Sadie awoke with a jolt; the person in front of her had reclined their seat farther back, right into her kneecaps. she drew her legs up and glanced to her left. though Laurel had chosen the window seat, she hadn’t put it to much use; she had been asleep beneath one of Dara's knitted blankets for the entire flight. Sadie was grateful for this, since her sister had never been able to sleep on planes; Laurel had found it difficult to sleep over the previous week, from the night the pair had first arrived at Dara and Ashton's house.
as the plane began its descent, Sadie peered past her sleeping sister, out the window. pastel clapboard homes along a winding hillside road came into view, followed by a sheer cliff dropping to churning waves. the plane flew in a gentle curve over the ocean, then inland, until tarmac was all Sadie could see. then came the feeling and thud of the plane landing on the ground.
“what’s that?” asked Laurel, groggily. she yawned and pushed strands of wavy light brown hair away from her face, revealing the network of vivid white lines on her light beige skin.
“we’re here,” said Sadie, putting her long brown hair into a bun. her light beige skin was free of shimmering lines.
Laurel squinted out the window. “so bright,” she said. “wait, where’re we going?”
“the new terminal,” said Sadie.
“oh, yeah,” said Laurel. “I guess a lot happened while I was away.” Dirigo Valley Airport’s new terminal was eight months old.
they collected their carry-ons and headed out of the plane. as the line of passengers neared the terminal, Laurel hesitated. Sadie gently nudged her forward and they got inside. as they maneuvered through the waiting crowd, Sadie took one of her sister’s shaking hands.
during their week at Dara and Ashton's, the sisters had spoken with their parents over video calls. despite this, Laurel’s cheeks deeply reddened when she saw them in person, her first time in a year. though they both smiled warmly at Laurel, Sadie could tell she wanted to put up her hood. their parents' light beige faces lacked any lingering mirror marks; Laurel saw no one else in the room with lines.
Sadie instinctively hugged her parents upon reaching them, but Laurel stopped a few feet back. when Abigail hugged Laurel, her and her eldest daughter's matching blue-green eyes filled with tears. Gordon's dark green eyes, like Sadie's, were unreadable but kind as he hugged Laurel. “glad to have you home for a visit,” he said.
the scent of zucchini bread, Laurel's favourite, filled the house when they arrived from the airport. Sadie was glad to see Laurel enjoying all the food during lunch. as they ate chicken sandwiches, sugar snap peas, and zucchini bread, Laurel became more at ease. sun shined through the dining room window, contributing to the cheerful ambiance.
however, when lunch finished and Laurel and Sadie were sent to rest in the living room, Laurel grew uneasy.
“would you like to take a walk?” Sadie asked.
they walked along a forest path, lined with sea-swept evergreens, to a secluded, pebbly beach. after climbing a rocky outcrop, they sat and took in the view of the rippling navy water. a gentle breeze stirred around them.
“I don’t know, Sadie, I haven’t lived this life for a year.” Laurel looked out at the expanse of blue as though expecting to see ships laden with trade members arrive on the horizon to come haul her away.
“you don’t have to stay here forever. it’s just a visit,” Sadie reassured her. “I know you decided to help Indigo, but even she agreed it wouldn't hurt for you to spend time at home to get some rest.”
Sadie scooted off the rock and hopped onto the beach. she scooped up a few flat stones and skipped them into the waves. in time, Laurel joined her. they continued this easy rhythm for a while, attempting to one-up the other in number of skips.
the sound of skittering pebbles broke the silence, and two people around their age appeared on the rocks above them. one plopped onto the shelf of stone and began swinging their legs over the edge, squinting down at the sisters.
“what’s that on your face?” the person asked. their friend tried to shush them, mortified, but the person continued: “are you some kind of plant, with roots growing from your body?” the person laughed at their own statement.
Sadie clenched her hand tightly on the flat stone she had been about to skip when the person interrupted. Laurel went red, and her hands searched for her hood.
“let’s go,” said Sadie, grasping Laurel’s hand before she could put up her hood.
the sisters began toward the gravel parking area.
“seriously, what a freak!” the person persisted. “did you fall into a vat of worms?”
Sadie was shaking, and went to speak up, but Laurel spoke first: “I’m glad you don’t understand,” said Laurel, turning toward the person. “that means it’s still safe here.”
“whatever,” said the person, dismissively.
their friend stepped forward. “those lines,” they began cautiously, “they remind me of something my cousin mentioned. about mirrors that give you nightmares.”
“yeah, right,” said the person.
“they’re real,” said Laurel.
the person narrowed their gaze at Laurel. “I never said they weren't, but all they do is let people forget for a few minutes. both of you are making them sound more dangerous than they really are.”
“don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that’s what they do,” said Laurel, and she walked away, hood kept down.
when the sisters arrived home, Laurel wanted to take a nap. Sadie felt restless, so she decided to bike to one of her favourite spots, the forested hills on the western edge of town.
from the trailhead, she took the combination of trails that led to one of the quietest places in the hills. the last section included a hike along a stream to an outcrop atop a waterfall. being there helped clear her head and settle her nerves. from that vantage point, she could see over the entire town all the way to the ocean. she closed her eyes and relaxed, the waterfall burbling in the background.
during Sadie's careful descent, she paused on a lower outcrop and took a drink of water. looking around, she noticed a hollow in the wall of rock opposite the stream from where she stood. stories from her childhood floated to the surface of her memory and a smile bloomed on her face. after tucking her water bottle safely away, she began across the stream to the cave.
on the right wall as she entered the cave, there was a patch of silver residue brushed onto the stone. every kid in town had, at one time or another, referenced the “ghost paint” as proof of paranormal activity in the cave. in light of her previous week, the silver substance struck a new chord in her.
Sadie walked through the winding, narrow cave to the other side. there, a shallow lake sat shimmering in the afternoon sun. glittering on the lake bottom were what local kids called “fairy dust stones”; such elementary school lore held that fairies protected the lake from ghosts in the cave. the kids' stories were right about one thing - the lakebed was not comprised of any ordinary rocks; as Sadie held a few of the silver-flecked stones in her hand, she noticed a certain collection of herbs on the side of the lake.
though she recognized some herbs from her Gathering Hut venture with Laurel, she only chose ones Dara had taught her were edible. she used the herbs' fragrances to help her know which to pick. while collecting the herbs, she planned out her soup, hoping it would be as good as the one she and Dara had made together a few days earlier.
“something smells good,” said Sadie's dad, as he entered the kitchen from the patio. he stopped at the island beside Sadie and looked over the herbs she was arranging.
“I found them by the waterfall,” said Sadie. “Dara taught me a recipe I could use them in.”
“by the waterfall,” her dad repeated, thoughtfully.
Gordon ran his left hand through his short brown hair and glanced toward the dining room window; Abigail and Laurel were engrossed in a conversation on the patio. the unreadable expression he had at the airport returned to his face. his right hand tightened its grip on his empty coffee mug; Sadie noticed a faint white line appear on his light beige skin.
Sadie looked up at her dad's right ear. there were three small lines on his ear, and she watched as a fourth line blossomed on his neck below. though the new line faded within moments, the lines on his ear and hand remained.
“Dad,” she began, gently, “when Laurel and I were little, you told us the lines on your ear were from a dog bite.”
her dad smiled weakly. “the explanation works with most people around here. people who don’t know, or don't want to remember, that the trade had roots in the area.” he massaged his right hand and sighed. then he went and rummaged in the pantry, emerging with a glass jar of loose leaf tea. “would you like some?” he asked.
“sure,” said Sadie.
she knew from her first sip it was a healing tea, though the aroma and flavour were new to her. as her dad drank it, the renegade line on his hand faded, but those on his ear stayed.
“I was only eight when it happened,” he said. “they left the area less than a year later. I was fortunate to have my permanent lines in a relatively simple place to explain away; not everyone gets that lucky. I'm just glad that Laurel-” and he broke off, his gaze going toward the pair on the patio.
“I’m glad you’re both okay,” said Sadie, reaching for his hand.
“me too.” he squeezed her hand. after a moment, he cleared his throat and continued: “when Laurel moved away, I didn’t think she would find them, or get involved so deeply.” he looked at Sadie. “but I’m glad she left on her own terms.”
“you aren’t mad at them?” she asked.
he took another sip of tea before answering. “I held onto anger for a long time. but then, when I was a teenager, I met someone who helped me unravel some of the mess I was feeling. once I did that, the lines slowly began to fade. there are still moments I get bitter thinking about the time stolen from me, the trust that was broken. but when I remember I’m not alone, it helps.”
“do you think the trade can come back here?” asked Sadie. it was still sinking in for her that the trade had been there before.
“even though nowadays the trade mostly emphasizes how mirrors help people disappear, they used to say mirrors just helped people 'forget for a bit'. I think they still use that idea, when trying to set up somewhere new. that day when I was eight, I just wanted to forget the pain of falling out of a tree in the forest.
“people of all ages can be persuaded if they’re not careful. we can want to forget so much that we fail to remember; that's when we risk letting the trade back in. so, yes, I think they can return.”
he took another sip of tea and his gaze went to the window, then he met Sadie's gaze.
“but that doesn't mean they will,” he continued. “we have to keep trusting there’s another way to get through hard times. when we make a mistake, we have to learn from it. but humans, well-” he let out a sigh and shook his head, “we have a tendency to go in the same circles.”