Maybe staying out here in the dead of night to talk to a strange boy wasn’t the best idea she’d ever had. Had “lights going dark” meant their props… or something else? “Are you sure that –”

But Etri had vanished as soundlessly as he had appeared. Alone except for the dying crackles of the faltering fire, Blythe shuddered. “So that’s how you’re going to be? A bearer of vague warnings and weird threats?”

She wasn’t about to stick around and wait for the fire to go out; she didn’t want an answer that badly. As she stalked out of the clearing she unconsciously glanced back over her shoulder just to make sure he was truly gone. Her heavy footsteps covered a whispered reply that came from nowhere and everywhere: “Perhaps tomorrow I will be more.”


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