Estimated reading time: 19 minute(s)
“No!” cries Katie, her soft blonde ringlets bouncing around her red, tear-streaked face. Tiny fingers curl around the strap of her mother’s purse, pulling it off her shoulder.
“Katie! Now, you know better than that,” chides her mother, prying the three-year old’s fingers from the purse.
The little girl plops down on the floor of her grandmother’s living room, hiccuping as she cries. “Don’t go! I miss you.”
“Sweetheart, I have work,” Cynthia says, crouching down in front of her daughter. She reaches out and dries her tears with her thumb, offering a consoling smile. “It’ll be okay, I promise. You like playing with Grammy, don’t you?”
She nods, her lower lip jutting out. Bright hazel eyes fill with more tears. “I wanna stay with you.”
Cynthia sighs, unsure how to comfort her, but hating to leave her in such a state.
“You should stay with the girl,” says Grammy, ambling into the room with a fresh cup of tea. She wears a long, padded nightgown over her robust form. A pair of pink, fuzzy slippers clash against the yellow floral print of the gown.
“Yes! Stay! Like Grammy said!” wails Katie.
Grammy ignores Cynthia’s stern look, lowering herself with care into the ugly recliner. “Mom, I have to go to work. I have a job.”
“Psh, hogwash!” and she waves a hand toward her daughter. The intensity of the movement jars the teacup, almost sloshing the contents over the rim. “That job won’t miss you if you never come back, but your little one sure will.”
“My little one will miss food in her tummy and a roof over her head if I don’t go,” grumbles Cynthia.
“You won’t have to worry about anything so silly as money once you’ve fulfilled your destiny.” Now Grammy looks at her, eyes sharpening.
Grammy is a witch and seems to think her daughter should be one, as well. “There’s no such thing as destiny. And there’s no such thing as magic.” Cynthia smiles down at her daughter. “Except for Santa Claus.”
“Presents!” squeals Katie, no longer upset.
“Why don’t you go play in your toy room? When I come back, I’ll bring you a present, how’s that sound?”
The little girl hesitates for a moment, but then nods and runs out of the room. “Thanks for watching her, Mom.”
“The best way to thank me would be to practice your craft and fulfill – “
“Let’s not fight about this today, okay?”
“Ah, t’ hell with it,” she snaps, sipping from her teacup. The way her upper lip wrinkles reminds Cynthia that her mother is up in years and could leave her soon. Her heart squeezes and a tightness springs up in her throat.
“I love you, Mom,” she says, her voice soft. It makes her mom look up at her, concerned. Cynthia only smiles. “I’ll see you tonight, alright?”
Her mom nods, smiling back. “I love you, too, baby girl. You be safe now, you hear me?”
“Where’s my little girl?” calls Cynthia, using a sing-song voice for her daughter’s benefit. She can’t hide the box she’s carrying and she doesn’t try.
When she’s halfway down the narrow entryway into the house, Cynthia’s mom comes into her line of view. “Shhh! Katie’s asleep.”
“Already?” Cynthia checks her watch, frowning. “When did she go down for a nap?”
“Few hours ago.”
When she gets to the living room, her mom sits in her recliner and Cynthia takes the loveseat. Examining the box she brought for Katie, she grows more and more impatient to give it to her. “Well, if she’s already napped for a few hours… I mean, I wouldn’t want to wreck her sleep schedule. She won’t sleep through the night if she sleeps all day, right?”
Cynthia gets up without waiting for Grammy’s answer. She thought she saw an amused smile on her withered lips.
“Katie, baby? Mommy’s home,” she says, creaking open the bedroom door and flipping on the light.
She’s out, her head flipped to the side on the pillow and her mouth hanging open. Her little arms are on either side of her, on top of the bedspread, like she tucked herself in.
Cynthia’s surprised she’s not snoring.
Her smile falls from her face, all loving warmth doused in icy horror. She rushes to the bed to be sure, lifting her by her shoulders. She remains limp, her eyelids not even fluttering. Her daughter isn’t breathing! “Katie! Katie, baby, wake up!”
Her skin is so cold! Cynthia fights through her fear, trying to think through CPR. Placing her on the floor beside the bed, she begins chest compressions. “Katie! MOM, CALL 911! Katie, baby, come back. Come back, baby! Open your eyes!”
She breathes into her baby’s mouth, pinching her nose. She checks for a heartbeat, but everything about her child is silent. Cynthia remembers her laugh, the way she shrieks in joy when she’s excited. Her baby should never be this quiet!
Her mother comes into the room, nearly faints, and leaves. Cynthia barely registers that she was there, so focused is she on CPR. Next thing she knows, EMTs drag her from Katie to take over resuscitation efforts.
They check her pulse, exchanging regretful looks, and then turn to Cynthia. “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but she’s – “
“No! No, you have to save her! You have to save my little girl!” and she fights her way past them to continue CPR. How much time did they waste, telling her that instead of doing compressions?
“Ma’am, she’s cold. It’s too – “
“NO!” Everything goes white. When someone passes out, it’s supposed to go all black, isn’t it? But it’s so bright here. Is she dead, too? Did she die of her grief? It hurts so much, she feels like she could have.
She turns and, in the glaring white void stands her Katie. Cynthia runs for her, dropping to her knees and enveloping her in a tight embrace. “Sweetie, Mommy’s so sorry! Mommy should have stayed home with you! I’m so sorry, baby! Mommy’s so sorry!”
“It’s okay, Mommy,” she says, but her voice sounds weird. It’s like two people are talking in perfect synchronicity. “I already decided I would die today, long before I was even born.”
Cynthia pulls back from her daughter, watching her transform into a full-grown woman. Her auburn locks tumble down her curvy form in silky waves, the ends sweeping her waist. Drab clothing, the material coarse and worn, only intensifies her beauty. The dress reminds her of something from medieval times.
“Who are you?” rasps Cynthia, her voice hoarse from crying and screaming.
“I am Katie, your daughter. I am also Elisabeta Maior, your ancestor who first lived in Romania. I died in 1536.”
“What?” Katie still kneels in the white nothingness. She gets to her feet, watching the woman with her daughter’s hazel eyes. “What?” she repeats, unable to process the words.
Elisabeta/Katie smiles at her. “Suffice it to say that your mother was right all along. If you can access your magic and fulfill your destiny, then I will stay with you. If you cannot, if you will not, then I shall return to my rest until another witch is born who will accept their fate.”
Elisabeta shrinks back into Katie, who lays lifeless on the ground. The void darkens to pitch. There is nothing but Cynthia and her daughter’s corpse.
“I can’t…” she whispers, eyes welling up with tears. “I don’t know how to save her! Please! Please help me! I’ll do whatever you ask!”
[To Be Continued…?]