Natasha saw the flowers before she saw the man: roses, a cloud of them, pearly pink and punctuated by puffs of snowy white baby’s breath. The bouquet—so massive it appeared to be moving upon legs of its own—floated toward the far end of the terrace. Who would the lucky recipient be? Natasha surveyed the other tourists reposed upon the plantation’s grand deck. Two women were perched, gingerly like she, upon wrought iron deck chairs baked fiery hot by this South Carolina humidity. Natasha wondered if they, also like she, had yelped when they’d first sat down, bare legs scorched by the metal. Were the roses for them? She assessed them, but…no. They’d clearly traveled together; their run-on chatter and occasional hoots of laughter were a giveaway. So no roses for them today, and none either for an adjacent man, stank-faced and slumped in the far corner, a cowboy hat low over his eyes. Bored silly and waiting. One hardly needed to be psychic to see it.
Ah, but there, on the other side… Natasha hid a smile within a sip of sweet tea (which was not the powdered granules sold as iced tea at home. This was actual tea, chilled and heavily sweetened. An acquired taste she’d discovered on this trip, and quite pleasant). She continued to track the roses, pleased when they did indeed hone in on the flawless woman she’d spotted. Natasha marveled at her perfection; dewy skin and rich, sable hair...a bona-fide southern belle who could have easily stepped out from between the pages of one of the dozens of romances Natasha had shelved back at home. Watching, Natasha wondered—was the Belle expecting the roses? Did she even know the man who had brought them? Or was this perhaps a first date, a blind date, and had he said “I’ll be the one with the bouquet?” A little thrill cartwheeled on her heart, and as she held her breath the Belle exclaimed. “Oh! David!”
So this was not a first date. Natasha beamed, then he, (David, evidently), dropped down to one knee, free hand popping open and revealing a ring.
“Oh! Oh, my.” Butterflies took flight in Natasha’s belly. This was even better than one of her romances.
“Hmph,” a voice huffed behind her. “Wonder how many times he had to practice that smooth move?”
The drawl, as slow as molasses dripping off a spoon, pulled Natasha around.
A wizened black woman, exquisitely old and shockingly small, blinked back at her.
“Good afternoon,” Natasha offered.
The crone’s thin eyebrows hopped. “Now that ain’t the accent I expected, child. I thought you was Canadian.”
It came out ‘Can-AID-yan’ and ‘chile’. Natasha squinted. How did this wizened woman, so grizzled she looked more like a hunk of barbed wire stuffed into a house dress than an actual person, know where she was from?
“Oh, my LAWD!”
Both Natasha and the old lady wheeled back at the exclamation, resounding from the Belle, now holding her roses and splaying one willowy hand, new ring twinkling.
“Hmph,” the crone said again. “You’d think that stone was twice as big, the way she’s carryin’ on.”
Well, who wouldn’t carry on? Natasha’s chest contracted as the Belle—and her Beau—now swiped away tears. “Rain in the sunshine,” she blurted, then was immediately embarrassed by what her cousin Jakob would call ‘painful poeticism’. But still. No one had ever brought her roses. No one ever would bring her roses. Love is meant for other people, my darling. Her Baba, a powerful clairvoyant, had told her so a thousand times. A hundred thousand. “No love, Natasha. Love is not for you.”
“But—” Natasha would begin, but Baba would shake her head. Still—“What if—” she’d try, but Baba was clear.
No. No love for you.
A melancholy little ache made her sigh as the Plantation staff now hovered around the newly engaged couple, hustling them down off the terrace and posing them before bushes of lipstick-pink azaleas and sprays of tall hollyhocks.
“With all them wrinkles in her skirt?” the wizened crone clucked her tongue. “My, oh my, she’s gonna hate those pictures. The staff ought to have had a care.”
Or not. Natasha’s chest contracted as the couple embraced, eyes all into each other. If someone proposed to her with a bouquet of roses—or even one, single rose—she wouldn’t care if her skirt had wrinkles.
The old lady tsked. “Ain’t nobody proposin’ to you with roses, child.”
Natasha exhaled. “I know,” she sighed.
The flint in the old lady’s tone bit her. So did something else.
She had not spoken about being proposed to with roses out loud.
Swiveling slowly, she faced her.
The old lady glared. “You know what you been told,” she said. “That and this.” Here she raised a finger, pressed it tight against her mouth.
Natasha’s stomach bottomed out. That gesture—the hush gesture, the shh—her Baba had also done that—
“—a thousan’ times,” said the old lady, one eye clouded over by cataract but the other a piercing chip, bottle-glass green. “I’m surprised you’d come here, little Can-AID-yan. This here Plantation is a livin’ history museum.”
Yes. Natasha was intensely aware.
“Yet I ain’t surprised you chose hide here, the one place that’s brand new.” The crone narrowed her cataract eye. “This terrace was made to look original, but I suspect you know it’s not.”
Like a guided laser, yes, she’d known it.
The old lady’s bottle-green orb traveled, appraising her. “You call ‘em Shadows,” she said.
Natasha steeled herself against an internal flinch.
“But I call it memory-sight, what you do.”
Shhh. Her Baba, were she here, would have already hustled Natasha away. Or, more likely, never have condoned her visiting somewhere like this at all.
“But you an’ that mind-raider brother of yours have always known better than to listen to her,” said the crone. “Ain’t that right?”
Jakob. She was referring to Jakob. Had she met him somehow? Had he told her what Natasha could do? Surelt not, for why would he? He’d been shushed every bit as often as she. Casting about, she searched for him, but the old woman waved a hand.
“The mind-raider didn’t tell me nothing. An’ you won’t find him here. He’s yonder in the parlor.” She tossed a thumb to where a path meandered between more tall hollyhocks. “I think he’s fixin’ to steal somethin’.”
Oh, dammit. He’d promised he wouldn’t. And anyway, the old lady was wrong. Jakob was her cousin, not her—
“—he’s more brother to you than any real one’ll ever be,” said the old lady.
Would ever be, Natasha thought, silently correcting her grammar, and Voodoo? She stared at the crone. Was this voodoo?
“Voodoo?” The old lady flicked one grizzled wrist. “If that’s what I’m doin’, child, then you must do it too.”
Natasha flinched, face stinging as if stricken.
“As it should,” said the crone.
“Who—” Natasha began, then—
“Good day, Miss Myrtle.” A waiter, a silver platter aloft on his fingers and heavily weighted with strawberries and champagne, stooped to kiss the old woman on her leathery cheek. “For the happy couple,” he stage-whispered, nodding at his tray. “Otherwise I’d set a spell.”
“Nex’ time,” Myrtle smiled, and shook her head as he hustled away. “Huh,” she said. “Lover boy musta arranged that too, ’cause they don’t serve no bourbon or any other booze here.” She grinned then, teeth a startle of white in her face. “Lawd knows I’ve asked, but my gran’daughter says no. She runs this place, my gran’daughter.”
At this her tiny chest puffed out, pride that made her look marginally bigger. Natasha stared and said, inanely, “I don’t drink alcohol.” Was this some sort of dream?
“No, child,” said Myrtle.
“I don’t suspect you do imbibe liquor. And that mind-raidin’ brother of yours don’t, either.”
“Did…did you see my cousin and I come onto the grounds today? Or read the guest book we signed in the portico?”
The lady rolled her green eye. “I didn’t need to read about you, child, and I did not need to see you. I felt you come in.”
An electric shudder coursed through Natasha. The old lady clucked her tongue. “You don’ need to shhh with me,” she said. “An’ you don’t need to be scared.”
It came out skeered, yet…she wasn’t. Not scared as in frightened. Instead… “You…you know what I am,” she said, but quietly because…was the old lady wrong? Was she in some sort of fugue?
“I do, yes. But do you, child? Do you know what you are?”
God, yes. The locals back home had certainly told her often enough—and God knew that Baba had always secretly believed them, too. Hence the “Shh, Natasha,” with that severe finger jabbed at her lips. “Don’t tell.” Don’t tell that you’re an abomination. Don’t tell that the Holy Book calls you’re a sorceress. Don’t tell that you are a—
“—different species,” said Myrtle. “That’s all.”
That’s all? Natasha stared at her.
“Though I prefer the word family.”
Family? People like her (how many people were like her?) were family?
Family…family was Jakob who, Myrtle was right, was a brother, no matter that lineage tossed him to a more distant branch on her family tree. If he were with her right now (instead of in the parlor where she sincerely hoped he was not stealing—although with Jakob there were few guarantees), they would not to exchange a single sentence in order to enjoy a rich conversation. Their thoughts would find each other solely on their own, and hours would ensue within silence that was not silent at all. She would tell him about the Shadows she could see skulking beyond the Plantation’s garden, hidden history within that shroud of mossy-draped oaks. And he’d be rapt, because ‘Memory Sight’, (as Myrtle labeled it), was nothing he could do. Jakob was a seer who saw well into the distance, and, yes, a ‘mind-raider’ too. Nonetheless, history enthralled him—“Past predicts future better than I ever will,” he liked to say—and so Natasha frequently described her Shadows in detail, and he’d listen then tell her how they, the history, lined up with whatever future he could see. ‘Past predicts future.’ She considered this now and, impulse driving her, ignored the Shhh she’d spent a lifetime being programmed to obey. “There’s a graveyard on this property,” she announced.
Myrtle nodded. “Uh-huh. The family plot.”
“No.” Natasha swung her fingers, a subtle directive aimed over top of the hollyhocks and azaleas, and far past the Belle and her Beau. “This one’s secret. It’s not on the map.” When she and Jakob had paid their admission, they’d each been given a glossy brochure that unfolded into a chart of the grounds. “This is wrong,” Natasha had murmured, tracing a finger into a copse of oak trees. “Here,” she’d told Jakob. “Here’s a secret.”
Now Myrtle watched her, knotted hands linking together and twisting. “That place is where they buried the slaves,” she said quietly.
A shudder coursed through Natasha.
“But they don’t sully the tourists with such an unseemly site.”
Shaken, Natasha looked over, gaze searching through the moss in that cluster of oaks.
Grainy gray shapes rose just as if she had called them, grave markers appearing then receding, dark to light, the present melting over the past. “I…don’t visit graveyards,” she murmured. “And I never go into hospitals.”
Myrtle said nothing, yet Natasha sensed was listening. She shifted back to her. “I don’t go to those places because they keep too much pain. And that pain…it’s pieces of people—the spirits of the people—who’ve felt it then left it behind.”
“Like some of it just gets shedded,” said Myrtle.
“Yes,” Natasha nodded, shocked—and relieved—that she understood. “And all that pain left behind, all those Shadows…it’s crowded. And the feeling, the overwhelming feeling—”
“—is heartbroke,” Myrtle finished, soft.
Natasha swallowed. She’d never felt quite so..heard. It made her forget about shhh, and she added “Some places are so steeped in regret and despair…” She winced then, revisited by times she’d inadvertently walked through a location like a historic warzone, or even a commercial district built where a long-razed hospital had been. “Our grieving pieces, our heartbroken pieces—we don’t even know when we’ve left them behind,” she whispered, and her hands knit together, like Myrtle’s, but then froze. Species. Family. Was this maybe a trait? She pulled her fingers apart.
“Yet we do leave some heartache behind,” said Myrtle, rounding out her thought yet again. “But, child, we leave joy behind too.”
This was like the sun sailing out from under a cloud, and it unwound Natasha’s muscles that had tensed as if cold. “Yes,” she agreed, then smiled as, from the corner of her eye, the Beau and Belle were still being fussed over.
Myrtle smiled too, watching, and Natasha, eyeing her, said “What sorts of Shadows do you see?”
“All of ‘em mostly.” Myrtle grinned, then laughed at Natasha’s dropped jaw. “Child, I am an artefact. I’ve had a whole lifetime to practice. Although I ain’t never had memory-sight like you. Mostly I’m a mind-raider like your thieving brother—”
Cousin, Natasha corrected. And please don’t let him truly be stealing.
“—and a seer like your…what do you call her?”
“Baba,” answered Natasha.
“What language is that, child?”
“Ah, Lawd, we got family from all over, don’ we?” Myrtle crowed, then smiled. “But if you growed up in Canada, why you still got such an accent?”
Because Baba’s own English had been patchy and so, with mostly her to model after and talk to…Natasha raised her shoulders and tried projecting thoughts, images.
“Ahh,” said Myrtle. “She kept you shuttered up from the world.”
Age and wrinkles hid the old woman’s core expressions, yet Natasha could still plainly see pity. Embarrassed, and vaguely ashamed, she looked down, studied the shrinking shards of ice in her sweet tea.
Myrtle said “Child? Why’d she hide you like that?”
Natasha turned her glass slowly, slowly, and studied the surfing chunks of melting ice. “You know why,” she said
“Mmm.” Myrtle sat back. “Uh-huh. I do so know what it’s like not to be safe.”
Natasha’s gaze flew, hot and angry, over to the oak copse of Shadow graves and shame.
“Oh, child!” Myrtle laughed. “I weren’t no slave! Lawd!” she chortled. “I may be old, but I ain’t that old.”
Natasha regarded her. “Our pasts aren’t always our own,” she said. “The wounds our ancestors endured, or the things they took joy in. Their talents and aptitudes…those are all Shadows we’re burdened with. The markings. The imprints. We…we will always reform into what our cells once were.”
“Because you cannot change the species,” Myrtle said, sobering.
“Right.” Natasha sagged with the weight of being understood. “We bring it forward; the shame, the pain.”
Again Natasha’s gaze tried tracking to the secret graveyard in the trees. She re-directed it. “Talent and pride too,” she added.
“Mmm. ‘The sins of the father’,” Myrtle murmured, then tilted her head. “Our species…it’s got no shortage of pride.” Her mouth twisted, wry. “But I s’pose there’s some injustice there too.”
Natasha stayed silent, partly lost, and that word, ‘species’….She squirmed.
Myrtle watched her. “We were never meant to be, an’ yet, here we are,” she said, enigmatically, and a brief, troubled look crossed her face. “Ain’t our fault, though. We none of us chose our own lineage any more than anyone’s ever been able to ask for a voice that could sing, a set of feet that could run, or a pair of hands that could render a hunk of clay into sculpture.”
So…was Myrtle implying that they were supposed to feel pride, or not? Although, if all this species talk was true, and Natasha’s own rearing was anything to go by—secrecy and shh—then definitely not.
“Course it’s true,” Myrtle answered her thought, weathered forehead folded into a frown. Then she jacked a meagre eyebrow. “Tell me somethin’. Your mind-raidin’ brother. He ever tell you to hush?”
Of course. They hushed each other. They had to.
“Hmmm,” said Myrtle. “He ever lie to you too?”
‘Too’? What did that mean? Yet “No,” she said. “Never.” Jakob had a habit (albeit when he was not thieving) of brutal honesty.
“Ah, yes,” said Myrtle. “So honest that he cannot help but make relentless fun of that collection of romance novels you got.”
Frequently. Natasha’s lips puckered, a moue.
Myrtle’s mouth echoed it. “Those stories’d do well to leave a little to the imagination sometimes,” she said.
Natasha’s face lit on fire.
“Sex ain’t no spectator sport, child.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The title fell out, instinctive.
“Uh-huh,” Myrtle nodded, clearly pleased. “And your mind-raider brother—he ever also laugh at those God-awful romantic movies you gorge on?”
Good Lord, yes. In fact if Natasha didn’t hide the remote he would find it, mute the screen and then torment her with lurid or ridiculously pretentious dialogue of his own.
A smile toyed with Myrtle’s lips. “I never said your thievin’ brother didn’t have any humor—and you’re incorrect, by the way. You keep thinkin’ he’s stealin’, but what he does isn’t stealin’, not in the strictest sense. He’s far more a cheat than a thief.”
You say pot-AY-to, I say pot-AH-to, thought Natasha.
Myrtle watched her, expression growing soft. “He, your brother, ever also tell you that ‘love’s not for you’?”
No. Much the opposite, actually. A Shadow flared and there was Jakob, little Jakob—and little her, too— teetering upon the bank of Echo Creek, his hunting ground for—“I’ve got one!” he cried. “A frog, Natasha! A prince for you.” He had his hands cupped, but parted his thumbs, a little door, to let her look. “Now kiss it.”
“Ne!” She leapt back, the Czech reflexive, just like it always was when she got startled. What was Jakob thinking? She wasn’t going to kiss a slimy, green frog. “And besides,” she told him. “I do not want a prince.” The princes in her books were always prissy and superior and lazing about on their thrones. “I’d like a knight.” Bold, brave, and always handsome beneath all that armor.
“But…” Jakob’s little shoulders slumped as he let the frog go. “But I don’t know how to find a knight for you, sestranek.”
‘Cousin’, that meant, and Natasha felt bad for how hopeless he looked. Still—“You can’t find one,” she said. “Baba says there are no knights. Not for me.”
Jakob’s little brow became thundery, a defiance Natasha knew only too well—and one that frequently got him into way too much trouble. “It is okay!” she assured quickly. “’Cause I still have movies. And books. And…”
…and her Shadows faded while before her the Beau and the Belle were still celebrating. “…and real life, sometimes,” she told Myrtle.
The old lady stared, face just as crestfallen as Jakob’s young Shadow had been. Natasha winced. “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s just…how it is.” She shrugged.
Myrtle scowled. “Child, give me your hand.”
“My—” Instinct, the old shhh that had governed her all her life, scurried to slide her fingers to the edge of the table.
Not quick enough. Myrtle, older, yet faster, plucked her hand before it could hide in her lap. “Family ain’t s’posed to tell lies,” the old woman snapped, then smacked their palms together.
A sound (although later Natasha would wonder if it was more sensation than sound) gusted across the plantation, and with it everything—the hollyhocks and azaleas, the patio and all its sizzling hot wrought-iron furniture, the Beau, his Belle, and the antebellum mansion itself—all of it disintegrated, colors disappearing and shifting. Reforming, and—“What is this?” Natasha whispered.
A bedroom (boudoir, really; it was a word much more apt) spooled out before her, and centre-stage stood a bed swathed in lace and stacked high with snowy cushions. A canopy arched overhead, white tulle twinkling with clear, shining lights. “Lovely,” Natasha breathed, gaze roaming and drinking in more lights winking amid a garland of frosty spruce boughs, draped within the iron frame of the bed.
“Told you there weren’t any roses,” Myrtle said, dry, and her voice was jarring for how it did not come from just far away. It floated—
“Across time,” Natasha said, instinctive, and alarm rippled through her. “Wh-where are we?” she asked.
“You,” Myrtle answered. “Not me. Look to your right.”
Natasha glanced and there a pine tree—well, a fake pine tree; it, like the bed, was winter-white, and also aglow with more lights—stood next to the bed. Bemusement tugged forth a smile. A Christmas tree? In a bedroom?
“Yeah, well, child, I told you he weren’t one for roses. But Christmas is a whole ’nother story. And wasn’t he mighty pleased with himself, trickin’ your room out with all these lights and garland? Typical man, though, not thinkin’ things through. All them pine needles’ll be pure murder to shake outta that bedding.”
“What…who…where—” Natasha stuttered, then a new voice said—
“Check under the tree.”
The timbre—deep, rough, and male—sent a rush through her veins. Electricity. Adrenaline. It left her windswept, and she searched through the room. Where was he? Who was he? “Who—”
“Who?” he echoed, and laughed, throaty and…nervous? “It’s for you. All of this. Everything. It’s for you.”
Meaning this bedroom, a winter wonderland of white lace and lights.
“Do-uh-do you like it?”
Again he sounded nervous, but…why? For who wouldn’t like something as luxurious, as romantic, as this?
A flash of Myrtle, rolling her bright green eye answered her. Then a second image, Jakob saying “Seriously? This overkill?” made her scowl. She shooed both imaginings away to answer, and “It’s enchanting,” she said.
A sigh whooshed, relief, then he said “Look under the tree.”
His voice. It made her feel like her feet left the floor. Like she might even be soaring. Still, she could not discern its location; his proximity seemed to be everywhere and yet nowhere at all. But when she said “Where—” he interrupted, misunderstanding.
“There,” he said, and she sensed rather than saw him point to the foot of the white Christmas tree.
A bow, massive and silver, had been plopped there, and Natasha crouched down to it, perplexed. Then—“Oh!” Not just a bow. A small box had been adhered to its bottom, hidden much like the Beau back on the terrace had been concealed by his massive swarm of pink roses.
“Tol’ you there weren’t gonna be any roses,” Myrtle repeated, and the man said
“When we met I didn’t even know that I’d been waiting my whole life for you.”
Sensation swept through her, a chorus of tingles that felt the way the twinkling lights in this magical bedroom looked.
“Natasha,” he said. “Open the box.”
The tiny case was snapped tightly closed upon hinges that creaked when she pushed the lid up. Then “Oh!” she gasped, and still did not see him—yet somehow she knew that, before her, he’d fallen to one knee.
“My whole life I was waiting. I’d wait a whole lifetime more.”
He took her hand and she could not see it, but the feeling…warm. Large. A sensation of glitter danced over her skin. “I-is this real?” she squeaked.
He laughed. “Yeah,” he answered, and
“’Course, child!” shouted Myrtle, across time and sounding thoroughly vexed.
“Wh-what year is this?” asked Natasha, fingers twining, warm and…home. Finally home! within his.
“What…huh?” His throaty laugh was confused.
Myrtle, though, said “Sooner than you’d think, but longer than you’d like.”
And just like that, the snowy bedroom was gone and she and Myrtle had returned to the terrace, empty sweet tea glasses before them, and the plantation garden around them. “Wh-what was that?” asked Natasha, still breathless.
“That was me showin’ you that I am a more powerful seer than even that mind-raidin’ brother of yours.” Myrtle preened a bit, and as she did so a Shadow, her former self, seeped through to eclipse her.
Natasha’s mouth made an ‘o’. Once upon a time Myrtle’s skin had been smooth and both green eyes were unclouded by cataracts. She looked like a tiny queen.
“Royalty?” mused Myrtle, and a twitch of rue met her mouth before her face became wistful. “Now that, child, that is a source of many secret debates.”
A thread of unease shivered through her, but so did a longing. A deep, searching yearning. ‘A different species’, Myrtle had said, and though it struck her abhorrent, it also struck her as…right.
“An’ that fussy bedroom was also me showin’ you that some family don’t lie,” said Myrtle, pulling her back to the now.
Wait. Did that mean ‘Love’s not for you.’ was a lie? Although…Natasha drifted back to that beautiful bedroom. It had to be a lie. For that man, her man—he’d told her that he’d waited for her all his life.
And that had not been a lie. She knew it just as sure as she knew the things her own Shadows showed her were true. Yet…“My Baba…she lied?”
“An’ how dare she?” Myrtle’s jaw worked. “After she herself had had a man and some babies. I had me a man, and I had me my babies—an’ I knew what I was like and what I might pass on just like she did. So the nerve.” She leapt then, obviously infuriated, and so fragile, Natasha worried that she might somehow creak and break.
She did not. Instead, with agility that belied her age, she leaned down, kissed Natasha smartly on the cheek. “Family will always feel one another.” She stroked Natasha’s face. “That’s a prophecy, just for you, and don’t you ever forget it.” She drew a big breath. “It will help you far more than you know. But now here’s another: he’ll find you too.”
He. Him. That voice Natasha’s heart knew even though they’d never met. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for you.”
“I’ve been waiting too,” she whispered.
“I know,” Myrtle nodded. “But he’ll find you, and you’ll find him too. Now, you go.” She made shooing motions. “Go herd that brother of yours outta the parlor, an’ then tell him that there’s family scattered all over this globe, that someday one of ’em’s gonna see what he gets up to an’ he’s gonna get caught.” She pushed her chair in then, and started shuffling off the deck.
“Wait!” called Natasha.
“Your family. Your friends. All the Shadows that have gone on before you. Myrtle, they…they really did think you were a queen.”
Myrtle grinned, and “I know,” she said. “Oh, and child?”
“Thank you for lettin’ me see that young couple what got engaged here just now. That’s a lotta years ago that that young man came boundin’ over this deck with all them flowers.”
“An’ for the record,” added Myrtle “That young Belle really did hate those pictures showin’ all the wrinkles in her dress.”
This time it was Natasha’s turn to grin and say “I know.”
The older Myrtle got, the less tolerant she became of brewing sweet tea that held even one note of bitter. Grimacing, she added a pinch of sugar to her glass, swirling a spoon till the granules blended.
The rap upon her screen door did not startle her. In fact, she’d expected it long before now. “It’s open, Mind-Raider.”
The door creaked as she sipped her tea.
He said “Were you looking into a mirror when you said ‘mind-raider’?”
His accent was identical to his sister’s (cousins, Natasha had kept insisting today, yet Myrtle hoped she’d left knowing more about family than that), and so were his eyes—gold like fabled coins, yet colored with a few deep blue flecks. Like a wishing well, except in reverse. The effect was quite startling. No surprise, though. “With us it’s always the eyes,” she said, and sipped tea.
The mind-raider snorted, a haughty sound from a haughty man; all patrician features and a shock of black hair—the reverse of his sister, Natasha’s, silver locks. Dark angel. The thought set a weighted finger upon Myrtle’s heart.
“I do not know if I agree that I am angelic,” he said.
Myrtle lifted her chin. “Perhaps maybe you should.”
He stared back at her, then, mind-to-mind
—How strong are you?—
She glared, replied
—Stronger than you—
Yet not by much. This she could feel, and he smiled—pleased because they were near equals? Or pleased that they could converse with no sound? Myrtle was not sure, for he, like his sister, knew the fine art of Shhh, therefore much was concealed. She said, aloud, “You didn’t visit the plantation for no artefacts.”
“Debateable. I brought her to see you, didn’t I?”
Myrtle’s mouth pursed.
“Did you show her?” he asked.
She considered, then nodded. Although—“Why haven’t you?” she asked. “You knew it every bit as clearly as me.”
“I also knew it would be more believable for her if it came from you.”
Yet they were complete strangers. And he’d sensed her from how far away?
—farther than you think I am capable of—
Ah, yes. This young seer was strong enough to pull the future forward like a hurricane—and to read thoughts as though every mind was constructed of glass. “Mind-raider,” she hissed.
He set his jaw.
So did she. “Keeping your abilities secret has only made them grow stronger,” she accused.
He flicked an elegant shoulder.
Myrtle scowled. “You are lying to her.”
exploded, a psychical sound of burst glass, and Myrtle did not need to speak Czech to know he’d just told her ‘No’.
“I do not lie to Natasha,” he added. “Not ever.”
She was intimidated neither by his wrath nor his size, and in fact poked his chest with one finger. “Keepin’ secrets is just another way of tellin’ lies, Mind-Raider.”
His jaw twitched, and Myrtle reached for her sweet tea. Sipped and watched him.
He said “She will be happy—yes?”
A flash—that fussy bedroom—rushed forth, and with it so did all the thought, care, and love that would go into that grand proposal. Myrtle considered this, and “Yes.” She nodded, slow. “But—”
“Then that’s all that matters,” the Mind-Raider announced. “All that matters to me.”
Lies, knew Myrtle, for another flash billowed, one Natasha herself had revealed: Two small children and a creek side. A brother and sister. Best of friends. She regarded the Mind-Raider and “Are you certain?” she said, very quiet.
A flinch of something—uncertainty?—passed through his eyes, but there and gone too quick for Myrtle to suss out. Then a mask found his face and “She is my best friend,” he said, in a tone far too patient. As though he were explaining to the addle-brained for an umpteenth time.
“I’m aware,” Myrtle replied, with forced patience of her own. “But you are her best friend, too.”
This time the hesitation, the uncertainty, was more blatant. Nevertheless—“You told her family will feel each other.”
Again she nodded, slow. “That’s a fact.”
His head bobbed, and as he fell quiet several psychical images danced around him. Myrtle squinted to see, but the pictures were liquefied. Watery. It confused her—What is this?—but then he blinked and she knew. The images she was seeing were through his eyes—and the sheen distorting them were his tears. Her chest clenched and “Son—”
“You’re sure you showed her the knight?” he asked.
Myrtle’s mouth flopped open, then closed. “I…I did not show her what he looked like, and she does not know his name. But she does know he exists.”
A troubled look claimed his face. She added “Some things should stay a surprise, don’t you think?”
A feather-tip of a smile met his mouth. “Ja,” he said. “Yes.” Then he exhaled and “Now the deal is done,” he announced.
The proclamation dropped a dark weight on Myrtle’s heart.
‘It is finished’. This echo of what was perhaps the most eminent Scripture made Myrtle scramble, her thoughts frantic
—Yes, but what about all the frogs you once found her? What that meant to her. What YOU mean to her?—
“I’m finished,” he repeated.
Myrtle shook her head. “Son,” she said. “Jakob.” She reached to set a grip on his shoulders.
He stepped away. “We struck a bargain,” he said.
“We struck…” Myrtle blinked. “I did no such thing! You showed up here right outta a clear blue sky! I didn’t even know you was comin’. So the only bargain you’ve struck is one you made with yourself.”
He raised an elegant shoulder. “A deal is a deal.”
“Unless you pull all your chips off the table an’ go home!” she cried. “Then a deal ain’t sewn up at all.”
“Ah, but I never welsh.” He grinned.
She did not. “Even when you know you’re cheatin’ someone?”
Anger, like a bolt of lightning in the dead of the night, distorted his handsome expression. “I love my cousin,” he growled. “She is my sister. I would never cheat her.”
Myrtle squared her shoulders and
—Are you sure?—
she asked, sipping tea and faking calm.
“Yes,” he rasped. “That’s why I came. Why I brought her to you. It was confirmation, for me, that everything I’ve ever seen is all true. She’ll be happy.”
Yes, she would, but no she wouldn’t, because—“So what you’re saying is that the person being cheated is you.”
A look—hunted—crossed his face and Myrtle’s heart clenched. ‘Shhh’, Natasha had shown her, and now she wondered—what, exactly, had they spent a lifetime hiding from? What did the Mind-Raider know that he had not revealed? What was the danger he was now prepared to die for?
“Family will feel you,” he said, ragged.
The quote, though Myrtle’s own, nonetheless settled, a dark stain on her heart.
“There will be no other way,” he added, and at last his handsome countenance lost all of its elegance. Became immeasurably sad.
“Son…” Myrtle’s heart dropped, end over end.
“It’s the best I can do,” he whispered, like it was a confession. A plea.
“Jakob!” Myrtle sharply grasped both his hands.
A blasting thought, loud and desperate, rang through her head
—I will see her in her Shadows—
—When she thinks of me, when she misses me…I’ll be there in her Shadows—
“It’s the best I can do,” he repeated, aloud.
Tears spilled down Myrtle’s cheeks, catching in the crevices of wrinkles there. Damned time. Curse it for making her old. ’Cause if she wasn’t old, then maybe she could think of something different he could do. Maybe she could—
“I’ll see you too,” he said.
She snapped out of reverie. “I ain’t got no memory-sight, son.”
“I know, but…you are old Miss Myrtle.” He bowed then, as the title left his mouth. “So perhaps there’s a chance we’ll end up in the same place…?” This last teetered out, a question, and there was apprehension—no, flat-out fear—buried within his hapless smile.
Myrtle’s eyes seared. “Oh, son,” she said.
He turned. “I’ve seen you there,” he said, then gestured, two fingers touching his forehead then cast to the sky.
Meaning in Heaven? Could that be true? Myrtle’s eyebrows flew up and his feet crunched, over the shale down her driveway.
she tossed to him, mock-reproving.
“That is me,” he replied, a smile so wide that even with his back turned Myrtle could easily, psychically, see it.
“And much stronger than you,” he added, then paused mid-gait and turned. “See?”
A billow of colors gusted forth, a kaleidoscope first drifting, then forming a picture, one so brilliant Myrtle’s breath rushed away. “Lawd,” she whispered. Maybe the Mind-Raider really was stronger than her. And not only that, but what he showed her… “Regal,” she blurted, for there was a throne there. Cathedral ceilings, gilded walls, columns of glass and silver… “This…” she began, but words failed her.
Scripture, however, sprang forward: ‘My Father’s house has many rooms, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me….’
“I will come back,” Myrtle echoed, gaze roaming over all that she saw. “’Cause I have been there before.” For hadn’t even Natasha, in all her innocence, told her that very thing: “The wounds our ancestors endured, or the things they took joy in. Their talents and aptitudes…those are the Shadows we live with. The markings. The imprints. We…we will always reform into what our cells once were.”
“You’re a Queen,” called the Mind-Raider, from across what Myrtle knew was The Divide.
“Uh-huh,” she whispered. “’A different species, child.”
The vision before her spooled out with more detail and “Oh. Oh my word,” Myrtle gasped as a figure gazed down at her from upon the throne. “That…that’s me,” she breathed. Except…the ‘me’ was not her today. The ‘me’ on that throne was the Shadow of herself Natasha had shown her earlier today: a petite, lovely woman whose sable skin was still satin and had nary a crease much less wrinkles. Whose green eyes glittered and were both able to focus, framed by sooty black lashes that had long since gone brittle and were mere stubble today.
“You were a Queen,” Natasha had told her.
“Not only were,” said the Mind-Raider. “Will be.”
No, Myrtle corrected, wholly to herself. You mean will be again. ‘We’re a different species child,’ she’d told Natasha, and had not been speaking figuratively.
More Scripture sang out the sky: ‘From dust you were made, and to dust you will return.’ “Uh-huh,” Myrtle whispered. “We reform. Our cells become what they once were,” Natasha, full of memory-sight, had said so—and now Myrtle’s hands were shaking as yet even more Scripture resonated—“At the right hand of God with the angels.”
“Dark angel,” said the Mind-Raider, and at once he was back, standing before her upon her pebbled drive.
‘Dark angel’. Yes. That’s what she’d called him, silently, when he’d first arrived.
“And I should not have argued, for you are most likely right. Although…” He toed shale, a cloud of rusty dust. “Have you ever wished you were something different?”
He’d never made such a disclosure, yet she could not help but bark a laugh. “Look at my skin, son. Then read a history book. Perhaps then you can tell me.”
He smiled and
he said, then “Pray for me,” he added, bald.
“It’s the only thing you can do,” he tacked on, and as he offered her a wry smile, she imagined a chorus of angels
begin singing as he walked away.
‘Pray for me.’
Myrtle stared at his back.
—it’s the only thing you can do—
Yes. For of course Natasha was right; if one thought back far enough, concentrated hard enough… ‘We’re a different species, child.’ Then one remembered one’s roots. And her roots—their roots—those roots knew, at a cellular level, that prayer was not just the only thing.
For once upon a time, deep in their ancestral Shadows….
Prayer had been everything.
Like my fiction? Thank you! For more, check out the links to my Secrets & Shadows series:
Divinity & The Python - where desire and deception both dance in the dark
Within The Summit's Shadow - love waits within the shadows...but so does murder
& my novella, set in Los Angeles' sinister old Cecil Hotel:
No Vacancy - you can check out any time you like...but can you ever leave?