White Wolf and the Ash Princess

CHAPTER ONE

Jonathan brushes past the open library door and one of the paper leaves on its front coasts to the floor. We had glued them to the barren oak carved on its front when we were younger. Every time one loses its grip on the door, I fasten it back up. It’s one of my favorite memories of our time together. It looks like later I’ll be making a fresh batch of egg-white glue.

“I got him! It took me awhile but I finally cornered him behind your door.” He has his hands cupped. The bat, I assume, is folded in them.

It has to be close to morning. I can see a faint line of light in between the curtains. The fire’s out. I didn’t get up to stoke it. Jonathan knew I wouldn’t. He didn’t know how long it would take to wrangle the bat in my room so he made sure I was bundled in an extra covering. He lit all the candles on the library table just in case so the room wouldn’t go dark.

“Do you want to see him?” Jonathan beams.

“Not particularly,” I tell him in yawn. I sit up on the couch to make room for him because I know he wants to show me. I run my fingers through my hair and toss its weight over my shoulder. It must be an unruly mess but his look doesn’t reveal that. This look is a mystery to me. I’ve spent plenty of time with him and have gotten to know most of his faces. This one, I noticed, came home with him from his trip last summer.

“Help me with this glove.” He keeps hold of the bat with one hand while flinging the other about wildly.

“Hold still so I can grab it!” I giggle. “You are not going to touch him, are you?” The thought makes me shiver and I scrunch my nose at him to show my disgust.

“Sure, why not? I’ve never caught one before. He’s cute. Look at him.” Jonathan moves his thumb back and the bat turns his head towards me. I scream when it’s beady-eyes find mine.

“Mercy sakes, girl, I’ve got him. He’s not going anywhere,” he laughs.

He sounds like Miss Margaret, our head housekeeper and “mother”. She uses that phrase all the time. It’s catchy—I find myself using it, too. Our clean and orderly Miss Margaret, I’m sure, wouldn’t approve of him touching it. When I tell him this, he gives me a crooked smile and airy exhale.

“Of course she wouldn’t approve. To her he’d be a vermin with wings. To me, he’s a creature I haven’t had the chance to examine before. Come on. If I touch him, will you touch him? Scratch that. This is a dare. I dare you.”

Now he did it. He knew what it would take to get me to touch it.

“I’m scrubbing my hands  down after, Jonathan, and if I get sick, it’s your fault. He looks like a mouse.”

“I’ll wipe your nose for you…deal?” he grins.

When I nod, he tucks the bat’s face back under his thumb and he pulls a wing out between pinched fingers. It looks leathery and bird-like. There are several books here on ships and this wing almost looks like a sail to me. I tell Jonathan this and he agrees.

“That it does. Good observation. Look, a thumb—just like the drawings I’ve seen.” He nudges into what looks to be a finger on the top of the bat’s wing. “Alright, your turn. Touch.” He raises a brow at my hesitation to deepen the dare.

“Jonathan,” I sigh. I’m tempted to back down but I haven’t done that yet with any of our dares. “He’s completely and utterly horrific,” I moan.

“No, he’s not. He’s amazing. He’s a flying bug trap. They love mosquitos. You hate—dislike—mosquitos,” he corrects. “So, that makes you and this bat practically friends!”

He had over-pronounced the replaced word with stretched brows and widened eyes and it made me giggle. He looks over his shoulder and flashes me a sideways grin. Miss Margaret is much like a ghost in this house. She can come and go without anyone noticing. Jonathan had changed his word for her. She dislikes us to use the word “hate.” She says it’s too strong of a word and strong words can lead to bad things.

“Friends?! I should say not!” I chuckle. This creature will never be a friend of mine. He had me so terrified last night diving about my room, I belly-crawled all the way to Jonathan’s room with a blanket over me. No, most certainly we are not friends nor ever will we be. I reach for the bats featherless wing but pull back when it trembles.

“I can’t!” I shudder in giggle.

“Give me your hand, I’ll help you.”

“That’s cheating. I’m not doing it on my own.”

“I always help you and you always win. Why would this be any different?” He shrugs.

It’s true. In all our games, if he wins, he plays on until I win, too.

He hasn’t taken up my hands since he’s been back from his latest journey and I can tell he’s hesitant, but he takes one up and helps guide one of my fingers over the bats wing.

“Oh!” I shrug my shoulders up into ears. “That’s enough!”

“See. He’s not so bad.”

“I suppose he’s a tiny bit cute–tiny.” I squint and show him how minuscule it was by leaving the smallest gap that I could between the two fingers that I held up.

“He’s gone from utterly horrific to a tiny bit cute. Mission accomplished. I’m proud of you, Izzy—well done.” Jonathan is up and he’s heading towards a window. “Open the window for me?” he asks over his shoulder.

“Absolutely!” I hop up to race past him.

“Unless you want to cage him and keep him,” Jonathan offers.

“No. Let him be free to have his fill of our mosquitos.” I tug open the tall curtains from the window. They’re heavy and it takes two hands to handle each side.

“It’s morning. Bats are nocturnal. He may zip back up to whatever hole he found in the house and find his way back in,” Jonathan warns.

“Or he may just learn to endure the sunshine and flap his little way to some glorious cave somewhere—with an endless supply of bugs and friends of his own kind. That’s much better than a perch behind a door, wouldn’t you think?”

Jonathan’s brows pinch. “I don’t know. If I were a bat this place wouldn’t seem so bad to me. What would you do? If you were a bat?” He’s looking at me in that strange way again.

“If I were a bat—and I have no plans on ever becoming one if that will bring peace to your mind, Jonathan— I think I would fly for the cave.” I nod with the finality of my decision and against the lie I had just told. I wouldn’t do that and he definitely knows this. I get anxious when I venture too far past the stables. My chest tightens until I can’t breathe and my stomach will hurt. If I were a bat, I’d be curled up behind the door just as this one was.

His smile is a lie to what I see in his eyes. They look sad. The brown flecks in his eyes swell when he’s sad and they always threaten to swallow all the green that I love in them.

“Well, then. Maybe he wouldn’t like our home here. It would be no different than a cage to him. Let’s let him go and let him choose.”

He attempts to hide his sorrow by pressing his smile more tightly, but he fails. I know him too well.

When I push open the window, he releases the bat but we can’t see its chosen course. The morning is too thick with fog.

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