The scraping noise against the window was creeping me out. The vicious wind and clattering rain made the branches of a silver birch claw against it. But just then, there was another sound. Outside, something was brushing up against my stone house. Shadows flickered on the walls from the dim light of a single candle on my nightstand. Fervent knocks hammered on the glass. My fear faded. I had heard the likes of them many times before. Irked, I pressed my lips together, shaking my head as I crossed my arms after having put my book to one side on the bed. Marcus’s wild black hair appeared in view, followed by his contented smile. He fiddled his fingers in-between the gap under the sill and slid the window open, climbing inside, shaking off the rainwater like a wet dog.
“What nasty weather.”
He stripped off his jumper, allowing me a brief glimpse of his muscular abs before he tugged his t-shirt down, looking at the state of his wet trousers.
I raised my eyebrows at him. “You can come in through the door, you know.”
Jumping off the bed, I walked over to my wardrobe, bringing out a spare pair of white linen trousers that he kept at my house. I tossed them at his chest and turned my back toward him.
“I prefer not to put your family through the stress.” The strain in his voice suggested that he was struggling to get his trousers over his wet legs.
“They wouldn’t mind covering for you. They consider you a part of the family.”
Marcus strolled past me before he casually threw himself onto my bed, propping himself up on one elbow. I looked at him, alluding that he shouldn’t get any ideas; lying in my bed.
“I thought that of all evenings, you wouldn’t visit me tonight.”
I closed the book I had been reading and placed it on the nightstand.
He snorted at my assumption. “Of all nights, there isn’t another place I’d rather be.”
“Nights? You’re planning on staying overnight?”
“Do you mind?”
“The spare mattress is in its usual place, but do you really think it’s wise to stay?”
I inspected him for a moment. He was putting on a brave face, but I could see that he was suffering. He wanted to get away from it all, the gossip, the paparazzi and his family. Only his younger sister Margery hated the attention more than he did.
“Have I ever been wise?” Marcus queried playfully, trying to end our discord.
“It can be debated.”
I sat down next to him on the bed. Marcus stretched his hand forward and opened his large palm to display a bracelet. It was made up of small, black, uneven stones joined together by delicate metal chains.
“I made it for you. It’s an early birthday present.”
“But my birthday is only four days away. You can give it to me then.”
I knew why he wanted to give it to me today. He was probably as worried as I was that everything might change in the coming week.
“You know how difficult it might be for me to see you after tonight,” he whispered, threading the bracelet onto my wrist. “It’s made out of the meteor rocks that landed a two days’ ride east of the Arakzeon City fifty years ago.”
“Your grandfather’s findings? I thought they had all been hidden away.”
“Yes, true. All but these ones.”
He smiled proudly when turning it around for my viewing. “Equally as unique as you, Megan.”
“I can’t accept these. This is too much,” I murmured, my stomach churning with concern that he would get into trouble.
He poked a sharp finger into my ribs, knowing how ticklish I was. I jumped with a squeak and giggled.
“Your smile fixes everything.”
“I know, I know,” he interrupted my scorching before sighing.
“The result of the election will be revealed tomorrow and your father could become the President. How do you think he’ll react if you aren’t present at the announcement?”
“And imagine if he found out it was because I spent the night at a Navitian’s house.”
“Marcus,” I winged hopelessly, “you aren’t taking this nearly enough as seriously as you should.”
I went over to the wardrobe once more, pulling out the mattress. He moaned and pulled a face at me.
“When will you let me sleep in your bed?”
“Never,” I answered stubbornly, indicating that my assertive actions were going to mirror his stupidity.
He pushed himself off the bed and rammed into me, tipping us both over onto the mattress. The second the mattress hit the floor, he started tickling me, punishing my uncooperative behaviour. I laughed hysterically, wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, but restrained myself as much as I could so my parents wouldn’t hear me.
He rolled to one side and gazed into my eyes, pushing a few strands of my long brown hair from my face.
“I’ll leave early tomorrow morning. I promise. My father won’t even know I was gone.”
“Thank you.” His promise was enough to satisfy me.
“Should we do something we haven’t done since we were kids? Should we sneak into Mister Angry’s garden and help ourselves to some apples?”
I laughed nervously not knowing whether he was serious or just joking.
“Mister Angry must have been so pleased last year when you moved out from next door and into the Mayor’s Residence. Now, he should see a vast increase in his garden’s harvest.”
Marcus rolled his eyes at me. I love it when he did that because he only did it when he was in a good mood.
“For old times’ sake?” he urged, adding a charming wink. “Come on.”
“Marcus, we aren’t children anymore. What if the paparazzi sees you stealing, and with me?”
His shoulders lost their stoutness. “When did you become such a bore?”
I flashed him a smug grin. “When I became an adult. I’ll tell you how it feels when you’re older.”
He chuckled, knowing he was older than me. I retrieved a pillow and a blanket from the wardrobe and chucked it on the mattress. He sighed exaggeratedly before lying down, staring at the ceiling.
“If my father loses tomorrow, then, can we be together?”
I hurried to lean over the nightstand to blow out the candle.
“No, I’m serious. You can’t silence me forever. Why won’t you be with me? You can read my soul with your powers. What’s so wrong with it?”
“You know Navitians and Emphulettes aren’t allowed to share information about our powers. It scares people like your father; people with political influence.”
“I know, but I won’t be silenced by him or anyone else, when it comes to you. Using my power, I can feel that you love me more than anything else in the world. So, I steal apples sometimes, but my soul isn’t evil. I’m not my father.”
It made my heart sore when he thought there was something evil in him. I hated when he brought it up. I didn’t know how to answer him.
“Good night!” I responded sharply.
I swapped my top for my nightgown, pulling it on in the dark and crawled under my duvet. I held a deep breath, wishing for continued silence.
“If my father wins tomorrow, he’ll enforce a purely Emphulettian society. He might force your family out of the city, or…even worse things.”
His statement cut a large chunk out of my heart. I could never imagine a life without Marcus. He had been climbing into my window since he could crawl. He had walked me to school every day of my life. He had stayed with me, holding me tightly, every night there had been thunder and lightning. A tear fell from my eye and ran down my cheek.
“Good night,” I whispered, trying to silence him once again.
The blanket was lumped into a ball after Marcus had left the mattress empty during the early morning hours; just like he had promised me. Yet, his kept promise felt disappointing somehow. My room was empty and so was my heart without him. I rubbed my face, sat up and corrected my nightgown, which had twisted during the night. I stuck my feet into my slippers and slowly made my way downstairs. There was a gloomy feeling to this day that I just couldn’t put my finger on. In the kitchen, my father was packing a large basket with food supplies. The door stood wide open and I could see our horse Melroy strapped to a carriage.
“What are you doing?”
“Good morning, darling.”
Father appeared as if he had been caught off guard, peering around the open-plan kitchen and living room before he cleared a space on the worn armchair.
“Darling, come and sit down, please.”
A wary feeling run down my arms as if my blood was freezing solid in my veins. Nothing good had ever come after the words ‘sit down, please’. I did as I was told. Puzzled, I looked at my father.
He leaned over the armrest of the armchair to peer outside once more. “Oh dear, well, your mother is at the market but…hmm.”
I sat quietly, looking at his peculiar squirming as he tried to get his words out.
“Is this about me being defective?” I finally asked, as father was still having difficulty expressing himself.
“Defective? No, no darling, you aren’t defective.”
“Something is wrong with me. I can’t determine the nature of anyone’s soul.”
“Well…darling, this is the thing; you’re going to be eighteen next week…”
He stopped mid-sentence, looking around he found his lucky eagle eye gem on the small table between some papers, ornaments and tea-lights, and slid it into his pocket. Tapping his pocket, he carried on stammering.
“And…you’ll go through some changes.”
“Changes? What do you mean? What type of changes?”
I nervously averted my gaze, worried he had heard Marcus climb through the window last night and had assumed we had been intimate. I was even more worried he was the one who would have ‘the talk’ with me. Looking around, I saw that most of our belongings were packed and my father was wearing his best clothes which were only worn when meeting with someone important.
“How would your mother explain this?”
He stood up and started to pace up and down the room until he stopped by the kitchen counter to carry on packing further supplies, his eyes averted from my face.
“Your mother and I lived in the mountains until you were born. Our kind spellbinds our children’s ability…for safety, until midnight on their eighteenth birthday. We wanted you to learn about all races, so we took you to live in the Arakzeon City. As the spellbinding will break on your eighteenth birthday, we can no longer stay amongst Navitians and Emphulettes.”
I gasped, not believing what he was insinuating. “So, you’re saying…”
“Yes, we’re Wiccors.”
“But they’re extinct.”
“So the Navitians and Emphulettes believe, but it isn’t true. We are fewer than we used to be, but not extinct. We are working on building up a new society.”
Still sceptical, it did feel as though a part of me had fallen into place. I slumped down deeper into the seat.
“I guess I always knew.”
I had always known I was different. I just hadn’t realised how different. Wiccors were extinct for a reason. Everyone feared them. They were harmless if they had a kind soul but could be devastating to entire societies if their intentions were evil.
“Therefore, we have to leave before this afternoon.”
“This afternoon? But what about the election?”
I flew up out of the armchair.
“It’s best if we leave before the results are revealed in case there is an uproar.”
“But I need to bid farewell to Marcus. I need to explain to him why I am leaving.”
“There’s no time. The sooner we leave for the mountains the better. The less he knows about you, the safer it is for all of us.”
“All of us?”