By J Campbell
Grandpa and I spent a few nights in the woods after the incident with the bottle tree. As good as I had felt the night after, my legs weren't quite up for a hike back out again just yet. So, we spent two nights in the woods while I recovered.
It wasn't uncomfortable, not really. I grew up camping, but Grandpa liked to camp rough. I had thought to myself plenty of times when I was a kid that I was camping rough, scoffing at my parents in their pop-up camper as I slept in my sleeping bag in a pup tent. That was real camping, I'd told myself, as I listened to the wildlife make noises through the thin layer of fabric.
Now that I was lying out here on a bed of leaves with the cicadas in my ears and the bats catching mosquitos overhead, I learned that I hadn't been as prepared as I thought.
Wednesday night found me sitting by the fire, keeping it fed as the darkness gathered into full night. Grandpa had gone to relieve himself in the woods, and the smell of our cooking fish as they crisped over the little wooden spit he had made was making me hungry. Grandpa swore I'd probably be able to make it back to the house in the morning, and my legs were starting to feel a lot better. I turned the fish as I sat and waited, hearing the fire crackle and the nightlife carry on in its nightly chorus.
When something else cracked, I turned my head to the left and froze like a deer in headlights.
The woods around us were dark, but the gloom did nothing to hide the too-large pair of lilac eyes staring at me from the trees.
I locked eyes with the creature, the two of us held in the gaze of the other. This wasn't out of any misplaced sense of courage or desire to cow this thing by staring it down. I felt as enchanted by those eyes as I was scared by them, and my hand slid up to clutch at the little ward that Grandpa had shown me how to make. I didn't know if it would do anything to the creature, but I knew that I would need everything I had if it decided to attack me.
We had been staring at each other for a few minutes, my eyes beginning to water, when something crunched down on a bush not too far from the campsite, and both of us looked at the source of the noise.
Grandpa came stumping back into the campsite then, and when I looked back at the place where the yes had been, they were gone.
"Those fish are looking a little more burnt than I strictly like them, son," Grandpa said, sitting down and flipping them over.
"Grandpa," I half whispered, "I saw something over there?"
Grandpa turned his head, almost lazily, and smiled after only a precursory glance, "That so? Did you attract the attention of a Boohag or something?"
"Whatever it was, it had purple eyes," I said, poking at the fire as it started to burn down.
Grandpa looked up from the fish like a robin smelling a cat, "Purple eyes?" he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. They were really light purple too, like violets or lilacs."
Grandpa turned back to the woods and cupped his hands around his mouth, loosing a call that sounded like an angry chipmunk. He listened, staring out into the darkness as he searched for something. He made the call again, but it sounded less sure the second time. I just watched it all unfold as I sat in extreme confusion. Was he calling to the thing with the purple eyes? Was he calling it to us?
When something called back, the sound was a little higher than the one Grandpa had made. Something approached us through the bushes, the sound hitting my ears differently than the galumphing of Grandpa's approach. I imagined that it was what a fish heard when another fish cut through the water near it. It was whispery, almost ethereal, and it made my skin crawl a little.
Then it spoke, and I felt like I might shudder out of my body.
"Is that you, Fisher?" it asked, its voice sounding silvery like notes played on an over-tuned instrument.
"It is. Is that you, Glimmer?"
When the creature stepped out of the woods, I thought for a moment that Grandpa had been playing a joke on me. Maybe this had been the cue for a friend of his to come out of the woods so they could have a good laugh at scaring me. The woman that came out looked normal enough. She wore leathers that might be a little too tight for the weather, and her silvery hair was pulled back into an intricate tail that spilled down her back. Her eyes were purple, the lightest of lilacs, and when she smiled, I could see rows of bright white teeth.
It wasn't until she stepped closer that I saw that the teeth were pointed.
Just like the ears that rose back and beside the silver hair.
The woman, Grandpa had called her Glimmer, knelt down before me with a wide smile on her face, "It's good to see you again, Fisher. You still look as handsome as the last time I saw you."
I looked over at Grandpa, who cleared his throat and drew the attention of the beautiful creature before me, "Over here, Glimmer."
Glimmer turned her head and gasped as though startled, "Fisher? What happened to you? You look shriveled as my great gran!"
"You charmer you." Grandpa said, clearly trying not to let it get to him, "You look exactly the same as the last time I saw you."
She smirked, looking back at me, "Well, it was only fifty years ago. It's not like it was very long."
"Fifty-five, to be exact, but who's counting?"
Glimmer took a half step towards him but came back for half a second to slide a hand over my cheek, "You look so much like Fisher when he was young," before going to sit next to him on the ground.
She slid her alabaster hands over his wrinkled skin and laughed as the flesh moved under her touch. Grandpa didn't seem to mind, and she turned his head as she did the same to his cheeks. She laughed as she noticed his gray hair, and he smiled as he watched her admiring him.
"What has happened to you, Fisher?" she said, childishly amused but also a little sad.
"I got old, my dear. It happens to the best of us if we're lucky. This is my Grandson, actually."
She snorted, sounding like this was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard, "Your son, maybe, but there is no way this one could be your grandson."
"Sad but true," Grandpa said.
I sat and watched the two of them, her studying him and Grandpa accepting it with humor before asking the question.
"So," I thought about the best way to phrase this so as not to offend the sharp-toothed woman, "who exactly is this?"
Glimmer pinched Grandpa’s cheeks playfully, "You never told him about me, Fisher?"
"I did, as it happens, though he may not remember it," Grandpa said, giving me a wink.
I thought back, trying to remember all the stories that grandpa had told me in the past year and change, before landing on the answer, "Wait, is this the moon child you said you met in the woods?"
Grandpa cackled, but Glimmer made a sound like a seal who's got a fish stuck in her throat, "A moon child? Are you still telling people that's what I am?"
"Well, most people can't pronounce what your people call each other. It's what I've called you since I was a kid, and you've never stopped me."
"Wait, I believe you told me that was a story for later since you didn't want to interrupt your story about the widow's candle."
"Good memory, kid. I suppose that now is as good a time as any to tell it then."
Glimmer let go of his face as she reclined by the fire, the light making her skin look pale as milk, "I do so love the tale of our meeting, Fisher. I was such a wild little thing back then."
"In that," Grandpa said with a wink, "you haven't changed much, Glimmer."
Grandpa made himself comfortable, preparing for another tale, "Well, it all started with some fish I had pulled out of the river on that fateful camping trip."
I had hiked off into the woods, as you know, to camp that weekend. This was Friday afternoon, and I had arrived around mid-afternoon and started fishing. The stream was swollen from snow melt, and the fish were in high spirit that season. I could have probably plucked them out of the water with my hand, but I set about with my pole and my nightcrawlers and soon had a mess of fish hanging from a nearby tree.
As dark approached, I had my fire built and my sleeping place laid out with a camp blanket. I had caught plenty of fish, ten in all, and I had decided to scatter the remains back into the river so I didn't attract hungry bears. These were fat river brim too, and my mouth watered at the smell of them cooking.
I had turned to get something from my pack, and that was when I heard the rustling. I turned back, reaching for my knife, but there was nothing to see. I assumed I had mistaken the fire popping for a rustling and bent down to turn the fish. I had all ten on little wooden spikes, and they were crisping nicely over the fire. I had a heel of hard bread and some cheese to go with it, and I was anticipating dinner quite a bit.
Nothing works up an appetite like a good hike, after all.
It wasn't until I had turned all the fish that I noticed I had been robbed. Instead of ten fat brim, I had nine. Someone had taken one of my fish, one of the end ones, and I glanced around to make sure it hadn't just fallen over. It wasn't in the dirt, and it wasn't in the fire, and I couldn't imagine it had just wriggled all the way back to the stream, so I sat back down and picked up a stick I had meant to widdle on that evening. The fire ate the shavings happily as I fed it, but my eyes scanned mistrustfully for whoever had taken my fish.
Like I told you before, the woods were known to have tramps, and most of them weren't above a little sneak thievery if it meant not starving. I would have probably shared my fish with them if they'd asked, but Daddy had always had harsh opinions on thieves, and they were opinions I shared. Even at ten, I was prepared to defend myself if need be, though I figured I would just run if they came after me in force.
A few fish were worth less than my life, and I wasn't so foolish to be spoilin for a fight.
When I heard the bushes to my left rattle slightly, I turned and saw something take off quickly as it moved around like a caged cat. It rustled bushes around the clearing in quick succession, its movements making me think it might be a coyote or even a big cat like the ones I'd heard about in town. As I sat by the fire, thinking of how it would feel to get jumped on by one of those big cats, I remembered how they said it had butchered Clairie's sheep as they sat afield one night. It had ripped them open, eating their soft parts, leaving their bodies all husked out. They later discovered that it was a wolf pack, but I wouldn't know that for a few more weeks.
That night, I felt the fear creep up my spine as I felt stalked by this terrible phantom.
Then, from a break in the bushes, I saw a pair of purple eyes. They studied me the way I studied animals I'd come upon on hikes sometimes. Animals caught by surprise a second before they bolt into the woods, never to be seen again. Those eyes looked at me just that way. They stared as if they didn't expect they would be allowed to observe me for long.
We stared at each other for a while, the fire crackling between us, and it wasn't until I heard the hiss of a fish sliding into the coals that I shook off the strange spell.
When I looked back up, I expected the eyes would be gone, but they were still there.
"Who's there?" I asked, blowing the soot off the fish as I took out my knife to begin flaking back the scales.
The eyes blinked, but they never answered.
"Would you like to come and share some fish?" I asked, thinking maybe the eyes belonged to a person. They didn't seem so big as a cats would, and they looked curious rather than scary. They had probably smelled my fish and came to see what smelled so good, and now that they had decided I wasn't dangerous, they would want more.
The eyes blinked again, and I could almost feel them weighing their options.
Did they dare to come and see if I was actually dangerous?
"I won't hurt you," I added, realizing that that's probably exactly what something that would hurt them would say.
Their curiosity seemed to win out, however, because, to my surprise, a wild little girl came crawling out on all fours.
That was the first time I met Glimmer.
Glimmer laughed, and it sounded like wind chimes under a waterfall.
"He speaks as though he were not a grubby little creature sitting out in the woods cooking something I had never smelt before. I was curious and came to have a taste, and then he spoke. Imagine my surprise to discover that this thing could talk?"
"Had you never seen a human before?" I asked.
Glimmer shook her head, "I had heard them in the woods, but my kind do not usually go so close. We have lived in these woods since your kind hunted with bows and arrows. They rode horses instead of," she searched vainly for the word, "automacars?"
"They just call them cars now, Glimmer," Grandpa said kindly.
"Yes, those. My parents tell me that we were once friends with the ones who came before your kind, the tan ones who used the bows. They knew of us, but they warned us about the new people. They told us you all were violent, but I've never felt fear of this one," she said, smiling at Grandpa.
Grandpa smiled back, and I couldn't help but smile as well.
How close had these two become, I couldn't help but think.
Grandma must have been quite a woman to take Grandpa from this one.
"Anyway," Grandpa said, "I haven't even gotten to the best part yet."
Glimmer flapped a hand at him, "Continue then." she said, scooting closer to my leg as she lay her head against the log I was sitting on, "I have the perfect spot to listen from."
I felt my face heat up a little as Grandpa told on.
She approached my fire boldly, sniffing the air like a silver-haired hunting cat as she hunched in the dancing light. She was like a coiled spring, ready to snap away from me at any attack. She was equal parts distrust and curiosity, and I had never seen anything like her.
My hand shook a little as I offered her the fish I had been scaling, but she shook her head and pointed at the ones still in the fire.
"I prefer them with the scales on. The scales taste good."
Her voice made me shiver. It was like listening to a river speak, like hearing a babbling brook talk, and I passed her one of the others instead. My hand shook as it extended towards her, staying out of the fire, and when her hand touched mine, it felt like fresh baby skin.
She snatched the fish away, sitting on the haunches as she ate it. True to her word, she ate it, scales and all, and her sharp teeth stripped the bones away as she chewed them up as well. She at the tail, the head, the eyes, and the fins, and I saw her looking greedily at the remains of my own fish before I threw it to her. She caught it easily and began eating it too as I grabbed a fresh fish.
Before long, the fish were gone, and she had relaxed a little as she cleaned up the remains of my dinner.
"This was a fine meal, Fisher," she said, sucking the grease from her fingers as I went back to whittling.
"That's not my name," I said with a little chuckle, "My names," but she came even closer as she watched my hands going about their absentminded task. I had been whittling away without much thought as this little creature had stalked me, and when I looked down, I noticed I had a little cat. He wasn't completely done yet, he was just starting to take shape, but the ears and feet were plain enough.
"What are you doing?" she asked, sitting very close to me in the grass, "Is it," but whatever she said sounded like bees buzzing in my brain because I flinched and almost dropped the cat into the fire.
She noticed me cringe and took a step back, her cautiousness resurfacing.
"It's called whittling," I said, showing her the cat, "My dad showed me how."
She came a little closer and watched in amazement as the cat was finagled more and more from the wood. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, the fire turning her into a china doll. Her skin was so pale, her hair like spun wire, despite being a mess. She was dressed in what looked like a nightshirt, and it was covered in dirt and cockleburs. I didn't care, though. I had never seen anything like her, and I made a mental note of her so I could ask Grandma about her when I got home.
As the cat came free of the wood, she made an excited noise and grabbed for it, uncaring of my knife.
"It's beautiful, Fisher. You are a man of many talents."
She sat by the fire, inspecting the little cat as a yawn coursed its way up my throat.
"What was that?" she asked, trotting the wooden cat across the leaves as she made it stalk the sticks and twigs.
"Just a yawn. I guess I'm feeling a little tired." I said, sitting back and watching her at play.
"Tired already? But the sun just went down."
I yawned again, just so damn tired, and when I blinked, she had walked her tiger across the grass.
That's when I heard an angry voice below, something like a startled bear, and she stiffened like a spooked cat.
"I have to go," she said, "Daddy is looking for me."
She paused at the edge of the clearing, and when the moon hit her just right, her pale skin shone like diamonds.
"I'd like to see you again," she said suddenly, turning and looking at me as her skin shone like a lantern.
“I’d like to see you too,” I said, realizing I was just as curious about her as she was about me, “How do I find you?”
She thought about it, and then smiled with her mouth of sharp little teeth, "Make this sound if you want to see me."
Then she made a sound like an angry chipmunk in a high wind, and the noise set my hair on end.
"That's my name," she said, "call me some night if you like."
I tried to tell her I would, but all that came out was a huge yawn and a muffled, "Goo'night, Glimmer."
She smiled at me then, and as the fire went out, she disappeared into the woods.
I wondered if I'd ever see her again.
Thankfully, I did.
Glimmer was smiling as she finished, her head against my leg as she remembered their first meeting.
"Quite a few more times as I recall," she said, rising to her feet as she dusted herself off.
"Leaving so soon?" Grandpa asked.
"Sorry, Fisher. I've got to get back, but I was very glad to see you and your Grandson," she smirked as she said Grandson, and it almost made it sound like a joke.
"Call on me again some night, though. I would very much like to see you again."
She paused, looking back at me as she added, "Both of you."
Then she was gone.
Grandpa sighed, "She's something else, isn't she?"
I nodded, a little lost for words.
"When I asked Grandma about her, she said that Glimmer was something hard to pronounce and older than the native people. She said that Glimmer sounded like she might be little more than a child but that her people could live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Grandma said she had befriended one or two in her lifetime, but their trust was exceedingly difficult to earn.She told me that if I had managed to earn the friendship of this Moon Child, then I should count myself as very lucky."
As we sat back and watched the fire crackle, I considered that I might be lucky too.
Had Glimmer not told me that I might call on her as well?
"Could you teach me how to make that sound too?" I asked, and Grandpa smiled as he said he would be happy to.
"Maybe someday I'll tell you of the time before this that I met with Glimmer, a time when I told her it would be the last time."
I laughed, "Those must have been some extraordinary circumstances."
Grandpa smiled as he watched the fire, "Yes, well, your Grandmother was quite an extraordinary woman."
About the author
Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.
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