Will-O’-The-Wisp

The Blog-o-shere is an interesting world. Some blogs come and go quickly, some hang in there, with time proving a dogged and admirable perseverance. Some fascinate with the voice of their writing and others with their content. Some manage both.

One of the things that fascinates me most about this cyber world is the interaction with people I will probably never know, but who I let into my living room with their words on a  weekly basis. There are some I’ve interacted with for several years now. I can’t pin down the exactly quality that drew me to one blog over another and kept me coming back but I can say that this adventure came from one of those blogs.

J.C. Wolfe posts everything from short stories, to odd word definitions (and I thought I was good with vocal. This woman puts me to shame!) to What If writing prompts. I love it. This blog feeds my inner nerd.

Here’s the prompt that planted the seed for this adventure:

What if… you saw a will-o’-the-wisp while you were out camping with your friends?

I veered a bit from the original prompt but the gist is there. Thanks, J.C. for the idea for this!

Will-O’-The-Wisp

Photo courtesy of Sebring's Snapshots

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots

Within the glowing red coals of the campfire, you picture his face. The narrow nose and cheekbones of a boy too small for his age. The brilliant emerald eyes reflecting a lively spirit barely contained in his tiny frame. The two short scars over his left eyebrow, the only remnants of a fight another boy started, picking on him for his short stature, but that Alex finished.

You’d stood beside him in that fight, fending off the bully’s friends. You fingers find the longer scar running half the length of your arm that you earned from one of the other’s rings when he punched you.

That was only one of many fights you’d stood together in, but now you find yourself alone beside the dying fire.

Alex should be sitting beside you, recounting the many times you’d gone exploring the marshes. But he’d lost his last fight, his fight with the will-o’-the-wisp, and you hadn’t been beside him.

You’d shown up late to the campsite that night. Everyone knows the dangers of the marshes, so it’s standard practice to only go in groups.

Alex had wanted to build a lean-to to sleep in. He assured you he’d only be out here alone during the daylight and so you arranged to join him after work.

You showed up maybe a half hour after sunset, found the lean-to, found a smoldering fire, but no Alex.

“He’s just gone,” Mr. Leon, the head of the search party, tried to console you when they gave up.

“It’s only been a few nights,” you protested but none of them listened. Their downturned eyes told you stronger than any words their fear of the night and the haunting reality that Alex was just another victim of the marshes.

But Alex would never give up on you if the will-o’-the-wisp pulled you away from safety.

The coals at your feet glow a dull, angry red. Soon, you tell yourself, soon the wisp will find you and entice you from the camp. And you’ll follow it into the dark marshes, chasing the elusive flame, because somewhere out there Alex waits for you to find him.

The lids of your eyes droop. You slump against the outside wall of Alex’s lean-to with your legs outstretched and ankles crossed, waiting. Time creeps along, sluggish. You watch those angry coals flicker around the edges like the heat dances on the edges.

You jerk. No sleep. You cannot sleep or you’ll miss the wisp.

But the coals at your feet are almost black now and the night hangs heavy and dark. How long you snoozed you can’t say because clouds and trees cover the sky.

Stupid, you scold, stupid. You had one task and instead you fel—

A flicker over your left shoulder makes you freeze. Slowly, you turn your head.

blue-flames-1630978There, distant but there, flickers an ice blue light. It dances between the trees, ghosting closer, then farther, then closer again as though it’s waltzing.

Everyone says a will-o’-the-wisp will follow you if you try to move away but chasing one is futile.

You hadn’t thought beyond finding it and following it. But how to go about that?

Do you…

A. Stay still until it’s close?

or

B. Try to follow it?

Will-O’-The-Wisp Option A: Stay Still

When you were very young, you tried to chase a will-o’-the-wisp. It teased you, getting almost within reach before ghosting away so quickly that you stumbled into the swamp in your attempt to follow it.

blue-flames-1630978So now you hold very still beside the dead coals of your fire and watch that ice blue flame dancing its way toward you. It weaves an erratic pattern amongst the trees that leaves an imprint on the backs of your lids every time you blink.

You try not to blink. Try to hold that wisp in your sight like you captured it there.

Then it’s across from you in your camp, wavering with the soft breeze.

“You brave the night for your friend?”

You stifle a gasp. In all the stories of the wisps, you’ve never heard of one speaking. The voice doesn’t even sound solid. It mixes with the breeze like a soft sigh, barely audible.

“Yes,” you answer and the wisp dances away for a moment as your exhale seems to push on it.

You hold your breath and it ghosts back to its original position.

“Will you brave more? Will you brave the water and the marsh, the light and the wind?”

You’re not sure what all that means but before your nerves make you question your goal, you say, “Yes.”

The wisp giggles and the breeze tickles your ear.

“Then follow if you can.” And the flame darts away with the same breeze that tickled you moments before.

You bolt out of the camp after it. Within moments, water soaks into your shoes and the bottoms of your pant legs.

The flame dances in place as you slog after it and that giggle floats by you again. The wisp might be playing with you but by now, it’s the only light you have to go by.

Once you’re a bit closer, it takes off again, ghosting through the trees just at the edges of your sight.

a-real-swampland-in-florida-1374930Your right leg sinks into the marsh up to mid-thigh. Before it sinks farther, you grab a tree trunk and try to pull free but the mud around your foot tries to suction your shoe from your toes.

You place your left foot on a root in an almost painful splits move and try to pull your foot free in a forward motion to push your shoe on while you free your foot. With a ‘s-w-u-i-c-k’, the mud releases you and you almost stumble forward into an even deeper part.

Braced against a tree, you take in your surroundings.

The wisp is nowhere in sight. The marsh’s heavy air closes in against your skin and the dark cuts everything off about five feet in any direction.

A giggle bounces around the otherwise silent marsh.

“Step carefully now,” that soft voice cautions, “to brave the marsh and the wind.”

Panic wants to steal your courage as you realize you’ve no sense of where you are.

“Brave the marsh and the wind,” the voice whispers again and this time there’s a direction to it.

With the dark, you can’t really tell solid ground from marsh, but you can tell the slight white shimmer off of the roots of trees. One careful step at a time, you move from tree trunk to tree trunk toward the direction of the voice.

A circle appears on the ground in front of you, deeper, inky black than the rest of the night. No tree trunks appear for you to keep moving.

“Brave,” the voice whispers on a gust of air.

That damp air picks up harder and then, with a solid push, it howls. Your feet slide off the root you’re standing on and your fingers only grasp air as your try to keep your balance.

You tumble into that inky black hole and find yourself falling through nothing. The wind howls and then your fingers clamp onto what feels like a vine. The muscles in your shoulder protest but you hold on and get your other hand on the vine.

The wind pulls and gusts, trying to break you free.

“Let go,” the voice howls with it.

Do you…

Aa. Hang on?

Or

Ab. Let go?

Will-O’-The-Wisp Option Ab: Let Go

With the wind howling past you, going up isn’t an option. You debate hanging on and hoping the wind will let up but serious cypress-sentries-duotone-1457769doubts plague you about whether or not you can hold out long enough.

Plus, the wisp told you to “Brave the wind,” and you trusted it this far.

With a gulp and a squeezing tight of your eyes, you let go. Your stomach lurches and for a moment your dinner threatens to find its way out your throat. It burns and your muscles tighten like you’re choking. But then everything relaxes even though you’re still falling. There’s a moment of weightlessness. The wind still howls and whips around but you’re part of it, moving but without sensation.

All perception of movement comes to a perfect standstill. The darkness turns to a dull gray like predawn and, below your feet, you’re looking at what appears to be sky.

But you’re not falling any longer. Your feet stay in the air, pointing at that dull sky.

You glance up and see the circular hole you fell through. Wind still buffets you from that hole, like a jet of water, it keeps you suspended in place but gravity feels upside down now. You wiggle away from the wind and find dirt beneath your hands.

When you attempt to put your feet on that dirt, you flip back over. You’re in a perpetual handstand in an upside down world. So you walk on your hands with your feet up in the air.

After getting over this impossibility, you start exploring this world.

clouds-in-pond-1492637Trees hang with their roots free and their leaves and branches buried in the soil…above you. You cross over several half buried branches and around large, umbrella like plumages of trees.

A glow catches your attention. There’s a blue hue to it that reminds you of the wisp. Waddling on your hands, you approach and stop just within the leaves of a branch sticking out of the ground. You have to push the branch up a bit, against the dirt above your head since your face sits so close to the ground, but then you blink. It’s the oddest thing yet.

It’s a field. Trees surround it on all sides with their roots spread wide to the gray sky. Their trunks are lit in the bluish hue cast from the crop in the field.

A crop of people. Their hands and arms are buried up to the elbows with their bare toes pointed toward the sky. Those nearest you appear solid, fully normal except for the awkward position of their planting.

Beyond the more normal looking people is where the glow starts. The third and fourth rows of people seem to emit a blue light from their skin.

The next rows grow progressively less solid looking and more blue fire-esque.

Between the rows flit bits of fire. Wisps tending their crop.

Horror ties a knot inside you. So many people being changed into little bits of flame.

Your eye snags on a familiar face.

Alex.

He’s planted like the others on the far left edge of the field.

Around him glows a faint bluish hue but he’s in the second row. His skin hasn’t turned yet.

Do you try to free Alex now or wait for a time when the wisps go away?

Ab1. Free Him Now?

Or 

Ab2 Wait?

Will-O’-The-Wisp Option Ab2: Wait

Maybe if you were right side up and could run, or crouch, or simply move like a regular human being, you’d consider freeing Alex now. But you’re stuck walking on your hands like some circus act and you’re pretty sure you’ll eat dirt if you try to move too fast.

So wait it is.

tree-branches-1461022You let the tree branch you’ve been holding return to its usual spot and back away from the field a few hands. Even with the branches obscuring most of your view, the faint blue light from the crop and the wisps filters through the leaves. The crop doesn’t move, so the wavering quality of the light is either the branches swaying or the wisps moving about. Since there’s no wind, you assume the flickers come from the wisps.

You lean your feet against a tree in an attempt to relieve your shoulders but the ache around the base of your neck doesn’t recede.

You continue to fidget until you realize that you can lie down. Now comfortably on your stomach, you shuffle forward to peek beneath the branch.

You come face to face with a blue flame.

Although your body wants to run, the flicker of transparent blue holds you. It weaves back and forth in an undulating motion that draws your eyes right and left.

“Brave,” whispers in your ears, “and possibly stupid.” There’s a long sigh that pulls tears to your eyes. So much emotion plays through that single, almost inaudible sound. “No one comes this far for a friend.”

“I do,” you say. Your voice comes out soft for your human voice but here, where words play on the wind, it sounds harsh and loud.

“You do,” the wisp agrees. “For that, I will help you take your friend home. Will you be brave one more time?”

You nod instead of voicing your agreement.

“Hold your breath.”

Before you can react, the wisp rushes over you and you’re wreathed in flames.

A scream threatens to escape but the wisp hushes you as though anticipating the reaction.

“Hold your breath and walk with me.”

The flame surrounding you does not burn, you realize. It caresses your skin like a glove and nudges you to walk into the field of humans.

You walk, following the gentle nudging of the flame surrounding you.

“Walk to your friend,” the wisp instructs and moves with you as you move, on your hands, to face Alex.

His eyes are alert and he grins when he makes out your face within the flames.

“Dig him up,” whispers the wisp.

Balanced on one hand, you scoop dirt away from Alex’s arms until he’s able to pull his hands free.

“Now race for the hole and dive into it. You must dive feet first. Now go. I can protect you no longer,” the wisp leaves your skin and rushes away through the field, making the planted humans sway away from its wake of wind.

Alex grins and you both take off, racing on your hands for the hole in the swamp.

Blue flame races after you.

“Watch this,” Alex yells and spins to run on his hands backwards. He puffs up his cheeks and blows a gust of air at the chasing wisps. His breath seems to push on them, forcing them backwards for a moment.

blue-flames-1630978You alternate who runs backward to push the wisps back until you reach the hole. For a moment, you have to pause, to catch your breath and fight off the giggles threatening to overcome you.

“Time to dive,” you tell Alex and, just before the wisps overtake you, you both spring from your hands and dive feet first into the hole.

The world goes topsy-turvy and your equilibrium flips in a way most unsettling to your stomach.

Then you find yourself clinging to a tree root in the light of day of the swamp. Alex gages beside you, retching into the hole you just left.

“That was crazy!” he exclaims as soon as he can talk. “And no one will ever believe us!”

You give him a long look. “They might,” you say and pull his hand up so he can see his skin. It glows a faint blue. In the daylight, it’s hard to see, but when night falls, he’ll light up a campsite with an azure glow.

“Well, that’s new,” he says but the change to his skin can’t keep the grin from his face for long.

The End

Yay! You succeeded at saving Alex. Well done!

Blessings and see you for the next adventure starting on the 6th,

Jennifer