“You’re an abomination. A freak. And you’re no son of mine.”
Those were the last words my father said to me before he threw me out of the house. Banished. Exiled. My whole family turned their back on me. I was only sixteen at the time, never had a job, barely finished school and suddenly I was living on the streets.
It was hell on earth. Every night I wondered if I would wake up in the morning, or freeze to death in the night. On my dark days, I admit sometimes I hoped I wouldn’t wake up. It wasn’t a life, it was an existence.
At night I would lie in whatever hole I could find, shivering, stomach growling after not eating in days, and wonder if I was cursed. They say that don’t they? The seventh son of the seventh son is cursed or unlucky or a witch.
They got the witch part right, but my whole family are witches. My brothers all developed their powers early. I was the late bloomer and no one questioned it at first.
The runt of the litter, last to everything. That was the running joke in the family. Time went on though and it stopped being funny. Fifteen was the latest anyone had ever heard of someone reaching before their powers manifested. I passed that milestone and still nothing.
I would catch Dad staring at me, a look of disappointment on his face. Every day I would practise spells, incantations, even levitating, although that particular power didn’t run in our family, but it didn’t hurt to try. Nothing worked.
My sixteenth birthday came and went and the others tried to act like everything was okay, but not Dad. He sat in the corner of the room, refusing to sing happy birthday and turning his nose up at the cake, which I’ve never seen him do before.
Mom was over the top, as usual. Fussing and rushing around, making sure everyone had a drink. All the while, Dad had glass after glass of whiskey.
A few hours passed, the guests all went home. Mom kept telling Dad to go up to bed, but he refused. He seemed determined to finish the bottle of Jack.
I was helping Mom clear up when I made the mistake of lifting one of Dad’s empty glasses.
“Leave it,” he growled.
I moved my hand from the glass and picked up some plates instead. Dad muttered something I didn’t quite catch.
“Did you say something, Dad?”
He glared at me, his bloodshot eyes boring through me, “No son of mine,” he muttered.
I froze. I knew he was disappointed, confused, upset, but I didn’t think he hated me.
“Don’t be silly, Dad,” I said. I stared down at the half eaten piece of cake on the plate I was holding. Red and white frosting, this piece had part of my name on it. Al for Alex.
“Your brothers all developed their abilities early. They have more power than I’ve seen in a long time. We come from a long line of witches, a proud heritage. So why don’t you have any powers?” he levered himself out of the chair to tower over me.
“I don’t know,” I muttered. I turned my head away from him to avoid his whiskey breath.
Mom appeared in the doorway, drying a dish with a cloth.
“Aaron? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“He’s what’s wrong,” Dad said, jabbing a finger into my chest. I wanted to push it away, but my hands were full and I didn’t want to make him any madder.
“Aaron, don’t,” Mom warned. So they discussed this? Or did she just expect him to blow up at me eventually?
“No, I want to know the truth. Is he mine?” Dad snapped.
Mom face flushed red in anger, “Of course he’s yours. What are you trying to say?”
“Is he? Let’s see, shall we?”
He grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me towards him, scrutinizing me. The plate was pressed against my chest, cake squashed into my t-shirt.
“All the boys have dark hair, he’s fair. Everyone has blue eyes, his are green.”
“Stop it, Aaron. You know my mother and brother were blonde and green eyed too,” Mom said.
I could feel energy coming off my father. It would happen right before he would cast. Would he really use magic on me?
“No matter what level of ability a witch has, they can all deflect. Let’s test it,” he said.
“Aaron, no!” Mom cried. She tried to grab his arm, but he shoved her aside.
He raised his hand, which was dancing with sparks. He was going to do it. He was going to blast me.
“Dad, please,” I said, dropping the plates and pressing my hands to his chest to hold him back.
Dad’s face changed from anger to surprise. I felt a strange tingling sensation in my palms. The sparks disappeared from Dad’s hand and he fell to his knees.
“Alex, stop,” Mom said.
“Stop what?” I said, pulling my hands away.
Dad looked as though he was going to collapse. What the hell was happening?
Mom rushed to his side. They both looked up at me and I saw fear on their faces.
“Sipher,” Dad whispered.
The blood in my veins turned to ice. A Sipher was someone who could drain a witch’s powers. They were the scourge of the witch world, lower than vermin. It was an anomaly that affected around 3% of witches. Essentially an anti-witch. Why would he call me that?
When Dad regained his senses, he tossed me out into the street. Mom made no move to stop him.
That was over three years ago now. I have since…adapted.
Sitting in my little bolt-hole, I watch the revellers as they enjoy the Mardi Gras celebrations here in my new home of New Orleans. It’s one of the many towns I have visited over the last couple of years, but unlike the rest, I find that I fit in here better than I would elsewhere.
As a freak I needed somewhere that accepted the weird and wonderful.
Growing up, I was taught many skills that didn’t require actual magic. Divination, for example, was something I was particularly good at and it was a great way to make money. Everyone wanted to know their future.
My tool of choice was the tarot. The images spoke to me, told me a story. I was incredibly accurate which meant I could charge top dollar. Thanks to my reputation, I earned a spot in a popular local bar. My booth was located near the back, away from the masses.
I liked the seclusion. Anyone who came to me also received privacy.
The bartender kept me hydrated and I could easily walk away with over $1000 a night, especially on nights like this.
Sipping my drink, a vodka on the rocks, (I never was a fan of whiskey) I waited for my next client to appear. There were no appointments here. Some people knew about me by reputation, others heard from the bar staff. The rest…who knows.
Dance music pumped through the room which I loathed, but over time I had gotten used to it. Renting a room in any of the local stores would cost a fortune.
Someone approached the booth. A young woman around my age, with long, curly black hair, full lips and high cheekbones. She walked with confidence, dressed in black jeans, a dark t-shirt and motorcycle boots.
She stopped at the booth. Placing a hand on the table, she said, “I hear you’re a fortune teller.”
Her eyes were a violet color.
I laughed softly, “Don’t confuse me with those fakers and charlatans. Fortune telling is a game. A parlor trick for people who don’t possess the gift. If you want to know what’s in store for you, no gimmicks, then sit down. If you just want a good laugh and for some old biddy in a head scarf to tell you when you’ll meet your true love, then move along.”
A smile tugged at her lips, which she tried to hide.
“How much?” she asked.
“Fifty,” I said. Discount for a pretty face.
She arched an eyebrow, but took a seat nonetheless. Pulling some bills from her pocket she slid them across the table to me. I tucked them away in my pocket and lifted the deck.
I handed them to her to shuffle. Most people are clumsy with the cards, because of their size, but she must have worked as a black jack dealer at some point in her life, because she shuffled them like a pro.
When she was done, she passed them back.
“What do you want to know?” I asked.
“I’m in town on business. I want to know if it will go my way.”
As I dealt the cards, I wondered what she might do for a living. It was hard to pigeonhole her into a specific job. I doubted she would sit behind a desk all day or serve food to anyone. Whatever she did was important.
Once the hand was dealt, I turned over the first card. It was the seven of swords. A thought crossed my mind. I glanced up at her, but she was staring at the card which showed a man trying to escape with a bundle of swords he had stolen.
“You think on your feet. This job that you have come here to do, well, let’s be blunt, it’s not entirely legal, is it?”
She tried not to react, but gave herself away anyway. Quickly recovering she asked, “Does that bother you?”
“No,” I said honestly, “I learned that you have to do what you can to get by in this world.”
“Go on, with the reading,” she prompted. I could see that I had gotten her attention now.
The next two cards were The Tower and the Judgement card. It wasn’t looking good so far. The final two cards I turned were the ten of swords and the two of swords.
“Whatever it is that you plan on doing, you might want to rethink it. This cards shows betrayal,” I said, pointing to the ten of swords.
She bit her lower lip.
“But you have a choice,” I said, pointing at the two of swords, “You can back out now before anything goes wrong.”
She looked as though she was considering it, but then she shook her head.
“I’m not backing out. I have a job to do and my employers wouldn’t like it if I backed out. Besides, I don’t really believe in this crap.”
She stood up. I reached out and grabbed her wrist, “Believe me or don’t, but I’m telling you that something is going to go wrong tonight. Don’t do it.”
She pushed my hand away, “I don’t have a choice.”
Spinning on her heel she hurried off through the crowd. The knot in my gut persisted. She was in real trouble.
“Screw it,” I muttered, getting up to follow her.
She moved fast and was through the door before I could reach the bar. The bartender called after me, but I kept moving.
Outside, the street was crowded and I easily lost sight of her.
Damn it. Why was I going after her anyway? If she was stupid enough to rush headlong into danger, then that was her problem. I learned a long time ago that you had to look out for number one.
Fireworks lit up the night sky and I saw her disappear into an alley. Heaving a sigh, I ran after her. The alley twisted left and I reached the corner in time to see her climb up a fire escape.
Was there a point to her cloak and dagger routine or was she just trying to avoid the crowds? I admit that curiosity was what was spurring me on now. Most of the tourists around here were looking for a good time, content with getting drunk and dancing until dawn. This girl was intriguing. And, yes, hot to boot.
One thing was sure, she was a lot stealthier than I was when it came to scaling the fire escape. I reached the top to find that she had already moved to another rooftop. I followed at a distance and eventually we reached her destination.
A mansion, north of the Quarter. It was surrounded by a six foot wall. Locked iron gates led to a long driveway lined with trees. I stayed about a hundred yards behind her, as she cased the joint. My suspicions were correct. She was going to rob the place.
Places like this had hi-tech security systems, probably armed guards too. So many things could go wrong. I had to try and warn her off again.
Jogging towards her, I reached the gate in time to see her short out the electronic lock. With her hand.
“You’re a witch,” I said.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she hissed.
“I’m trying to help you. Don’t go in there, it’s dangerous.”
The gates opened. She gave me a scathing look before running up the driveway. God, she was so stubborn.
Walk away, Alex. Don’t be an idiot.
“Crap,” I muttered, taking off after her.
No lights were on inside the house which I assumed meant that the owner was either out or in bed. I hoped out, but the cards said otherwise.
She pulled her little trick on the front door and was inside in seconds. It made me nostalgic for my days at home. My brother Roderick could do something similar. When we were kids he used to screw with the games at the arcade. We would get unlimited free games and never spend a dime.
The foyer had marble flooring and a huge crystal chandelier hung overhead. The girl headed for the stairs, but I grabbed her arm.
“Will you stop for one second? Look, lady…”
“Astrid,” she said.
“Look, Astrid, this is a bad idea. If we leave now, we can avoid any trouble.”
“Hey, I get it. You’re scared. But no one asked you to follow me. Let me go.”
“I’m not scared,” I argued.
She raised the eyebrow again, “Prove it.”
I guessed that if she was going to go through with it, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone watching her back. We went upstairs into a study. Astrid seemed to know exactly where she was going, which made me wonder how she knew.
I was aware of every noise, every movement, waiting for something or someone to leap out of the shadows.
Astrid removed a painting from the wall to reveal a safe behind it.
“So what’s my cut?” I asked, while she fiddled with the dial.
She laughed, “Yeah, right. What makes you think you’ve earned it?”
It was worth a shot.
“Damn it,” she muttered.
“Problem?” I asked.
“It’s not just locked. Its spelled shut. I can’t get through it.”
I tried to hide a smile. She couldn’t, but I could.
“Well, I’d like to help you out, but like you said, I’m not getting a cut. So why bother?”
“You can get in?”
“Maybe, if the price is right.”
She scowled at me, “Urgh, fine. 5%.”
“I don’t get out of bed for less than 50%.”
“You’re already out of bed, 10.”
“Oh, my God. We can’t stand around arguing. 20% is all you’re getting. Now hurry up and open it.”
“Better be worth it,” I muttered.
Placing my hand on the safe door, I began to siphon the energy from it. I hadn’t used it in a long time, but there were occasions when it came in handy.
“Try it now,” I said.
She unlocked it and the door opened.
“You’re a Sipher,” she said.
“And you are a petty thief. Nobody’s perfect.”
“Guess not,” she said, but I noticed that she was keeping her distance. I didn’t blame her.
She removed something from the safe. It was about the size of a tennis ball, wrapped in a brown leather cloth.
“No cash?” I asked. It was easier to get away with cash. I hated having to pawn stuff.
“Not what this job was about,” she said.
“So am I supposed to take my 30% from whatever it is you have there?”
“We agreed on twenty, and no. I deliver this to my employer and he pays me.”
“When is that? Do I have to follow you around until then?” I asked. Not that I was complaining.
“No, you won’t have to follow me anywhere.”
She lifted a paperweight from the desk and hurled it through the window, which set off an alarm.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“You’re on your own. Thanks for the help,” she said, making a run for the door. I tripped her before she could get far, trying to snatch the item from the safe out of her hands.
It fell to the floor, the cloth coming free. Under it was a small glass box and inside were a set of human eyeballs.
“What the hell?” I said.
Astrid blasted me and I fell back, convulsing. She snatched up the eyeballs and tucked them into her coat.
“Sorry about this. You really were a big help. I knew you would be, that’s why I tracked you down.”
“You set me up,” I hissed, trying to break through the spell. My power was draining the energy, but not fast enough.
“I knew I wouldn’t get into the safe without you. The guards will be here soon. Good luck.”
“Astrid! I won’t forget this. I’ll find you,” I yelled, but she was already gone.
I could hear heavy footsteps on the stairs and in seconds, I was surrounded. I thought back to the cards. Maybe they weren’t for Astrid after all, they were for me.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”