My name is Lenora Kelly; Lenora Atherton after I was married. I don’t remember much about my folks. They died when I was very young, so my Grandfather, Liam Kelly, brought me up. Grandda Liam was as Irish as they came, having immigrated from the “Old Country” as a teenager. It was just him and me growing up. He took care of me, and when I got older, I took care of him. We took care of each other, and no Grandpa and Granddaughter could have been closer.
It was Grandda Liam who helped me grow my love for stories and books. I loved to read but wasn’t content at that. Even more than reading, I loved making up my own stories which I would share with Grandda. He would smile and laugh at the right places, and he’d get this twinkle in his eye when he told me I had quite the imagination. When I learned to write, I went from making up the stories on the fly and would write them down. When I had a good one, I’d read it to Grandda, who never tired of hearing what my wild imagination and I would come up with.
Along with my love of reading and storytelling, music became a great passion. Grandda found guitar and piano teachers for me, and I took to the instruments like a bird to flight. I also took vocal lessons and am a classically trained singer.
We weren’t rich by any means, but I never wanted for anything. Grandda joked with me from time to time that my talents would lead to fame and that one day, I could support him in a manner he could easily grow accustomed to. I would always laugh, give him a big kiss, and tell him one day I’d buy him a big mansion.
Gradda did everything he could to make up for the loss of my parents, and the love he lavished on me in one day was more than some people got in an entire lifetime. Still, life wasn’t always easy for me. I was one of the top students in my class, and I was often called “Egghead” or “Teacher’s Pet.” I even skipped a couple grades, and when I was tested, my IQ was in the genius category. I was always a quick study and loved to learn about anything I could get my hands on.
I’ve always been a very friendly and outgoing person, but sometimes the teasing would get in the way of making friends. One person who teased me every single day during grammar school was this boy named Lincoln Atherton. He was that rich kid who lived in one of the big mansions on the hill on the outskirts of town, and he always let everyone know he was rich. He would often make stupid faces at me, pull my hair, and say things like, “I’m rich and Lenora’s weird!” One day, I hauled off and popped him in the jaw, and that was when World War 3 started. We had an all-out brawl. Lincoln was bigger and stronger than I was, but I fought like a tiger until we were pulled apart by a couple teachers and sent to the principal’s office. I had a bloody nose and a big shiner on my right eye. Lincoln had a busted lip and swollen jaw. Notes were sent home to his parents and my Grandda, so I knew I was in trouble. Knowing Grandda would be disappointed in me hurt more than Lincoln’s punches ever would.
I was grounded for a week on principle, but Grandda said he was proud of me for not being a weak sister and blubbering at such blarney. Later when I was much older, he said he was proud of me for sticking up for myself and not letting some rich kid walk all over me.
After that, Lincoln and I called an unspoken truce. We still didn’t like each other, but we left each other alone. I didn’t think about him much until years later.
When I was thirteen, I came down with a serious illness that almost killed me. Grandda took me to every doctor he could get to look at me, but nobody could pinpoint the cause or find a suitable cure. No matter what specialist I saw, no matter the hospital I was in, we were always given the same news. There was nothing that could be done and that I had less than three months to live. I was given strong pain relievers to keep me comfortable during the worst of it, and Grandda took me home to care for me there. Neither of us wanted me to be in a cold, impersonal hospital.. On my good days, I felt almost normal, but the bad days were horrible. When I wasn’t out of it from painkillers, I was so weak that I could barely lift my head off the pillow. There were times even the painkillers didn’t work, and I would cry and moan because my insides were on fire. I begged for it to be over and sometimes even had thoughts of ending it myself.
One rainy Wednesday was a particularly horrible day, and I floated in and out of consciousness. When I was with it, I writhed in pain, my fever raging like an angry sea stirred up by Poseidon himself. I prayed to whatever deity who would listen to me to end my suffering, to let me die. I was in agony, almost insane from the pain.
As I drifted in and out, I sensed Grandda speaking softly to me, holding my hand, or bathing my forehead with cool cloths. My lungs were filling with fluid, and every breath felt like I was trying to pull in air through Saran Wrap. In my half delirium, I heard Grandda speaking in what sounded like chanting in some language I didn’t recognize. I’d heard him speaking the Gaelic many times, but this was certainly different. It sounded poetic, somehow musical, but there was something about it that unnerved me. I thought I’d heard this kind of chanting from him before but the memory of it was fuzzy.
I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, it was dark when I was able to open my eyes, even if it was only for an instant. Grandda was still chanting softly as he held my hand in his strong, calloused ones. I was too weak to move, and I sensed someone else in the room. I knew it was true when Grandda’s chanting stopped when a woman’s voice spoke quietly. “Liam, you’ve cast all the spells you can. It will only tax you further if you keep this up. There is nothing more you can do except stay with her. It is now me who must continue if she is to recover.”
“I cannot sit here and do nothing while she lies dying,” Grandda’s agitated voice replied.
“But you are doing more than you know,” the mysterious woman said again. “You have cast every Spell of Protection and Healing in your arsenal, and now, it is my turn. What she needs most from you now is your love and strength.”
Spells? What was she saying? There is no such thing, I thought to myself. Sure, I’d written stories of magic, dragons, and fairies, but it was only fantasy. There were no witches or wizards in reality. That existed only in stories like Harry Potter or ones I’d written.
“If she dies…if I lose her…I have nothing left.” The last few words came out sounding choked as Grandda spoke. I’d only seen Grandda cry a few times, so hearing how forlorn and desolate he sounded caused a tear to roll down my cheek.
“You have summoned me in time. She will not die.” I heard the stranger’s footsteps nearing my bed, and a soothing hand wiped the tear from my cheek. “Hush now, child. All will soon be well, and this will be behind you.” I should have been frightened at a stranger being in my bedroom, but somehow, I wasn’t. Her hand felt strong and capable, and I sensed some sort of power in her voice and words. I licked my dry, cracked lips and opened my eyes a little. “Who…?” It took great effort for my lips to form, and when I tried to voice the question, no sound came. I licked my lips again and tasted blood.
“Hush, child,” the strange woman said again. “You must not speak, but rest. My name is Mathilda Blankenship, and I am here to help you. You will know all in due course.”
A strange sensation passed through me when she touched my forehead. In that touch, I felt all the pain leave me, and I breathed in a satisfying deep breath that didn’t make my lungs rattle. She stroked my hair and murmured something in that strange, exotic language I’d heard Grandda using. Then, she touched my forehead again and spoke in English. “Sleep now. Deep, restful sleep awaits you.”
The world began to fall away, and I felt as though I were floating on a cloud. I wanted to ask her what this chanting meant and why it sounded so strange, but the cloud carried me away.
When I next became aware, Grandda was sitting by my bed holding my hand. I sucked in a long, wonderful breath that didn’t hurt or feel labored. The familiar weakness wasn’t there, and I opened my eyes easily. I looked into Grandda’s haggard face and saw his teary eyes looking at me, but he was smiling. I cleared my throat and croaked, “Hey, Grandda.”
“Hey yourself,” came his tremulous reply. With that, he pulled me into his arms and held me for a long time. “I nearly lost ye last night, but you’re going to be all right.” His Irish brogue was thick as it always was when he felt deep emotion.
“Who was that woman? She touched me and something happened.” I shook my head and regretted it instantly as a headache started to roar.
“Shh, lie still,” Grandda whispered as he propped me up against the pillows. “There is a lot I must tell you. I’ve kept many a thing from you, my beautiful Lenora, and I hope when you hear it, you can forgive your old grandda one day. There were things I never wanted you to know, things I must now tell you because there is no choice. You need to get your strength back first and then we must talk.”
It took roughly a week before Grandda felt I was strong enough to hear what he had to say, and boy, what he had to say sure turned the world topsy-turvy. The chanting I’d heard was, indeed, a spell, more than one, in fact. The first time I’d heard it was when he cast a Spell of Protection over me the night he took me in after my parents were killed. As I lay in my sickbed, he’d been chanting healing spells over me. As it turned out, Grandda was a bonafide wizard and I was a witch. My mother, Maggie, had also been a witch. Sadly, she’d got mixed up in darker magic, which led to the deaths of her and my father, Patrick.
Shortly before she died, my mother had been acting strangely. Grandda told me she seemed frightened, and she spoke of a feeling of being watched. She’d made him promise that if anything happened to her, that he’d take me in and shield me from all the witchery. A week later, she and my father had been found dead and Grandda had kept his promise. But now, he said it was best I know the entire truth and I could do with it what I wanted.
He then told me about Ms. Blankenship and how he’d summoned her. She’d been his mentor when he was learning his magic, and in desperation, he’d summoned her to try to help me. He knew that my illness was magic related, and both he and Ms. Blankenship agreed that it had been some kind of curse. As all this had been kept from me, they surmised that the curse was targeted toward my mother but carried down to me. It was guesswork and there was still a lot of mystery, but both Grandda and Ms. Blankenship surmised that my mother had been dealing in some sort of dark magic, had crossed the wrong people who eventually had her and my father killed, and performed a curse that would affect me. Grandda explained that I’d inherited magical ability from my mother, which made me very receptive to the healing spells Ms. Blankenship performed on me. It was because of my inheritance that I remained alive through the illness and was able to recover so quickly. Even so, Ms. Blankenship had to use several forms of magic in order to restore me. She explained that because of this, there was a chance I could develop extrasensory gifts such as clairvoyance or telekinesis.
Over the next few years, Grandda taught me everything he knew about magic. When my abilities exceeded his own and when he couldn’t teach me anymore, he called on Ms. Blankenship to take over my training. Once again, I proved to be a quick study, and I embraced being a witch. I was warned to have a care about how I used my powers because there were those in the world who wouldn’t understand. I loved to experiment and even invented my own spells and potions. Even as I relaxed, my mind was filled with ideas for new spells and charms.
Ms. Blankenship’s prediction about developing an extrasensory gift came true, and it came in the form of empty. I could write a character who could consume me, and I’d laugh at his or her shenanigans or feel badly about some misfortune they’d experience. However, soon after my illness, I’d actually feel their emotions as if they were my own. I’d cry buckets while writing a sad scene or laugh like a lunatic if a character found something hilarious. I’d even feel the sensations of my characters during a romantic scene I’d write. Music was a big trigger. I would feel my heart squeeze as a singer would sing of undying love for his soulmate or gasp as I experienced what it would feel like if the one I loved betrayed me.
For a while, these sensations contained themselves only to my writing of stories or pieces of music I would listen to or compose. Then, I began to sense the feelings of real people. One day when I hugged my best friend Christie when I found her crying in the bathroom, I felt the heartbeat of someone other than her own. “Christie!” I exclaimed. “You’re…pregnant?”
She cried harder, slid down the wall, and laid her forehead on her knees. “Y-yes. I was g-going to tell you. I found out last n-night. But how did you know?”
“I-I don’t know,” I said, perplexed. As far as I knew, she and her boyfriend hadn’t done the big deed, and she’d never confided to me that they’d gone any further than harmless making out.
“Lenora…I have to get rid of it. I can’t have a baby,” she said, her voice rising as hysteria sank in.
“Get rid of it? What do you mean?” I asked.
“There’s a clinic I heard about. I can get the deed done tomorrow and nobody will be the wiser,” she said.
“Christie, you can’t!” I said. “It would be murder.”
“But it’s only a cell,” Christie protested. “It can’t feel anything.”
“There’s a little girl inside you who wants to live,” I said.
“But you don’t know this,” she shot back.
“But I do! Somehow I do.” Instinctively, I took her hand and furrowed my forehead in concentration. I focused on the heartbeat I’d felt when I’d hugged Christie. When I let go of Christie’s hand, I looked into her huge, bewildered eyes. Christie was able to feel her unborn child through me and the magic I’d just performed. “Could you live with yourself if you go to that clinic?” I asked. It was Christie’s choice, of course, but what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t speak my mind? In the end, Christie went through with the pregnancy and chose to place the baby for adoption.
Over time, this gift grew and I started to hear voices in my head. I kept it to myself because it’s never a good sign to admit to hearing voices inside one’s head. Finally, it got to the point where I couldn’t tell where my own thoughts and feelings ended and where these others began. I had no choice but to tell Ms. Blankenship what was happening to me and ask her to help me. She just smiled and said it was a normal part of development for an ability such as mine. She showed me how to put filters in place so there could be a separation between my own emotions and the thoughts I was hearing from others and what they were feeling. Eventually, it became second nature, and I even learned that I could channel my own emotions to someone else. For example, if I was in a humorous mood, I could extend that to someone who was having a bad day to make them feel a sense of joy.
I would have considered my life ordinary, but being a witch added unique elements to it. Still, there was a lull for a long time. I went to school, did my homework, spent time with Grandda and my friends, continued my music lessons, and wrote stories and musical compositions. Add witching lessons with Ms. Blanenship, and life was full. I sailed along pretty well until Lincoln Atherton reentered my existence when I least expected it.