Right now, I’m in the middle of listening to The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Erin wrote one of my very favorite books, The Night Circus, and this is her second book, although they are not connected.
I’m about halfway through and one of the prevailing themes of the book is how stories are so important to being human. Stories are actual change, and most of them are the same, though the details are always shifting. There are love stories, and mysteries, fantasies, and nonfiction narratives. Thrillers and actions and tragedies.
There are stories in everything, long and short, meaningful and nonsensical. We don’t often even know where a story is going until we get to the end of it. There is one particular moment when the main character, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, is asked what his religion is and though he gives a succinct answer, his thoughts are a whole other thing.
“He doesn’t say what he is thinking, which is that his church is held-breath story listening and late-night-concert ear-ringing rapture and perfect-boss fight-button pressing. That his religion is buried in the silence of freshly fallen snow, in a carefully crafted cocktail, in between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending.”
In between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending was what made my smile stick as I heard it. The main story is threaded, sandwiched, between different stories that all actually somehow end up being the same one — some that start out like fairy tales, or fables, or myths. One like a lost love story and yet a time travel fantasy.
I’m only about three-quarters of the way through, and I don’t quite know how it’ll wrap up but that’s the whole point. I’m happy to drift here in this story, and soak it up as much as I can because it’s a desperately needed escape.
It inspired me to write a little fairy tale of my own, a sweet little story about two characters I think I know fairly well at this point, named Aggie and Denny.
A Witch And Her Wolf.
There’s a cabin on the edge of the city, buried deep in the twisting canyons and shaded by leaning oak trees. There are some of that have fallen from their own weight, their dead trunks exposed from heavy branches crashing to the earth. The driveway is dirt and gravel, having never been paved, but the gate opens and on its own, despite no visible mechanisms to control it.
It would be creepy if it weren’t so peaceful — and at night maybe it is.
The moon is sometimes bright enough to illuminate the whole front garden, breaking through the canopy and bright enough that a flashlight would ruin the whole thing. It sparkles on white flowers and dark green leaves, and they never feel alone underneath it — although maybe Denny is a bit more anxious under its light than Aggie is.
The way the sunlight finds pathways through the leaves and branches, though, as the morning creeps into the tiny valley where the cabin sits, is another type of magic. Even as the cool air burns off with the marine layer evaporating into the clouds, sitting on the wraparound deck in the early hours, watching that light, is refreshing, reaffirming.
Aggie Carter knows there’s magic here.
She knows because she felt it, when she’d decided she couldn’t live in a city anymore, even though they’re not far from the busy streets. If she really wanted to venture out. She knows because she coaxed it from the earth, when they settled here and breathed life into the cabin. Cabin, cottage, Craftsman style — a mishmash of architectural designs, with a greenhouse sun room in the back in the only spot that gets the longest lasting daylight.
It had only been two rooms when they got here, the living room attached to an open kitchen, a bedroom and small bathroom. Vines crawling up the sunny side of the house. It wasn’t much, but the sunlight and the trees, the earth and the rocks, hummed in the breeze from the canyon road. It wasn’t the city, but it didn’t have to be. They’d both spent enough time there, in various cities, that the quiet was only unnerving for the first week.
But it was theirs, and trouble hadn’t followed them there, yet.
Denny built the shed first, because there would always be those few days during the month when he would need it, would sneak away, so he didn’t run through the night. Aggie would struggle through making breakfast in the morning, trying not to burn eggs or biscuits when he stumbled in, half awake with dirt smeared on his face and dust in his hair.
Aggie’s greenhouse turned from a tent in the back of the house, set up on the deck and accessible through the sliding door in the bedroom to a sun room once the shed was done. Large glass windows, plenty of room for ceramic and clay pots, standing garden boxes. The vines on the side of the house bloomed with bougainvillea one day and the trees seemed to whisper in the breeze. Bees buzzed but never stung, and they never found a hive, although they met the beekeeper that lived in the neighborhood, a couple acres away, sometimes.
They had WiFi for when she would have to sit at their kitchen table with her laptop for work, learning how to make her lattes at home, the spoon stirring without a hand when she wasn’t thinking about it. They built new shelves in every room they added on, Aggie carving a blessing into each piece of wood.
It wasn’t much, but by winter it was theirs, with the skylight in the bedroom that let the moonlight in when it wasn’t full.
For once, trouble didn’t follow them. Not yet, anyway.
Aggie still left a protection charm by the door, buried a satchel on the edge of the property. Rosemary, basil, mint, and sage grew easily under her care, not just for the kitchen. Mint kept the spiders away, rosemary for good luck, sage for cleansing… and basil because it just smelled so good. It was easy, letting the wind through the trees come in through her windows, bring the energy on the air and out around their land. She did all the old tricks, laying a circle of salt around the house, crystals on the windowsills, bells on the doors and the gates.
It was old magic because it worked.
No ghosts, because they filled the home with their own spirits — especially when Denny would break out the liquid spirits and they would tangle up in soft giggles and kisses.
They strung fairy lights in the trees and she hid them in her gardens. They left water out for passing animals when the temperatures climbed, and curled by the stone fireplace when it cooled.
A path cleared through the trees eventually, when the months and the nights came that Denny needed to not be tied up in a shed, go commune with those animals too as the moon lit the ground beneath him.
No demons this time, as Aggie’s brother would come to visit and bring more books for their shelves and an easy smile — no longer controlled by a sneer and a darkness that was older than time itself.
No more alpha wolves, tearing everything apart, piece by piece, bit by bit. No more games, and sinister old gods.
Just them, and their house in the trees. It took the work, but life was good for a witch and her wolf.