Illustration from Les Fleurs Animees by J.J. Grandville, 1847


The moon hovers above the stream, illuminating every blade of grass around our home. My family has been asleep for hours, but I'm wide awake. So much has changed in one day. "That's life in the Grove for you," Dad likes to say. "One day can hold so many things; we've got to make the most of each one."

I should be keeping the vigil of hope for Lemon like every Grove member is supposed to, but if she lives, Del will probably do the expected thing and seal their promise for next year. If she dies, well, I might actually get the kiss that was meant for me in the first place. It's hard not to fantasize about that second outcome so I give in to my thoughts.

I'm enjoying a scenario that involves Del begging my forgiveness because he's not worthy when a shadow covers the moon. It's faster than a cloud but slower than any other creature in the Grove. It is so large, I'm instantly reminded of the beheadings and I panic. Shaking, I stoop as low as possible, hoping to be unnoticed by the hand.

The shadow is still. I hold my breath and wait for what seems like forever for it to go away―or behead me right there. Then I will be the one talked about with shakes and sighs. I'm young enough that I'll be worth saving too, like Lemon. But what could it feel like to have your head ripped from your body? Her terrifying scream is fresh in my mind as I will myself not to shake so violently.

The shadow makes a movement, a slow beating of wings so huge they are larger than any Forever I've seen. They could span the Hand of God.

Unlike the buzzing of the Messengers and the whirring of the Sunangels, this―whatever it is―moves softly. Stealthy and calculated, it must be a predator. Like the giant beasts described by Fog that massacre some tribes for their fruit, the shadow is also covered in fur. It could be one of these Foragers, but I don't have any fruit to offer this early in the season, and besides, my tribe has protective measures like our kick-ass smell.

A deep breath that pulls me in with it is followed by an even deeper voice. "Fuchsia? Of the Brook Primrose Tribe, that you girl?"

"Who―what are you?"

"Darlin, no one cares who I am. Just here fer Cord."

"Are you a Messenger?"

"Sort of, but ya only get to be graced by my smokin' hot bod if yer willin ta keep a secret. Can ya?" He talks from behind a wooly beard that seems to cover everything, even his enormous wings.

"With you and Cord?"

"Ya, ya and good ole Cord. So can ya?" His eyebrows look like they could fly solo and he has antennae that arch at an odd angle. Unlike Burnish, he's got tiny eyes, the only small thing about him.

"Um, alright then." I try not to look into his scary old face.

"Good that's over, now if I ken remember what the hell he told me. Getting old, ya know. Let's see, it was somethin' about..." He unfolds a ratty piece of paper from under his giant spotted wing and holds it up to the moonlight. "Jugs."

I look away, embarrassed and more than a little creeped out.

"Wait not those jugs if ya know what I mean." He winks crudely. "But a jug, yeah that's it, a jug. He requests the honor of yer help with a secret mission which shall remain, as we discussed, secret. First, he thanks ya kindly fer the water fer Lemon. And the other thing is he requests more water in said jug for others who can't afford Messengers."

"But no one has to pay a Messenger. Their Promise Kiss is their payment."

He looks at me and starts laughing so deeply that spit flies from his mouth. Soon he goes into a coughing fit. "I bet them Messengers are all buzzin' around ya, pretty young thing. But do ya think if yer old or weak or undesirable, ya got a hope in hell of a Promise Kiss? No way no Messenger's wasting their time around them folks. If they need help just to survive only someone who gives a crap can do that for 'em. And that someone would be Cord."

"Cord." I repeat the word without thinking.

"One o' the finest that kid, just like his grandmother, rest her soul."

"She died, yet his family saved Lemon."

"Cause some people know what it means to put community before self."

I want to be more community and less self too, so I nod. "Take as much as you need." We've always been told how lucky we are to live near the brook, even if it means more snow for us in winter, only now I understand our water has more to offer.

"Uh, that's where I need yer help. These old joints are stiff and my wings might send me into the water, and then, bye bye ole' what's his name as I drown in a sea o' misery."

"Drama queen much?" I stand taller.

"Here." He hands me the jug and I get a rough brush from his beard that makes me shudder. But I don't let him see. Instead I focus on the task of dipping the jug low enough to fill and high enough not to send me tangling over the rocks. When I can see the moonlit liquid floating near the top I pull the heavy vessel up to him.

He corks it and tucks the jug under his wing again. "Thank ya kindly."

And he's off circling over the river, his large shape shrinking in the wide night. That's when I hear the eerie whisper behind me. "Don't move."

A/N: This wooly night creature is related to the Forevers that flutter during the day. What is it?

a. bat

b. moth

c. cricket

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