Jane knelt down in front of James and petted the backs of her hands against his cheeks. The skin was red and cold. The little boy looked about at the surroundings, refusing to even turn in his mother’s direction.
“James,” she spoke up, grabbing up his hands in hers. He finally looked her in the eyes. “You remember what Lewis said.”
“What Lewis said…”
“That light… the Will of the Wisp…”
“You see it too, mama?”
“I see it, just as you do. Remember when you saw it before? Back in the summer? And your father asked Lewis about it?”
“I don’t ’member…” James pouted and shrugged.
“That thing… it takes people off the path, he said, leads them to dangerous, bad places, and leaves them. The path we’re on is the way to the village. We just have to follow it and we’ll get there, very soon.”
“I heard my name,” James said, the words from his mother not making contact.
Jane sighed and glanced back to Bryna, holding the little girl. The old woman shook her head in disbelief.
“James,” Jane cried, taking up the boy in her arms. “I want you to trust me. Listen to what I say. No matter what you see or hear, you need to keep along with us. I know this hasn’t been easy. But… we will get there. We’ll get warm, get to eat some proper food. Then we’ll just sit tight while we wait for your father and Lewis to get back. Promise me, you won’t think or worry about that thing, right?”
James pouted but allowed himself the comfort of wrapping his arms around his mother’s shoulders.
“James, you will listen?”
Jane wrapped her arm around the boy’s legs and picked him up, holding him tight as they began once again walking beside the road.
There was no sign, yet, of the village or any activity along the road. Their combined fatigue forced them to settle down for yet another night in the cold darkness. The wood scavenged from around the area was enough for a slightly bigger fire, but they were at the last of their food. They shared among the four of them a sole potato and the scraps of hardtack, and barely a word was exchanged.
The women fell asleep around the fire, huddling under the damp blankets, hoping for the morning to come soon once again. James, however, couldn’t help but stay alert, staring at the glow of the fire.
He heard his name again. The fire was suddenly dying down, and he realized he must have fallen asleep for a brief time. He rubbed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he saw the makeshift camp bathed in the familiar glow.
Being careful not to disturb his mother or Bryna, he shifted out from under the blanket. It wasn’t as cold as he imagined it being. He stared up through the bare tree’s boughs, through the needles of the evergreens, and to the clouds still stifling the sky. The glow caught his eye, having drifted off away from the camp. He couldn’t help but follow.
The old, crystalline snow crunched under his feet. The land ahead was almost as clear as day, bathed in the mysterious, yet comforting light. He walked for minutes, leaving the camp and his mother and sister and the neighbor behind, watching the darting and wavering light above, leading him forward.
It wasn’t long before the cold quiet of the night was interrupted. It was his name again, then the same utterance from a different mouth- neither the same as the call he had heard before. It was his mother and Bryna. He looked back in the direction he came, or at least where he thought he had been before. It was hopelessly dark, the only light remaining in the way forward.
The unnatural depressions in the ground caught his eyes, prints not made by any animal. The feet that made them were large, going back and forth at regular intervals, and there were two sets of them. The crunching of old snow called him back.
Jane grabbed up the little boy in her arms, sobbing and stroking his hair. The light above wavered. Bryna caught up next, holding a fussy Marie. “Why… are you doing this? Wandering off? I told you… I told you…” his mother sobbed, her knees soaking up the cold moisture and filth from the ground below.
James simply pointed at the footprints. The old woman stepped up, examining the marks and their stride.
“Jane, someone’s been by here. A couple of blokes, by the looks of it. They’re fresh too.”
Jane took the boy’s head and tucked it toward her chest. The sobs caught in her nose and throat. She swallowed them and looked up to the canopies of the trees above. The light was present, but not the one she expected. Piercing through the clouds was the moon, full and bright, shining upon them.
“It’s not so cold tonight,” she mumbled, her voice still heavy.
Bryna took the extra blanket off her back and draped it over Jane and her boy. “It’s best that we rest, still, so when day comes we may have our strength. But we have something we can follow in the morning.”