It’s the evening before Leisure Day, and Lark is free from school for the next three days. She leaves Nature and Nurture Learning Academy with a backpack full of homework, all of which she intends to ignore. Long weekends--especially ones that include a day specifically devoted to leisure--are for play, not work. She happily rides her bike through the town square, mentally planning the weekend’s activities as she pedals.
Lark parks her bike in front of Level Up, an arcade in the center of Aurora Skies’ bustling entertainment district. She has plans to meet with her two closest friends--Kyra Wrede and Lowell Bee--for a game of pool and some dancing.
Despite the bright, alluring lights of the arcade, it is largely empty. Lark finds Kyra and Lowell standing by the pool tables, engaged in what is obviously a one-sided conversation Lowell looks infinitely more interested in his companion than Kyra, who is engrossed in her phone. Neither teen notices Lark’s approach.
“Hmm,” Kyra looks up briefly from her phone and makes fleeting eye contact with Lowell, “according to my horoscope, I should let someone treat me tonight. What do you say, Lo? Wanna buy me a latte later or something?”
“Sure,” Lowell laughs nervously, “hey, what’s mine say? I’m a Libra.”
Kyra looks horrified, “a Libra?”
“Yeah. What’s wrong?”
“Kyra has gone crazy, that’s what’s wrong,” Lark, sick of waiting for her friends to notice her, interrupts.
“I’m a Scorpio,” Kyra ignores Lark, “Libras and Scorpios totally don’t get along.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. You two have been friends for literally years.”
“Lark,” Kyra’s tone is serious, “I have never been steered wrong by my horoscope.”
“Horoscopes don’t make any sense, though. There are more than twelve personality types, first of all,” Lark says, “And the day you were born doesn’t dictate how your entire life is going to go. That would mean everyone who shares my birthday is the same as me.”
“You criticize, but that sort of stubborn talk is typical for a Taurus such as yourself” Kyra says haughtily, “anyway, let’s see what your horoscope says.‘Your communication house is illuminated by Cancer’s full moon. Ask questions, and you shall receive answers about upcoming changes. You will soon meet someone who will alter your destiny. Tonight: try something new.’ Hey, that sounds cool.”
“No, it sounds like bullshit. Anyway, are we here for pool or not?”
“Yes, please,” Lowell says hastily, obviously discomforted by their mild bickering.
The teens each grab a pool cue. Lark is the first to break. She focuses all of her concentration on the table in front of her. She takes the time after each shot to weigh her options, but she can’t seem to properly visualize how each ball will interact with each other. Maybe she shouldn’t ignore her geometry homework after all.
While she takes her shots, Lowell and Kyra chatter to each other. Lark drifts in and out of the conversation: Kyra talks about a crush she has on a new boy (“He’s just soooo hot,” she tells a visibly uncomfortable Lowell), and in turn fishes for compliments (“He’s just so cute, Lo, and I’m--I’m just meh,” she laments). Lowell takes the bait, showering her with awkward compliments.
Lark doesn’t know how to feel about this. She’s been friends with Lowell since they were babies--such is the nature of cousins--and friends with Kyra since the first day of elementary school. She wants nothing more than to be able to hang out with her two closest friends. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Lowell has a desperate crush on Kyra, and Kyra is perfectly happy to string him along. Lark can think of nothing worse than being the third wheel, and it would be a self-made situation--she is, after all, the one who introduced Lowell and Kyra to each other.
Lowell and Kyra seem to have no problem engaging in sadomasochistic flirtations in front of Lark, though. It continues throughout the evening, interspersed between complaints about school and gossip about other students.
It’s a quarter to eleven--shortly before curfew--when the teens finally make their way out of the arcade. Fifteen minutes it tight, but they should make it home before eleven. The trio bids their farewells with hugs before separating into two groups. Lowell heads north, towards the waterfalls, where his home is. It’s a small, secluded bungalow, perfect for his loner father. Kyra and Lark head west, to the Bees’ home.
“Mom,” Lark calls as she throws open the door, “I’m home!” Her mother is standing in the foyer, obviously--and impatiently--waiting for her youngest daughter’s return.
“Lark, you’re late,” Luna’s tone is severe, but it lightens when she greets her daughter’s friend, “hello, Kyra.”
“Hi second mom,” Kyra replies. Kyra’s own mom recently left her father, leaving Mr. Wrede along to raise four children on his own. Since the separation, Kyra has spent a lot of time with the Bees. Lark is grateful for her friend’s presence, because the household rules become a little looser whenever a guest is around.
“Sorry I’m late, mom,” Lark says, “we were hanging out with Lowell and we lost track of time. Can Kyra spend the night tonight? Her dad already said it was okay.”
Kyra smiles brightly at Luna, “Please, Mrs. Bee. I have no where else to go, and I’d be ever so grateful if you showed me hospitality on this fine, Leisure Day eve.”
“You’re laying it on a bit thick,” Luna raises and eyebrow, “And you broke curfew, so I should probably say no.” Lark begins to pout, but Luna continues, “but yes, Kyra can spend the night.”
“Thanks, mom,” Lark grins.
“You’re awesome, second mom,” Kyra adds.
The two girls change into their pajamas and settle down in the downstairs den. The den is a recent addition to the Bee homestead. It was built onto the small, original basement and was initially intended to be a man cave of sorts for Quentin. The teens quickly took it over, though, and Quentin resigned himself to the fact that any time one of his children has a friend over, he’s exiled from his man cave.
“Do you think I was too hard on Lowell tonight?” Kyra asks. Her question comes out of nowhere--just a moment earlier the girls had been talking about a sexy supernatural show featuring minotaurs, a show with which they’re both enthralled.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, like picking on him and stuff.”
“You were picking on him?”
“Well,” Kyra turns pink, “I might have been picking on him a little when I was talking about the new boy.”
“What new boy?”
“The one I was telling you about, dummy.”
“Oh,” Lark doesn’t remember this alleged conversation but she knows her friend well enough to fake it, “the one you have a crush on?” Kyra has had a crush on just about every boy in Aurora Skies. One more isn’t surprising.
“I don’t really have a crush on him,” Kyra admits, “I just--I was thinking...ugh. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what you’re saying either.”
Kyra’s pink skin deepens to a darker shade, “It’s just that Lowell is really cute, right? And sometimes I think he doesn’t even realize how cute he is. I mean, he is cute, even though he’s such a weird color. Don’t you think he’s cute?”
“He’s my cousin, Kyra. We don’t live in Twinbrook,” Lark had never actually been to Twinbrook so she can’t speak from experience, but she’s familiar enough with the cultural trope about cousin marriages in the odd swamp town.
“Whatever. Just don’t tell him what I said, okay? I,” she pauses, “I just don’t want to ruin our friendship over a silly little crush.”
“Oh, I would never dream of telling him,” Lark frowns. The distinct possibility of becoming a third wheel looms even closer.
“Anyway,” Kyra says, “I was thinking about what your horoscope said today, and I so I thought we could try something…” Kyra pulls something out of her backpack and places it on the floor between the two girls.
Lark has never seen one in person, but she recognizes it as a ouija board.
“You can’t be serious,” Lark raises an eyebrow.
“Of course I am. Aren’t you curious to try it?”
“Nope, not at all,” Lark lies. Of course she’s curious, but she can’t let that curiosity break her carefully cultivated veneer of aloofness.
“Well too bad then, because we’re doing this,” Kyra smirks, “I mean, ideally we would do this on the solstice, but if Cancer’s moon is in your communication house, now’s a good time, too.”
“Fine,” Lark says crossly, trying her hardest to hide her interest, “but let the record show that I object to this nonsense.”
The two girls sit opposite each other. Lark stares at her friend, who’s studying the board.
“Put your index fingers on the planchette,” Kyra says, but her voice sounds uncertain, “I’ll ask the questions and spell them out.”
“The wood triangle thingy,” Kyra explains.
“And who’s supposed to answer the questions?” Lark asks as she places her fingers on the planchette.
“Our spirit guide, duh.”
“Of course. How could I not know we’d have a spirit guide.”
Kyra ignores her friend. She takes a deep breath and the speaks loudly, her voice quivering:.“Is anyone here?”
The planchette shakes, then moves to the top left corner of the board, drawing the girl’s fingers with it. It stops on “yes.”
“Are you moving the triangle thingy?”
“Planchette,” Kyra corrects her, “and of course not. And you better not be moving it, Lark! I’m serious.”
“I’m not moving it! Geez.”
“Good. Stranger, are you a good spirit?”
The planchette moves from yes, the slides quickly back to it. Lark is surprised by the swift movement--it truly does seem to be moving on its own.
“Oh fantastic. That’s reassuring--an evil spirit definitely wouldn’t lie.”
“I think we can do without the smartass comments,” Kyra snaps.
“I’m providing much needed comic relief,” Lark shrugs, “Hey, ask it how it died!”
“That’s rude,” Kyra says. But she hesitates for a moment before continuing,“Stranger, how did you pass?”
The planchette again moves, stopping over four letters: “D...U...E...L,” Lark reads each letter aloud, “awesome!”
“Shut up! You’re going to offend him!”
“Oh no, I might offend a ghost. Goodness, how awful.”
“Be polite, because I have another question I really want him to answer,” Kyra’s eyes twinkle, “in honor of your horoscope.”
“And what's that?"
The girls are so enthralled by the crude séance to notice an interloper. Sheba wanders downstairs and into the basement, She sniffs at the air, and her eyes fall on the ouija board. She growls softly, obviously voicing her objections.
“Stranger,” Kyra enunciates each word theatrically, “who’s the mystery person who will change my dear friend’s life?”
“So asking him how he died is offensive but inquiring about horoscope malarky is fine?”
“Lark,” Kyra whines, “please, take this seriously.”
“Look, the planchette isn’t even moving, so I don’t think--” but Lark’s grumbling is cut short. The planchette spirals around the board for a few seconds, then pauses for a second on three letters: N-I-C.
“N-I-C,” Kyra repeats the letters, “Nic, maybe? Short for Nicholas?”
“Or initials,” Lark suggests, dropping her skeptic act. She mentally runs through a list of everyone she knows, but she can’t think of anyone with a surname that starts with C, much less with the initials N.I.C.
“From what I understand spirits usually only have the energy to answer a handful of questions, but maybe we could--”
But Sheba interrupts the makeshift séance. She growls and snaps at the board, picking it up in her jaws. The girls shriek and jump back, and Sheba darts out of the basement and up the stairs, the board firmly in her mouth.
“Whoa,” Lark exhales, her heart beating fast. She’s never seen Sheba act that way before, “what was that about?”
“We didn’t say goodbye,” Kyra looks despondent.
“So? That ghost is super dead, so I doubt he really cares about etiquette. Though he did die in a duel, so maybe he was like a proper southern gentleman or something…”
“No, Lark. that’s not it. We drew back the veil, and we didn’t close it again. That can be dangerous,” her tone is somber, but Lark can’t help but burst into laughter.
“You’ve been watching too many movies.”
“I read that in a book, thank you very much.”
“Ew, even worse.”
“Lark, what if I unleashed some sort of evil presence in your house or something?”
“If nothing else, it’d probably make my life a bit more exciting,” Lark shrugs, “anyway, I’m more concerned about why Sheba acted that way. She usually isn’t so aggressive. I hope she’s okay.”
“Animals are more sensitive to spirits. Maybe she sensed something we couldn’t.”
Lark wants to laugh at her friend again, tease her for being so superstitious and silly. But Kyra really does seems upset. “Let’s go to sleep,” Lark suggests, “we can worry about this in the morning. Like we can rub sage or something.”
Kyra looks confused, “do you mean smudge sage?”
“Yeah, we can do that.”
Kyra does seem to perk up the suggestion, and the girls chat for awhile longer before they snuggle into their sleeping bags. Right on the precipice of sleep, Lark gets a shiver down her spine. It feels a bit colder in the room, unnaturally cold for a summer night. She nestles deeper into her sleeping bag and drifts off.
Lark has typical dreams: vivid dreams she’s flying, or that all her teeth are falling out, or that she has to run from something but her legs are too heavy to move. There are also the dreams that make her blush, intimate dreams about male and female friends alike. Those dreams in particular have been increasingly more common, much to her confusion and shame.
Overall, her dreams are mundane. Tonight, though, they’re that contradictory blend of surreal and real, an unsettling mixture that only the most troublesome dreams seem to be able to achieve.
Lark finds herself in a infinite darkness, alone save for two figures in front of her. A girl--possibly only slightly older than Lark--sits next to a chair. Perched in it is a silver haired woman. Bright, shimmery wings sprout from the backs of the two figures. Lark feels like if she could get close enough to touch them, her hands would go straight through their wings.
The woman is saying something to the girl, but Lark can’t make it out. She steps closer so she can hear, and the scene suddenly shifts.
The woman and girl are replaced by three men standing around a table. They’re looking at an open book on a table. Pages seem to be missing from it. One man--an older, haggard man with shoulder length hair and a patchy beard--is obviously irate. He stands next to a young man; across from them is a tattooed man with dark hair. He appears to be taken off guard by whatever the haggard man is saying.
Lark walks counterclockwise around the table, trying to get a look at each of the men. Their mouths are moving, but she can’t make out a single word.
She walks behind the haggard man and takes small, cautious steps forward, leaning in to try to catch the conversation. Despite her attempts to walk lightly, her footsteps pound, echoing into nothingness.
The young man looks over his shoulder. He makes eye contact with Lark and tilts his head slightly. Suddenly she feels herself dropping downward as if the ground beneath her disappeared.
Lark gasps as her eyes flutter open. But even in consciousness, safely away from that odd dreamscape, she still feels like someone is watching her.