Rachel A Dowling
The Owl Lantern
A small flame flickered in the owl lantern’s chest, bringing light to wide open eyes. The owl blinked as a gust of wind from the lake passed through. We sat around the campfire.
I sat Indian-style on the ground and twisted my birthstone ring around my finger. The stone wasn’t real but I swear it sparkled just the same.
Dad was telling us the story of the owl lantern again. How he found it years and years and years ago discarded on the side of the road. How in the middle of winter the dark metal of its wings absorbed the sun and melted the snow. How the candle in its chest was held inside with drippings of old wax, the wick so shredded and damp it wouldn’t catch. How he cleaned it carefully inside and out until it could be lit.
I hated how he spoke as though life existed before I was born.
The wind shifted and delivered a trail of smoke that clung to hair and skin, forced its way into eyes and mouth. My vision blurred with salty tears, I coughed and got up to move.
My birthstone ring slipped off my finger and fell into the dirt, an aquamarine seed planted in the earth. I saw nothing on the surface so I dropped to my knees and crawled around in search. I dug my hands in the soil, pulled up handfuls of grass and buried grime under my nails. I unearthed three-leaf clover after three-leaf clover until a worm began to coil around my pinky. I recoiled, stood up, and backed away. Tilting toward the sunset sky, I prayed: Star light, star bright.
Mom and Dad put out the fire.
Together we piled into the big green 9X5 tent. Still scented with smoke and touched by stardust, I nestled in my sleeping bag. Only a thin spread of canvas and polyester lining kept me from the earth. I curled up and fell asleep.
Time passed by, twenty-two years as the owl flies.
I got a new ring that absorbs the sun and reflects another burst of light in every single shining facet. This time, I swear it’s real.
The owl lantern hangs still on a rusted hook in the garage, dark metal wings folded at its sides. A votive candle sits within, waiting to be lit.
Rachel A. Dowling
writes speculative poetry and prose from her home in Western New York. So far, her love of language has earned her degrees in literature and linguistics and led her to careers in localization and marketing. Whether or not she has ESP is still under debate.