Anna stepped off the school bus and headed for the entrance to the Grayson driveway. There was a quick honk behind her as she spun around waving into the air.
“See you tomorrow, Mr. Anderson.”
The rest of Anna’s day had been rather boring. The day’s classes were very tedious and uneventful, but Anna was happy for it. She was relieved she never saw the Drummond girl in school or her friends for that matter. In fact, Anna wasn’t sure the girls even made it off the bus after that morning’s incident. For all she knew, Mr. Anderson might have offered to take them home directly, traumatized, as Veronica seemed to be at the time.
As Anna slowly made her way up the road, she listened to the buzzing insects in the woods around her. She loved to play a game where she tried to imagine how the day went for all the creatures in the forest surrounding the Grayson estate.
“Hmmm… let’s see,” she said to herself, still walking up the hill, “it looks like mommy squirrel was finally able to push her brood out of the nest in the old elm tree — well — that was good.” She smiled, closing her eyes as she walked. “And, yes, the frogs are definitely too fat and lazy to sing for us tonight; must have been a good bug-day. Oh — and the crickets spent the day hopping about without a care in the world.” She laughed, as visions of animated crickets with umbrellas began dancing in her head.
And then something completely unexpected happened. Anna suddenly frowned, feeling a slight tug at her unfocused concentration. Her pace slowed and then stopped as her senses, suddenly razor-sharp, reached out into the spaces surrounding her. Her eyes were still closed, but she could feel something in her center yearning to move outward, or maybe it was being pulled, she wasn’t quite sure. It felt as if her very soul wanted to stretch itself out and connect with everything that existed around her, the smells, the sounds, the life she could feel pulsating and throbbing everywhere. The desire was too intense to resist, and so, she gave in to the lure of her own sudden awareness.
She took a deep breath and then reached out with her mind. Her vision seemed to sweep out over the ground in a huge growing circle, stretching ever wider to scoop in all the vibrations near her. She didn’t exactly understand what was happening, but Anna could sense that what she was doing now was more intuitive than it was mysterious.
And then she heard them, the sound of far off footsteps somewhere ahead of her. They were large heavy footfalls, moving away, then stopping, turning, now moving to her right. Anna opened her eyes and looked in the direction of the sound in the woods. She tried to listen, this time looking down again into the path below her feet. She couldn’t hear anything.
“Hmmm… definitely heard… something,” she said, as she continued her walk. She kept her eyes open now, looking into the woods over her right shoulder as she moved up the driveway. Still nothing. Oh well, she thought, “I guess it could have been a deer,” she told herself, unconvincingly.
Anna looked up and was suddenly startled by a most unexpected sight. There, looming to greet her, more than fifty yards away, stood the iron gates of the estate. Anna stopped and stared in utter amazement. “What’s this?” she said, in surprise, as she began walking more hurriedly toward the entrance. She squinted hard; was that movement she saw? She started running up the grade until she was close enough to see.
Sure enough, the ornate horses on the gates were galloping in front of her. But… how can this be? she thought, shielding her eyes from the sun in disbelief. It was a very odd sight, and then it dawned on her. In all the years she could remember, Anna never before saw the gates from this position. She was standing outside the entrance as a Muggle looking in, and yet, she could clearly see the large iron gates and the horses running upon them. But where was the barrier? Where were the huge fallen trees disguising the Grayson entrance? Normally, Anna didn’t see the barrier change into the gates again until she was almost upon them. The charm placed upon her by her father did not counter the spells on the estate until Anna was very close to the entrance or actually inside the grounds. So why were the horses moving before she was inside? What if another Muggle were to happen by and see this? If that were to happen, there would definitely be trouble.
She stepped forward and moved to where the two gates joined in their middle. They began to fall away and open in much the same way they had done for as far back as she could remember. But the horses on the front never moved like this until she stepped inside. Now, walking up to the gate line, she hesitated before stepping across. For a moment, she thought she might see the horses, now in reverse of what was expected, stop their canter, but they did not. They kept moving, taking no notice of Anna’s position what so ever. She stepped in and out, back and forth across the gate line, but still, she couldn’t get the horses to stop.
“Cool!” Anna yelped, smiling wide. To her, it was like finding a broken toy that was now working perfectly. She slowly stepped between the gates and watched them close behind her. “Well,” she said, merrily, “that was different; must be a broken spell,” and she laughed in happy satisfaction.
Anna turned and continued walking up the road. For some strange reason she felt immensely pleased with what had just happened, in much the opposite way it had frustrated her that morning. Still, deep down, she knew she had to tell her father about what just happened. Otherwise, they very well could find themselves on the evening news, trying to explain how they got their gate ornaments to trot and run by themselves. Anna frowned at the thought of seeing Damon’s pasty white chinless face under the bright lights of a TV camera.
“Eeeewwww, now that’s just foul,” she shuddered to herself.
A small chipmunk suddenly darted into the road in front of her, quickly followed by a much larger brother. The smaller chipmunk sprinted right, and then started circling frantically, trying to get away from his chasing attacker. Anna stomped her foot, “Hey you!” she shouted angrily. “Leave him alone, you big bully.” The larger chipmunk, now seeing Anna looming over him, turned and scampered back into the woods. Anna felt a slight tug at her consciousness again, and closed her eyes to follow the little creature into the forest.
Anna was amazed. She could still see the animal running as the view of him in her mind’s eye seemed to get clearer with each passing second. She could see herself catching up to him, getting closer and closer, racing through the woods just a few inches off the ground behind him. “I’m going to catch you,” she sang out, with an evil grin. She could see his little body bobbing over and under branches and bushes, occasionally glaring back as if seeing her in pursuit. Still smiling, Anna could see the gap between them slowly closing. Every time he changed direction, she cut off the angles separating them, coming still closer. Now directly behind him, she could see his tiny feet kicking up the dirt as he tried desperately to flee. She watched his brown body blur below her gaze as she swept over the top of him, and for an instant, she might have sworn she could smell the sweat of his effort to escape.
She leaned down and whispered into his ear, “I’VE GOT YOU!” Immediately, the little animal stopped and turned to face her. He unexpectedly leaped forward into her face, baring his tiny square teeth as he let out a sharp squeal of panic.
Anna eyes snapped open with a sharp jolt. She looked around to see she was still standing in the middle of the road. “What in the world… was that?” she groaned, in shocked surprise. Did I just…? But she hadn’t finished the thought when she heard another squeal of fright once more somewhere deep in the woods. She stared for a moment, and then slowly started walking again, still listening. Her pace quickened. “You’re really starting to lose it, girl,” she said, as if questioning her own good sense. Still… it seemed so real. She wondered.
Anna stopped. This time folding her arms across her chest, she lowered her head and closed her eyes again. Once more, she saw herself rising above her body, which she could still see visibly standing in the middle of the road below her. She swooped down low to the ground and reached into the open spaces around her. Probing and listening, she felt as though her mind was traveling at some great speed through the trees and ground cover. She saw a spider lacing a new web, its spinners giving off a soft whirring sound behind its legs. There was a gray squirrel hopping over there, a bee hovering over a flower, a tiny bird dipping for bugs; nothing escaped her gaze as she reached farther and farther out with her net-like mind. But was what she was now seeing real? Anna started to question herself, and she immediately noticed her pace beginning to slow, she was becoming less maneuverable and clumsy. Fearful she might lose the experience, she began telling herself it was true, this was real, and within seconds, the eye of her mind was dashing through the forest floor again at an incredible rate of speed.
And then, she heard them again, those heavy footsteps moving somewhere through the woods. Where were they coming from? Her body cocked its head slightly, and concentrated with all its might on that one sound among the infinite rush of noise-filled chaos around her. The thudding beats seemed to be moving aimlessly in circles, tripping occasionally, and then starting again. She focused on just those steps, trying to block everything else out of her mind. It worked; she could hear them clearer now, and she saw the picture in her head turn to follow. When the sound stopped again, so did Anna. She kept her eyes closed and could see herself hovering just a few inches off of the ground somewhere in the woods, waiting for the sound to return. Anna took a long deep breath, and then focused her concentration still harder. She waited for what seemed like an eternity for something to happen, a sound, a sign that whatever it was in the forest was still there. Then she heard a faint snap to her left, and she tilted her head and frowned as she focused on that one resonating twist of wood under somebody’s foot. Where had it come from? She saw herself floating slowly in the direction she knew would bring her closer to the answer.
Then Anna heard a different sound, not the thumping of mindless heavy footsteps, but something much softer; it… sounded like a moan. She moved quickly toward this new sound, and as she did, the deep grousing noise started to get louder. It sounded like something whimpering, the echo of a frightened child perhaps, somebody sobbing further in the woods. Anna raced as fast as she could across the top of the ground, searching for the source of the now fearful whines. And then, finally, she found it. It was a woman, rocking in a seated position on the dirt with her head buried in her arms. She was leaning against the base of a tree, sobbing.
Anna’s eyes snapped open again. Although she was still standing in the middle of the road, she knew exactly where the woman was located in the forest. She recognized the place she knew well after so many years of playing on the grounds.
Anna raced into the trees leaving her book-bag on the dirt road behind her. She dashed through the thick layers of undergrowth in her path, heading directly toward the spot she thought she knew.
A minute later, Anna stopped; she was very close now. “Hellllooo,” she sang into the woods. “Is somebody there? Do you need any help?”
She heard a faint voice reply, “Yes…please… I’m over here… help me.”
Anna finally found the poor woman sitting exactly where the picture in her mind told her she would be. She was so shocked to discover the woman really did exist that she didn’t immediately offer her any assistance. When the woman finally raised her head to look up, Anna could see she had obviously been crying for quite a while and, judging from the condition of her shoes and clothes, she had probably been in the woods for most of the day.
“Oh thank God you found me,” the woman said, through her shining tears. She reached out to Anna as if still not believing this redheaded girl was really there.
Anna helped the woman to her feet and began brushing off the dirt on her clothes. “Are you all right?” she asked, clearly seeing the woman was desperate.
“Ummm, no, I’m not, I….” but she couldn’t seem to form the proper words to say what was wrong.
“Are you hurt?” Anna asked, trying to look into the woman’s face, “Are you injured?”
“Ummm, no… I — I don’t think so,” the woman replied, trying anxiously to calm herself, but a rush of birds above them startled the woman into a fit of screaming panic as she turned to grab the tree next to her in terror.
“It’s all right,” Anna soothed, kindly. “You’re all right; it’s just a few birds, okay? There’s nothing to be afraid of. Let’s get you out of the woods and back to the road. Can you walk with me?” The woman took Anna’s hand to steady her confidence, and they slowly made their way back to the road. Anna started to realize their Muggle visitor had obviously been the victim of some of the charms and spells surrounding the property. Anna knew these spells became increasing more difficult on any Muggle as they got closer to the house, but if this was the result, a woman lost and totally helpless to exit the property under her own power, Anna would have to talk to her father about changing some the incantations. There had to be a better, less dangerous way to protect the grounds. Perhaps her father could use a coughing spell, or maybe an escalating jelly-legs charm. Anna thought jelly-legs would be very effective without causing the paralyzing fear that kept this woman from departing on her own. She would know; her sister Tencha always loved to cast the jelly-legs spell on her whenever the opportunity presented itself. This was especially true when she caught Anna walking down the staircase.
When they finally arrived back on the path, the woman didn’t seem any better than when she was in the woods.
“Do you need to come up to the house?” asked Anna, politely.
“House?” jerked the woman. “W… what house?”
“My house, up there, the Grayson estate,” Anna replied, pointing farther up the road. The woman’s eyes widened with fear once again.
“No… I can’t go up there…. I…. I might get lost again,” she said, leaning away in the opposite direction. Her voice was filled with panic.
“It’s all right,” Anna soothed her, reassuringly. “Perhaps I can walk you back down to the street and help you find your way home. Would that be all right?”
“Yes… please…home…yes…thank you,” replied the flustered woman.
As they began walking back down the road, the woman’s disposition slowly began to calm, and when the front gates to the estate came into view again, the woman released Anna’s hand as if trying to understand why she ever found the need to hold onto it in the first place. Anna worriedly watched the gates swinging themselves open as they approached. She looked at the Muggle, who was apparently staring at the gates as well.
“Well, I suppose we won’t be able to walk through that,” the woman said, sounding very frustrated.
“Through those big trees blocking the road, of course,” she answered, pointing at the gates in front of them.
Anna looked again and frowned. The anti-Muggle charms must have been working after all, because the woman was seeing something completely different than what Anna saw. The gates were wide open, delivering a clear view to the road beyond, but the woman insisted on traveling fifty yards into the woods to get around the perceived tree-fallen barriers blocking their path. Anna was confused. Why couldn’t she, Anna, see the barrier from outside the grounds? She followed the woman around the non-existent trees and back to the road on the other side of the gates. Finally, upon reaching the path again, the woman turned to face her.
“Well… that was incredibly embarrassing,” she heaved breathlessly, in a very self-critical tone.
“What do you mean?”
“My getting lost in these hideous woods.”
“Oh… well… they’re not so bad… once you get used to the lay of the land,” Anna replied. The woman seemed somewhat surprised at her response.
“I really don’t know what came over me,” she explained, combing the fallen pine needles out of her hair. “I really don’t. I mean… I’ve been in the woods many times, but I’ve never had a reaction like that before. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been lost in my entire life. Well… thank you again,” the woman said, sticking out her hand to shake Anna’s. “Oh… I’m sorry dear; I didn’t even ask you for your name.”
Anna reached out and gently shook the woman’s hand, “Anna… Anna Grayson,” she said, smiling. The woman’s eyes suddenly bulged almost as if they were about to pop out of her head. She snatched her hand back from Anna with glared anger.
“You!” she said, in a very curt tone. “You… are Anna Grayson? Well I never –” she said, indignantly. She was definitely upset about something. “My name is Mrs. Rebecca Drummond. I am Veronica Drummond’s mother,” she said, abruptly. “I came up this ghastly road this afternoon to have a serious talk with your parents about your attack on my daughter on the school bus this morning.”
“Attack your daughter? Me? But… that’s not what happened,” Anna said, defensively. The woman grabbed Anna’s hands and turned them over as if to inspect her fingers.
“I don’t see any cuts on your hands and face like those I found on Veronica this morning, young lady. I suppose you’re going to tell me you were defending yourself against my daughter?” said the woman, turning red in the face.
“No, I wasn’t defending myself from her. Nobody was defending themselves from anybody. Let me tell you what happened,” Anna said, but she immediately realized she couldn’t possibly describe what happened on the bus this morning at all. Anna tried to think of something that would explain how a run-away hair clip could attack a person, but nothing immediately came to mind.
“Well… I’m waiting!” said the woman, her arms folded across her chest.
Anna decided to offer as much of the truth as possible. “Well… you see, Veronica was making fun of my hair, and….”
“And you decided to rip my daughter’s hair out by the roots in retaliation?” the woman interrupted, accusingly. “In my book, young lady, there isn’t a word spoken that should lead another to violence. I’m shocked your parents haven’t taught you this lesson. I’d like to speak to your mother.”
Anna gritted her teeth. “She’s dead!” she spat, now crossing her arms in rebellion.
“Your father, then,” blurted the woman, without a moment’s pause to Anna’s reply.
“Fine, he’s up at the house. Shall I walk you in, then?” said Anna, motioning the woman up the road with an out-stretched hand.
The woman froze, and then slowly looked up the road in the direction of the estate. It was obvious to Anna the woman would never go into these woods again.
“No…I don’t have time for this right now,” she said sternly. “But hear my warning, little missy. If I ever find out you’ve put your hands on my daughter again, I’ll become the mother you obviously need and turn you over my knee. Do you understand me?”
Anna stared at the woman, totally shocked by her bullying threats. An ugly fury suddenly exploded forward. “How dare you… take the part of my mother, and then threaten me, when you don’t know what really happened!” Anna said, raising her voice.
“I know enough about your kind to see you for what you really are,” the woman screamed, now at a blaring level. “I’m standing here as a witness to your total lack of respect,” she yelled, her face turning bright purple with anger.
That was it. Anna had heard enough about ‘her kind’ from Damon to take the insult from a total stranger. She stepped up to the woman in a seething rage. “I think… you’d better go now,” Anna growled through her nearly closed lips. The woman’s eyes widened and began to dart all over Anna’s face, as if seeing something horrible for the first time beneath what was once a pretty mask.
“My God!” she said, stepping away from Anna in obvious fear.
Anna paid little attention to the woman’s reaction, but more on the fact that she was still standing in front of her. Anna’s eyes were beginning to cloud over in a darkening haze. “I said,” she seethed, in an almost all-consuming boil, “it’s time for you to go!” And then, all at once, as if someone had thrown a switch inside her brain, Anna did not want what she had only just demanded. She wanted the woman… to stay.
An irresistible rush of hunger suddenly swept over her, together with a terrible longing to draw the woman close. Anna’s sense of smell erupted forward, cutting her anger with sharp anticipation. Her eyes began darting all over the woman’s body, searching longingly for what it needed. A single-minded focus finally settled at the woman’s throat, there… a tiny voice whispered to her, a quick strike and then… but before she could finish her inspiration, the woman started falling back in complete terror. She stumbled slightly, turned, and began to run down the hill away from her. Anna reached out, but her action wasn’t in response to the woman’s obvious fear; it was a deeper longing, a starving desire, and the feeling that it was getting away.
When the woman was finally out of sight, Anna’s blood seemed to go cold. A very real sense of disappointment and loss swiftly came over her, and she again felt the pangs of starving hunger. She closed her eyes and looked up into the green leafy canopy surrounding her. She slowly drew a small calming breath, and then blew a steady stream of air through her tightly pursed lips. All at once, and as quickly as the feelings had suddenly hit her, they were immediately gone. The longing, the disappointment at the woman’s departure, and the overwhelming sense of hunger were snuffed out like a candle’s flame behind a cupped hand. But these feelings were immediately replaced by her original thoughts of anger and indignation toward the visiting Muggle.
Anna pivoted quickly toward the gates again. “Old bat — see if I ever pull you out of the woods again,” she growled, sarcastically.
She looked up and, as if blindly walking into a darkened cave, Anna’s body lurched into what could only be described as a cloud of blackened smoke. It was ice cold and surrounded her head entirely. It had no smell, but seemed surprisingly familiar to her. She stopped and looked around, fanning at the smoke accumulated around her face while searching for its source. And then, as quickly as it was there, it too was suddenly gone. Anna glanced around, but there was no trace of the blackness anywhere. She noticed her eyes ached in the late afternoon sun, as if she had just walked out of a very dark room. Still too angry to spend time standing in one place, Anna proceeded up the road again, heading for the gates. As they swung open again, she could hear one of the galloping horses whinny as she walked by.
“Oh, shut up,” she mumbled, crossly.
Anna marched up the road with but a single thought on her mind, her father. She wasn’t sure what was happening, but she knew she had to find her father and tell him about the odd things occurring around her. How could she have seen the woman in the woods without being anywhere near her? There had to be a logical explanation. Her father must have added something to the soup of spells surrounding the grounds. This would also explain her ability to see the gates before entering the property.
As she continued her walk up the dusty road, Anna’s thoughts darkened. There was more she wanted to tell her father. There were these new feelings and changes she was sensing within herself. It would seem that over the last few days her ability to hear, smell, and see had somehow increased dramatically. But how could that be, or was it just her imagination?
It was also true that Anna was beginning to push back rather hard against what she felt was a lifelong tide of abuse at the hands of her siblings. Something inside her was changing; she could feel it getting stronger everyday when she awoke, and she was starting to believe it absurd to continue to lie down and let everybody walk all over her. This seemed especially true when it came to Damon.
To Anna, Damon represented malevolence in its purest form. He wasn’t just cruel; he could be brutal. While Tencha and Dowla were also quite nasty, their brand of corruption seemed to be based on a lack of maturity than what Damon offered. While the girls were never at a loss to take advantage of a cruel prank at Anna’s expense, Damon was more calculating, and iniquitous in his approach. He was cunning, scheming, and ingenious in his methods of doling out embarrassment and sorrow to her.
But Anna’s hate toward Damon wasn’t just based on his treatment of her, it was also the way he treated everyone around him, but especially the creatures living on the estate. Anna had reached the point where she wasn’t going to accept Damon’s spitefulness and malice without a fight. She had always felt less than her brothers and sisters because she was a squib, but now she was beginning to refuse this notion. While it was true Anna might always wonder why she was born different, she was starting to become stronger as a person than her siblings in many ways, and she thought she understood the difference. The difference was compassion.
Anna had come to realize what compassion was worth to the rest of the world. To her surprise, she suddenly felt it was something worth fighting for, something more important than even her own physical safety, and it didn’t seem to matter what Damon could do to her in retaliation. But she also knew she had to be careful, because there were some very real risks.
Damon was following in her father’s footsteps, and even Anna had to admit she could eventually see her brother someday as a very powerful wizard. The things he could do to her was something Anna tried to avoid thinking about as much as possible. But she didn’t care, she wasn’t afraid of him anymore. She felt the cause of compassion was pushing her onward. It somehow felt like she needed to protect others from people like Damon, and while it might eventually come to her ruin, she was ready to take on this cause. Although Anna was powerless in the wizarding world, she could show everyone she had value, that she had her own brand of power, the power to do what was right and honorable. That kind of strength, she felt, was far superior to what Damon offered from his dark and hidden corner of the world.
Her family was very well known in the wizarding community for its strength of character and magical abilities, and Anna’s father had recently extended that influence into the Muggle world as well. And now Anna was beginning to see her place in that world, not as a person too weak to be known as a Grayson, or somebody that needed to be hidden for lack of ability, but as a full contributor in her own right. She wanted to continue the good work her father had started, and bring her own style of compassion and honor to the family. Anna was starting to believe that — yes, even a squib had value.
“Humph!” Keep your wand, Damon, Anna thought to herself, with a note of building pride. I’ll show you what really matters in this life.
As she finally approached the large circle in front of the estate, Anna longed to see her father. She definitely had to tell him about the problems with the spells on the grounds, but, then again, she wasn’t quite sure what he should say about the changes she was sensing within herself. While very kind and considerate, her father might set what she was feeling aside as nothing more than just a young girl growing up.
And then it came to her, like a rush of fresh air giving the most obvious answer imaginable. Eric would understand. Her brother Eric would give her the support she knew she needed, and the consideration to listen without being judgmental. She could tell Eric about her heightened senses, and confide in him the changes she felt were coming over her. As she approached the front of the house, Anna decided to limit her discussion with her father to just the important matters regarding the grounds, and seek her brother Eric out for her deeper needs.
Anna looked up at her manor home and smiled. Towering over the grounds, the Grayson mansion was very large with multiple floors displaying an extremely complicated array of old English spirals and bulwark. She always felt the estate looked more like an old European castle than what many of their neighbors might call the American dream, but Anna truly loved this magical place. The entire structure was composed of steel-colored granite, and slate shingles encircling many large chimneys poking through the highest parts of the roof. It was a building of such size, that when you stood close enough to the front entrance, it made you feel like the house was now surrounding you. It was crescent shaped, with a large central structure and two great wings standing lower to the left and right. The double front doors resembled a large drawbridge, giving her home the look of nobility and strength.
As Anna approached the front door, she realized how long it seemed the day had been. Her body ached for rest, and was happy to finally be home. As soon as she touched the iron latch of the double doors, Anna heard the whispers of tranquility and peace as she pushed the door open and stepped inside.