1. Magic in the Night
I like to watch my shadow on the ground as I walk, the wind tossing my curly hair upward and outward. I can see the ends of it waving against the dry buff of the grass on the school playground. I guess short hair isn’t so bad, after all. At first, it felt strange to have it cut, after having long hair most of my childhood. But Mom says it makes me look more mature this way, and with this mane of hair, I can throw my head back like a wild horse and break into a run on the street leading home.
My younger brother, Ian, is waiting today, meeting me halfway down the block, waving at me wildly. When I reach him, he pulls me into the exuberant embrace of a five-year-old, and begins a steady babble of questions:
“What did you do at school today, Cinda? Did you see any Hobbits down by the creek? Do you think we could take a walk in the woods after supper? Will we ever get to go camping?”
“Hey, slow down!” I ruffle his curly red hair and watch the wind finish what I started. For an instant, I see our dad—who he’s named after. I’m sure it’s because he has the same hair and greenish eyes. “I can’t answer twenty-million questions at once. And Hobbits are imaginary, remember?” I take a deep breath. “Where do you want me start?”
He swings in beside me, holding my hand tightly. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad you’re home. I miss you on school days.”
As I smile down at him, I feel the strong connection we’ve always had. The seven years between us always seem to melt away when we’re together. I don’t even care that my school friends think it’s strange to be such close friends with a little boy, even if he is my brother. But of all my friends, Ian is the one I feel most comfortable with. I can talk to him about anything and know that despite his young age, he somehow understands.
Mom says he has some kind of sixth sense, like our dad. Sometimes I ask her more about this, but she won’t tell anything else. “Dad is the one who’ll decide when you’re old enough,” is all she ever says.
One day this past summer, I met Dad in the driveway right after he got home from work and pulled him around the back side of the groundcar’s charging station. “What is Mom talking about?” I demanded. “Are you psychic, or something? She says Ian has a sixth sense like you. What does she mean?”
Dad looked into my eyes for an instant, but then he turned his gaze down to the grass at our feet. “I wish your mom wouldn’t talk to you about it,” he sighed, almost to himself. “Cinda, I promise I’ll tell you when you’re old enough. It’s complicated.”
“But Dad, I’m almost thirteen.”
“All right,” he half-smiled. “You can ask me again when you’re a teenager, okay?”
I let out a deep sigh. Same old brush off! And he knows as well as I do that my birthday is eight months off.
Now as I remember this, I look down at Ian and see how his hair seems to glow in the setting sun. There’s something almost other-worldly about it. Why does he seem somehow more than just a child?
Sometimes when we sit talking, especially in the back yard under a sky full of stars, it seems the years fall away from us, and we become two beings existing in all time—traveling from star to star—instead of a teenager named after her mother, Lucinda, and a five-year-old boy.
I shake my head slightly as we walk up the driveway. Am I crazy, or is it just my imagination? Then I realize Ian hasn’t re-voiced any of his many questions, and I look down into his face.
He smiles up at me and says, “You were thinking.”
Just as simple as that. It’s like he can somehow read my thoughts. Now I can see the shine of stars in his eyes. Tonight could be one of those magical nights, so I say, “Let’s ask Mom if we can sleep out in the yard tonight. After all, it’s Friday.”
“A-a-ll right!” He draws the words out as he dashes through the back door ahead of me. “Mom!” I hear him calling. “Can Cinda and me get out the tent?”
“Ian, say it correctly: ‘May Cinda and I get out the tent?’,” Mom is saying as I walk in.
“Oh, okay—May Cinda and I—can we please?”
Mom turns and shrugs at me. “Where did I go wrong?” she rolls her eyes, but I see the smile hiding there. “We’ll see after supper, Ian,” she adds. “Now wash up.”
He grins as he runs for the sink. I can tell he’s seen her smile, too.
After supper, Dad helps us get out the old canvas tent that looks like a square umbrella, and we set it up in the backyard. He doesn’t say much, and I can tell he must be tired from a long week at work. I’m not exactly sure what he does, except that he works at an office in Denver and drives over an hour just to get there. Most days Mom has to save his supper for later because he can’t get home in time to eat with us. At least he got home early today.
“Can we go camping in the mountains someday?”
I hear him sigh and see how he tries to smile. “I hope so. We need a better tent than this one, though.”
“Like what, Dad?” asks Ian.
“One with a real floor to keep the damp out and the warmth in,” Dad mutters. “The nights get cold in the mountains. And we’d need a real zipper for closing the door—to keep out the insects.”
“Have you ever been camping there, Dad?”
He turns to me, and I see his eyes flash. “My brother Dain and I used to go when we were young. But now we’re too busy with our jobs and families. Besides Dain and his family live far away now, since they moved to Montana.”
“Was the camping before Grandpa Parker died?” asks Ian.
I see him flinch as he turns toward Ian. He opens his mouth, but then closes it and just nods.
“You went camping before then, right, Dad?” I say for him.
Now I see him swallow hard and nod.
Silence floats between the three of us, as Dad rises to his feet. “I need to go talk to Mom. You two can handle things from here.”
“Sure, Dad.” I try to make my voice sound cheerful as he walks toward the house. “You need to remember not to ask about Grandpa Parker,” I whisper to my brother as we crawl into the tent and begin to spread our blankets out to cover the grass.
“Yeah, I forgot.”
I decide to change the subject. “I wish we could visit Uncle Dain in
. I’ve heard it’s a really neat place.” Montana
“Me too, Cinda.”
“Yeah, I wonder why Dad isn’t close to his brother,” I sigh. “They hardly ever talk, it seems.”
I look up at Ian as I finish and see how the rising full moon is shining through the door into his hair, looking like a halo.
“Do you think he’ll ever let us go camping in the mountains, like he used to?”
“I don’t know, Ian. It seems to remind him too much of Grandpa and how he died too young, before Dad was even in high school.”
“It would be hard, wouldn’t it, if one of our parents were to die soon?”
A chill runs down my spine, making me shiver. “Let’s not talk like that. It might bring bad luck.”
He doesn’t reply but turns and looks wistfully at the blue-black of the evening sky. I move over next to him in the tent doorway, following his gaze. We sit in silence a long time, watching as the stars begin to appear one by one.
I hear a humming sound and realize it’s my own voice.
“I wonder if the stars really sing,” he whispers.
“You mean like the Bible says they did at Creation?”
Quiet settles around us again.
“Sometimes I can almost hear them, but not quite.”
“Me, too. It’s like you only hear them when you quit trying too hard. Then it happens, kind of by itself, just for a moment.”
“I think this is one of those nights,” he whispers.
I don’t say anything, enjoying the silence. Instead I take his hand.
His voice comes again, “It’s the kind of night that feels like Narnia is right across the yard. If you walked over there at just the right time, you’d walk into it, like Lucy went in through the wardrobe.”
I draw a sharp breath. ‘Lucy? That’s Mom’s name. Could there be some kind of connection?’ But I push this thought out of my mind. ‘Don’t get carried away. He’s just a child and has a big imagination,’ I tell myself.
His voice begins to speak again, and it suddenly seems far away, even though he’s still right beside me, “Maybe it’s Middle Earth,” his voice begins to quaver. “I feel like I can almost see it. Look—over there. I see something moving.”
I follow his pointing finger and draw in a sharp breath. “Tell me what you see.”
“It’s an open plain of tall grass. With moonlight. And some huge animals moving—eating the grass, I think.”
As I squeeze his hand more tightly I can see strange shapes looming where our house should be. But then I blink, and in that split-second it’s gone. All I can see is our back porch.
“Wait,” he cries. “Oh no, it’s all gone.”
I feel him trembling and pull him gently into my arms. “It’s okay. I saw it too—the dark shapes and the tall grass.”
“Did you really, Cinda?”
I nod but wonder if I’m just echoing what he told me. Did I really see something?
As I continue rocking him on my lap, I find myself humming a tune which just started in my head.
“Cinda, what’s that song?” he murmurs.
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“No, but I have a strange feeling that someday we will. This is kind of scary, isn’t it? I wonder if things like this happen to other people.”
“Except in books, right Ian?”
“Mom says you have something like Dad,” I find myself saying, before I realize I shouldn’t.
“We need to ask Dad about it.” He almost jumps up.
“Not now, Ian.” I pull him down into my lap again. “I’ve already asked Dad, and he won’t tell me anything. He said to wait until I’m older. Besides, I think I’ve just filled your head with too many magical stories and books. They’re only pretend, you know.”
“I don’t know,” he sighs. “Sometimes they seem so real in my mind. And you said you saw what I did.”
I try to think of an answer to give him, but my mind has gone blank.
“Tell me a story—please, Cinda.”
“Oh, all right. Which one would you like?”
“Tell me about how the morning stars sang together.”
“Okay. Well, in the beginning of all time, God…”
His eyes are closed as he lies there with his head in my lap. But I know he can hear me as I speak softly into the night.