Foxfire by Shell St. James

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enchanting wooded area

We were caught in the storm, crossing Aziscohos Lake in your beat-up aluminum canoe. At first, we laughed – we laughed at everything back then – and the rain felt good, cascading over my sun-warmed skin, drenching our summer clothes. I turned around in my seat, endeavoring to sound attractive while half-shouting to be heard above the din; rain slashing down in heavy sheets, drumming against the metal hull. Turning often, just to watch your eyes lock onto my breasts beneath my wet T-shirt, making me feel powerful, alive, desired.

Thunder cracked as if the world had split in two, and lightning sizzled, streaking across the sky. You yelled “Paddle faster!” to my nipples.

Your tone warned of danger, and I felt more exhilarated still, riding the energy of the storm. I reveled in the pounding of my heart, the glorious surge of adrenaline that coursed through me, down to my fingertips, as we paddled hard for the nearest shore: an island too tiny for mankind to covet and desecrate.

Beaching the canoe among rocks and driftwood, we raced for cover as a brilliant, forked bolt arrowed down, striking a nearby tree in an instant blinding flash. A sizzle and pop and smell of ozone. Huddling beneath a stand of evergreens with nerves shaken and desires stirred, our wet bodies molded together as we watched bruised purple storm clouds roll across the lake.

Wind whipped through the trees, snapping branches above us, and relentless rain flooded the tiny sliver of beach. Water swirled around my feet as if the lake sought to reclaim the island, while the heat of your mouth chased after my goosebumps, your embrace both protecting and pillaging at once.

The storm faded. In the newborn silence, we heard the haunting call of the loon, solitary and forlorn. It echoed across the lake; pulling us back to reality as we self-consciously straightened our clothing and righted the canoe.

The mournful bird call continued, following us through the mist as we paddled back in the waning afternoon light.

I broke the awkward silence that had crept between us, asking you why the loons cry. You always knew the “why” of things. Your answer was distant, dismissive, your eyes fixed on the reddish glow of the horizon, leaving me as melancholy as the loon’s song and wishing for a jacket.

It was dusk when we reached the dock, and we located the trail to the cabin largely by feel, inhaling the heady scent of wet juniper needles crushed underfoot.  

An odd sight greeted us upon entering the shadowy forest. A lone stump, emitting an eerie glow; yellow-green luminous bits scattered over the cut surface as if a hundred fireflies were gathered there.

We stood in the darkness, together but separate, marveling at the rare spectacle without touching one another, while you explained the phenomenon of bioluminescence with clinical detachment.

I heard you say, “foxfire,”  and I liked the enchanted sound of it, repeating it over and over in my mind while I tuned out the rest of your words, choosing only to believe in magic.

Meet the Contributor

Shell St James Shell St. James is a North Carolina writer and illustrator living in an 1895 farmhouse with her musician significant other, feline muse, and a benevolent ghost. Her stories have appeared in Shenandoah Literary Magazine, La Presa Literary Journal and Epoch Press, among others. She is currently querying for her first novel, The Mermaid of Agawam Bay, while working on her second YA novel, Romance is Dead. Connect with her on Twitter at @shellstjames1, and find out more at

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/tsaiian

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