Word Count: 2779 | Estimated Reading Time: 14 Minutes
The misty light from the full moon filled her room with a soft blueish glow. Xanthe put the pillow over her face. The sweet smell of fabric conditioner tickled her nose. Sleep had evaded her for seven nights and the howls were getting louder. More mournful. The soft cushion muffled her screams. She didn’t want Kit to hear, or his dad.
“Leave me alone, please!”
She tried to avoid Kit after Melanie had daubed “witch” on the wall of the surgery garden. She scrubbed at the red paint all day until her hands were raw. It was the last of several taunts since Melanie had spotted the tattoo on her neck. Despite Xanthe’s efforts to make peace. She would never stop. After the fire, Melanie was on the receiving end of a butt of jokes, and she blamed Xanthe for it. And who could blame her? She had started the fire.
Xanthe looked at her fingertips, then quickly sat on her hands. She told them it was her fault, but no one would believe her. And that had incensed Melanie.
In fact, for the last term, her hatred intensified so much that Xanthe stopped attending lessons at the centre. It just wasn’t worth it. It meant missing her exams and right now she didn’t care. She should care. Where was she going to go when the Wishing Well Centre no longer took responsibility for her? Although living at Doc Stephens was a great alternative, she couldn’t rely on his kindness forever and, what’s more, she didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity.
Kit was keen to help her find her mother, but it was too close and personal, even for her best friend. He meant well, he really did. It needed to be her and her alone. She had needed no one before. Why now? She wouldn’t allow herself to be rejected again.
Two years gone since they were in the Kingdom and no sign that it had ever happened. Her legacy. The Moon Princess. Hah! Who would believe that? Or that she had talked with a peacock, freed the Moon People from their stony silence and slayed the evil dryad, Toovah.
Two years to convince herself that she was responsible for Malik’s death, her protector, her guardian. A pained howl rang out in response. And now he had come back to haunt her.
Hot tears threatened at the back of her eyes, and she swallowed another yawn. Kit was her only friend, and she missed his company despite all her claims that she was alright on her own. As they had shared blood,
They had developed the power to communicate via mind transfer, though lately she had shut him out. He understood her, somehow. Perhaps it would have been better if she had never been born. Why would a mother give her child away if she loved it? Surely she must have done something bad to make her mother abandon her, with nothing. It was as if she was a ghost. Only she knew she wasn’t. She pinched the soft side of her thigh for feeling so sorry for herself. This wasn’t like her. If only she could sleep. Why couldn’t things have stayed as they were, before Malik, Nokomi and Princess Ayla. She had just been plain Xanthe before then. Now she was Ayla, the Moon Princess.
She glanced at her bracelet, knowing that the memories would provoke the Troll beads to glow. It was her connection to the Kingdom of Selene. Horus, the imperious white peacock, heard her and tried to reach her, but she wouldn’t let him in either. She learnt to suppress all thoughts of the Kingdom to shut them out of her mind, to sever the ties between them.
If she had given the wicked dryad what she wanted, the powers of the Moon Princess, Malik, would still be alive. Because what use were the powers to her? She didn’t save Malik. He was dead. Her breath caught in her throat and she squeezed her eyes shut tight until it subsided.
She would give anything to go back in time. Anything.
Xanthe rolled over, rucking her knees up under her chin, rocking back and forth, forcing her eyes closed. She didn’t want this damn prophecy. Xanthe opened her eyes and glanced around the room. She moved out of the centre to live at Kit’s house temporarily after things with Melanie escalated. Now it felt like home. A patchwork quilt with ocean animals covered her bed and her clothes hung on a rail at one end of the room. It was the first place she felt comfortable. And she had lived in her fair share of foster homes. Never able to fit in, despite the efforts made on all sides.
She walked over to the window and threw them open as the curtains fluttered in her face with the balmy breeze. The air was suffocatingly warm, even though it was approaching midnight. The smell of dry grass and soil filtered up from the garden, which was dry and crisp from lack of water. It was as if the sky was about to cave in on her like a thick blanket, swallowing up all the air. She breathed in deeply, counted to seven as she stared at the large moon, like a silver orb in the obsidian background.
“I don’t want to be your moon princess! Just leave me alone.” As much as she wanted to cry, to let go of the grief, Xanthe wouldn’t, because she feared that if she did, she would never stop. She leant her forehead against the coolth of the glass and tapped her fingers. “Please, just leave me alone.” Xanthe snapped her head up at the sound of another howl, a painful howl, the howl of a wolf. Malik.
She banged the window with her fist. Malik was dead. He would never return, yet he haunted her dreams and that’s why she couldn’t sleep, wouldn’t sleep. She was punishing herself. Sitting on the sill, she swung her legs over and shimmied down the drainpipe from her first-floor window. As she ran towards the howls, through Bluebell woods, the thick undergrowth pulled at her legs, slowing her down.
“Leave me alone, please!” she shouted in response to another mournful cry. “Please, just leave me alone.” She heard a rustle but knew it would be a rabbit or a badger and she sat down at the base of the large tree where she had first travelled with the Troll beads, back when she knew nothing. Unaware then that she had invoked a travel spell when she twisted the beads in frustration,
She leant her arms on her knees as the exhaustion took hold. Her eyelids, so heavy with fatigue, she battled to keep them open. As she succumbed to the sleep that had evaded her for many nights, she sensed a hot breath on her forehead, a soft fur brushing past her legs like a devoted cat, and a wet, rough tongue brushed her cheek.
“Malik,” she whispered.
When she woke, the sun streamed through her bedroom window, which was still open, the morning breeze billowing at the curtains. Xanthe blinked and smarted at a familiar prickling sensation at her wrist, like tiny pricks. She scrambled to sit up, trying to remember how and when she got back to her room and she pulled up the long sleeves of her tunic to reveal another tattoo on the underside of her wrist. Her hand went instinctively to the back of her neck, where the moon tattoo appeared two years ago after falling from a tree.
This one was smaller and yet more significant. Etched into her skin were two wolves. One black, one white, entwined like lovers. It was simple yet intricate, like lace. Raised red lines framed the ink drawing, and she ran her finger over the tracing. She winced with pain as she tried to scrub the images out. Malik had been in wolf form when she first met him., according to her prophecy, he would be her Prince.
Something whizzed past her head, and she ducked. She glanced around the room, not believing what was in front of her eyes. The Book of Words lay on the floor, spewing out pages and pages. Xanthe grabbed one as it flew by. The pages seemed to attack her. She grabbed another and another. On each page was the picture of the tattoo inscribed on her wrist. Within moments, the pages covered the floor like a blanket of tattoos.
She put her head in her hands and sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Malik.
Kit watched Xanthe run across the grounds towards Bluebell woods from the kitchen window. Where on earth was she going at this time of night? He hesitated. Should he follow her? She had been so tetchy this past week he didn’t think she wanted the company. The luminescence from the moon followed her like a spotlight along the path, but she didn’t seem to notice. He heard her shouting something earlier.
Her behaviour was becoming more and more strange and he didn’t understand why she didn’t want to find her mother. If he had the chance to find his mother, he would. She just walked out one day and his father refused to talk about it. It had become a bigger source of conflict between father and son as the time for him to take his place at Medical School approached. His mother encouraged him, but his father expected him to go.
He ran his fingers through his heavy fringe, which tickled at his eyelashes. His feelings for Xanthe confused him, never mind her, and it was all he could do sometimes not to express his happiness at just being close. He understood that finding out that she had a legacy as a Moon Princess, as a witch, was difficult. But on the other hand, exciting.
He started as his father walked into the kitchen.
“Burning the midnight oil?” His father smiled, the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth spreading like small little rivers. He had never seen his father so tired, but he spent all his time working. Kit didn’t know that he wanted to be like his father. Dedicated to his cause, which provided a welcome distraction from the empty space in his life. And anyway, he would never, never, live up to his standards.
“Yeh, couldn’t sleep in this heat.” Kit pulled open the kitchen door and grabbed a carton of milk and raised it to his lips and grabbed a glass. “Want some?”
His father shook his head. “No thanks, son. I’m going to bed. I need to sleep. But we need to talk, Kit. About med school—”
Kit slammed the fridge door a little too hard and half smiled. “Of course, tomorrow. I promise.”
The moonlight framed his father, casting a deep shadow that reminded Kit of a wolf. He clenched his jaw. He was just seeing things. Kit tried to put his finger on when his relationship with his father had become so tense. It must be the weather, the oppressive heat wave was making everyone go a bit doolally.
“Well, goodnight then,” Kit said.
His father squeezed his shoulder as he passed by. “I just want the best for you.”
“I know, Dad, we’ll talk. Tomorrow I promise.
Kit resisted looking back at his father. He was worried. He got that. But couldn’t he just give him some space? Every single conversation he brought up med school. Kit sighed and headed for the stairs, his feet dragging on the floor. He wasn’t sure what he wanted any more. Just to chat with Xanthe would be good. She would understand.
Back in his bedroom, Kit sat down in his chair and rolled back to his desk, where three large computer screens lit up his face. The large blue eyes of Scarlet Nexus stared back at him, her sword in hand raised behind her head, ready to strike. He had developed a bit of a gaming habit, pure escapism, and right now that was what he needed. It had become almost obsessive, and he spent most of his time in front of the screen, building worlds, tackling the baddies and saving the young, beautiful heroines.
His dad believed his white lies that he was very busy preparing for his exams and applying to medical school. They weren’t full out lies, but he didn’t give them as much attention as the games.
His logical brain told him that there must be the answers out there, he just needed to ask the right questions. He needed to treat it like the games he played, following clues, gathering information, putting the pieces together. He would find out. Maybe then Xanthe would change her mind.
His thoughts wandered back to the fatherly chat he’d promised his dad. All his life, his future as a doctor had been predetermined. Until now, he thought that was what he wanted. Going to med school, discussing his studies with his father, maybe a research post somewhere.
He knew that Melanie’s continued harassment didn’t help Xanthe’s mood. Kit suggested she should report the vandalism to the Centre, but Xanthe wouldn’t hear anything about it. She told him to mind his own business. She was right. He should.
He pulled the keyboard towards him and entered the date when Xanthe’s mother left her as a baby at the Wishing Well Centre. Seventh of July. He frowned. That was the day—a howl like a wolf sounded from outside and he started. He shook his head. That was the day she received a birthday present. Her first. A map of portals, entries to the Kingdom of Selene.
Kit pulled up the archives of the local papers and searched the dates prior to Xanthe’s arrival. He scanned pages and pages of boring village life, posters about fetes and fairs and summer activities for school children during their holiday. As he skipped the personal ads pages and items for sale, he flipped over to the births and deaths announcements. He did this with all the papers within a certain radius of the centre. Nothing stood out. Nothing at all. Surely there would be some kind of clue, something no matter how small.
He rubbed his eyes and stood up and stretched, then sat back down again. He back tracked a day, then another. Then back seven days. Xanthe counted seven whenever she needed to focus. He should try that. Nothing. He scrolled back another seven days and searched all the dates with multiples of seven. Nothing.
“Aargh.” He pushed the keyboard away and sat back in his chair. He focused on the framed photo of his mum, smiling at the photographer, most likely his dad. She wore a long maxi dress covered with a daisy print and held a large floppy straw hat on her head with one hand. Her other hand clutched his chubby little fingers as he reached up to her. He was about three years old. Kit picked it up and ran his fingers over the glass.
“What would you do, mum?” He scrubbed at something under the glass. Tiny little specks. Thunder bugs. He undid the frame and cleaned the glass with his sleeve, breathing and polishing until it shone. He lifted the photo and gently brushed off the little flies. Under the photo stuck to the backing was a folded piece of paper. He frowned and gently picked at the tape, which was dry with age. He unfolded a paper clipping. A death notice for one Stella Rivers. His heart thumped in his chest, and he sensed a tremendous moment of sadness. Surely not. Xanthe’s mother was dead? After everything that Nokomi had said? He turned over the photo and stared at his mother. Who put it there?
He grabbed his keyboard, pulled up the browser, and searched the local graveyards and cemeteries. No listing of a burial of Stella Rivers anywhere. Which may mean that there was a mistake, more than likely that there had been no death. But why post an obituary?
A scream rang out from Xanthe’s room, and he ran to her door at the end of the corridor. He knocked once and pushed through.
He paused in the doorway. Xanthe was on the floor surrounded by pieces of paper with some kind of image on it. The same image on each page as far as he could make out. She looked up at him, tears streamed down her face and she held her wrist as if she’d injured it.
“Get out, Kit!”