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Finite Incantatem

By Shannon Irene Hicks

Romance / Mystery

Prologue

The sun had hardly decided to arrive when the sound began. Before, the townhouse sat completely still, the only signs of life coming from the gentle inhales and exhales of its occupants. It was only the murmurings of an infant, gradually increasing as its distress grew, that caused its parents to eventually rise into a half form of wakefulness.

“John?” muttered Mary, her bed-tussled hair becoming even more unruly as she ran a hand raggedly through it. “Is that – “

She was interrupted by a whimpering mewl from the baby monitor on her bedside. Groaning slightly, she made to rise before a hand slowly shot out to stop her. “No, wait,” John said as he sat up and blinked his eyes in an attempt to rouse his mind. “You got her three times last night, let me.”

“If she’s hungry – “

“Yes, right, I know,” John replied, pushing back the covers and stretching as he stood, a rough hand absentmindedly scrubbing at his shoulder. His feet led him through the familiar path to the nursery down the hall, his eyes glancing briefly at the purple initials painted across the door. He quirked a small smile before silently pushing inside, making his way swiftly over to the crib’s edge. A tiny, round face stared forlornly up at him, bright blue eyes faintly glittering with the beginnings of tears.

“Ah now, my wee lass, none of that,” John said to her as he reached down to take hold of her. He lifted her into his snug arms, tucking her head comfortably into the crook of his elbow. Swaying softly, John made his way over to the window, glancing out at the view. He leaned in towards her as he began to mumble quietly, gaze drifting between her and the garden outside.

The garden was small, hardly more than a few flowerbeds and a sprinkling of vegetable plants. Ever since the baby arrived, neither John nor Mary had had the time to properly care for it, but some of the plants had flourished on their own regardless. One bush in particular, a rose John had insisted upon adding and caring for himself, sat directly below the window. It had taken more work than John had originally cared to admit, but it was flourishing now, a few of the flower heads reaching high enough to be seen at the very edge of the windowsill.

“That, my darling, is an osiria, a crossbreed,” John explained with a tiny grin, rocking her forward slightly so her curious face could take the plants in. “They’re the only kind of rose to have those two shades, red blending into white. They were my mum’s favourite, the only kind she’d grow when I was young.”

The baby cooed and sniffled up at him, tiny hands curling in and out of tight fists. Her face wrinkled up slowly, expression turning to one of distress. John clasped her tighter, expertly taking in the signs before reaching out a free hand to snatch up the rocking chair left not far away. He lowered himself down and set a gentle rhythm, watching as his daughter’s face immediately smoothed out, expression turning inquisitive as she stared up at him expectantly. Chuckling lightly, John sat back and let out a soft sign as his attention drifted back to the window.

“I remember finding them when I first went to school. Last place I expected to see osiria roses, certainly. Apparently they were one of the few sorts of plants to grow well out there. They didn’t have much purpose beyond looking well, but I appreciated the reminder of Mum regardless.”

John’s face crinkled in thought, memories chasing each other through his mind. The baby watched nearly silently, hands occasionally reaching out in an attempt to touch the wrinkles forming on the scruffy outline of his jaw. It wasn’t until an inquiring coo drew John’s attention downward that he returned to the present, the creases of his face smoothing out instantly as he smiled down at her. He brushed a hand gently across the slight dusting of light brown hair coating her head, his smile growing as she let out slight babbles of pleasure. John wasn’t sure how long he sat and simply watched her as she drifted back to sleep, one foot slowly pushing the rocking chair in a constant steady motion. The sun was just cresting over the horizon when she finally completely returned to sleep, her mouth left agape to reveal soft, toothless gums. With as much ease as possible given his stiff limbs, John rose to his feet and set her carefully back into her crib, easing her brief protest in slumber with encouraging noises at the back of his throat and a brush across her brow. A sudden burst of inspiration had his head shooting up to glance back out of the window.

With footsteps that purposefully avoided the well known creaks of the floor, John made his way out into the kitchen. He riffled through various drawers, eventually pulling out a spare pair of gardening scissors before slipping his bare feet into a set of loafers beside the back door. The day was already warmer than usual at that early hour, a slight haze giving everything a fuzzy glow. He set off for the osiria rose bush with intention in his stride, his blue gaze darting over the thick vines to find the ideal blooms. Most of the buds coating the bush had already flowered, but closer to the bottom where the plants had to fight for their share of sunlight were a few unopened blooms. John’s knees gave out a slight creak of protest as he knelt down, one hand reaching out to caress the outside of a bud on the cusp of opening. The silky edges of the petals melted gracefully from a silvery grey shade of white into a radiant ruby, the pairing of colors somehow managing to flow with seamless ease from one to the other. He chose a trio of buds just ready to open as well as a few that had already bloomed, careful to snip away any thorns. Once satisfied with his collection, he cleared away his trimmings and made his way back indoors.

They didn’t have any traditional vases, so John chose a tall, unadorned water glass, filling it half full of water from the tap. He arranged the flowers as best as he could and carried the ensemble back into his daughter’s bedroom. For a moment he paused in the doorway, contemplating where was best to leave his decoration. As he stood considering, the sun finally came across the windowsill’s bottom edge, sending a flashing bolt of summer sunlight across the entirety of the room. With an almost indiscernible twitch of his lips, John walked past the crib to set the roses on the sill. The sunlight reflected playfully through the water as it shifted from the motion of being set down, sending rays of sun darting over the ceiling. John gave a quick nod of approval and returned to the crib, leaning over the edge to check on the baby below. She continued to sleep soundly, her lips twitching occasionally as she suckled the air. John rubbed his calloused thumb over her forehead, chuckling softly at her noises of approval.

“Sleep well, Síleas, my love,” John muttered, a crease of thought crossing his forehead. His thumb settled between the baby’s brows, causing her forehead to furrow slightly. “I wonder…” John’s voice trailed off, a huff of irritation coming out as he suddenly straightened. “No. It doesn’t matter. The chance is small.” He stiffened his spine and gave a sharp nod, closing the door with the smallest of clicks as he pulled it shut behind him.


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