The small orb of light danced just out of Wystan’s reach. Teasing him, tempting him to follow it further into the forest and he was unable to resist its lure. Nothing that I did called him out of his stupor and I was left trailing after him as best as I could. I was only six at the time, stumbling over the roots of trees and crying about my scraped knees as I called for my brother to stop, that mother would be angry if he made us all late for church.
It was at the end of this trek that I would scream just as the light faded away, its dancing temptation disappearing with it, and my brother coming back to himself just as he stepped over the edge of that cliff. The last look on my brother’s face was one of such utter confusion that my heart broke anew each time that I thought about it. He hadn’t understood how he made it to that cliff edge and never even got the chance to scream.
He broke his neck in that fall and the picture of my brother’s broken body bleeding at the base of that cliff was forever burned into my mind.
My parents did not cope with the loss very well. We didn’t have the money to move away but my Father spent every weekend for months building an eight foot fence around our property. At the time, I didn’t totally understand. Wystan was dead, that I knew, but why were they taking away my playground?
Those woods had become my kingdom in my childhood and it was where my big brother and I would always play. While it was the same place he had died, it was also the only place I could go to feel connected to him. I began to resent my parents and especially that fence. It cut me off from my good memories and kept me a prisoner in the space they provided me.
Wyston used to remark on my name, Odetta, and my mother’s obsession for princesses. I didn’t understand it until I was older and I found one of his journals where it was mentioned again. Unlike Odette, I couldn’t be a swan and fly away from this awful place.
The grief and inability to escape the house in which my brother lived eventually killed my father. By then, I had graduated from high school and was working on a college degree. School numbed my brain, chased away thoughts of that dancing little light that lured my brother to his death.
From ten years old, I knew that that little light had been a Will-O’-The-Wisp but I never mentioned this to my parents. They would have taken away what freedoms I had left and I would have withered away myself.
I just had to bide my time.
I respected the wishes of my parents up until after my mother’s funeral. I was twenty six when she passed away in her sleep. No doubt, the grief had caught up to her and made her health problems worse and worse.
The day after that my mother was laid into the ground next to both my father and Wyston’s graves was the day that had the horrible fence torn down. While I could finally breathe the fresh scent of freedom, I couldn’t make myself go into those trees.
I wanted to so badly but my feet were frozen to the edge of our property. There was a part of me that never fully recovered from my brother’s death and I knew that visiting all of our favorite spots would bring those memories and emotions back full force.
Deciding to give myself time to work up the bravery, I turned back towards the house. I hadn’t made it more than five steps before it appeared in front of me.
The rational part of my brain recognized the glowing orb of light but I couldn’t quite remember why I was so afraid of it. As the minutes ticked on and it danced there in the air, my fear faded away to wonder.
A tiny part of my brain screamed at me not to fall for its magic; for that fake warmth and beautiful flickering. I paid it no mind because, at the time, everything that I had ever read was wrong. Nothing this gorgeous could be bad.
The path that my feet followed flashed for a moment through my memories. Overgrown as it was, I could still pick out where I fell and stumbled trying to keep up with Wyston. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had grown and the magic of the wisp kept me upright, I probably would have fallen again.
I don’t really remember much about the walk to the cliffs besides the mere seconds that those memories came back to me. I do remember reaching out and leaning over the edge to try and reach the slowly fading light but there was never any moment of falling.
Pulled away from the edge into a hard chest, I didn’t have much time to process what had just happened before my entire world changed.
“And he promised that he wouldn’t come for you.” A deep voice grumbled, its husky quality reminding me of my father’s. Before the old man had taken to drinking away his sadness. “Good thing I was here, wasn’t it Odetta?”
The sound of my name broke me out of my confused stupor and I looked up at the face of the grown man that was now holding me away from him by my shoulders. I didn’t recognize his features, not really, but I would never have forgotten my brother’s unique eyes; one of them was green while the other was the color of storm clouds.
Instead of answering my question, he only smiled and gently pushed on my chin with his knuckles like he had when we were kids. The tears began welling in my eyes and I went in for the hug. Instead of having my arms wrapping around his neck and crying into his warm shoulder, I hit the rocky ground and hissed in pain.
“I’m not strong enough to hold a solid form for very long.” He answered the question before I could ever voice it and my tears turned to full-fledged sobs as the reality sunk in. It wasn’t that my brother had somehow survived that fall and just hid away for all these years. He really had died.
“How…?” The rest of the question was lost in midst of my crying but I was sure he understood. He wouldn’t have crouched down in front of me.
“If a Will-O’-The-Wisp kills a person before they reach twenty, that person’s spirit is released and becomes another wisp.” That news shocked me and I stared at him in what I hoped was more wonder than horror. Wyston just laughed, his bright eyes twinkling in such an inhuman way that I couldn’t help but believe him. As if his fading away wasn’t another clue.
“Don’t worry Princess,” that hated nickname had me sobbing out a giggle; I had hated that nickname so much that I didn’t realize how much I actually missed when he used it. “I’m one of the good guys. Don’t follow any wisps that glow yellow and red.”
I don’t recall just how long I sat in that spot after he faded away. For a little while, I cradled the little blue wisp that was my brother but eventually that faded away too. He had saved me, despite all the years of rebelling and tearing up some of his things in my anger, he had still saved me.
During the walk back was when I finally worked up the bravery to visit our secret playgrounds. As I touched the crude arrow carvings that were meant to show us the way back and forth from our special places to the house, I murmured my quiet thanks to Wyston. Mentally, I hoped he grew stronger so that I would be able to give him a proper hug for the first time in twenty years.
Feedback would be wonderful m’dears.
Tomorrow’s creature: Haltija