Christopher sat by the sea and waited.
It was cold and only got colder as the moon slowly made its way across the night sky, but Christopher didn’t move. The rhythmic crashing of the waves was like a soothing lullaby, but Christopher didn’t fall asleep. He couldn’t. This was his last chance.
The sun had been setting when Christopher had arrived at the shore. The sand was warm under his bare feet then. He had watched the sun sink into the water, spreading liquid gold across the waves. Gold wasn’t what he needed, though. There was no magic in gold. So Christopher waited.
The moon had risen behind him and now it, too, was sinking toward the sea. It wouldn’t be long now.
Christopher thought of his mother at home. He pictured her pale face, the thin hands clutching at the blankets, the wracking cough that left her weak and trembling. The doctors had said there was nothing more to be done. They had said that it was time to prepare for the end. But Christopher knew better. He knew there was always something to be done. He knew there was no way to prepare for the end of the world.
Christopher gripped the wooden bowl in his hands. It wasn’t very large, but he knew it would be enough if he could carry it steady and not spill anything. He would carry it steady. It hadn’t been possible to get a larger bowl without being seen, and it had been necessary to slip out unseen. Aunt Nora would never have let him come down here alone. Aunt Nora said the shore was dangerous for young boys. She said there was no such thing as magic and believing in it would only get you hurt. But Christopher knew better. He knew that magic was very real. He knew that believing was dangerous, but not believing was even more dangerous.
The moon was almost to the water now. Christopher stood up. His back was stiff, and his legs felt tingly from sitting still for so long. He crept toward the water, gasping a little at the cold when the first wave rushed across his toes. When the water began to rise as high as his knees, Christopher stopped. He clenched his jaw to stop it from knocking his teeth together. With all his might he stared out at the moon, trying not to blink at all. The moment would only come once. He must not miss it.
When it happened, it was even more beautiful than Christopher had expected. The glowing white disc touched the edge of the dark water. The silver light flowed out instantly, its path leading straight to the shallows where Christopher stood. With a smooth motion, barely daring to breathe, Christopher dipped his bowl into that shining stream, gathering up the magic he knew it contained. Just as quickly as it had come, the magic was gone. The moon sank further. The glowing path spread across the waves. It was only a reflection now. A reflection of a reflection. And then it was gone, and Christopher was left to walk home in the dark.
It didn’t seem dark to him, though. Christopher did not think he had ever felt so light. Walking home, slowly, carefully, placing each step cautiously, arms aching from carrying the bowl without the slightest tilt, he felt better than he had felt in weeks. In his hands he held the answer. At last, after so much helpless waiting, he was doing something useful.
When he reached the house, all the lights were out except one. He knew that was the light kept burning low next to his mother’s bed. Christopher knew just how to open that window. He knew just how to crawl inside it without making any noise. It was a bit harder with the bowl, heavy with its load of magic, but Christopher made it. He didn’t have any choice.
At last he stood by the side of the bed, looking down at his mother with her labored breathing. A glass was on the table by the lamp, empty now. Christopher set the bowl beside it. Looking at the water in the bowl, he couldn’t help but feel a moment of doubt. All that shining silver was gone. It looked like ordinary water now. Not even very clean water. But Christopher knew better.
He looked at the glass, but he knew that his mother would never be able to drink. Instead, he took the cloth that was laid across her forehead. It was hot to the touch. Quickly he dipped it into the bowl of magic. With gentle hands, he pressed the magic to her forehead.
Then Christopher sat by his mother’s side and waited.