The air whooshed from my lungs in a single heartbeat, and I remembered Danny’s warning once again.
Watch out for fairies and wraiths.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Danny pressed a finger to my lips. His eyes were wide, vacant; his mouth hung slack until his own lips parted in speech. He turned to Aria and dropped to his knees. “We’re at your service,” he said, bowing his head. “We must obey your king.”
I gasped. What is he doing?
Aria’s lips curled into a satisfied smile. Moments earlier I’d have called her beautiful. Now she was intimidating. Frightening. She seemed to have grown taller, more solid. Her eyes burned into Danny’s, steady and unblinking.
“Danny,” I hissed, knowing the fairies could hear me, wishing they couldn’t. “Danny, what are you doing?”
He ignored me, and reached for Aria’s hand. She gave it willingly, and he pressed his lips to the fine, white flesh of her inner wrist, his eyes never leaving hers. The fairy’s skin pulsed with light from within, her tattoos dancing as though alive. Their steps matched almost exactly the steps Danny and I had danced moments before.
Alek stepped closer to me. He smelled of cinnamon and something else. It was a rotten, carrion scent, and I resisted the urge to cover my nose. His hand gripped my shoulder. “And you?” he hissed, his mouth suddenly too close to my ear. His breath was hot and wet. “Are you at our service as well?”
Get away from him!
A voice – my mother’s voice, emerging as though from a long-forgotten dream – pierced the chaotic hum of my sudden panic, commanding me to obey. I stepped back, out of the ring of smoke, away from the thump-thump-thump of the drums, away from the dancers, the fairies. Away from Danny.
The world trembled as I emerged from the smoke. It blurred. When it came back into focus, Danny and the fairies were gone.
“Danny,” I cried, peering into the smoke. My cry was swallowed whole by the drums, by the fire.
The dancers continued dancing to the beat of the drums, and I was left alone in the darkness.
Our shoebox house sat at the foot of the hill atop which the bonfire burned. It was to there I ran, hoping to find Danny sitting on the front stoop, waiting for me, as if the whole night had been nothing but a terrible dream.
As I sped toward the glow of the single-bulb porch light, the fireflies around me ceased their nighttime frolic. The thrum of cicadas quieted and the rhythmic calls of bullfrogs silenced.The stars winked out one by one by one, and, finally, the porch went dark.
The warm, velvet air of the summer night turned cold. My skin blistered with goose flesh and I shivered against the breeze. My house – our house, mine and Danny’s – became shadow in the night, nothing more than a darker spot against the darkness. I approached, and saw a flicker, a movement on the front stoop.
“Danny?” I called. My heart leaped. Maybe it was just a dream.
Then the flicker began to glow. It took form, shape, and my mouth dropped open.