|I bought this image from Shutterstock, it's not cover art or anything like that. But cool, right?|
If anyone is keeping track, this post went live on March 20th at 5:45pm CDT, which is the exact moment of the vernal equinox--the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator. So...happy spring everyone!
At this magically important moment, I'd like to share your first taste of book 3 in The December People Series. Introducing...A TASTE OF DEATH AND HONEY.
Wind moaned through the greenbelt, whipping and twisting the plastic shopping bags stuck in the trees. Samantha Carthage played with Imogene's long black curls, relishing the warmth and weight of Imogene's head resting on her stomach. Samantha's own hair had grown long and intermingled with Imogene's. The blackest black and lightest blonde looked so perfect together. She wanted to braid their hair together into one strand.
Another gust of stubborn winter air caused an army of discarded fast food containers to tumble across their patch of fresh green clover. Samantha ran her fingers along the goose bumps that erupted on Imogene’s brown skin.
"You don't have to pretend it's not cold," Samantha said. "We can go inside."
"Inside?" Imogene sat up and widened her amber eyes in a look of mock horror.
Samantha laughed. "Okay, you're right.”
Imogene held her hair back with one hand to keep it from whipping wildly in the breeze, and leaned down to kiss Samantha. Samantha thought Imogene always tasted like honey. Imogene would roll her eyes and say that on her best days she might taste like toothpaste or cinnamon gum, but no, she tasted like honey. Always.
"It's not cold," Imogene said. "It’s the most beautiful day of the year."
Samantha knew Imogene meant this as a compliment for her, and not the day. Despite the fact that wizard spring had long since begun—spanning 45 days before and after the equinox--and despite the fact that they defiantly wore sandals, no one could call the cold, gray day beautiful.
However, Samantha could not imagine a day better than that particular March 4th. Over a year ago, when the summer wizards had determined her magical date to as March 4th, they labeled her as ‘too cold’…on the wrong side of the equinox they had explained. So, at first, she didn't like her date. Too warm for the winter. Too cold for the summer. She didn't have a home anywhere.
But, she didn't feel that way anymore. March 4th hovered in the gray area between winter and spring, but that's why she loved it. March 4th breaks the winter. The first flowers began to raise their heads. She first felt sun on her face and knew winter would end soon. And that beautiful moment was her moment.
Though much of the grass remained dead from winter, they had found a spot where the ground had erupted in a lush carpet of clover. Samantha could almost smell the life bursting from the earth, ready to replace every touch of gray with green after green after green.
Imogene stood up and pulled Samantha up with her. "Lets not go inside. Lets just go. Further and further away until they drag us back."
Imogene ran deeper into the greenbelt surrounding the neighborhood that contained Metarie Parrish Children's Shelter. Discarded syringes, condom wrappers, and other filth littered the thin, trashed-out greenbelt. But spring didn't care. Spring seemed to blossom around Imogene as she half walked, half skipped along. Greens glowed a little brighter. Flowers opened a little wider.
"I can't believe that Officer Pike didn't see us leave campus. I thought for sure, he would catch us," Samantha said.
"I guess the gods wanted us to have a happy day," Imogene said.
Imogene always looked happy. Samantha saw the weariness of a hard life in Imogene’s amber eyes, but her lips always lingered on the edge of a smile. She seemed to know something no one else did, about how it would all turn out okay in the end. Around Imogene, Samantha felt that way, too.
Samantha would never forgive her mother for neglecting her and leaving her, but she took her last words to her to heart. Dance then, wherever you may be. That described Imogene perfectly. She could find beauty anywhere. She could make the trashed out greenbelt with graffiti covered rocks feel like Eden.
"Oh, no," Imogene said.
Imogene kneeled and her long black curls fell to the ground covering whatever she cradled in her hands.
Samantha also kneeled in the carpet of dense green moss that seemed to have erupted from nowhere, and gently pulled Imogene's hair to the side so she could see what she held. Imogene had a baby bird in her hands. The poor bird looked crushed on one side, and Samantha could see some reddish purple guts spilling out. Ants feasting on the creature now walked up Imogene's forearms. Samantha tried to brush them off.
"Put it down," she said gently, trying not to swat the disgusting thing about her hands. "It's already dead."
"I'm not sure."
"It's definitely dead." Samantha pulled Imogene's hair away from the dead thing. She wanted to jump up and down going 'ewewewewewew' and then drag Imogene to a vat of hand sanitizer. But Samantha knew Imogene wouldn't appreciate her finding the "beautiful" cycle of life and death icky.
"I feel more powerful when I'm with you," Imogene said simply. Despite the tenderness of the statement, Imogene didn’t look at Samantha as she spoke. She never took her eyes off the bird. "I wonder…"
Imogene closed her hands around the bird and closed her eyes. She looked like a child praying at the edge of her bed. Samantha watched flyaway strands of Imogene's hair twist and twirl in the breeze and listened to the sound of wind and cars on the nearby highway, wondering how long Imogene planned on kneeling there in silence.
Then Samantha heard chirping.
Imogene laughed breathlessly, and opened her hands to reveal a whole, living baby bird, shaking the ants off of its wings. She held it up to Samantha in her cupped hands as if offering a present. Samantha didn’t know if Imogene wanted her to take it, but she didn’t dare touch the thing. When Samantha didn’t respond, Imogene set the bird on the ground and watched it hop away. Her usual smile looked pale in comparison to the beaming white-toothed smile she sported now. Imogene stood up and threw herself into Samantha's arms, giggling like a small child on Christmas.
Samantha squeezed her back, but now she felt a chill even with Imogene pressed against her.
"Imogene…," she said.
Imogene pulled back a little and looked ready to do a cartwheel. "I did it. I finally did it. I've gotten close before."
Tears hung from Imogene’s eyelashes like crystals. Samantha could guess the time she had "gotten close". However, Imogene had never told Samantha that part of the story. Meddling with life and death was forbidden. And there wasn’t much sense in trying. Wizards couldn’t raise the dead. They just couldn’t. Everyone knew that.
"You can't do that," Samantha said lamely. "It's not possible."
"You just saw me do it."
"God. What are you?"
"Please don't look at me like that."
Imogene wrapped her arms around Samantha and whispered close to Samantha's ear. "You're the reason I could finally do it. Because you make me happy," she said simply.
"Me too," Samantha said. The two words didn't seem like enough. "I love you," she added.
They hadn't said 'I love you' before, and with every silent second that passed, Samantha's stomach turned into a tighter ball. Why doesn't she say something? In fact, Imogene had grown so still and quiet in Samantha's arms she wondered if she had stopped breathing. Samantha wished she could reach back and grab those three words back, go back to a place before she had ruined that perfect moment. Samantha took a deep breath of Imogene's hair, hair that somehow always smelled like rain.
When Imogene finally moved she pulled back just enough to look Samantha in the eye. Samantha didn’t know what expression she expected, maybe pity, maybe embarrassment, maybe happy speechlessness, but Imogene just looked distracted. She looked through Samantha instead of at her. Her perpetually happy face, that overflowed with job a moment ago, now seemed cast in shadow.
"Are you okay?"
When Samantha spoke, Imogene directed her gaze back to her and she smiled sadly. As always, her smile had that faint hint of a secret, but a darker one this time.
Samantha shivered. Clouds must have rolled in because it seemed so much darker and colder than it had a moment ago. Samantha looked up automatically, but didn’t see any new clouds or even a low flying plane blocking the sun, just the same white sky. She couldn’t stop herself from shivering now. The air felt cold, but also painfully dry. Even with a deep breath, she didn’t seem to get enough oxygen. The air, once filled with the smells of new grass and the sounds of the highway, had emptied as if a pocket of deep space had passed over them.
“What is going on?” Samantha asked, rubbing her arms, which seemed to burn from the cold. Imogene continued to stare blankly, her eyes not focused on anything. “Are you okay?” She asked again.
"Yes. I'm okay. I'm wonderful." Imogene blinked and seemed to snap out of her reverie. She looked at Samantha now as if she had just now noticed her presence. She smiled and then kissed her, in a gentle, lingering way, far slower than usual.
Then, Imogene turned and ran. Punchdrunk form the kiss, it took Samantha a moment to follow.
"Imogene," she cried.
Imogene followed all sorts of strange things. Butterflies. Rainbows. Sunsets. Thunderstorms. She might run toward anything at any moment. But something about this felt different. It felt wrong.