Note: This story has Australian spelling and colloquialisms.


BOOK ONE

The Wounded Talisman

Chapter One

FORBIDDEN PRACTICE

I always wait ten minutes before I let my colours shine. Even though I need all the practice I can get to make them strong and bright I never start before I'm certain that I’m alone. Sometimes my mother 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 or watch videos on my phone but today I have new coloured 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 bend to touch the buttress roots that squiggle everywhere. 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 my master 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 Nan already said I could.

 

"Why would you want to be out here in this heat?" Mumma complained when she brought out the rug and my art box. "Any normal girl would invite a friend over to watch a show or play games inside where it's cool." She just doesn't understand that I don't want to hang out with other kids. I want to make my aura so strong and steady that it turns to powder like Claire’s. 

 

Three minutes.

 

Time ticks slowly when you want it to go fast. I desperately want to get started but after Mumma caught I promised myself I would always wait. I was only nine and had only just learnt to radiate. Most of the time I could control my aura but when I got excited over something it would just shine right out of me. It was the year that my grandmother 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. "You have to stop this, Lucida!" She looked almost sad when she knelt next to me. "It's too dangerous.” Her eyes darted all over the place. “If the wrong people see 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 radiating.” She didn’t give me a good reason but she gave a weird answer when I asked, “What’s so wrong with letting my colours shine?”

 

“It’s just the beginning of the madness,” she replied but she wouldn’t say any more. I heard her threaten Claire one evening though. She did that whisper scream thing, “I will not let you teach her to airbrush,” she hissed in Claire’s face while pointing her finger. “Not after what happened to Jeremy. I wish I’d never agreed to any of this!” She stormed out.

 

After that she started on about me acting normal all the time. 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 late last year.

 

"Oh honey, she just wants you to be the same as everyone else so that you’re safe," Claire told me not long after she taught me to airbrush. "Your life energy is powerful and unfortunately bad people are attracted to good things." 

 

 “What’s the point of a gift I can’t use?” I pouted. “And anyway, all I’m doing is drawing insects 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 clear the air,” Claire revealed. 

 

There's no point in dwelling on the past. I roll onto my stomach just as my phone chimes. Yes! I do a final check to make sure it’s safe then, 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 radiating 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. From a deep 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 radiate an aura, starting with sky blue near my skin, and ending with pale yellow that vanished into the air about eight centimetres from me. Afterwards the sky and trees, even the grass and dirt, seem brighter and clearer. Then I blow the colours from it out to brush the air. 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.

 

Vivid colours smear the air as I spin in circles, stopping only when I get dizzy to smile at the spot where Claire no longer stands smiling and clapping her hands while telling me how good I'm getting at airbrushing. 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 maybe even compress them into a white light shield by May. 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. Catching me radiating is bad enough but if she sees me airbrushing then I’ll never be allowed at the tree again. 

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 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. Not even Mumma can control the temperature. And it's not just cold air. It's slippery. 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. "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 shadows and shapes sometimes warp the air 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 and colourful haze. A woman with dirt on her bare feet and cuts on her legs staggers towards me but collapses to the ground after only a few steps.

 

Lying on her back with bent legs and closed eyes she doesn’t move. Behind her the misty slow-moving vortex of colours vibrates and shimmers and makes her appear to flicker in and out of focus. 

 

Life energy rushes through me as I push my feet into the ground to force myself not to move. Everything becomes crisp and more vivid as my vision heightens and my focus strengthens. My chest thumps as my eyes meet hers.

 

"Lucy," she croaks. A smile stretches the deep cracks in her lips and brightens her dirt-smeared face.

 

Her sunken cheeks and matted hair delay the moment I recognise her. “Claire?” I want to run and hug her but I'm still not sure if it's really my old friend and teacher. For our Sunday afternoon lessons she always had clean clothes and strong colours but this woman has neither. Also, it seems like too much of a coincidence that after thinking about her all day that she appears quite literally out of nowhere. 

 

With great effort she sits up. For a moment she does nothing but stare blankly ahead. Slowly, she gets to her feet. Her torn and dirty cotton dress clings to her as though she's been in water or sweating a lot. As she turns to face the swirling colours tiny white particles spring from her to float in the air.

 

Our eyes meet as she glances over her shoulder. “I have something for you.” Standing tall she takes deep breathes and pushes out her left hand. The vortex shrinks into coils of light that drill into her hand. Like catching a ball she holds her hand in a loose fist. For a moment she doesn’t move and then she turns her hand over and uncurls her fingers. Rays of white light shoot out of her palm in the shape of a spiral. 

 

Her smile gives away nothing away. Like a magician performing the greatest of tricks, she presses her hands together and then parts them to reveal a flat disc lying on her hand. Flickering in light that dances between the leaves overhead it resembles a large coin. Four raised rings descend in size from the outside in giving it an optical illusion appearance. Under the rings a woodgrain texture with a metallic lustre moves like oil on water. The design that covers the greater portion of the surface rises and falls like layers taking turns appearing. Mossy greens with specks of yellow and brown turn to blood reds fleshy with creases and veins. Inside a smaller circle at the middle of the disc a glowing spiral swirls endlessly towards a bright pinpoint of light. 

 

A burning desire to touch the strange object takes my attention. I want it more than I’ve ever wanted anything.

 

"What is it?" I ask.  It’s the missing part. It has to be. 

© Taya Wood 2017 

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