The heat of summer was pressing. Newt found it hard to sleep during the day, and he found that even the night offered little relief. Cloudfern had gone off to tend to part of the Thornwall, and Greenweave had gone to the river to fish. He had invited Newt, but Newt hadn’t wanted to go.
He happened upon Fadestar and Crackle, and he decided it was a night for playing with friends. “C’mon, Crackle, Fadestar!” he called. “Let’s go somewhere away from the Holt.”
The two girls looked almost surprised to see him, but something about their manner told him that they had been waiting for him. Fadestar suggested, “Maybe the river? It will be cooler there. If we go up near Laughing Creek, we won’t bother anyone else.”
Crackle grinned and nodded, then took off. “Come on, you two! Hurry!”
Fadestar ran past Crackle, grinning, “I’ll race you both!”
Crackle squealed with glee and took off running and jumping.
Newt was too hot to exert himself, but he didn’t want to get left behind, either. Taking off at a run, he followed them toward the river.
They had spent the rest of the night finding bugs and catching frogs. At one point, they even had a frog-hopping race. Newt laughed when Crackle’s frog went the wrong way, and he cheered the other two frogs on. Fadestar was so happy when her frog won that Newt had cheered with her.
“Let’s swim!” Crackle cried as she threw her clothing to the side and jumped into the water.
Fadestar laughed and started taking her clothes off, too.
Newt looked on longingly. He wanted to swim. He was good at it. But with the nights being so short, he knew that even though he and his friends weren't tired, the changing light indicated that the sun had already risen. Soon, its light would pour down and when it did, he should be covered up, and preferably indoors.
“Aren’t you coming, Newt?” Fadestar asked softly. Her eyes searched his own, trying to understand why he wouldn’t want to.
“Can’t you swim, Newt?” Crackle called from the water.
“I can swim, Crackle, you know that,” he answered. They had been swimming before, so she knew he could. He didn’t understand why she would tease him. “I’d come in, but…” he realized that maybe they didn’t know about him. Maybe they didn’t realize that he couldn’t be out in the light. They hadn’t really ever talked about it much. There had never really been a reason to. He had always made sure they were close to the Holt before dawn, so he hadn’t had to explain it.
“But what?” Otter asked as he approached from behind Newt.
Newt looked to his friend, then to Fadestar, who had jumped in, and finally to Crackle, who seemed to be waiting for an answer. How was he going to explain it?
He sighed. “You already know that I’m… different. My skin is lighter than the three of yours. And my hair is white, but not like Snowfall’s or Quick Fang’s. My eyes aren’t the same as anyone else’s either. That’s the stuff you can see, the stuff that you’ve known. But… for some reason, when I’m in the light, I get burned. I don’t have to be out long and I’ll burn faster and worse than all of you.”
Newt wasn’t worried about Otter’s reactions. He expected that the older boy would accept what he had said without question. Otter seemed like the most steady one. Fadestar, he guessed, might be sympathetic in some ways. He had heard of how sick she had been before she was wrapped, so she knew what it was like to have limitations. Crackle, on the other hand…
…interrupted his thoughts. “But Newt, Willow healed you!”
Newt looked at her, puzzled. “Of course she healed me. I didn’t die. She took care of the snakebite poison and I’m better now. I have been for moons.”
Crackle swam closer, her eyes wide with excitement. “No, I bet she really healed you, just liked she fixed what was wrong with Fadestar, and she fixed Brightwood and the baby right up too. I bet she found the way to make it so that you don’t get burned any more. A healer can do anything. You're safe now - you won’t get burned any more than me or Fadestar or Otter.”
“I don’t know…” Otter said skeptically.
Newt was hesitant, too, but Crackle had a point. Willow had healed him. Surely she hadn’t left some part of him broken, not if she could have helped it. He wanted to be normal. If what Crackle said was true, then he could become a scout, or a trapper. He could be out of the Holt during the daytime sometimes. He could go and see things he had never seen before. His spirits were soaring.
Ignoring the small voice that suggested he be safe, Newt took his clothing off. With his bare skin, which was dripping with sweat, he could feel a gentle breeze starting to cool him off. The water looked refreshing. Crackle and Fadestar were smiling at him, encouraging him to join them.
He looked at Otter and asked, “Are you coming?”
Otter grinned and nodded. Newt took a breath and jumped in, landing on his feet with a splash because the water wasn’t very deep yet. He laughed, then waded further into the water. Otter passed him and soon the four were splashing and laughing. Newt couldn’t remember ever having as much fun as this moment.
Knowing the brightening of the sky meant that the sun's light was growing stronger, Newt paused in his play to see if he could feel anything, but he didn’t. Crackle was right! He had been healed. If he wasn’t going to burn, Newt decided he would stay in the water all day, just to stay cool enough.
They continued to play, the sky's light ever brighter. Suddenly, Greenweave’s voice interrupted the play. “Newt! There you are. What are you doing? The sun!”
Newt looked at Greenweave, wondering what was wrong. Willow had healed him! He started to call out to Greenweave that it was all right, that he had been healed, but a whispered, “Oh, no!” from Crackle caught his attention.
Newt raised his hand to inspect it. It was pink. He was burning. He had to get out of the water – now! – or the burning could get worse, much worse. Frantically, Newt hurried to exit the river, rushing toward Greenweave, who was holding his clothes. He rushed past him, hurrying for the shade. Greenweave encouraged him to keep going without stopping to dress. Remembering the burns and blisters from early childhood, Newt bit back tears. He hadn’t wanted that. He had only thought… he started sniffling.
Once they were safely within the shelter of the trees, Greenweave asked, “What happened, Newt? What were you thinking?”
“I… Crackle… Willow healed me! She made it so I wouldn’t burn,” he sputtered. Then, sadly, he added, “But I guess she didn’t. I guess no one could do that.”
Greenweave whispered, “I wish she could have, Newt. I do…”
Newt interrupted, “Don’t worry. I won’t do that again.”
Greenweave spoke up, “I hope not. Your burn is bad enough. Willow's gone right now, but don’t worry, Cloudfern will make up something for you. You might not want to put your clothes on, though.”
Newt nodded. If he blistered, he didn’t want his leathers sticking to and chafing his skin. He felt ashamed – he should have listened to that voice inside him that was hesitant. He should have listened to Otter. But he hadn’t. He had listened to Crackle. Silly, story-telling, fun-loving Crackle. And he had been burned.