“Have I told you how cool that is?” I said, trying to break a silence that grew more awkward by the second.
“It isn’t cool at all,” she replied, swinging the flame close enough that I could feel its radiating heat. I dodged it and fell back a few paces.
“I didn’t mean—I meant it’s cool that you can do that.”
“Well, if you’d speak properly I might understand you,” she snapped, then stopped walking.
We stood facing each other from a careful distance. “You don’t have to be afraid of me,” she said.
“Oh yeah? How do I know you don’t think I’m some evil creature and this is just a plot to get me alone so you can finally kill me?”
“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “You came unannounced, a stranger I didn’t recognize, and chased after me like a madman. What was I meant to think?”
“Fine, I get it,” I said, though I didn’t really mean it.
She dropped her eyes and began digging a little hole in the dirt with the tip of her boot. The flame in her hand changed color, fading from orange to a cool indigo. “It’s not true, what I said. I did recognize you.” She looked up at me. “You look so much like him.”
“People tell me that sometimes.”
“I’m sorry I said all those terrible things earlier. I didn’t want to believe you—that you were who you said. I knew what it would mean.”
“It’s okay,” I replied. “When I was growing up, I wanted so much to meet all of you. Now that it’s finally happening …” I shook my head. “I’m just sorry it has to be because of this.”
And then she rushed at me and threw her arms around my neck, the flame in her hand snuffing out just before she touched me, her skin hot where she’d held it. We stood like that in the darkness for a while, me and this teenaged old woman, this rather beautiful girl who had loved my grandfather when he was the age I am now. There was nothing I could do but put my arms around her, too, so I did, and after a while I guess we were both crying.
I heard her take a deep breath in the dark, and then she broke away. The fire flared back to life in her hand.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I’m not usually so …”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“We should be getting on.”
“Lead the way,” I said.
We walked through the woods in a comfortable silence. When we came to the bog she said, “Step only where I step,” and I did, planting my feet in her prints. Bog gases flared up in green pyres in the distance, as if in sympathy with Emma’s light.
We reached the cairn and ducked inside, shuffling in single-file to the rear chamber and then out again to a world shrouded in mist. She guided me back to the path, and when we reached it she laced her fingers through mine and squeezed. We were quiet for a moment. Then she turned and went back, the fog swallowing her so quickly that for a moment I wondered if she’d been there at all.
* * *
Returning to town, I half-expected to find horse-drawn wagons roaming the streets. Instead I was welcomed by the hum of generators and the glow of TV screens behind cottage windows. I was home, such as it was.
Kev was manning the bar again and raised a glass in my direction as I came in. None of the men in the pub offered to lynch me. All seemed right with the world.
I went upstairs to find Dad asleep in front of his laptop at our little table. When I shut the door he woke with a start.
“Hi! Hey! You’re out late. Or are you? What time is it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Before nine I think. The gennies are still on.”
He stretched and rubbed his eyes. “What’d you do today? I was hoping I’d see you for dinner.”
“Just explored the old house some more.”
“Find anything good?”
“Uh … not really,” I said, realizing that I probably should’ve bothered to concoct a more elaborate cover story.
He looked at me strangely. “Where’d you get those?”
“Your clothes,” he said.
I looked down and realized I’d completely forgotten about the tweed-pants-and-suspenders outfit I was wearing. “I found them in the house,” I said, because I didn’t have time to think of a less weird answer. “Aren’t they cool?”
He grimaced. “You put on clothes that you found? Jake, that’s unsanitary. And what happened to your jeans and jacket?”
I needed to change the subject. “They got super dirty, so I, uh …” I trailed off, making a point of noticing the document on his computer screen. “Whoa, is that your book? How’s it coming?”
He slapped the laptop shut. “My book isn’t the issue right now. What’s important is our time here be therapeutic for you. I’m not sure that spending your days alone in that old house is really what Dr. Golan had in mind. When he green-lighted this trip.”
“Wow, I think that was the record,” I said.
“The longest streak ever of you not mentioning my psychiatrist.” I pretended to look at a nonexistent wristwatch. “Four days, five hours, and twenty-six minutes.” I sighed. “It was good while it lasted.”
“That man has been a great help to you,” he said. “God only knows the state you’d be in right now if we hadn’t found him.”
“You’re right, Dad. Dr. Golan did help me. But that doesn’t mean he has to control every aspect of my life. I mean, Jesus, you and mom might as well buy me one of those little bracelets that says What Would Golan Do? That way I can ask myself before I do anything. Before I take a dump. How would Dr. Golan want me to take this dump? Should I bank it off the side or go straight down the middle? What would be the most psychologically beneficial dump I could take?”
Dad didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and when he did his voice was all low and gravelly. He told me I was going birding with him the next day whether I liked it or not. When I replied that he was sadly mistaken, he got up and went downstairs to the pub. I thought he’d be drinking or something, so I went to change out of my clown clothes, but a few minutes later he knocked on my bedroom door and said there was someone on the phone for me.
I figured it was Mom, so I gritted my teeth and followed him downstairs to the phone booth in the far corner of the pub. He handed me the receiver and went to sit at a table. I slid the door closed.