As your story ends the flames grow dimmer. Our faces are still visible although the light has faded.
Wonderfully done! Hack, cough. The second round is complete and the moon is well on its way to the pinnacle of its path. Cough, cough.
No, I'm fine. Just a bit too much smoke in the lungs on that breath.
No, I'm sure. No harm can befall us while the fire still burns. A little bit of smoke isn't going to hurt me.
Note the change in incantation and prepare your next story ladies. Round three starts now.
Let the trembling trees shelter me as I begin our thirteenth story.
"Like the internet thing?" Mary asked, staring at the greenish glow on the tree branch, "What do you call those? Browners?"
"Browsers," Jess replied with sigh, "And no. The internet browser is 'Firefox' while this is 'foxfire'; derived from the lain faux meaning 'fake.'"
"Oh, sure." Mary nodded as she squinted her eyes, "But what is it?"
"For the third time Mary, it's foxfire."
"No. I mean why is the tree branch glowing green? What is foxfire?"
"Oh well..." Jess bit the inside of her cheek, she didn't actually know that much about the phenomena, "From what I can remember it's just a bunch of glowing chemicals that some fungi give off. It's not anything supernatural or unusual. It's not a burglar or hooligan or whatever you thought it was camping in the back yard of the building. It's just some rotten wood. Can we go back to our apartments now?"
Mary ignored her question as she leaned in closer to the downed branch. She traced a finger along the surface of the wood to the outermost glowing bulb. She pulled back and gave the glowing ooze on her finger an appraising look.
"You shouldn't just randomly prod fungi," Jess scolded her, "some species are extremely poisonous."
"I'll wash it off when I get inside," Mary assured her, wiping a smear of dimming phosphorescence on her jeans, "Thanks for checking it out with me. I'm sorry I bothered you."
Jess grumbled out a "no problem" and trudged back towards their apartment building, Mary following closely behind. Jess pushed her way into unit 455 and heard Mary opening and shutting the door to 456 soon afterwards. As far as neighbors go Mary was pretty decent: she was friendly, courteous about quiet hours and parties, and generally willing to work with Jess to solve any problems that came up between them. However, Jess had noticed she could get a little bit jumpy about out of place things in the yard their doors faced. Some of those fears were reasonable, like the shadowy figure slinking about that had turned out to be a bobcat prowling around the complex, while many had proven to be odd, most notably the time she was certain a lawn gnome that was tossed in the center of the yard was a sure sign of malevolent intent.
Jess settled in for the night, watching reruns of Surgeon of the Stars while she tapped at dumb, time-wasting games on her phone. She had just opted to watch one more episode before going to bed when she heard a knock at the door. She groaned in annoyance as she heard Mary's voice from behind the door:
"Jess? Are you home? There's something out in the woods!"
"Jess? Are you home? There's something out in the woods!"
"Yeah Mary, it's just the foxfire," Jess shouted through the door, "We already investigated it a few hours ago, remember? It's fine."
Mary stayed silent. Jess waited by the door, not wanting to settle back down until she heard Mary head inside again. A minute passed without Jess hearing the door to 456 open again. She was just about to lean down and look through the peephole when Mary spoke again:
"Yeah, I remember. It's just that I thought I saw some figures out there too. And I think I heard them talking."
"It's probably just college kids Mary. You know they like to cut through the woods sometimes. Just make sure you lock your door and you'll be fine."
"Please Jess. Just check with me this one time and I swear I won't bother you again tonight."
Jess sighed to herself and grabbed her coat.
"Let's get this over with," she growled as she brushed past Mary and headed towards the eerie green light. A minute later she was at the site of the glowing tree branch, swiveling her head left and right.
"See Mary? There's no one out here," she said, shaking her head, "You just need to go back inside and relax."
Jess spun around to head back inside and found Mary standing directly behind her, oddly still. Jess stumbled backwards a step. Something looked off about her neighbor.
"Mary, are you okay?"
"I'm great," she replied, taking a heavy step forward. Jess noticed what was off about her: it was her eyes. As she took the step forward the reflected light off the foxfire didn't move with her. Jess stepped back again and Mary lumbered forward. The reflections of the light weren't right, Jess realized, because she wasn't reflecting the light of the foxfire at all. The pale green light bleeding across her face was originating from Mary's eyes. Jess gulped; a lump the size of an egg sliding slowly down her throat.
Jess started running to her right, slightly deeper into the woods, hoping she could double back and make it to her apartment. With inhuman speed Mary tackled her, sending both of them careening towards the downed tree branch. Mary recovered from the fall first, her right hand snatching a bouquet of glowing mushroom caps from the branch. Jess opened her eyes in time to watch Mary smash and smear the handful of harvested fungi across her face. There was an acrid taste on her tongue that she tried to spit out. She threw an unresisting Mary off of her and struggled to her feet. Her face tingled and her vision swam. She only made it two steps before falling to her knees.
The tingling feeling spread along her face, internally and externally. It fuzzed its way between her ears, working its way towards the core of her head. Time seemed to slow around her as her sight dissolved into separate streams of disassociated colors, each one hosting its own hallucinatory scene. There was a world of all pink where city blocks individually floated though the air like ships, people rushing between them as they passed each other. Another hallucination in her trip was a vibrant yellow where relatives, living and dead, were made of sand and spoke in veiled metaphors about things she had done in her life and had yet to do. She experienced all of them in a disorienting simultaneity, each one so starkly different from one another up until the end. In the end, the colors all blended into an eerie, pulsating green.
Everything converged to that verdant hue: the pink cities in the sky, the purple stars who lived in ice and knew the secret names of each of her romantic partners, the parliament of rooks who voted the relative order (but not the time nor place) that each one of her high-school classmates (including herself) would die; all the worlds and their figmentary denizens eventually glowed green. They'd lose their color bit-by-bit and then fade into that final world at the end of it all. One that was made of nothing but spores and mushroom caps, brightening and dimming to the beat of her breathing. It was a peaceful place compared to all the other chattering worlds; peaceful and simple and happy. She rested against the stalk of a giant mushroom and felt a wave of relief soar through her. She closed her eyes and found upon opening them that clusters of little foxfire fungi had begun growing on her arms. For some reason she felt deeply satisfied by that.
She stumbled to her feet and turned to face Mary and the cluster of shrooms on the downed branch, the hallucinatory visions fading out (but still somewhat there in the corners of her vision.) May was still laying on the ground, staring off into the darkness of the night. Jess knew what she had to do. She grabbed a handful of the mushrooms and painted their gooey fluid across her neighbor's face. It felt good to do, but not quite as good as she had hoped. Mary, for her part, seemed to enjoy it as her glowing eyes bulged and her body trembled. Small "oohs" and "ahhs" accompanied her deep breaths for a minute or two. Jess watched her, wondering why that hadn't itched the new-found urge glowing at the center of her being.
The answer came to her slowly. She nodded with understanding as she swiped up another fistful of the mushrooms. She stood up and extended an arm to Mary, whispering as she did:
"We have two neighbors on the other side of the building."
Swiftly they trekked back to their apartment building and around to the side that faced the road. In the dark of night a single car passed them by, unconcerned with their doings. Mary knocked heavily on the door to 454. A sleepy voice answered:
"Mary? What's going on?"
"Come on out, Sylvia," Mary said calmly, "There's something you need to see."