Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Death Gate (Part 2 of 3)

“What?” Kim jumped back from the gate like my words had made it come alive. “You’re fun, Beth. I was just messing with you.”

I slid down the small hill until my nose found its way between the bars. I could smell rotting leaves, and dirt, and maybe stale beer inside.

“C’mon, Beth. Let’s go.” Kim tugged at my sleeve. I pushed on the gate and it gave way. I took a breath, filled my lungs with the stench of lilac, and stepped inside.

That was when it started, about six months ago.


Everyone started waiting for me to die.

Kim was on her phone, texting God knows who, the minute I went through the gate. If the sea wall wasn’t so far from town, and it hadn’t been so cold, I’m sure there would’ve been a crowd waiting when I came back out. As it was, it hadn’t been necessary. Kim snapped a pic of me looking dazed and confused, one hand out in front of me, pushing the door open. By the time we got back to my place, everyone in school had a copy. I got seventy-two new friend requests on facebook. I became, quite suddenly, the most popular girl in Hancock Bay.

It was the single greatest thing that ever happened to Kim. I know this because she said so almost every day. I can’t believe I’m best friends with a real-live celebrity!

A month after I went inside, my fan page, Beth Against Death! and its counterpart, the death gate’s fan page, Death For Beth! had around 2000 fans each – most of them double dippers. A ticking clock counted down the days until my impending doom – or triumph – depending on which side you were on.

By summer, the whole town knew. There wasn’t a day that went by without a tourist coming into the Ice Palace and asking for a photo with “the girl who went through the death gate.” My father was not impressed, but every one of those tourists also bought a cone, or a sundae, or a smoothie, so he mostly kept quiet about it. Business was business whether it was for Rayburn’s Hand-Churned Ice Cream or “that freaky girl who’s going to die.”

Only my grandmother got upset when she heard the news from her knitting circle. You’re just like your mother, she said. Once upon a time, that would’ve made me mad, but every day since I went through that gate, my mother has felt just a little bit closer. Like she’s a buoy out in the bay and the undertow’s pulling me toward her.

When the breeze comes in from the sea, it always brings the scent of lilacs with it. I used to hate the smell, but I find it comforting now. At night, even though our house is too far inland to hear them, I listen to the waves crash against what’s left of the sea wall and think about my mother’s stories. Red sunrises and water ghosts. Pathways to a city under the sea. And promises accidentally made, but binding nonetheless.

In my dreams I remember the darkness beyond the gate. The way it grew thicker the further I followed it. How it went on too far, seemed endless. How I turned back, feeling emptier than I had when I went in.

But no one cares about that. They want the kind of story told over a campfire. One that will make them jump and scream and clutch their friend’s hand. One where I emerge breathless and victorious, having conquered death itself. Or peed my pants. Either will do, so long as it’s entertaining and shallow.

If anyone is broken up about the idea of me dying, they haven’t shown it. Not even Kim, who was so scared for me before I went in. The betting pool leans heavily in favor of my death coming exactly six months from the day I went in. Or in other words – today.

My father doesn’t acknowledge me, or the day, when I come into the kitchen, despite the headline on the front page of the paper he’s hiding behind that reads Is Today The Day?

I’ve promised the paper an exclusive on what I saw behind the gate, if I make it through the day. Part of me hopes I don’t. I keep thinking about Tommy Diaz, and how his parents would feel if I survive the gate’s curse when he didn’t.

“See ya, Dad,” I call as I open the kitchen door to the warm September morning. I don’t even bother with my backpack. There’s no way I’m going to the madhouse otherwise known as school. Today, I finish what I started.

Or die trying.

****

Come back Friday for the conclusion by Natalie!

Photo by Lacey Boldyrev

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Death Gate (Part 1 of 3)

They say if you go inside, your fate is sealed. Just like that. You open the rusted iron bars, step through the threshold and you might as well say goodbye to the world. I’ve only known two people to ever test the urban legend: Tommy Diaz, who died six months after he went inside from a heart condition nobody knew he had, and me.

***

There was nothing special about that day. It was cold outside, not really winter anymore but not quite spring either. Just cold in that wet way that sticks to your bones. The walk to the old turret wall was a short one, made longer by Kim’s nostalgic silence. She’d been talking about days that I’d rather just forget--sleepovers at my old house with popcorn and root beer floats, and a mother that could tell the best stories. I’d never told Kim, but the reason my mother’s stories were so good, or scary, or real, was because to her they were true.

The turret wall was built in the eighteen hundreds, made to protect our city by the sea from invading ships. Now it was just an old crumbling structure along the nature walk. Smaller structures were scattered along the trail. Some were bunkers that held cannons in them hundreds of years ago. And then there was the death gate.
 
Nobody knew why the death gate was built. Nobody that I knew, anyway. I’m sure a historian somewhere knew why it was put there, but it didn’t matter.  The legend was what we cared about. It was the kind of thing everybody knew, but nobody talked about. The dare that everyone claimed they’d take, but nobody ever did.
 
“Do you think it’s for real?” Kim asked as we stopped to stare at the gate. Someone had spray painted the wall next to it years before us. An eerie warning, though not at all subtle.  Enter and you die.

“No.” I stuffed my fists into my jacket pockets and stared down through the bars. Inside was littered with trash—a broken red plastic cup, a slew of beer bottles, a candy wrapper. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect to carry such a reputation.  It was just another littered bunker.

“What about that kid that died?” Kim climbed down the small slope to get a better look inside.

“He had a heart condition.” The words tasted like a lie. Tommy Diaz was an athlete with no prior history of any heart problems. He went inside one night on a dare, the red plastic cup could’ve been left there by him, and six months later Tommy was dead.

“I guess. Still, isn’t it fun to pretend? Like when we were little and we’d sneak into the cemetery and do the Bloody Mary thing.”

I shrugged. At least she wasn’t still talking about my mother.

“Oh, come on, Elizabeth. You’re no fun anymore.”

“Beth. Just Beth.” Elizabeth was my mother’s name. She’d died some years before and nobody had ever explained exactly how or why. She was too curious for her own good, my grandmother said. She was ill, was all my father could say. My mother was crazy. That much I knew. Cold-hearted as it seemed, it was easier to forget her completely. And in a town by the sea, where people tossed their problems into the waves like dead rats from a plagued ship, forgetting her was just something we did. Most of the time.

“And I am fun,” I mumbled. My skin prickled in that way it does when hidden eyes are watching. The wind didn’t blow colder, though I half expected it to, but still I could smell it—lilacs. My mother’s perfume smelled of lilacs.  Whether it was to get away from her memory, or if something inside me was trying to find her again, I don’t know, but I said, “Move. I’m going inside.”

“What?” Kim jumped back from the gate like my words had made it come alive. “You’re fun, Beth. I was just messing with you.”

I slid down the small hill until my nose found its way between the bars. I could smell rotting leaves, and dirt, and maybe stale beer inside.

“C’mon, Beth. Let’s go.” Kim tugged at my sleeve. I pushed on the gate and it gave way. I took a breath, filled my lungs with the stench of lilac, and stepped inside.

That was when it started, about six months ago.

*********************
Come back on Wednesday for Part 2 by Valerie!

Photo by Lacey Boldyrev

Friday, November 18, 2011

Early Morning (Part 3 of 3)

Daisy stared at the birds, wondering how they could possibly show her anything. They were just birds, she told herself. And she was just a girl with a sleep disorder. 

“Let go,” Caleb whispered in her ear, startling her with his closeness and the way his voice tickled her skin.

She closed her eyes, controlled her breathing, and steadied her heartbeat. She could feel the eyes of every bird, but instead of weighing her down, she felt lifted. She felt like she could perch beside them and be accepted as one of them. When she opened her eyes, she was met with Caleb’s smile.

She remembered everything.


It began in the spring, when the elm was newly stripped and the crows were dark lumps on its charred branches. Instead of going through the yards on her way to school, Daisy gave the old tree a wide berth. The early morning air was cutting and it would have been faster to pass through Caleb’s yard, but it wasn’t worth it to walk beneath the old bones of the tree.

So when she paused and held out her hand to feel for rain, she should have noticed how odd it was that an elm seed landed in the center of her palm. At the time, it had only been a strange irritation. And as she closed her fingers around the seed’s delicate skirt, a crow said caw.

That was the first night she’d woken in the forest with nothing on but her old Muppet Show t-shirt and sweats that weren’t meant for outdoor use. But now she also knew that it was the first night she’d stood outside a circle of crows.

They flew one after another, beak to tail to beak, all of them diving forward and falling back. Each night it was the same; crows flying in a constant circle. At first, there were only twenty, but over the summer more had come. And more and more until there had been so many Daisy couldn’t see to tell them apart. They flew in a ring. The only noise about them was the beating of their feathers and the rush of wind.

Sometimes she would close her eyes and the sound of their flight, the feel of their passing, gave her the sense of flying with them. And sometimes she would stare until they were nothing but a smear black in the moonlight. She always stayed: to watch, to listen, and to protect them as they focused on the task at hand.

But even now she didn’t know what that task was. Caleb’s smile was pleased by also devious when she turned her face back to him.

“Good,” he said and he squinted up at the rising sun. The light fell in streaks across his face, revealing and hiding in equal parts. “Tonight will be the last.”

* * *

That night, Daisy woke to the caw, caw, caw of a crow just outside her window. She was already prepared for a night out in the elements, but she grabbed a hoodie from the back of her desk chair before moving silently through the house and out the back door. It was more than a little amazing to think that she’d done this so well in her sleep that neither of her parents had caught on. That either said something about her future as a spy or her parents’ anti-anxiety meds.

Her breath came in short, white puffs as she jogged around to the front of her house. She’d expected to find Caleb waiting for her by the lurching elm, but there were only crows and the cold quiet of night.

A single crow jumped into the air, its wings spread wide, and glided into the forest. The others followed, one by one like bows on a kite string.

Daisy followed and even though they soon disappeared in the shadows, she knew where to go. She could find it in her sleep, she thought wryly.

The clearing wasn’t far from the place she and Caleb had visited earlier in the day. Just behind the small creek and through a copse of old, gnarled elms, she emerged from the shadowed woods to find the clearing full of moonlight and more crows than she’d ever seen in one place. They stood at irregular intervals, each one a dark star against the grass, and each one looking at her.

Daisy didn’t move. Mostly because there was no clear pathway ahead of her and she wasn’t prepared for kicking crows, but partly because she knew it wasn’t time.

In the center of the clearing, a pale figure crouched. His head hung down and, Daisy realized, he was stark naked. Without seeing his face, she knew it was Caleb. She started to call out, to make sure he was okay, but he lifted his head and stood.

The crows all leapt into the air. They darted toward him, beating their wings furiously to gain speed, diving over and over each other to be the first to reach him. Daisy ran after them, trying to keep him in her sight, suddenly aware of what was about to happen. The crows flew and she ran, but the crows were faster. They swept around him in a continuous ring. Their wings thundering through the air and blotting him from her view.

She reached out, pulling back in pain. Blood in her palm where a beak cut it open. She cried out, “Caleb! Caleb!” But there was no response except for the beating of wings and the shushing of air.

When it was over, the birds slowed in their circle and landed all around her. Caleb was nowhere to be found. In his place, standing on a pile of his old clothes, was a crow.

* * *

The first streaks of dawn were climbing from the horizon when Daisy left the forest. She felt the crows settle into the sagging branches of the elm. There was one more now, than there had been before. Not that anyone but her would notice.

She jogged the short distance to her doorstep and paused to glance back at the dark shapes in the tree. They were waiting for her. She knew. It thrummed in her like wingbeat. Come play. Come play. Come play.

She turned the knob and pushed the door open just a hair. “Soon,” she said, and closed the door behind her.


***
Thank you for reading! We'll be taking next week off to chow on some Turkey, but we'll be back on Monday the 28th when Lacey will kick off a new Tangle.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Early Morning (Part 2 of 3)

Caleb cocked his head to the side and frowned. Just when she thought she might die from the silence, he spoke. “I saw you,” he said, in a surprisingly low voice.

Then he did the most unexpected thing of all. He smiled.

That smile let Daisy know he wasn’t talking about this morning in her back yard. She clutched her bag in her arms. If he saw her last night, maybe he knew what was happening to her. Maybe he could tell her why the woods pulled her from her bed, or why the crows seemed to speak to her.

Caleb’s smile shifted as he leaned forward in his elbows. His thumbs stuck out through holes cut into the sleeves of his thermal. He always wore one beneath his t-shirts, even in the summer. And his thumbs always stuck out from those holes, like if they didn’t, his arms might turn to wings and carry him away.

“Daisy?” he whispered. His voice cut through her and made her shiver. That skin prickling feeling returned. She didn’t like the way he looked at her as if he knew all of her secrets. It angered her that that might be true. She should know more about herself than Caleb Brown.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. She felt his eyes on her as she walked away, knowing that he knew, just as well as she did, that that was a lie.

* * *


The sun kissed her cheeks and Daisy opened her eyes to a clear blue sky, branches cutting through it like bony fingers ready to descend on her. She sat up with a start, the same way she always did upon waking in the forest. She should expect it by now, but it was one of those things that you just can’t become accustomed to. She brushed the red and yellow leaves from her clothes, pulled her hair into a fresh pony tail, and began the walk home.

She was prepared to tell her mother about her morning jog, and how she’d seen a deer dart across the path. She was prepared to answer any questions to fill in the gaps. But she wasn’t prepared for Caleb Brown, perched among the heavy branches of the dead elm, watching her with those steely gray eyes. She stopped and stared back at him, the silence thick but this time not uncomfortable. He knew, and today, so would she.

“We need to talk,” she said.

Caleb closed his eyes and jumped from the tree, landing gracefully just in front of her. “You already know. You just need to let go.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and turned away from her. Daisy had already walked away from him and his answers once before. She wasn’t about to let him get away this time.

“Wait.” She grabbed his elbow and Caleb froze, as if her touch caused him the same tremors she felt in her own body. His arm was solid and it surprised her. Some part of her thought he might be intangible like the early morning mist over the field. “If you won’t tell me, can you show me?”

Caleb assessed her briefly and then he turned toward the forest. He drew a breath and let it out in a cloud of gray. “I can try.”


* * *


Caleb led Daisy through the woods on a path she knew by heart. Over a small stream that would soon turn to ice, and through the thickets part of the trees on a trail worn down by her own two feet. Her practical side told her it was unwise to follow him so far from anyone. Though Caleb had lived next door to her for years, she hardly knew him, and that had always been the way she preferred it, until today. Today Daisy wanted to know his secrets. Her secrets.

She wanted to ask where he was taking her, but she already knew, just like he’d said. She knew, she just had to let go. “Let go of what?”

“Yourself,” was all he said, and then he stopped and looked up. Daisy followed his gaze to the tops of the trees where an entire flock of crows covered the branches. They sat still, watching her watching them. Not one would caw, not one would move. “Look at them,” Caleb whispered, as if he were afraid to speak too loud, lest the birds come crashing down like a heavy snow. “Let go and let them show you.”

Daisy stared at the birds, wondering how they could possibly show her anything. They were just birds, she told herself. And she was just a girl with a sleep disorder.

“Let go,” Caleb whispered in her ear, startling her with his closeness and the way his voice tickled her skin.
She closed her eyes, controlled her breathing, and steadied her heartbeat. She could feel the eyes of every bird, but instead of weighing her down, she felt lifted. She felt like she could perch beside them and be accepted as one of them. When she opened her eyes, she was met with Caleb’s smile.

She remembered everything.

***
Come back Friday for the conclusion by Natalie!

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Early Morning (Part 1 of 3)

It was happening more and more frequently these days. Daisy kept waking up in the woods. And even though she loved seeing the sun spill it’s first pale light over the fields just as she stepped out of the trees, she would’ve preferred to see it from her bed, or even better, in photographs taken while she was still asleep.

It hadn’t been so bad during the summer, when it first started, but now the mornings were cold, and she knew that soon there would be frost on the ground around her when she woke. Already this morning, she could see a faint hint of her breath against the sky as she made her way back to the house.

Crows crowded the dead branches of the elm tree that got struck by lightning last spring. They watched her silently as one, their heads tilting in unison to follow her path.

After the third time she’d found herself curled up on the floor of the forest with no memory of how she got there, she’d invested in a set of workout clothes. It was hard to fall asleep in sneakers, but she’d gotten used to it.

Daisy had never been a liar, but something about what was happening made her feel like she should keep it to herself. Even if that meant pretending to be enthusiastic about running. She told herself she was just sleepwalking, a perfectly normal habit, but deep down inside she knew that was a lie, too.

In the beginning, Daisy had anxiously searched the news every time she woke up in the woods, but so far there’d been no reports of any crimes on those nights. So far. The longer it went on, the more she started to think that the absence of blood on her hands didn't mean she wasn't hurting anyone. This was the third time this week and it was only Wednesday. A small, but growing, part of her was beginning to feel that even if she was doing something really bad, it had to be better to know than not.

Just as Daisy reached her back door, a crow let out a loud caw. Startled, she turned toward the sound. It came, not from behind her, but to her right. The bird dipped its head at her before flapping its wings and flying off. As she watched it go, she caught sight of Caleb Brown, standing still as the dead elm tree, next to his own back door. They locked eyes, and Daisy held her breath. Caleb had a way of staring through people, like he could see past whatever front they put up into who they really were. It was why she, like most kids at school, avoided him. He hardly ever spoke. He didn’t need to. He said it all with the tilt of his head or a cutting glance.

Daisy tried to come up with something to break the silence. But everything she thought of, even good morning, felt fake and too thin. It wasn’t a good morning and he would know that the minute she said it. Caleb’s grey eyes watched her, but for once they seemed expectant instead of judgmental. He was waiting for her to speak and suddenly she felt the urge to confess everything. It pulsed inside her mind like a heartbeat. Tell him. Tell him. Tell him. Maybe he would have an answer.

She sucked in a breath, whether it was to tell him where she’d been or because she needed oxygen she would never know, because just then a crow called out in the distance, and then another, and another, until she had to turn and look. The dead elm shook with the weight of all the crows preparing for flight. They burst from the branches like black leaves in a windstorm, falling up instead of down.

Daisy knew it was just birds being birds but her heart pounded in her chest, nonetheless. When she looked back to see what Caleb thought of it all, he was gone. She was surprised to find that instead of relief, all she felt was alone. Daisy looked at the empty dead tree and shivered. If she didn’t go inside now, she’d be late for school.

* * *


At lunch, Daisy headed to the library for a nap. Whatever she was doing the nights she went out to the woods, it wasn’t sleeping. Exhaustion was becoming an old friend.

She knew he’d be there even before she rounded the stacks that kept her favorite carrel hidden. She could sense him in that skin prickling way you could tell you were being watched, even when you couldn’t see the watcher. As she honed in on that sensation, she realized that she’d always sensed him that way, in the back of her mind. It was just that before, that feeling told her to stay away. And this time, it lead her to him.

Caleb leaned against the desk, his arms crossed. He was relaxed in a way she’d never seen him before and that, more than anything stopped Daisy in her tracks. His grey eyes met hers and held her in place. Despite the faint stirrings of panic in her belly, she noticed the way his dark hair fell over one eye but not the other. She wondered if it was intentional.

Caleb cocked his head to the side and frowned. Just when she thought she might die from the silence, he spoke. “I saw you,” he said, in a surprisingly low voice.

Then he did the most unexpected thing of all. He smiled.


*****
Come back Wednesday for part two by Lacey!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Turn The Page

There are boys, and then there are boys, and for a girl like me, a hopeless romantic with an uncanny ability to torture herself, there’s Paul.

I see him every day after school, at his granddaddy’s farm stand just outside of town. I have to walk passed on my way home and since the summer he turned eighteen and graduated high school, he’s been working there. I walk by each day just to catch a glimpse of his sun-kissed skin and that smile that steals my breath.

“Afternoon, Ms Emma Jean,” he says, in that lazy way of his that exudes confidence without any hint of arrogance. It only makes him more beautiful. He stacks a crate of fresh-picked peaches next to the snap peas that Mama asked me to buy today. “What can I get you?”

I smile, but only just, hiding the way my heart hammers in my chest. “A pound of those,” I say, pointing to his hand resting on the crate of peas. His fingers are long, and calloused from days spent in the fields. I wonder what they would feel like twined with mine.

He grabs a peach and tosses it to me. I nearly fall over trying to catch it and he laughs. My cheeks burn. “Pretty peach for a pretty girl,” he says. And then he turns away to pack up Mama’s snap peas. The peach in my hands is soft, perfectly ripe, and means more to me than any piece of fruit ever should. I wish it meant something to him.

***

Another day, another glimpse, another pound of produce that Mama really doesn’t need.  I should just walk by and not wonder how his hands would feel against my skin, or how soft his lips would be on mine. I should just keep going, but instead I say, “A dozen Granny Smith’s, please.”

“You gonna bake a pie?” Paul asks, as he sifts through the crate to find the best apples. He likes to be sure you get what you pay for, even if you don’t know what to look for in a good fruit. I like that about him. He takes pride in what he does.

“No. I mean, yes.” Heat creeps up my neck. “Apple is my favorite.”

“Mine too,” he says, handing me the bag. I reach for it and when my fingers graze his, he smiles. “Anything else?”

I look at the crates and try to think of something else, anything else that Mama might want. Anything to stay a moment longer. To touch his hand again. But there’s nothing, and my heart can’t take much more today. “No. That’s it.”

***

The next day I stay after school for softball practice and when I pass Paul’s farm stand, he’s already packing up the crates into the bed of his pick-up. My stomach sinks, realizing I have no reason to stop and talk to him. I hoist my backpack up on my shoulder and walk faster, trying to pass him without looking. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him bend and lift a heavy crate, and even though I can’t make out the details, I know the way his muscles move beneath his skin.

“Hey,” Paul says. I keep walking, hoping he didn’t see me watching him. “Wait, Emma.”

Me? I stop short, nearly tripping over my own two feet. Paul smiles and waves me over. I should keep going. Go right on home and forget about Paul. Forget about his dark brown hair and eyes like drops of chocolate. “Hey,” I say, walking toward him.

He closes the tailgate and leans against it, propping one foot up on the bumper. “Nothing for your mama today?”

“I was late. Softball practice.”

“Oh yeah? I used to play too. Baseball, I mean.”

“I know.”

He arches one eyebrow and I shy away from him. I’ve watched him for years, silently torturing myself with daydreams about a boy I can’t have. He could have anyone.

“So how was that apple pie?” He rubs the back of his neck and looks down at our feet. I kick at the dirt and gravel.

“It was good. Had to be with such good apples.” I close my eyes, not wanting to see the look on his face. I know how stupid I sound. “I’d better go.”

“Wait.” He grabs my wrist, but quickly lets go. He smiles. “Sorry.”

I can’t do it. I can’t stand here and pretend I don’t want him. “I really shouldn’t be here, Paul.”

He steps in closer. “But here you are.”

“Not in the way I want to be, “I mumble, not loud enough for him to hear. Or maybe I shout it, and I just can’t hear over my own heart beating. “See you.”

***

I pass by the farm stand but today it’s empty. No crates, no baked goods from his Mama’s kitchen, and no Paul. No Paul. Somehow I know he’s gone. I feel it inside, like when you spend every afternoon on the beach ‘til summer ends, then you don’t go anymore and something just feels off. Missing. Over.

Paul’s part in my story is over before I even turned the page.

I stop along the dirt road, stare at the empty spot at the edge of the field, and I notice how the sky meets the corn stalks in a way I never have before. 


******************
Thanks for reading! We come back next week with a brand new tangle started by Valerie!

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Storykeeper (Part 3 of 3)

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Storykeeper (Part 2 of 3)

My breath, too, became thin as I considered the cards before me. I thought of all the words I could use to describe what was happening; eerie, unlikely, coincidence, impossible. And as I stared at the rows of cards, laid exactly as they’d been four years ago, a story began to unfold in my mind.

It started with a young girl who lived at the bottom of a hill who considered things that were not in any way ordinary to be ordinary. She saw things others did not, could do things others could not, and it was all because of one, very unordinary thing.

She was a witch.


Just like Nana.

I wanted to run to the shack and see her but I knew instinctively that she would be gone. The cards said it too, in the way the queen of hearts sat next to the six of spades. I could feel her absence from my life like a hole in a shield I never knew I’d had until now. Nana Marin had protected me all this time, but now power began to swim toward me in waves. It flowed from the earth and the air into my veins.

I was a witch. The strongest in five generations. The world was mine for the taking, and I was ready to take. I remembered Nana’s words. You will never have trouble getting the things you want out of life.

I wished she would ask me one last time if I felt any different today. My chest ached at the thought I would never speak to her again and for a moment I was lost in the sadness of it all.

A soft knock on my bedroom door was followed by Mom’s tentative whisper. “Sophie? Are you up?” She pushed open the door before I had time to even think of hiding the cards. Her eyes fell on them for a long moment, and the paralyzing silence returned. I could only watch her watch me in the faint light of my bedside lamp.

“Oh, Sophie,” she said, as she stepped into the room and pushed the door shut behind her. She leaned against it like it was the only thing holding her up and took a deep breath.

I was suddenly angry in a way I’d never been before. It took me a moment to recognize the feeling behind it. Betrayal. All this time she’d known and pretended she didn’t. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shook her head and light glinted off of the tears in her eyes. “I couldn’t. Your grandmother made me promise.”

The slight emphasis she put on the word made filled in details I hadn’t realized were missing. The strange tightness in her mouth whenever I told her I was going out for a walk. The way she sometimes stammered when I asked her about Nana directly. She couldn’t tell me. Nana made her promise.

At once I felt sorry for Mom, and giddy at the thought that such a thing was possible. Did I have this skill too? Did Mom?

I looked up at her with new eyes. She read my expression. “You have to be very careful, Sophie. You can’t use it.”

Careful. I knew the word, but I couldn’t understand it in relation to me. I was literally bursting with power. I couldn’t not use it. I couldn’t keep it locked up inside me like a dirty secret. “Why?”

“Because,” she walked toward me, but stopped when her toes came close to the bent corner of the eight of clubs. She looked down at the cards, taking in each one before moving on to the next. Her bottom lip trembled when she spoke again, “because it’s not safe. Power corrupts.”

The energy flowing inside of me said different. It said I would always be safe. Nothing could hurt me. I didn’t think I could ever be afraid again. “Is that why you never use yours? You’re scared?”

With a sigh, she lifted the long, thin chain she’s always worn around her neck over her head. A tiny, ornate brass key dangled from it. “This is yours now. Use it and make your own decision.” She held it out to me and I saw a hint of something I couldn’t decipher in her eyes, not quite fear, not quite sadness. “Everything has consequences, Sophie. Just remember that.”

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.

*****
Come back Friday for Lacey's conclusion!

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