Part 25 - Splinter

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The moonlight softened, and patches of luminescent mushrooms took their opportunity to shine. A cloud of fireflies darted just out of reach of Rex's snapping jaws. Each time he missed, they teased him by flying higher, and his leaps grew more impressive. Ray wished he had a Frisbee.

"Want a boost?" Wilson said to Ray from atop one of the standing stones. They had the circle to themselves. Audubon had not returned to the grove, and Trivia and Roosevelt were looking for her.

"Sure," Ray said. He scaled the stone with Wilson's assistance and sat beside him, dangling his legs off the side.

Wilson dropped a Snickers bar into Ray's lap. "Now we're even."

"Thanks. Even for what?" Ray opened the wrapper.

"You gave us a candy bar," Wilson said. "Rather, we borrowed one. You don't remember?"

Ray examined Wilson, whose hat, glasses, and scarf obscured his face. "Sorry, I don't." He lifted the Snickers bar to his lips, but set it down without taking a bite.

"Would you like something else?" Wilson said. "We have sunflower seeds and a few caramels."

"I'll pass, thanks," Ray said. "I haven't been hungry lately."

Wilson's scarf shifted as though he were grinning. "We wager you take only a little water now and then. We must admit we envy you."

"What do you mean?" Ray said.

"We have read," Wilson said, "that a man's heart can only want so much at once. It is your weakness and your charm. The drive to forage; to scale barriers; to march across undiscovered lands; to build towering, triumphant colonies; to crush your enemies in your mandibles and enslave their kin - all are expelled to make room for fonder desires, like corpses from a nest."

Ray looked confused. "I don't want any of those things. Especially not the last few, that got a little dark."

"Exactly!" Wilson said. "You are in love."

"Because I don't want to crush anyone in my mandibles?" Ray said.

"We aren't blind, Ray," Wilson said. "And though we confess that we initially misunderstood the meaning of 'anthropology,' the field has maintained our interest nonetheless."

Ray indicated Wilson's sunglasses and scarf. "So, how do you see past all that?"

"You're changing the subject," Wilson said. "There's no need to feel embarrassed. We are students of the human condition." He manuevered his oversized green plastic sunglasses onto the bridge of his scarf as though they were a pair of pince-nez.

Ray shook his head. "I don't have the right to say... what you said. I don't know anything about her, or where we are, or what you guys want. It's just, every time I think of her I get a feeling in my chest like I can't breathe."

"Or like you don't need to," Wilson said.

"Well, I want to." Ray slid off of the standing stone, scraping his arm on the way down, and approached the white fringetree. Its creamy, long petals glowed in the moonlight. He tugged a cluster of flowers down and relished their fragrance.

Atop the standing stone, Wilson picked up the Snickers bar that Ray had abandoned and pressed it between two folds of scarf. The bar disappeared, but Wilson did not seem to chew or swallow.

"This tree smells just like her." Ray said. Once again, he smelled honeysuckle where none was present.

"We would be surprised, otherwise," Wilson said.

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