Note: This story has Australian spelling and colloquialisms.


The Wounded Talisman

Chapter One


I always wait ten minutes before I let my aura shine. Even though I need all the practice I can get to make it strong and bright I never start before I'm certain that Mumma's really left. Sometimes she sneaks around the side of the garden and hides in the bushes trying to catch me out.


To make the time pass quickly I usually play a game on my phone or watch YouTube videos but today I have new pencils. As Mumma disappears around the bend on the path, hopefully back to the house, I open my art box. Finally I have all the shades. There were other brands with more colours but these ones were the softest. They'll be perfect for making thick, fast lines.


I know exactly what I want to draw first. Clutching green and grey in my fist I chase the shadows of the leaves above me across the page of my sketchbook until there are only a few patches of white left. Beige and yellow banded together make good sunlight between my scribbles but I leave some of the page blank for the brightest light.


Six minutes to go, the timer on my phone tells me. The picture feels done so I lay on my back and trace the branches of the banyan tree as they reach out to touch the lawn. Chasing its buttress roots they squiggle everywhere on the slowest of journeys to explore the whole garden. My favourite thing is walking up one root to the trunk and down another. I go all the way round, climb the branch with the swing hanging from it, and walk with my arms out, imagining taking to the air with the power of my mind. "Lift" I say in my head and up I go but I don’t really. Not yet. When Claire comes back for our last lesson I’ll earn the missing part and then I'll be able to do more than just fly.


Five minutes to go.


Usually I'm only allowed to come here after lunch from two to four o'clock. Today Mumma didn't want me to come here at all. She said it's too hot for me to play outside but Uncle Rom already said I could. He's everyone's favourite and no one can say no to him, even Mumma.


"Why would you want to be out here in this heat?" Mumma complained when she brought out the rug and art box. "Any normal girl would invite a friend over to watch anime or play games inside where it's cool."


"I don't have any friends," I reminded her. I don't say that to make her sad. She just doesn't understand that I don't want to hang out with other kids. I need time alone to let my colours shine.


Three minutes. Time ticks slowly when you want it to go fast. I desperately want to get started but after Mumma caught me four years ago I promised myself I would always wait. I was only nine and hadn't learnt how to control my aura enough to airbrush yet. It shone right out of me. It was the year Nan gave me a scrawny rescue kitten who squeaked like her fancy old kettle on the stove. I took him into my bedroom and we played with a fluffy red thing on string. I was so happy and I didn't understand the rule about keeping my head and feet covered to stop my colours from shining.


Mumma caught me and went crazy. "How many times do I have to tell you?" She looked almost sad when she knelt next to me. "You have to stop this, Lucida." Her eyes darted all over the place. "It's dangerous. If someone sees you..."


"What, Mumma?" Her panicked tone scared me. "What would happen?"


"Nothing," she shook off her frown with a tight smile. "It's nothing. Please, Lucida, no more airbrushing.” 


She’s never once given me a good reason to stop other than she wants me to act normal. Normal, normal, normal. I’m barely within reach of peculiar so normal is way out of my reach. Mumma sets a higher bar than she knows. 


"I don't even know what she means by normal," I complained to Claire before Mumma banned our Sunday afternoon lessons. 


"Oh honey, she just wants you to be the same as everyone else so that you’re safe," Claire told me. "As samaran, your life energy is pure and strong. Unfortunately bad people are attracted to good things so airbrushing can be dangerous." 


“What’s the point of a gift I can’t use?” I pouted. “And anyway, all I’m doing is drawing dragonflies and birds in the air. They don’t even last that long. How’s that dangerous?” 


“That’s just making practice fun. Your colours are full of life, Lucy. The real purpose of airbrushing is to paint what’s dying back to life,” Claire revealed. That was before the lesson on spectral toxins. They’re the worst. I've only seen them a couple of times. Once around a homeless man in the park walking in small circles and muttering about the dark people, and another time when Nan's friend got so angry she kicked her dog and now he has a limp. Both of them had black snow swirling around them. Spectral toxins are so bad they make normal people crazy with madness, miserable with depression, or uncontrollably angry. 


No wonder Mumma banned Claire from coming round. The things  she taught me were far from normal. Brushing off the past, I roll onto my stomach just as my phone chimes. Yes! I do a final check by pretending to look for something along the garden edge. It’s safe. With a shake of my head, off comes my hat. Left foot and then right, I kick my legs out and my shoes go flying. My feet and head bare I stand as I've done many times before, in the soil under the tree. Just the thought of airbrushing wakes the life force in my breath. Like warm light esse flows in all directions inside me along my energy veins. 


With my inner senses turned up full, I enter the deep silence beneath the chirping birds and distant sounds of traffic and voices. On a deep clear breath I exhale colours slowly at first and then more until nothing else matters. The more connected I am to the ground and sky, the stronger they get. 


I like the buzzing feeling of pushing my colours out and making them come alive. I like it more when my esse flows without me having to force it and my colours go still like lake water. First I make an aura. Then I blow the colours from it out into the air to make shapes. I push red against orange against yellow against green against blue against violet until the white at the edges gets so bright it takes my shadow away.


When airbrushing no longer takes effort I swirl around and smile at the spot where Claire no longer stands smiling and clapping her hands while telling me how good I'm getting at it. My smile fades. It's been three months since she's been gone. I miss her so badly but at this rate I'll be able to make my colours turn thick by April and the white harden into a shield by May. When I’m ready to soulbrush then I just know she'll come back, no matter what Mumma says.


For some reason I've been thinking about Claire a lot today. I guess I just miss her and our lessons and I really want the missing part. Shaking off bad thoughts and feelings, I raise more esse and spin for the fun of watching my colours splash into the air like paint smeared on glass. Dizzy, I stop spinning just as an airy whistle rustles the leaves and brings a woody-earthy scent to me on a gust of cool air. 


Mumma! My colours fade as I check the shadows between the trees. She's not there but she could be watching from somewhere else. A branch snaps on the other side of the tree. My shoes lie out of reach. If I stretch out I can reach my hat. With a sigh I realise how much I don't want to worry about getting caught any more.


I pick up my sun-hat and tiptoe over to my shoes. With them both on, I stand still and switch on my senses to hear a humming sound and inhale a sweet aroma. Another branch creaks. More leaves rustle as the unseasonal crisp breeze caresses my cheeks. It's early January and already the hottest month on record so cold air makes no sense. Even Mumma can't control the temperature. And it's not just cold air. It's thick. The temperature rises to hot, then sinks into warm, cool, and then so cold that I rub goose bumps on my arms. A gust of icy wind snaps at my face, whips my hair across it, and then disappears to leave the day too quiet.


Different things can happen at the banyan tree. Most of the time it's just my imagination but sometimes things from other places warp reality. "As samaran, you will often find it hard to tell the difference between real and imagined, especially when one turns out to be the other so often," Claire told me once in a lesson. I wonder which one this is.


A crunching noise from behind makes me turn slowly around to see a swirling haze of misty colours under the canopy behind the trunk on the other side of the tree. It flickers in the sunlight. When different things happen I usually just watch them first to make sure they won't get me in trouble but this is happening at the thin spot where things from other places appear like shadows on walls or shapes pressed against frosted glass. Sometimes they press against the world to warp it but never this much. I should ignore it and run back to the house but I like the smell. It's like doughnuts or candy floss.


Twigs snap underfoot as a figure steps out of the bright haze and staggers towards me. Esse rushes through my energy veins  when I see a woman with dirt on her bare feet and cuts on her legs. Her dark smeared eye make-up and matted hair delay the moment I recognise her. Before I say or do anything a strained smile briefly lifts her face before she collapses to the ground.


© Taya Wood 2017.  No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.