by Patrick Hurley
Robert looked up from his book and there she stood, her back against the sea, exactly as he remembered her.
“You’re here,” he said, his voice barely heard above the breaking waves.
“I am.” A sad smile flickered across her face. The breeze tousled her curly hair. Her eyes sparkled emerald and gray.
Robert had wondered what he’d say to the green witch should they meet again; obsessed over it even, imagining many versions of their conversation. Yet now she stood there, as wild and lovely as she’d been sixty years ago, and he’d become an old man. That hadn’t been part of the play in his head, and he didn’t know any of the lines for this new role.
“I wasn’t sure you were real,” he confessed. “After all this time, I wondered.”
Her smile returned, more genuine this time. “You wondered if I made up the legend of the green witch to be rid of you?”
Robert laughed to cover his embarrassment. “I did. We had such a night. I saw things. Things I was sure couldn’t be real. And after it was all done, you just vanished.”
“You were here for your sister’s wedding, if I recall,” the green witch said. She sat down and Robert relaxed. Though summer, the early evening had grown cool and they were alone. Beyond their small café table were cobblestone streets lined by small shops with gray slate roofs. The village was exactly how Robert remembered it from his dreams.
“I was. Jeannie wanted a seaside wedding. She has grandchildren now. A whole pack of them.”
The green witch nodded. “Your sister seemed like someone who would make a good mother. And you, Robert? Have you married? Do you have your own pack?”
“I did marry.”
Robert winced. “We couldn’t have any children. It always made Kate rather sad, though we did have plenty of nieces and nephews to spoil.”
“She passed away last year.”
The green witch reached out and took his hand. “I’m so sorry.”
He closed his eyes. “Thank you.”
They sat quietly for a time, the old man and the green witch, listening to the waves.
“How about you?” Robert asked. “What has your life been like?”
She considered the question for a while. “Time passes differently for my kind. I have done well. The people who remember make the proper offerings. I watch out for them and their village. I have them, and I have the sea.”
“And have you been happy?”
Robert became silent again, unsure of how to answer. “Yes. I’ve had a good life. I loved my wife. We had friends and family. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough. Though I never forgot you.”
“I thought about checking on you,” the green witch admitted. Robert felt a small stirring of pride at this. “But I held back. It never goes well for mortals should we interfere too much.
“You saved my life that night,” she said gravely. “Though you didn’t know it.”
Robert shivered. There were parts of their adventure he could only fully recall in dreams, but one memory still haunted his waking hours. “The shadow men?”
“Still here,” she said, her voice soft. “Safely bound beneath the waves. Thanks to you, they shall remain so for a thousand years.”
Overhead, the gulls began to cry out as they flew over the beach, scavenging for food.
“Why did you come to me for help?” Robert finally asked. “I’m nobody special.”
The green witch gave him another smile. “I was near the end of my power,” she said. “Only one in a thousand could have seen me. Only one in a million would have helped me. Yet in the middle of your sister’s wedding, you did both without a second thought. And you wonder why I chose you?”
“You never told me your name,” Robert said simply.
“Nor can I, even now. It is dangerous knowledge.”
Robert nodded. “Will I . . . will I ever see you again?”
Perhaps surprising even herself, the green witch leaned forward and kissed him. “You will. One last time before the end. You may come with me to my kingdom and I will tell you my name.”
Robert closed his eyes against his warm salt tears. “What if . . .”
He opened his eyes, staring at her, staring at the boundless sea. “What if I were ready to go now?”
Her face changed then, becoming more otherworldly and beautiful, and less human. It was how Robert remembered her in his dreams. “Are you sure? Once you come with me there is no going back.”
The setting sun danced merrily on the waves, reflecting in his eyes. “I’ve already said all my goodbyes. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
She took his hand once more. Around them, the waves crashed, the wind blew, and the sun set lower and lower, until Robert imagined he could see a shimmering path in the water, leading down beneath the waves. He let himself be led by her, smelling the salt, tasting the sea.
Just before they reached the path, she kissed him again and the waves closed around them.
Patrick Hurley has had fiction published in dozens of markets, including the magazines Abyss & Apex, Galaxy’s Edge, Aurealis, and Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores; the book anthologies Portals, Battling In All Her Finery, and Murder & Mayhem; Paizo RPGs Pathfinder and Starfinder;and the podcasts The Overcast and The Drabblecast. Patrick lives in Seattle and is a member of SFWA and the Dreamcrashers. He is a 2017 graduate of the Taos Toolbox Writer’s Workshop taught by Nancy Kress and Walter Jon Williams. In 2018, he was a finalist for the Baen Fantasy Award. He is currently revising his first novel with his agent.