Atticus of the Braithwolds, by Lore Lippincott

The eternal spiral of darkness lures our souls.  The trees tremble, lose the last of their vibrant display, and when the bleakness of the season is upon us, we’re stationed at our most humble place: between a fascination with the continuation of autumn, and the impending bleakness of winter.

The last glow of the hunter’s moon still shines upon our imaginations, eager to guide us into the unknown between our world and the everlasting realm of death.  Into the mellowness after the Autumn Equinox, we remember, anticipate and welcome the wandering spirits of the dead.  We hear their whispers, feel their presences at the folds of Samhain’s translucent veil, and in the shadows of balding trees, step darker stripes of souls visiting from the wilds of eternity.  We glean from them what knowledge we lack now: an urgency to harness and employ our talents, know ourselves, our journey, our hearts; and remember that the approaching shyness of the earth in winter cloaks the transformation and regeneration we contain within.

As the transition of seasons is motionless, it is our time for transformation, to find ourselves in another’s costume, to find ourselves reformed when the forces of Samhain are once again inhaled into the earth . . .

Atticus is a relatively normal UPO (Unified Pagan Occupant) whose time at the Braithwolds, a rustic retreat, sees him writing a weather prediction pamphlet, making a few new friends, and understanding to a brighter degree all his empathic gifts.  Emotional and physical sensitivity rile Atticus intensely whenever fellow UPO and bard Sebastian happens to be near, but Atticus can’t figure out why, and charismatic Sebastian laughs at the mystery.  As Samhain approaches, Atticus discovers that his gift is mutating, that his consciousness insists on pondering the elemental themes of Samhain: transformation and death.

Atticus of the Braithwolds

I.

Sleepy-eyed and heavy, Atticus crossed the threshold of his cabin for his first appreciative breath of cool morning air.  A low sun, still powerful as it neared its weakest point, painted golden garlands through the bare trees, through an illusive mist that lingered yet over the tall grasses, dying asters and boneset that draped the wilds.  Nearby, neighboring cabins puffed smoke from stone chimneys, chickens roamed, chickadees erupted into their daybreak greetings.  Even after the lapse of six months and two delicious seasons, the Braithwolds continued to enthrall Atticus.  Rather than meeting every day like a smudge upon the world, he woke feeling like he’d been daubed by a great and triumphant power.  He’d gained more in the last six months at the Braithwolds than he had in his twenty-seven years living beyond its borders.

Among the community of persons that Raddix called UPO’s (Unified Pagan Occupants), Atticus had accidentally discovered himself, found a home, friends, the source of the enigmatic force within.  In another six months he would return to his normal life, resume his retail labor, the avocation of good son, good brother, quiet and benevolent druid.  In early morning solitude, he attempted to picture himself as he would be in the spring.  Yet the asters poked at his mind, the chirping birds broke apart the reveries, and all he could imagine of himself was a man covered in a blank white sheet, surrounded by stars and thin clouds: nothing but an outline, nothing of a face and a name, nothing that claimed an identity.

At first the emptiness frightened him, and he spoke about it to the others in his group, to Raddix the leader, Angelica the healer, and Sebastian the storyteller.  More were in the group, too: solitary souls who’d been visiting the Braithwolds for decades, and who’d found comfort in keeping to themselves, listening and not repeating.  Raddix, forty-two and distinguished in his Order, gray at the temples and huge in the shoulders, found Atticus’s daydream of vacuity a conscious progression of change.  Angelica agreed, citing that change would wring from him the last of his apprehensions; he was well-known at the Braithwolds for being uncomfortable with the labels of society.

Atticus wasn’t ready to agree with them.  Maybe that was the change he would undergo.  Maybe it was something else, something hidden and charismatic that burned at the edges of Sebastian’s reluctant smirks.  Sebastian, the most talkative resident at the Braithwolds, an off-again and on-again resident, had little to say about Atticus’s suspicions of change.  “It might be that you’re seeing nothing because you wish to see nothing.  Or there’s nothing to see.”

A quality in the bard annoyed Atticus.  The bluntness—possibly.  The smug awareness of his own looks and talent—possibly.  But what he’d said held a barb of triteness.  It was prosaic, unimaginative, overdone, too banal to be true.

Atticus sat on the harsh wooden porch steps, slumping his chin in an upturned hand.  He could see his breath existing as moments of ice in front of him.  He felt dimensional, wholly original.  He was not created of banalities and clichéd insights.

But there was a contradiction or two in that fact as well, and he lightly, faintly damned Sebastian for bringing him to this maelstrom of thoughts.  He was nothing so very extraordinary.  He lacked Raddix’s ability to guide and teach.  He hadn’t Angelica’s understanding of herbs and trees.  He had no talented fingers that plucked at guitar strings as Sebastian had, or vocal chords that rang out rich and true, or the rhyming technique that retold Mabinogion tales.

All he could do was read the clouds and the air, talk to animals a little—but only did that accidentally, on a small scale that lacked genius and effort.  He knew when one of the others had a headache since he felt it, too.  He had little appreciation for the breaking of the solidity of bodies and the assumptions his spirit made of other people’s aches, anxieties and needs.

He put this behind him.  It was almost nine, almost time to meet at Cabin Elm for another round of dialogue and writing.  He was a newbie: He had a cabin to himself at the farthest edge of the Braithwolds, with the sharpest view of a thousand trees, the tip of the pond through upright, stately conifers.  His was known as Cabin Apple, and sometimes he smelled its namesake oozing from the kinks of stone around the fireplace, from the dark corners where wall and ceiling met, so low he could sink his fingertips into the shadows.  He never found an apple, but the smell never receded, strongest on muggy days.

Atticus dressed in corduroys loose around lean hips, a t-shirt of his favorite band, a navy hoodie that was an old thing forgotten in the hasty departure of his last cohabitant boyfriend.  The majority of them wore “normal clothes” at the Braithwolds.  Only Raddix ever wore robes, and only ceremoniously.  Most days the endearingly pudgy, balding Raddix donned with flair a rugby shirt over cotton trousers.  Atticus hadn’t expected that.  He’d anticipated pagans dressed only as he saw those at the Renaissance Fair, yet it was not like that at all.  The women were without corsets, the men without doublets.  At the summer solstice, Lughnasadh, and the autumn equinox, they dressed as they saw fit, some robed and some not, some in corsets and doublets and some not, though they drank from goblets and dined from plates not of the everyday collection.

Atticus snubbed the House of the Moon, the main building.  He could hear, smell and see that it was already filled with an exorbitant amount of UPO’s.  Relatively unpopular and little-known still in the Braithwolds, Atticus passed many who simply nodded their heads in greeting.  He had a lingering apprehension that kept him from wishing anyone a good morning.  It seemed like it would be a lie if he said it.  Something about the morning was decidedly foul, and he couldn’t conjure the feeling of goodness that came with a possible actualization of that upon another.  He wondered where the sensation of anxiety and dread came from—or from whom.  But even when alone it prickled his skin, weighted his intestines.  He zipped up the four steps to Cabin Elm, and with it rose the intensity of his apprehension.

Inside, he was surprised to find one solitary being, Sebastian.  His black hair was again a becoming mess, as if he had electrocuted it freshly that morning.  His eyes were green and hazel and too commanding.  Immediately upon seeing one another, Sebastian picked out a dolorous tune on his battered acoustic, and Atticus crossed his arms at his middle as he headed for the coffee.

“Every time you see me, Atticus, you cross your arms like that.  Right between your third and fourth chakras, between love and control.  What is it you don’t want revealed, or don’t want me to see?”

“I don’t know anything about chakras,” which was not a spectacular lie, only a small one.  It dismissed the subject less than cleverly.  He poured coffee—Sebastian had probably made it—and stirred ingredients into it.  Sebastian continued to play, hummed along, muttered the occasional word, though all Atticus heard was “clocks,” “lost time.”

The first gathering of their group, back in early May, Sebastian had been described by Raddix as having the best penmanship, the best memory, the best understanding of what records they should keep.  During those two weeks after Lughnasadh that Sebastian was gone, Angelica took his secretarial duties.  But when Sebastian came back, positions were resumed as they’d been, and work was continued at an inflexible pace.  They had slacked in their writing of A Druid’s Guide to Common Weather while Sebastian was away.  Where he’d gone, Atticus had found out only through an irritated query to Angelica.  He’d returned home, along the coast somewhere, to take care of business that could no longer be delayed.  Upon his return, however, he spent two weeks being much more solemn than usual, less inclined to give his witty ripostes and show off his finger-picking skills.  Atticus had liked the quieter, meeker Sebastian, and their acquaintanceship improved to a friendship.  It leveled off as Sebastian’s energy returned to him.  Atticus once again approved of his disinclination to appreciate the arrogant bard.

Sebastian let silence come.  He lay half-gloved hands, naked at the fingers, over the heart of the guitar.  Atticus had just sat at the table, the upper corner, about as far away from his setup of laptop and folder as he could.

“Why don’t you ever sit next to me?”

“Your patchouli stink clouds my head.”

“It’s cedar and eucalyptus, not patchouli.  The cedar is for annoying the insects in my cabin, and the eucalyptus is for my sinuses.  You, I assume, seeing as how you are the most perfect human being to ever come to the Braithwolds, have no offensive odor.”

Atticus ignored Sebastian as long as he could, until Sebastian came to the table after warming up his cup of tea.  Atticus dragged his shoulders and mouth down: Sebastian moved his belongings from his usual spot to the one right across.  Too irked to speak of it, the movement was nonetheless sharp enough to motivate Atticus to retaliate against the earlier jab.

“I’m not perfect, and even your sardonic self can’t believe that about me.”

“Oh, actually I wasn’t being sarcastic about that.”

Atticus stared at him, not sure if he should blush, groan, or dish a slap to Sebastian’s pretty face.  That feeling had crept into existence frequently over the last eight weeks.  “I’m not perfect, and I do stink.”

“Way to tell me off.  Bravo.  I’m impressed.  It isn’t you that’s perfect, of course; I didn’t mean it that way, Atticus.  I meant that I’m intrigued by your empathy.  You hardly ever meet an empath these days.  Most of them claim to be intuitives.” A great effort was needed to refrain from rolling his eyes.  “But a real empath.  A real one.  In the name of the stars and moons, Atticus, you’re about as rare as a unicorn of perfect moonlight hue.  I think we should be writing a book about you instead of the weather.  It’s only Raddix’s delusions of grandeur, which I’m all for in Raddix’s case—he’s such a good guy and I want him to leave his imprint on our world—that we’re working on this project this year, anyway.  Before I met you and knew what you could do, I wanted us to work on something else entirely.”

Atticus, in spite of himself, was intrigued.  “Like what?”

Sebastian needed a moment to fan the feeling into words.  He pitched himself to the end of the table, folded his arms—chakra blocking again—and thought of the dismal objects adrift in his head.  “Like death.  We don’t write much about death, and don’t talk about it much, either.  Here and there, I suppose.  With Samhain in a few days, I thought it’d be nice to—to talk more openly about death.”

Atticus picked at a biro, twirled it between fingers significantly less talented than Sebastian’s.  “The weather’s not as permanent—or gloomy.”

“Not today,” returned Sebastian, eyeing the outdoors through the ajar cabin door.  Without the throb at the back of his neck that often came with embarrassment, and without the lightheadedness he used to get when a thrilling moment was upon him, he tilted into Atticus and drew in a short, calculating breath.  Out the far corner of his sight, he caught the flash of awareness in Atticus, the movement of his eyes and the lowering of magnificent eyelashes.  He slipped back, slid off the table.  “Nope, you’re wrong: you don’t stink.”

Atticus let eucalyptus and endorphins whorl his senses.  He envisioned himself again as that great blank slate of nothingness when he tried to work with his team on a book of weather, with Sebastian across from him.  He was as vast, as open, as unguided as the edge of the wolds.  At the end of the day, he sat for a long while at the ending of the forest, the beginning of the meadow.  He watched the sun sink down and thought of Sebastian’s wish that they talk more openly about death.  The only way they commonly recognized it was through the changes of the seasons, the ending of one day that was only the rising of night, the time of the moon.

In the silvery drops of twilight, Atticus returned to Cabin Apple.  A black bundle caused him to pause at the bottom of the stairs.  The bundle unwrapped itself, shifted, morphed, and became a thing that he understood.  It was Indira’s avatar, her gargantuan black cat.  He tried to return it to her, but the cat wouldn’t go.  It leapt from his arms and bounced away through the folds of night.  He left a message with Indira regarding the escapades of her feline friend.  “Phoenix is like that.  But it’s strange that he should wind up on your doorstep, Atticus.  He doesn’t really like strange men.”

“I don’t like strange men, either.” Atticus turned away for the solitude of his cabin, the two hours of study and meditation before he ventured to dream.

He had horses and spirals in his dreams, and woke in the morning to find Phoenix on the porch, sitting in a sunbeam.  Phoenix had brought friends.  Six other cats, some belonging to guests, some unknown—and all of them gaping with green eyes at Atticus.

II.

Cabin Elm was minus a worker that morning.  Sebastian thrummed his pencil.  He turned it over and over against the top of the table.  Angelica slammed a hand over his wrist to stop his nervous fidgeting.  Raddix paused in his oration, looked up, and saw Angelica dismiss the interruption.  He may not have Atticus’s keen awareness, but it wasn’t required to see the restlessness in Sebastian.

“Did I miss a key point in the story, Sebastian?”

“What?” Sebastian shifted, antsy again.  “I wasn’t listening.” No apology was offered.  Instead, he claimed the interruption as his own.  “Hey, where’s our empath?”

“I don’t know,” answered Raddix.  “I’m not a big believer in making these meetings mandatory.  He’s allowed to miss a few days here and there, if he wants.  You missed far more than a few days, old friend.”

“That was different,” Sebastian said with a lazy inflection.  “I couldn’t help it.”

Raddix and Angelica shifted a secret message between them.  Before it finished, Sebastian grabbed his laptop, folder and notebook and announced his intention to exit the meeting.  They had no need for him that day.

“Yeah,” responded Raddix, cramped in his seat and feeling the numb-tingling beauty of the afternoon, “let’s all just call it quits and get out of here.”

No one left speedier than Sebastian.  Finding the work paraphernalia cumbersome, he left them in his cabin, instinctively grabbed his walking stick and blue bard’s cloak.  At Cabin Apple, the display of lounging felines caused him a brief stall until he found a path through the slumbering furry lumps to the door.  He gave no notice of his arrival, simply barging in loudly, obtrusively.  If Atticus were about, the arrival of a guest would be heard.

The single-room cube was empty.  Sebastian circled its center, on the lookout for the poodle-haired head of Atticus.  He called out, and only the faint odor of warm apples rose as the answer he wasn’t looking for.  Upon the dirt and gravel path down from the door, Sebastian puzzled on Atticus’s whereabouts.  The campground was not in itself enormous, but its paths through the woods lasted miles.  Atticus could be lost in the distance.  Sebastian knew from observation that Atticus favored the bend of the lake, where it broke from its usual form and dove into a lagoon surrounded by rocks and willows.

Not far from his destination, a blear of red blatantly abnormal in the span of earthy tones caused him to veer from his course.  He’d found Atticus, yes, moored beneath a grove of naked cottonwoods.  Their lost leaves, mingled with those of a hundred other indigenous species, pillowed Atticus.  Sebastian slowly swept into a cross-legged position near him, more than an arm’s length, to keep their prepossessing energies from colliding.  He didn’t want the empath of the Braithwolds to know his fatigue, his worry, the dull hurt in the marrow of his bones.

“I could hear you coming yards away,” Atticus muttered, bothered, disgusted.  He tapped at the side of his head, above his ear.  “Everything you do is in here.”

Sebastian leaned back, feeling a pop in his spine and the twinge of a childhood injury in his knee.  Atticus flexed the same knee, stretched it out, but of this movement Sebastian gave no comment.  Mere coincidence.  He tasted bigger things of Atticus.  “I didn’t know we were so connected.”

Atticus coughed on a laugh, choked, and sighed as he flung tears into his eyes.

Sebastian stared, mortified.  “Why are you—upset?” He patted the pockets of his trousers to find a tissue, a handkerchief, anything to help Atticus hide.  He found a napkin holding a half-gnawed mint.  The mint ripped the soft paper and puttered to a stop in the tall dormant grasses.  The rest of the napkin he gave to Atticus.

“I’ve been broken all day,” said Atticus, letting the leakiness of his eyes wet the paper, the back of his wrist, the hem of his jacket.  “I woke up this way: broken.  Like I’ve had my soul stretched.  There are faces in my head I’ve never seen before.  Whole lines of heads.  They all want my attention.  They all have something to say.  They won’t shut up.”

Perturbed, Sebastian sat upright, used his knees to near Atticus.  He was unsurprised by the appearance of Indira’s cat down the path.  He ignored the sultry green eyes, and Atticus found more comfort in the cat than the human.  “Who were they? Those people.”

“I don’t know them,” he replied, finding the words drawn out of him almost against his will.  He would’ve never gone to Sebastian to talk of this, a topic too sensitive and provocative and astounding.  Atticus stretched his hand out for Phoenix to rub.  The cat sniffed with a shine against its bumpy ebony nose—but Atticus had his hand grabbed, held, warmed between Sebastian’s.

“Who are they?”

Atticus shook his head, rose as if to go, though he couldn’t wriggle free of Sebastian.  He gave in, standing on his own beneath the cottonwoods, aware of their aura, their songs.  Sebastian’s sad songs clashed with the fervid renewal of cold lips and fascinated eyes that pirouetted in his mind.  Atticus clutched fists to temples, dragging his forehead to rest against a tree.  “I don’t know them.  They’re dead.  They’re all dead.  But they have voices and faces and memories.  And I can’t get rid of them.”

Atticus had no idea how this sounded to Sebastian.  It was nonsense to him.  He couldn’t see how it was the truth, but he’d never been more sure of anything.  They crowded his inner eye even then: that face, that face, another half-dozen browsed through, like photographs spun upon a never-ending web.  He shook his head, hoping to scatter the images long enough for a decent reprieve.

He flinched at a hand against the back of his neck, but understood immediately that a darkness blanketed his thoughts—a thorough nocturne sent the faces to sleep.  In a moment, Atticus rested against Sebastian’s shoulder, a vibration through his chest of a wordless song he’d never heard.  That weight returned to the base of his stomach, a hollow but heavy thing that he construed as apprehension.  But it was Sebastian’s, he supposed; it didn’t belong to him.

Sebastian barely had to finish the first verse before Atticus calmed enough to receive other signals and energies.  With only the power of song, powerful in itself, Sebastian knew Atticus required better care from Raddix and Angelica.

It was funny, but Sebastian neither looked nor acted apprehensive.  Gone was the smugness, too.  He maintained that irritating awareness of his magnetism, and in reaction to it Atticus pulled away.  He was pulled right back, glared at, kissed with an air of triumph and a passion that embarrassed him.  Atticus let go, trembling and exhilarated, exhausted and amused.

“I knew you were going to do that,” he griped.  It was easier to complain about being kissed than glorify it.  He shoved Sebastian, allowing his hand to fall until their palms matched.  He tugged, inching them forward along a path now drenched in the thin cyan beams of a mid-autumn sun.  “Come on.  We’re going back.”

Sebastian tried not to be too gratified.  “I’ve wanted to do that since I saw you walk into the House of the Moon the first night you were here.  But let’s not get carried away.  At least it distracted you and shut those people up.” His hand received an extra strong squeeze.  “One of my spiritual counselors was a medium.  She used to say that nothing created boundaries and grounded her better than sex.  Guess it’s true.”

Atticus heard his heart thumping on and on, thrusting its potion through the tightness at the top of his chest, the fullness at the base of his throat.  He was aggravated, startled, afraid.  “So what am I supposed to do for the rest of my life? Kiss you every time someone dead walks in?”

“That’d be nice, but I don’t think you need me specifically.  Though—that’d be nice, too.”

But Atticus hadn’t heard the last part.  He just returned to the main grounds, the squares of low-ceilinged cabins, smoke, songs caught in the cold breeze—and a filmy white wall that sent him into a mad blink.  He rubbed his eyes, but the white glare stayed, even seemed to strengthen, smear the edges of every living tree and every grass blade.  Defeated, Atticus sat where he stood.  He heard the sound of their palms brushing together, one trying to hold on while the other let go.

“Atticus?”

“I can’t go any further.  I think I’m going blind.  Or I can’t see the way I’m used to seeing.” Sebastian’s hand grazed the top of his head, bringing a whoosh of short-lived serenity.

“I’ll get Raddix.”

Atticus watched Sebastian walk through the film as if it wasn’t there, and he became a brighter part of it.  He lay on his back, arm thrust over his eyes to separate him from the otherworldly glare.  He tried to think of a song—any song—hoping it would provide him with the emptiness that Sebastian’s melody had brought.  But he could only think of the big band tunes that’d set the backdrop of his childhood, and they were not melancholic enough, and his voice wasn’t strong enough.  He returned to the second he was aware of Sebastian’s lips, the second he thought the passion in it might split him in two.  The heady perfume of eucalyptus, the scent of stone and meadow riding on the wind.  The taste of him was the absence of everything else.

He opened his eyes to faces and an odor stinging his nostrils.  But the faces were real, his friends.  Angelica held an obnoxious tangle of weeds in front of him.  He scurried to his feet, helped by Sebastian and Raddix.  A swipe of the hand removed the smelly leaves.

“Those stink.” He wrinkled his nose, pinched his thumb and forefinger between his watering eyes.  “That really stinks, Angelica!”

“We thought you’d fainted,” Angelica said, hiding the herbs in a leather pouch and giving him a scowl.
“What’s the matter with you?” Raddix held him at the elbow, Sebastian on the other side.  “What’s this about not being able to see? And the dead?”

The light was still there, sharper than he’d seen it yet.  He ignored it.  It wasn’t important.  “I woke up this morning and I could hear the dead.  I could see them.  No, I couldn’t hear them.  I knew them.  Their thoughts and what they wanted.  I sat in the cabin all day, then went to the trees for healing.”

They took him back to his cabin, wrung the story from him with as much detail as successive cups of tea, a healthy fire and inquisitive friends could do.  Angelica fetched Indira, who knew more of the dead than she and Raddix, but what Indira knew did not compare to the knowledge Sebastian claimed to have gleaned from his spiritual counselor.

“What?” He shrugged, perched backward in a ladder-backed chair, and returned his pointed chin to his wrists.  He smiled at Atticus.  “She’s dead, too.  So she’s probably hanging around you.”

“And your grandmother,” Atticus said.  “And an uncle—a great uncle.”

Sebastian didn’t know what they were telling Atticus.  Nothing too poignant, he hoped.  No spoilers.  He wasn’t ready to know everything.  What was the fun in that? He shifted the topic.  “What can we do for him, Raddix?”

“How am I supposed to know? I don’t get it.” He studied Atticus like words of his sudden alienation from the common populace had been written upon his outer self.  An unprecedented and likely ridiculous idea came to him.  “I want to talk to Atticus alone.”

“But—” Sebastian began protesting, but Raddix’s bushy eyebrows were far more imploring than his manner, and with a lingering expression of doubt, he went out the door with Angelica and Indira.  He nearly tripped over all the cats.

Angelica understood the reason for the cats, yet it was stranger to acknowledge the truth than downplay Atticus’s power.  “Sebastian, let’s go over to the House of the Moon for some refreshments.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You’re a man: You’re always hungry.”

“That is an unfair stereotype.  And I feel like I’m being punished,” he grumbled.  Again, he noticed himself crossing his arms tightly, an ache there, an awareness that burned a hole in him.  “Why am I being punished?”

“You’re only being punished if you did something wrong.”

He glanced behind him.  A few of the cats followed his footsteps.  It wouldn’t do to tell him he wasn’t the one they wanted.

III.

Raddix engaged the cabin’s old locking mechanism.  The curtains were drawn.  Daylight continued to seep in, but no eyeballs peered inside.  He observed Indira take to one of the outer paths, and Angelica lead Sebastian to the House of the Moon.

“Atticus,” he started, drawing around Sebastian’s chair, sitting in it the proper way.  He mused on the docile face.  “That is your real name, isn’t it? I think that’s what it said on your papers.”

“Atticus Klein,” came the subdued response.  “Why? What’s Sebastian’s real name?”

The smile came and went again.  “Sebastian.” A shake of the head acknowledged the hollow portion behind the name.  “I don’t know the rest of it.  He comes from money.  Shipping.  I don’t mean—not distribution.  But shipping.  Ships.  In Dartmouth, I think.  He’s been in and out of my circle of friends for ten years.  He put up a lot of money to help me start this place.  This land is his.”

Atticus’s head perked.  “That explains why he knows it so well.  But why are you telling me this?”

“Because you don’t know anything about him.  He’s one of the strongest spellcasters I’ve ever met.  Planets, moon, sun, candles, crystals—give him a few tools and he can do anything.  Sometimes the tools are superfluous.”

A burn ignited in the fringes of Atticus’s abdomen.  The kiss he’d had an hour ago turned stale.  “You think he did this to me.”

“You’ve never talked to the dead before.  Have you?”

“Not that I remember.  Maybe it was something latent in me.”

“But you haven’t had any recent traumas? Bumps to the head?”

Atticus was unamused.  “No.”

“No deaths in the family?”

“No,” with greater force than before.

“Have you broken up with anyone? Or fallen in love? Sometimes the act of falling in love can be as much a catalyst as the broken heart you get from it.”

He thought it wise not to mention the kiss in the cottonwood grove.  Sebastian hadn’t done that just to ground him.  Atticus let his cheeks heat at the memory of eucalyptus, the split of his soul and the coming together of it again.  “Go back to the part about this being Sebastian’s fault.”

Raddix refrained from intervening.  “You’ll have to ask him that yourself.  I saw him and Angelica go into the House of the Moon.”

Atticus switched his position, gaining comfort pacing the kitchenette.  “I’m not confronting him there.  I’ll talk to him when he comes back.  He will.”

“I am sorry about this, Atticus.” Raddix meant it, his sympathy oozing from him as he patted the slim shoulder of his new friend.  “Your first year with us, and this happens.  I wouldn’t blame you if you never came back again.”

It was too premature to decide anything.  “If it is a spell, Sebastian can fix it, and there’s always the possibility that it’ll wear off.”

“That’s true,” and Raddix nodded sagely.  A strange remorse possessed him as he left the bothered young man.

IV.

Indira lighted candles and made him wear a pouch of herbs she called a gris-gris.  Given its aromatic odor, not the repugnance of the revitalizing herbs she’s carried earlier, Atticus let the gris-gris hang around his neck, between his t-shirt and hoodie.  She provided him with means of protecting himself, teaching him a dozen things he never wanted to know and never thought he’d taken for granted, like the earth beneath his feet and the white light that encapsulated him.  What he understood when Indira left was far more than he’d understood five hours before.

He couldn’t believe this was happening to him.

Now he sat at the table, waiting for Sebastian.

Daylight had transformed to lavender and footsteps stopped outside the door.  Atticus tugged the door in, and there stood Sebastian, wearing the black garments he was so fond of, his hair its constant mess, the headstock of the guitar visible behind his thin pale neck.

“I don’t want a song,” Atticus said, eager to quibble.  Strong fingertips snapped the door to a close and ruffled Sebastian’s hair and clothes.  “I want an explanation.  Why did you do this to me?”

“Wow, leap right to it, don’t you? You didn’t even offer me a seat, a cup of tea, or, more sadly, a kiss.”

Whether Atticus had or hadn’t, Sebastian settled the guitar at the foot of the bed, and roamed into the kitchenette to check the tepidity of the teapot on the two-hob stove.  Tea wouldn’t save him.  Already, his hands shook and internal fears tangled him.

“What did Raddix tell you?”

“That you’re very powerful.  More than you let on.”
“Did he say that, really? Nice of him.”

Atticus had no idea what to do.  Again, he felt that pressure in his stomach, winding through his intestines.  “And stop being nervous.  I’m not going to hurt you.  You’re making me nervous.”

“Ah, the great empath at work.” He stirred a quarter teaspoon of sugar into his tea, spun around to take the first seat at the tiny scarred table.  Rather than let Atticus sit on his own, Sebastian guided him to the only seat he wanted him in: his lap.

Atticus had his hand grabbed, palm flattened against Sebastian’s abdomen.  It felt hard, full of intense heat—but there was something inhuman and unnatural about it.  He drew his hand back, anger extinguished in a second of recognition.  “That’s what it was.  All these months, I wondered.  I thought you were nervous.  Afraid.”

“I’m terrified,” Sebastian said, giving an insecure laugh.  He rubbed his forehead against Atticus.  “I am powerful.  Since I was a little kid.  My great uncle, the one you talked to, he remembered the folklore magic of our family, had the book of candle spells and remedies that our ancestors have kept for over a hundred and fifty years.  He’s the one that taught me most of it.”

“But he died,” Atticus said, plucking information from the air, “when you were fifteen.  And left you to pick up where he left off.  You trained yourself.”

“Mostly.  I had some help.  But not for this spell.  I did it on my own.  Don’t worry, though: It only comes around at Samhain.  Or it should, anyway.  If it doesn’t,” he grinned lopsidedly, shrugged, “oops.”

Atticus tightened his eyes, the glow around Sebastian a distracting shade of white and pale blue.  “But why me?”

“Well, chiefly it’s because I’m sorry to be so in love with you—madly, on par with a lunatic.  And because you know what’s wrong with me.  You probably know that if I proposed that we spend the rest of our lives together starting right now, that’d be about six to eight months, if you believe the more optimistic prognoses of my doctor.”

In his five years of knowing for sure that he was an empath, Atticus had never felt the weight of someone else’s cancer, had never even tried to.  He flattened his hand again on Sebastian’s abdomen.  “I believe in more optimism than what they’ve given you.  I just met you.  I don’t think we’re supposed to part that soon.  Doctors don’t know everything.”

“But that’s why I cast the spell on you.  I couldn’t stand the idea of dying and not having anyone who cared, no one to talk to from the other side.  At least once a year you’ll be powerful enough to hear me, maybe even see me.”

Atticus seized a handful of Sebastian’s shirt, jostled it.  “If you die.  And if you’re as powerful as you say you are, you should be able to do what you can to fight.” The hand at his back pressed, deepening their closeness.

“It might be easier to want to fight it, now that I have a reason to stay, some love to put into the crusade.  That’s what’s been lacking.  Meanwhile, your Samhain is going to be very interesting, Atticus.”

“And very tiring.  What’s that you said? Nothing grounds me better than sex.  You’ve set yourself into a trap, Sebastian.” He blew out the nearest candle, then thumbed open the collar of Sebastian’s shirt.  “You’re not leaving this cabin until Samhain is through.”

Sebastian’s exhilaration showed in a soft laugh.  “Well, happy Samhain to us.”

Lore Lippincott

studies, works and writes in her native Ohio. Check www.breezydaystories.com for any upcoming scribbles and releases.

 

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