IN SUMMER’S SHADOW • by Kurt Kirchmeier

Her eyes are cloudy, unfocused, but even cataracts can’t mask her last appeal.

“Say it. Say you won’t leave.”

Although her expression speaks only of desperation, I detect a hint of a challenge in my lover’s tone. I squeeze her hand, so fragile now, like her faith in my promise to wait through the winter, to be beside her when she awakes come the spring.

I shake my head. “I could never leave you,” I say, and feel a lump form in my throat at the lie.

She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. Snowsleep is almost upon her. “Remember me as I was,” she says, her once lilting soprano reduced to a rasp. “Remember the summer.”

I smile down at her. “How could I forget?” I say, and this time I speak true. It was a summer like none before, a season of lust and exploration, of burgeoning power and puerile abandon. And promises. So many promises.

My father warned me, told me a child of fire could never pair with one born of storms. “Elementals don’t love, Lyndon,” he said, “they collide. It’s the power that draws you close. Be wary of its wane.”

And oh how it did wane.

Her hair is gray now, her skin a network of tributaries run dry. Three months have passed since the last storm vented its ire in the skies above, three months since Jan last siphoned from its charged vitality. Such is the curse of the stormborn, of those brought forth from the womb as wind stirs chaos in the clouds.

She smiles weakly, as if in fear that an earnest attempt might cause her lips to crack and bleed. “Keep the fire going,” she whispers, and though she glances at the hearth, a subtle inflection betrays a deeper meaning, a reminder of what might happen should my love go astray.

If she only knew that it already had, that the flame guttered and died and was born anew for another, for one not of fire or wind or water or stone, but rather a mortal, a heart untainted by magic’s touch.

I brush her hair away from her eyes. “I will,” I assure her, “I will.” I pause to blink back tears of guilt. Though I vowed to come clean at the last, to shed the burden of compound lies, I can’t bring myself to confess. “Sleep now,” I say instead. “Dream of rain and wind and youth.”

“Of the mountains,” she adds, “and the caves.” The longing in her voice is scarring.

In August’s glory we laid waste to the rocks and caverns beyond the village, she with forks of violet lightning, I with torrents of amber fire. All in the interest of joy and experimentation. Afterwards, we made love, on the grass and in the rain.

There are a thousand legends that tell of those such as us; a thousand legends that warn of adoration turned to anger, of towns and cities razed. I was a fool for thinking that we’d be different, a fool for imagining that I could content myself with but a single season a year. I should have listened to my father.

I lean in for a final kiss, and feel her wrinkled hand fall away from my own as she slips into a sleep that will span the season. For a moment, I remain, her words an echo in my mind. “Keep the fire going,” she said, and so I will.

After one last glance at her weathered face, I turn to the hearth and utter a spell to hold the flame through three months and more. I then abandon her to her sleep, knowing that one day we’ll meet again, and that she’ll find me in the arms of another.

Come spring she’ll awaken. Come summer we’ll collide.

Kurt Kirchmeier writes in Saskatchewan.

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