As soon as she was gone, I hung the chain around my neck and threw on a pair of jeans. The key hummed against my racing heart. I knew exactly what it unlocked, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was inside. The sun was just peeking over the hill when I slipped out the back door and headed for Nana’s shack.
The shack was the same as it had always been; pointed, sloping roof, crooked little door, and broken windows, but today it felt like a new place entirely. It wasn’t Nana Marin’s shack any longer. It was mine. I stepped through the threshold and breathed in the familiar scent of lemons and honey, mothballs and herbs. A scent that lingered in the cracks of the walls and hung on the wool curtains that Nana had sewn together so many years before.
The key around my neck felt alive, pulsing with anticipation as if it were a part of my soul. I knew what it wanted.
In the back corner of the shack sat a four poster brass bed, and at the foot of the bed, a heavy trunk with a small rusted keyhole. I’d seen Nana eye the trunk longingly each time I’d visited, but she’d never opened it in front of me. Was it because Mom had the only key? A witch as powerful as Nana could’ve opened it with magic, I was sure, but I couldn’t begin to know how to do that myself. I slipped the chain over my head and slid the key in.
I held my breath as I lifted the heavy lid. The hinges groaned, shattering the quiet of the empty shack. Inside I found Nana’s robes. It wasn’t what I’d expected, but my heart still skipped a beat when I pulled the fabric from its resting place, and slid it over my shoulders. The wool scratched against my skin, the weight of it tugging my arms down at my sides. In the left pocket I found Nana’s hair pins and smiled as I twisted my long hair into a bun. Nana wasn’t gone. She was inside me. I could feel her there, just inside the shield of magic, whispering in my ear, You’ll never have trouble getting the things you want, Sophie.
I wanted to make the wind in the trees sing along with my rhymes. I wanted the earth to move at my touch. I wanted to call the birds in a tongue they’d understand. I wanted to know the future.
I wanted the magic.
At the bottom of the trunk, beneath a heavy aged book, I found a deck of cards. Not regular playing cards like I had back in my bedroom. These were Nana’s magic cards. Something tickled in my stomach, a mix of elation and fear. My cards had told my story, things I’d already known, but they were ordinary playing cards. Could Nana’s tell me more? I sat on the cold dirt floor, willed a fire to life in the hearth and smiled when the flames licked the charred logs. The woods outside fell silent.
The cards said sssssnick.
I shuffled the cards until I felt the warmth in my hands that said they were ready to speak. “Okay,” I said. “Tell me my story.”
I laid the cards out in front of me. The story they told was a familiar one; the witch woman in the pointed shack who keeps the stories of others. They told of how, without even trying, she’d used her magic to make things grow, how she belonged to the woods as much as they belonged to her.
Until her sixteenth year when she made a choice. A choice to know more, a desire for more power and more knowledge than she had already been given. The magic consumed her and bound her to the shack in the woods, in life and in death, never set free until another witch of the same line would make the same choice.
I looked around the empty shack, some small part of me hoping to see Nana sitting in her rocker by the fire watching me with curious eyes, but I was alone. I shuffled again.
The cards said sssssnick.
“What choice had she made?” I asked them, as I lay them out before me in long rows that seemed to stretch on for miles.
The Ace of Swords sat at the top of the first pile, just touching the head of the High Priestess. They told me the story of how the witch’s desire for more brought her to read the cards of the ancients. Cards that held so many answers, so many stories, and so, so much magic. Too much for one witch alone. Cards that had been locked away for years in a trunk that only a small brass key could unlock. The magic of the cards would confine the witch, making her the keeper of stories, never having one of her own.
Power corrupts, Sophie, My mother had warned. Everything has consequences. I thought it impossible that Nana, with her cool but gentle hands, could have been corrupted by anything, let alone her own magic. Was she a prisoner here?
Somewhere in my mind, I knew the answer. It was like a whisper through the trees, just soft enough that I had to strain to hear it. The key lay next to the cards as if it were a part of the deck. Nana was gone, on the sixteenth year of my birth. I looked down at my hands resting in my lap, atop Nana’s robes. I had to clench them together to keep from shuffling again. The desire to know more was there, pulling me toward the cards, making me want to listen to all the stories they had to tell.
Make your own decision. I remembered the tightness to my mother’s mouth as she spoke those words to me. As if she had more to say, but the words wouldn’t leave her lips.
I fell back, kicking the cards away from me. The cold earth pressed against me, but it wasn’t what made my body shiver and my hands shake. The story in front of me wasn’t Nana Marin’s.
It was mine.
Thanks for reading! Next week we untangle with a full short by me on Monday!
Photo by Striking Photography by Bo via Flickr Creative Commons
Welcome to Tangled Fiction, where three YA writers collaborate to complete one story!
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday one TF writer will post a piece of the same story. Each of us will be responsible for one beginning, middle, and end in a single month. The fourth week will be full of surprises, we're sure, and we'll share them with you when we know what they are.