The Feast of Spirits

One day a boy named Alander decided to disobey his parents' greatest prohibition and visit the woods near his village during a full moon, when the Feast of Spirits was said to take place. He went to find his older sister Maeg, who had been taken by the spirits when she was only five and he was two, thirteen years ago. He had told no one that he was leaving.

After wandering interminably through moonshadowed bracken, he emerged, sleepy and befuddled, into a wide clearing. When the moon shone upon it, it seemed empty; but when that light was veiled behind a cloud, he caught his breath. Before him capered dozens of bizarre and eerie figures across the silvery grass, spinning in circles and tossing their heads about like rawhide balls. In the center of this mad spectacle sat Maeg, calmly braiding a garland of spiderblossoms. Her - and her alone - he could see even by moonlight, though she seemed pale and vague, as though she were fading from the world of men even as he beheld her.

He walked onto the grass, and instantly the spirits stopped reveling and drew close to him, licking disembodied lips and rolling their eyes about in their heads. He bit his tongue to keep from crying out, closed his eyes, and pressed forward, sensing that they parted before his determined step. At last, knowing that he had drawn close to his sister, he opened his eyes and saw that she was dead.

Her eyes were white, her skin was a very faint green, her hair tangled and patchy. She smiled at him, and half of her teeth were missing. "Hello, Alander. I hoped you might come. It gets so very lonely here. Stay awhile, and keep me company."

"Come home with me. It's where you belong."

"Not anymore. I'm like one of the Spirits now. I left a long time ago... if I wanted to go back, someone would have to take my place here while I was gone."

"Do you want to go back home?"

"Oh, more than anything. I still remember - sometimes - the smell of Mother's dress. And the way Father would smile and call me his Dearest. Oh, Brother, how I should like to go back! But I fear it cannot be." She shed a milky tear.

He took a deep breath. He had to decide whether to free her and remain in her stead or abandon her to her fate, and time was growing short, for the first glimmers of dawn were upon the horizon.


A Gilded Serpent