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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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,”
“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
“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
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
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
"No," he replied. "But
perhaps you do."
"What's that supposed to
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
"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? 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
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
"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
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 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
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
“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
“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
Angeline smiled as her
family closed in around her. Not close enough to touch, and
certainly not close enough to hug.
But close enough.