Author: Sara Walker
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Formats: Paperback and E-book
Publisher: Sara Walker
Cover by: Melody Simmons
Date Published: May 2013
After a sorcerer kills her mother, fifteen year old Melantha is asked to help catch him. She wants nothing to do with it, but then she learns one of her classmates is the son of the sorcerer. With her spell-turner powers not yet developed, the mission will be dangerous, but it will be downright deadly if the sorcerer figures out who she is and decides she will follow in her mother's footsteps.
Sunday night and I was learning to turn a summoning spell. Though I'd spent most of my life being home schooled, I had a feeling this was not a normal family activity for other fifteen year old girls.
"Gran, when I told you I wanted a cell phone, this wasn't what I had in mind," I said.
Gran picked through a handful of wheatberries, looking for just the right one to add to her pot. We stood at opposites sides of the round table with a copper pot in front of each of us and a host of ingredients filling the table between.
"Cell phones don't work for members of the magical community," she said.
"What community? It's just you and me."
Dumping ingredients into a pot had nothing on the convenience of electronic communication. Kids at school were constantly using theirs to call each other, text, watch videos. But not me. I wasn't allowed to have one. I had to learn the "old ways."
Gran sighed, and I knew by the way her lips were pursed that she didn't intend to elaborate. She'd been trying to get me to learn spells every night for weeks now. I'd finally caved in hopes she would back off, but that plan hadn't worked out quite like I'd hoped.
"I have to go to the library tonight," I said. I dumped a handful of crispy dried lavender flowers—for devotion so the line of communication would stay clear— into my pot.
In another time we might have been called witches. But now that term was considered derogatory. We were spell-turners. Well, Gran was. I wouldn't be a full spell-turner until I turned sixteen and came into my full powers. In all my fifteen years, in all the time I'd spent in Halifax and my current residence in Ottawa, I'd never met another turner, not another magical creature of any kind, until the day my mother died.
If there was a magical community out there, I wouldn't know it.
I hadn't been out of the apartment except to go to school in six weeks. I needed to get away, to hang with some friends— even just for a little while.
"We have books here," Gran replied in a stern tone. This was an old argument.
She was right— we had books here. Every wall of the living room was filled to the ceiling with shelves, every shelf filled with books. All had belonged to my mother.
Without coming right out to say so, Gran was subtly reminding me of the reason I was confined to the apartment. My mother had been killed by a black-spell sorcerer— that is, a sorcerer who chooses to use death to fortify his spells. For some reason Gran thought he would come after me. But I wasn't a full turner yet. I had only partial powers. Until my sixteenth birthday, every spell I turned would dissipate the moment it came together. "Learning powers," Gran called them. "Just enough juice to see what you're doing, but not so much as to harm yourself or anyone else."
She seemed convinced I had these learning powers, but for some reason my spells never seemed to turn out right no matter how carefully I followed her instructions. And that was bad news. Even though they didn't want me to know, I'd heard my mother and Gran fighting about me. Gran thought I was either a late blooming white turner or a null— a turner's daughter born without powers. My mother refused to believe I was a null. So Gran was on a mission to prove one way or another I had learning powers or I was deliberately faking not having them out of extreme laziness.
"Your mother was a good white turner," Gran said. "She loved turning spells with me when she was your age. Couldn't get enough of it."
Her mention of my mother hit me square in the gut.
"Didn't she like to do anything else? Anything normal?"
Gran pinched her lips together again. She didn't like to speak about my mother beyond her gifted spelling abilities.
I directed the conversation back to the topic at hand.
"I really need the books at the library," I said. I followed her actions and, using a wooden spoon, swirled in two cups of diluted bay leaf extract for strength. I turned the spell clockwise, same as she did. We were on opposite sides of the small round kitchen table, so I had to think for a minute which way to turn my spoon.
"Why?" Gran asked suspiciously, narrowing her eyes. Everything was suspicious to Gran.
I barely kept myself from rolling my eyes. "I have homework."
"What do you mean? I go to high school now. I get homework." I used to be home-schooled. Right up until 52 days ago when I lost my mother. Then Gran had to take over as my teacher. She used to be able to teach my lessons for the few months of the year when I went to live with her in Halifax, but now that I was in grade ten, my studies had advanced to the point where she didn't understand anything in my textbooks. So she marched me down to the nearest high school. She would have signed me up right then, but they were closed for winter holidays. Imagine that.
"The new semester starts tomorrow, February second, according to the literature I received from the school," she pointed out.
Crap. "I'm catching up from last semester," I said, carefully examining a handful of calendula. I felt more than saw Gran carefully examining me.
"Who's the boy?" she asked.
"There's no boy," I answered quickly. Too quickly. Double crap.
"I might not know much about quadriplegic equations or—"
"Quadratic equations," I corrected.
"Or, what goes into a good Theseus statement, but—"
"Thesis statement. Theseus killed the Minotaur."
"But," she said again with emphasis, ignoring my corrections, "I know my granddaughter."
This time I did roll my eyes. "Whatever."
His name was Rory Macdonald. But I wasn't about to tell Gran that. I met him in the principal's office on the morning of my first day. It was his first day, too. A drunk driver had killed his parents and now he was living with his aunt. I met him again later in the day at the guidance counsellor's office. A special grief counsellor had been brought in to meet with us. Neither of us wanted to meet with her, but nobody asked us. His aunt was almost as controlling as my Gran.
We didn't have plans for tonight, so I didn't have to worry about calling him to cancel. He'd mentioned he'd found this place, where he liked to go on Sunday nights to play bass guitar for a band. I'd only hoped to stop in and hear him play.
"You may invite him to come here," Gran said, ignoring my denials. She released three drops of cedar oil, for dedication, into the liquid swirls in her pot. "But you won't be going out."
I bit back a scream. It used to be my mother and Gran had no trouble keeping friends out of my life, what with shipping me off to Halifax twice a year and homeschooling me. I never got to go to birthday parties, Halloween parties, camping trips or any other fun thing that normal girls did.
"Friendship is dangerous," Gran would say. My mother would agree. She would even agree when they were having that big fight that lasted for weeks.
I tried a new angle. "I need to use the computers at the library."
"What do you need those confounded contraptions for?" she asked. Her tone was one of surprise, even though this wasn't the first time we'd talked about my needing a computer for schoolwork. She just didn't get the concept of computers. Ever.
I listed the reasons on my fingers. "Research, report presentation, statistical analysis—"
"Hmph. In my day we had to do all of that by hand." She peered down her nose at the runny swirls in my pot. While mine was little more than a pathetic soup stock, hers had taken on shimmering hues of purple and green. I didn't have to see her face to know she was disappointed.
Still, I pressed my case. "Look, it's not a big deal. I can take care of myself."
"Hmph." She tapped the wooden spoon on the pot rim.
"Please? Can I go for an hour?" Oh, man. That sounded so desperate.
"No," she said simply, placing her spoon on the table next to her pot. She carried the empty vials to the sink and turned on the hot water.
"Gran—" I cried.
"I cannot permit it, Melantha. If you do not go outside this apartment with me, then you do not go outside this apartment at all."
I rolled my eyes and groaned. "You are completely impossible!"
If my words stung even the slightest, she didn't show it. She carried on with washing the dishes. "I'm sorry, Melantha. But I promised your mother."
"Promised her what? Promised you would keep me a prisoner and never talk about her?"
I slumped into a chair with my arms crossed. This was hopeless. Gran was super stubborn. I needed a new approach.
Temporarily abandoning my potion, I snagged the tea towel on the way to the sink. Unexpected helpfulness always put Gran in a good mood. I hoped it would be good enough to let me out.
She cleared her throat. "Your potion is incomplete."
"My potion is nothing but water with twigs and leaves in it." I noticed she didn't tell me not to dry the dishes. Nor did she tell me to start over and make the potion again. We'd been down that road before. It always resulted in the same thing: failure. Whatever it took to make a potion, I didn't have it. My mother and Gran had been convinced my spells would come together the closer I got to my sixteenth birthday, but so far they always amounted to nothing.
"Did you project your light into it?" she asked in that snippy tone that said she already knew the answer.
"Yes." I hated it when she said "light" instead of "magic".
"And?" Gran prompted.
"And what? Nothing happened." I shrugged. I felt my power, my magic. It flowed through me, the same as blood and oxygen flowed through me. It was there. I could feel it the entire time we put together these spells. But magic also dredged up too many memories of my mother. And there wasn't much light there when I thought about how she died. It was more like a choking sensation. I hated that feeling.
"You're not trying hard enough," Gran said. That was what she always said. I didn't answer. There was no point. She'd already made up her mind.
Maybe the truth was, I could have tried harder, but turning spells just felt wrong. If my mother had been killed by bullets, would I still be expected to attend target practice?
"I don't understand what's so bad about having friends," I said, plucking a soapy plate from the drain board.
She shut off the water. "You know the reason. They can be used against you. And you against them. It's better for everyone if you just don't have them to begin with."
Yeah, I'd heard that part before. It was stupid. For some reason my mother and Gran thought I would be kidnapped and held for ransom. I couldn't understand why. We didn't have anything of value. It wasn't like we were millionaires.
So who were they protecting me from?
"As for going out alone," Gran continued as she washed a pot, "there are many kinds of evil out there. You are not safe on your own."
"But I won't be on my own. I'll be with friends!"
"Together you'll be on your own."
"But that makes no sense at all!"
An eerie wind howled outside the windows. If the weather was getting worse, I was sure to lose this argument. I crossed the apartment to the living room windows and used the tea towel to clear away the condensation on the cold glass. Snowflakes swirled under the streetlights below. Even the weather wanted to keep me inside.
There was a sharp knock at the door. I met Gran's gaze. She appeared as surprised as I was, but where I welcomed any and every visitor, I knew she would send away whoever was on the other side of that door. By the expression on her face, she suspected I'd invited a friend over without permission. I hadn't, but knowing Gran, that wouldn't make a difference.
I dove for the door, but Gran beat me to it. She leaned cautiously up to the peephole.
"Open up, Alberta. I'm here to speak to the girl." It was a man's voice— muffled, old and tired. The voice of someone older than Gran, someone ancient.
The girl? I hoped for his sake, he wasn't referring to me. There was something familiar about the voice, something that sent a nervous sense of foreboding all the way down to my toes. This was one visitor I didn't want to see.
A former bookkeeper, Sara always preferred books over numbers, and finally put aside her calculator to write stories and work part-time in a library. She is the founder of UrbanFantasyLand.net, a website established in 2008 that specializes in promoting urban fantasy and speculative fiction. Her articles and fiction have been published in anthologies and online.