Word Count: 3285 | Estimated Reading Time: 16 Minutes
In Chapter One, Xanthe has been haunted by the howls of a wolf and after running off to the woods, returns with another tattoo. Meanwhile Kit has been trying to find out more about Xanthe’s legacy as the Moon Princess and information about her mother, who abandoned her as a baby at the Wishing Well Centre.
The door slammed as Kit retreated, sending the pages on the floor into a wavelike motion before they fluttered back down to their resting place. Xanthe picked up the Book of Words. A knot of guilt twisted in her stomach. She hadn’t meant to shout, she just hadn’t wanted to see Kit. She rubbed at the tattoo again, knowing it was hopeless, yet taking some relief from the pain it produced. Even though she couldn’t get rid of the image ingrained on her wrist, she could get rid of the paper.
With a determined move, she pulled the heavy iron fire cover away from the hearth. When she had first stayed at the surgery, it had surprised her to find a fireplace in a bedroom. It was beautiful and very old-fashioned and, judging by its appearance, hadn’t been used for years. She bent down, turning her head to looking into the blackness of the chimney. The cover was heavier than it looked and it scraped along the slate hearth with a painful screech, like fingernails along a chalkboard. The noise set her teeth on edge.
She gathered the papers, sat back on her knees, and screwed them into loose balls before chucking them in the grate. She paused, counted to seven, and flexed her fingers. Could she do this with some control? She didn’t want to risk setting the house on fire. If she had this power, she might as well use it and she didn’t want Kit asking questions. What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.
She swallowed. Her throat was dry, and she concentrated on her breathing as she pointed her fingers at the mountain of paper balls. She concentrated hard, repeating the words of the fire spell under her breath. A waft of flames shot out, scaring her so much she fell backward. The paper caught fire and roared up the chimney taken by the draught, and she scrabbled to her feet. Xanthe ran around the room grabbing the pages and threw them into the flames, watching as the tattoo faded and turned to ash and wishing that it would have the same effect on her wrist. She continued the process until there was not one bit of paper left, save for a pile of ash. Just like Toovah, it turned to grey powder within minutes. She shivered. Xanthe examined the ends of her fingers for any evidence, but as usual, not a hint of what she could do when she put her mind to it. Faint wisps of smoke, like tiny tendrils, wafted towards her as the grate cooled.
Xanthe showered, scrubbing hard at her skin, hoping that the tattoo would just fade away, but it seemed more prominent. As she dried her hair, she glanced at the pile of ashes in the grate. She had almost thrown the Book of Words in the flames along with her bracelet, but something inside wouldn’t let her go that far.
And she felt so bad about shouting at Kit. They had never argued, and he didn’t deserve her anger. She would have to apologise and the sooner the better, before she lost her nerve. She picked a tee with long sleeves so she could cover up the tattoo. It was not the ideal thing to be wearing in this heat, but what choice did she have? Xanthe grabbed a pair of leggings and counted to seven. What was so hard about apologising? She had been in the wrong and she didn’t want Kit to think she didn’t care.
Xanthe ambled along the corridor to the kitchen door before her courage failed her. She stopped mid track when she heard raised voices. They were coming this way. She hid in a small recess which acted like an impromptu coat rack, pulling the coats and jackets around her, hoping that she would blend in. As she slipped her feet into Doc Stephens wellingtons, she held her breath as Kit and his father walked along the corridor.
“But you should study, Kit. You promised,” his father pleaded in a quiet but determined voice. “You can’t just keep gaming when you want. Focus, you have to be focused. I’m not stupid, you know.”
“I didn’t say you were stupid.” Kit was standing so close she could hear the frustration in his voice.
“I am studying, Dad. But I also need a break and I need a change. I can’t study all the time. I doubt even you did that. You, of all people, should know that. Sitting at a desk all day, day in, day out, is not a good thing, is it?” Xanthe hated to hear the tension in his voice. They always seemed to have an uncomplicated relationship. Though his dad was pretty hard core about his exams.
“And how can gaming be good for you? That’s not a change of position. It’s just an excuse and a distraction, Kit. I thought this was what you wanted.”
Kit marched into the kitchen, followed by his father, as Xanthe peered out from her hiding place.
“What you wanted, you mean,” muttered Kit as he shook some Cheerios from the box. Xanthe’s tummy rumbled in response and she held her breath.
Doc Stephens sighed heavily and sat down at the kitchen counter, running his fingers along the marble edge. “Look son, I know you and Xanthe are great friends, but you can’t let your..” He tapped the top, searching for the words. “You can’t let the feelings you have for her get in the way of your ambitions.”
Xanthe peered through the clothes and watched Kit’s shoulders tighten. She held herself still, trying not to move. She really didn’t want to hear this conversation.
“I don’t have feelings for her.” Kit stabbed at the bowl with his spoon, splashing milk all over the top. ‘there are more important things than a medical degree, or going to university, you know. His voice rose along with his anger. “Anyway, you’re the one who invited Xanthe to stay. Have her help with the admin of the surgery. You’re the one using her, not me.”
Doc Stephens sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I know. I thought I was doing the right thing. But I was wrong. It’s not Xanthe, it’s just you don’t need the distraction right now. I’ve asked Melanie, from the Centre, to come and help with the admin. Thought it might help them build a bit of a friendship and Melanie could do with a friend right now. Her mother—”
Kit stood up and pushed the stool away. “Melanie? Are you kidding? You know what she daubed across the wall the other day. About Xanthe?”
“Yes, which is exactly why I thought they might benefit from spending some time together and then you can concentrate on your studies.”
“I will not study. I’m not going to university. Not yet. I’m taking some time out. And that’s the end of it.”
Kit reached out and fumbled for his jacket in the coat rack, just missing Xanthe’s face when he reached out. She held her breath and counted to seven as he withdrew his keys.
“What could be more important than your career? You have always wanted to—”
“No,” shouted Kit. “You have always wanted me to go to university, get a degree, and become a doctor. What if I don’t want to follow in your footsteps? Follow your dreams? And you ask me what can be more important.”
Kit was standing so close to his father their noses almost touched. His body trembled with anger and frustration. “Having a mother around is important,” he whispered. “Or at least knowing where she is.” Doc Stephens looked up at Kit, removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “And friends are important, not burying yourself in your work so you can pretend everything is normal.”
Kit plucked at the soft fuzz under his chin. “And if you hadn’t noticed, Xanthe hasn’t been around at all lately. She doesn’t want to see me and so she is not the distraction you think he is.” Kit’s voice grew hoarse with emotion. And he turned and walked out of the door, slamming it so hard behind him that the glass panes rattled.
Xanthe put her fist in her mouth. She couldn’t do this. She had to tell Kit that she couldn’t make him choose. That she wasn’t worthy of his friendship, not if it meant that he gave up on his dreams. Because they were, she knew deep down they were. She would have to tell him they could never see each other again, to make him see she wasn’t worthy of his protection. She had to stop his obsession.
Doc Stephens stared after his son, his fingers tapping on the marble kitchen top, muttering to himself. Xanthe couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He had been so kind to her, offering her some work at the surgery and a bed to stay in. But he hadn’t asked for another teenager in his life and he was right to put Kit first. She understood that.
Xanthe had tried so hard not to allow herself to believe that this was family. She didn’t want to be let down. Again. She saw Kit as a big brother. Someone who wanted to look out for her. And he had, and he did. He never really deserved to be shouted at. But she knew deep down in her heart that Kit wanted more than just friendship, and that wasn’t part of her plan. She didn’t actually know what her plan was, and she loved Kit. As a friend. Sounded so cliche but it was true.
The dust motes behind the coats tickled at her nose and she pinched it tight, trying to hold off a sneeze. She held her breath. Counted to seven and wished that Doc Stephens would go back to his surgery. She changed her position slightly, and he turned at the sound of the coats rustling, his frown creased with confusion. Xanthe tried to stand as still as a statue, but the dust was really irritating her nose and she couldn’t stop it. She sneezed loudly, once, twice and then a third time, and stumbled out of her hiding place.
“Xanthe?” stuttered Doc Stephens.
Xanthe wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve and swallowed.
“I’m sorry, Doctor Stephens, I didn’t mean to… but I heard—”
“You heard everything,” he said, removing his gold-rimmed glasses and cleaning them with the tails of his shirt. Kit looked so like him, the little arch in the eyebrows, the slightly upturned nose.
“Well, I…” There was no explanation why on earth she’d been hiding other than she didn’t want to know what they were arguing about? About her.
“Look, I know it may seem harsh. Some things I said.” Doctor Stephens sat down heavily on a stool and put his head in his hands. “I don’t want you to think that I—”
“It’s okay, Doc Stephens. I understand. I want Kit to do his studies. He will become a doctor, a brilliant doctor like you. Truly I do.” She felt so uncomfortable talking about Kit like this. Behind his back, but she did. She wanted him to succeed in his life. And with her around, that would not happen.
The doctor turned and smiled at her. “You are a good friend to Kit. I understand that. It’s just that he seems so distracted. So disconnected.” He sighed. “This isn’t about you, Xanthe. This is about my and Kits relationship. We seem to get crossed wires all the time. I’m just trying to do my best. It was all his mother…” he trailed off, a sad smile still lingering on his lips. “We’ll sort it out. I promise. And you can stay here as long as you like.”
Xanthe shook her head. “You don’t have to,”
“I know I don’t, Xanthe. But I want to. Now, I know Melanie and you haven’t exactly seen eye to eye in the past, but she really could do with a friend right now and I thought it might be a good idea to give her a chance.”
Doctor Stephens was one of the kindest people Xanthe knew, but he was also a bit of a pushover. Melanie just wanted to make Xanthe’s life miserable, and this was the ideal opportunity. But Doc Stephens wouldn’t understand that. She scratched at the tattoo on her wrist through the cardigan and bit at her lip.
“Could you just try? For me?” Doc Stephens asked.
“I suppose so,” lied Xanthe. There was no point in telling him anything else. He would only try to persuade her to change her mind.
He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to go. I have a house visit. We can talk again later about Melanie?” The lines around his eyes creased with hope. “And don’t worry about Kit. He'll sort through it I’m sure.”
Xanthe nodded, not wanting to incriminate herself anymore, and waved him off. She sat at the kitchen counter and gathered the spilt Cheerios in piles of seven and began popping them in her mouth one by one.
There was no way she could stay on, but she understood why Doc Stephens had changed his mind. He didn’t want to reject her, a kindness she was thankful for. He was right about one thing. She needed to find some answers for herself. And maybe one way was to find her mother. Make a start. Quite how she would do that, she didn’t know.
Xanthe spent the rest of the morning working in the surgery. She filed away all the papers that Doc Stephens had stacked in several piles, making sure that they were all in alphabetical order. She tidied and cleaned the surgery, making sure that all the instruments were clean and the used ones bagged and ready for collection, and finally she wrote out some notes that she thought might be helpful to Melanie. After all, Xanthe had made systems that suited her and they might need some getting used to. Even after everything, she couldn’t hold Melanie responsible for anything that happened to her. And Doctor Stephens was right. Melanie needed a bit of a hand up. She’d heard the other girls gossiping about Melanie’s mother, the local “bag lady” who was still very young. She’d been in and out of rehab units for her addictions for years, neglecting Melanie when the drink affected her sense of responsibility. Melanie had been in and out of the Wishing Well Centre ever since Xanthe could remember returning to her mother when she made new promises about new beginnings. Fresh starts that never seemed to last more than a few months. Xanthe thought maybe it was for the best not knowing anything about her mother. Then she could believe what she wanted to.
By lunch time, Xanthe had everything as organised as she could and she considered writing a letter to Doc Stephens. She thought better of it. Her actions spoke her thanks, and that would just have to be good enough.
She sat on her bed after she’d stripped the sheets and put them in the washer and ran her finger around the wolves’ heads engraved in her skin. Was Malik trying to reach her? But why now? And what on earth could a dead warrior want, a warrior from another world? The beads on her other wrist glowed on and off softly, as if trying to soothe her mind, and she picked up the Book of Words to put in her bag. She had little to represent her life, but these two items had become very important to her.
Xanthe traced her fingers over the Book of Words presented to her by Nokomi, the Moon Goddess. The Goddess who had led her to believe that she was her mother on her deathbed. Who had tricked her into taking up a legacy she had neither asked for nor wanted. Gifted fingers had carved the leather and in the centre was a kind of star. A star with seven points. It was no ordinary book; the pagers were blank. She bit at her bottom lip. On the one hand, she didn’t want the birth right she had been gifted.
On the other hand, she needed a little help. All she had to do was ask. And believe. She flicked at the pages. Stupid book. What use was a blank book? Her throat was dry and her eyes scratchy. She rubbed at them with her fists. Crying wouldn’t help. At one time, that was all she ever did, but it never brought her any comfort, only more unwanted attention. So she had stopped. That was before. Before she knew her mother really didn’t want her. That she must have done something terrible to be rejected by her own mother.
A large tear fell down her cheek and ran onto the page open on her knees. The paper soaked up the salty puddle like a sponge and Xanthe wiped her face with her sleeve.
The Book of Words fell from her hand, and the pages fluttered. Letters formed on the blank paper where her tears had fallen and she spelt them out aloud.
T R U T H W E A V E R.
What on earth did that mean? A sketch appeared, faint lines which became stronger and more frantic. It was as if there was an invisible pencil flying across the paper. A house, with candles in the windows and a bridge connecting what she realised was the Wishing Well Centre grounds. But she’d never seen this place before.
The images kept on coming. More detail on the house, if you could call it that. No-one could live in it, in that state. Planks, nailed across most of the windows, covered broken glass. The central section of the house resembled a face, with the large double doors representing a gaping mouth. Ivy wound its way all over the stone walls, like serpents in a pit, searching for the light. At one end, where the roof came to a point, the branches of a dead tree poked out from a hole in the tiles. Xanthe’s eyes rested on one window. Was that a figure standing there looking out at her? She rubbed at her eyes and stared again. It was a figure.
The page turned and another image of the house appeared with the same features, except this time graffiti daubed on the walls in white paint. She recognised some symbols, moons mainly, and the words Witch and Die Witch, just as Melanie had written on the wall. What did all this mean? The bridge appeared again, this time overgrown with pretty flowers, coloured like tiny little gems and a signpost with a single eye painted on it.
This was a portal. To where she did not know. She walked over to her dressing table and opened a small rosewood box that she had received two years ago on her birthday. Inside was a map. A map of portals that she and Kit had used to get to the Kingdom. She tapped on the Ladders of Hell, then the Wishing Well, and her gaze fell to another sketch, just two long lines. The Narwhal Bridge.
She had nowhere else to go. So why not? But there was one last thing she had to do before she left. She had to see Kit. She owed it to him. After all, he had been the one who had believed in her, in her powers, in her strength when she had all but given up. She couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. She just hoped he would understand and let her be. He would have to. She closed her mind to everyone but Kit to reach him.
One last time.
The third episode of Thunder Moon will be posted next Friday at midnight. This first book in the the serialisation of The Luna Legends is free to all my subscribers and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for your support.