Why are all these dark shadowy things with glowing red eyes following me around?
Thirteen in Thirty-One
“Ever since the day I turned thirteen, I thought I was nuts.”
My mother, at seventy years old, was still limber enough to sit cross-legged on the love seat, her bare feet tucked up beneath her. She wasn’t facing me, however, because she wasn’t talking to me. She was talking to Amber. After all, today was the day. I had waited twelve years and 364 days for this day. Perhaps ‘waited’ isn’t the right word; ‘dreaded’ is more like it.
Mom was as usual, dressed in well-worn blue jeans and an ancient concert t-shirt. This one had a huge mouth with a tongue sticking out printed on it. I had tried to tell her just how out of fashion t-shirts had become – especially t-shirts with anything printed on them – on more than one occasion, but she stubbornly refused to throw these old rags away. I finally admitted to her that it was embarrassing to me, to be seen in public with her when she dressed in clothes from the twentieth century. “People think you’re on your way to a costume party,” I told her. She relented and bought some updated blouses and skirts for going out, but at home in her own house, she insisted on wearing what she pleased. How could I argue with that?
Amber sat on the other cushion of the love seat, her pose exactly mirroring her grandmother’s. She knew something important was happening today but had no idea what. She’d badgered me in the car on the way here to Grand Forks this morning, but no amount of whining or wheedling would get her any answers from me. Not today. This was my mother’s story to tell, not mine.
“April thirteenth, nineteen-seventy-four. Fifty-seven years ago tomorrow, I turned thirteen.”
“Just like me, Grandma! I’m gonna be thirteen tomorrow!” Watching from my place in the chair opposite the love seat, it was amazing to me how much of a child my young woman-child could be at times, and yet at other times, how much of a woman. Caught between that great divide, she swung like a pendulum from one nadir of that arc to the other. Here at Grandma’s house, she was definitely on the upswing of the child-end of the arc.
Mom clasped Amber’s hands in her own and smiled. “Yes, honey, just like you. This is the reason that I’m going to tell you my story today, so that tomorrow, you’ll be prepared. You’ll be ready. Now, I need you to sit quietly for a while and hear me out, okay?”
Amber gave an enthusiastic affirmative shake of her head, not wanting even another word to delay whatever her grandmother was about to say. The anticipation was killing her.
Hell, it was killing me. Not in the same way, though.
“The morning of my thirteenth birthday, I woke up and just felt weird – really weird. I could remember that I had been dreaming something really dark and scary right before I woke up, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember any details about that dream. I didn’t think much about it, though, because lots of times my dreams would disappear like that.
“I remember it was a Saturday, so I didn’t have to go to school. I got up, got dressed, walked out into the kitchen, and saw my foster-mother, Mary. As soon as I saw her, I had the most horrible thoughts occur to me. Well, they weren’t thoughts, exactly, they were more like pictures. In my mind, I saw Mary … well … dead.”
The smile that had lingered on Amber’s face vanished at that last word. “Dead?! Grandma! She was dead?”
Still holding my daughter’s hands, Mom shook her head. “No, she wasn’t actually dead, I just saw her dead. Instead of seeing her sitting at the table holding a cup of coffee, I saw her on a stretcher, her head bashed in, her eyes wide open but … empty. She was dead.”
Amber was starting to look really scared. I fidgeted in my chair, wanting to squeeze in next to Amber on the love seat and hold her while she heard the rest, but I knew Amber had to get through this without me. In the years ahead, she’d have to get through a lot worse without me.
“Of course I freaked. I started screaming. Just that quickly, the pictures went away, and there was Mary, sitting at the table, holding her cup of coffee, which of course she spilled all over the place because I scared the shit out of her with my screaming.”
“Mom!” I couldn’t help myself, I had to speak up. Just like the t-shirts, swearing had gone out of style ages ago. Well, out loud, anyway.
My mother scowled at me. “Oh get over it, Heather. It’s my story and I’ll talk the way I want to talk, and Amber here is going to be a teenager tomorrow, so she can handle it, can’t you, Amber?”
Amber was no less frightened for the interruption. She gave a tight nod but didn’t say a word. My mother shot me one last insolent look (who is the mother here?) then turned her attention back to the priority at hand.
“There’s a reason I’m telling you about that day, Amber, a really good reason. See, I didn’t have anyone to tell me what was going on. I didn’t know who my mother was, or who my grandmother was, I didn’t even know who I was. All I knew was that I felt really scared and alone.
“I told Mary what I’d seen, what had made me scream, and she gave me this look… oh, would I ever get to know that look! It was a you’re-nuts-get-away-from-me-look. So of course I got away from her. I went out the back door and into the back yard, thinking that the fresh air would make me feel better.
“What I saw out there in the back yard didn’t make me feel better. No, what I saw made me feel much worse. In the bushes, by the fence, around the old swingset, on the roof of the garage, between the trees, under the trellis, everywhere I looked, I saw these black shadowy figures, and they were watching me. All of them. They were only about this tall,” she held her hand out at waist-level, "but they scared me, scared me bad. They looked like little ghosts, only dark in color. All dark except their eyes. Their eyes glowed red, and were all aimed at me. Me. They didn’t come closer, they didn’t move at all; it was as if they were waiting for me to do something or say something.
“Well, I said something alright. I started screaming again. Mary came running out of the back door yelling, ‘What? What? What’s wrong?’ and I just couldn’t stop screaming. This had to be a nightmare, had to be. I started pinching myself, thinking I’d wake myself up. I’m pinching and screaming and pinching and screaming, and Mary’s practically running around in circles panicking, trying to figure out what to do. Suddenly I realized they were gone. All the little black demon-looking things had disappeared. I ran around the yard, looking under the bushes, behind the fence, up on the roof, yelling, ‘They were here! They were here, I saw them!’
“Poor Mary. No wonder she thought I was batshit-crazy, watching me run around like that, hearing me screech about little black ghosts in the back yard. She ran inside and called 9-1-1 and next thing I knew –“
“Wait.” Caught up in the story, Amber had found her voice. “What’s 9-1-1?”
“I forgot, that system was phased out before you were born. It was the 1974 equivalent of Beacon, only you had to use a telephone and dial 9-1-1. Get it?”
Amber frowned at her grandmother’s question and looked over at me. My mother had never lost the slang, jargon, and language of the era she was raised in, and like most elderly people I knew, sometimes she spoke in a dialect that was confusing to the young people today.
“She means ‘do you understand.’”
Amber nodded and turned back to Mom. “Oh. Yes, Grandma, I … get it.”
“Good. So anyway, next thing I know, there’s an ambulance pulling up in the driveway, and two men hop out and talk to Mary for a minute, then come over to me. By this time, I had stopped looking for the little ghostie guys, and I was sitting on the grass in the middle of the yard, crying my eyes out. Both paramedics squatted down next to me and talked really softly to me, trying to get me to calm down and stop crying. When I finally stopped wailing, they started asking questions about what had happened. So I told them the truth. Big mistake.
“They looked at me, they looked at each other, one nodded, and then the other one did. I had no idea what kind of silent communication was going on there, but I soon found out. They took me to a hospital. When they told me they were taking me to a hospital, my first thought was, ‘Good! Maybe I have a tumor or something and they’ll do a brain scan and call in a specialist and remove the tumor and I’ll be fine.’ Only, it wasn’t that kind of hospital. Someone would be examining my head, so to speak, but they wouldn’t be ordering any brain scans.
What they ordered instead was Thorazine. I don’t remember much during that period of time, but I do remember seeing the little black ghostie things from time to time.”
I knew that my mother was persisting in calling them “ghosties,” so that Amber wouldn’t be quite so afraid at the idea of them. To me, it seemed too cute a word for something that sounded so dark and menacing, but I appreciated her use of the word nevertheless.
“I’d point them out whenever I saw them, hoping that someone else would see them too, but each time they’d give me more medicine and the world – and all the ghosties – would fade into a colorless bank of fog. It was months later that I was transferred to a different facility that had different methods of treatment, but to me it could have been years or a matter of minutes, I was so out of it.
“In this new facility I went to, they didn’t drug me every day. They didn’t drug me at all. Instead, they talked to me, and they wanted me to talk to them. We talked in small groups, we talked in large groups. We talked about the past, and what life was like as a foster child. We talked about feelings of isolation and abandonment. We talked until I was well and truly sick of talking and then we talked some more.
“I was still seeing the ghosties, but I had wised up by then. I didn’t tell anyone.
“My doctors – I had three of them – said that I was showing much improvement. They were confident that I was going to fully recover. Until the day we talked about Mary.
“I hadn’t forgotten about Mary, but she was a foster-parent after all, and having been in and out of foster homes, I’d experienced the final break more than once and had learned to accept the fact that an ex-parent would no longer be part of my life. I hadn’t asked about Mary because I didn’t expect to see her ever again.
“One of the therapists was, as usual, digging into my past, and asked me about that day in the back yard. The question brought Mary to mind, so I asked him, ‘Hey, do you have any idea how Mary’s doing?’ Immediately his facial expression changed; he looked tense and uncomfortable. ‘What?’ I asked.
“He said, ’I’m sorry to tell you this, Kathy, but Mary passed away.’ Immediately, the pictures I’d seen flashed through my mind. My throat closed up, I felt a flush of heat as adrenaline poured through my veins, and I could feel my heart beating in my temples. I was afraid of the answer, but I had to ask.
"I know my voice was raspy with the fear I was feeling when I asked him how she died. The guy never saw it coming. When he said that Mary had died from a head injury in a car accident, I totally lost it. My screaming-meemy act in the back yard was a little tantrum compared to the reaction I had to that news. I was making such a ruckus that this big orderly came in with a straight-jacket and the two of them basically sat on me to put it on. They took me to the infirmary and strapped me down to a bed and I stayed there for weeks, raving and yelling, kicking and squirming, in between sleeping and crying like a baby.
“They never did drug me, and one day I woke up and it was okay. Seeing little black ghosties was okay, even knowing that I had seen Mary dead before Mary was dead was okay. I had accepted it: I was nuts. Loonytunes. It was okay.
“I spent the next fifteen years in and out of facilities like that one. I still saw the ghosties watching me, saw them all the time, but I ignored them. They didn’t come near me, they didn’t bother me, and they were, after all, simply figments of my insanity. When I did see them, I still felt as if they were waiting for me to do something, but I didn’t let myself dwell on it. Let ‘em wait.
“I also saw people dead from time to time, and sometimes it was pretty gross, but I ignored that, too. When I could, I’d avoid being around the person I’d seen dead, because I didn’t want to know if and when they actually turned up dead. If I did happen to find out when one died, I’d just ignore that, too. How could I trust my memory of what I saw? I’m crazy, remember?
“Eventually, I got a job. I was twenty-nine years old and got my first job, in a library, entering books into the computer. It was there at the library that I met Frank, and it was there that I became acquainted with the internet.”
My mother turned, unfolded her legs from under her, and stretched. “This seems like a good place to put my story on pause and have a snack, don’t you think?”
Amber shook her head and blinked as if she were coming out of a trance, she’d been so engrossed in the story. “Grandma, I feel so bad for you, oh my –“ She looked over at me, and I raised an eyebrow at her. That particular phrase she’d been about to use was considered extremely politically incorrect, and she knew it.
“ – dear,” she finished lamely. I smiled.
“Oh, well, there’s more to the story, honey, more to come.” Mom got up and put a hand out to Amber. “Get up from there and give this old boomer a hug.”
I couldn’t help it, I rolled my eyes. Mom was still so proud that she’d been a baby-boomer. She’d been born at the tail-end of the boomer years, and most of the boomers were gone now. She wore the title like a badge of honor.
Unfortunately, she’d caught the eyeroll. That feisty old woman, she got me back. In the middle of her hugfest, looking me in the eye over Amber’s shoulder, she mouthed the words, “OH MY GAWD.”
I laughed. My mother can sometimes drive me to tears, but she can always, always, make me laugh.
“So, how do you think it’s going?”
Amber was still in the kitchen, very likely stuffing her face with some unhealthy treat that my mother persisted in calling, “junk food.” With her out of the room, it was my chance to prod my mother along.
“I think I’m going to need a straight-jacket myself, if you don’t hurry up and get to the point. You always have to draw everything out and tell every detail. You couldn’t make a long story short if your life depended on it.”
Kathryn Ann Larson suddenly straightened and put on her Mom-voice. The stern one. The one that could still make me cringe. “Heather Lynn, the details are important, and you know it. She’s going to need these details, starting tomorrow. She needs to know what to expect, how to act, what to do. I will not have my granddaughter going through what I went through.”
As soon as she’d straightened like that, I’d known she was going to use my given name. My daughter will be thirteen tomorrow, and guess what – I’m thirteen today. At least at that moment, I felt like it.
Just then, Amber came bouncing into the room and flopped herself down on the loveseat. She patted the cushion next to hers. “Sit, Grandma. Tell me the rest!”
I was glad, in a way, to see that the fear had abated. Sad, however, to know that it would soon be back.
My mother and I reclaimed our seats.
“Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, in 1990 I went to work at the library, met your grandfather, and discovered the internet. The net was relatively new back then, but I was totally fascinated by it. It was this gateway to information, and boy, did I crave information! All those years of being in an out of mental hospitals, I was lost. I read just about everything I could get my hands on in the library, then started surfing the net for more. There was so much to learn!
“Then one day, I came across a genealogy site. Do you know what that is?”
Amber nodded. Genealogy sites were still to this day, quite popular on the internet. And if there’s anything a thirteen-year-old living in the 30’s knows like the back of her hand, it’s the internet.
“Well, I got onto this site, and realized that I had nothing to search. I didn’t know my mother’s name or my father’s name. It made me sad, but it also made me angry. After all these years, I suddenly wanted to know. So I surfed some more, and I found an adoption reunion site. I had never actually been adopted, but it didn’t matter. I could leave a message there, with what little information I had, and if my biological parents were looking for me, they could find my message.
“I entered my birth date, gender, and the city I had been told I’d been born in, then stopped. That was it, that was all I knew. My birth parents would likely never find me with such scanty information, but I left a message anyway. Then I logged off and walked away. I tried not to hope, but now that I’d found Frank, I wanted family. Not just to make a family with him, and yes, I wanted that, but also one of my own. So I waited.
“Every day I checked my email, every day there was nothing. Then about three weeks later, there was a message in my inbox. It was from email@example.com. I remember the email address even now, because 41361 is my birthday. When I saw that email address, I gasped. I thought, it can’t be.
“It was. This woman was my mother. In her email, she described perfectly, a birthmark on my left shoulder blade. I don’t often see my left shoulder blade, so I’d forgotten to mention it. I was glad I hadn’t mentioned it, because her knowledge of it was proof! I’d found my mother!
“She lived just 200 miles away, in Appleton, Minnesota. I emailed her back, and we made arrangements to meet the very next day. I was so nervous, and I had so many questions, I could barely sleep that night. What if she hated me on sight? What if I didn’t like her? Why had she given me up? Why was she looking for me now? Would this be like one of those wonderful tearful reunions like on Oprah? Would I find happiness after all these years of being separated from my birth mother, or only heartbreak?”
I half-expected Amber to turn to me and ask who Oprah was, but she was apparently so engrossed in the tale, she didn't care. My mother, back on her usual tell-every-detail-roll, just went on talking.
“She had asked me in her email to come to her house, and I had agreed. Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I got up at 5:00 a.m., and started driving south toward Appleton. I pulled into the small sleepy town around 9:00 a.m. and that’s when I saw them – the ghosties. More of them than I’d ever seen. They were lining the street I was driving on looking almost like large shadowy birds, peering at me with those red glowing eyes from their perches on fences, streetlamps, and tree branches. I came to a crossroads and the road ahead was devoid of ghosties but the road to my right was lined with them, just like the road I was on. I consulted my map, and sure enough, I was supposed to turn right. I didn’t bother to look at the map again, the ghosties led the way.
I pulled up into the driveway of a beautiful folk Victorian house with a front gable and side wings, multicolored trim and brackets under the eaves, and a full front porch with finely-crafted spindlework. It took my breath away, this house. My residential history had included only mental health facilities and a series of small apartments. This house was everything I’d ever dreamed of in a house, with the exception of the ghosties that surrounded it. I could have done without them.
“My heart was pounding, my palms were drenched, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I went up to that front door and before I could ring the bell, the door opened. Standing there was this old, wrinkled woman. I mean, she was really old. Myself, almost thirty at the time, I had figured my birth mother would be maybe fifty, sixty-something. But this old lady would have had to have been fifty-something at least when she had me. No way was this my mother.
“I stood there looking at her though, mostly because she stood there looking at me. She didn’t say anything, just looked me up and down with these bright, blue eyes that were surrounded by the deepest crevices I’d ever seen on a human face. It occurred to me then that a woman who had laugh lines that deep must have laughed an awful lot.
“Finally she said something, and what she said changed my life from that moment forward. She said, ‘They gave you quite a welcome, didn’t they? I’ve never seen this many all at one time. I think they’re showing approval that we’re finally back together.’
“My knees turned to jelly and I almost keeled over right there on the porch. I knew right away who she was talking about and I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘You can see them?’ I think I must’ve shouted my question because she flinched. ‘Of course I can,” she said mildly, and then just turned around and walked back through the open doorway. ‘C’mon in, let’s all get acquainted again,’ she said over her shoulder as she continued deeper into the house. I was still reeling from shock and it took me a second to catch my breath. Finally I followed the old woman inside, closing the door behind me.
“My eyes adjusted to the warm lamplit glow inside the house, and I was as delighted with the interior as I had been with the exterior. I found myself standing in a beautiful foyer with polished wood flooring and an antique foyer table adorned with a huge arrangement of daffodils, irises, and tulips. The elderly woman stood waiting for me a few steps away at the arched entrance to the room on my left. Looking at her again, it amazed me that she was so… spry. Most of the old people I’d seen were bent over with age and had a hard time walking. Not this woman. She stood straight to her full height, about five foot five, and seemed comfortable both standing and walking.
“She gestured for me to come forward. She had this little smile on her face, as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t bite.’ As I approached the archway, the room to my left came into view, and I saw that it was a library of sorts. There were bookshelves filled with books from floor to ceiling, a large rectangular table lit by a desk lamp and littered with books and papers, and a large overstuffed sofa and two matching chairs, arranged in a warm conversational pool of light which came from several Tiffany lamps. I feel deeply in love with the room, even as I entered it for the very first time.
“Seated nervously on the edge of one of the chairs was a woman that I immediately recognized as my mother.”
“You remembered her?” Amber’s eyes were wide, her expression revealing her total absorption in the storytelling.
“No, I didn’t actually remember her, I recognized her. I couldn’t help but recognize her, because she looked so much like me. I stopped in my tracks, she stood. For a few seconds it was like time had stopped completely, then suddenly we were hugging each other and crying. Between sobs, she kept saying over and over how much she missed me, how great I looked, how wonderful it was to hold me again. It was just like Oprah, only better, because it was me! I was being held by my very own mother, and she was happy to see me!
“When we finally broke apart, sniffling and grinning from ear to ear, I noticed that the old woman had taken a seat on one end of the sofa and was watching us with a pleased expression. She patted the cushion next to her. ‘Come here, child, we need to talk.’ I sat down beside her as my mother returned to her chair. ‘You have just met your mother, I think it’s about time to learn her name – and your own. Agnes Marie Larson,’ she gestured toward my mother, ‘meet your daughter, Kathryn Ann Larson,’ and gestured toward me.
“To hear that my real name, the one given to me at birth, really was Kathryn Ann, was a relief. I had always wondered what my name was, and now I knew. Kathryn Ann Larson. In my mind I repeated it again. Kathryn Ann Larson. It was so similar to the name I’d used as far back as I could remember, Kathryn Ann Litton, that it was a subtle shift to accept my real name as my own. From that moment on, I thought of myself only as Larson, and of course I eventually had my name legally changed. I even kept it after I was married.
“My mother and I exchanged another teary smile. The ‘Aggie’ in the email was Agnes, and I still couldn’t believe she was real. I turned back to the old woman and she reached out and grasped my hand as she continued, ‘Now is the time to introduce myself. My name is Elizabeth Louise Barnett, and I am your grandmother.
“I held her hand in both of mine, bowed my head, and began to cry again. They were happy tears in that I’d known I was going to meet my mother, but to also gain a grandmother! It was beyond a foster-child’s wildest dreams.
“My grandmother slid an arm around my shoulders and comforted me for a moment, then began to talk. That day, we talked for hours, just like we have here today. She started out by telling me that it had been my father, Samuel Larson, who had stolen me away as a baby and had never returned. I asked her why he would do that, and she told me that she’d get to that, but she needed to tell the story in her own way. She told me how she and my mother had searched and searched for me, and had never found me. They had looked for my father too, and finally found his grave in a little town in Wisconsin, he had died in 1966. He had left me somewhere, with someone, and they had no idea where I was. They were frantic to find me in the early seventies, she said, and then what she said next blew me away.”
My mother paused and took a deep breath. Practically squirming in her seat, Amber prompted her, “What did she say, Grandma?”
“They wanted to find me before my thirteenth birthday.”
“Yeah… whoa. I was obviously shocked, and both my mother and my grandmother were watching me closely. Finally, my mother spoke up and asked me, ‘Was it really bad? We were so worried about you.’ I just nodded.
“My grandmother continued, telling me that they’d wanted to warn me, wanted to let me know what would be happening to me on that day.”
Amber was starting to look nervous again. So was I. I could see that the truth was finally starting to dawn on her. I was a bit surprised it had taken even this long. “But Grandma, how could they know what was going to happen on your thirteenth birthday?”
My mother looked at me, then back at Amber. The next words came out in a rush; she wanted to get the most painful part over with. “Because the same thing had happened to my grandmother, and to her grandmother, and to her grandmother before that. At the age of thirteen, they all saw the ghosties, and they all started seeing visions of people who were going to die. This gift, if you want to call it that, was passed down genetically within our family for ages, skipping a generation each time. It goes, without fail, to the firstborn female of the firstborn female.”
It didn’t take Amber long. You could see it on her face as she processed, considered, and concluded. One moment she was sitting, stock still, with that look of shocked dismay on her face, the next she was on her feet, her arms out as if to keep her balance on a world that had just tilted on its side.
“Omigod, omigod, omigod!” For once, I didn’t have the slightest inclination to correct her for political incorrectness. My heart went out to her, my precious baby girl. To sit here quietly and watch as my mother had prepared her for such a horrible truth had been excruciating for me. I couldn’t stand it a moment longer; I got up from my chair, went to her and wrapped my arms around her. She was stiff for just a breath or two, then she crumpled, crying, “Mo-o-om!”
I stood, holding her close, rocking slowly side to side, as she cried. I looked over at my mother and she was in tears herself. This was not easy for any of us.
Finally, Amber quieted in my arms, about every tenth breath she drew a hiccup-remnant of a sob. I led her back to the couch and when she sat, she practically dove into her grandmother’s arms. Mom held her and stroked her hair, waiting. I sat back down in my chair and waited, too. The questions would come next.
Without looking up or moving from her grandmother’s embrace, Amber quietly asked, “So tomorrow morning, when I wake up, I’ll see the ghosties?”
“Yes, honey, you will.”
“Are they really scary?”
“A little. They’re not so bad, once you get used to them.”
“The other thing, the seeing people dead… what if…” Amber was trying hard not to cry again, but new tears had spilled over, dampening my mother’s t-shirt. I thought I knew what her question was going to be, but I sat quietly. She needed to ask it.
“What if I see you or Mom dead?”
“I don’t think you will. My grandmother was ninety-nine years old when I met her, and she died two years later. My mother died in 2005 at the age of 79, and I never saw either one of them dead… I mean, before they actually were dead. I think maybe that it doesn’t work with relatives.”
“Oh. Good.” Amber sat up, obviously relieved. “So what is this – gift or whatever? Why does it run in our family? Is it like a disease? Why does it happen, and who are the ghostie guys? Why did they watch you? What were they waiting for?”
My mother grinned. “Whoa, slow down. I’ll try to answer all your questions, but one at a time, okay? Okay. No, it’s not a disease. It’s a family heritage, so to speak. It dates back at least to the 1300’s, when our ancestors were still in Ireland. I did a bunch of research on our family tree back in the 90’s after I found out who I was. I traced the progression of first-born females to first-born females all the way back to a woman named Airmid Dunne. She was born somewhere around 1320 and I’m almost certain it all started with her.”
“See, in my research, I found quite a few pieces of lore about Miss Airmid. She was quite well-known in the region, and more than one young man in County Donegal took quill in hand to pen poetry, verse, whole songs about her. Seems she had bewitched half of the male population in more ways than one.”
“What do you mean, Grandma?”
“Amber, your great-great-I-have-no-idea-how-many-times-great-grandmother, Airmid Dunne, was a witch.”
My mother looked over at me. My turn to interpret again, apparently.
“Kind of like ‘no way,’ Mom.”
“Oh. Well. Yes, way. Airmid was a witch. According to local lore, she called upon the dark lord himself, and was shown great favor by the underworld. She had many powers, and many dark minions at her disposal.”
“Dark minions? Are those the ghosties?”
“Yes, those are the ghosties. They were assigned to Airmid, to do her bidding, and as Airmid’s powers were passed down through the generations, so were the minions.”
Amber paused, considering this for a moment. “So – besides seeing people dead, what other powers did you get? What powers will I get?”
“Airmid’s original powers have been considerably watered down through so many generations, and apparently the only one left is the ability to see beyond the death of certain individuals. It’s nothing I can control, and I doubt you will be able to either.”
“Oh.” Amber looked slightly deflated. “So what do the minions do?”
“Well,” my mother said, and stood up. “That’s the interesting part. I may not have powers, but the minions do. The best way to explain is to show you. Come with me.” Mom marched off into the kitchen.
Amber jumped up off the couch to follow. “C’mon, Mom.”
I didn’t move. “I’ve seen the minions do their work. I don’t need to see it again.”
What I didn’t want to tell her, is that whenever my mother called on the minions, it made me very uncomfortable. I couldn’t see them, but I could feel them. Maybe it was just my imagination because I knew of their existence, or maybe Airmid’s powers hadn’t totally skipped the in-between generations, who knows. In any case, whether I could feel them or not, I could certainly see with my own eyes the feats they were capable of performing.
I thought I understood why my grandfather, Samuel Larson, had stolen my mother as a baby. My mother had told me that he’d done it thinking that if she were taken out of the house of a witch, his young daughter would be spared her destiny at becoming one too.
I thought he did it because the minions just plain creeped him out.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to be there for another demonstration of their manipulation of this plane. I reached forward and pulled a magazine off the coffee table in front of me. “I’ll wait for you here.”
“Please come with me. Please?”
I looked up from the magazine that I hadn’t even yet opened, and saw my daughter, really saw her, all four-foot-ten-and-a-half inches of her. She was in the middle of a growth spurt, her legs long and coltish, her figure just burgeoning. Her strawberry-blonde hair was swept back and up in a long ponytail and her face had yet to see its first pimple. She would be a strikingly beautiful woman someday.
I saw her strength – how easily she had transitioned from fear to acceptance! So much more quickly than I had expected.
I also saw her innocence. And her vulnerability.
My daughter will be a teenager tomorrow, I thought, but today – she’s only twelve.
I stood up. “Okay, let’s go.”