Secrets, lies, and fireflies (part one)

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The entire town of Goodharts was preparing for the Fires of the Hills Festival, and especially the people living at the Pride Mansion. Everything had to be perfect. Each blade of grass had to have the same size. Each plant in the garden had to be splendid. The white tents rose one after other like castles of clouds, the distance between them always the same. Inside, long tables were perfectly aligned, adorned with table cloths his mother carefully washed and starched; they were so white, they almost hurt the eye with their brightness.

The lawn was surrounded by hundreds of lanterns, shining almost like daylight even at night. Somewhere, upfront, huge boilers with logs were waiting to catch fire so they could warm up the dozens of guests attending the after-party. October of that year had turned out to be fairly warm, yet the evening brought the coolness that made people feel shivers down their spine, a sign that summer was long gone. Or maybe it wasn't the cold at all, but the reminder that it had been almost seven years since the last people disappeared into the forest. Fortunately, the last ones had returned, but that did nothing to make people's concerns disappear.

In the backyard which led to the kitchen of the mansion, there had been installed barbecues and spits for cooking suckling pigs, lambs, and bushmeat to treat the fine tastes of guests, at the feast after the festival.

Ferry noticed the hustle and bustle at the manor. To his astonishment, the last floor was still locked, a sign that the mysterious guest wasn't going to attend the festival. Somehow, solving the mystery of the last room on the third floor was no longer so urgent.

The town was also full of excitement and impatience. People were talking only about the festival and the contests—the best pie contest for the most skilled housewives, the kite competition for children, and the basket bidding for young girls, but especially for the young boys who hoped maybe that way they could go on a short picnic-date with the girl they liked. Ferry knew from Ben that Steph and May were participating in the basket bidding for the first time. With the money from the auction, the Town Hall intended to purchase books for the new library, and the girls had agreed to attend as long as it was for a good cause. This year, even Matilda was participating.

"I just wanted to please my mom," she said, looking moody. "She loves to see me cooking with an apron and a ribbon in my hair. Of course, she'll do most of the cooking. Maybe Shadow will help us. Anyway, no one is going to bid on me, so I'm not worried about it."

Ferry also felt the fever of the preparations, although he knew this year would be different. His mother couldn't attend because her help was needed at the Pride Mansion. So Ferry had agreed with all his heart to stay at the Knight family's tent. He had all the reasons to be enthusiastic about the festival—he received his first salary for gardening, and he intended to use the money to buy coins to bid on May's basket. It was the perfect opportunity to get a date with her. Of course, he didn't tell anyone. How much would a basket cost? He was certain he could miss some spare coins.

Cecilia had bragged about her basket which was to contain the finest dishes, and rumors were circulating throughout the school that most of the boys would bid on her basket. Cecilia cooking any of the dishes in that basket was unlikely, but that was certainly not the purpose of her participation. She just wanted to prove to everyone that she was the most popular girl in high school.

Ferry, just like the entire town, couldn't wait for the day of the festival to come. In the evening time, when he was heading to Lavender's house after a long day of work, his footsteps were guided by dozens of fireflies, small sparks in the night's air. Lavender told him the time of the fireflies had been long gone, now that summer left, and that could only be a good sign. Unlike the spiders, who were a sign of misfortune. Fortunately, only fireflies appeared on his path. And Ferry wanted to believe in her words with all his heart.

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