Take your amulet, your charms, your cross,
And keep them close at hand,
For in the witching hour, things unknown,
Loom in the shadows of the land,
And even the stars, they shudder, pretending that they glisten,
While the moon slides purposely amongst the clouds,
As fearfully she listens,
Beings that dwell in the catch of night,
And chill the blood of veins,
The moment they are glanced upon,
Drive the mind’s eye insane,
But who will help us, as the crypts slide open,
And the mist begins to draw near?
For is it the witches we should be afraid of ?
Or what the witches fear…
I can’t ever remember not living on the island, or a time that it didn’t feel like home to me. Sometimes my Aunt Tookie and my oldest sister would talk softly of another place we’d lived. Though their conversations always seemed sad and wistful – memories best left far away and forgotten. I wondered briefly as I breathed in glacial air, if our other home – too long in the past for me to recall, had been any warmer than here.
“Let’s go, Babybelle.” My middle sister Angel called, starting down the wooden stairs.
“Don’t call me that,” I snapped, hating my childhood nickname, and hating the cold even more. “Where’s Evangeline? Isn’t she coming with us?”
“Not yet. She’s helping Aunt Tookie with something – she’ll follow soon.”
I wasn’t really listening; the March, morning-frost stairs were a death-trap if not navigated properly.
Regardless of a rickety stairwell, and the wintry weather, I sincerely loved the place I called home. I adored the house that perched on a bluff, overlooking a swirling ocean. The beauty of our home lay in its whitewashed wood and sprawling verandas. Giant potted plants bejeweled the decking, overgrown with flowers and herbs. Perfumed jasmine grew in wild spirals, claiming the balcony like a scented picture frame.
But mostly I loved the rainbow colored lamps, still lit-up in the windows at school time. Our island was always hung with morning fog this early in the year.
“Would you get a move on?!” My sister yelled through the mist, reaching the beach path before me. I ignored her and took my time. Another part of my morning ritual was to enjoy the view, savouring a glimpse of the silver-grey surf.
Americus Island – the place I’d inhabited for most of my life, lies between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. It usually possesses a curious, subtropical climate. For the most part, my island home seems to prefer warmth, even when it shouldn’t. Blazing sunshine and summer humidity claim a large part of the year. Except for days like today. During the first months of the New Year, not even balmy Americus Island can turn its back on the icy tentacles of New England.
It also boasted a strange botanical mixture. A mysterious combination of dense, twisted forest, and bordering woodlands. The thick greenery tapered away to reveal palm speckled beaches. Shaped like a star, all five points rising above the ocean, Americus Island spread in an uneven merge of rocky cliffs, and flat residential regions. We lived on the most southerly tip, Yule Point.
Officially, we were part of the state of Massachusetts, but Americus sometimes seemed like a solitary destination, anchored alone in the ocean, void of partnership with the outside world. From time to time, you can hear the locals muse over the strange feeling of isolation our separate island is known to cause.
Of course, there were others who chose to be here for that reason.
“How much slower could you possibly go?” Angel scowled.
I caught up with my sister and shot her a glower of my own. “I don’t know why you do this to me five days a week – no normal teenager likes going to school, you know. You should speak to a professional before your condition gets worse.”
“And no lazy teenager ever became anything professional,” she answered smugly.
I thought about telling Angel she had a great future ahead as a qualified pain in the ass, but decided it was too early to sister-bicker. Instead I changed the subject.
“What’s Evangeline helping Aunt Tookie with?”
Angel, having won this round, was happy to drop it. “Tookie felt a presence in our garden last night. She and Evie are placing hemlock, thorns, and probably Belladonna around the backyard. It’s an offering to let the presence know it’s welcome in the garden, but not to come any further near the house.”
“Oh, well that’s a relief,” I said sarcastically. I was more than a little disturbed at the thought of an unseen visitor taking interest in our home. “What kind of presence?”
“How should I know? Some sort of earth spirit, maybe.” Angel shrugged, completely unfazed and still in a hurry to embrace her education. Weirdo.
A year older than me and unlike most teenagers, my sister actually liked school. Angel was in her element there. But then again, she pretty much is anywhere she goes. Fiery, vivacious, popular – my middle sister is all the things I’m not. Even further on the chalk and cheese scale is my eldest sister, Evangeline. The boys at school lose all concentration in her presence, infatuated and rendered helpless when faced with her beauty. And who can blame them? Moody and already sensuous at seventeen, Evie has the black eyes and rippling hair of a goddess. Again, everything I’m not.
The beach path ended at the harbor, where fishing boats already hauled bright red lobster and gleaming silver fish. Mostly, Americus survives on the fishing industry and local trading – tourism is somewhat sporadic… visitors aren’t always at ease here. Neither is it comfortably accessible. Ferries only ran three days a week from Boston, our closest major city. That’s not to say that we don’t encounter our fair share of tourists. They travel here especially to experience the peculiar legend that shrouds this place. Over the years, we’ve accumulated a reputation. From the mainland, sinister and creative nicknames have been invented for Americus; Pagan Land, Freak Cay, and most disturbing of all, Devil’s Island.
Obtained by some of our more circumspect residents, and their odd beliefs.
Moving along the docks, past white boats gleaming in silvery water, Angel and I headed up to the main street of Americus largest town, Maples. The village unfolded before us in a collection of weird and colorful local businesses.
Angel didn’t even glance at the occult and new-age book stores lining Maples Street. But on my part it took much more effort not to gaze through the windows at the withered old crones, silently whispering over candles. Or at the strange young women, hung with amulets, chanting and lighting incense before opening for the day. I tried hard not to notice them, turning my head away from the curious eyes of those women who always, always, stared at Angel and I. Nor did my sister ever notice the weird occupants of the piercing and tattoo parlor. Not once did she look in the direction of the heavily-inked young men inside, their eyes all strangely the same – slanted and vacant. Angel was genuinely immune to Maple’s bizarre residents, whereas I was unsettled by them most of the time.
A few more blocks offered a touch more normalcy. Cafes and cake-shops, doctors and dentists, hardware, software and a huge grocery-retail store. Maple street ended at the marina boardwalk, with our high school, St Lucia’s, a little further beyond. This early, the esplanade stood silent and uninhabited. Later it would whirl with the color of twinkling jewelry shops and local designer’s rainbow fabrics. And at night it shimmered with candlelight, jingled with laughter, steamed with the aroma of its many restaurants and bars. The wooden boardwalk was my favorite part of town. The esplanade also housed our Aunt Tookie’s plant and flower shop, selling everything from roses to palms, herbs and spices. She even sold her own potions for ailments, in case you happened to be too squeamish about entering the occult stores. Or too frightened to visit St John’s, and the people that lived there.
“Chime!” I heard my name called as I entered the school gate. Squinting across the yard, I saw one of my best friends, Crystal, waving happily.
“See you later, Babybelle,” Angel called over her shoulder, joining her own group of friends.
Hence the nickname; bells chime, and I’m the baby of the family.
“Don’t call me that!” I yelled again, pointlessly. “Chime! My name is Chime!”
My sister smirked and disappeared as Crystal took her place.
“Morning,” she greeted eagerly. “What’s new?”
“Not much,” I yawned. “Exhausted – as usual – after my sister’s insane rush to get here and participate in our riveting curriculum.”
Crystal shook her head. “Weirdo.”
“That’s one word for it. I have plenty of others, but Tookie threatens to ground me when I call my sisters anything too graphic. How are you? Love that outfit, by the way,” I approved. Her buttercup yellow T-shirt and red jeans were striking against her shiny black skin.
“Thanks,” she smiled – a grin that grew into a huge beam. My friend was exuberant by nature, but seemed extra chirpy for this time of the morning.
“Guess what happened to me?” she suddenly burst.
“You couldn’t wait to get to school either? Lord have mercy, my sister’s disease is catching.” I dead-panned, eyeing her with curiosity nonetheless. I did have to wonder what could inspire such early morning enthusiasm. Frankly, the only thing that would excite me this early was going back to bed.
“Okay, I give up. What happened to you?” I finally asked.
“Last night, Tyler Branson called me! And we talked for an hour!” she said giddily.
I stared, forced an anemic smile and managed to sound positive. “That’s so amazing!”
Boys. Dating. They were making a slow but definite acquaintance in my friend’s lives, and it left me feeling lost. Her announcement threw me, but I listened politely. I performed friendship duty and endured every single detail. I smiled with encouragement, made approving noises in the right places. And inside, I winced with every word.
Boys. Dating. Damn.
I was overjoyed for friend, I really was. Crystal had been waiting for Tyler to notice her since a time where she still arrived at school via a skipping-rope. It was myself I was unhappy for. My attention slid away from her chatter as I felt a familiar, sinking feeling.
Boys. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. What girl in her right mind was immune to their shiny, slick muscles on the basket-ball court? Or their strong hands and shy smiles?
But the whole idea of dating was just too difficult for someone like me.
“It’s because you’re a little standoffish.” Crystal was fond of saying. “A bit aloof. And maybe your kind of humor scares them away.”
She meant sarcastic. That much was true. Sarcasm was one of the few traits I shared with my sister Evangeline.
But I wasn’t aloof, or standoffish. I was something else. My aunt, who adored clichés, professed that ‘still waters run deep’ portrayed me perfectly.
I wished everyone were as kind. I would have liked to describe myself as subdued, quiet, or maybe even composed. But at best I was viewed as remote, and at worst, by some of my crueler class mates, vague.
Only a handful of people knew the real reason behind my preoccupation.
However, there was no denying an otherness about me. Nothing the eye could see, but rather, something people sensed after spending enough time in my company. Invisible differences. The real reason I’d yet to find any boy romantically relevant, and vice-versa.
As Crystal’s chatter bypassed my attention, I couldn’t help casting a sidelong, slightly envious glance her way. My friend was so striking, so down to earth, so normal.
She come from a happy family unit – unlike a lot of kids that attended our high school. She had a ready smile, a cheery disposition, and a flair for color. Sometimes, next to her I felt bland. I adored clothes like any other girl, but here and now, in my pale-pink hoodie, and white-blonde ponytail, I did the word plain justice. Even my sister Angel, who I spied across the yard, seemed so much more vivid than I did, though we were practically wearing the same outfit.
The lack of resemblance between us Emmerson sisters was a bewildering thing. We shared a tall height, a similar olive skin tone, and that’s where the likeness ended. Evangeline’s rich, dark beauty was the extreme opposite of my appearance. Likewise Angel, who had been born with a startling mane of red hair and emerald eyes. It was as though my sisters had took all the bright colors before I was born, leaving my features pastel and diluted.
Except for one bizarre little rumor. All three of us had the reputation of being the most unusually pretty girls in our school. I could understand why Evie and Angel had inherited the status, but as for me, and the alien I saw in the mirror each day… let’s just say that was peculiar as the rest of my strange life.
As if on cue, my older eldest sister came running though the school gates. Flushed and panting, she was still stunning. How could we three have shared the same parents, honestly? Evie, so smoldering, and Angel, so full of fire. Then me, vague and sarcastic. How lucky could one girl get? Not that my sisters – or Tookie – agreed. During our traditional squabbles, they saw me as a headstrong brat. When we were getting along, my sisters found me funny and calming. Unlike most siblings I knew of, we genuinely liked one another. And while mocking each other might have been our customary way, the bond we shared was fierce and loyal. Lucky enough to be born with some wit, I had my sister in gales on a daily basis. I also make Tookie roll her eyes most days too. ‘It’s not wit – it’s wiseass’ she claimed. Either way, my humor indicated I had at least one interesting personality trait.
Actually, I secretly owned a few more. But they were rarely discussed. And never in public.
“You’re not even listening to me!” Crystal whined.
True. I’d forgot she’d been talking. I’d been too busy fretting over what her new appreciation of the opposite species would mean for me. I was prone to a spot of fretting every now and then. Occasionally, I inflicted the kind of anxiety on myself that would make even Satan nervous.
“Chime!” Crystal complained. “Just because you’re not interested in guys, can’t you just try and show enthusiasm that I am?”
“You wouldn’t be if you knew what they were thinking,” I said before I could stop myself.
She stopped to stare at me archly. “And you do?”
I met her questioning eyes, doing my best to look innocently stupid. I rarely replied to those kind of queries. Better not to give away too much of what was already suspected of me. Instead I pointed at the school entrance, at exactly the same time as the bell rang. Just as I knew it would.
Class bored me. Especially Math and History, which began my morning. But no subject dulled my brain so much as English Lit – the last class before lunch.
With impending sophomore finals a few months away, we were studying – of all things – Romeo and Juliet. Sure that my lack of romantic experience was more tragic than their story, I couldn’t decide if I found the star-crossed lovers ironic, or annoying. Listening to Mrs. Jorgenson read the tale of woe aloud, I settled on annoying. Shakespeare’s doomed couple declared, pledged and vowed, and as they did, I fidgeted, squirmed and daydreamed, waiting for the lunch bell.
When it tolled, I was out of my seat, ignoring Mrs. Jorgenson’s irritation.
Crystal lounged near the outside cafeteria, chatting avidly with the third member of our trio, Ellie. Good. I hoped that meant she was all boy-talked out. I wasn’t sure I was ready for another commentary on Tyler.
“Hey, Emmerson!” I heard my name called as I neared my friends. Turning, I came face to face with my nemesis; Anthony Regan. For no good reason, Anthony had chosen to antagonise me in years ago, and hadn’t relented yet. Conceited from the privilege of wealth, attractive in a uniform way, he was the kind of jock that found amusement in taunting and cruelty – even better if he had a crowd present.
“Emmerson, I was just wondering if you get altitude sickness from that height?” he sniggered. Cue his friends sniggering too.
“And I was wondering if your brain is prosthetic?” I replied sweetly, throwing in a smirk for good measure as his friends cheered at my comeback.
Then everything changed.
My world shifted in perception. It had been happening to me my whole life, and it was happening again now.
Anthony yelled my name again, but this time with desperate warning. I didn’t need him to warn me of danger, the fact that my senses were rearranging told me that. I heard his words, Chime! Watch out! Muffled and faraway. I already, instinctively, knew which direction the threat came from. Turning to the baseball field, a ball was flying my way, hurling rapidly for my face. If it collided, it would shatter my nose, my bones, instantaneously.
Everything faded, Anthony’s frantic caution, Crystal and Ellie’s horrified stares. There was nothing but my unnatural focus. A vibration. And on impulse, from deep inside, I produced a light. A shimmering, silver-blue, protective shield, visible only to me. It rose like a wisp of solid cloud from the center of my chest. And as the danger raced toward me, I ordered my unseen power to swipe. It did. A conjured, defensive magic gripped the ball just inches from my face, where it changed course and curved toward the science lab – its frightening speed smashing straight through a window. I didn’t know I’d been holding my breath until I exhaled, along with the entire school.
Oh great. Oh, just wonderful. In front of the entire school. My sisters would never let me hear the end of this one. I quickstepped over to Crystal and Ellie, escaping the center of attention.
“So… what shall we do on the weekend?” I asked my flabbergasted friends.
They didn’t answer. The whole episode had only lasted ten seconds. But I had a feeling it might follow me round for a lifetime.
I was right, as I often am, about anticipating my sisters. They waited for me at the school gate, wearing matching glares of disapproval.
“Great trick sis,” Evangeline clapped, not in a very applauding way.
“What incredible talent,” Angel joined in. “For your next show, why not fly a broom to school?”
They were irked that my power had been manifested so openly, that I’d shown the whole school evidence of my strange gift.
Our family secrets varied greatly from others. So much so, I doubted anyone else on the planet shared skeletons like it. Evangeline, Angel and I had been born into a bloodline of witches. And though that might not be the rarest ancestry in the history of the world, our additional qualities may very well be.
Each of us had also inherited individual, paranormal ability. One of mine being the gift I’d used to stop the ball. Telekinesis – the power to move objects by will.
“What should I have done?” I answered tersely. “Just let the ball smash my face?”
“No.” Evangeline snapped. “But you could have stepped out of the way or something, like a normal person.”
“You’re calling me abnormal? Ha! Do the words pot, kettle and black mean anything to you?”
Angel groaned, either because she was genuinely distressed, or because she was stepping in to stop Evangeline thinking up a really scathing, and possibly life-changing reply for me.
“I just wish you had handled it differently, Chime,” she sighed. “Everyone already thinks we’re weird enough – without you flaunting magic in front of the student body.”
Time to take a deep breath and go to a peaceful place. “Angel, I get the point, okay? I had no choice but to do exactly what I did. Now please shut up and let it go,” I pleasantly requested.
“Fine!” she huffed. “But next time leave your party tricks at home!”
“Fine!” I mimicked. “So sorry that my act of self-preservation upset you.”
My middle sister threw me a moody look without bothering to reply.
“I don’t know what you’re so worried about,” I shrugged. “Plenty of Americus people are thought of as weird, it isn’t only us they talk about.”
“There’s still no need to draw more attention to our family!”
“Well if it bothers you so much, feel free to go do your thing,” I challenged
Evie suddenly went from glaring at me, to smirking and on my side. “Yeah Angel, why don’t you… erase everything, if you’re that concerned.”
The three of us locked eyes, no longer opponents, but conspirers filled with mirth. Our middle sister had been blessed with one of the more unusual talents among us. Memory replacement.
“Poor Mrs. Loch,” we said in unison, setting us off into gales of giggles.
The story never got old. My sisters and I never grew tired of recalling the funny, fateful evening.
Mrs. Loch was a fussy, matronly type who had come to sit for me one evening. While she was under the misconception that my family were catching dinner and a movie, Tookie, along with Angel and Evie, were actually headed into the woods. It was a yearly ritual of thanks to nature they’d gone to perform – a ceremony I’d been too young to participate in back then. The fastidious sitter thought a constructive bedtime was eight o’clock. I disputed this opinion, because in all honesty, I didn’t have a designated time. Lying in bed, bored out of my mind and feeling hard done by, I decided to give her a scare. And I did so in the kind of cruel way only a child can do, and still think it funny. My aunt and sisters came home to find a chorus-line of shoes dancing by themselves, my hairbrush combing my hair without the aid of being held, and Mrs. Loch screaming in the corner. Tookie had had to escort the poor, demented woman home. But before she’d left, Angel’s talents had been needed. With her power and skill, she erased Mrs. Loch’s recollection of the supernatural, replacing it with a false image of a perfectly normal, uneventful, child-minding night.
Tookie was irate. In my defense, I’d only been twelve at the time, and didn’t grasp the harm. I made my sisters laugh all the time by moving things on their own. From then on, thanks to Mrs. Loch, telekinesis was outlawed outside the family home. Any humorous opinion I had at the time quickly disappeared too, my reward being three months abstinence from magic, and constantly pruned hands from dish-washing.
We were still sniggering over the memory, or lack of, as we arrived home. I stopped Angel on the stairs.
“Sis, try not to worry too much about people that think we’re weird – they’re straight and narrow, and will never get to see the scenic route. I know you’re annoyed about today, but even if we never ever used magic again, it wouldn’t change their opinion. Even if we suddenly joined a missionary, and signed up for humanitarian work in third world countries, we still wouldn’t change their minds about us. Well, maybe you could,” I grinned.
She smiled back softly. “I know. I’m sorry I overacted. It’ll all blow over and be forgotten.”
Evie gave me a wink. “Now we just have to pray that Tookie doesn’t find out through the Americus grapevine.”
“Find out what?” asked an amused voice from the top of the stairs. Oh goody, what great timing. Of all days, my aunt just happened to shut shop early and sat waiting on the veranda.
“Girls?” she asked again.
“Nothing.” Angel and Evie blurted simultaneously, guiltily.
“Chime?” she pressed, turning to me.
I took a sudden interest in my shoes, wondering how long I could put off the inevitable. Sneaking a glance from under my lashes, it didn’t look like very long.
I faced Tookie’s expectance. No use lying. She’d make it her business to find out.
“I hit a baseball.”
“Why would your sisters feel the need to hide that fact that you hit a ball?”
“Because I hit it with my mind,” I clarified.
Tookie considered my answer, smiled, and professed we’d ‘talk about this later’.
I wondered if this would affect my weekend.
Aunt Tookie is our mother’s sister. Our parents died in an accident, soon after I was born. Tookie was the eldest of the Sabelle family, though mine and my sister’s surnames are that of our long gone father, Emmerson.
Tookie has another, slighter younger sister, Kate, who also lives on Americus Island. Some long ago family altercation ensured we had rarely, if anything, to do with her. Nor did we associate with her daughter, my cousin Virginia.
Our mother Emmaline, like me, had been the third and baby sister of the family. Consistent and abundant in her upkeep of stories, Tookie spoke of our mother all the time. She wanted us to feel her presence. She wanted to ensure the woman who gave birth to us, that loved my sisters and I beyond measure, remained living in our hearts, and not just a faded memory from an eternity ago.
There was no way that could happen. Not when we could sit listening for hours about Emmaline – her wild ways, her penchant for trouble. A powerful witch who was fierce when the situation called for it, yet sweet and loyal by nature. The only thing never discussed was the enigmatic circumstances surrounding our parent’s accident.
Sweetness and devotion were a heredity virtue in the Sabelle family. Our aunt displayed both, rarely showing annoyance at our wrongdoing. Her resources of patience and understanding never ran dry. She delighted in our achievements, and consoled our defeat. With our parents gone, Tookie took on the legal role of our new mother. She also wholeheartedly gave herself. From Boston to Americus, Tookie transported our lives, providing my sisters and me with a secure and loving environment. In hindsight, Tookie is the only mother I’d ever really known. Her long dark plait, threaded with silver, always smells of lavender. And her array of croquet shawls feel like a sanctuary when enveloped in her frequent bear-hugs. I never felt lacking in family.
And the island does have its share of dysfunctional families. Many of the kids from school with both parents don’t always have the stability our aunt created for us. One of those unfortunate souls was my best friend Ellie, who I spied coming up our stairs.
“Ellie!” welcomed Tookie. “How lovely you’re here! Can I get you a soda-cola or something?”
“How many times do I have to tell you Aunt Tookie – it’s called Coke.” I teased.
“Sure Aunt Took, I’d love one,” Ellie accepted. “Chime, I brought by your English Lit revision for tomorrow’s test. You left school so fast – I realized you probably forgot it. ’
“Gee thanks,” I said petulantly. “A girl can never have too much homework.”
“No problem, I know how you love studying,” She giggled at my sourness.
I rolled my eyes. “Let’s go to my room.”
My friend Ellie Porter is a beautiful girl with pale skin and striking red lips. Her Gothic exterior is complimented by poker-straight, thick black hair with a heavy fringe falling over her dark eyes. Ellie is one of the individuals I know from school who lives with both her mother and father, unfortunately for her.
Unsure as to what Ellie’s father does for a living, or if he actually ever has been gainfully employed, Mr. Porter can generally be spotted slumped on stool in one of the bars down on Canal Road – drinking from lunch time till closing time. After that you can usually see him lying on Canal Road.
Ellie’s mother – the family bread winner, works too hard and too often at Regan’s Grocery and Save on Maple Street; our local superstore owned by the parents of my school nemesis, Anthony.
Sometimes Ellie had black bruises to match her eye make-up, a topic she was never forthright or open about.
“What the hell happened at school today!?” Ellie gushed within seconds of entering my room.
“Lose the innocent look.” She folded her arms, all smug and confident. “I saw that baseball flying in your direction, I also watched it miraculously change course.”
“Um, would you consider wind change?” I grimaced.
“Probably not. That ball stopped and hovered in thin air. I think you did that. Just tell me if I’m warm?”
“Tepid,” I said reluctantly. “But I’d be pretty grateful if you didn’t grill me about it today.” I wasn’t in the mood for this conversation, since I had no doubt Tookie was, at this very moment, preparing a lecture on the same topic.
Our supernatural skills weren’t a forbidden subject amongst our closest friends, but my aunt urged my sisters and I to maintain at least some secrecy. Understandably, she preferred our talents weren’t broadcasted. The power we been granted wasn’t common knowledge on the island. Even if our neighbors suspected we were one of the more unusual families on Americus, they certainly didn’t know why. And today’s little episode would be forgotten soon enough, because people don’t want to believe – Tookie had taught me that. It’s human nature to look for a rational explanation. People would blame the weather, the wind, magnetic force, or even volcanic activity, before they would accept there were unseen, unexplained forces at work. Humans look for reasoning, and scoff at the supernatural, luckily for me.
“Okay. I won’t grill you about it.” Ellie, glimpsing through my bookshelf, turned with a grin. “If you do something for me.”
“What?” I asked suspiciously.
Ellie and Crystal knew I contrasted to normal humans, had some idea of the things I could do, but not the extent. Being my best friends since pre-school, they had always just accepted I was different. The way we don’t bother asking people why their family are rich, or chose to be Muslim, I supposed. There’d never been a real reason to explain about myself, since it wasn’t as though I practiced magic in front of them on a daily basis. Besides, talking about my abilities made me slightly uncomfortable. I was both proud and self-conscious at the same time, if that made any sense. And I didn’t want Crystal and Ellie to see me differently. I worried if they learned the full scope of power I owned, it would put a divider between us, a chasm separating me from the normality of our teenage trio.
Ellie’s grin had turned wicked. “How are your mind-reading powers this week?”
I stared, warily. Usually, my other, more dominant ability was a huge elephant in the room, sitting quiet, but taking up plenty of space. My elephant always hung out with us, but my friends generally had the courtesy to ignore it. Except for Ellie, on occasion. Sometimes she beseeched me to help with a problem, or interrogated me for further details. She was much more curious than Crystal, and more annoying. Not that I could blame her – she’d shared space with my elephant many a time.
I could, as another of my strange characteristics, read the human mind. Born with a skill so accurate, I had the choice of both listening in, hearing the secret thoughts of those around me, or I could pluck a vivid image from inside a person’s brain. In the company of one, two, three, or even four people, I was able to smother the link I had to the private thoughts of others – mercifully. It’s not always a gift, and the last thing I wanted was to hear what my sisters, or friends were thinking about their love lives. I dulled the ability like reflex, much the same as averting my eyes from something I didn’t want to look at. All that was left was a small drone, like each person had a bee circling their head. It was I sound I scarcely noticed anymore.
But at school, or on a busy street in Maples, this was no longer an option.
Drum roll, my tendency for vagueness.
Each and every day of my life, I spent considerable time concentrating on drowning out the endless, random thoughts of others. Comparatively, it was not unlike hundreds of televisions turned down, humming in the distance.
Drum roll, my relationship status. No girl could have a relationship with a boy knowing what he’s really thinking…
Ellie was still waiting for me to answer.
“Why do you want to know?” I said finally.
Her cheeks suddenly flushed a dull red, and she’d stopped looking my way. “I was wondering if you could find out if I’ll be asked to the Spring Ball?”
“Oh El, I try not to predict dark and empty futures.”
“Chime! It’s not funny. I’m being serious here!”
“Sorry,” I stopped sniggering. “Who did you want to ask you, El?”
“I’m not sure…” she stalled, knowing perfectly well who. “Maybe Davies Roberts?”
“I know he’s got a reputation and all, but I really like him,” she suddenly gushed and blushed at the same time. “I’ve always liked him, and I need to know if he likes me too.”
Awesome. More boy talk. Just what I wanted to hear.
Tookie’s lecture suddenly seemed more appealing.
“What do you want me to do El?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“I thought you could… read his mind for me?”
“It’s not that simple,” I explained. “I can’t just pluck the information from his brain.”
“Because it doesn’t work like that – I’ll only see what he’s thinking right now. And I’m not close enough to… how can I put this? Peel back the layers of his mind. If Davies isn’t thinking about Spring Ball, right this second, reading his thoughts will be pointless. I won’t be able to tell you anything.”
My friend was torn between amazement and mortification. And obviously determination. “Please try, for me? Please take a peek?”
There was also hidden desperation in her voice, but I heard it loud and clear. It made me realize how much this meant to her, and I was such an easy mark when it came to a friend in need.
“Okay,” I sighed reluctantly. “Sit tight.”
Ellie watched engrossed as I concentrated. My mind stretched out across the island, invisible tentacles seeking out Davies’ thoughts. Once I’d heard a voice – vocal or psychic – it was forever stored.
He was geographically too distant for me to get a crystal-clear reading. All I picked up was an actor’s face – which indicated him watching television, while looking forward to a roast chicken dinner.
“I’m not getting anything but TV and food,” I apologized, causing her face to fall. “But I’ll try again tomorrow, okay?” I promised, adding, “So long as you don’t tell anyone about this!”
She nodded enthusiastically. “You’re incredible Chime! Thank you so much for trying. And I swear, it stays between us.” Another wicked grin spread across her face. “If you tell me how you did the baseball trick…”
“Ellie, how can you be sure my talents don’t include igniting you into a ball of flames?” I teased. “There are people in the world who can do that, you know – it’s called Pyrokinesis.”
“So that’s a no?”
“Shut up and drink your soda-cola.”
Not long after Ellie jumped on her bike and left for the north tip of the island, Wixen Point, I attempted the chore of homework. But I was distracted by mixed feelings. On one hand, it was wonderful that my best friend didn’t freak out after watching me mentally explore for her. But on the other, it unsettled me how serious she’d seemed about Davies. About a boy. The discarded book of Shakespeare sonnets mocked me, how unmoved I was by his passionate words. But how could I not be immune to romance? As in anything, a human could only concentrate for so long. And when my mental barrier slipped, their thoughts seeped in. I knew what every guy at school thought of me. Some good, some bad, some awful.
Maybe it was for the best anyway. Look how quickly Ellie and Crystal were obsessing over boys. Perhaps I had a blessing in disguise. Less of a distraction, less stress, and much less time-consuming. The only male I had a relationship with – purely platonic – was my friend Nim. He was like my brother. We’d known each other forever, and I loved his indisputable weirdness. Nim was also a loner by choice, and I loved that about him too. He seemed happy enough that way, which gave me hope. Because I suspected one day, I might be a loner too, but not by my own decision.
“Dinner Babybelle!” Tookie hollered. Honestly, how could I get my sisters to use my real name, if not even my aunt would?
At the dinner table, we joined hands in a small chant.
Thank you to The Goddess. Mother of Earth. To the moon, sister of the sun. And the earth, provider of nature. To the rain, the quench for all things living and growing. Nature, we thank you.
It was a standard mealtime recital, same as the way our aunt beamed after we’d given thanks. Tookie professed over and over that nature was her religion. The fastest way to irritate my aunt was by labeling her a Wiccan or Occultist. Hers was a very old, very serene, pagan worship of the Triple Goddess, which drew upon using natural energy to perform magic – the basis for white witchcraft.
“Chime, have your sisters informed you we were visited by a presence last night?”
“Uh-huh. Did you figure out what it was?”
There was barely a pause before our eyes, instinctively, slid in Angel’s direction. My red-haired sister’s talent for memory replacement wasn’t quite as impressive as her other, more terrifying skill.
Angel was a clairvoyant. A medium who harnessed the ability to converse with the dead. Spirits sometimes contacted her to relay messages they needed to pass on the this world. Or she could contact them, in order to learn answers she seeked. And though strangely, our absent parents were unreachable beings, there wasn’t many kinds of entities Angel was unfamiliar with.
But Angel shook her head. “Don’t ask me, I have no idea what it was. I’m not sure it was a ghost, I don’t even know if last night’s presence ever was once human.”
“I think it was a wood spirit,” Evangeline decided. “I vaguely sense an earth entity.”
Tookie frowned. “I wish I could agree, but it doesn’t make any sense. Wood spirits, dark or light, are exactly the same as wind or sea spirits – they act as guides – they don’t venture out alone by their own will, they’re always called on by a human.”
“Maybe it wasn’t alone,” I suggested.
“Why would you say that?” Evie demanded. “Did you sense a human mind guiding it?” Evangeline always become agitated and snappy when she couldn’t identify a specific magic.
“Nope,” I shrugged. “Just looking for other explanations.”
“Well don’t,” she barked. “Stick to reading your teacher’s mind for test results.”
“Jealous?” I bit back. “Why don’t you stick to mixing potions to make yet another boy fall in love with you? Or better still, go fly right off the island—”
“Girls!” Tookie intervened. “This isn’t helping!” She took a calming breath. “Evangeline, you have to agree your sister has a point – our visitor might not have been alone.”
“But why would a presence suddenly hover around us? Even if it was just a curious entity drawn to our energy, Angel would have sensed it. Why would we attract something so mysterious for no reason?” I asked, feeling more uneasy, the more I thought about it.
“On a place like Americus, Lord only knows.” Tookie raised her eyes to heaven. “But since we’re unsure what is was, and why it was here, we’ll place a protective ward around our home. Just to be on the safe side.”
“I thought you’d already laid wards around the garden this morning?” I questioned.
“Perhaps they weren’t strong enough. In any case, it’s time for some new ones, okay?”
We nodded reluctantly. It wasn’t the first visitor we’d had in the shape of a spirit, and Angel was the sister expected to deal with them. I didn’t envy her chilling gift one bit. Sibling rivalry was non-existent in our neck of the woods.
While I stacked plates, Evangeline hovered. Apologies were hard for her.
“Hand me the towel, baby-sis, you wash, I’ll dry.”
I smiled at her attempt. “Sorry I told you to fly off the island, Evie.”
Tookie appeared in the doorway. “Actually Evangeline, you wash – Angel can dry. I’d like a chat with Chime.”
Bracing myself, I followed her into our cozy living room. But my aunt’s soft smile told me I wasn’t in huge trouble. Not the Mrs. Loch, housework for the rest of my natural life kind.
Tookie sat herself comfortably and took a sip of tea. “Honey, you probably don’t remember when we met. You were just a little baby, but you and I had a special connection, even back then.”
I nodded, waiting for her to go on.
“What I haven’t told you about that day is how stunned I was. I took one look at you and thought; this is the one most like her mother, exactly like Emmaline.”
I looked up in surprise. “Really?”
“Really,” she confirmed. “You’re the very image of her. White-blonde hair and olive skin – like a palomino angel. And you’re also becoming every bit as powerful as she was.”
I tried not to roll my eyes at Tookie’s ominous tone. It wasn’t the first time she’d tried to have this conversation with me, in the same dark, cautionary voice. She predicted my destiny would be to excel in witchcraft and psychic strength. More often than not I cut her off, or simply ignored the lecture. The boding prophecies sometimes annoyed me. I accepted that witchcraft was a part of my life, my history. It had always been present in my family’s way of living. But I didn’t always have to like it. There were plenty of times when I craved normalcy. Just an average teenager doing ordinary things; going to parties, meeting boys, dancing, sun-baking, pizza. I even sometimes mused if there was a way to keep the craft on the outskirts of my existence.
“What?” Tookie suddenly asked. “Why are you making that sour little face?”
“Because I don’t think it’s true. Being born into this family doesn’t automatically make me a powerful witch.”
“Oh, but you are, honey. One of the strongest I’ve seen in the bloodline. Over the years, I’ve watched you and your sisters develop skills that are rare in almost all humans, and perceivably stronger in most witches. Only a unique person can move things by looking at them, and no ordinary person can hear the thoughts of others so clearly—”
“Yes they can, Aunt Took,” I cut in, politely as I could. “There’s plenty of telepaths in the world – it’s a scientific fact. Paranormal ability isn’t a link to witchcraft. I know barely any spells compared to Angel and Evie – they’re the true witches. And about a thousand times more powerful than I am.”
“Only for now. Your sisters had to strive at their abilities, whereas they always came effortlessly to you. I believe it will unfold the same with the craft. The more you learn, the more things I teach you, the greater you’ll prove.”
I must have looked dubious as I felt.
Tookie sighed. “Chime, I’ve always been able to feel little things about to happen; an accident, unexpected company, a pregnancy, sometimes a death. I know how to use the craft better than I know myself – but my knowledge is hard earned, and it’s taken most my life to achieve it,” she said dismissively of herself. “When I first met you in Boston, you were only sixteen months. But even then, no less incredible. You know what you did that day Chime? You wanted to make me laugh, by taking the toys from your cot and floating them around my head.”
“Did I?” I gasped, laughing.
“You most certainly did, Babybelle,” she smiled, remembering. “Whether you believe it or not, your fate is already determined – it can’t be argued. Don’t look so uneasy. A flower doesn’t decide what color it will be, but is no less beautiful.”
I wasn’t uneasy. I was disbelieving, fed up, and wanted the conversation to end. I’d heard it before. And I lived with it every day. I wanted Tookie to get her witches-gone-wild sermon over and done with.
“Aunt Took, it was an accident. I hit the ball with my mind because there was no other choice – it would have smashed my face. It doesn’t mean I’m about to show the world my abilities by headlining in Vegas. It’s not fair that you’re singling me out for something accidental. Evie and Angel use their abilities all the time. Just the other night, Evangeline—” I stopped myself before I got my sister into trouble.
“It isn’t just me,” I mumbled instead.
“I know full well about what Evangeline was doing Tuesday evening. I caught her three meters in the air outside the veranda. Both stupid and dangerous – and yes, of course I had a word to her about it.”
My sister had been levitating for as long as I’d allegedly floated toys from my cot. Tookie was frightened of wind spirits noticing her. Or just the wind in general. My aunt didn’t want Evangeline to end up in the ocean on the cusp of a gale.
“But right now I’m talking about you.” She placed her tea-cup on the table and stared at me. Her eyes were serious. Too serious. “Your mother was a force of nature. The most amazing practitioner of magic I’ve ever seen – or close too. But she was a wild and willful spirit – just like you. She left herself open to danger – just like I’m afraid you’ll do.”
“What kind of danger?” I gaped. Tookie never liked to say anything but good things about our mother.
And clearly, that was still the case. “Nothing I can remember vividly,” she waved away my curiosity. “But Emmaline had a recklessness. You can’t follow that path Chime, there’s a darkness—” Tookie stopped suddenly, looking like she’d shocked herself. When she began again, it sounded fake, she even cleared her throat.
“I meant to say, there can be a dark outcome for irresponsibility. You have to be aware of your power at all times.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but she held up her hand.
“I understand you had no control over today. Which is why I want you to listen carefully. The fact that you acted instinctively proves your power is growing. It’s up to me to guide you as it does. This isn’t just about telekinesis Chime. The path we practice is about using natural elements for good use. To help people in need, to right any wrongdoing, to protect. Try and control your magic Babybelle, don’t let it control you, okay?”
“Chime I love you. I just want to see you make the most of your potential.”
And suddenly, my aunt seemed sad at words unspoken. But I heard them anyway. She wanted me to realize the potential that had been lost to my mother. And for some strange reason, I was sad too. Suddenly wistful and nostalgic for a woman I barely knew.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Tookie. No more public displays. I apologize for worrying you.”
“You’re my daughter,” she smiled. “It’s your job in life to worry me. We’ll say no more about it and you can work in the shop for me Saturday.”
Yep, there goes my weekend.
Night dew damped my bare feet as I padded across the garden. Bordered with yellow pansies and blue hyacinth, our sloping yard met with the forest, shadowy behind the lanterns. At night, it looked like a setting for fairyland – hard to believe anything sinister lurked beyond our enchanted surroundings.
We stood in a circle, our hands clasped, pointing up toward the night sky.
“We represent north, east, south and west,” Tookie intoned. “We ask the Goddess of earth, and the natural spirits of the forest to protect our home in all four directions. No essence without good intent shall pass, or the spirits will challenge, and make this step your last.”
We repeated the incantation, once each, to protect every direction.
Evangeline then poured white candle wax along the flowers and rocks that separated our garden from the woods, to act as a protective light. Tookie imitated Evie with a black candle, its purpose more sinister. It was a warning to our unseen visitor. If the entity held ill intent toward us, the repercussion would be more than a protective spell. Next time a banishment hex would be used, causing pain for the spirit as it was cast into another world. A realm far away, and created by us – the Emmerson witches.