SWITCH

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Homework

There’s this therapy where you write down a lie and its corresponding truth on a piece of paper, read it out loud then burn the pages. This ridiculous activity is supposed to help people who keep secrets for a living find peace. For the record, burning something charged with energy is a terrible idea.

Part of me wants help. Another part wants to be left alone. Being reinstated for fieldwork is my goal, but most of all, I want to be paid. My life is built upon solidified layers of fiction. Choosing one lie to start with is not that simple.

I’m not an evil person. I don’t hunt people for sport but there is darkness in my life. Early on I was encouraged to embrace my talents — use the darkness for a higher purpose. This well-intended path led me straight into Hell. Eventually, disgusted with myself and tired of the constant depravity I left.

My exit was intended to be permanent. I didn’t leave myself a way back. The price I paid was the memories of my past. I willingly agreed to have my brain sliced apart in favor of a fresh start. In the end, I found out you can’t deny your true nature regardless of what pieces you have cut away.

One event was significant for me. It unlocked the vault in my mind where I keep the mother. That piece of my original self that taints everything I touch. According to news reports, the beating I endured was a tragedy, but for me, it was a second birthday. Instead of cake and gifts, I received a key. Fate manipulated the wind by slapping one metal object against another. The clang of metal chain on metal pipe whispered to me while I lay bleeding out on the floor.

The tetherball chains on the big playground sing the same lonely tune as the breeze brushes them against their metal poles. The tires of my red Schwinn bike zipped and hummed across the hot blacktop. The smell of melting tar and dirty sand cooking in the California sun hung thick in the air.

I rode my bike around the swings, alongside the monkey bars, and through the concrete hallways. By the time I reached the big grassy field, my threadbare memories had stitched themselves together.

The sights and smells of this place were tattooed on my brain for good reason. This was where I first disobeyed the rules. “Never tell what you can do, never show anyone proof, and for God sake, Caly baby never hurt anyone.” My mother whispered this affirmation to me daily. Keeping her covenants brought me peace, breaking them brought pain.

School was fun for me, but learning the multiplication tables was a stressful time. I was stuck in the 9’s. My grandmother revealed the trick to the 9′s multiplication table. The simple pattern of adding the numbers together to equal nine clicked inside my adolescent brain. The world was beautiful and full of possibilities again.

That next morning, standing at the edge of the teacher’s desk, with the whole class watching, I rattled off the table like I was reciting the alphabet. The smiling teacher offered me a reward from her pirate’s chest of trinkets. I selected a fragile spinning butterfly made of balsa wood. It was purple with blue and gold accents painted on its wings as the toy spun the bright colors melted into a mesmerizing blur.

I earned that damn prize and I felt so relieved to be rid of the torture this one multiplication table held. I sat at my desk, twirled the toy, and stared at the beautiful colors. The recess bell rang. The room full of children was let loose. I carefully placed my new toy on the corner of my desk, next to my perfectly sharpened number 2 pencil, and waited for my turn to exit the aisle.

Charity charged past my desk, grabbed my butterfly, and ran out the door towards the big field. Shocked and furious, my tight grip on civility let loose.

My mother and I called them mist buddies back then. I suppose my first poltergeist manifestation was eager to stretch its legs. I wasn’t allowed to play with it away from home, but my home recently changed. I was living with my grandmother now. It was so hard to be calm and quiet and keep every thought right where it should be all the time. The mist slipped out like a loud burp in a silent room.

Honestly, I was so angry with Charity I could have wrung her fat neck with my own hands. But I sent my invisible enforcer after her instead. I could have stopped myself, but I wanted to hurt her. I didn’t want to meditate. I didn’t want to envision her bathed in brilliant white light. I didn’t want to forgive her. I wanted to kill her and pry my butterfly from her cold, sticky fingers. I ran after the dark shadow that chased Charity, terrified that someone would figure out what I had done.

Era, one of my invisible friends bolted ahead and stood between the nasty child and my dark manifestation. “Run faster Baby girl. It’s going to hurt her.” Era’s voice boomed in the air. Everyone on the playground must have heard her.

Boo Boo, was by my side watching the situation unfold. Era was an imaginary friend, but Boo Boo was something else entirely. He stayed close, watched everything, and grew with me as I aged.

Several children witnessed Charity snatch the toy from my desk; they followed behind me with giddy anticipation like strings on a kite. Charity and my dark mist were twirling in circles out in the farthest part of the big field. Beads of sweat rolled off her freckled forehead sticking her thick blond hair to her neck. The dark mist was forcing her to twirl faster and faster. Her chubby legs pounded her feet into the ground. She began to cry from pain, and the deep sorrow possession creates.

“Stop now!” I pleaded in my mind.

My mist buddy floated close to my chest, releasing Charity in mid-twirl. The mist was ready to return to where ever it lived. I asked it to go home. That was my second mistake of the morning. I asked. I should have commanded it to leave.

Charity tossed my toy to the ground, breaking the butterfly’s wooden wings in half. “I hate you,” shot out from the pit of my stomach as I retrieved the wood scraps from the grass.

Charity was crying and gasping for air as she stumbled away from the gathering of frenzied children. She looked terrified and confused. I imagine she couldn’t put a name to the cruelty she experienced but the way she looked at me. I never wanted to see that look from anyone again.

A gray dove flew overhead and dropped out of the sky as if it hit a pane of glass in mid-air. The yelling and twirling children started kicking the dove. Then they stomped on the dying animal. There was a frenzy of screaming and running and jumping. My mist buddy was enjoying the feast. It was no longer controlled by me.

Era pulled me back from the mob of tiny screaming bodies. We stood together, watching the carnage. This mist was mine, not like a pet I loved or a toy I owned. It was of me, for me and created by me. I would have to kill it. Suffocate my creation with my own energy. The terror I felt at that moment was so hot and nauseating I thought I would faint. Someone was going to find out what I did and I would be taken away just like my mother warned me.

The children’s shoes were smeared with blood and covered with dirt and grass. The dove’s wings cracked off its body, and the feathers were trying to escape in the wind. The bird’s mass mixed with the dirt leaving behind a red pile of mud, bones, and gray feathers in the center of the screaming children.

Two girls yanked the bows off their pretty braids and tossed them in the pile of bird and dirt. With their hair wild and long, they looked like little banshees screaming to usher in the next death.

A wheezing yard duty came running up to the mob of children. She pulled the two unhinged girls aside by their little arms, and they began to sob and point at the pile of bloody bird confetti. Several of the boys stopped to look at the ground and their shoes. They slowly backed away from the mess as if they were waking from a dream. The woman asked me what happened, pointing to the pile of feathers.

“I don’t know Miss Evans, but it’s awful. Look at the poor bird.” Boo Boo pulled at my arm.

“Cry, look at the sun, make your eyes water.” I looked up at the sun and my eyes filled with tears.

“Good, she bought it. We will come back later and kill this thing, Caly. You can’t do it now. Somebody will see you.” Boo Boo was right. There was no choice but to wait.

We returned later that night after dinner and homework. I was allowed a short bike ride before dusk. I named the mist Fluff when I was five. I thought it lived in my purple stuffed kitty that bore the same name, but it didn’t. It lived in the thin space between my rage and compassion.

Fluff was lonely by the time I arrived at the big field that night, surrounded by trash and hiding in the shadow of the big oak tree. Fluff looked pitiful. It didn’t take long, but my creation suffered. It was my first kill.

This fiasco was my doing. I couldn’t tell anyone about it, not even my increasingly accepting mother could know what I did. She blamed my unique talents on interference from past lives, imbalanced chakras, and sugary breakfast cereals.

I’m sure my mother hoped my peculiar abilities would vanish once I hit puberty, but instead they became more refined. Energy was something I could see, and eventually, it became something I could manipulate.

This was my first solitary lie of omission. The one burden I have kept locked away as a warning. Decades of my life were spent learning how to control my abilities - learning how to hide them so I appeared normal. I willingly shredded all that knowledge and tossed it behind me for one chance at freedom.

On this second birthday, a bit of blood washed my ignorant bliss away. My first journey to Hell was quick and easy. One determined step was followed by another until I found myself cozy in the middle of the flames. But the road back into the fire, that trip was entirely different.

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