It was late one night in June when Abigail told Morgan and me her secret and made us swear we would never tell it, not to anybody. Not even to our parents.
“Especially not your parents,” she commanded, staring straight at us. Her shiny blonde hair glowed in the milky moonlight drifting in through the window. When the light caught her face I could see in precise relief her features, making her face look like a white porcelain doll, perfect and sharp. No thread-like fractures or cracks blemished her skin.
Morgan and I glanced sideways at each other. She looked away first, her chocolate brown eyes flickering toward Abby again. We were sitting in a crooked circle in Morgan’s room. The first sleepover of the summer, all three of us together. Earlier a thunderstorm tore its way through the sky, marring the serene evening. We had gotten caught in the rain after dinner, running around catching fireflies with glass Mason jars. I remember the first fat raindrop that plopped on my nose, splashing my eyeglasses. Now that we were inside, I could hear the rhythmic pitter patter of rain, clinking like glass jewels across the windowsill. The wind, once lashing against the panels of the house in gusts, had now relaxed to a soft whisper. Thunder still rumbled occasionally, but that was far off into the distance. The flashes of lightning, however, had fried the electricity in the house. A particularly large spark, its tendrils whipping across the black sky like a venomous spider, had electrocuted the power line for the entire neighborhood.
Morgan’s mom gave us several tall white pillar candles to light around the room. They now shimmered and smoldered in the center of our circle, casting long harsh shadows in the dark corners of the room. The wax, white and viscous, had begun to drip on the hardwood floor. I pressed my thumb into a large waxy deposit, leaving behind a pristine fingerprint, the ridges arched and exact. The candle flames tickled the air like forked tongues of snakes, flicking in and out of their molten mouths. I held my breath as I meticulously cleaned the dried wax from underneath my finger nail, letting the fallen shavings float to the ground and settle in the cracks between the wooden floors.
Abby was getting impatient; she glared at us, her blue eyes flashing. She expected Morgan and me to instantly agree, to jump over ourselves promising not to tell. Abby turned to us, smiling smugly. “Okay, so I was at home yesterday alone. It was so boring, and no one was home, I was taking a smoke and I was just playing with the lighter, you know. Making the flame jump higher and higher. Then I tried to flick it on using the power of my mind. I did it. I turned it on with my mind. I didn’t have to do anything except will it to turn on,” she finished, lying back with a smile.
“Prove it,” Morgan challenged.
“Yeah, let us see it,” I said. Abby scooted closer to the two of us. From her back pocket she took out her lighter, a neon pink Bic. I could feel my throat clenching in anticipation, even if I didn’t fully believe Abby’s story. Abby held the lighter in her hands for a minute, her eyes scrunched tight so that they resembled little crinkly slits. Abruptly, without Abby so much as flicking her thumb, the flame shot up. It blinked there, a tiny triangle of light and heat. Morgan gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Abby’s eyes flashed opened.
“See! I told you I could do it!” she squealed with excitement. But Morgan and I weren’t paying attention to her. We were transfixed by the tiny spark that glowed in Abby’s hands like a lighthouse beacon, beckoning us closer. Then, as suddenly as the flame appeared, it extinguished as if blown out by an errant gust of wind.
Abby screwed up her face in confusion. “I didn’t do that,” she said. Morgan grabbed the lighter from Abby’s hands.
“I did it! I can do it too!” Morgan exclaimed. Just as before, the flare jumped to life. Morgan and Abby looked at me expectantly. “Come on Cate, you try,” Morgan said as she tossed the lighter into my lap. I picked up the lighter with clumsy fingers. Within seconds, it erupted into a flashing flame. My fingertips grew warm. I felt electrically charged, as if a current of white hot energy was darting through my veins, obliterating my blood vessels and hurtling to my heart.
Abby was the most excited about our newfound abilities. We never explicitly said magic; but it was a whispered word among us, always waiting eagerly at our lips. It was then I began to choke on the word wedged permanently in my throat like a thorn, sickled and serrated.
At first, all three of us would gather in the woods behind my house and practiced lighting twigs and leaves on fire. Morgan joked we were becoming pyromaniacs. I laughed, but inwardly I cringed. Abby was the one who discovered we could light ordinary objects aflame, not just matches and lighters. The first time I tried it with a small branch, my fingertips were badly singed. The flesh turned raw and red within a few moments. I dropped the branch immediately and clutched my searing hand. Abby laughed, a harsh shrill grate in my ears. Morgan bit her lip and turned away from me.
“You can’t expect to get it right on the first try. Here, watch me,” Abby instructed. She snatched my branch from the ground and within seconds it was blazing like a torch. She intently watched it burn for a few minutes, then gently blew it out as if it were a single birthday candle. I glowered at her and her perfection. In a swift movement, I broke off another branch from a nearby sapling. Instantaneously, as if it had been impatiently waiting for my touch, it burst into fiery orange flames. Instead of extinguishing it I let the branch scorch until it was burned down to a small charcoal black smudge. The only remnant of the branch was a shadowy streak on my palm, right over the scar Abby had given me. Morgan and Abby stared at me, mouths gaping like trout.
“Didn’t that hurt?” Morgan asked, her strong black brows knitting together with concern.
“How’d you do that?” Abby asked, a jealous gleam in her hard bright eyes. I stared back at her ice-colored eyes and turned brusquely away, trudging down the dirt path to my front door.
When I got to my bedroom I closed the door quietly behind me and fell onto my bed. Now I buried my face into my blankets and sobbed, with great heaving gasps punctured into the air like needles.
The next day, I met with Abby and Morgan halfway between my house and Abby’s house. Clouds brewed in the gray sky, threatening and thick with menace. Morgan eyed the malicious sky. “I’m not so sure we should be out in this weather, guys. It looks like it’s going to storm soon,” she said, pulling at the kinks in her hair worriedly. Abby glanced at her with contempt.
“Quit worrying so much. It’s not like we’ll melt,” she smirked. Morgan stared down at her feet, but stayed next to Abby. “So why’d you call us over here, Cate?” Abby asked. “Not that I think we’ll turn into puddles, but I really don’t want to get my new shoes wet, so can you make it quick?” Abby crossed her arms and looked at me expectantly.
Almost as soon as she finished speaking, the sky erupted into rain. The deluge pursued us until we took refuge under a large oak tree. Still, we were utterly soaked even with the protection of the oak. Wind lashed at our hair, twisting it in all directions. Abby started to shiver; her small body fluttered like a sparrow.
“So Cate, are you going to tell us why we’re here or just let us prune in the rain?” she said as she removed her lighter from her pocket. I watched her fingers as they nimbly twirled the lighter around. My words caught tight in my throat, as the secret I’d been forced to keep for two months dislodged. I spit it at her.
“You lied. You can’t really spark fire. It’s all a trick. You tricked us,” I spat out with venom. My hands hurt; I realize I’ve been digging my fingernails into my palms this entire time underneath the tree. I released them and a sharp ache spread through my hands. Abby stared blankly at me, giving away nothing in her gaze.
“What are you talking about? You guys sparked the fire too! How could I be faking it?” Abby asked.
“I watched you. You tricked us into looking away and then you lit the fires yourself. Don’t think I’ve forgotten your new obsession. Magic. Deception. Sleight-of-hand. Too bad you make such a shit magician, or else I wouldn’t have caught it,” I said. Morgan stared at me, then back to Abby. I turned to Morgan, seeking support. Her eyes flickered downward.
“Are you serious? You believe her? How can you believe her over me?” I asked.
“We’re not stupid, Cate. We know you’re jealous of us. We’ve been friends longer, then you came. But this is really pathetic. Are you really trying to break the two of us up so you can have Morgan all to yourself? What a sad selfish bitch,” Abby sneered, her cruel eyes hard as diamonds. I staggered back and shook my head vigorously. My stomach churned wildly; my heart felt aggressive, threatening to beat out from my ribcage.
Abby and Morgan linked arms and stood underneath the tree.
I turned my back to them, rain soaking through my t-shirt and ran, my glasses streaked with water droplets. When I reached my house I slammed the front door closed. I ran to my room and locked the door. There, I collapsed on my bed again. I knew I was right. I had seen Abby light her branch on fire, so stealthy I almost missed it. But the spark I felt was real. Slowly I lifted my head from my pillow and raised my right hand, with its scarred and raw skin. I snapped my fingers and a tiny flicker appeared, sizzling and alive. —Aubrey Buck