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The Brass Tack, a dark fairy tale about oil, gardens, pride, and envy.
Chapter 1. The Highland Way
The young man heard the old man’s taunt, but refused to slow down. They had collided in the center of High Street. The young man had been marching north, focused on the distant home at its end. The old man had been trudging south, head bowed against the sun, picking a scab of dried mud from his shirt. When they crashed together, the old man nearly fell, but at the last moment the young man caught him, and marched onward. With a shaky hand shielding his eyes, the old man watched him go.
He’s too tall, Grant Davis thought, face shriveling into ten thousand wrinkles. And a show off. That ironed shirt and combed hair. Who’s he trying to impress—” Grant sighted the rolled parchment clenched in the young man’s fist. Oh, the old man smirked. That must be Flint. He’s off to see the Mayor.
And his shout struck the young man like a stone hurled at his head: Fly, Icarus. For eighteen summers, Felix Flint had heard the familiar phrase, spoken by young and old folk alike in Highland. He hated the words and their sense of inevitable defeat. Wanting distance from them and their owner, Felix redoubled his focus on the home at High Street’s end.
It was the oldest building in town, boasting just a single ground level, with a flat wooden roof crowning its limestone walls. Every other home and shop tightly packed along High Street looked like smaller imitations of it, but the twisted apple tree that haunted its side and the pale green shimmer of its stone face gave the dwelling a special power. As Felix approached it, he thought of a predator, one crouched and winking back at him.
He had forgotten about the home’s stone tower that rose from its back corner until he stood in its shadow, no longer feeling the sun on his cheeks. Looking up, he hoped to see the single window thrown open, but found it shut and dark. Perhaps she’s gone riding, Felix wondered, half-relieved though that Emily Harper wasn’t home. I’m nervous enough as is.
He dropped his gaze and unrolled the parchment in his hands, bold black letters spelling a newspaper headline across its top:
Progress is Preservation by Felix Flint
The young man smiled. The week’s edition of his newspaper, The Highland Way, was selling like hot apple pies. Three days ago, he had nailed a copy to the town’s News Post and since then Highland was buzzing. But whom do they side with? Felix turned and looked south, sighting the distant, gathering flock of Highlanders. Their tan ovals all seemed to be watching him. The Mayor or me? And what does he think? Will he help?
Felix refocused on the door before him, and the heavy iron knocker adorning its center. It was shaped like an orchid, the crest of Highland. He reached for a petal, but his hand’s flight slowed in hesitation. He has to see the truth. If I can’t raise the funds, then I can’t save—the young man looked up again to the tower; its window still shut and dark. He knocked.
And knocked...louder. It’s just passed sunrise. The Mayor couldn’t have any business this early, he thought raising the iron orchid once more, but stopped. He heard something.
The sound was distant; too delicate for approaching footsteps. It joined a second one, then connected with a third; a fourth. The sounds, he realized, were music notes, stitching together to form a melody—one whose pitch rose, flying higher and higher, lifted somehow even still to greater heights, like triumphant laughter. But then the laughter halted at its summit—and fell—down; down, further and further, as if breaking apart, doomed to fall forever. It did, before ending, leaving a void so vast that Felix forgot how the sounds had begun. The melody’s laughter was a lie. The song was a requiem.
I remember it, Felix thought. And then the song was reborn, notes stitching together once more. The melody resumed its flight, lifting Felix with its trill off the home’s front steps towards the source. The song had a strange texture, like a whistle fused with a hum. Ten paces more—the melody broke terribly—and fell into requiem just as the home surrendered to a stonewall cloaked with ivy. Felix brushed his hand through its darkness, following the music, which grew clearer, yet still beyond the wall. The gate’s around here somewhere. His fingers reached a clearing and the coldness of an iron latch. The melody laughed once more, this time the loudest, carrying him to push inside the hidden gate.
The young man had spent countless afternoons in the Harper’s backyard, but not for many summers. He shuddered because the space of warmth, sunlight, and motion from his childhood was gone. The yard before him was cool, dark and still. It held the sour scent of rotten apples and withered orchids. Thick grass scratched at his ankles. Looking up, he saw large shadows: a web of twisted branches. Looking out, he saw three black lines: the stonewalls guarding the space. But peering harder into the darkest, furthest corner, half-hidden behind the silhouette of an apple tree, emerged several threads of a strange light. Felix moved closer.
The threads winked brighter, up, down, and side to side, stitching together. They seemed to float in the darkness at chest level, curving and meeting at a higher point to form, he realized, a cage, one shaped like a teardrop. It hung from a drooping branch by a nearly invisible string. A spot rippled behind its bars, just brighter than the shadows. Felix leaned in and saw a creature.
It was a small bird with stark white feathers, all of which trembled like leaves. A bent wing cloaked its head, as if the creature was terror-struck by his presence or crying over an ancient tragedy. That’s when Felix saw its single tail feather, also white, curled towards the cage’s top.
“Mountain Low and Valley High,” the young man whispered in disbelief. “Songbird, is that you?” He pressed a finger through the cage. The creature lowered her wing slightly, black watery eyes inspecting the face above her.
“I’m Felix. Emily’s friend. Do you remember me?” Songbird dropped her wing lower, revealing a tiny black beak. She chirped. “Your feathers, they’re still as white as a hatchling’s! No gray at all.” She chirped again, louder. “But you must be more than twenty summers old. The last songbird of the Great Plain.” At this, the creature’s wing snapped up protectively. “Was that you whistling? That song—it’s Mrs. Harper’s melody, isn’t it?” Songbird peeked out. “Will you sing it for me?” She hopped forward excitedly, tail feather straightening. “Only sing the whole thing,” Felix continued. “There’s a part missing from the end. Isn’t there? It doesn’t have a sad ending. Does it?”
Songbird tilted her head, as if confused.
“Go on. Sing.”
The creature’s breast swelled, but before her beak released the first note, she hopped back, wings spreading awkwardly. She stared past him at something in the darkness. “Don’t be scared,” Felix whispered reassuringly. “Here, I bet you can sing better free.” He reached for the cage’s tiny door. Songbird pecked his finger sharply. Suddenly, something cuffed the his wrist in the darkness.
He tried to pull away but couldn’t. It was a hand, one as strong as an iron chain, but rough, like leather ruined from too much rain. And then Felix felt the presence of the large figure beside him. He pushed against it, but it was like trying to move the Great Plain itself.
“Let me go!” he yelled, yanking harder. “Get off!” In the darkness, he could only see the spot of trembling feathers within the cage. Then Mrs. Harper’s melody began. As Songbird whistled the first note, connecting it with the second, the third; fourth, the figure’s hand weakened. Felix broke free, retreating a few paces. The figure seemed to have forgotten him entirely now, and then, when the melody’s laughter fell into requiem, it began to hum, deepening the song’s sorrow.
Finally, it ended and the three existed in its silent void, that somehow felt wider than the Great Sky itself. Heart pounding, Felix watched as the shadow knelt to retrieve the rolled parchment he had dropped in the grass. For a moment, a patch of sun spotlighted a forehead. It was seared with lines of pain and gray eyes that stared at the newspaper’s headline with the fierceness of storm clouds.
“Mayor Harper,” Felix began, “I’m sorry. I heard Songbird from High Street. I didn’t mean to intrude—”
—Pfffttt. Mayor Harper tore the newspaper in half. “…You did.” His voice was low and heavy.
“I...well I was at your front door knocking. And—”
—Pfffttt. He ripped the halves in into quarters. “…And you decided to intrude.”
“No. I...I wanted to speak with you. About my article.” —Pfffttt. “The one you’re tearing up.”
The old man opened the cage and dropped the torn bits inside, lining its bottom. “…Sir,” he answered.
With a finger, Mayor Harper beckoned the caged creature. She hopped onto it obediently. “The one you’re tearing up, sir.” The young man felt the old man watching him as he stroked the creature’s neck. She cooed and nuzzled his finger, though still trembling as if afaid of her new freedom.
“…Sir,” Felix mumbled, reluctantly.
“Speak then.” But before Felix could, Mayor Harper turned and vanished into the shadows, back toward the faint outline of the home.
Felix gritted his teeth, but followed.
* * *
Beyond Mayor Harper’s home, beyond High Street, beyond the flat-roofed farmhouses scattered amongst the forests, and the Great River snaking through the Great Plain, lived a single white orchid. It had emerged earlier that spring from a tiny crack in a strip of black rock. The orchid didn’t know that its home was both the Great Plain’s north-most edge and the Great Cliff’s top-most point. It didn’t know that just one well-placed gust of wind could tear it out. It didn’t know of the Great Sky’s promise of a terrible fall, nor the jagged rocks at the Great Cliff’s bottom. It didn’t know these things, but had continued to grow, roots spreading wider, stem reaching higher, petals blooming larger, as if it did know some reason to be brave, but kept it secret.
A pair of leather riding boots carefully stepped over the orchid, as if in observance of that secret—and the wish to know it. They belonged to a young woman with pale blue eyes and long blonde hair. She wore tan slacks and a white shirt, sleeves rolled to her elbows. Her arms were as sun-kissed as her face, the badge of eighteen summers earned from restless wandering atop the Great Plain. Slung over one shoulder was a scarred saddlebag, packed so full that it looked like it might burst open at any moment.
Emily Harper didn’t notice its weight though. She looked out over the Great Cliff’s edge, wondering exactly how far down its bottom was. At least a thousand paces, she guessed, but it was impossible to tell. She couldn’t see through the labyrinth of dust coiling below her. Suddenly, up the cliffside rushed a terrible torrent of wind.
Her long hair snapped violently, as if the Great Sky had grabbed it by an invisible hand and sought to pull her into empty space. She fought back, leaning away; but in that moment her saddlebag was as heavy as an iron chain. Helpless against its weight, she toppled—backwards—and struck the clifftop. A sharp pain bit her side. The wind retreated.
Heart pounding in her temples, Emily stared skyward. For a moment, it felt like the silent blue void was smirking down at her. She tested her side. It’s just a bruise, she assured herself, but winced. Behind her, the saddlebag had spilled open. She brushed off the dozen apples that had tumbled out. Wait! Emily turned, searching desperately. Where are you?
A flash of white caught her eye: a folded square of parchment that had fallen out of the saddlebag. It tumbled with the breeze towards the edge, gaining speed. No! She dove, reaching forward, and at the last instant caught it. I’ve got you, she sighed, kissing it. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.
Like the ten thousand times before, Emily delicately unfolded the paper to reveal a hand-drawn map. It had just enough detail to guide her down the Great Cliff and beyond. She knew the route by heart, just as she knew the message scribbled in its margin, which she traced with a shaky finger as she read the words:
With love, A
Finding her strength now, Emily stood, refusing to wince from the pain in her side as she hoisted the saddlebag back onto her shoulder. I can do this. I must do this. No more waiting. Go! Her boot rose into the hair and so at sunrise Emily Harper took the first step on her journey down the Great Cliff. She refused to look back—not at her distant tower that marked the Mayor’s home and High Street’s end, not at Highland’s flat-roofed farmhouses scattered amongst the forests, and not at the Great River snaking through the Great Plain. Her refusal to look back though came not just from a desire to look forward, but also from a fear that when she had fallen, she might have smashed that single white orchid rising from the clifftop, and its secret reason to be brave.
Just one step to her right, the Great Sky began, but she focused only on the narrow shelf before her. This is the worst part. He said it only gets easier from here. She moved slowly, inching forward and down, clutching the jagged cliffside until the shelf widened. At first, she stopped and clung to it upon any rising wind, refusing to move until it retreated. But she grew more sure of her movements, slowing only for the strongest gusts or when crossing the narrowest parts. I must be one whole hour free by now, she thought, studying the line of footprints etched in dust behind her. She smiled, because even though they vanished with the wind, she knew that she was following in Atleigh Forden’s footsteps.
She had been dreaming of this escape for ten summers, ever since her best friend had left Highland, journeying down the Great Cliff to the Lowlands. Clay Valley, Atleigh had called it, in his first letter. The buildings here are taller than every tree on the Great Plain. Its roads make High Street look like a mud puddle. And every corner and home glow with flameless lights. Even the sun must sleep, but not Clay Valley.
Atleigh’s first letter arrived three long summers after leaving Highland, not because he had forgotten Emily, but because he was creating the means to deliver it. When she discovered that means one morning on her tower’s windowsill, she laughed triumphantly; the distance of three summers spent apart, an eternity to them both, was brushed away like a cobweb by his creation.
Emily had never told Mayor Harper, nor even her other best friend, Felix Flint, of Atleigh’s creation or their communication. It was her secret. She kept their seven summers of letters beneath a floorboard in her tower. She knew why she hid them; it was the same reason why she had never given Atleigh back the word he had given her in the margin on his map. I do love him, but I’m afraid to tell him. I’m afraid because of—Emily dashed forward. No. Not anymore. It’s different now. I will leave. And I will tell him.
Besides the journey’s-worth of food and Atleigh’s letters, Emily had packed only one other item, her most prized possession, a white summer dress. She could no longer remember when she had first began designing it, but late last night, after countless torn-up sketches and botched prototypes and bouts of perfectionism, the young woman’s creation was—finally—finished.
She had sewn it from the purest, whitest lace in Highland, acquiring the fabric bit by bit in the form of heirlooms and knick-knacks from the Great Plain’s oldest families—a kerchief here, a corner-table cloth there, a silk glove or stocking whose partner had been lost or rubbed by too much time—all purchased under the young woman’s strict terms of secrecy.
Emily then fused these hard-found treasures with the stronger, softer fibers of long-staple cotton, sourced from the most discerning farmer in Highland. Her misdirection about needing it “to mend the spine of one of Father’s books,” failed to camouflage from Mr. Miller of the West Orchards the flash in her eyes as she fingered a strand of the long-staple for the first time, nor the fierceness with which she clutched her sketchbook. When Emily finally agreed to open it and share her design, the farmer returned with a new bushel, his best pickings of the summer, and she returned at midnight as instructed, to soak the cotton in the cold river water and rub it with Mr. Miller’s special pebbles to heighten the fibers’ natural luster.
The effect was—beautiful—Emily thought, running her hands through the wet, gleaming fabric that first night on the riverbank, and then again, summers later, for the ten-thousandth-time in her bedroom. Emily’s completed summer dress, whose every detail she knew by heart from sketch to stitch, held a strange color—the color of Songbird’s feathers dipped in moonlight.
The dress was so unlike all of the others hanging in her closet, and every other worn in Highland. How their dark, endless layers trapped a body within a labyrinth of rough and heavy fabrics by way of tight-necked collars, arm-length sleeves, breath-stealing corsets, and ankle-biting skirtlines, Emily’s held only the lightness, brightness, and daring spirit of unthwarted motion. It was a dress—free from fear. Those three words were the only ones that had come to her last night in her tower as she studied her creation floating by a hanger in the breeze, herself sprawled beneath it. Amidst a tangle of fabric scraps, scribbled measurements, thread spools and scissors, she traced with a finger the hemline. It promised to crown her knee, should she slip it on, but she didn’t.
Instead, her finger swirled and rose, outwards and higher, finger-width by finger-length, following the intricate pattern comprising the whole dress—a pattern forming a detailed, seamless flock of feathers. Rising now from the floor, her finger climbed further and faster, beyond the high skirt, the tight-fitting waistline promising to stress the arc of her hips and every movement of her torso, to the neckline, which opened mid-breast and widened as it rose to the shoulders, forming a bold V. Still, she did not reach to slip it on.
At one point, the breeze let in through her window danced through the dress, and lifted the young woman’s finger off the neckline to her own shoulders, to slip off her nightgown. Hours fell away too. Emily stood naked, frozen, not daring to touch her masterpiece again in the dark. Eventually, Sunlight did, signalling the start of the young woman’s flight from her tower, away from Highland and Mayor Harper to the life she wanted most, to Clay Valley—to Atleigh Forden.
She snatched it from the hangar and tucked it into the bottom of her saddlebag, unworn and out of sight. Like my love for Atleigh...But not anymore. It’s real now.
The wind dancing through Emily’s hair had vanished as she rested in the shade of the Great Cliff. She drew a small jar of apple dumplings, looking to the horizon. The sun was reaching higher, though still many hours from Half Day. Father will begin worrying then. He’ll pace in his study for a time. Then he’ll ride to Grandfather’s and make his Deputies begin the search.
At the thought of Highland, Emily placed the half-finished jar on a rock and started to leave, but stopped, retrieved it, and wiped away her footprints for good measure. Dashing forward now, she returned to the Great Cliff’s narrow shelf and hurried away, feeling much less brave than she had an hour ago.
* * *
Mayor Harper sank into a chair and picked up a sweating glass of dark cider. It was from there that he had spent the morning drinking and listening and humming to the melody-requiem. At least, that’s what Felix imagined, standing at the edge of the porch extending from the back of the home. The young man waited for the old man to speak. Mayor Harper didn’t and drank. His eyes settled onto the threads of strange light that was the distant cage and the torn newspaper lining its bottom. Finally, his mouth cracked.
“You don’t respect me, boy.”
“This isn’t about respect, Mayor,” Felix answered swiftly. “My article. It’s about something more important than—”
The old man huffed. “—See? You don’t respect me.”
“It’s not about you!” Felix cried out, shocked by his sudden over-eagerness. “…I mean, sir. It’s not just about you. It’s about Highland, and something bigger.”
“Nothing is bigger than Highland.”
“Lots of things are bigger than Highland. The Great Plain for one.”
Mayor Harper gripped his glass tighter. From a finger, Songbird cooed softly and slowly until finally the old man’s hand relaxed and his shoulders rose into the back of his chair. His gray eyes stared now through the bottom of the swiftly emptying glass. The young man stared back.
In the dim sunlight piercing the web of shadows above them, Felix saw gray streaking a once ruddy beard. Across the forehead, heavy lines spread like thinning roots down to a sharp nose and a mouth with drooped corners all in a deeply sun-scorched hue. The gray eyes held a weaker light than summers past, and a stronger sorrow. It was this last feature, Felix realized, that was the heart of the face.
“What happened to you?”
The young man, taken aback, closed his mouth. Mayor Harper had stolen the question from his mind, but it was he, not Felix, who turned away. He retreated to a dusty wooden barrel in the porch corner. With Songbird still balanced on a finger, he uncorked the stopper and poured out the final drops, disappointed.
“I said, what happened to you?”
“Nothing’s happened to me. Not yet.”
“Not yet?” Mayor Harper abandoned the barrel. “What do you mean?”
“I mean nothing has happened to me yet. Or you. Or Highland. But something will.”
“Speak plainly, boy.”
“Did you read my article?”
“Did you read my article, sir?”
“I read it. You don’t respect me.”
“I gave my reasons why I think what I think. None of them were to throw an apple pie in your face.”
“Liar!” Harper howeled, jabbing a finger at Felix’s chest. Songbird nearly fell, but stretched to catch her balance. It was over in an instant, but Felix sighted something on the creature’s wings: matching dark spots. “I don’t believe you, boy. Throwing apple pies—that’s exactly what you’re doing with that news rag!”
“Ask the farmers,” Felix stepped onto the porch, throwing more strength behind his voice. “Most will tell you how their fields have reaped smaller harvests for the past three summers.” Harper huffed and spat into the grass. “Or ask the horse masters. They bury more foals each spring than their fathers did. And the fishermen. They say the Great River is shallower than in their grandfathers’ time, catches lighter too.”
“If all this is true then—”
“—It is.” Felix interjected, fists clenching. “I’ve been warning about this since last summer.”
“Then it’s because you and the other sons of Highland can’t work the plow, the stirrup, and the nets as well as their fathers! I’ve seen fifty-one summers on the Great Plain, boy, so listen here. Highland is fine. Nothing is wrong with her, except you. You’re wrong. Just a sour apple who —”
“—Barren fields!” Felix erupted. “Dead horses! A dried-up Great River! Highland isn’t fine, Mayor. Highland is dying and you’re shutting your eyes to it all!”
At this, the old man spat into the grass and sank into his creaky chair once more. His boot heels stomped the porch stubbornly as if taking root, his shoulders stiffened, and his gray eyes narrowed like a door being shut. Eventually, his stormy glare found the creature trembling in his lap, whose wings he stretched delicately, giving their matching dark spots a pained study. The silence stretched on too, young and old chest rising and falling.
“Always follow the Highland Way,” Harper recited softly, “and you’ll always know the Way.” And then again, louder: “Always follow the Highland Way and you’ll always know the Way…Always follow the…”
Felix looked up, past Songbird and her captor, past the home’s flat roof and the web of dark branches, up to Emily’s tower, to its single window, shut and dark.
“She needs a new Way.”
* * *
It was small, but she knew she had seen it: a brilliant flash. It didn’t come from the Great Sky. It came from the dust at her feet. The Great Cliff had changed. She had reached the dangerous path’s widest section yet, which acted as an upturned hand, catching the boulders and rocks and stones alike that fell from above, smashing them to dust. Before she could pinpoint the source of that brilliant flash though, the wind howled and lifted a coiling funnel off the cliffs, trapping her inside. With breath held and eyes shut, she retrieved a handkerchief from her saddlebag, careful not to move her feet, and then covered her nose and mouth as best she could, waiting for the wind to weaken.
Finally, it died completely, and a new sound was born. It was sharp and hollow, like breath blown through a piece of straw. She listened, but remained focused on the space before her, on the source of the brilliant flash, a tiny object half-unburied, winking up at her. The color was strange. She had seen it before, but it didn’t belong to the Great Sky or the Great Plain. It belonged to Atleigh’s creation. It was the color of sunlight mixed with wheat, the color of brass. She smiled and knelt before the object. It was no larger than a button, and smooth like one, except for a hair-thin groove that formed the outline of an orchid. Her finger traced the petals and then plucked the orchid from the dust.
Emily hissed and dropped it. Pooling on her fingertip was a drop of blood, which slipped off and fell to the dust. She looked down at her silent attacker: a thick needle extending from the underside. It was no longer than a half-finger and of the same color and material. Branching down the needle were strange grooves, perhaps roots of the carved orchid on the object’s top, but ones formed by sharp angles, ones in different depths and widths as if meticulously plotted for some secret purpose. What are you? Emily asked the brass tack and kissed her pricked finger.
The area of dust around her seemed empty, but she plunged her hand further, searching. After a moment, they touched something hard. A rock perhaps. She followed even deeper to its end, grasped it and lifted, careful to avoid kicking up more dust. But it wouldn’t budge. It felt connected to something even larger. She yanked hard once, twice; it began to give way. A third, final pull; dust exploded as the object arose, birthing a new cloud.
Emily covered her face with the handkerchief again. The sound from before returned, the hollow hum, but stronger now, as if she had cleared the wind’s path to its source. Emily opened her eyes and screamed. She screamed louder than she had ever screamed before. Clutched in her fingers were the sun-bleached bones of a human hand. And connected to the hand was a skeleton, now half-unburied. It looked smashed as if by a terrible fall, especially the skull. A dark crack split its top, creating, Emily realized, a draft for the dust-wind to enter and escape through the eye sockets. Breathing. Humming. Emily clamped her hands over her ears, unable to look away. She stared though, not at the skull and bones, but at the white tatters clinging to them, the remnants of a summer dress—a dress she recognized.
It was as if that moment had been schemed by the Great Sky and the Great Cliff. It was a reunion, one that Emily had expected to have the day she might finally brave an escape. She had been dreading it for ten summers in the darkest corner of her mind, ever since that same night that Atleigh Forden had run away from Highland. It was a reunion of mother and daughter.
* * *
“Why did Icarus fall?” The young man recited.
“I read the damn article, boy!”
“The sun and the sea. Fire and water.” Felix continued louder, determined to declare his article’s closing words to the old man who had torn them up and used them to line his birdcage. “How powerful is Mother and how prideful is man. To think he could rise above Her? What reckless reach!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mayor Harper clutched his temples, thoughts heavy.
“—Listen to The Old Story carefully. Do you hear him? Icarus cries, ‘Father forgive me!’ But Icarus, save your breath. It wasn’t Father who you disobeyed.”
The old man rose fiercely, but he was looking beyond the young man. The lightning in his eyes began to surrender to rain.
“Progress is Preservation,” Felix continued, “but not Preservation of the old Highland Way...”
The Mayor clutched Songbird, trembling.
“…Highland is dying. Because we’re killing Mother. We must preserve the Great Plain. The Great River. The Great Sky.” Felix concluded.
The old man reached him at the porch’s edge.
“I want to save us all, Mayor. I want E—” The young man looked down, struck by a bolt of bashfulness.
“E-Evelyn?” Mayor Harper whispered.
Felix looked up confused, but the old man wasn’t addressing him. He was staring into the shadows, terrified, as if seeing a ghost. Felix turned and saw what possessed him: a white figure glowing strangely in the shadows. It had been ten summers since Mrs. Harper had fallen off the Great Cliff, but somehow she was standing there in the backyard.
She staggered forward, clutching her side as if she might collapse at any moment, face, half-hidden by a curtain of glowing hair. She wore tan slacks and a white shirt, sleeves rolled to her elbows. Then she raised her pale blue eyes from the dark grass. Mayor Harper reached for her face carefully, but when his finger touched her teary cheeks, the glow wiped away, like dust.
His trance broke.
Emily fell into his arms.