I was out in the woods when I swallowed a firefly. My cousin Annie witnessed this with widening eyes. We didn’t know what it meant, but we both felt like it was some kind of omen. She wanted to pick up where we left off with my aunt bragging about how popular her cheese ball was at the holiday party that we just escaped. This didn’t seem to matter as much anymore.
There we were in the “magical forest” that was really a backwoods surrounding a murky lake, made up of trees browning and spindly, broken easily for play and nest-making. We felt bare and exposed to the elements instead of embraced by our own private world. The scent of our industrial town was only temporarily softened by the outer brambles of the woods. The air was sickening and we could have sworn it took on its own distinct color. Never mind that it was the end of fall, without the pretense of spring or the hopefulness of summer. We heard the party’s laughter but we wished it were further away so that it wouldn’t interrupt the quiet we sought.
Billie came through the branches, crashing unceremoniously toward us with the stickiness of adolescence and the heavy open-mouthed breathing of a dim-witted fool. We hated Billie most times, but Billie always knew how to break up a party and make it veer in a different direction. Too often people let Billie take the wheel.
We wanted to advance further into the woods. The branches grabbed our sleeves, warning us of the unknown dangers ahead but we carried on, undeterred by Billie in tow. Through the snapping branches and the wet crush of the leaves underfoot, we could hear trails of the party. Suddenly, there were high-pitched screams of women and low groans of men and then silence. We all paused simultaneously, one foot held mid-air while we turned to face each other. Annie’s eyes widened even more when they found mine.
“Your eyes are glowing,” she said. Our reverent silence was interrupted by Billie’s intake of slurping mucus breath.
“What?” Billie said too loudly.
All of our hearts beat like young, wild animals separated from our protective den. Billie snorted up an errant line of boogers but too quickly so that Billie seized hands to chest and toppled over, rolling down a short hill.
Annie instinctively reached for my sweating hand and we ran together, being chased by a mysterious purple fog. We jumped, tripped, and gasped for breath that seemed harder and harder to take.
“Annie, I can’t,” I said heavily, pulling her hand as I clutched my chest, lungs filling up with fluid.
Annie stopped, bangs swept across her face haphazardly. I saw her above me, concerned, and heaving. She sank to her knees with one last wild-eyed look and with a certain gentleness laid beside me as we both drew our last breath together.