The sun was just beginning to set when Rayvin’s beaten red Plymouth Horizon passed the sign indicating the exit for Talbot. Several suitcases and boxes were tied down to the roof and covered with a secure tarp. They weighed down the hatchback, causing the vehicle to fishtail slightly in the thin slush coating the highway as it swerved to make the turn. The loaded small trailer covered with a second tarp and a web of bungee-cords followed suit, wavering from side to side for a moment as Rayvin adjusted her speed. Reaching back to rub the nape of her neck, the back of her hand pushed against the carved hairpin keeping her long, curly auburn hair in its bun; the pin slid free, falling somewhere behind her seat, and the locks spilled down around her shoulders. Sighing with irritation, she changed hands, keeping one firmly on the wheel while the other gingerly patted the boxes and bags crowding the backseat, searching for the hairpin. Her eyes stayed on the road, though she wasn’t concerned about the route. No matter that half a lifetime had passed since she had last travelled this road; she still knew exactly where each hill would be, the precise moment when a curve began and when the pavement straightened again.
Time seemed to have come to a standstill in this relatively remote corner of northeastern Ontario. The environment seemed unchanged in spite of the decade that had gone by after she had thumbed her final ride on the shoulder of this road, determined never to come back to Talbot. Memories came wandering unbidden and unwelcome to the forefront of her mind, as she gave up on the search for the hairpin and draped the length of her hair around the back of the headrest to keep it out of her way.
When Rayvin had hitch-hiked her way out of Talbot, ten years earlier, she had vowed to cut her hair as soon as she had settled. It would be part of her fresh start, her new life; she would change the colour, bleach away the red to platinum blonde, trim the curl down to a sleek pixie. Anything but the straggly, flaming mane that, she felt, marked her so clearly as different. It had been a banner, attracting attention. She had felt clearly the hostility on people’s faces as she passed them on the main street for the last time, chin high, heading for the beginning of the highway and whichever motorist would be kind enough to help her begin her journey to a new life. She had walked away from the only home she’d ever known with nothing but her backpack, filled to bursting and carving painful red marks into her shoulders. The whispers from onlookers peering out of open shop doors had followed her like the malevolent humidity, both urging her on and dragging her down. Her chest had felt so tight, and her eyes had been dry and burning, when she had passed the boy with the deep brown eyes. If there was anyone who would have believed her, she liked to think it would have been Grant Michaels.
They had rarely spoken, but she had liked the sound of Grant’s voice, the things he had said, and the way he had looked at her when they passed in school, with appreciation, interest, and respect. She would have liked to have gotten to know him better, and to have been friends. They might even have dated, were it not for his interfering, perverted friends. But he had turned his back on her, just like the rest, after her disastrous date with his best friend. The appreciation, interest and respect she had felt from him had changed in one night into hatred, anger, and disgust. Maybe even fear.
Rayvin had always felt his regard for her in the background and taken it as a comfort; after everything that happened, she missed it terribly. Without the kindness of a nice boy, her world had felt that much smaller and colder. Not even Andrea, her dearest friend and almost-sister, could fill that sudden emptiness. It felt much like when her mother had died.
In this way, unwanted and under pressure, Rayvin had left Talbot the day after her nineteenth birthday.
In her vehicle, her hands resting on the wheel, she recalled the sudden feeling of liberation as she had crossed the town limits, the glorious rush of hope and freedom that had filled every cell of her body when she had felt she had achieved her escape from accusation, anger, and fear. She could reinvent herself, and she would, in a place where anonymity was a gift. She would start with her hair.
But when the moment finally came, weeks later in the city, she couldn’t do it. Her hair was too much a part of her identity. Maybe Talbot was, too, in spite of her history. Her throat tightened as she wished once more that she had found some other alternative to coming back, and prayed to Goddess that time had healed what she could not.
It hadn’t been for lack of trying. She had gained her abilities as a healer from her mother. After Jason was hurt, she had at least attempted to do the right thing, but she had forgotten her mother’s final lesson. Some things could not be fixed, with medicine, or with magick. Things like broken vertebrae, and terminal cancer.
“It’s just how things are, my darling,” Rowan Woods had whispered from her hospital bed. She’d looked so small and pale. Rayvin recalled the shock of seeing her mother’s once-beautiful red hair lying against her scalp in a thin, limp layer, and how Rowan’s thin frail face had frightened her. “I will miss you growing up. You will need me but I will not be there, physically.”
“We haven’t tried everything,” Rayvin had protested. “There are still a lot of herbs, and spells, way in the back of the book!” The tears filling her eyes had blurred her vision, making her mother appear to be surrounded by a halo.
Rayvin smiled sadly at the memory. Her determination to put a broken body back together had been just as strong in her late teens as it had been when she was seven and losing her mother, but it had taken those two failed attempts at spellwork to make her realize the limits of her power. She still wondered if her own feelings toward the injured boy had interfered with the magick, in spite of her efforts to put those emotions aside. No one aside from Andrea had known that she had tried to heal Jason. At least the humiliation of her failure hadn’t spread like the other rumours about her. If it had worked, she wouldn’t have had to leave the only life she’d ever known.
She wouldn’t have had to walk away from the woods where her mother had taught her to respect magick. Rayvin had never grown to love the silence and the solitude of the bush, as her mom had, but she had gained an appreciation for it. She wondered if she would still be able to find the trails where her mother had shown her how to recognize helpful and harmful flowers, roots, berries, trees, and herbs.
What would her life have been like, if she’d been able to heal Jason? If he’d never been hurt in the first place? She might still be living in the gable room in Andrea’s house, her door across from Andrea’s door. She might have avoided some of the pain that she was now hoping to leave behind her. She would have tended her mother’s grave as faithfully as she’d once vowed. Andrea had promised to look after it, but Rayvin still felt guilty about abandoning her mother’s remains. Visiting her would be one of her first priorities, once she got settled in.
Lost in her thoughts, the appearance of red and blue pulsating lights in her rearview mirrors escaped her attention for a full five minutes. A brief pulsing siren woke her up. Shock and disbelief exploded in her chest and throat, as much from interrupted anticipation of the journey’s end as from interrupted anticipation of the journey’s end as from embarrassment. Her heart accelerated with adrenaline, and she had to fight the urge to accelerate.
Buy Links: Wind and Shadow is available from Melange Books in PDF, on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords, or in paperback!