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“Witches don’t wear socks!” I heard Raz yell. I opened my bedroom door to find her standing at the top of the stairs with her hands on her hips and a wide-banded, pointy hat on her head.
“I could dig out a pair of Grandma Stella’s itchy black wool stockings for you, if you’d like,” Mom’s voice carried up the stairwell.
Raz gave a six year-old’s exaggerated huff. “I’ll find something else!” She turned from the stairs and spotted me in my doorway. “What are you being for Halloween?”
“Me. What are you supposed to be?” I was beyond slow first thing in the morning.
“A scary witch,” she cackled, raising her clawed hands next to her face.
“You don’t look very scary.”
“But YOU sure do,” she jabbed as she bolted for her room and slammed her door.
“OH! Burned by a six year-old! Slipping at your game, are you?” Cassie called from the bathroom across the landing. She was applying mascara, and, of course, was already dressed in her cheerleader uniform and her long, dark hair was styled into cascades of ringlets. I hated morning people.
I dragged myself over to her. “She’s just lucky I’m not awake yet.” How’s that for a sharp retort? I had had a lousy night’s sleep. That made for three nights in a row. I’d felt compelled to draw lately, which wasn’t weird in itself, but my drawings had been, well, dark. I wasn’t even sure myself what I was drawing, but I found them disturbing, and I tossed most of the night, trying to figure them out.
“Aren’t you going to dress up? The more people in your class in costume, the more points your class makes, the closer you are to earning a class pizza party.”
“Oh yeh. A pizza party. In class. With a bunch of morons. Next time, maybe.”
“What do you mean, ‘morons’?” Cassie was everybody’s best friend.
“Teenage boys. Need I say more?”
Cassie rolled her eyes, then continued with her mascara application. “Where is your school spirit? I can’t believe you don’t get involved in any school activities. What’s wrong with you?”
“I didn’t get that gene. Come to think about it, are we even related?” I squeezed around her into the bathroom.
“I’m guessing not.” She closed the mascara tube.
“Wait! What’s that over there?” I pointed across in front of her to my bedroom doorway.
“Where?” As she turned to look, I gave her a shove, and slammed the bathroom door.
“I wouldn’t have fallen for that.” I called through the closed door. Then again, in our household, you never know what, or who, could pop up out of nowhere.
If I were Cassie, I’d have convinced the door to melt if someone did that to me, but I’m sure the thought never crossed her mind. Another reason to wonder if we were really sisters.
“Alex is so mean.” I heard Raz comment outside the door.
“She’s just not a morning person, that’s all.” Ah, Cassie, forever the optimist. But optimism must come easy to those who live a charmed life.
“She’s not a day person, either.” Raz retorted.
That was quite true. I was a creature of the night. I spent most of my days numbered among the walking dead. I never seemed to have any energy until the sun went down.
“That was extremely rude, young lady. You should be treating your sisters better than that. They will always be there for you, after all.” I looked over my shoulder in the mirror to see my great grandmamma behind me, except she didn’t look like herself. Did I mention that you never know who’ll pop up out of nowhere?
“See? Even an old gal like myself can get into the Halloween spirit.” She twirled around to show off her flapper dress. And her flapper body. “I was a pretty hot chick in my younger days, don’t you think?” She looked to be in her mid-twenties, her hair short, dark and wavy, her skin smooth and rose, her eyes bright blue and sparkling.
I shivered and made a face. I hated it when people shifted around into different forms. I found it irritating. I suddenly had a visual flash of some of the drawings I had produced lately.
“Don’t make such unbecoming faces. It might freeze like that!” Suddenly, her great grandmamma face filled the entire mirror, every wrinkle and crevice amplified. “BOO!”
Like I said, I hated it when people did that.
“But on a more serious note, I have a warning for you,” the huge face in the mirror told me.
“Dress up for Halloween or I’ll be forced into a pizza party with my class?”
“Much more serious than that, I’m afraid.”
“What could be worse than that?”
“It’s Halloween, my sweet Alexandria, and the veil gets very thin on this day.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Enough with the attitude and quit interrupting. You are in danger, young lady.”
“Danger? What did I do now?”
She shook her head. “Just being who you are, I’m afraid.”
Enough said. Nothing good could ever come of being me.
“It’s also a new moon. That means the veil becomes even thinner. We will do what we can from this side, but not all Aspects are under our control. We have our own battles to wage over here.”
“What, exactly, are you saying?” People expected way to much of me before I was fully conscious.
“You, my sweet Alexandria, are a beacon in the dark to all that reside on this side of the veil. Good and evil spirits and beings are drawn to you. And chances are that some of those evil beings may make it through the extremely weak barrier that will result at sundown tonight.
“Like I said, we will do what we can to keep them back, but you need to be wary. Protect yourself, and ask your mother to perform some extra protection spells over you before sundown tonight. Oh, and before I forget, Happy, Birthday, My sweet Alexandria.” Suddenly, it was my own reflection in the mirror, puffy eyes and spiky short dark hair sticking out everywhere, and my ever-present silver Celtic cross necklace around my throat.
“Great. Another wonderful birthday to look forward to.”
After spiking my hair a little more and putting on my makeup, pulling a long black sweater over my head and some black leggings on, I gave Charlie, my gopher snake, a couple strokes under his chin, shoved my homework and my sketchpad in my backpack, then headed straight for the coffeemaker.
“Mom was rinsing her coffee cup in the sink as I dragged myself into the kitchen. “You’re running late; your sisters have already left.” She looked me up and down. “What are you supposed to be?”
“Doesn’t anyone in this household say ‘Good morning,’ anymore?” I don’t know why it even mattered to me, since I couldn’t manage good manners myself before lunch, let alone proper etiquette.
“Good morning, Alex,” cooed my mother snidely. “What are you supposed to be dressed as this morning?”
“A fairy princess. Where’s the sugar?”
“Thought so. The black lipstick was a dead giveaway. How many times do I have to tell you that that stuff stunts your growth?” She turned her back to the sink and leaned against the counter as she crossed her arms.
“The lipstick or the sugar?”
“The coffee. You can’t afford to lose out in that department.”
“I believe it’s referred to as a ‘failure to thrive’, or so I’m told.” After opening three cupboards, I found the sugar bowl and tipped it over my coffee cup.
“That’s a load of crap. You’re just petite. That doctor was just trying to find a way to blame me for your small size as a baby. You ate like a horse – that hasn’t changed –you just didn’t sleep more than two or three hours a day. Without rest, it’s hard for a growing body to…well, grow.”
“Don’t worry, I still blame you.”
Mom playfully smacked my shoulder with the back of her fingers.
“Hey! Hot stuff coming through. I want it on my insides, not my outsides. Is there any bread left? I smell burnet toast.”
“That’s it there on the table.” Next to a jar of raspberry jam and a pot of honey was a stack of almost burnt toast. Martha Stewart my mother wasn’t. Even though she was home all day, Mom wasn’t very domestic. She spent most of her time transcribing medical records for doctors in her home office.
“How does the cereal situation look?” I asked as I placed my coffee cup on the table.
“We’re out of milk. I need to pick up some groceries today.”
“Can you pick up some more frozen mice for Charlie? And I suppose eggs and bacon with a side of pancakes is out of the question?” I opened the refrigerator door and basked in the wave of cool air it emanated.
“Hello? Will you look at the clock? Time to get rolling, birthday girl.”
I cringed. “I don’t do birthdays.”
“You’re to young to be trying to dodge them already. You’ll regret skipping them, mark my words.”
“I only regret skipping meals. Birthdays –not so much.” Time to change the subject. “Where’s Dad?”
It was her turn to be uncomfortable. “I’m afraid he left early this morning. He had a flight to catch before sunrise.”
“But he just got home last week! And today’s…never mind.” I closed the fridge. How could he skip out on my birthday? This was the one day he and I ignored Halloween together.
“It’s the gypsy in his blood. And it’s his job, honey.” Then she quickly switched topics. “Did you talk to Greta this morning?”
“I believe that’s ‘Great Grandmamma’ to you…wait – to me. Just ‘Grandmamma’ to you.” So much for trying sassy so early in the day. “Will you let me finish my coffee?” I picked up my cup and took a slurp.
“Did she warn you?”
“Yeah, yeah, got the message. Big bad bogeymen out to get me. Got it. Next topic.” I plunked myself down at the table. “Better yet, no topic, just silence.”
“This isn’t a joke, Alex. How often do you get a visit from a dead relative?”
I gave her what I hoped was a persuasive deadpan stare.
“Okay, fine, I forgot for a minute who I was talking to. I mean how often do I get a visit from a dead relative.”
“She came to you, too?” Okay, I’m a little slow on the uptake before my caffeine infusion.
“She didn’t feel you would take her all that seriously.”
“I can take care of myself, Mom. I’ve been doing it for fourteen years, as of sundown.”
“Sure you have. Up and running from the womb. Your family is just a bunch of white noise, stuff you have to put up with to get through the day, is that it?”
I downed my coffee and got up from the table. “You didn’t even know it was spirits that wouldn’t let me sleep as a baby. I had to learn to deal with it all by myself. I’ll deal with whatever this world –or the next – has to throw at me, myself.” I stomped out of the kitchen.
“Is that what you’ve been doing?” A booming voice called from down the back hallway.
Crap. I had forgotten she was here. I had woken up Grandma Stella. She had arrived after dinner last night. She was less of a morning person than I was. Birthday or no birthday, I was in for it.
Her thin, tiny frame came from around the doorway of her room. If anyone looked like a scary witch in this house this morning, it was Stella. Her long gray hair was mused and matted, and wrinkles from her pillow still creased the left side of her face. “Don’t forget that it was I that found the reason for your lack of sleep. You didn’t ‘deal’ with that issue on your own, missy. Your parents’ concern for your situation brought me here to help you. And now you are of age to learn how to properly deal with your gift so you can do some good in this world. That’s why I’m here. It’s time to start your training.”
Training? Are you kidding me? I just wanted my curse to go away. I wanted a life where I didn't have to hide in my room to keep from being hassled by ghosts. I slipped on a pair of flip flops and grabbed my jacket off a hook by the back door. “Sorry Grams, I gotta get to school. I don’t want to be late for class. Catch you later, maybe.”
“It’s below freezing outside! Why aren’t you wearing socks?”
“I hear witches don’t wear socks.”
“What is wrong with kids in this day and age?” Grams threw up her arms and rolled her eyes.
“Alex, don’t forget your backpack.” Mom focused her attention on the bag, her arm extended toward it, as it lifted off the floor next to the kitchen doorway and floated through the air toward me.
“Show off.” I mumbled.
“Practice makes perfect.” She gave me a knowing look. Sometimes I wonder if she could read minds as well as move things with her mind. I didn’t like that prospect.
As I grabbed my backpack out of the air and turned to dash out the door Grams called out. “By the way, happy birthday, my little witch.”
It was almost time. The shifting of energies, the alignment of the planets and the tension of the atmosphere were pulling together. The vibrations were nearing a fevered pitch. The collection was anxious to escape their horror-ridden confinement, pushing and scrambling, stretching against the barrier. A thunderous crack resounds, and chaos has broken through. Yes!