This begins the story of a woman who tried to hide from her magical past.
| I should have destroyed this crystal long ago. I should have, but couldn’t bring myself to. Something held me back, and still holds me back. It was the reason all of this happened. I could lose everything I love because of this seemingly insignificant stone, but it has been, and will always be, a part of me. How can I destroy a part of my soul? What will happen to the balance without anyone to restore it? I stare into the hungry flames, recalling with bitter acknowledgment the reason I stand here, trying the make the hardest decision of my life.
No one knew. If we had been smart, things might have stayed that way. But as it was, we grew complacent. Time passed and we moved on with our lives to the small town of Hopkinton, Massachusetts; we believed ourselves safe. Swiftly taking us in, our new neighbors didn’t so much as suspect that we weren’t just a normal family. We were tired of the city life, we told them, and our children deserved a better education than the inner city schools of Boston could offer.
“Now remember,” I told my kids as I helped them get ready for their first day of school. “Your names are Aaron and Emily Wheeler. Can you remember that for mommy?”
“Yep! This is fun! It’s like we’re spies in that movie where that guy hangs over the floor,” little Aaron said as he mimed the Mission:Impossible scene on one leg. Having just turned eight, he was the image of his father with messy flaxen hair and startling blue eyes that radiated his limitless energy. I was wary of that energy. Our lives were at stake and one word could jeopardize our safety.
“Listen, honey. I am very serious about this. This isn’t like one of your video games where if you get hurt or die, there is always health or you can just continue with another life. You have one life and you must always protect it. Now I am trusting you to be the smart boy I know you are and help keep your little sister safe. Can I depend on you?”
“Yes mom,” he replied, a subdued tone to his voice. “I still think it would have been cool if we were spies.”
“I know hun,” I said as I kneeled to bring him close. It was so difficult to be stern with him for long. “But, life is good, like your shirt says. Maybe you’ll make some friends today and play spies.” I checked my watch. “Oh! It’s late! You’ll miss the bus!”
“That wouldn’t be so bad…”
“Oh stop it. You’ll love school. Just behave yourself and have fun. Now scoot!” I went over to the fish tank and bent down next to Emily who was watching the fish swim with a look of such concentration across her beautiful face that I was afraid to interrupt. “It’s time to go, Emily. The fish will still be here when you come back from school.” She looked up at me with large, gray eyes full of sadness, but there was strength and intelligence as well. This move was the hardest for her. She wasn’t very outgoing like her brother, but nevertheless she had to leave one very close friend behind. I had confidence that, despite her outward reluctance to begin anew, she would be able to make the transition smoothly. She had inner strength and depth far beyond her age of six, and it always seemed that she was growing up too quickly. She reminded me so much of myself. I hugged her close. “You’ll be alright,” I whispered.
I hurried the two out the door, made sure Aaron held Emily’s hand down the driveway and watched as they boarded the bright yellow school bus. After following them until they turned the corner, I sighed and shut the door.
I turned and went to go find Jared. He would be down in the basement, of course, working on his project. Even during our previous life, he enjoyed carpentry, relishing in the feeling of being a normal, middle-aged man. When he married me, he had had no idea of the life he had committed to. If I had told him of the magic on our first date, then that would have easily been our only date; I would never have seen him again. Of course, he was profoundly upset when he found out, but I was relieved to discover that his surprise in the actual existence of real magic surpassed his anger at me for not cluing him in earlier. However, he could only take so much. The hectic life we led, working to keep the balance, was too much for him to handle. He was in love with this change, with this chance to start over. He had had enough of it all. I guess I did too, but the largest part of my heart would miss the excitement.
“Jared, why are you hiding down here? You missed the children leaving for their first day of school. I’m not sure Aaron really understands how important it is for him to forget his old name. I needed you up there to be the stern father. You know how I melt when he gets sad.”
“I’m sorry, hun,” he mumbled, as he bent over his workbench with a pencil in his mouth. Knowing he probably didn’t hear a word I said, I gave up and walked over to see what he was working on. As I approached, he grunted in frustration and frantically scratched something out, crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it over his shoulder. I bent to pick up the discarded sketch and unwrinkled the page. He was currently working on a sign to hang on the front door announcing us as The Wheelers. Touched by his effort at mundanity, I draped my arms about his shoulders and kissed his cheek.
“Working hard, I see. Do you think this is going to work out?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I mean, I can’t seem to get the right lettering for it.”
“Not the sign! I mean our new situation. What do you think? How long do you think we can keep it up for?” I was so worried. We weren’t professionals and we couldn’t go to the Witness Protection Program. The creatures serving the Oblivion have always thirsted for magic of the Light and they were growing stronger daily. With that story, we probably would have been relocated - right to an insane asylum.
“As long as we have to, I suppose. I’m not worried. Even if the kids let something slip, nothing they say to their schoolmates would reach the wrong ears.”
“How can you know that? They might have people in the school keeping a look out for us. How can you be sure we’re safe, that we weren’t followed here?”
He put down his pencil, swiveled around and gathered me up on his lap. “Erika, calm down. There’s nothing to fear. We changed everything we could about us: our names, our appearance. We did everything short of getting face implants. And the children are smart. We made sure of that when we raised them. We also made sure they know nothing of the magic-” I couldn’t help but cringe when he mentioned it out loud. “until they turn of age. Would you relax? No one is listening to us. We’re finally away from the War. No more late nights running around the city. No more demons threatening our children’s lives. We’re no longer a part of that. They will not discover us.” He looked me in the eyes, reassuring me everything was going to work out.
“Yeah.” I rested my head on his shoulder and his hand came up to stroke my hair. Maybe he’s right, I thought. Maybe we are safe. Something in me just didn’t believe so.
Weeks passed without incident. However, that didn’t stop my excessive paranoia from making me wary of the woman who had moved in down the street a few days after we arrived. I had always been able to sense evil; it ran in my family: me, my mother, her mother and so on. Being blessed with the innate magic also gave us a built-in alarm system. Every time I drove by that woman’s house, the magic deep within my chest would stir. Jared wouldn’t hear anything about it. “You haven’t used it in awhile. Maybe it’s restless or something. Don’t think about it. Now come on, we’re gonna be late meeting the Becketts. Can you hand me my bowling ball?” So I put her out of my mind, took a different route to the grocery store, and attempted to move on with my life.
And I did. All the boxes were unpacked and the house was finally looking somewhat decent. There was even a library room with a fireplace like I had always dreamed of. We nestled ourselves in the neighborhood and even hosted game night every third Saturday with the Rayburns and the Frosts. Everything was as it should be, perfect and peaceful. That is, until she knocked on our door.
The kids were at school and Jared had just left for work at the hardware store, when I was folding the laundry. As I laid one of Aaron’s shirts on the pile, I looked around the living room at all the pictures. Part of the transition required our old pictures be doctored so that, in them, we looked like how we appeared now. They were still so strange to me. I barely recognized myself in short brown curly hair, missing my long blonde locks. Jared’s and Aaron’s hair had to be grown out a bit from their usual buzz cut and dyed almost platinum blonde, which, I believed, looked even better with their azure eyes. Emily kept her strawberry blonde hair, but was given bangs, and even that had a startling effect on her appearance. For an instant, I felt uncomfortable, like I was in the house of a family I didn’t know, like I was intruding on some happy life belonging to the smiling people in the pictures.
My reverie was interrupted by an abrupt rap on the front door. Startled, I dropped Emily’s plaid skirt into the basket and brought my hand up to my chest. The knock sounded again, and I walked to the door curious to see who would be visiting this early in the morning. Maybe it was Ruth from next door returning the cake pan I had lent her a few days ago.
But when I opened the door, it was not Ruth I was face to face with, and my chest seemed about to burst with my nearly boiling magic. I was staring into the eyes of the woman from down the street. I had worked hard to drive her from my mind. However, finding her on my doorstep immediately brought forth the uneasy feeling I had buried.
“Hello. Can I help you?” I offered quickly after realizing that I was staring.
“Yes. I was wondering if I might be able to borrow some flour. I’ve been planning to bake cookies for everyone on the block, but I have been so busy with getting the house settled that I haven’t been able to get around to it until now. Do you think you can spare some flour? I’ll make sure you get more cookies,” she offered with a smile spreading across her face. The smile unnerved me; there was something not right about it. And she lived four houses over. Surely I was not the only one on the block awake. Attributing my uneasiness to my undesirable paranoia, I consented and invited her into the kitchen where I began to put some flour into a plastic container.
“Would you like something to drink?” I asked.
“Some water would be perfect, thank you,” she replied as she walked around the room. She stopped at a family portrait hanging on the wall and started studying it. “You have a very handsome family,” she finally commented.
“Thank you. Good genes, you know,” I said, pulling out a glass and filling it with water from our pitcher. I had chosen a small glass; I wanted this woman to leave as soon as possible. I was becoming more nervous by the second, and tried to hide it.
“I suppose so,” she continued, still looking at the picture. “How is little Charlie doing?”
I paused for only an instant. “I don’t know a Charlie. Maybe you’re thinking of another kid on the block. My son, Aaron, is doing well though, albeit getting in trouble far more than I would like, but boys will be boys.” I realized I was rambling, digging myself deeper and deeper.
“It’s funny how when people change their hair, others rarely can recognize them. My husband is no exception. When we go to the mall and I leave to get my hair done, on returning, he starts hitting on me like I’m another woman at first. It’s pathetic. If you don’t know what to look for, people can get away with changing their entire appearance. However, I know what to look for. Like your son’s eyes. Blue, like his father’s, but brighter, more captivating. I could never forget those eyes, so startling when you look into them. I can see why you didn’t give him contacts. I wouldn’t want to shut their glow away either.” She turned, then, and locked her knowing brown eyes on me. I was visibly sweating now. Who was she? Was she of the Oblivion? Why was she focusing on Charlie – Aaron – so much? Did she know something about him that I didn’t? Did they get him? A million questions were running through my mind, but I shut them all away as I stared back into her eyes.
“Listen, I have no idea what you are talking about. I mean, we have gotten hair cuts. I guess Aaron’s is little shorter now than it was when that picture was taken, but I don’t understand what you mean about changing appearances. However, I really need to finish folding the laundry because I have a million errands to run before I have to pick my kids up from school. Here’s your flour. I hope it’s enough for a few batches of cookies,” I rushed, handing her the container.
“Oh you don’t have to worry about Charlie and Angela. They were released early from school and picked up already. What you can do though, Christine, is let go of this foolish façade and tell me what we need to know, and no harm will come to your precious little darlings.”
I slowly sat down at the kitchen table. They have them. They have my babies! It was no use pretending anymore.
“What do you want to know?”
“You know what we came for, Christine. Where is the crystal? You should know by now that we are aware you are not keeping it in this house. A very smart move, but foolish for it led us to take this very unnecessary step of kidnapping your children. However, if you cooperate and just hand us what we desire, we will disappear and you need never fear us again. You claim that the crystal is only yours to control, that only within your blood lies the power to call forth the magic within it. We do not believe this.”
“But you must! The magic is not within the crystal, it’s within myself. The crystal channels the magic so that I can control it. Without innate magic, the crystal is useless to you. Please. You know this to be true.”
“No matter. If it is as you say, then all the better. If a lowly creature like you has magic, then we, as servants of the Oblivion, are made of magic. We are far more powerful than you and have mastered magic you cannot even comprehend. The crystal will be ours.” She paused, caught up in her speech, the need emanating from her frenzied eyes. In them, I could now see it; the swirling blackness, the emptiness of the void that is the Oblivion. It only lasted a moment. She gathered her composure and continued. “I know this is an impossible decision to make at the moment. So I will leave you now to think over your answer. If you are intelligent, I know you will do the right thing. On the table in front of you, you will find the number to reach me. Do not keep us waiting and do not try to be a hero. We will be watching you.” With that she gave me a parting, malicious smile, walked to the front door and departed, leaving me at the kitchen table frozen in a state of frightening indecision.
But I was frozen for only a second. As soon as she was out of sight, I jumped up and threw her water glass into the sink with an earsplitting crash. I was disgusted to think that a demon had been in my house. A demon! And now they had my children, my little kids!
I thought about speeding to Jared’s work and recruiting his help, but that thought instantly vanished. This wasn’t his fight. The kids were now my responsibility. A part of me wanted to take the crystal over there and destroy them all. It would have been easy. I had done it before. Demons were newly born to the Oblivion, easy prey to the magic of the Light. But that wasn’t who I was anymore. Screaming in frustration, I ran to the fireplace, whipped out the crystal from beneath my shirt and barely stopped my hand from throwing it in the flames.
Now here I stand, wishing I had the Hollywood shoulder angel and devil to help me decide. But only I can make this decision, for the magic is only mine to command. It’s my responsibility as a Knight of the Light to help keep the balance in the world. The magic - I can’t just give it up. I can’t destroy the one way I can use it. It’s a part of me, and will always be a part of me. Without it, I would be broken; I wouldn’t be whole. There’s only one way to handle this.
Clenching my fist about the crystal, feeling the sharp edges bite into my ready skin, I run to the door, wrench it open, and take off to punish those who think they can mess with the Light. So much for a safe, boring life.