The shadow grew in the frame of the door, and a gray orange light glowed behind it. Marie took a deep breath to clear her mind, knowing she would need all of her faculties, and reached for Morgan´s hand.
We got this, Morgan thought to her. Marie squeezed her sister´s hand and nodded in the dark.
The shadow started to move down the hall with long, brisk strides. Morgan concentrated, trying her best to bring back her light. A small flame flickered in the air between and quickly went out. Then, the whole room lit up. For a moment, the girls were silent.
Standing in front of them was Fa Switch in her long black coat. Now that the lights were on, she suddenly appeared much shorter. Her face was livid and pale.
“What,” she said, “do you think you’re doing?” Her voice was a whisper that was almost inaudible yet filled the room. It was sharp and thin, and the sisters could feel it penetrating their skin like a needle and thread.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Morgan started to speak but Fa turned from the three younger sisters to Mara, giving them a look that said there would be more to discuss later.
She waved her hand over the lock of the cell door, and it clicked open immediately.
“Come,” she said, holding the gate open.
Mara looked up at her mother with wet, red eyes but didn’t budge. “Mom,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
Back straight and eyes cold, Fa didn’t respond.
“We already tried,” Mina piped up, but hid behind Marie again when her mother shot her a silencing stare.
Fa clicked the cell door shut again, took one last look at her oldest daughter, and turned around. She walked toward the exit. The sisters looked at each other with folded foreheads that were at once worried and confused.
“Morgan,” Fa said without turning around. “Give us some of your light.” The lights dimmed, and Morgan’s ball of flame reappeared in Mara’s cell. It floated through the bars and down the hallway after Fa. Marie and Morgan reached through the bars and took Mara’s hand. Mina tugged on her dress.
“Are you sure?” Morgan said.
“Take care of yourself,” Marie said.
The sisters scrambled to their feet and followed their mother out of the door.
In the front room, the guard who had been locked in the bathroom had given up trying to get out. A light gurgling came from the closed bathroom door, the toilet still churning lightly. Fa looked at the door and then at Marie. Marie nodded slightly, and the noise stopped.
Fa held out her hand.
Mina handed the keys to her mother, who clutched them in her hand, stepped outside, and motioned for her daughters to hide in a clump of bushes some yards from the house. The girls followed her out and ran to the bush.
By now the fire had grown and was lapping up the edge of the cattails. The officer they had lured outside was running about frantically to and from the water with the bucket, and was shouting curses in to the air. Fa Switch pulled the hood of her long black jacket over her head. The cloth was so light and dark that she seemed to disappear into the darkness. She walked swiftly and silently to where the officer was, looped the keys back on his belt, and glided noiselessly back to where her daughters were waiting. She arrived panting and out of breath.
“We have to hurry. He’s called for help. People are on their way.”
The girls got up immediately, but even as they did they started to hear the sound of a crowd coming down the street. The shadows of bodies elongated on the road confirmed their suspicions.
Marie closed her eyes, and the thin mist that already floated near the ground thickened into a cloudy fog that obscured the house almost completely. Morgan burned the fire brighter to clear the fog near the sisters and Fa. Mina clutched both of their hands, and following Fa, they ran up the street towards the other side of town.
The walk was silent and quick. The sisters would have gasped to catch their breath, but they knew that the noise would bring them additional punishment from their mother. They wondered what would happen when they got home. Now that they were with Fa, the nervous fear of the unknown that made their breath stop in their throat was no longer there. It was replaced by a cowering anxiety. They could see their mother’s wrath emanating from her small body.
Mina turned the events of the night over in her mind, trying to make sense of what had happened. She couldn’t quite understand why Mara would not leave. More puzzling, however, was why her mother had so easily given up. When Fa arrived, the part of Mina that wasn’t terrified at being caught red handed was relieved. Even if the sisters could not convince Mara to go, Fa would make her. Why hadn’t her mother tried at all? She hadn’t even seemed to care, and didn’t appear hurt or moved by Mara’s disheveled appearance. Mina did not understand it, and could only explain it by thinking that Fa must know something that they did not. She wished that she could communicate to Marie and Morgan without speaking, like they could to each other.
But Morgan and Marie were not communicating with each other. Each was lost in her own thoughts. Morgan wondered how they had been caught: she had snuck out so many times and knew her mother’s precautions front to back. Marie rolled over the events of the evening, looking for gaps where someone might have seen them or suspected, trying to decide if there was anything that could have gone better.
They turned on Tamany Lane, where their rickety house sat on the end, a crooked black outline against the purple night sky. The wind was blowing, and in the pulsing fog, the house looked like it was bending over and clutching its middle–a lonely figure, grieving for the losses of the night.