In the shadow of the Beltane fires, Kieran changes his destiny.
|Note: This is another short story that I'm planning on expanding into something larger.
“Kieran, it’s your turn!”
I can’t tell which of my friends is egging me on; faces are obscured by the darkness and the flickering firelight. Two massive bonfires crackle and pop in the middle of the circle of revelers. Sparks dance towards the midnight blue sky and try to merge with the stars. Girls take turns dancing between the flames, and boys leap over, letting the heat lick the bottoms of their feet. The cleansing smoke of the Beltane fire wipes away all of last year’s troubles.
“Later!” I call back. There is something I have to take care of tonight, before I can take my turn. There are still some loose ends that need tying. Someone pushes a wooden flask into my hand. I take a swig and let the fire wash away my worry.
A warm hand slips into mine and pulls me into a dance. Janelle is stunning in the glow of the firelight as she twirls around me. Her eyes glow with seduction and her smile promises everything. Spring flowers are wound into the loose tendrils of her raven hair and her feet are bare beneath the hem of her blue dress. With each spin her smile grows wider, until she is laughing with pure joy, her hands thrown up to the stars. Her merriment carries me away, until I am laughing with her. Tonight is a night for celebration.
All around me young women pass subtle glances across the fire - looks of longing and promise and hope. They begin to slip away from the firelight, and wander into the depths of the woods, where they will wait to be found. Tonight the veil grows thin between our world and the next, and the faeries come out to play. Some girls will spend the night entwined in their mesmerizing glow. Others will find the arms of their human lovers and rekindle their passion under the stars.
Janelle tugs on my hand, pulling me towards the edge of the forest. Soon, she breaks free from me and takes off at a run. I chase after her, leaping over roots and ducking under branches, following the echoes of her laughter, as she leads me deeper and deeper. Her giggles stop all at once, and I stumble out into a clearing. Janelle stands with her back to me, bathed in the glow of the crescent moon. A stream runs near her feet, its whispering current the only sound in an otherwise silent forest.
I creep up behind her and wrap my arms around her waist, letting my hands run over the silk fabric covering her stomach. A small sigh escapes her lips, as I trail kisses down the side of her neck. Her mouth searches for mine, and when I feel her melt into my arms, I lay her down on the mossy bank of the stream. Her eyes reflect the glow of the stars, until I kiss her and they flutter closed.
* * *
Later, we lie on the soft earth, our bodies entwined in an attempt to chase away the chill of the spring night. “You are the most beautiful woman on this planet,” I murmur into her ear and then chuckle, “Goddess incarnate.”
When she hears the laughter in my voice, she slaps my hands away, and sits up, tearing herself away from my grasp. All traces of joy and celebration have fallen from her face. Her eyes burn like the Beltane fires. “Don’t go, Kieran.”
My gut clenches with guilt, as I hear the pleading in her voice, and I realize that tonight was all a plot - Janelle’s attempt at keeping me with her. She is mesmerizing as she glows in the moonlight, and I want to tell her I’ll stay. I want to give her everything. But as much as I want to make her happy, I need to live my life for myself.
“We’ve talked about this Janelle. I have to go. I can’t spend another year here, with everyone expecting me to take over when my dad dies. I won’t be any good at leading the commune.”
“I’ll help you,” she pleads, and I can see shining tears fill her eyes. “We can do it together.”
I should be slipping a ring out of my pocket right now, and declaring my undying love for her. It’s what my parents expect. It’s what the whole commune expects. We’re supposed to live happily ever after and make lots of beautiful babies. The thought alone feels like a cage.
“I need some time,” and now I am the one who is pleading. I am leaving tomorrow morning, with or without her blessing, but it would be so much easier to know that she understands. I don’t want to leave her behind hating me.
“Don’t you love me?” It’s her last ditch attempt. A low blow, aimed at my heart.
“That’s not fair! That’s not what this is about. I just need a little bit of time to get my head straight. To figure out what I want to be.”
“You’re supposed to be here with me. Taking care of your people. They need you.” Tears are flowing freely down her cheeks now, and her voice climbs with panic, “I need you!”
She almost never cries, and she knows I can’t stand it when she does. I reach out for her, and she falls back into my arms, burying her face in my chest. I can feel the wetness of her sobs soaking through my linen shirt.
“I’ll come back,” I whisper, and gently rock her body against my own. “I promise you, I’ll come back.”
When her sobs quiet to nothing, the faeries come out. The gentle hum of wings fills the night air. Golden dots of light glimmer around our heads, spectacular and evanescent. They bless us with a greeting, and then fade back into their own world.
* * *
I emerge from the woods alone. Dawn is only a few minutes away, but the sky is pitch black, as if night will never let loose its hold. The Beltane fires still flicker, but without the roaring enthusiasm of last night’s celebration. A few couples sit around the fire, curled in each other's arms and enjoying the last lingering moments before morning.
I try not to think about how Janelle will feel, when she wakes up alone. Last night wasn't a perfect goodbye, but I cannot survive another morning of pleas and tears. It will be easier this way. Better, if her last memory of me is bathed in faerie light.
I walk towards the fire and let the healing smoke curl around me. My feet pick up pace and I leap over the flames, heat tickling my toes as I fly through the air. When I reach the other side, I am a free man.