This story is by Rita Louise and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The night that I found the cross on my palm marked the beginning.
I was seven, proud of that fact, and keen to start third grade. But I never had the chance. As the world reeled from 9/11, my world spun on its axis also. My mother died the next morning.
My godmother, Gracie, claimed me. My earliest memory of Gracie, when I was just four, was of her reading my tarot cards, and worse her witch doctors bones. In another century she would have been burnt at the stake.
On that first day as I cried silent tears for the loss of my mama, she led me by the hand through the maze of eccentrically decorated rooms till she reached the one she had transformed into a fairy grotto for me. I was overwhelmed by the eclectic mix of furniture, the huge gold framed mirrors and the aroma of exotic oils bombarding my senses. She held my little girl face between her hands and whispered into my ear, “You’re my girl now Jess.”
Gracie immediately removed me from school and home-schooled me. I felt relieved, the questioning stares of my peers and the malevolent comments regarding mama’s strange death hurt me.
Gracie was a keen advocate of mathematics and the written word, science particularly chemistry and biology, but not a fan of the arts. As for history, she preferred her own version. After all, she was there for much of it.
Essentially though she taught me strange rites and incantations to change the world around me. I understood to keep these powers a secret, and I felt more akin with Gracie as I advanced.
I unquestioningly transferred my affection and trust to this strange entrancing creature. My mother had entrusted me to her, that was enough for the authorities and for me.
Gracie was unconventional and intriguing, and her home, our home now, was full of fascinating, sometimes frightening, objects. I learned over time that each of these objects had a special purpose, despite often being excessively ornate.
There was one room I wasn’t allowed to enter until I turned eleven and joined the group of women who came once a month. The night of my induction to their group I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. Pain from the drawing of my blood, excitement as I was given a carefully brewed potion to drink, fear as the world spun around me and I fainted, to pride as I regained consciousness in Gracie’s arms with the women around us smiling and cheering. I had passed. I was one of them.
Over time I realized that Gracie didn’t seem to age. She had bewitching eyes and an energy I have never seen equaled. I guess she was in her 30s although that was as close as she came to giving away her age. The beautiful woman who had taken me in, tended my emotional and psychological scars along with my grazed knees and bruised ribs of the inevitable playground politics when I was forced legally to return to formal education, was ageless. Or so it seemed.
I grew into womanhood, blossoming in her love and wisdom. But there was a dark side to our magical life, a price, a penance to be paid for some of the rituals we performed.
I found a mate, Sebastian, a perfect match for me, for my kind. A man so insightful I never had to explain my secrets and my strangeness. He stroked my throbbing head and whispered into my bruised soul on dark days after particularly difficult incantations demanded by Gracie, held my hand in his, played music he had written for me alone, and seduced my mind. I was enamored. I was in love.
Soon after Sebastian’s appearance into my life, and the seventeen year anniversary of my mother’ death, Gracie degenerated. Her light-footedness was replaced by dragging feet, her silky hair became sparse and grey, her face mostly vacant. At times strange other worldly faces seemed to effervesce from beneath hers, even one that resembled my mother’s.
I couldn’t lose Gracie… it would be like losing mama all over again. Worse, because there wouldn’t be another Gracie to pick me up. But there was a Sebastian now…..
I felt her watching me. She beckoned me over to her bed. Her hand tried to clasp onto mine but only flailed in the air. I interlaced my fingers with hers and felt the familiar magnetic pull between us. Gracie calling Jess…. I was there with her in every respect.
Reality folded and I was dragged into the alternate world of her crazed mind. I watched shocked as she relived the draining of the many souls that had given her eternal life.
Unexpectedly she staggered, collapsing to her knees and onto the ground, writhing in pain. I was at her side in a heartbeat, but it was too late. She was fading.
Reality folded again and I found myself back in her room. Sebastian was by my side, smiling that sweet crooked smile that told me more than any words could. I looked between them, between Sebastian and Gracie. Between my people.
Gracie’s eyes narrowed.
“You can’t have us both,” her words filled the room, echoing bizarrely off the blank walls, but only I could hear them. “Not like this…”
The dark witch’s incantation of my initiation night flooded into my consciousness. I had a choice to make. Once initiated into our coven, we couldn’t have two loves. I couldn’t have Gracie and Sebastian. It was written in my blood by Gracie’s hand when I was too naive to object.
There could be only one. Unless… what did it say? There was another alternative. I gasped, fighting to recall the words. Gracie’s mind again infiltrated mine, she was crying now, I could feel the tears as they hit her cheeks just as if they were my own. They burned as they ran rivulets down my face.
My body started to emulate hers. I felt her pain, her age, her fear and I collapsed on the floor next to her bed.
She silently called me.
I stretched my hand out to hers. We couldn’t reach.
“Help me,” my voice desperate and hoarse. Sebastian lifted me in the strong arms that had only hours before embraced me all night after we had made love that last time. I wish I had known then that it was the last time.
He helped me reach Gracie’s outstretched arm. Our fingers interlaced again, hers gnarled, mine straight. Then as if through osmosis of youth, hers became smooth and mine started to resemble claws. I watched as her face smoothed. Her eyes glistened and her grasp grew stronger as mine weakened.
“It doesn’t have to be like this Jess. You don’t have to die like your mother. And the others. It’s your choice. You can break the spell. And live.”
Sebastian adjusted his embrace so that he could look into my eyes.
“Jess? Whatever it takes, do it. I love you baby.“
I recalled what breaking the curse meant.
I would have to endure impossible love to allow both myself and Gracie to live now I had two loves.
And I had already made the choice to allow Gracie’s life to continue when she took my essence.
“Who was my mother’s impossible love, Gracie?”
But I already knew the answer. Mama sacrificed herself for me when Gracie drained her essence.
Sebastian’s tears mixed with mine.
“Whatever it takes my love”.
I nodded to Gracie. She held out her other hand to Sebastian.
As I looked into his eyes for the last time as mortals I felt my heart shatter. I should have never let myself love him. But now there was no turning back.
I looked into Gracie’s eyes. The look of victory is burned in my memory forever. I glimpsed the monster inside, the real Gracie, surging through the façade that was her outer entrancing shell.
I nodded, defeat stinging my soul, and we formed a circle with our clasped hands, a chain of altering states.
Our eyes locked, our fear palpable as the pain heightened to it’s climax.
Gracie’s hands released ours.
Sebastian and I fell to the floor.
Time swirled past.
I burned from the fire inside me during the transformation. My body felt wet.
I felt Sebastian lift me and a rush of air on my clammy skin as if I was being fanned. I couldn’t move my feet. His arms embraced my waist and mine entwined his neck.
I opened my eyes to see what we had become. The cross on my palm was in my line of sight.
Two white feathered wings gently flapped. Sebastian had wings? I looked at our reflection in Gracie’s huge gilt mirror. Sebastian had wings. I had a shimmering scaled tail instead of feet.
Gracie’s monstrous desire for youth and beauty had left its destructive legacy yet again.
An angel and a mermaid, doomed in impossible love.