“Honey you ready?” My pansy of a dad calls up to me.
“Yeah one sec” I return as I grab the first clothes I see in my closet and shove them into the oversized Vera Bradley weekender duffel, I might be a pair of underwear short but who cares. My feet scurry down the narrow stair case as my mom sits tapping her foot impatiently. Kyle is already in the car sitting shotgun, my dad scoops up the rest of the bags and piles them into our SUV. I survey the situation and come to the conclusion that my cookie cutter life in suburbia has reached stereotypic proportions, with the jumble of fishing rods and mess of board game boxes consuming our trunk space. I walk around the front of the car and through the windshield I see my brothers lips moving, he is probably just rapping. . . or maybe he’s crazy. Either way, it’s not my problem so I climb in and zone out. The wealth of lovely Naperville Illinois soon fades to the wilderness untouched by money, sometimes I wish I was in that wilderness.
Our shimmery SUV stands out like a man-made thumb in a sore world, we steadily creek down the stilted driveway which was made, by overly compensated illegals, to look natural. A weekend of absolute fun, joy and bonding await. I cannot be more pleased. The only reason that my dad isn’t dragging me kicking and screaming is because of Kyle, the one person in my family I can stomach, even if I don’t show it. He is the definition of a doofus but he is my doofus, sometimes I think he just loses control of his limps the way he stumbles over himself, one day he will grow into who he is meant to be.
“Don’t kill the trip before it starts, the weekend is younger than you in this picture.” My dad says to me after ushering me inside our quaint cabin, he gestures to the framed portrait above the mantel. My feelings about family time are a known secret, one everyone pretends they don’t know.
“Only for you daddy.” He is wrapped around my finger.
“Thank you princess.”
My mom throws some bags on top of the counter and claps her hands together “Who is ready for some charades?” Her enthusiasm is nauseating, does antacid remedy someones personality?
“Actually honey I was thinking about taking Kyle hunting before it gets dark. . . if that’s alright?” Like I said before he is a fucking pansy.
“Sure honey, I’ll get started on dinner, don’t be too long.” The sound of our door bell echoes through the mountain side, everything this family does is excessive.
“Who could that be?” My dad says to no one in particular, but I find myself thinking the same thing. Our cabin is a poster child for wealth but it is isolated in the mountains, only one nondescript road leads to the house. My dad opens the door and reveals my grandma standing there with a huge duffel, designer of course.
“Linnet what a surprise” my dad stammers out.
“Nice to see you too Henry” my grandma pushes passed him and poses for our stunned faces.
“What it hasn’t be that long” she sticks her arms out, waiting for someone to hug her.
My mother hesitantly steps towards her “Only three years without hearing from you, I thought you were dead.”
Grandma dramatically waves away the accusation “Please darling, if I were dead you would know it.” She squeezes my mother tight—the coldest sign of affection that I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing.
“I’m here now and that’s what counts.”
“And how long are you here for mother?” My mothers voice drips with concern and nerves. She gets anal when my grandmother blows in, nevertheless my trooper of a mother will try to make the best of it.
My grandmother side steps the question and begins gushing “Ah, is that my Chryssie? What happened to the meatball with pig tails and glasses?”
I’m trying to get her to stop pinching my cheeks to no avail “A stylist, nutritionist and an ophthalmologist” I force a laugh. My brother glances over from his perch on the couch, his eyes even through the side swept bangs seem wary—as if he can see something I can’t. My father grabs my mom by the wrist and drags her out the front door, little do they know we can see their bickering silhouettes through the curtains.
Grandma pushes my brothers foot off of the coffee table and sits in its place “So what are the plans? Sneak out after dark and see a movie, get ice cream at the mall?” It doesn’t surprise me that she has yet to outgrow our childish escapades.
“Kyle why don’t you tell Dad that you are ready to head out?” He peels himself off the couch and sulks out as a response.
Grams looks at me and says “Well times certainly have changed haven’t they?”
“Grams look this trip is for Kyle, he hasn’t been the same since the incident. He had an episode a few—”
She cuts me off “I know all about his episodes, honey why do you think I’m back?”
“Well than don’t you agree that the best thing for Kyle is time for him to think, and come to terms with what has happened?”
She sits back with a look on her face, one that can only be described as experienced “Baby doe, I think what this family needs is a sense of normal. To be whole even with the gaping hole left in our hearts.” The quad engines fire up and two of them start down Hangman’s path, soon they vanish out of earshot. My mom walks back in shuddering and starts to furiously peel carrots.
Grams perks up “Is everything alright dear?”
My mom shakes her head dismissively and chops the carrots in silence. Without look up she says “Everything is great mother— no everything is not great, nothing is good and the whole world is shit.” She waves the knife around frantically, my grandmother walks over and gently grabs her wrists, my mom is crying now.
“You should have called.” She leans into Grams embrace.
“I know baby, I know.” She wipes my mothers tears and thankfully some color returns to her face. She shakes out the remaining tension and smooths her hair.
“Lets watch a movie” my mom walks to the closet and fishes out an old VHS player, while Grams begins making a sundae in a salad bowl.
“Grams aren’t you diabetic?”
“Sweetheart, sometimes in life you have to decide when it is alright to let loose. This is one of those moments” she walks over to the couch and hands out the spoons, a VHS of the Iron Giant starts to play and I smile. I smile not because I like the movie but because of what the movie represents: the child I was, the life too short-lived, the last time my family was normal.
The movie finished but the feeling lingers, Grams gets up to do dishes and I remember a game we used to play “Do you want to play a game?”
My mom shifts in her seat to look at me “Sure honey.” Grams returns with hands that are still damp.
“Okay so the game is called Never Have I Ever, put both hands up. Now we will go in a circle each saying something that you have never done, if either of the other two players have done what was just said they put a finger down.”
Grams scoffs a bit “Back in my day we played this with tequila not fingers, but hey to each his own.” My mom laughs at that, I had almost forgotten what that sounded like. It sounds the way summer feels—hopeful, warm and at ease.
“I’ll start, never have I ever crowd surfed.”
Both grams and my uptight mother put a finger down “In my twenties, from what I remember, I had two rules when I went to a concert: sing loud enough to lose your voice and crowd surf for at least one set.”
My mom smiles as if she is remembering something “When I met your father I had just finished crowd surfing at a Kiss concert, I fell literally into his arms when the crowd dropped me and the rest was history.”
“I never knew that” I say in a misty half whisper.
My mom looks at the family portrait above the mantel “Hm let me think, never have I ever. . .”
“Killed your brother?” Ky walks in and throws an antique gun on the kitchen counter, and then slams the door to his room. It has been a century and a half since the gun was fireable and probably longer since it was loaded, save for one instance. My mother gets up from her place in our circle of normal and walks to the kitchen counter, she is crying violently her shoulders shake like the shutters of a poorly constructed house in a category five hurricane. She cries the type of tears that flood the desert, each drop is a tsunami. She slumps over the counter in silent sobs, her body is wracked with tremors like aftershocks. After a few infinite minutes she straightens up, grabs an entire bottle of wine and makes her way to the back porch. The car engine starts up and disappears like a fashion trend, my grandmas phone buzzes alerting her to a text.
“Your daddy went to get some lone time and collect himself he should be back tomorrow.”
I can’t even respond to her, or acknowledge the fact I heard what she said. I know the gun that’s on the counter, but I don’t know not definitively at least. My nerves are on fire as I tread across the over the top 600 count rug and onto the cold wooden floors of our kitchen. The gun is a double barrel Winchester with a name carved in it. . . his name. . . Joey. I use the pad of my thumb to feel the coarse carving a boy scout knife made oh so many moons ago.
My grandma knocks on Kyle’s door “It ain’t your fault baby. That thing that happened, the incident it wasn’t your fault.”
Kyle opens the bedroom door so fast the frame actually rattles “Joey is dead for Christ’s sake and I’m sick and tired of everyone referring to it as the “incident” because frankly that is too small of a word to define what I did and the tragedy of what happened. Everyone needs to stop sweeping it under the rug and deal with it.” His voice trembled with rage.
“You did not shoot your brother” Grams is calm and oddly patient right now.
“No but I loaded the gun.”
“Chil that gun had not been fired in over a century how were any of us supposed to know that it still worked? You didn’t pull the trigger, fate did. Joey’s death lies in the hands of the Lord not in yours.
Kyle is shaking as if he realizes what he already knew “Sometimes. . . I—I see him, he talks to me.”
My grandmother’s face flashes with something that is quickly masked “Grief plays cruel tricks on the mind. Jenifer please come inside” Grams calls out to my mildly intoxicated mother.
“Chryssie, love can you get more firewood ours is starting to burn low?” The way she said it, it really was a command in the form of a question so I get up without further probing and walk out the front door towards the wood shed.
Linnet hears Chryssie’s footsteps fade “Kyle baby, tell me what you have been seeing.”
“It’s like he is a lightbulb. Sometimes he is as clear as you are Grams and other times he is flickering and hazy; but, I can always hear him as clear as a cloudless sky.”
Linnet shares a knowing look with her daughter “Ky why don’t you sit down.”
A cloud passes over his face and he backs up with legitimate fear in his voice “You’re a witch. . . both of you.” His back hits the wall and he flattens against it, thank god the contractor they used did sturdy work.
“Kyle how do you know that?” Linnet’s stupid daughter says admitting the truth that we have worked so hard to bury.
The poor boy is stammering harder than Forrest Gump “H-h-he he told me.” He lifts a pointed finger to the stop on the wall where Joey’s picture used to hang.
“Kyle the death of your brother has left you gifted.” Linnet chooses her words very carefully, he is teetering on the verge of a complete meltdown.
“What does that mean?” Kyle sounds small, like a child.
“When a traumatic event, such as the loss of a young life occurs the spiritual world imprints on the physical realm leaving people such as yourself gifted. You are not crazy Kyle you are not suffering from depression, you have abilities most people can not even imagine. You can talk to the dead and you have begun to expand your powers as a witch.” Linnets voice grows with confidence as she tries to reassure Kyle.
“So what am I, a human Ouija board?” The way Kyle says that is not with sarcasm but with a confused mix of fear and disbelief.
“No honey those things are no more real than a twenty-five cent palm reading, you my boy are a witch.” Linnet says that as if she were saying don’t forget the milk.
Outside my feet crunch in a newfound silence, whatever conversation Grams didn’t want me hearing must be over by now. It is strangely cold out here, my sweater is thinner than damaged hair. I drag my feet in the gravel creating a black dirt line in my wake as I trek down the hill towards the shed. Who puts a woodshed at the bottom of a ravine, granted a small one but still you have to carry the wood back up and gravity definitely is not on your side.
I kick a rock several yards in front of me as the path births a the shed, small but expensive. In my arms I cradle twigs and logs to see us through the cold dark night. As I turn to go back the way I came a flash of white zips past and a blur of grey follows in pursuit. I stop with a sense of I shouldn’t be seeing this on my shoulders. The albino turns and screams a mix of latin and gibberish at the grey thing who falls to the ground, a breeze blows the branches above his head. The masculine grey form snarls a mouth of fangs at the snow colored man shaped beast, at the sight of his dagger teeth I drop my bundle. Four eyes lock on me two mouths open and one creature lunges. The grey mass explodes in white light as the albino screams “Run!” I take off faster than a late night booty call. Rocks, twigs and sharp grasses poke through my slippers as I flee up the mountain and by the time I reach my door the shoes are tattered and my eyes are tearing. I slam the door behind me and press against it sliding to the floor, I’m not sobbing as I feel I should. I just saw a man’s life end and yet I feel blank, no emotion. The three sets of eyes staring at my stoic, motionless, body sit in silence, waiting. They are waiting for me to say something. Well I can’t.
Finally my mother speaks up “Honey what happened?”
“Am I crazy?” I pick my head up and return her gaze with eyes I know are empty.
Grams interjects “Darlin whatever do you mean?” At her words I feel slap silly and all of a sudden I am exhausted but I don’t close my eyes. Grams is startled by my ability to remain conscious which confuses me even more so. A look of realization crosses my brothers face as he examines me and then in a flash he slackens and begins to convulse, it isn’t how it looks on tv. Its more sporadic, limbs move at different speeds, fast enough to create a whistle effect; to me it is happening in slow motion. Grams grabs a throw pillow and puts it under his head as he begins to mumble something.
“Stop it” he screams “You can’t drink from her!” He is writhing on the ground now and he looks as if he is in an electrified puddle the way his body jerks and seethes, all of a sudden he sits up straight and whispers “The shadow leeches are coming.” He knocks out, his body sweaty and his expression blank.
My mother rushes at me and grabs my wrist where a dark mark has appeared. She gasps and goose-flesh rise up and down her arms like a York peppermint patty commercial. My mom stumbles backwards and presses against our mantle, fear strikes her like lighting to a rod and frankly I feel like zoo animal. I go to speak but then I fly backwards and my body slams into a recliner Jennifer screams “What have you done!”
I can’t remember a time that I have felt fear on this deep of a level, like the core to an onion. I cry and I cry not because I am sad but because I am a small child in a very dark place, abandoned. How did she throw me like that? She takes a step towards me but Grams steps between us, she places a hand on my cheek “Sweetheart what did you see?”
“I-I don’t know what it was.” The thought of what happened replays in my mind and Grams’s eyes open wider than I have seen and she whispers something in the same language as the creatures outside.
She looks at my mother “She is the one.”
Jennifer looks confused “What do you mean the one? The one for wha. . .” She trails off. “No She can’t be, you’re wrong she’s normal.” Jennifer rushes at me but this time she wraps her arms around me so tightly like a weighted ball holding me back.
My mom starts “But the prophecy—”
Her mom cuts her off “The prophecy could be wrong.”
Suddenly I find my voice, small but there “What prophecy?” I feel like a freshly scolded child.
My mom has her therapy voice in full motion when she says “Baby their is no easy way to say this” her voice catches as she tries to find the words that no dictionary has, at least not in the order she needs.
Grams interjects “For cryin out loud Chryssie you’re a witch, we are all witches.”
We’ll be back with your regularly scheduled broadcast after a few words from our sponsors, is what I imagine Ryan Seacrest is saying from the closet. They can’t be serious, me. . . a witch? The only magickal being I know is Amber and I thought she was a singular anomaly. Is there a secret witch community? Do they use an online chat room to talk about hot werewolves over toad tea and crunchy teeth biscuits? Why haven’t my powers manifested yet? I feel nauseous, my head is spinning so much that I’m actually going to be sick, I sprint out the back door and puke over the side railing onto the chrysanthemums below, the irony.
“Oh Dear.” Grams lets out a tired breath.
“Nice going mother.” Jennifer runs to hold back my hair but enough damage has been done. I finish throwing up but I feel drunk, my head spins in the opposite direction of my feet. I take my seat next to my corpse of a brother and inhale the sweet smell of firewood and stomach acid. My mom is perched on the arm of the love seat, she is armed with a wooden brush, I haven’t let her brush my hair since nighttime prayers ended, around the time I stopped believing in Santa. Today, for whatever reason, I oblige and so she sits cooing as she brushes the vomit and knots out of my hair.
“Honey, what happened before. . .when you went outside?” Even shrouded in soft coos I can feel the edge in my mother’s voice.
“I really don’t know.” All I can say is the truth.
“Well try to describe whatever it is you think you saw.” My mother says this as she uses a battering ram of a brush through my hair, the sound of hair ripping is noticeably audible in the quiet mountainside.
“Well it started as a day dream, I was in class when my mind started to wander and then these two figures appeared in my dream. One was this snow white winged man and the other was evil personified, a grey monstrosity of a being. They fought tooth and nail until the grey monster thing sunk it’s fangs into the neck of the albino beast, his artery spewed gold blood. At the sight of this feast I screamed, loud enough to blow speakers let alone my vocal chords and then the fanged creature turned to me. He had these piercing blue eyes that mesmerized me in the same way a horror movie captivates it’s cringing audience. Then I almost crashed into one of the white winged guys on my drive home.”
“What do you mean? You saw an ethereal in daylight?” Grams loses her composure as she says this, stumbling over her words.
“A what? What’s an ethereal?” I say as my voice quivers.
“SIT DOWN!” My grandma barks at me as if I had disobeyed her. I obligingly sit down.
“Chrysanthemum— Chryssie— I love you, but you need to stay very quiet as I er we explain something to you.”
“A lot of somethings.” My mother nervously chimes in as she plays with the frayed fur of a stuffed animal.
Grams takes a deep breath, the kind you take before a long dive, “Humans make up the majority of the physical realm, but other things exist” they way she says things makes me think that she isn’t referring to animals “ things that influence human behavior. Good and evil are constantly at war, the thing is nobody can see it. I only know of such a thing through my training as a witch.”
I feel my face slacken, had she just called herself a witch?
“Yes dear, I am a witch and so is your mother and your brother. The powers of a witch run in the blood of the family the witch belongs to, an affinity for magick may present itself at any time. Magick varies from person to person and family to family, as members marry other non-magical beings the power gets diluted.” She absentmindedly twiddles her thumbs, she seems to be at a loss of words.
Swallowing hard she continues “Light and darkness are real and they are personified in… non-human form.”
Comprehension dawns on my face “Those-those creatures I’ve been seeing?”
“Precisely dear, the Ethereals er the albinos as you called them earlier, they are the good in the world. We are on an ethereal witch lineage, our purpose is to aid the side of light. Those other creatures, they are demonic and true vampires. They don’t drink blood, they feed off of the human life force: sucking the soul, happiness and memory from their victim. They are called Shadow Leeches.” Grams pauses there to allow my breath to return to me.
“Kyle, he’s a he’s a witch?”
“Yes, in a sense. Kyle is bonded to the spirit world.”
Feeling as though I might faint I force my tongue to obey me “What does that mean?”
My mother’s eyes glass over as she forces a weak smile “It means he can communicate with spirits.”
Grams jumps back in “Spirits are vital in the eternal war, they have a great influence on human behavior… as well as making up the majority of the warring parties ranks. When humans die they don’t go to heaven or hell they turn either ethereal or into a shadow leech. A soul becomes ethereal when it dies in a sacrificial way; such as protecting someone else. The only way to become a shadow leech is to kill another soul and enjoying the feeling. As a result most people remain in purgatory for the rest of eternity as you cannot be turned into either creature post mortem.”
My mother shifts her eyes downward as if the carpet had suddenly grew three heads and began to speak, she mutters something that sounds a lot like gibberish. “Prophecy” she mutters only a decibel louder.
Grams shoots her a venomous look that reads more of a threat than a promise.
I chance a question “What prophecy?”
“A prophecy is an uncertain prediction of future events” Grams presses her lips into a thin line.
“What specific prophecy?” A question Grams doesn’t answer. Kyle’s body sits up straight, a deep booming voice echoes through the house
“He who see
The battles between good and bad
The one to end the war
The body crumples back up into an unconscious lump. The rest of us sit in a stunned silence. My Grams’ voice sounds as if it has be dragged across broken glass “The prophecy states that whoever can see the battles take place will be the key to ending the war. That person is a weapon— they can be used to convert the souls remaining in purgatory into soldiers. Whether good or evil depends on the death of the key.”
“But I can see the battles.”
“Exactly” mother and daughter say to me in unison.
“Are you saying that I am the key to ending the battle between good and evil?”
“What happens if the ethereals win?”
Grams considers this for a moment before clucking her tongue “For a short while humans will be incapable of any negative emotion or wrong doing, but then after time has passed the world will collapse as we know it. The very balance of nature will be distorted as it is the God given right of humans to make their own choices, with this gone so too shall humanity fade.”
“Well what am I supposed to do?” I straighten my back and mold my face into what I hope resembles a brave face.
“NOTHING!” My mother says as she springs up from the couch “You are to remain as you have been, if you see another battle ignore it. Pretend you don’t see it and move along. Do not let them catch you staring.” She rushed over and grasps my face, forcing my eyes to meet hers “You cannot tell anyone about this, do you understand me?”
Before I could nod my response Grams jingles her two cents “Not even your witch friend Amber.”
My eyebrows must be lost in my hair, having risen in such shock.
“ YOU HAVE A WITCH FRIEND?!” My mom shrieks in horror.
“Yes, but I wouldn’t—“
“No you can’t.” My mother says more firmly than my teenage angst appreciates, I’ve always loved doing the opposite of what she tells me.”