When the Rain Comes
by Josh Rountree


The Ice Witch sat backstage making baubles for Purdy.

She dipped a ladle into the water bucket and emptied the contents into one hand.  Cold blood rushed to her palm and the familiar tickle settled in with it.  The water froze into a misshapen ball and she eased her opposite hand across the surface, drawing it though her fingers like clay, coaxing it into a more pleasing shape.  The result was something resembling a bell, and when she held it up for Purdy’s inspection, the girl clapped and giggled.

“Pur-dee!”  It was the only thing Purdy ever said and the source of her name.  The Ice Witch handed her the treasure and Purdy received it with reverence.  She flicked a finger at it as if hoping it would ring.  She placed it on the floor next to the others then stared longingly at the Ice Witch.  “Pur-dee!  Pur-dee?”

“I’ll make you some more later.”  The Ice Witch gave her a motherly pat on the back of her sack dress.  “Show’s about to begin.”  Purdy nodded and gave the Ice Witch a hug that made her flinch.  Once she verified that their skin wasn’t touching, she relaxed and returned the girl’s affection.  She reminded herself that this wasn’t a little girl, that Purdy was most likely older than she was.  But Purdy stood only three feet high, and the strings of hair pulled back from her oversized head were tied into pink bows.  She was more child inside and out than the Ice Witch had ever been.

Other members of Purdy’s act milled about just behind the ratty red curtain, waiting for it to part.  Purdy released the Ice Witch and joined them, taking her usual place between the Alligator Man and the Queen of Beards.  The Ice Queen didn’t want to pity these people –her lot in life was not much better than theirs, and they were her friends– yet she couldn’t help it.

She knew what a kind soul Purdy had, and that the Queen of Beards cooked the best corn bread west of St. Louis.  She knew the Alligator Man was not someone to be reviled.  He was a quiet man who’d lost his family in a Baltimore house fire, yet he’d never lost his inherent kindness.  When the Ice Witch had been nothing more than a runaway girl, more terrified of her home than the deadly uncertainty of the American West, he’d spoken to her about the human soul and the endless well of strength it contained for those willing to drink.  Not her mother’s religion, but the simple truths of the self.

The Alligator Man –Edgar– and all the rest were finer people than most of the normal folks she’d met.  And thus it was hard to define their treatment and their billing as freaks as anything other than exploitation.  But she owed the Wild West Show everything she had; where else would someone like her have found a surrogate family?

Beyond the curtain, Jim’s voice barked at the crowd, welcoming them to the Freak Show, the Tent of Tortures, the Carnival of Foul Fascination.  Those who had tired of the riding and roping shows, the shooting exhibitions, the Chinese acrobats and all the rest would be filing in to the strangest of the Wild West Show’s attractions.  With a terrible howl, Jim introduced the first performer –Pierre the Wolfman– and drew back the curtain.  Pierre leaped through and onto the stage, eliciting gasps from the crowd, and the curtain fell back in place.  The Alligator Man moved into position near the seam and Purdy stepped up behind him.  She waved excitedly at the Ice Witch and then returned her attention to the curtain, waiting for Jim to call out for the Goblin Girl.

The Ice Witch began work on another bauble, focusing her sadness on the shifting ice in her hand.  She didn’t have the heart for it, and she let her half-formed creation shatter against the ground.  It wasn’t a bell, no more than Purdy was the Goblin Girl, no more than she was the Ice Witch.  Her name was Angeline Crawford, and she whispered the name aloud, afraid she might lose it if she wasn’t ever mindful.  The Wild West Show had a way of stealing a person’s true self, and no matter how awful her real life had been, Angeline was not yet ready to lose it.

*     *     *

Angeline was the top of the bill.

Purdy and her group had delivered the desired level of shock and disgust.  The Sensational Mr. Shadows had followed to make a lovely assistant disappear and with it any lingering guilt the audience might be feeling for enjoying the first act.  Then it had been time for the knife juggler, the snake tamer, the mind reader.  And now they’d all gone and it was time for the Ice Witch to make an appearance.

Jim’s voice boomed from beyond the curtain.

“And now comes the crown jewel of Bill’s Wild West Show!  You’ve seen freaks, prestidigitators, true magic and true horror!  But I assure you, though you may travel from China to England...from Montana to the Jungles of Mexico . . . from darkest Africa to the frozen wastelands of northern Asia . . . you will never see another woman like . . . .”

The curtain swept open and Angeline stepped into place.

“The Ice Witch!”

The crowd greeted her with polite applause, but as usual they were getting antsy in their seats.  Children in homespun rags pulled at their mothers’ arms, desperate to escape the stuffy tent in search of candied apples and the genuine Indian chiefs with great feathered headdresses that Bill had roaming the grounds, faces painted with sideshow menace.  A group of obviously drunk men hooted from the back, and several stoic Indian men watched intently from the first row, dressed in white man’s pants and shirts.

Angeline smiled and stepped into the middle of the waiting campfire.  Smoke filtered out through a large hole in the top of the tent, and the fire's kiss was a warm breeze blowing across her skin.  Inside her came the cold blood and the tickle.  She almost laughed in spite of herself.  The audience gasped.  One man fired a pistol appreciatively in the air, leaving a bullet hole in the tent’s ceiling to match the others.  The reaction was so expected that Angeline felt the audience must be as scripted as her act.  She stood in the fire for a few more seconds, trying to remember what town they’d stopped in.  Somewhere west of Fort Smith.  Somewhere in reservation country.  She smiled at the Indians in the front row and pity swelled inside her again.  There didn’t seem to be room for everyone in this newly minted century.

She stepped out of the fire and now she had their attention.  Jim tossed her a ball and it immediately froze in her hand.  Once again, the audience responded with astonishment.  She threw the ball back to Jim and he held it out to demonstrate it had been frozen through.  That wasn’t the case of course.  This was the Wild West Show.  Real ability wasn’t enough; you still needed a gimmick.

Since an early age, Angeline had been able to freeze water with a touch, whether she wanted to or not.  Her body was cold enough at all times to drop the temperature in any room and make people around her uncomfortable, but she wasn’t cold enough to freeze solid objects.  Thus Bill, the show’s proprietor and chief attraction, had devised a way to fake it.  Cover an object in water and the ice would form around it, leaving every appearance that she’d turned it to ice.  Take the object off stage before it thawed and the illusion fooled everyone.

Angeline crossed to the wooded chair that waited center stage.  She sat, hiking up her skirt in the back so her bare bottom pressed against the wet wood.  She was cold enough that the chair would freeze through her clothes given time, but touching bare skin to the water made the effect immediate, and a sheath of ice formed around the chair with a whip-like crack.

The audience was stunned.  Time to up the stakes.

“Are you hungry, Ice Witch?” asked Jim.  He favored her with a sly smile, and Angeline’s heart jumped.  It was all part of the act, but every time he looked at her that way she got the impression that he was trying to tell her something.  Something he couldn’t say in the evenings when they sat around the campfires smoking cigarettes and trying to ignore what went unspoken between them.

“Why yes!” she said, reciting the lines Bill had written for her verbatim.  “I had a bonfire for breakfast, but that was hours ago.  I’m positively famished!”

“Well then,” he said.  “Let’s see if we can rustle up some vittles.”

Using a shovel, he scooped up a pile of burning wood and ash and held it in front of Angeline.  She made a show of picking through the mess, like a fastidious society woman picking out just the right set of earrings, then settled on a still-flaming length of mesquite wood.  She removed it from the shovel and bit off the end.  She chewed at the wood, trying not to grimace.  She wasn’t burned of course, but that fact didn’t chase the taste of ash from her mouth.  The rest of the wood still burned in her hands.

She finally choked down the small bite she’d taken and held the wood out to Jim.  “All full!  You care for a taste?”

Jim backed away with a comic wave of his arms and the crowd howled with laughter.  “No, thanks, Ice Witch.  I already ate.”

She shrugged and winked.

Angeline and Jim worked through the rest of the act, exchanging staged smiles and artificial flirts, drawing laughter and shocked screams from the crowd.  Angeline did not always like life with the Wild West Show, but she treasured the actual performances.  The give and take with Jim.  The way she could almost convince herself that that Jim’s affections were something more than just the act.

Every night they danced.

But they never, ever touched.

*     *     *

The wagon bounced toward the next town and Angeline lay awake on her back, staring up at a canvas sky.  It was worn thin and torn open in places and darkness was visible through a series of small holes.  Stars winked on and off as the wagon passed beneath them and Angeline shifted her weight, trying to find a comfortable position.  The long wagon treks from town to town weren’t pleasant, but she was thankful at least that she didn’t have to share her tiny space with anyone else.  The air in such an enclosed space was far too cold for anyone else to stand for long, and in this regard her curse became a blessing.

She entertained dreams of sharing her sanctuary with Jim, but banished them like always.  Instead, she thought of them below the open sky, the moments shared after every show.  Once he’d surprised her with a kiss on the lips, but the result had been an unpleasant few hours for him.  Since then, he’d kept his distance, but he hadn’t blamed her.

She tried not to remember how wonderful it had been.

This afternoon’s show had been a particular success, and one of the drunk men had even slipped Jim a few coins worth of tip.  He split it with Angeline after the show.

“It ain’t much,” he’d said.  They stood together amid the chaos of a folding tents, mustered horsemen and circling wagons.  “Might buy a little fresh tobacco if we ever reach another town big enough to support a store.”

“Thanks, Jim,” she said, noticing the way he made sure not to touch her when he dropped the coins in her hand.

“Speaking of tobacco.”  He handed her a cigarette from his pocket and took one out for himself.  He struck a match on his boot heel and lit them both.  She took it and smiled her thanks.

Jim stared out across the plains, watching the sun melt against the horizon.  He was leaning against one of the wagons and she stood beside him, smoking her cigarette so she’d have something to do with her hands.  She stared at him and wondered what he though about when they were together.  Jim had never told her how he felt, either before or after the kiss, but she knew.  It was there in the way he always had a wink for her.  Or the way he was always on the verge of putting his arms around her before remembering exactly what she was.  He made excuses to be around her even on days they didn’t have a show, and sometimes he’d stare into her eyes without saying a word, as if he were trying to convey his love without admitting it aloud.

Jim turned away from the sunset and caught her staring at him.  He grinned.  “I can’t wait to get rolling again.  This place is too damned hot to linger.”

Angeline took that as her queue to inch closer.  She made sure her arm didn’t touch his.

“What this place needs is some rain,” said Jim.  “I’m surprised the trees ain’t burst into flames yet.”

“I don’t mind it being dry.”  Angeline cast a nervous glance at the cloudless sky.

“I do,” said Jim.  “We need one of them big plains thunderstorms to roll through here and wash this place clean.  Maybe I need to do a rain dance.”

Angeline chuckled in spite of herself.  “A rain dance?  Where’d you learn to do that?”

“I haven’t learned it yet, but I’ve been thinking.  Wouldn’t that be a way to draw in the crowds?  The Show rolls into a place like this where all the cattle are dying of thirst and the farmers can’t get nothing to grow.  Then I come out there in a big old Indian headdress and stomp around a while.”

Jim flicked his cigarette at the ground and began dancing in a circle.  His boots kicked up clouds of sand as he waved his arms and screamed a few words of Cherokee he’d picked up from the men who tended the snakes.  Angeline laughed in spite of herself.  Finally, Jim stopped, tipped his hat and gave a bow.

“People won’t pay to see you do that.”

“No, but when I learn how to do it the right way they will.  All of a sudden the sky will open up and they’ll know I’m the genuine article.  Hell, Bill will have to raise my pay.”

“You can’t really make it rain like that.”

“Sure you can,” said Jim.  “The Indians have been doing it for generations.  You reckon there’s a Creek or a Kiowa left in these parts knows how to do it?  What I’ve got to do is find someone like that to teach me how.  You hear of anyone, you let me know.”

Jim was given to fancy, and Angeline loved to hear him talk about the future and his wild plans.  But she often had trouble telling if he was pulling her leg or being serious.

“That’s just a tall tale,” she said.

“No, that’s Indian magic.  You just have to believe in it.”

“Well I don’t.”

“How can you say that?” asked Jim.  He fixed her with a probing stare and she realized this wasn’t just one of his wild ideas.  “If there isn’t magic in the world, how do you explain what you can do?”

“That’s not magic,” she snapped.  “That’s science.  There’s something different about my body.  Something they haven’t found a cure for yet.”

Jim scooted closer, until his shirtsleeve touched her bare arm.  She flinched.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Angeline.”

“The hell there isn’t.”

"You have a gift.  And it is magic, whether you think of it that way or not.  If it wasn’t for that, you wouldn’t be here at all.”

No, she wouldn’t.  She’d be back East with her family.  Probably married to one of the Easterman boys like her mother had always talked about.  She’d be living a normal life among normal people.  There hadn’t been a day since she left Virginia that she hadn’t cursed the gift that had driven her away.

“My Daddy didn’t think it was magic,” she said with a tremor in her speech.

Jim seemed to realize their conversation was drifting precariously close to subjects he wasn’t ready to explore.  He pushed away from the wagon and shoved his hands in his pockets.  “Guess I need to help load up.”

Angeline nodded, not trusting her voice.

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” said Jim, walking away.  “Magic or not, what you got is damned sure a gift.”

Now, huddled inside her lumbering wagon, she still wasn’t sure if Jim believed his own talk about magic.  This was the man who could spin tales about talking bears and traveling around the country with some giant named Paul Bunyan without cracking a smile.  He was a showman.  A professional liar.  Fantasy was part of his business.

But he’d seemed so earnest this time, and Angeline prayed that it was just another of his jokes.  She imagined Jim, dressed up like an Indian, feet stamping the ground, and she could almost hear the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Her Daddy had taught her to fear the rain.

Angeline could bathe by moving ice across her body a bit at a time.  And she could work with small quantities of water, shaping it and controlling the ice formation as she did with Purdy’s baubles.  In fact, one of the things that made her so popular with the other attractions was her ability to produce ice for their drinking water on a hot day.  Edgar often commented that he’d tasted more ice in Oklahoma than he ever had in Baltimore, and the fact that Angeline could repay her friends’ kindness in this small way made her happy.

Water in manageable amounts posed no threats to Angeline.  But she hadn’t submerged herself in water since the day she’d grown cold as her Daddy called it, and she’d taken care to avoid the rain.  She often had nightmares about being caught out on the plains without shelter.  Ugly storm clouds erasing the blue sky, lightning bolts screaming to the ground, and rain coming down like a falling ocean, covering her, hardening, turning her into a frozen shell.  Her screams cut short by suffocation.  She’d wake up sweating. Wishing someone could hold her without getting frostbite.  Wishing she’d have let her Daddy kill her like she knew he’d wanted to.

She’d always loved rainstorms.  Before.

Angeline shut her eyes and tried not to dream.

*     *     *

Three weeks later, in another town that hardly warranted the name, Angeline waited behind the tent for Jim.  She loved their cigarette dates and when Jim missed them, it left her in a funk the rest of the day.  The show that day had gone particularly well.  The crowd had shown the appropriate degree of astonishment and every effect had gone off without a hitch.

Gunshots and applause cracked in the distance.  She waited a few more minutes, wondering if she should just go and watch the roping exhibition or one of the hatchet throwers for the thousandth time.  Maybe help the Queen of Beards clean dishes.  Then an Indian man appeared in front of her wearing a threadbare brown suit, removed his hat and smiled.  Age grooved his face, and his eyes were mismatched storms.  One was the harsh gray of approaching menace and the other the pale pink light that colors the clouds when the storm has passed.  They were eyes that had seen more hardship than any human should have to bear.  Angeline understood this, but didn’t know why.  She felt a shiver go through her as the man continued to stare, and it felt as if he was giving her a bit of his soul.  And perhaps taking some of hers in return.

“Do you need something?"  Angeline wasn't a rude person by nature, but the man made her nervous.

"No," he replied.  "But perhaps you do."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

The old man reached into a hide bag that dangled from his waist and removed a misshapen block of amber about the size of his fist.  He took one of Angeline's hands in his, placed the amber in her palm and closed her fingers around it.  Pale lights flickered inside the stone, yet Angeline was more astonished by the man's touch.  He continued to hold her hand around the amber.  He hadn't pulled away.  Hadn't even flinched.

"What's this?" she whispered.  The Wild West Show swirled around them like a noisy, colorful maelstrom.  But she and the Indian were apart from it.  In some other world where she could touch and be touched.  Where she watched freaks from the audience, not milled with them backstage.

"This is a choice," he said.  "This is warmth."

Those eyes fixed her again and she understood.

"No more ice?" she asked.

"Release the warmth inside this stone and you will be no different from anyone else.  Keep it intact, and you will remain the Ice Witch."

Angeline shook off his stare and pulled her hands away.  She still held the amber block.  "I don't want to hear any more nonsense about magic.  Why are you doing this?"

The man shook his head sternly.  "This is not magic.  This is nature.  Just like your ability."

Ability?  This man was one of the few who'd ever stopped to consider that what she did could be scientifically explained.  Most folks believed she was an illusionist, and those given to fancy believed her a creature of magic.  Angeline knew it was neither.  Her father's voice howled from the past, calling her a witch.  Cursing the ability she couldn't control.  Calling from his pulpit for fire and a stake.  Seemingly unaware that people were no longer burned for their differences.  But Angeline was not a witch.  Just a woman with a problem.

A problem this amber could solve?

No.  That was impossible.  That was magic.

"Your ability comes from the earth."  The man knelt and sifted the soil through his finger.  "Just as all gifts do.  And curses.  When I was a boy, there was a woman in the tribe who could coax water from a dry stone.  She was beloved of all.  But there was another woman who drew fire from the earth, whether she willed it or not.  Yet her abilities had positive uses as well, and she would not relinquish her ability.  The men drove her into exile.

“Nature touches us for reasons unknown, yet we are not all equipped to bear the life we've been given.  This is why the earth gives us a choice.  You need not live with this ability any more, if you believe it a burden."

"It's not a burden."  She didn't believe her own words.

The man stood and shrugged.  "If this life is for you, then enjoy it.  But if you would leave it behind, then you now have the ability.  I'm only here because your spirit called."

Angeline was fairly certain the man was insane.  And yet that didn't explain the way the world seemed to slow in his presence.  Or the way he touched her.  Light danced inside the stone and she allowed herself to imagine what he said was true.  Breaking open the stone.  Feeling the warmth spread though her body for this first time in fifteen years.  Leaving this place behind and seeing her mother again.

Seeing her father too.

Angeline grimaced as her thoughts turned to burning witches.  She had no real desire to return to Virginia.  Then she thought of the way Jim's lips felt against hers, and she thought of other things.  She stared at the stone in her hand and considered every possibility.  Someone tugged at her dress.  Purdy grinned up at her and touched one tentative finger to the amber.


“Yes it is,” said Angeline.

The wind spun Purdy’s hair into a nest of tangles.  She swatted at the air and giggled.  Angeline allowed her to touch the amber again, holding tight to it so it wouldn’t fall and break.  Wouldn’t that be her luck?  One more choice taken out of her hands.  She realized that magic or not, she believed what the old man told her about the amber.  A hundred questions popped in her mind, but when she looked up from Purdy’s gleaming face the man was gone.

“Did you see where that man went?” she asked.

Purdy shook her head.  Angeline couldn’t tell if that meant she hadn’t seen him leave or that she had no idea who Angeline was talking about.

“Listen, Purdy,” she said.  “Have you seen Jim around?  I’ve got to talk to him.”

Purdy nodded, tearing her gaze reluctantly away from the amber.  She pointed across the show grounds.

“Show me where?”

Purdy nodded and set off into the crowds, dodging a herd of goats wearing beaded saddles.  She led Angeline past the animal cages and sleeping tents and finally stopped short of the swaying grassland that surrounded them.  Purdy pointed to a stand of trees on the outskirts of the show’s temporary domain.

A woman in a romanticized version of a pioneer dress –probably one of the chorus members from the singing troupe– leaned against a tree, and Jim pressed against her.  Their lips were joined in a kiss, and when he pulled away, she laughed and kissed him again.  Jim leaned closer and lifted one of her legs.  It slid from beneath her skirt and he ran one hand along it, letting it linger.  His touch on the woman’s skin.  His lips moving to her neck.

Angeline’s heartache came out in a ragged cough and Purdy stared at her with a concerned expression.  Those hands that had been so afraid to touch her seemed destined to touch every inch of this other woman, and Angeline suddenly fell victim to the realization that there could never be anything between her and Jim.  All the futures she’d imagined with him were built on childish fantasies.  Even if Jim did love her, and that seemed less likely than it had mere moments ago, she couldn’t offer the same things other women could.  Women who could be touched and women whom you could share a room with.  A life with.

Anger coiled in her gut and she bolted for the depths of the grassland.  Purdy called out behind her but Angeline kept moving, desperate to distance herself from Jim and from her whole miserable existence.  Her hands held the amber against her breasts and it filled her chest with a warmth she hadn’t felt in years.  Grass hissed against her legs and the scent of rain rode in from the west on a sudden blast of wind.  Fear momentarily chased away the anger, and she wondered if Jim had somehow managed to bring the rain.  The thought of him stabbed at her heart and she realized that she didn’t care if it rained.  She had her amber choice, and she intended to use it.  And if the old man who’d given it to her was crazy, then she’d die encased in ice.  Either way, she’d be better off.

A slab of rock protruded from the grass and she fell to her knees in front of it.  A raindrop slapped her face and became hail.  Another followed.  Angeline looked up and saw a swirl of gray clouds, one of those sudden, fearsome thunderstorms the region was known for.  The horizon was a green haze and a line of heavy showers marched closer.  It was oddly beautiful, a sight she hadn’t seen since her Daddy had taught her to fear the rain, and she allowed herself a few seconds to admire it.

The amber grew hot in Angeline’s grip, as if understanding its time for usefulness had come.  She tested it against the rock, giving it a sharp tap.  It wouldn’t take much to break the amber, and when she did she could forget about the freak show.  Forget about everything but carving out some semblance of a normal life.  She thought about Jim touching her the way he’d touched the chorus lady and dismissed the idea.  She wasn’t doing this for him; she was doing it for herself.

Purdy reached her side, gasping for breath.  She pointed at the coming rain and whined, knowing Angeline’s aversion.

“Don’t worry, honey,” said Angeline.  “I’ll be fine.”

Tears streaked Purdy’s face and rain began to pelt down around them.  Angeline flushed with new fear.  A few drops wouldn’t hurt, but imagining the ice cocoon that could form in seconds caused her heart to race.  Purdy lunged forward and gave her a crushing hug.  Her arms touched the back of Angeline's neck and Purdy jumped back with a yelp of pain.

“Honey!” said Angeline.  “You know not to touch me.  What are you doing?”

Purdy came at her again, and pulled her close.  Angeline shoved her away and Purdy stood crying in the wind.  Lightning slammed into the ground just beyond the city of blowing tents, and the resultant thunder silenced Angeline’s attempt at protest.  Purdy shook her head violently, as if trying to deny what she must perceive as a suicide attempt.  Angeline’s name carried on the wind, Edgar calling out for her.  She looked up and he was approaching at a run through the tall grass.  The Queen of Beards was behind him and in her wake Seamus the Pincushion, Lady Starvation and several of the others.  They must have seen her flee the camp.  And like Purdy, they wanted to save her from the rain.

Angeline fended off another of Purdy’s hugs.

Then the sky broke open and released a torrent.

Angeline screamed as the rain hammered her, and the amber became so hot she almost dropped it.  She hadn’t felt true heat in so long the pain was almost a curiosity.  Frozen raindrops rang like bits of broken glass as they struck her and bounced away.  She looked at Purdy, knowing she had little time to break the amber if she hoped to save herself, yet not wishing to leave her friend alone in her misery.  The others were close, though their shouts drowned in the downpour.  Angeline scooted across the ground on her knees, feeling the water pooling against the soil begin to solidify beneath her.  She stopped short of giving Purdy a hug, but drew as close to her as she possibly could without causing her further pain.

“I’m fine Purdy.  See this?”  She held the glowing block of amber up for inspection.  “This is going to make everything better.”

Purdy reached for the amber and Angeline allowed her to take it.  It continued to glow, but didn’t seem to burn her hands.  Together, they studied the stone, but when Angeline pulled her gaze away, she realized Purdy was laughing.  A smile broke across her own face in response.

“What’s funny?”

“Rain!” said Purdy.

The raindrops continued to bounce from Angeline’s skin, and she realized the rain had grown even heavier.  Surely this storm was enough to wrap her in ice forever, but it wasn’t doing anything of the sort.  Angeline rose tentatively to her feet and reached her arms out to the side.  The rain was comfortably warm, and she felt the dust of days cleansed from her skin.  Purdy continued to laugh as rain flew from Angeline like a shower of diamonds.  Every drop tickled, and each one brought with it further confirmation that the rain wasn’t going to kill her.  Angeline spun beneath the spilling sky, and her laughter joined Purdy’s.

Angeline lost track of how long she danced, but eventually she was on her knees again, the last of her laughter coming out in fits and starts.  Her surrogate family surrounded her, and Edgar had wrapped his old fur-lined cape around her wet shoulders.  Pink sunlight washed across the world and the storm retreated like the defeated foe that it was.  Frozen raindrops encircled them and Purdy took up handfuls of the stuff and threw it in the air, giggling.  Seamus laughed as it clattered against his head, and the Queen fretted over Angeline like a mother, seizing her through the cape and helping her to her feet.

“You’ll catch your death from the rain, child,” said the Queen.

Angeline grinned, shook her head.  The forgotten piece of amber lay nestled in the ice and Angeline picked it up.  She brushed away a layer of frost from the surface but the Indian’s gift had lost its glow.

“Pur-dee!” Purdy stopped playing and put her hands on the amber.  She seemed far more interested in it now that it was just another bauble for her amusement.  Angeline let her have it.

“For you, honey.”  Angeline watched the joy spread across Purdy’s face.  It was the face of a friend.  A face from this life.  Not the one she’d left behind.

Angeline smiled as her family closed in around her.  Not close enough to touch, and certainly not close enough to hug.

But close enough.




About the Author:

Josh Rountree's short fiction can be found in the anthologies Polyphony 6, From the Trenches, and Book of Shadows, and in the pages of Realms of Fantasy. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two sons. For more information, visit his website at www.joshrountree.com.



Story © 2007 Josh Rountree.