Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Fire’s Legacy: Emerald Fire
The blustery wind howls outside, rustling the last of the fallen leaves into a small cyclone out on the porch. The man blows in on a gust of frigid air. The material of the hat perched atop his head at a jaunty angle is threadbare and disintegrating in spots. His leather trench has splits and tears, the jeans peeking out from underneath worn smooth and faded.
I glance up from behind the counter where I’m mixing a new batch of tinctures, following the instructions in Gran’s journal, and try to remain casual even though I sense this is no ordinary visitor. “Welcome to Emerald Fire.”
He remains silent until our eyes meet and then deigns to tip his hat. Stormy blue-gray eyes full of secrets bore into mine, and a slow, almost predatory smile spreads across his face. “Emerald Fire.” He rolls the name around on his tongue in a lightly accented voice with soft edges and splays his hands out as if framing an advertisement.
Despite his scruffy, vagrant appearance and the several-days-old stubble roughing up his chin, he doesn’t appear lost or homeless. Mad Hatter is what comes to mind, and a small shiver prickles along my spine.
I tilt my head to the side, continuing to lock gazes with him. “What can I do for you?” Moving out from behind the counter, I gesture to the shelves full of colored bottles on the wall. “Are you in need of a spell or tincture perhaps?”
His laugh is low and rumbling. “You think I don’t have enough magic of my own?” He takes a few casual steps toward me.
Hands covered by fingerless brown knit gloves rise to his lips, and he blows as if to warm them, yet I feel this is somehow for my benefit. The way his eyes rake over me with ill-concealed amusement makes me wonder what I look like from his perspective. My curls were left wild and untamed today, and I have on a silk blouse paired with a long, flowing skirt—nothing out of the ordinary.
My attention is drawn to his fingers as he peels off the gloves, allowing them to flutter to the hardwood floor. He holds both hands over his face with his fingers spread wide, one turbulent eye blazing between them. The surprisingly soft looking skin is covered with minuscule writing that follows the curves of his hands and wraps around each of his fingers.
I lean forward, squinting as I try to make out the letters, but they seem to morph and change, marching over his skin like thousands of ants. And now I feel as if ants are crawling all over me, constantly moving and shifting.
With a gasp, I round the counter, my skirt twirling around my legs. I feel safer back here, although there’s no logical reason for it.
“Have I frightened you, Fire?” The letter-laden hands are stashed in the pockets of his trench, and the feeling of crawling ants evaporates.
“Your hands . . .”
“Ah, you can see it.”
“Who are you?”
His generous lips curve into a playful smile. “I suppose Mad Hatter will do.”
Heat rises to my face. I shouldn’t be surprised; when it comes to magic, information is imparted in many forms. “I’m sorry.”
“Whatever for? Your mind needs to conjure some kind of explanation. One day you will no longer need the trappings of a label—you’ll realize how limiting it is.”
Teeth of fear claw at my insides. My scalp tingles. A numb spot forms in the center of my forehead, and I know this is my Third Eye. I’m not Gran; I have no idea what these sensations mean yet or what I’m to do with my abilities.
“Don’t fret, Fire. This is only the beginning.”
“You’re not ready yet, and there’s no shame in that.” His hands reappear, and he cups them around his lips once again. The letters seem alive, the majority of them gathering together in his palms, reminding me of a child’s toy where you use a magnetic wand to coax metal filings into designs.
“What are you doing?” My heart pounds in my ears, and my Third Eye pulses. The urge to look in a mirror to see if my forehead truly is throbbing is eclipsed only by the fear of him.
“Shh . . . you won’t remember a thing.”
He blows into his hands, and the letters scatter like particles of dust. For a moment, I watch them float in slow motion, suspended in the air between us.
And then they are gone. Except I feel them marching their way over my tongue and down my throat, up my nose and into my sinus cavities. They find a new home inside me.
The blustery wind howls outside, rustling the last of the fallen leaves into a small cyclone out on the porch. Another gust rattles the door in its frame.
I rub my hands up and down my arms to ward off a sudden chill and wonder how long I’ve been staring off into space.
Sarah Aisling hails from New Jersey and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and awesomely precocious daughter. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor