The Ghost of a Rose

 

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Chapter 1: Invader Zim makes Friendships

When my Nightmare Before Christmas alarm clock went off singing, "This is Halloween," I pulled my purple with black bat printed pillow over my head and groaned into my black bed sheets. Not only was this stupid town filled with backwards people who stared at a girl who preferred black lipstick to pink, but for some unfathomable reason, I hadn’t gotten one decent night’s rest since we moved here.

 Don’t get me wrong. I loved the night as much as the next girl, but there was a limit to how many nights I could spend staring at the ceiling. The first night, I thought that it was probably because the house looked weird to me, but yesterday we had put up all our saint icons, arranged the furniture, and moved around all the stuff in each of our rooms until everyone was satisfied. Of course it was as I was feeling like shit that my oh so lovely sister chose to barge into my room.

She had the reddish-brown skin that revealed our long forgotten Native American heritage with strawberry blond hair and dark green eyes. In other words, she was an exact replica of our Cajun mom, even at only twelve years old.

I rolled over and death glared her, but she only rolled her eyes and said, "Mom an' dad said dat yer walkin' us ta school taday an' we can't leave withou' ya, so could ya get up already?"

I closed my eyes and mentally counted to three while reminding myself that going to jail for murdering my sister would only result in damning my soul and would not help me get back to New Orleans any faster.

When I opened my eyes to retort, she had already left. Forcing myself up, I made my way to the bathroom with my makeup, towel, and clothes in hand. I was dressed in a black tank top and Wolfman boxers, but staring at myself in the mirror, I could see the bags that had developed under my eyes from the last couple of nights and thought that I looked like death-and not the good kind.

After, I dug around the white wooden drawers of the bathroom for the bandages that we normally kept handy and when I finally found them, I dumped them on top of my clothes and towel. I then removed my clothes and bandages, and tossed said bandages in the trash before showering.

When my quick ten minute shower ended, I put on new bandages over my bruises that I had gotten from my match with dad to get me to start talking again. And no, I am not under child abuse. In my family, we fight out our problems until the both of us are satisfied. Well, except for my mom, but she was smart that way.

I then wore my underwear, and donned a long-sleeved black t-shirt and black jeans. After, I combed through my hair and let it fall to the small of my back so that it would help to hide my bandages. Finally, I put on my signature crucifix chocker, lipstick, and eyeliner–all in black. And on a last minute decision, I decided to change things up by putting gray eye shadow to finish my look.

Then I went back to my room, put on fingerless black leather gloves and black combat boots before I grabbed my black cat backpack and cell. Because I knew it would annoy them, I stomped downstairs to my disgruntled siblings.

Sophia exclaimed, "Finally! Could ya be any slower?"

I glared, "Respek yer elders, Sophia."

She scoffed, "Like yer an elder an' dem eyes of yers don't scare me."

Deciding that talking to her would only serve in making my bruises ache more than they already did, I ignored her and turned to John. He was an exact fourteen year-old copy of our Japanese father with a lean build, Asian features, and midnight black hair and eyes.

In contrast to both of them, I had always had the same coloring as my dad and the short Japanese height, but my mom’s Cajun features and body.

John was also the most laid back of the three of us so I asked, "Ya ready?"

He nodded and I grabbed the map that my dad put on the ice box* and said, "Allon!"

I let my siblings walk a couple steps ahead of me while I listened to Andrée Lescot sing to me the lyrics of oldies like "Chere Mo Lemme Toi" in my grandmother's preferred tongue. At the same time, I would tell them where to turn so that we'd reach our schools in time.

As we walked, I thanked God for modern technology and shuddered at the thought of spending twenty minutes listening to my sister nagging me on how we were going to be late instead of my music. Thankfully, with my headphones on, John was able to distract her until we dropped her off at her school and made our way across the street to our school.

**********

By the time lunch rolled around, I was convinced that everyone in this school was insane. Not only did I just learn today that this school started at freaking 7:30 in the morning instead of the normal 8:30 am I was used to, but when I walked into second period Biology, the weird teacher starting getting all shocked that a transfer student was coming and even made me do so lame introduction, but naturally I managed to freeze up the room with a single sentence.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I would have to take P.E. for the next two freaking years! I had always been fit from my dad’s nightly aikido lessons that he forced me and my siblings to do, but that was to defend myself and forced exercise was not really my thing. Ignoring my prison that I was stuck in for the next two years, I examined the battle at hand: lunch.

Experience taught me that the shortest was so small because the food didn’t deserve that title, while the longest had the best food, but by the time you got any, the bell would ring. As for the middle, it could go either way. Meaning it could be slightly more edible than the shortest line or good, but not at the same level as the longest line.

Deciding to take a gamble, I went for the line that was in between, which was situated on the right. While I waited for my food, I put on my headphones and adjusted my music on my cell so that I was listening to Visual Kei songs like Alive’s “Uso To Keiyaku.” 

As I listened, I scanned the cafeteria. I spotted John with a group of people so didn’t have to worry about him being stuck alone. With that confirmation, my eyes quickly moved to the rest of the cafeteria. I noticed that there were some tables that the majority of students would avoid for some unseen reason.

I counted five of these tables. And, what would you know, one of these tables had people who dressed in the same style as me, but unlike my friends back home, there was some bad mojo coming off of these people. My dad taught me to always trust my instincts so when I finally got my food, I decided to head for the table that had my lab partner instead of the table that held other Goths to avoid getting into a fight with them for pissing me off.

Decision made, I turned off my music and stuffed my cell into my jeans with one hand and held my tray with the other while avoiding passing teens. We hadn’t spoken, but she didn’t give me the creeper vibes that the people sitting in the five tables had, so I figured it was a good fit. Plus, if I found them too annoying, I could always move.

Going up to her, I asked, “Yer Reina, non?”

She turned to me and said, “Miyuki? Aren’t you going to sit with them?”

Sparing a glance at the table of people who dressed like me, I replied, “Dey’re not my sor’, but if ya don’t want me her’ I’ll leave.”

As I turned to go, she said, “Wait! I’m sorry. I just assumed from how you dressed that you were with them.”

She then made room for me and I set down my bag in my lap and my tray on the table in front of me. I had lucked out in the fact that the in between line had a cheeseburger and fries with either milk or orange juice. I had opted for orange juice and thanked God for my gamble actually working.

There were only two other guys in the table so this was probably just a small group of friends. The guy across from me had sandy-blond hair and brown eyes with a skinny build and nerdy features.  In comparison, the guy next to him had curly red hair, green eyes, and freckles spread out over his face, and a lean build.

Reina said, “Guys, this is my lab partner Miyuki whom we met on Saturday.”

I questioned, “We met?”

The guy across from me replied, “You were implying that me and my friend here were missing some of our male parts…”

“Ah! Ya were dose people from de fountain!”

The guy next to him started laughing-and not just a little chuckle, but full blown laughter.

He only stopped laughing when he said, “Ouch! What did you do that for, Reina?”

“Garrett, you’re being rude. Sorry about that. I’ve known these two since we were in diapers. As you know, I’m Reina. The laughing idiot is Garrett and the sarcastic one is Ethan.”

They weren’t my usual crowd, but they would do for now so I said, “Name’s Miyuki. It’s a Pleasure ta meet y’all.”

After, we exchanged numbers and to my surprise, I actually had things in common with these people. Reina had noticed my Invader Zim pencil sharpener from class and I discovered that all three were fans of the series so we ended up spending the rest of lunch talking about it while we ate our food. After that conversation, I felt confident in the character of these people. After all, any fan of Invader Zim couldn’t be all bad.

My next class was PE which I surprisingly had with all three. Before heading in, Reina went with me to talk to the coach about getting me a uniform and locker. He handed me a paper with my locker combination and number along with a white T-shirt that had the school logo and green knee-length shorts. I swear that I felt my eye twitch at the sight of them, but I didn’t feel up for another sparring match with my dad just yet, so for once, I kept my mouth shut when he handed me the uniform.

In the girl’s changing room, I saw Reina’s eyes pop out at the sight of my bandages. I suppose that they did make it seem worse than it actually was and I probably shouldn’t have laughed, but I couldn’t help, but chuckle at her expression.

After, I explained, “Relax. I do aikido wit ma dad an’ we pissed each other off so much dat on Saturday, we beat de crap out ’a each other.”

She nodded at this piece of information while still eyeing my bandages. At least she went back to changing after I covered most of them back up with my PE uniform.

In the gym, we scanned the group of chatting teens for Garrett and Ethan. When we walked up to them they, too, stared at my bandages so I gave them the same schpeal I gave Reina. Unlike Reina, they visibly relaxed after my explanation.

Soon after, class started. The coach had put me in the back of the indoor gym for the warm-up exercises and after those were done, it was announced that we would be playing dodge ball so they segregated the boys and girls into different parts of the gym. The girls got the front half, over by the doors to the locker rooms while the boys got the back half over by nothing, but the bleachers and white concrete wall.

As we separated, most of the class had looks of dread and grumbles. While Reina and I waved bye to Garrett and Ethan, I didn’t expect to see the look of pure, undulated hatred that passed through two of the girls’ eyes. One of them had her golden-brown locks in a ponytail via a green scrunchie, a tall athletic body, and green gold-eyes. The other had her silvery-blond hair in a pixie cut, wore red lipstick, and black eyeliner, pierced her ears with studs, and a willowy frame that matched her dark brown eyes.

Looking at them, I groaned at the thought of being dragged into their bitch-fight. When these same girls were picked as the two team captains, that groan became audible.

Reina whispered, “What’s wrong?”

“Our team captains are out fer each oder’s blood.”

“You’re pretty perceptive.”

“What’d ya mean?”

“The blond haired one is Ariel Silver and the brown haired one is Sarah Lysander. Both of them belong to different cliques of the five-“

“Five? Who da hell are de five?”

“Not who, but what are the five is the better question. No one knows too much about them, but they are five groups of about seven families each that control the town. There isn’t a business except for Henry’s Diner that isn’t owned by one of the five in town. Most people tend to steer clear of them, but between each other, they have a rivalry and rumor has it that back in freshman year, Sarah stole Ariel’s boyfriend so now whenever they’re in the same room, they end up creating a battlefield from anything they can think of.”

“So, basically we’re screwed?”

“Pretty much.”

I really wanted to bang my head against something at this new piece of information. The only bright side was that by some stroke of luck, Reina and I both got put on Sarah’s team so we at least wouldn’t be forced to try to kill the other by Sarah and Ariel.

The one frightening part was when, right before the game started, Sarah said, “If I see one of you girls try to get out early, you’ll answer to me” while making eye contact with each of us.

Well, that’s one tactic to get people serious.

Not like I cared. It would take a lot more than some bitchy, hormonal teenage girl to get me serious about freaking dodge ball. Although, it could serve to be great practice for my footwork. In aikido, being able to dodge or land a hit correctly depended on your feet so it would be good practice to get used to moving my feet in such a stressful environment while still being weighed down by my combat boots.

By the time the whistle blew to signal the start of the game, my feet had already reverted to its L-shaped stance so that when the first ball was thrown, I moved out of the way. For a while, the rest of the noise disappeared as I concentrated on avoiding the coming balls. It was only when I had to roll to avoid three oncoming balls that I realized there were only about five other people on my team left and four on Ariel’s. Not only that, but other than me, everyone was from one of those tables that everyone was avoiding at lunch so I at least knew who “the Five” were now.

Should I purposely get hit and bow out?

Sarah yelled, “Bandages, if you let yourself get hit when you can move, you’re dead!”

Or not because, you know, that works too…

 No sooner had she said that then I noticed a targeted attack towards myself by Ariel’s team. I naturally was able to avoid every ball trying to pummel me into oblivion and while I was doing that, Sarah and her people took the balls I dodged and started taking out each of Ariel’s team members domino style. It was only as Ariel herself was knocked out that I came to an epiphany.

What the hell?! Did they think I was the weakest link?!

I have been a lot of things in my life, but this was the first time I had ever been targeted because I seemed like easy picking compared to everyone else.

After the game ended, Sarah went up to me and said, “Not bad bandages, but where did you learn to move like that?”

Dumbly, I answered, “I’ve been doin’ aikido since I was four.”

“Well whatever that is, not bad-”

 Before she could make me some offer that would cause me trouble, and another sparring match if I refused, I said, “My friends are waitin’ fer me.”

Seeing that she was about to retort, I quickly moved into the crowd of girls who had been benched early on to look for Reina. Soon after I located her, we were all called for last roll-call and then released to the locker rooms to change before our next classes.

Surprisingly, the rest of the day went by without incident. After school, John and I got our textbooks and IDs and then went to pick up Sophia. Of course when the twerp came with her textbooks in hand, she nagged me about making her late and even made it sound like it was my fault that she had to carry textbooks for the twenty minutes it took to walk home! I swear the little brat could make a saint into a criminal if you listened to her long enough. As if I even knew that classes started at such an ungodly hour!

  When our parents got back at six, my mom started cooking dinner, but my dad started rummaging through the drawers for some tea. This was not good. There were only two reasons that my dad drank tea. The first was to wake him up in the morning and it being six pm, that theory was obviously botched. The second was that someone he couldn’t touch had majorly ticked him off.

Stupidly, I asked, “Dad, ya okay?”

“Fine.”

He’s reverted to one word answers. Never a good sign.

“Mom!”

“Yes, shaa?

“What happen ta dad taday?”

“Oh, dat! Our supervisor was bein’ an ass an’ yer dad was tryin’ ta make de situation right, but ended up bein’ blamed fer startin’ de whole mess.”

Ignoring her, my dad started muttering a bunch of choice explicatives in Japanese as he continued to rummage through the drawers.

“Dey must ‘ave really gotten under yer skin.”

He closed his eyes and started to take deep breathes.

“Well, ya know what can make ya feel betta?”

“What?”

“Goin’ campin’ dis weeken’.”

At this, his lips started to curve into a smile and he said, “It has been awhile and your mom and I don’t work on the weekends so OK.”

I smiled at that, but felt my smile drop when he told me to call my siblings so that we could do our nightly practice sessions as we waited for dinner to be cooked. And when two hours later, mom called for us to get ready for dinner, all three of us almost cried tears of joy at having this training session end. This was why, in the old days, warriors were supposed to be emotionless. When you let your emotions overtake you, people that didn’t deserve the backlash got hit with training from hell.

Thankfully, my dad was able to control his emotions for the rest of the week. As for me, I had surprisingly found myself fitting in nicely with Reina, Garrett, and Ethan. Even when we met outside of school, we managed to find something to talk about and enjoy ourselves, and before I knew it, the week had passed us by in a flash and it was the day of the camping trip.

Looking back, I often wondered that if I hadn’t gone would things have been different?

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Chapter Two: Camping and a Witch Who is not a Witch

The next day, my alarm clock woke me up at nine am and I quickly got showered and dressed before picking up my black military-grade backpack that had my share of the supplies dad and I needed for camping. Downstairs John was playing on the X-box in the living room while mom and Sophia slept. Both never woke up before noon on Saturdays, but John had always been an early riser.

My dad was already in the kitchen filling up our water bottles while he put some bread in the toaster.

Like every week, I went to John and asked, “Wanna come?”

And like always, he would not let his eyes leave the screen and reply, “An’ spen’ over twenty-four hours outside? Danks, but I’ll pass.”

Shrugging, I went back to the kitchen and picked up my toast to eat. Dad handed me six water bottles and kept six for himself before eating his toast too.

“You ready, Miyuki?”

Hai.

We then loaded up the car with our backpacks and drove about fifteen miles out of town to the part of the forest that was okay for hitchhikers. Dad then parked the car and I jumped out to get my backpack. It was fall, but still a lot colder than back home so I was glad I dressed heavily in black thermal military pants, a t-shirt, and a thick sweater with gloves. In a similar fashion, my dad dressed in green army pants, brown combat boots, dark blue gloves, and a white t-shirt with a thick gray sweater over his shirt.

After we had both our backpacks strapped on, my dad made sure the car was locked properly, and we took a sip from one of our many water bottles before he started leading us down the direction of the campsite with his compass and the map as a guide.

As we walked, we enjoyed the companionable silence that we offered each other and took in the new surroundings so different from the bayou we had grown accustomed to seeing each week. The land here was dryer than back home. There had always been areas of thick mud where you least expected it in the bayou, but there was none of that here. When we walked, the only thing our feet touched was the hard dirt and stray branches and leaves that littered the path. To be honest, it was rather refreshing, but at the same time a little odd. I kept expecting some random body of water to appear, but the path never changed from the forest we walked through.

And this wasn’t the only thing that amazed me. When I looked at the colors, I felt as if I was walking in some children’s fairytale book. The trees were so many colors. I spotted yellow, orange, red, brown, and only a smattering of green. Back home, the bayou had always been green year round. In the fall there would be a slight yellowing on some of the foliage, but green still remained dominant. As someone who normally avoided bright colors, I found it to be very unsettling to walk through all of these colors and only hoped that as time went on I would get used to it.

After a couple of hours, I got my wish for a body of water as we stumbled upon a natural creek that had been formed by the gray boulders around the area.

My dad said, “If we follow this, it should lead to the Saint John River in about two hours. When we get to the basin of the river, we can set up camp for the night.”

I nodded my ascent and after we went back to getting a lay of the land. Normally we would have chatted a little, but the first few times we would probably save that for when we set up camp because we didn’t know the trail and area that well yet. From past experiences, my dad knew that a lot can happen in the forest and unless you knew the land like the back of your hand, it was best to keep silent while moving so we kept up our silence and took in the scenery as we moved along the creek, jumping over stray boulders and branches that attempted to bar our way.

Before we knew it, we had come to the basin of the river, but unlike back home, the area around it wasn’t muddy so it was a good place to set up camp. I set down my bag and started clearing away some of the stray leaves so we would have an appropriate place for our campfire. While I did that, my dad got out some of the firewood from his pack. Looking at the sun, it looked to be only a couple hours after noon so we didn’t have to set it up just yet, but it was good to be prepared.

After , we both set up our respective tents and put our sleeping bags and backpacks inside. With that done, I got a wrapped box and waited outside for my dad sitting on the dirt with my legs crisscrossed. My dad looked at our campsite for a second, and seeming pleased, plopped down next to me. We then did our prayers and started eating the three grilled ham and cheese sandwiches that my mom had prepared for us to take on Friday night.

With our hunger sated and thirst quenched for the time being, my dad checked the time on his cell and said, “It’s about four so we have two hours until the sun sets.”

“De sun sets early her’.”

He shrugged and smiled, “No matter. Can you go gather the stones we’ll need for the campfire and after there is a small hill near hear that we can go explore.”

“What about our stuff?”

If we take our bags, we should be fine. As for the tents, whatever happens, happens. I forgot that we don’t know the area too well, but we haven’t come across any hitchhikers yet so it should be fine.”

Nodding, I went and collected about fifteen good sized stones and returned with the bundle in my arms about twenty minutes later. When I came back, dad had started arranging the firewood how he wanted and took my stones to put in a circle around the firewood and with that done, we took off for the hill he was talking about.

It was about a good forty-five minutes until we reached the top, but the view was incredible. It felt like you could see the entire forest spread out before you and spotting our campsite, I realized that we were at a much higher evaluation, than I had thought we were. Looking at the forest always made me realize how small we really were. It was easy to see why people who had grown up with all this around them instead of man-made cities and structures didn’t believe that they were alone, but instead shared the world with creatures of all shapes and sizes.

After we enjoyed the view for a few minutes, we hiked back down to our campsite in thirty minutes, making it just as the sun was beginning to set. Thankfully, my dad’s gamble had worked and nothing was stolen. We then took out two thick pieces of cloths and unwrapped it to find the salted fish my mom had prepared the night before. My dad then handed me two iron pokers that I used to stab my two fish with in a quick move that I had done a million times before. After we stabbed our pokers with the fish on the high end of the stick, we jammed the pokers into the dirt, on opposite sides of the fire before my dad ignited the campfire with a red lighter. The fish lay about half an inch above the fire as my dad and I looked at it gluttonously. After a long day of hiking, there was nothing like grilled fish and water around a campfire.

To distract ourselves from our stomachs, we sat on opposite sides of the fire and started telling scary stories. The mood was just right for it. The sun had just set and we could glimpse the waxing crescent moon and stars hanging high above the sky. I suppose that this was one good thing about moving out here. Even in the bayou, it could be hard to see some of the stars because of the nearby towns and cities, but out here, there were more than I could ever hope to count and they seemed to go on forever.

My dad had just finished telling me the story of how a man had become a gaki or “hungry ghost” when it was my turn to tell a tale so I started,

“When de first settlers came ta dis her’ town from Ireland, dere once was a lady wit hair an’ eyes as black as de night dat came wit her husband. Dis lady loved growin’ dings an’ when she came she brought rose seeds wit her so dat she could grow her roses.

“Now, her an’ her husband had a cottage an’ her roses were de best in de whole town. Der were all sorts of colors: red, white, yellow, purple, pink, an’ so on. Oder dan her prized roses, she had all kinds of plants an’ herbs dat she would make fer the townspeople when dey got sick.

“Now, de oder townswomen got jealous of her an’ dey call her a witch. At first dey were tiny rumors, but in time dey grew so much dat one night while she was tendin’ her roses, dey took her an’ dey burned her at de stake. She looked ta her husband, but even he had believed dose rumors so he wouldna help her. So the lady stopped her screamin’ an’ dey burned her, but after she saw her husband’s eyes, she didna utter ‘nother word.

“When she was a pile of ashes, her husband went back to de cottage dey shared ta find dat it had vanished an’ dey say on nights when de moon is high in de sky dat de witch will lead ya ta her cottage, but her roses dat were once colorful are now died a deep blue fer de sadness she felt at her husband’s betrayal.”

When I finished the urban legend, my dad took the cloths and handed me my fish with the cloth wrapped around it so that my hands wouldn’t burn from the hot iron of the poker.

After taking his own poker with the cloth used to wrap the fish, we did our prayers, and then, my dad asked, “Where did you hear that story?”

I answered, “On Friday, after I saw a movie wit ma friends, we exchanged stories an’ dis is apparently some urban legend dat de town has.”

He nodded and we continued eating our fishes. When we finished, my dad got up and stretched.

He said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired after today. See you in the morning. And, Miyuki?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t go chasing witches in the dark.”

I rolled my eyes at that before I also stretched and crawled into my tent to pass out for the night. It was a long hike back to the car tomorrow and I would need my rest.

**********

In the dead of the night, I opened my eyes to the sound of a woman singing. I couldn’t understand what was being said, and whenever I tried to catch the words, they would disappear from my mind, but that’s what I heard: the soft lilting voice of a woman singing in the dead of the night.

In curiosity, I put on my combat boots and went out to investigate, but when I exited, the sound had stopped. Even when I investigated my dad’s tent to see if it had woken him up, he was sound asleep. It was only as I went to open up my tent flap again that it started up again.

Looking back, I supposed that it was in the magic of the forest at night. That first night it was as unfamiliar to me and held as much mystery as the first settlers must have seen so many centuries ago. That voice seemed to hold the wishes of my childhood to be able to meet a magical creature like the yokai stories and myths I have heard and read a thousand times. It was these feelings so foreign, yet familiar that led me to follow that voice against my better judgment.

As I walked, the most miraculous thing happened. The dirt and leaves that I walked through slowly and subtly began to change into snow and suddenly, amidst the white wonderland stood before me a cottage and surrounding this cottage was a garden, but not just any garden. No, this was a garden of blue roses, as beautiful and sad as I had imagined them being when I first heard this town’s urban legend.

In wonder, my boots crunched the snow as I wandered among the deep blue roses that gave off too sweet a scent to be real. And then I found the source of the voice sitting with a book in her hands on a stone bench underneath an arch made out of the roses that this garden contained. At first I felt excitement. I would be meeting a real life witch. I wonder what the right thing to say is when you meet a witch.

She had long black straight hair, like mine and a blue and silver gown that any Elizabethan lady going to court would envy. Her skin was perilously fair. I never would have used that word to describe someone before, but if I could describe her, that’s what she seemed to me: perilously. It was only when she looked up and my black eyes met her silvery-blue ones that I felt disappointed. This wasn’t the witch. The witch had black hair and black eyes.

The girl said something, but I couldn’t understand her. As my eyebrows furrowed in confusion, the lady, as I liked to think of her because I couldn’t tell her real age, rolled her eyes in the cross-cultural symbol of annoyance. She then set aside her book and stretched out her hand. I’m not sure why she held out her hand to me, but she didn’t give me the scary feeling that “The Five” gave so without hesitation, I took her hand, only to immediately regret my decision.

When I took it, the sharpest pain took hold of my head. It was like dying, having your period, and giving birth all at the same time. It hurt so bad and I couldn’t let go of her hand. All I could do was scream and pray for the pain to end. And, blissfully, I was released as I felt myself turn to oblivion.

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Marmar Zakher

Any and all feedback would be appreciated so that I can improve the story.

Chapter Three: To Become the Student of a Witch Who is not a Witch

When I awoke, I thought that I had had the strangest dream. I dreamt that the urban legend that my new friends had told me about was real and that I met a real life witch, but she ended up killing me in the most painful way imaginable.

In a language I shouldn't have understood, but did, a voice said, "It's about time. Do you know how annoying it is to wait for you humans to wake up. I swear, the only worse one is Jane."

Looking for the source of the voice, I didn't find anything except a grey cat sitting on the bed. My eyes widened when I realized that I was on a bed and that the room that surrounded me looked like some Elizabethan-era cottage. All the furniture were made of some unidentifiable wood, the bed was thicker than any I had ever felt, and I wouldn't be surprised, if at this point, the pillows had real feathers in them.

In that same language, I said, "Is anyone there?"

When I spoke I put a hand at my throat. My accent was gone! My lovely, wonderful, awesome Cajun accent that even stuck out when I spoke Japanese or French had disappeared! What type of twisted nightmare was this?!

Amidst my panic attack, a voice said, "I'm down here girlie!"

Looking down, I muttered, still in that strange language, "Funny, for a second there I could have sworn that the cat was talking to me."

"That's because I am talking to you! I swear humans!"

"Miyuki, you've finally lost it," I muttered.

A soft lilting voice said, "I assure you that you are not insane."

Turning, I saw the lady from my dream and exclaimed, "You're that witch from my dream!"

She rolled her eyes and said, "Girl, do I feel like a witch?"

In confusion, I said, "What?"

"When you look at me, do you see a witch or a human?"

"A human, but don't witches look like humans?"

"Hardly. Witches and the sort have their own presence completely different from mortals and I have not sunk so low to have made a bargain with some demon or devil to gain my abilities."

"Then, what are you?"

She laughed and asked, "Girl, why are you so calm?"

I answered, "Because if this is a dream than I'm going with it and if it's not, I've always wanted to have a conversation with a being that has magical powers."

"How interesting...I like you. You're not like the others who have come here. Very well, I have decided."

That same voice from earlier said, "Jane, just what is it you have decided on?"

Looking at the cat, I said, "That cat's really talking, right?"

"Yes, he's really talking," replied the witch-but-not-a-witch.

"Then to prove I'm not crazy, can you tell me what it just said."

"I'm right here, you know," interjected the cat.

With a chuckle, Jane replied, "He said, 'I'm right here, you know.'"

I sat on the bed and said, "So this is not a dream."

"It's not a dream."

"So what's going on?"

She sighed and sat on the wooden rocking chair that was in front of the 1500s-style wooden desk before she said, "I would suggest sitting for this because it may take a while."

Nodding, I sat on the edge of the bed.

She then asked, "What's your religion?"

"Religion?"

"Yes."
"It's Eastern Orthodox Christianity."

"Then you are aware of the stories of the saints and desert fathers."

"You mean like Saint Anthony?"

"Yes. The stories they tell again and again of men and women given miraculous abilities by God to do things that most would only dream of."

"Yes. What about them?"

The lady then recited, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

"Is that Genesis?"

"You know your scripture."

I shrugged and said, "What? I read the Bible every night before bed. Don't judge me."

"What if I were to tell you that once, this was taken literally? If there was once a time where many humans could speak directly to the creatures of the Earth and where a mortal's very touch could heal a man on the brink of death?"

"At first I would say you were crazy, but then I would ask for proof and if you showed me that proof, I'd think it would be kind of cool."

"Your proof is in speaking the old tongue as a native and in being able to hear Anlon, here" she said while casually pointing to the gray cat.

"So I've got powers, now?"

"You've always had them; I just opened your eyes to them."

"Does that mean everyone has powers?"

"No, for some it really has disappeared and they are truly mundane, but for others, their eyes only need to be opened. You belonged to the latter group."

I smiled and said, "Coooool. So what can I do?"

"Many things, but for now, the only thing you know how to do is 'see,' 'speak,' and 'hear.'"

"So what's your name?"

"Jane. And, you?"

"Miyuki."

"Well then Miyuki, how often do you come into the forest?"

"About once a week."

"I see. This land is separate to normal time so when you leave, it will be as if not even a second had passed on your timeline so I will call again for you next week and we will begin then."

"Why do you want to help me with my supposed powers?"

The girl smiled and said, "I have grown bored and have been looking for a student for some time and I have found your personality quite refreshing to the normal screams I get so you'll do quite nicely. Also, Anlon."

Anlon yawned and stretched as he said, "What is it?"

"Accompany her for the week. I don't want my disciple to get killed on the first week for doing something stupid."

"Do I have to?"

Jane glared and Anlon responded, "Yeah yeah yeah. I get it. Girlie follow me and when you get back remember to switch back to your usual tongue."

"How do I do that?"

Jane responded, "When you talk to a creature of the Earth such as a tree or Anlon, you will automatically switch to the old language, but when you talk in a human language, you have to concentrate for the first few seconds on that language to switch into it, but be warned if you try to respond to a creature of the Earth, you will automatically switch into the Old Language."

I nodded at that and said, "Well, see you next week."

Jane nodded her ascent and I followed Anlon out into the garden and like before, the snowy forest changed back into the dark fall forest. From here, I was able to somehow make my way back to camp and crawled into my tent to force myself to go back to sleep which was impossible when you had a naggy cat complaining the whole time and was fully rested from some sleep.

He kept on saying things like:

"If you humans invented beds why would you sleep on the ground?"

"You humans are so weird-sleeping in this cold pretend dwelling when you have warm houses."

"Girlie, you better have food back in your home."

Listening to him, I could understand why most people couldn't understand cats. If all cats really talked and thought like Anlon, they would have been extinct long ago. I had to curl into my sleeping bag so that part of it was over my ears just to block him out and get some decent sleep to prepare for the long hike back to the car tomorrow.

It was as I fell asleep that I realized the only place I've been managing to sleep in during the night was the forest.

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Chapter Four: Anlon the Annoying Talking Cat

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Chapter Five: Imperium

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Chapter Six: Bodyguards Aren't Fun

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