The washed-out light of the half-moon hung over the Cantoo Mountain range, shining down upon the six cities neatly arranged between each spoke of its outstretched fingers of woods and intertwining rivers.
One city, Plainsville, had long since perished, its ghostly, skeletal remains of buildings long since abandoned. The entire province was absent of even the most basic of life, strangely, considering nature and a new ecosystem should have picked up where the human element had failed to carry on. Some said the region was cursed because of a long since forgotten atrocity carried out by a paranoid, selfish society, but since no one remembered what the atrocity was, it had been relegated to the realms of myth. Still, science could not explain it and thus nature and sane humanity avoided it out of a subconscious fear the curse was real.
The next cities to flank the now-dead Plainsville were Moonville to the west and Mountainville to the East. Being separated by the ghost of a dead city actually suited both still living communities as they had grown more and more apart over the centuries. Where there had once existed fear and suspicion between them, time had dulled the memory until only ambivalence and apathy remained.
And while certain authorities, including the caretakers of Mountainville Sanitarium, knew better than to forget the lessons of the past, other certain family houses have never been allowed to forget…
The tall willow trees surrounding the mansion of Dr. Erik Whoticore split the light of the moon until only its fragments reached the immaculate grounds underneath. Pale statutes of animals and people shown with faded light – with one exception. A life-sized statue of an ethereal, inhumanly beautiful goddess glowed with blueish light, her hair in finely feathered marble billowing about her. She was surrounded by three large dragonflies. All four hovered without visible lines of support above the ground, the entire structure concealed in the back of the house where no prying eyes of guests would be cause for awkward questions and explanations.
The peace of the outside grounds underneath the serene canopy and silvered moonlight belied the turmoil going on with the main house within.
“Nice of you to show up, Glen.”
“It was not necessarily my choice, cousin,” Glen sniffed at his same-aged relative, Holic. He straightened his slender tie. Holic just snorted. It along with the school-issued uniform looked so damn ridiculous on the gangly sixteen-year-old, it nearly made the more rebellious boy gag. The teen wore it with a smugness that choked the very air, like the cloying aftershave Glen wore too much of. In an almost defiant gesture, Holic pulled his leather jacket down and slightly tighter in front. He ignored his cousin’s disapproving looks at the new tattoo on Holic’s wrist – one of handcuffs.
Holic longed to wipe that self-righteous look off Glen’s face with a brick. “She’s your grandmother, too, deadhead,” he warned Glen. “Show some respect for once.”
“You wouldn’t be so mouthy if Wilfred were here,” Glen mumbled, trying and failing to sound tough.
Holic laughed. He knew tough and this kid wasn’t anywhere nearing toughness. He also knew Glen hated his own brother, Wilfred Whoticore, and the only reason Glen would want him here would be to back him up. In fact, the absent Wilfred would rather side with Holic than his own, nearer flesh. “You’re kidding, right? Wilfred would hold you down for me, Glen.”
Glen shot his cousin a look of such hatred, wrongly imagining it was the truth, that Holic raised an eyebrow. Well, well, the little weasel had a spark in his spineless body after all!
Fortunately, before the tension broke into outright hostility, Holic’s parents, Narik and Kelie Whoticore, came into the room. Like most teens, Holic had arguments with them – mostly about homework and the motorcycle the teen wanted to buy, and there was friction, but he still loved them and their presence was infinitely more desirable right now than that of the little parasite in front of him. He had thought this was going to be a display of ingratiating manners on Glen’s part, pretending to be so righteous and concerned about the near-death state of their grandmother, but he wasn’t even making the effort to do that for some unfathomable reason. Whatever the case, all it took these days when the two were in the same room would be for Glen to open his mouth to say, “Hello,” and it was certain to guarantee there was going to be violence.
Narik and Kelie were joined by Glen’s parents, Erik and Sarlayna, and they all moved immediately out of the living room and down the corridor, to the bedside of Narik’s mother, Hyacynthe, leaving the teens once again in each other’s unwelcome company. “Great,” Holic breathed, leaning against the entrance to the broad, sweeping room.
Glen ignored his cousin’s remark and obvious discomfort, examining his fingernails. “I don’t know why you’re so bent of out shape,” he said casually. “You’re not the one dying, you know.”
Holic balled his fists, forcing them open, struggling not to let his bad temper lead him into a fight. “Too bad it isn’t you, Glen.”
“Tsk, tsk, Holic,” his cousin sighed. “You’ll never get anywhere in life with that attitude.”
“I’m doing just fine, cousin,” he spit the word out in contempt. “I just think it’s stupid of Uncle Erik to bring your side of the family here while dad’s around. He knows what our family is like when you get too many men in the same room.”
“First off, Holic,” Glen explained with false patience. “You’re not exactly a ‘man’,” he punctuated the statement with annoying little “air” quotes. “and father’s not the problem here,” the youth shrugged. “That crazy, witch-grandmother of ours just happened to pick an inopportune time to die when both sides of the family were in town. Like I said – “
Holic lost it. Turning, he kicked the doorway, leaving a dent from his steel-toed boot, then turned on Glen. Grabbing the youth, he flung him out the room’s entrance, throwing him towards a wall. Glen’s yelp of surprise and pain echoed loudly down the corridor.
By the time the parents of both boys realized what was happening, the bigger, stronger Holic had made sure his dear cousin had slammed into the wall HARD, and before letting him recover either his wits or his footing, had thrown the boy several feet back down the hallway, towards their grandmother’s room.
“Glen, STOP IT!”
Both fathers yelled at their sons at the same time, leaving the room, moving quickly to break it up.
“She ain’t dead yet, you tool, but you’ll join her if I have anything to say about it!” Holic yelled, advancing on his prey. By the time his father Narik had grabbed his arm and pulled him off him, he caught sight of both their mothers standing in the hallway, watching.
“What’s he even doing here, Uncle Erik?!?” Holic turned his anger on Glen’s father, unable to get to the teen’s face to beat it to a pulp like he so desperately wanted. “You, I get, but he doesn’t give a damn about grandma!”
“Holic, I don’t think that’s necessarily true!” This from his mother.
He turned towards her, ready to ask her why she was defending his enemy when he suddenly felt dizzy. Badly dizzy.
*Dad, I don’t feel so good…* he said unintelligibly, the boy falling heavily against his father.
Glen, despite the stinging in his lip, caught the strangeness of his cousin’s words. There was a coldness in the air that made everyone shiver.
“Holic? Holic!” Narik tried to prevent his son from hitting the floor so hard, but let go of Holic’s large hand with a gasp of pain, the boy falling to the floor, suddenly too weak to stop himself.
“Holic?…Narik!” Kelie repeated fearfully. Holic’s mother ran down to join her husband. Sarlayna, Glen’s mother, stood just outside the doorway to her mother’s hospice room, watching from behind coal-black eyes.
The youth felt his dad and uncle pull him up by the jacket, but could not see them. *Yeah,* he mumbled. *S’my name. Dad, why’s the floor on the ceiling?* he asked drunkenly, gazing upwards, confused.
“Had enough I see, Holic?” Glen goaded.
“Shut up, Glen,” his father admonished. “You were on the losing end of that fight if you hadn’t noticed.”
Kelie turned to her husband. “Narik, what’s wrong with him? Why did you drop him?!?”
“I’m more concerned about why we can’t understand him,” Glen’s father, Erik, spoke up, shooting a glance to his wife, Sarlayna.
“He was freezing,” Narik said levelly, trying not to scare the mothers needlessly, hiding his hand. “His skin is like ice.”
“That’s ridiculous, it’s perfectly warm in here!” Kelie scoffed, reaching for her son.
Holic rose, somehow moved away from her touch…she shouldn’t… *Don’t, mom,* he slurred, hitting the floor again, it dropping away in feel as well as in sight, replaced by cold blackness and stars and a disequilibrium that made him want to hurl in the worst way. If he was lucky, he could find his hated cousin to throw up on before he either fell through the void or blacked out.
Somewhere above him, he heard a man exclaim, “Narik, Goddess, your hand is burned!”
“It’s nothing, Erik,” Narik tried to downplay the strange injury.
Blindly, Holic turned towards the sound, trying desperately to use it to anchor himself back into the house, struggling to find it again. Once he found it, the sickness, the coldness, the strange language began to lose their grip, only to be replaced by a worse realization.
*Gran…gran…gran…mother…” he wheezed, the cold burning his lungs. “She’s – “
“You sense Her, Holic, don’t you?” Sari said quietly. Somehow, even though she was down the hall and nearly out of earshot, only the youth heard her.
“Oh thank god,” Kelie breathed, relieved, feeling his forehead. “He’s warming back up!”
Holic focused on their voices, saw Glen backing away from him, fear on his face and in his wide-eyed stare. Holic couldn’t give a crap what he was reacting to right now. The boy’s double-vision, the blurriness went away, him forcing it away in panic. “ – mother, shut up,” he tried to reach towards the blueish glow coming from the doorway to his beloved grandmother’s room… ”Grandmother’s in trouble!”
Glen was pointing at him, “Shit! Dad, his eyes…SHIT!”
Holic managed to get to his feet, half falling, half running down the hallway, “Gran!” he yelled.
Both mothers and Narik sat sullenly in the living room of the mansion. Sari looked in deep thought as well, pondering her nephew’s words and the circumstances of his bizarre behavior. Erik Whoticore was off somewhere with his son, doing his part in keeping the boys away from each other. By the time everyone had gotten back into the Dying Room and caught up with Holic, the boy was at his grandmother’s side, using a tissue to wipe the blood away from her nose. Her vital signs on the heart monitor were half what they were. A stroke was feared and had been later confirmed by a doctor on site.
The adults had not been able to pry him away from her side and had decided for his sake to let him stay with her while they all moved back out to the living room, nothing left to them now but to wait.
The front door burst open, startling everyone out of the uneasy silence. Two more teens came running in, one a handsome young man, who ran to Sari, the other, a girl as equally beautiful, ran to Kelie.
“Alaina!” Kelie let herself be tackled by the girl, buried in her fragrant skirts. The sensitive child was obviously upset and even though she wasn’t related to the family, she had formed an attachment to Holic’s mom whenever her own wasn’t around.
“Father, mother,” Wilfred greeted his parents in turn, then each adult. “I’m glad you’re here, Uncle Narik, Aunt Kelie.”
“So are we,” Kelie smiled sadly at the young man. “Holic is so upset. He’ll be glad you are here, too.”
“Did you have any trouble getting out of the school trip?” Narik asked.
“No, they did have trouble finding us, though. The bus driver forgot his cell phone and the school called every stop on the way until they found the one we were at,” Wilfred replied.
“Thank goodness,” Kelie said as tended their friend clinging to her, smoothing the girl’s hair down.
“Where’s Holic? Can we see Gran?”
“Yes, Wilfred, you can. Holic’s with her but,” Narik shook his head. “She’s not conscious.”
Alaina sniffed, trying not to cry too loud. Kelie hugged her to her. “Wil, you should probably go see them first.”
The young Whoticore nodded and went in search of their matron’s room.
It was now known Hyacynthe would not recover and per her last wishes, the equipment was disconnected so she could let go in a peaceful, quiet atmosphere.
In order to accomplish that, the boys were separated by their parents and not allowed to be in the same room again for the duration of the visit. Young Wilfred Whoticore was the exception to this as he could both handle his annoying sibling and comfort his grieving cousin Holic.
Wilfred stood in the doorway watching Holic at the bedside, Hyacynthe’s hand in his, talking to her unconscious form. He felt his breath catch and ache in his chest for her and for his dear cousin. As quietly as he could, he closed the door and approached the bed.
“They said you sensed her life force wane,” Wilfred began. “Even tho you were out there.“
Holic nodded. “Yeah, I was in the middle of beating the crap out of your brother. Usually I can’t really be distracted from his beatings all that easily, but…” He glanced at the young man. “I kinda fell through a black hole in the Earth and into space.” He took a shuddering breath. “That was damn jarring.”
Wilfred raised an eyebrow. “Really? Wow.”
“Yeah, I was trying to think of harsher words to describe it at the time, but my brain wasn’t too with it,” Holic nodded.
“I can imagine.” Wilfred approached the bedside. Looking down at the frail, comatose woman, he sighed.
“I wonder what ‘Cynthae would say about that?” Holic asked aloud.
“She’d say you were a Whoticore,” Wilfred said with surety. “That you are sensitive and gifted and would be a Seeress if you were female.”
Holic shook his head. “If that’s what they go thru, Wil, I don’t wanna know. It was INTENSE.”
“Sounds like it,” his cousin agreed. “I didn’t feel anything,” he confessed. “But I rarely sense such things.”
“Maybe you were too far away,” Holic theorized.
Wilfred shrugged. “Alaina knew something was wrong. She felt a sudden cold.”
“So did I,” his friend agreed. He looked at him. “Wilfred, I want to keep studying, for us to keep studying, but how the hell are we gonna deal with Gran gone?”
His cousin shook his head. “I don’t know, Holic, but mother told me she is going to give me the family grimoire and to read it cover-to-cover. That it would help.”
“Dad told me the same thing,” the other boy nodded.
“My dad said that whatever I do, I have to keep it away from Glen,” Wilfred confided to Holic in a quieter voice, afraid that even though Glen was not in the room, he would somehow hear.
“I heard that, man. That fuck would tear apart the worlds with it if he could get away with it.”
“Luckily our hypnotic gifts don’t work on older generations,” Wilfred added. “He’d never get dad or Uncle Narik or any of the family to tell him what’s in it, but you have to be careful, Holic. Glen’s a clever one, even with just plain words.”
That made Holic wonder. “What about you? Could he force you to tell him?”
Wilfred shook his head. “No. I’m the only one of us that inherited Whocate’s hypnotic gifts. Glen can charm and influence people, but he can’t outright force anyone to tell him anything.”
Holic glanced heavenward. “Thank you, universe.”
“Yeah, but he is pretty good at tricking people into telling him anything he wants to know,” Wilfred warned him. “Don’t underestimate him.”
Holic woke deep into the night after midnight. He was no expert, but one look at his grandmother told him her end must be very near. He got up, ignoring protesting muscles from having slept slumped over her bed, holding her hand. How many hours he had been there was lost to him, but he knew from the stiffness in his body that it must have been quite a few.
The youth went to the door, opened it and looked out towards the family area. All four parents were there, as was Wilfred and Alaina. (Who knew where Glen was.) All were asleep in chairs, couches, Alaina was on the floor, her back and head resting against the couch Wilfred was asleep on, his hand draped across one shoulder to another, slender fingers resting against the pulse in her throat. He must have been comforting her, he sighed. This has been so hard on everyone and now it’s coming to an end. He moved to exit the room and get them, tell then what was going on, when he felt lightheaded and dizzy, so badly so, he clutched the door jamb with a harsh gasp. Every person outside the room faded from his vision and the endless, star-dusted depths of space came back with a vengeance.
This time, however, he was staring at a star nursery of brilliant, new blue stars. Their amazing beauty was so captivating he found himself forgetting what he was doing, where he was, why…Not now, dammit! He growled under his breath, shutting his eyes, trying to ignore the heavenly sight before him. “Guys, hey – “ he called, but his normally strong voice came out as a mere weakened whisper, unable to carry far enough to wake anyone.
After several attempts, Holic felt something he had never felt before, yet tickled the back of his mind as being familiar, like a forgotten memory. It drug his attention back into the room, pulling him back towards Hyacynthe’s death bed. Somehow he was able to walk across the room which, unlike the rest of the universe, had not faded from his sight and senses. The sickening dizziness and feeling of falling faded in proportion to his perception that another was in the room, despite the fact there was no one else actually there.
Yet, to the rebellious youth, there was something, someone…a powerful life-force was drawn to the ebbing of his beloved grandmother’s life. Holic stumbled back to the bed, standing by the side of the women he had known his entire life, a sense he could not name making him turn towards the double french doors leading out of the room into the surrounding gardens.
Moonlight was pouring in from a moon that was rapidly fading from Holic’s sight, more rapidly dying back in its cycle to the sharp sickle of a crescent moon than should have been possible in a single evening. He stared as it did this, as it at last faded, leaving only the outline of the entire orb, its interior darker than the surrounding darkness.
The world around Holic held its breath, then seemed to him to grow insubstantial as shafts of what he could only describe as soft blue, sparkling light filtered into the room from around the edges of the new moon above.
Fading into sight before the youth was the ethereal, wispy form of a woman who floated several inches off the floor, just above it. The wind seemed to blow through her luxurious, dark hair, spreading out in a cloud around her face, framing it softly – but there was no wind, no breeze that Holic could feel. Oblivious to his presence, she was instead intently watching Hyacynthe.
Her body was transparent wherever the moonlight from the window behind her touched – and where the light was absent, cut off from the skeletons of barren winter trees, so her body simply wasn’t there. As she floated, whatever part of her drifted in or out of the light from the sacred orb above then, it alternately revealed and concealed her.
“Who are – “ he began to ask and failed to finish. Fascinated and yet afraid, heart pounding, Holic cautiously approached her until he could see her face. He stumbled back in fear as he caught sight of her eyes, they being completely of a black, seamless, flawlessness – every millimeter of them. It was like staring into a deep, black pool of water in the deepest part of the evening on a moonless night. They instantly reminded him of Wilfred’s mother’s eyes when she was meditating, or when the family’s patron Goddess spoke through her on very, very rare occasions.
Afraid as he was, the young Whoticore couldn’t tear himself away from the incredible sight, for even though the eyes were deep and threatened to pull him into them, there was no malice in the woman’s posture. She seemed to be simply waiting.
Then it came, as the teenager knew it would, as he had been trying all night to prepare for. Death. Hyacynthe’s last breath was followed by a shudder of her chest, the noise of which pulled her grandson to snap his head back to her. There was an exhalation, then stillness. The ethereal presence too, noticed it immediately – the only evidence she was even aware of anything on the physical plane she was not a part of. Her slender, delicate hand extended towards the body.
A sparkle of purest green light caught Holic’s eye on the newly-expired form. It was a small, intense glow upon its chest that flared into brilliance, then ebbed to a softer outline that framed something now resting upon the silent chest cavity of the dead woman.
Peering closer, he could see it was a little dragonfly outlined in a livid, glowing green. The wings were still wet as if it were newly-born and fresh to the world, but it was not of the world, for it was transparent, ethereal, like the woman who watched over it. Resting, its tiny head against the corpse, it seemed at first just as lifeless as its perch.
Holic suddenly knew then who this visitor was. In a flash it came to him, recalling its exact likeness to the beautiful statue in the back garden. Grandmother Hyacynthe had taught him, Wilfred and Alaina about her and her magicks as well as the family’s all their lives.
Whocate smiled at the tiny insect. She spoke something in a language that sounded so ancient as to be old when the world was new – familiar to the teenager more on a deeply emotional level where words lost any translation. It was a musical, soft sound that caused the dragonfly to turn to the Goddess.
This delighted Whocate, whose smiled widened and softened. She reached out and the tiny creature rose into the air, levitated, coming to rest in her long-fingered hands. It was then with a shock Holic realized this was the soul of his grandmother, there being a fading, thin green thread of ebbing life force connecting it to the body.
It was so sad-looking and listless, as his grandmother’s weakened body and spirit had become towards the end of her life. The Sleep Goddess cooed lovingly to the dragonfly as if it were her child. She then blew very softly and gently over its body, leaving a wispy, filmy trail of blueish light that settled on and around the soul in her hands.
In response, the dragonfly’s limp, weak wings dried and straightened, becoming stronger. It tested them, slowly at first, then with more confidence as the Queen of Death infused it with a tiny amount of her own essence. A glow still outlined the soul, which immediately started looking more and more alive and stronger.
Then, once standing on wobbly legs, it vibrated its wings faster, then took to the air. Whocate’s eyes glittered with delight at its accomplishment and she spoke further words of love and encouragement to it in the sacred language.
The dragonfly flew steadier as moments passed – like a foal on its first legs after being born. Whocate followed its paths through the air, as Holic did, both smiling. He could feel the burden of its harsh physical life drop away, all the pains and heartaches released as it discovered the joy of a new, pain-free existence.
Then the MoonWitch moved away from the lifeless shell on the bed. The new, little soul she had come to guide, to protect and infuse with her primal essence, buzzed around her in playful, joyous flight, then settled in her hair, by her ear. It was ready to leave, ready to follow her to its new existence.
*Whocate!* She somehow heard him as his mind found the sacred language he had spoken earlier in the day and the Goddess now used to coax the dragonfly soul to her. She met his amazed gaze for an instant. Her gaze was tender, reassuring, drawn by his curious nature and reverential awe in her presence.
Holic dropped to his knees before her, tears of joy in his eyes, relieved to know that everything Hyacynthe had taught him and Wilfred about Whocate was as true as her presence now with them. She would take care of his grandmother, he knew it as sure as he was alive. *Will I see you again?* he asked emotionally, so caught up in this miracle he did not realize until later that he was still speaking in her ancient language. Gran had always told him it would come to the youth one day, when he was ready to use it and not before. He had only half-believed her at the time.
Whether it was the words or the shared bloodline between Holic Whoticore and his ancestress/Goddess, she became more aware of his presence, drifting closer to him. He backed up instinctively. She was Death, her touch was for those who had passed and Holic knew he had not exactly been the best, most shining example of Her children. A small part of him wondered if she wanted to take him too. Another part felt a strong, loving maternalness towards him that made him want to go to her in the worst way.
He forced himself to back up until he hit a corner and a wall. Fearing to look into her eyes, he looked down, closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing down his fear and desire as best he could. When he opened them again, it was in time to see her trace a delicate fingernail across his chest on the side opposite the heart. The cold of her touch burned through the leather material and shirt beneath as if nothing were there, yet he felt no discomfort. Tears flooded his eyes at the wave of pride and love Holic felt in his mind from her. It was the last conscious thought he had before blacking out.
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