“No campfires allowed in the park.”
I stepped sideways to try and prevent the park ranger noticing Will’s dead cat was on fire behind me. The ranger had a droopy little mustache, turned down like a frown.
“What are you kids cooking anyway? Smells like roast beef.” He threw his head back and bellowed out a laugh.
I winced. “We’re holding a funeral.”
The ranger’s laughter fizzled out. Rhiannon rubbed her thumb over the back of my hand.
“It’s my cat,” added Will, not looking up. He sat hunched over on a log, back curving like a question mark as he chucked crinkled handfuls of green onto the fire. The burning cat smelled like a mixture of charred flesh and those plastic packets of instant seasoning you got with noodles, the kind of scent that crawled into your nose and stayed there. Rhiannon had recommended the herbs. She had been the first to sprinkle Sir Edmund de Chickenstick’s sad furry body with rosemary and whatever we could scrounge up from my mother’s garden. Apparently, herbs were good for cleansing? I wasn’t sure but Rhiannon always smelled of lavender in the line of her neck. She said it warded off evil. I said it made me want to kiss her. Now Rhiannon glared down Mr. Ranger, eyes cold and steely, challenging him to talk to her directly.
“You’re burning a cat?” Mr. Ranger’s gaze was pointedly fixed on me and he shifted from foot to foot. “It...it was already dead right?”
Will lurched to his feet, mouth a harsh slash across his face. “Of course he was. My neighbor ran him over.”
“Don’t you usually deal with dead pets in your garden? More private?” On the bright side, Mr. Ranger was no longer scolding us about the fire. Instead, his mouth was stretched into a perfect ‘o’ shape while his hands fluttered by his sides.
“Don’t have a garden. She does,” Will flicked his wrist in my direction, “but her parents wouldn’t let me do anything there.”
I had brought it up at dinner a few days ago only for my parents to yell at me. Kelsey, don’t bring a mangy animal into our garden, it probably has fleas! Think of my herbs! Mrs. Hunterson said that Will boy slashed her tires! It’ll make the whole place dirty! Kelsey, why are your friends so strange?
Mr. Ranger leaned forwards, hands cupped around his mouth. “I’m not meant to let you have fires, they’re worried about the trees burning and all that, but I’ll let you mourn your cat. Don’t tell anyone.”
“Thanks,” I muttered. The heat from the fire was slowly scorching the back of my legs.
“We need to light these,” said Rhiannon as soon as Mr. Ranger had scurried out of sight. She pressed a cluster of tealights in my hand. The shiny metal cups were filled to the brim with something green and glimmering. I wanted to stick my finger in it.
“Don’t touch them, they’ll give you a rash,” Rhiannon answered my questions before I had even spoken, “they’re wax and a little something extra.”
The corners of my mouth twitched into a smile. “Something extra?”
“You don’t want to know, Kels, trust me. Put them in a circle.”
She thrust a stick into the fire, the wood crackling and splintering with a cheery tangerine flame. I gently pushed Will’s legs back to place the candles. In return for me saving him from kicking one over, he sprinkled rosemary in my hair. I hissed at him. The tealights lit with a splutter of silver smoke as Rhiannon glided around in a circle. I hadn’t been to a cat funeral before but this didn’t seem to be usual cremation practice.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“It’s to bring his spirit back,” said Will, his glowing eyes transfixed on the fire.
Will ignored me and instead turned to Rhiannon, face scrunched up in a frown. “Why isn’t it working?”
“It takes a minute.”
“No, it doesn’t. The book said it happens immediately.”
“Well, maybe the book is wrong.” Rhiannon brandished a twig at him and the wood erupted into motes of light.
“Maybe you’re wrong.”
“I’m grieving, you can’t bully me!”
Sir Edmund de Chickenstick’s charred body shuddered like there was something under his fur crawling its way out. The fire blurred, rippling at the edges. I sucked in a breath and the scent of fresh leaves and rain filled my nose, clouding my head and weighing down my eyelids as stripes of light streaked across my vision. The dead cat blinked at me. My hand reached out for the green to warm my fingers.
“Maybe I should have tried the ritual and then it would actually work.”
“We both know you couldn’t even resurrect a fly, Will-"
The flames flashed green and spat out a familiar orange furred form. Will grabbed Sir Edmund de Chickenstick with a whoop of triumph. His eyes widened as he saw my hands bathed in the fire. I snatched my fingers back.
“Kelsey you’re my new best friend.”
Rhiannon kicked at Will’s ankle but her smile stretched bright. “Guess I can bully you now you’re not grieving.”
I glanced down at my hands, devoid of any burns or scars. “This wasn’t really a funeral, was it?”
“Not exactly,” Rhiannon’s chuckled, “is that a problem?” She smelled of rosemary and just the faintest trace of burnt cat. I could work with this. Rhiannon’s eyes were liquid pools of light and they crinkled at the edges as I curled my hands around her shoulders. Something warm unfurled like a flower in my chest. I could definitely work with this.
“It’s not a problem,” I said. Rhiannon’s mouth tasted like burnt sugar. Sir Edmund de Chickenstick settled into Will’s arms behind me with a loud rumbling purr.
It wasn’t a problem at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy writes strange stories at night to procrastinate her university work and create a fun and unpredictable sleep schedule. She currently has neither a cat nor an affinity for performing magic rituals in the woods but hopes to acquire both later in life. This is her first published story.