Ray sucked his thumb and tasted metal. Dread Girl's spear was tipped with a blade-shaped leaf instead of an iron point, and the leaf was not merely shaped like a blade.
"Was that necessary?" she said.
"I'm a slow learner," Ray said. He squeezed his wounded thumb. Three drops of blood fell onto the ashy earth, all in a row like Orion's Belt.
Dread Girl planted the spear and placed the helm on top of it. The conjured panoply turned back into a sapling. Ray watched, awestruck. She drew lazy circles in the air with her fingertips. Fallen twigs assembled themselves into little stick-men. They did handsprings and cartwheels and tugged on the hem of Ray's pants.
"Much has been taken from this place," she said. "I will show you more another time, if you like."
"Magic," Ray said. "Cool."
"I thought you would have doubts," she said.
Ray held up his thumb. "Anything that makes me bleed counts as real. Besides, I told you I see things differently."
"When I showed you before, you thought that I had drugged you," she said.
"I've tried enough things that I can tell the difference," Ray said.
"True," she said. "Your shamanic experience would have prepared your mind. That may save your life one day."
"While I would love to gloat about all of this to my high school guidance counselor," Ray said, "I don't think taking shrooms and trying to get laid at music festivals counts as shamanic experience."
"Oh, but you're wrong," Dread Girl said. She placed her hand on his chest and guided him backwards until he touched the sapling.
"What are you doing?" he said.
"Teaching you. Shh." Dread Girl walked slow circles around the sapling, around Ray, grazing his shoulders and chest with her fingertips. On her third circle, she stopped behind him and held her hands over his eyes. He shivered.
"You light fires against the endless night." She uncovered his eyes and traced his earlobes, his cheeks, and underneath his chin.
"You beat drums to cast demons from your hearts." She ripped open his button-up, slipped her long, slender arms beneath his, and held Ray's heart in her palm. His breaths came in gasps.
She moved her fingertips up to his jugular notch, then dragged her fingernails down his chest, down his stomach. Ray's eyes grew large.
"And you fuck," she said, savoring the word. "To defy death."
"Ahh!" Ray said.
Dread Girl stopped an inch below his belly button, pulled her hands away, lightly pinched his butt, and completed her third lap so that she stood before him. He trembled like a frightened animal.
"What did you think magic was?" She walked away casually, as though she had just remembered a menial task.
"I don't know!" Ray said. "Turning a tree into things or making twigs walk around?" He began buttoning his shirt, but she stopped him with a waggled finger.
"Tool-making," she said. "Puppetry. Music is an older, stronger magic. And no magic is older and stronger than sex."
Ray took a deep breath, rubbed his eyes, and held his palm up as though directing traffic.
"Wait," he said. "I believe you about magic. About the Green. But that doesn't change anything."
"What do you mean?" she said.
YOU ARE READING
King of the Woods, or Trivial PursuitFantasy
Florida Forest Service duty officer Ray Lumley is in love with a white fringetree. Not an I-read-Walden-in-high-school love; a sweaty, sappy, I-want-to-rub-against-you-'til-I-get-splinters love. It's awkward. So, he's relieved to learn that he's rea...