Distant Magic

Her earliest memories were of sunlight streaming through trees and smoke. Ten feet away from her, he was laying there covered in blood next to bits of metal and flesh scattered about. Everything before then was gone, as was her original name. She crawled over to him with her bruised and bleeding limbs. A foot away from him, she collapsed back into unconsciousness. The time after that blurred in her mind. Gradually, they walked around and explored the big woods. He didn't remember his name either, and neither of them knew where they were. Their world was one without words and names, and it suited them well enough. How much time passed there in the big woods, she didn't know. It didn't matter. Every moment was its own. They ate when they were hungry, they played whenever they wanted, they slept when they were tired. That was their life. And sometimes, they did magic. He did it first. When they found the waterfall, and he touched the water, it glowed a beautiful blue. He raised his hands into the air. Everywhere he moved, the air filled with blue lights. She came to know her own way of magic in time. When she touched the flowers, she could make them grow. Soon enough, she could grow them out of her palms and hear the words they whispered from branch to branch. He could hear the words too, and ones too quiet for her to catch in the wind and from the lights. Their empty forest became filled with voices all around. Then, they were found. A young woman named took them from the forest and raised them on her farm. The woman's name was Sable, and she gave each of them a name. He became Neil, and she became Tahlia. Sable was single and never married or dated anyone during all the time they spent with her. A long time ago, when Tahlia asked her why she lived alone, Sable smiled and told her she became a hermit to protect herself. Neil explained to her when they were teenagers that Sable estranged her family and was living in solitude so none of them could find her. Someone did shortly after that. A woman named Edith, who said she was Sable's younger sister, visited. They never spoke to her. For all the time that Edith woman was there, Sable kept them hidden in the basement. Most days, they were free to roam. They helped on the farm and played out in the field. For many years, they did magic for Sable. She praised them for their talents and told them they were special. Neil asked her, "Can you do magic too, Sable?" Sable said no. Most couldn't do magic. None that she knew of. She said, "I have heard that children are often born more connected to such things, and lose their way as time passes and the world corrupts them." "That will never happen to me!" Tahlia proclaimed. In three years time, Sable's words came true. Tahlia couldn't make the flowers grow anymore. Neil lost the lights the year before. It wasn't sudden. Gradually, their words slipped away from her, fading into softer whispers until she couldn't hear anything. Neil never told her what it was like for him. He suddenly told her one day there was no more magic. Everything slipped away from her. When she looked at the reflection of the moon on her window, where she once saw magic, nothing touched her. She pressed her hand against the cold glass and hoped for something secret to slip through. There was nothing. Neil told her to go to sleep. That was the end of magic, but she never let go of it. The feeling of it stayed alive in her memories. Sable home-schooled them, and when they were teenagers, she let them wander around town too. Neil was more interested in the world they found outside the farm. The strange, overwhelming rush she got every time she walked into town both intrigued and frightened Tahlia. People asked questions. Who were they? Where were they from? Why didn't they go to school? They didn't know what to say. One night, Sable sat them down and told them everything she knew. Years ago, on a certain mountain, a plane unexpectedly crashed. It took a while for them to find where exactly the plane crashed, and they couldn't identify everyone in the crash. Officially, it was presumed there were no survivors. The remains of many on the plane couldn't be identified or even discerned as human parts at all from the crash. There were a few children who were among the list of not identifiable or found. From looking into the case and other missing children cases nearby, she suspected they were children from that crash since they were together. All the missing children cases in that area were of a single child going missing. She doubted, from what the children told her about how they were always together, that they stumbled upon each other on their own from unrelated situations. There was also the detail about being injured and metal and fire. That was the most likely scenario, but she told them this with a word of caution in completely believing that story. Of the children that were missing, they didn't look like any of them. Years ago, she sent pictures of the children to living relatives of the missing children to see if anyone recognized them, and none did. She had no explanation for that, and that was why they lived with her. Because of their magic, she kept them hidden. She thought someone might take them from her. Neil found her word suspicious, and Tahlia didn't believe it at all. She told Sable, "The earth gave birth to me." Sable gave her a kind smile and shook her head. "Tahlia, that can't be. Your scars tell everything." In her need to deny that scenario, Tahlia said, "No, these are to make me like what the earth saw. Perhaps, it was sad from all the death and wanted to return some life to that place. It merely made me look like I had been part of that." Sable sighed and kept on smiling. "It doesn't matter. You're here now. I'll keep you safe." From then on, Tahlia and Neil started to drift apart. They attended university together. After a year, Neil got a job and rented out an apartment. Tahlia followed suit the following year. She called Sable regularly to update her about her life and how she felt lonely in the city. They talked often about the magic, how beautiful it was, and the simpler times when they'd sit out on the back porch in the summer and listen to the cicadas. Neil, she could barely reach though he was right there with her on campus. He drowned himself in any responsibilities he could find and endless hours of work. Sometimes, she invited him out to take a walk, but he always declined. Tahlia did her best to fit in with the people at the university in the ways Neil did, but she only felt more empty. She tried dating and making friends, but nothing lasted long. Everyone around her was so different she couldn't understand them at all. She learned quickly too, she couldn't mention magic to any of them. Childish, deluded, crazy, liar. The words stung and she pulled into herself deeper. Only Neil could talk with her about magic, and he didn't want anything to do with it. Tahlia finished school with little to show for it. She worked a job just above minimum wage to keep her tiny apartment. When she came home at night, she aimlessly moved through trivial tasks to keep herself busy. The world around her was loud and empty. A year had passed since she last saw Sable. On that lonely morning, she pulled herself out of bed and went to see Neil once more. She hoped this time she might be able to pull him from that small prison he kept himself in. He let her in the apartment, but she could tell he was already in a foul mood. She invited him to go out on a walk with her. Once again, he refused her. Their conversation shifted in the way it always did. She tried to get him to talk about magic. "Do you remember when you first showed me the lights?" Tahlia asked. "Everything glowed. We heard the whispers of the trees and the wind. Do you ever wish you could still..." "Tahlia, none of that was real. We were children playing pretend to forget what happened to us." Neil flipped through one of his Biology books. "Look, I get it. You want it to be real. It'd be great if it was real, but it's not. Sable paid for us to go to therapy, and you didn't want to go. You should have stayed in therapy." "Sable saw us doing magic." Tahlia said. "Sable was a kind woman who was keeping her traumatized children happy." Neil marked one of the pages and wrote something down on a piece of paper. Tahlia stood by his crowded desk. "You say you're doing better than me, but look at you. When was the last time you stepped outside and got some fresh air?" "I don't have time for that right now. I'm a grad student. What do you expect out of me? I can't go play around in the woods because I feel like it." "We used to wander. Your eyes used to light up when we saw flowers in the field and the stars in the night sky." Tahlia put her hand on his. In the time since their younger days, his skin had become pale and his body, cold. "I got older. I'm not wowed by flowers anymore." Neil pushed her hand away and opened up a file on his computer. "Tahlia, forget about then. You can't hide in the forest forever." "What's really happened to you?" She asked. Neil got up from his chair and turned to her. "Show it to me. Right now. Show me magic." Tahlia stared down at the floor in defeat. "That's what I thought." Neil smiled in exasperation and shrugged his shoulders. He returned to his desk. "If that's all you wanted to talk to me about, please leave. I have a lot of work to do." Tahlia looked down at her hands. Once, she could feel it, something surged through her. She couldn't call it forth anymore, but it was there. She left the apartment without another word. She went about her day. At two, she clocked in at work and left around ten. She collapsed on her bed in her lonely apartment. Tahlia filled the small space up with plants, but it wasn't like living with Sable or the time she spent in the big woods. Sable would tell her the magic was real. She knew. She saw them do magic many times. Sable, with her kind voice and warm, farm-worn hands would scoop up the flowers Tahlia made and put them in a vase by the window. When the blue lights filled the night, she danced with them. Once more, Tahlia wanted to hear Sable's voice tell her everything was alright, and that the magic, even if it faded, would always be inside her. Foolishly, she picked up the phone and dialed that number she memorized long ago. A prerecorded message informed her the number was disconnected, as it had been since they put Sable in the ground. "Once more, couldn't you tell me it's alright..." Tahlia whispered into the phone to no one. She stared at her hands, searching for answers. The plants around her were quiet strangers who lived in her home. They didn't speak to her the way flowers did when she was younger. They winded and draped silently over her TV and computer, her perfectly polished dishes, her planner and bookshelf full of disorganized topics. Everything around her was both foreign and familiar--a part of her current life and yet, not a single item in her home seemed right. Tahlia rolled over in her bed. In that moment, she caught a glimpse of the full moon reflected on her window glass. The distorted image captivated her. Absentmindedly, she reached for that illusionary light and met with the cold glass. She opened the window and leaned out. The night air captured her. She took in the chilly air and let it surround her. The stars strong enough broke through the glare of the artificial lights of the town and pierced through the darkness. She held her hands out to the stars and the moon. For a second, she swore she saw a city covered in blue. In the morning, Neil found an envelope sticking out from underneath his door. He picked up the plain envelope. No name, no information. He threw the note on the kitchen table to look at after he prepared himself a quick breakfast. He didn't have much time in the mornings, and was somewhat annoyed to have to deal with anything at all so early. He sipped on coffee and opened up a program on his computer to look over some data, almost forgetting about the envelope entirely. He only remembered it when he nearly spilled his coffee on it. He decided to finally open it up. Inside, there was a handwritten note on a single sheet of paper. He recognized the handwriting. The note read: 'This is goodbye, my friend. I remember when you first showed me that beautiful magic deep in those unnamed woods by that waterfall so high. We ran wild in that sacred place. I used to look for the secrets of the earth and sky in every bit of dust and mist, every ray of sunlight and the moon's reflection on our old window. You'd whisper to me in the darkness what your heart told you and we'd dance in Sable's big, open field in the summer heat. My happiest memories are all of you and I, lost in somewhere between this world and something I could never quite touch. You can tell me it was all a lie, and you can forget if you want. I won't let go of my heart. This world isn't for me. I'll be here, if you want to find me. I'll whisper to you on the breeze and rise the petals on the roses you pass on your way to those overcrowded halls, if you look. Wherever you go from here, I wish you'd remember once more the magic you showed me on that dark night. I won't forget. Goodbye.' He held the note in his hand. Callously, he walked over to the trash bin by his desk to throw it away. His hand wouldn't let go despite his commands for it to do so. Neil looked back at the stack of books and papers piled high on his desk and disastrous state of his apartment. He looked down at the note again and sighed. Three days later, he grabbed his camping equipment from his car in a parking lot with a view that was long stained into his memory. He opened a map he got from a gas station nearby, and laughed. "Unnamed place. This is the Blue Ridge Mountains, Tahlia, and you know it. I know damn well how to get to Amicalola Falls and Springer Mountain." His words were harsh, but he couldn't help but grin. Step by step, he walked off the defined path and into the deep woods, led on by something he couldn't name.
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