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woken up with a start, beads of sweat dampening my forehead and a sick feeling
swirling in my stomach. Rubbing my face whilst trying to sit up I thought back to the
same terrifying dream that had been haunting me for weeks now. Not that I expected
it to be any other way. I mean, watching your parents die in a car crash will have that
effect on you. The difference was that I was supposed to have died. I know it sounds
crazy but there was no way I should have survived that; yet I had, and I was sure
that the only reason I was still alive was because of the bright light that had
emanated from my body.
We were supposed to have been setting off on a three-month expedition around
India, but only got as far as our local town in Montana before it happened. One
minute I was sitting in the back of the car fiddling with my iPod and the next second
I’d heard Mom screaming. I’d looked up just in time to see a car skidding along on
the road before it hit us side-on, flipping us into a ditch. Even now the fear I’d felt at
the time – the fear of what was to come – still swallows me whole. Time had seemed
to slow down as I had watched my mom and dad being thrown around as the car
had turned upside down. Our screams had been overwhelming and I’d been
reaching my breaking point, when suddenly all went silent and
I had been engulfed in a bright, orange glow that had blinded me. Everything
after that was hazy. I remember smacking my head on the window, which had been
followed by an unbearable pain that had made my skull feel as though it would
explode. I put my hand to my forehead, feeling a warm and sticky liquid trickling
down the side of my face. Putting my hand out in front of me, I saw it was blood, but
my fuzzy brain couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. It was at that point black
spots started to creep into my vision, making everything seem blurry. Then, however
much I tried to stay awake, the darkness won and I slipped out of consciousness.
I awoke to an incessant bleeping and hushed whispers of ‘So young’ and ‘Such a
shame’ and it was at that point I knew both of my parents were dead. Upon opening
my eyes, a numb feeling began to take over as I realised I was in the local hospital
with doctors giving me sympathetic looks and calling me sweetie whilst a nurse
asked me who they should contact. That was an easy answer: no one. My parents
had both been only children and their parents, my grandparents, had died when they
were young. There was no one else.
A couple of hours later Eli turned up with his family. Who’s Eli? Explaining him
isn’t exactly one of the easiest things to do, as our relationship was complicated to
say the least. Foremost, he’s my best friend, even with his over-protective nature,
which I think stems from his need to look out for me, kind of like how I imagined a
brother would for a sister. This would make sense as I’ve always been really close to
his family, who seem to have been in my life for forever. Yes, it was helped by the
fact they lived in the same neighbourhood as us and that he went to the same high
school as me; but more than that Eli seems to have been there at all my major life
events. From losing my first tooth, to falling off my bike and then taking me for walks
in the forest when I needed the company, he’s always been there, someone I could
And again on this eventful day, he turned up knowing exactly what I needed: for
someone not to say anything, but instead just to sit with me. He completely ignored
his mother’s sobs as he only had eyes for me, walking quickly over to my bed and
wrapping his arms around me. He pulled me onto his lap and once again I seemed
to fit perfectly as he cocooned me, wrapping his arms around my back, his warmth
spreading through me like a drug. We were both seniors but he looked older,
probably due to the growth spurt he had had over the summer. At six foot one he
was a whole seven inches taller than me and had these tanned muscular arms that
were freakishly strong, probably due to his part-time job as a labourer on the local
farm. His dark blond hair spent most of the time being brushed back from his
forehead, as it always fell into his eyes, but it always really suited him that way. One
of the things I loved most about him were his eyes, which sparkled different shades
of emerald green and I swear just looking at them let me know how he was feeling.
On that day they had been a dull green.
I know the way I’m describing him might make you wonder why I’m not talking
about him as something more than just a friend, but that’s the complicated part. You
see, my feelings for him are purely platonic, but I don’t think he feels the same. The
way Eli looks at me sometimes…the subtle hints…the way he grabs my hand and
won’t let go, I think he wants something more and I’m not sure what to do about it.
And however selfish this might sound, I need him in my life and can’t mess up our
friendship, even to see if there could possibly be something more to our relationship.
What if it all went wrong?
“Hey Thea,” Eli had whispered into my ear. “Mom says that when you’re
discharged you’re coming home with us, period. No arguing.” I’d squeezed him back,
gratefully burying my face in the crook of his neck, unable to communicate how
much he and his family meant to me. At least they would be able to keep the
loneliness at bay.
We sat like that for ages, me just breathing in his woody, musky smell, wondering
how I was meant to function again. He twisted strands of my dark brown hair around
his fingers and occasionally stroked his thumb along the side of my chin in a
soothing manner. I could hear his mother and father in deep discussions with the
police officers, and heard them say it was a miracle I was alive. Tell me about it. The
only other person who had been around was Eli’s four-year- old sister Leela, who
kept coming up with big, round, sad eyes, patting me on the leg whilst trying to get
me to take Buggles, her much loved toy rabbit. She had known something was
wrong and had tried her hardest to fix it in the only way she knew how.
That was four months ago, and although I’ve spent most of my time since then
feeling numb and totally lost, I have begun to smile again and do normal things like
getting up in the morning and going to school. If only these dreams would go away.
There was nothing I could do about what had happened, but still my brain was
making me re-play it over and over again. However, this latest dream was different.
Whenever I had dreamt about the crash, before the part where the orange glow
appeared, I could see the faces of the bystanders with their horrified looks as we
began to tip over. But this last time there was another face of a man who looked at
me – and I mean really looked at me – as though he knew me. For some reason his
eyes glowed with an intense ferocity and the sneer on his face only added to the
anger that seemed to radiate off him. I couldn’t work out what I had ever done to him,
or why I hadn’t seen him in my dreams before.
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Dear Miss Rebecca Esmeralda Underhill,
Please accept our deepest sympathies concerning the loss of your grandmother, Flora Esmeralda
Freestone. She was much loved and well-respected in our community.
As per her documented wishes, the ownership of her property on 10510 East Lost Branch Run
passes to you. This transfer has been filed in our office. At the request of High Priest Logan
Dennehy, all council members have voted to reinstate you as a member of Coon Hollow Coven
after your absence of twenty years.
However, despite Coon Hollow Coven being your birthplace, a majority indicated the lapsed
time was sufficient cause to withhold transfer of Ms. Freestone’s ceremonial standing to you,
which customarily would accompany a property transference to blood kin of adult age. For
explanation of how you may attain ceremonial approval in your name, please visit the council
office at 50013 Owls Tail Creek Road.
Enclosed, please find pamphlets describing the expected dress and personal property code of our
coven, which adheres to the time period in which the coven was founded in 1935. This is to best
protect our witchcraft traditions.
Coon Hollow Coven Council, secretary
Esme’s gaze fixed on the words that acknowledged her as the property owner. She’d
never lived alone. First her mom, then a roommate and finally Doug. Esme’s shoulders
straightened and chest lifted with strength and independence at the thought of owning her own
place. But, why wasn’t she approved for ceremonial status? Her hands gripped the edge of the
table, knuckles whitening, and her heart raced. It’s not fair. I won’t be accepted as a healer. Only
children not yet graduated from the coven’s secondary school were kept from participating fully
in ceremonies. Esme loved learning the ways of a hedge witch and helped Gram every summer
from grade school through college. Fascinated with tending Gram’s plants, Esme even studied
botany in college.
The research company she worked for had already accepted her request to work offsite
and study mystic plants…at the stipulation she be reduced to part-time. She needed work here as
a healer to supplement her income. She’d assumed incorrectly that her experience with Gram and
college studies would’ve qualified her as an accepted healer. Her standing in the coven would be
important to patrons, all except Gram’s closest friends who knew Esme well. An attempt at
independence seemed bound to fail before she started.
Her gaze drifted to the name used in the letter’s greeting. She hadn’t seen her full name in
print for decades. It didn’t even appear on her birth certificate, which labeled her as Rebecca E.
Underhill, one of the many things her mother insisted upon. Mother wanted nothing to do with
the coven or witchcraft and said, “Esmeralda sounds too much like a witch. No need to
encourage the darkness out.” Grudgingly, she accepted her own mother’s middle name for her
child to uphold custom. Esme never understood Mother’s view since Gram was well-respected
for her kind and gentle strength by all who knew her.
To Esme’s Indianapolis friends, she was Becky. Only her mother addressed her as
Rebecca. But inside, she was Esme. Gram had always called her that, or Esmeray in carefree
moments. Her middle name suited the mystic inside Esme, something Gram must have known. If
only Esme could use Gram’s last name Freestone. Underhill felt like a lead weight.
Esme set the letter aside and paced the length of the rag runner through the small kitchen.
Frustration wound her along a circular track through the sitting room, to her closet-sized guest
room, and back. The space was too small to work answers out of her tangled mind. On the
second pass, she sank onto the goose down comforter of Gram’s iron bed. Billowing fluff
sheltered her from the problems. Gram’s linens, scented with homegrown lavender and rose
sleep liniment, comforted Esme and tugged on her eyelids.
She forced her eyes open and pushed herself up and off the bed. Hiding wasn’t the way to
begin this fresh start in life. She’d done enough kowtowing to stronger wills, letting Doug and
her mother run over her. At the back door, she paused long enough to grab a rain parka and
pulled it on as she strode outside.
Gram’s cat, Dove, zipped alongside with a sharp meow, slipping out before the door
closed. Esme smiled, grateful the tomcat kept Gram company during her illness. She’ doted on
the smoky blue stray that happened into her garden one early fall afternoon and never left. Gram
swore he was an omen and chose his name ‘cause of his white-winged breast patch. She used to
say, “One day soon my spirit will fly on those outspread wings, and together Dove and me we’ll
roam the wooded hills.” Gram loved those hills. Thinking about the hills drew Esme to gather
Dove and head outside.
Ice still peppered down, adding more layers to the spiky crystalline grass blades. A
breeze blew at Esme’s back. She allowed the wind to guide her toward the woods behind the
cabin. At the trailhead, ice coating the bittersweet vine berries glistened the same shade of blue
she’d rubbed from Dove’s coat. Alert to the strange color, she followed a line of branches
dangling sky blue icicles, each one more fanciful and richer in hue than the last. A beautiful play
of light, ranging from cerulean to ultramarine. Even worth the chill at her ankles, which were
bare in her cropped jeans.
Whenever Esme paused to marvel at the colored icicles, Dove pawed them and then
dodged when they dropped.
Minutes later and deeper in the forest, the ice pelted heavier, and Esme reached for the
hood of her raincoat. Strands of hair fell forward, woven with frozen ultramarine threads. The
same purplish tint coated twigs along the path. Light from the sky reached this far into the woods
since all but the oak trees had lost their leaves. The unusual color couldn’t be caused by light
refraction. She’d never seen any rain, sleet, or snow like this, not even in the Hollow. Grammy
had taught her a little about omens. Was this a sign?
Esme scurried along the trail, sliding at times and spotting richer and deeper shades of
purple and red-violets. At the far side of the woodlot, iris-hued spider webs clung to berry
brambles. She gasped at the beauty. Tempted to touch, she extended a hand but at the last instant
A deep groan echoed from the adjoining property ahead.
She snatched her hand back and scanned for some god of nature angry at her ruinous
attempt. Grappling for Dove, Esme crouched behind a thicket.
The cat gave a single hiss, then clung to her leg.
In the distance, a big middle-aged man, both tall and wide, staggered behind a shed,
dragging a long, clumsy load wrapped and tied into a blanket. His balding head snapped in her
direction, eyes wide and face blanched gray-white. “Who’s there?” His booming voice sliced the
delicate webs from their branches. Crimson freezing rain assaulted both trail and yard.
Esme froze, afraid to move and attract his attention. Her heart, drumming against her ribs,
threatened to give her away. She wanted to run home. But if the colored ice omen was meant for
her, she needed to stay and learn its meaning. Could the man see the omen?
Thankfully, her cover must’ve fooled Baldy. He resumed lugging the limp bundle, and
didn’t seem affected by the magical ice.
From between the tangle of branches, Esme studied him.
His wet, black shirt clung to his round belly. Blood-red ice coated his load, tracing the
outline of a human body. Smaller than his, probably a female. Was she dead? Of natural causes?
Or had he murdered her? The thought wrapped around Esme’s breath and trapped it deep in her
lungs. Her legs twitched. Gaze riveted on Baldy, she positioned to bolt from potential danger.
He rolled the body into a depression Esme couldn’t see.
She leaned to one side, bracing herself with a hand on the ground.
Over what looked like a freshly dug grave, Baldy grunted as he shoveled and kicked dirt
and large rocks. Clumps of red clung to long strands of his comb-over, now hanging along one
ear. Was it ice or real blood?
Dove huddled closer, and Gram’s voice from years ago spoke in Esme’s mind. “Blood
ice is stained with revenge.”
Crimson liquid dripped from the man’s eyes and fell from grimacing jowls. The face of a
© Copyright 2016 Marsha A. Moore. All rights reserved.
Tea Leaf Tales: Which Yule Tree Will Pick Me?
Fantasy Flash Fiction by Marsha A. Moore
I suck in a gulp of thick, pine-scented air, faced with the difficult question—which one. I tick through the usual criteria—fullness, tightly attached needles, correct height. Beyond that the trouble begins for me when I consider needle length, color, tightness of branches.
Needles crunch under the soles of my shoes as I slowly pass down the row, hoping one tree chooses me. Those I don’t give a full inspection slyly begin to stretch their postures more erect before I turn completely away. If I pause to admire one, branches brush past the backs of my legs until I turn around and give that tree a careful look.
Ahead in the center of the display, I hear voices in foreign languages—hurried bits of anxious dialog that quiet as I grow near.
One small blue spruce tries his best to stretch taller but cannot reach up to his neighbors, so I lean in and whisper, “If you talk to me, I’ll take you home.”
I wait, determined, and the nearby treetops bend over the tiny spruce until finally a gentle tinkling begins deep inside at its trunk, radiating to the tips of the boughs at my side. I caress the singing branch, then wave an arm to the shop owner.
Tea Leaf Tales is a series of original ten-sentence short stories by Marsha A. Moore, relating to photos/scenes that resonate with her. Read more Tea Leaf Tales archived in Marsha’s Mercantile of Tea Leaf Tales.
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