The fire crackled in the hearth as the blue light of dusk seeped through the French doors. It bounced and glinted off the silver and gold ornaments that decorated the room. The firelight cast happy shadows that flickered on the walls.
The world faded into nightfall as Elmer stood on the balcony with a glass of brandy in his hand. He wiped a tear from his eye and gave the room a quick glance before turning back towards the encroaching forest that swallowed up the once-manicured gardens.
Uncle Raymond had let the gardens fall into disrepair, now overgrown with weeds and bramble and wildflowers. The house, in contrast with the garden, was in excellent shape. Uncle Raymond had loved this house and nurtured it. Yes, that was the word, he nurtured it.
Now the house was his, but who cared? Elmer thought. He would rather spend one more day talking to the man who raised him and loved him than owning these possessions. Yet Uncle Raymond lay underground in a fresh grave on the family plot.
Long ago, Elmer could see the jagged graves of his ancestors from this very window. No more, his forefathers now slept in the forest’s belly.
The fire sputtered, and the evening star awoke in the indigo sky. Elmer leaned against the railing and sipped his brandy. He recalled a frequent conversation they often had since the autumn of Uncle Raymond’s life.
“The ancient spirits of the world play in the woods,” Uncle Raymond said.
Elmer wondered if Uncle Raymond’s old mind was playing tricks on him. Was the end beginning? Had he reached life’s apex and now began the steep decline?
“I see them at night,” Uncle Raymond’s wistful gaze hovered over the forest, “They pinprick the darkness with their lanterns.”
“Fireflies,” Elmer said.
The old man said nothing.
Often they revisited the conversation, and the old man would lapse into silence whenever Elmer pointed out the most logical explanation: fireflies. Elmer wondered what might have been if he had played along with Uncle Raymond’s fantasies.
“Too late for that now,” Elmer muttered.
A soft breeze rustled in the trees. The first specks of light appeared in the gloaming.
“See, Uncle Raymond, fireflies,” Elmer whispered.
But the silver and gold lights multiplied and spread over the land until Elmer thought a sea of stars was flooding the forest.
The wind blew and his ear caught strange voices speaking in a language far more ancient than any human tongue. The voices laughed and giggled and then broke into song. The sparkling lights condensed and expanded, flowing in an intricate dance, which first resembled the flicker of flames, morphed into the flow of ocean waves, then blended into the gusting wind on the mountaintop, and at last, it slithered like snakes on the earth.
Elmer watched the sparkles weave these strange and shimmering patterns to the old and beautiful music he heard as the wind ruffled his hair. It whispered the secrets of the world.
Elmer smiled and raised his brandy glass to the sky.
“Cheers, Uncle Raymond,” he said.
“Cheers,” the wind echoed.
He drank the last gulp of brandy and stepped inside, closing the balcony door behind him.
Better not intrude on the ancient spirits of the world.