The orange flames danced round the cauldron, entwining with each other before moving on to their next lover. Steam rose in spirals towards the moon, and they sat motionless, breathing in the perfume of the potion, sweet, spiced, and yet such a clinical smell.
“Is it working?” Phoebe asked hoarsely, watching in fascination as bubbles began to blossom on the surface of the yellow liquid.
Luc didn’t answer. His eyes were closed, and she had the impression that he might be praying to the devil for help. Or maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to look, couldn’t bear to see the result of the months of planning, of stealing dolls and long nights gazing at the sky. In case they were the wrong results; in case they had failed their test. There was no resit.
Phoebe gazed up at the moon, at its dancing threads of light, the essence of the potion. They seemed to extend towards them, Phoebe thought, unravelling from the moon in anticipation, shimmering with hope.
Luc spoke the words in a barely audible whisper, and Phoebe hastened to obey. They moved forward and fell to their knees beside the merrily splashing liquid. Phoebe watched the drops chase each other across the surface, each one slightly bigger than a tear.
“Stop looking at it,” he snapped, “remember, you can’t go inside it.”
She tore her eyes away, almost blushing. Even in a situation as tense as this, she still couldn’t shake off how he made her feel. She was at once transported back to school, and she stood beside the teacher’s desk as he berated her for having missed out the two final questions in her homework assignment. Maths, she thought it had been, and when the calculator had broken she had given up. There was no point going solo, and she would have used the computer but…
She jumped, looking into his face, which was twisted with fury.
“Hands! Come on, this is it. This is everything. Don’t say the universe screwed up when it made you, for God sake, that it was all for nothing.”
She did not answer but held out her hands and linked her fingers with his.
“Ready?” he asked.
They held their clasped hands over the cauldron, breathing in the intoxicating scent. Phoebe kept her eyes wide open, focusing on the shining moon above. She remembered Luc’s tip, and imagined that the beams of light were illuminating her thoughts, their own spotlight, causing them to stand out clearly on the stage of her mind, delivering their lines perfectly.
“The touch of every teardrop,
The wool of every lamb,
The notes of every birdsong,
The death of every man.”
Over and over she thought the words, heard them in her mind, felt them in the beat of her heart, smelt them in the potion, saw them in the moonlight, and tasted them in the blood that trickled from her lip as she bit down on it. She tightened her hold on Luc’s fingers, or perhaps he was tightening his hands around hers. There was no way of telling. They were one in this moment, the same force, identical twins of power.
A warm wind began to blow around them. Phoebe felt it lift her hair and throw it in front of her eyes, then pull it playfully away. She felt his hands twist in hers, and soon the flowing music of a piano was emanating from his fingers. The notes soared and dived, trickled and swooped, and somewhere underneath them she heard the long, tortured scream. She forced herself not to wince, not to interrupt the steady stream of thought. Some sacrifices were better than others. That had been one of Luc’s first lessons.
by Sarah McLean
What were your prompts?: potion