Lily hesitated at the bend where Willow Creek turned brown like root beer, swirling past gnarled tree roots. People said the Brujo lived there.
But Lily didn’t believe in children’s fairy tales anymore. She was tired of being called Silly Lily. She walked ahead, looking for agates in the stream bed. Dragonflies scattered. Crickets hushed.
Willow fronds parted like curtains. Lily saw a man but he wasn’t the Brujo. Just a handsome young man with a fishing pole.
He nodded. “Morning.”
“Morning,” said Lily. “You shouldn’t hang around this part of the creek.”
“Why ever not?”
“The Brujo lives nearby.”
“I’ve heard tell of him.” The man laughed. He had lovely white teeth. “Folks say he steals children’s souls and traps them in jars like fireflies.”
Lily laughed nervously. “He’s just a story parents tell kids so they won’t play by the creek.”
“Of course,” said the young man, a twinkle in his eyes. “Grown-ups think they’re so clever.”
Lily felt awkward.
The man glanced at his fishing pole and shook his head.
“I was about to give up.”
“Too bad,” said Lily. “Do you live around here?”
“Over there,” the lad said, pointing to a tumbledown shed under a nearby willow. “Come take a look.”
He grabbed his fishing gear and marched to the shed without a backward glance. Lily followed hesitantly, glancing at the creek behind her. The man yanked the shed door open and stepped inside.
“Care to come in?”
“I should be getting home.”
“Of course,” said the young man. “Just a minute.”
He rifled through his tackle box and pulled out a shiny agate. He held it out to her.
“Do you like it?”
Lily touched the smooth gem, admiring its swirling hues. The man watched, eyes flinty in the shadows, nose sharp as a hawk’s beak.
“Tell me your name,” he said.
Lily stepped closer, her eyes struggling to adjust to the dark shed.
“What do your friends call you?”
“Silly Lily,” she admitted.
“Ah,” the man breathed, eyes shining like coins at the bottom of a stream. Lily felt an odd heaviness. Too late, she noticed the shelves of glass jars lining the back of the shed.
Seeing the world through glass is peculiar. Faces and shapes are blurred. Sounds muffled.
Inside the jar was her agate. Outside was the shed. Each day the Brujo checked his collection, walking along the shelves, touching jars, peering inside. Sometimes he picked one up, opened it, and inhaled. He even spoke to the jars.
“Good morning, Lily,” he’d say. “How’s my little gem?”
Lily’s shelf held other jars. They contained jewels, feathers, flowers, bottle caps, and other treasures. They had voices too. They whispered to each other through the glass. The jar next to Lily held a blue Matchbox car. A boy called Daniel lived there. Lily liked him.
Sometimes a jar went dark. The Brujo would take it down and throw it away.
On certain days he came with someone else, a child usually. On those occasions he wore his handsome young man face.
“Daniel?” called Lily.
“Hello,” answered a sad voice from the jar next door.
“Daniel, he’s coming. He’s got someone with him.”
Through glass, Lily saw the Brujo, young and handsome, enter the shed, followed by an older woman in a blouse and skirt. They were talking but the words were indistinct.
“Can you hear what they’re saying?”
“I think he’s going to take her soul,” was Daniel’s faint reply.
“Watch out, lady!” Lily yelled.
“Run away,” Daniel added.
The woman didn’t hear them. She was talking to the Brujo. Lily pressed her ear to the glass.
“Naturally I remember you,” the Brujo said. “I’m pleased you found me. So few return here.”
“She’s been here before,” Lily gasped.
Daniel’s reply was inaudible. Lily kept her ear on the glass.
“I saw an agate today,” said the woman, gazing around the shed, “and I suddenly remembered.”
Her eyes alighted on a particular jar.
“Is it my soul?”
“Not exactly,” said the Brujo. “Think of it as your childhood sense of wonder.”
“Why did you take it?”
“So you could grow into a responsible adult?” the Brujo jested.
“I want it back.”
“It’s still here,” he assured her. “I’ve kept it safe for you.”
The Brujo reached for Lily’s jar, big hand looming.
“Leave her alone!” Daniel cried.
Lily recoiled as her jar came down from the shelf. The Brujo opened it. He took out the agate.
“Your name was Silly Lily,” he told the woman.
Lily was standing in the shed, holding an agate. She saw things clearly for the first time since girlhood, as if finding a lost piece of herself. Dust motes swirled in a honey sunbeam, creek chuckling nearby. A breeze stirred the willows. A frog croaked.
Silly Lily had grown up. She had a husband and two teenagers. A job and a house. But she’d forgotten all this beauty. Mercifully, she would soon forget her time in the jar, too.
She should go home, but something was nagging at her.
Her husband drove a blue car.
Lily stepped quickly to the shelves. She found an empty spot labeled SILLY LILY on an old strip of masking tape. Next to it sat a jar called DANDAN. It held a little blue car.
“Daniel,” breathed Lily.
“Goodbye,” came a faint reply.
“I’ll find you and bring you here,” she promised.
Lily stepped outside. Her memory of the jars was fading. The Brujo smiled, eyes flint-gray in the shadows.
As Lily hurried home, she noticed birds singing. A lacework of shadows danced on the ground. A hawk circled overhead. She paused beside the chortling creek, feeling sunshine on her face. She needed to concentrate.
There was something she had to tell Daniel.
About the Author
Michael McCormick writes stories and poetry in his Batman pajamas. His award-winning work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. He’s currently writing an urban fantasy novel. Mike can usually be found at his Batcave in Minnesota or his website www.mikemccormick.org.