Emily and Electra
by Chris Castle
From the cabin she could see the world. Turn left and she could look down at the town below, all huddled and lit amongst the trees, like a baker’s dozen of fireflies. Turn right and she would find the stars, endless, hanging over her head like faithful beacons, reminding her the earth was still beautiful and impossible to know. From where she stood, everything was on display. But she could not find her only friend.
It began with letters. Her name, Emily Elizabeth Elstree, so often a figure of fun when she used to attend school, had grown into something beautiful with her teenage years, as if it had begun to fit and wrap itself around her own body.
In town she had chanced upon the other girl, whose bag was spilling tomatoes onto the dusty roads. Ducking down and scooping them up, Emily had introduced herself, handing back the fruit and forgoing the awkward teenage handshake.
The girl, smiling, was called Electra. The two of them almost laughed at the jumble of all those ‘e’s and from that tiny moment their friendship was born.
Emily climbed the peak at the back of the cabin and pulled from her pocket the small periscope that had once been her Ma’s. The town hummed, candles and streetlights, drunks and lovers, a small fight between the two McGann brothers. All this was stalling, she knew, and eventually she turned the sights to the town hall.
She swallowed hard and felt her own hand clutch up at her small heart. The building was lit; the men gathered. The same men as before, looking tight and hungry. Something missing in them where the guilt should have sat; their eyes were like the pit of a well where the haunting should have been.
Emily brought the scope down, drawing away her hand from her heart, the fingers shaking still, but now from rage rather than fear.
Emily walked through the shack, packing what she could into the rucksack. Outside the snow began to slow to a steady drizzle and for that she was grateful. She put in the sack what was practical: food, clothes and nothing else.
Before her Ma died and her Pa went crazy, they would often head out into the woods for days, and Emily understood what was needed and what her Pa would call ‘sentimentalities.’ By candlelight she worked until the pack was full but not heavy enough to be a burden on her back.
She had slept well enough the day before and would not suffer for starting now, at close to midnight. The bad men would not pause, and neither would she.
Emily stopped at the door of the cabin and unhooked the long winter cape, as heavy as the sack and just as vital. Her Ma had fashioned it for her and it was her most treasured gift, though it was nothing close to a ‘sentimentality’. It protected against the harsh weather and had been admired by her Pa as her Ma’s finest work. She ran it over her shoulders, letting it sit properly before she left and closed for good.
On one side the cloak was black; to remain hidden from the bad men until she could do her work. On the other side, the cloak glowed red; a beacon she would reveal for her lost friend when the time was right. After a few moments, the cloak sat right, the weight adjusting to sprawl evenly over her shoulders. And with that, Emily’s adventure began.
Walking by starlight was a common thing for Emily now. She allowed the natural light to guide her as much as the cool, flinty compass in her hand. The snow gently batted against her skin, but it was little more than refreshment and she was glad for it.
Her Pa had often said that adapting was the key once you stepped out into the woods, and Emily took that to heart. The path to town would be a long one in such conditions, but her strength of body would make it a simple one.
And, Emily thought as soon as she plunged into the darkness of the thickets and branches, her love for her friend would give her willpower that few others possessed. That would be her driving force. But before the town, she knew she had to stop at one other place, and the only way she knew to find Old Man Bryant’s house was to trust in her Ma’s spirit.
Emily saw her Ma in the woods as much as in her heart. Ma would come to her in the trees and the grasses, and her voice would carry and sway. Often Emily would see something like her face in the bark or her eyes in the strongest star. Emily accepted this for what it was and did not seek providence or see it as some divine intervention; her father’s practical part of her nature saw to that.
And so it came on that first night, when Emily walked away from the safety of the map and the compass and headed deeper into the woods, trusting her Ma’s guiding hand to lead her to the Old Man’s place.
When she grew tired she rested against the side of an oak and sipped coffee; when she grew fearful and felt herself tremble she placed her gloved hand to her well-wrapped heart and still managed to feel the surges of love she kept for her friend, for her Ma, even her fallen Pa, and that gave her the strength to move on.
It was close to dawn, with the sun buried by the snow, that she saw the fox. The snow had found its second wind and had fairly whipped up into a blizzard, forcing Emily to rock on the balls of her feet when a good gust came up. Only her eyes were exposed to the elements and she had the thought that even her pupils were beginning to freeze a little.
It was then, as she blinked down as hard as she could muster, that the fox came into the corner of her view. A fox that was ginger, flame red and slender. An animal that was beautiful and perfectly out of place here in the woods and could only ever be her Ma.
Emily chased after it, forgetting the aches and the soreness, energised by the beast as it skipped between pines and over rocks, leading her deeper into the darkness, where she now understood she must go. She did not know how long she ran or how much of the cold seeped into her bones, but even as she fainted dead away in her tracks, the branches drawing too much blood from her flesh, the fleet fox disappearing as the old barn came into view, Emily was smiling.
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Copyright © 2011 by Chris Castle