The summer evening’s sun was a raspberry bird spreading its wings across the horizon as the florist hung a hand-painted “closed” sign in the window. Through the slightly warped and bubbled glass, the newly-lit kerosene lamps looked like stars reflected in a lake. At the tap on the heavy wooden door, the florist flinched. The door creaked open and a grinning face haloed by a dark mane of frizzy hair poked around it.
“Nikki!” The florist let out a breath. “You frightened me!”
“Ivy! Listen, you gotta come with me!” Nikki slid all the way into flower shop, her feet dancing on the cherry wood floor.
“Is this another silly adventure of yours?” Ivy sighed.
“I met this boy—he was lighting lamps. I’ve always thought those lamplighters were cute!”
Ivy picked up a ceramic pitcher full of water and floated among her flowers. “Because I’ve had another long day-”
“And he gave me this little pamphlet!” Nikki brandished a trifold made of thick, cream-colored paper.
“-of arranging, caring for, and selling flowers.” She snipped a shriveled leaf off an aster. “And Miss Nordstrom came in yet again with all her fury about baby’s breath and roses, and of course Mister Green needed another apology bouquet-”
Nikki shoved the pamphlet at Ivy. “Look!”
Setting down her water pitcher, Ivy took the paper. She read the blocky, hand-written title, “SOMETHING DARK IS COMING.”
“Nikki…” Ivy started.
“No no! Keep reading!” Nikki said. But before Ivy could comply, Nikki snatched it out of her hands and started reading aloud. “Join the secret society sworn to protecting our city from the imminent shadows! Mekaniks and Elektricity are within our grasp! Join us and learn how YOU can help the fight for light!” Nikki looked up, eyes glowing. “Ivy, we have to go!”
“I don’t know, Nikki-”
“Oh c’mon. You’re gonna start growing moss if you stay in this musty shop for one more minute!” She grabbed Ivy’s hand and dragged her out the door.
“Where did you say we were going, Nikki?” Ivy asked, peering down dark alleyways.
“It’s a secret!”
“What’s the point of keeping it a secret? We’re going to be there soon right?” Ivy moaned.
“It’s all about the adventure!” Nikki began to skip ahead, her feet dancing across cobblestones. The streetlamp cast pools of light, and she leapfrogged from one to the next.
Ivy trudged along after her. She imagined the leather-bound book with golden trim and marbled endpaper waiting for her on her bedside table, and how warm the quilt cloaking her goose-feather mattress was. She shivered, as a dusk breeze whispered across her skin and raised little bumps on her arm.
Then Nikki stopped outside a hat shop. While waiting for Ivy to catch up, she jumped and hit the shop’s wooden sign, sending it swinging. “This way, Ivy,” she said, pointing to a skinny alley beside the shop.
If the alley had been any thinner, Ivy would have scraped her shoulders against the bricks. As it was, she had to watch her step to avoid scrap wood bristling with nails, broken pots, and rat skeletons. Her boot splashed into something she hadn’t seen in the darkness, and she tried not to show her disgust as an unnamable stench greeted her nose. Suddenly Ivy bumped against the wall at the end of the alleyway and panicked for a minute, thinking Nikki—who had skipped on ahead as usual—had never gone into the alley in the first place. Then she heard Nikki’s voice calling her from above.
“Up here! There’s a ladder right above your head!”
And sure enough, when Ivy felt the wall above her, her fingers touched cool iron. She tried to pull herself up and grunted with the effort.
“Use the wall! Brace your feet!” called Nikki.
Her boots pushed against the bricks, and the leverage boosted her enough to reach the second rung. And the third. Soon, she could hook her feet on the bottom rung, and she scurried up the rest of the ladder. Nikki was standing on the rooftop and the moon was a bright crescent, a lopsided grin at the night.
Ivy took a breath, a question on her tongue, when a voice slid out of darkness behind her.
“I thought I told you to come alone,” it said.
Ivy whirled, heart racing, hunting for the source of the voice, but Nikki turned and brightly said, “I know, I know, but I just couldn’t leave Ivy alone in that shop!” She lowered her voice as if Ivy wasn’t standing right next to her, “She needs to get out more. You understand. I was sure you’d be alright with this… but I mean, if you don’t want two more people to join your, ah, what was it? ‘resistance against the darkness?’ then I guess we can move along. C’mon Ivy.” She grabbed Ivy’s arm again and started edging toward the ladder.
“Wait, wait.” The voice sounded much less ominous this time. A boy no older than seventeen stepped out of the shadows, rubbing his neck. “I guess she can stay.” He was tall and thin and had unkempt hair. His face was a mess of grime, soot, and acne. His long trench coat was singed at the edges, and a flash a metal poked from behind one of its lapels. “Are you sure she’s trustworthy?”
Nikki snorted. “Probably more trustworthy than me, bub. Now where’s this secret order thing?”
The boy kicked the ground and said, “Well I’m technically not supposed to show you, as meeting you here was sort of a test of your trustworthiness, and you've already broken one of the only rules I gave you, seeing as you brought… her along.” He jerked his head toward Ivy, his hands firmly planted in his coat’s pockets.
“I'd appreciate if you didn't talk like I wasn't here, and my name is Ivy.” She folded her arms.
“Yeah? So?” His dark eyes flickered between the two girls. Nikki cocked an eyebrow, and something seemed to give way inside the boy. “Fine, fine. I’ll take you. But you’d better not cause any more trouble.” He squinted an accusation at Nikki.
Nikki drew an ‘X’ over her heart and grinned.