Sib awoke on Christmas morning to the smell of frying bacon and cinnamon. After he dressed, he stepped into the kitchen and sat down; his brother was halfway through a cinnamon sticky bun. Sib’s Mom was at the stove flipping strips of bacon. She used the tongs to point toward the sticky buns, inadvertently flicking some grease onto the floor.
“Help yourself, Sib. Merry Christmas.”
“Thanks ma,” he responded. "Merry Christmas to you." He put a couple of the rolls on his plate and set his gift to his mom next to his brother’s. He and his brother had agreed long ago not to get each other anything.
“I got you boys a little somethin’,” she said, putting the bacon on a platter and setting it on the table.
“You mean besides the breakfast?” Arc asked. Sib smiled. Bacon and sticky buns were a rare treat in his household. She nodded and stepped into her bedroom, emerging a moment later with two small presents wrapped in plain brown paper. She set them in front of Sib and his brother.
“You didn’t have to do that, ma,” Sib said. He thought his school things were his birthday and Christmas present rolled into one on account of the expense.
“Never you mind. Go on, then, open ‘em.”
Sib watched as Arc tore into his present. He pulled out a small box with a plug on the end. “You got me a recharger?” Arc asked.
“It’s a magi-charger with a universal adapter,” she said. “You know how you have to recharge your music player at school ‘cause there ain’t no electricity here? Well, this will recharge it at home. I got it from Mrs. Watkins. You know her husband was a nomaj and she didn’t have no use for it after he passed.”
Arc looked impressed. “Wow. Thanks, ma. It looks like new.”
“You’re welcome. Now how about you, Sib?” Sib tore open the paper wrapper on his package and stared down at the knife that lay in its sheath on top of a pair of new leather gloves. “It’s your grandpa’s whittlin’ knife,” she said. “I had it sharpened so you don’t have to use that dull pocketknife you been usin’.” He held it up. His mom’s dad had taught him how to whittle using this knife. Sib was sure he had been buried with it.
“It’s beautiful, ma.”
“Be sure to use them gloves too, will ya? Your granddad cut his own thumb off at least twice a week. I ain’t as good at re-attachin’ it as your grandma was.” Sib remembered that sometimes his grandmother had re-attached his grandfather’s thumb backwards in an attempt to get him to be more careful.
“Well, ma,” Arc said. “What you ain’t got in medical skill, you make up for in heart.”
“And bacon,” added Sib. She reached over to swat him with a wooden spoon, but slipped in a spot of bacon grease on the floor, missed Sib entirely and fell hard on her bottom. Sib was concerned because she wasn’t moving at all. “Are you okay, ma?” After a second, her whole body started shaking and she broke out into a deep belly laugh.
Arc joined her in laughing. “Graceful like a swan, ma. I’ll give you a ten out of ten for style.” Sib joined them, laughing as he hadn’t done in months.
They were distracted out of their mirth by a tapping noise at their window. An owl was rapping at the pane to deliver a message. “Must be a Christmas Card,” Sib’s mom said as she opened the window and took the message. The owl flew off with a farewell hoot.
As she read the message, Sib saw the smile melt from his mom’s face like an ice cube on a hot griddle. She sat down hard on the kitchen bench.
“What is it ma?” Sib asked. She dropped the note on the table. Arc snatched it up and read it. His face dissolved into anger. He crumpled up the note and threw it as hard as he could against the wall. Sib scrambled up to grab it as his brother disappeared into their bedroom and slammed the door. Sib uncrumpled it and read: ‘It is with our deepest sympathies that we tell you about the passing of Mrs. Teresa Hooplander. She left this world peacefully in her sleep early this morning. With deepest regrets, Dave Swanderski, NMMC Social Worker.’
That can’t be. There must be some mistake. I just saw her on Sunday and she was fine. “Ma, this can’t be right,” he said. She nodded, but didn’t say anything. We were going to see her today.
“What do I tell your pa?” she asked, not looking up.
“Ma, I just saw her on Sunday,” Sib said. “She was fine. We….we need to go over and clear this all up.”
She nodded again, but it was obvious that she wasn’t listening. “He didn’t even get to see her…”
“It’s a mistake,” said Sib walking over toward the fireplace. “I’m goin’ over there right now and I’m gonna fix it. He grabbed a handful of floo powder, tossed it into the grate and jumped to the hospital.
When he reached his grandmother’s room, he first noticed that the bed was empty. There was an old woman sitting in a chair in the room. Sib recognized her as Lef’s grandmother.
“Oh, hello, Sib,” she said. Sib was surprised that she knew his name.
“Uh, hello, ma’am.”
“Maleficent has told me all about you, but then again, so has your grandmother”. It took Sib a second to realize she was talking about Lef. Maleficent was her full name, but she never used it.
“So she’s…” he asked hoping that the answer was anything other than what he feared.
“She’s gone, Sib. I’m so sorry.”
Sib didn’t know what he thought he would find here. Lef’s grandmother moved her purse and patted the seat next to her. Sib sat down and stared at the empty bed. Without his grandmother’s eyes to warm it up, it felt as stark and cold as if the window had been thrown wide open to the late December air.
“It’s amazing what a person can convey through four responses,” she remarked. “For the past fourteen years, all she’s said to me was ‘yes’; ‘no’; ‘i don’t know’; and ‘i love you’ and yet my conversations with her were as deep as any we’ve ever had.” Sib just nodded. The tears welled up in his eyes. “Why did you come here today?” she asked kindly.
“I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought it was a mistake. We just saw her on Sunday and she was fine.”
“I understand. Maleficent’s grandfather went the same way. Fine one day and gone the next.”
A cart rolled by and Sib turned his head to watch as a patient was wheeled down the hallway. He willed away the tears and sniffled. “Lef said that my Gramma marched with you for civil rights.”
“Your grandmother fought for what she believed in - even when her life was threatened. You should be proud of her.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. I don’t want to be proud of her. I want her here. He stared at his shoes. He thought of something and turned to her. “Do you know anything about ghosts?”
“Enough to know that your grandmother isn’t one. People who become ghosts leave unfinished business behind. Your grandmother passed on her mission to others.”
And now I’m gonna fail her mission to me.
She stood up and put her hand on Sib’s shoulder. “Don’t forget about your friends, Sib. They can help you through. Just like you helped Lef.” She used her granddaughter’s nickname this time.
“Helped Lef?” questioned Sib. He couldn’t recall what he had done for her.
“The Wendigo,” she said. “You picked her up and carried her to safety. Don’t you remember?” Sib recalled the incident from the year before. The four Pathfinders had been chased by something in the woods. In a panic, they had separated and each sprinted back toward the school as quickly as they could. Lef, clumsy as always, had twisted her ankle and had fallen on the ground. Sib had quickly picked her up and ran with her on his shoulders to safety.
“That weren’t nothing,” he said. “I would’a done that for anybody.”
“Thank you for being that person, and thank you for treating her like anybody.”
Sib wasn’t sure he understood, but he just nodded his head. “You’re welcome ma’am.”
“Your grandmother was always so proud of you,” she said in parting. “I know you won’t let her down.” After she left, Sib just sat and stared at the empty bed.
Time passed; it could have been minutes or hours. He wiped his cheeks and found that he had been crying. What am I waitin’ for? She ain’t here...and she ain’t never gonna be. I’m on my own. He got up and went home, not looking back.
“I’m so sorry Turus,” Sib’s mom said to his dad. Sib, Arc and their mom had left for Spellhold shortly after Sib returned and they now sat across from him in the visitation room.
“I ain’t seen her in more than half a year,” Sib’s dad replied, his eyes puffy and red from crying. “I’m so tired of bein’ behind these walls. It just ain’t right.”
“You thought any more about leavin’?” Arc asked. Sib knew he was referring to exile.
“Ain’t an offer no more,” he said. “Got this from my lawyer this mornin’.” He unfolded a piece of paper that he had taken from his pocket and pressed it against the invisible barrier like a note against a window. Arc leaned over and read it out loud.
“The offer of exile has been officially withdrawn. A trial date has been set for March 4.”
“What’s that mean, pa?” Sib asked.
“I reckon they mean to make an example of me.”
“Oh dear lord,” his mom said. “Turus! What are we gonna do?”
“Ain’t much we can do,” he replied. “Unless you got some magic up your sleeve that can get me out of here.”
“Even if we did, you’d be an outlaw, pa,” Arc said.
“Better than the alternative.” He didn’t have to mention what the alternative was.
Sib was staring at the ceiling from his top bunk. He knew it was past midnight. This had to be the worst day of my life...and Christmas at that. He heard the soft buzzing of the instant message book from his bag. Somebody’s up late. He knew what the message would be. It’s either Willow or Lef buggin’ me on what happened today; askin’ me to send the code over that would answer all their questions. Questions that ain’t never gonna be answered now. Would Gramma still be proud of me if she knew that I’m a damn fool and can’t figure out what she was tellin’ me?
Maybe I missed somethin’. Maybe the answer is starin’ me in the face. He reached into his bag, grabbed his amulet and found the small folded piece of paper that he had copied from Willow. After casting lumos, he read the paper again.
‘GETPNSVE’ he read. Get pan save? Getup n’ save? Get pins vee? Nuthin’ makes sense. He looked to the next.
‘FINDWNDGO’ Find wind go. Fine down digo; Find wendigo. He smiled ruefully. Yeah, like gramma wanted us to find a monster in the woods. He gave up and laid back on his pillow.
“Can’t sleep neither?” his brother asked from the lower bunk.
“Nope. It’s been a crappy day.”
“At least you got to see her. I ain’t even got a chance to say goodbye.” Sib didn’t realize his brother had cared that much.
“She loved you just the same”, Sib said. It was true. Despite Sib badmouthing his brother to his grandmother occasionally, she had always sent her love home to Arc.
“I was always a disappointment to her too. The black sheep of the family.”
“That ain’t true, Arc. You forgot about Uncle Andy.” His brother snorted with a quick laugh. Their Uncle Andy was a wreck and was constantly involved in some failed scheme or horrible idea. They hadn’t seen him in years.
“I guess you’re right,” Arc replied. “I ain’t that bad.” As Sib rolled over and tried to clear his mind, it occurred to him that today was the first day that he and his brother had gotten along for as long as he could remember.
His book had been buzzing pretty regularly during the days between his grandmother’s death and her funeral on New Year’s Eve. Sib hadn’t looked at any of the messages, let alone respond to them. He didn’t know what to say, so he hadn’t said anything. On the day of the funeral, he dressed in the clothes that his mother had charmed black, ignored the toast that had been laid out on the table and jumped with his mom and brother to the church where his grandmother was going to be buried.
Sib had shuffled his feet over the frozen brown grass as he made his way from the church fireplace to the cemetery located just beyond, staring at the ground the whole time. He stopped when his brother came to a halt ahead of him. He looked up and his empty stomach turned over at the sense of deja vu that hit him. The cold wind bit his face and made his eyes water. “It’s okay, Sib,” his mom said, deep into her own fit of sadness. She thought he was crying, but he felt nothing but anger. This was his vision.
It was a pile of dirt. A mound of freshly turned earth covered by just a wisp of snow. He had been seeing it for months. He now knew that on the other side, beyond his sight, was the six foot by three foot hole where they had laid his grandmother’s body. He knew why he saw this in his vision. This ain’t fair. There’s no way I could’a figured out what this was. How the heck was I supposed to interpret a pile of dirt?
He wanted to curse the Orenda for sending him this vision. What a cheap trick to play at my expense. If only I had known, I could have done something. Talked to her more. I could have just…
“Sib,” a voice called from behind him. He turned around and saw Willow standing there. He didn’t know what to say to her, so he just shook his head. “Oh, Sib, I’m so sorry,” she said and hugged him. He caught a faint whiff of her flower perfume and a fresh wave of sadness overtook him as he thought of happier times. “Are you going to be okay?” she asked as she let him go. Again, he couldn’t talk, but nodded at her. She left and he saw her go to stand next to her mother. Next to them were Lef and her grandmother and two people who he assumed were Lef’s parents. Next to them were Lily and Hye-lin. Incheon was there as well, standing with his parents. Of course. Those messages weren’t his friends buggin’ him about the clues. They were just tryin’ to offer condolences. Now Sib was angry at himself for ignoring them.
After the service, Sib was still staring at the mound of dirt, unable to forgive the Orenda. He was interrupted by his friend. “Can you come over for a while?” Incheon asked. “My mom cooked up patjuk and yakgwa and we wanted to send some home with you.” Sib nodded without turning around. He had been talking up Mrs. Ryong’s honey cookies to his mom for a year now and had never gotten a chance to give her any.
“What good are visions when you don’t know what they mean until after they happen?” Still furious, Sib practically spit his question. His eyes were still boring into the mound as if he could will it out of existence with thought alone.
“Did you see this?” Incheon asked.
“It was just a pile of dirt, you know? How was I supposed to know it was her grave?”
“I guess that’s why you’re going to Miss Pyx,” he responded. “Isn’t she helping you figure them out?”
“I told her about this one months ago. She swore it had some deeper meaning, like I was going to uncover some big secret. What the hell does she know? I ain’t goin’ back to her.”
“Come on, buddy.” Incheon reached over and grabbed Sib’s elbow, lightly pulling him away from the grave. “I already told your mom you were coming over.” Sib nodded, took one last look at the grave and turned away. I’m done with Mysticism and the stinkin’ Orenda.
Sib was staring into his patjuk. He hadn’t eaten much, not because Mrs. Ryong’s dish of red beans and rice wasn’t good, but because everything seemed to taste like ashes. He appreciated being here. Incheon's older brother was out of the house and Mr. and Mrs. Ryong and Incheon were leaving him alone. He wanted to be left alone and the fact that they were busy chatting away in korean made Sib feel better for not paying attention. He was busy stewing on what he was going to do next. He felt at a complete loss for what to do with his grandmother’s memories. He was startled out of his self-pity by Mr. Ryong switching to english.
“Mabeobsa, you need to improve your korean,” he scolded Incheon.
“Sorry, dad, but I don’t understand.”
“The source of magic. I think I’ve found it.”
“Oh,” Incheon responded. “I guess I did understand. What does that mean?”
“Our power,” his dad explained. “We draw it from an external source, it’s not innate.”
“Okay, you lost me again. Maybe in korean?” Mr. Ryong shook his head and switched back, but it didn’t look like Incheon was getting any clarity about what his father was saying. After a few more minutes, Mrs. Ryong came over and collected Sib’s half-eaten bowl of patjuk.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ryong,” Sib said to her. “I just don’t have an appetite.”
She patted his shoulder. “It’s alright. Would you like some yakgwa?”
“Of course he would,” said Incheon, sitting down across from him. “Thanks mom.” His mom frowned for a moment, but then headed to the kitchen.
“What was that all about?” Sib asked him, nodding toward where Incheon had been having the conversation with his dad.
Incheon checked to make sure his parents couldn’t hear him before responding. “My dad is convinced he’s solved the mysteries of the universe. He’s always working on some theoretical something-or-other and this is his latest.”
“He seemed pretty excited about it.”
“Sure, but my dad gets excited over silly things.” His eyes lit up as his mom came back into the dining room. “Oooh! Yakgwa.”
“These are not for you,” warned his mother and set the plate in front of Sib before she walked away. Sib stared down at the honey cookies.
“What do you think we should do?” Sib asked him.
“I think we should eat them.”
“No, I mean about the memories,” Sib responded, looking up at his grinning friend. “What do we do with them? Gramma wanted to keep them away from the MACUSA guard. I think we should be careful about who we tell.”
“So what about going to someone who doesn’t care about MACUSA? Are you going to eat those?”
“How about Miss Mercana? Are you going to eat those?”
Sib looked back down at the plate of honey cookies. As good as they were, he just couldn’t bring himself to try them. He pushed the plate across to Incheon, who dug in immediately. “She told us not to contact her and I don’t want to be the one who gets her caught. Anybody else?”
“Zowock?,” said Incheon through a full mouth. Bits of honey cookie sprayed on the table. “Sowwy,” Incheon apologized, spraying a new batch of crumbs.
Sib thought of the ghost. Mr. Zolock had helped them immensely last year before he died from a heart attack on the last day of school. Now that he was no longer alive, he really didn’t have anything to fear from anyone - especially MACUSA. He nodded at Incheon. “Let’s go see him when we get back.”
Mrs. Ryong came back into the dining room and handed Sib a package with extra patjuk and yakgwa to take home, scolding Incheon again for eating Sib’s portion. She was still at him in korean when Sib stepped into the fireplace and emerged at his home. He put the food in the icebox, said goodnight to his mom and headed off to bed without another word.
A week later he returned to school, no happier but with another idea on where to go for help with his grandmother’s memories. He got there early before any of the other students had arrived. He didn’t pause in the lounge, but went straight through to the door on the far side that led to the wooded path and the circle of stones.
“Orenda,” he called out when he got there. “I need a vision from my grandmother. I need to find out what she wanted me to do with the memories.” He waited, but there was nothing to suggest that he had been heard.
“Orenda!” he yelled. “I need a vision from someone who’s gone. Just let me see her again!” Again, the only sounds were the distant roar of the river rapids and the slight fluttering of the remaining oak leaves in the mostly barren branches overhead.
“Why won’t you answer me?” he called.
A sudden voice startled him. “They do not work that way.” Sib spun around to see the ghostly form of the Hunter standing near him. “You must listen to the Orenda, not the other way around.” That made Sib angry again.
“Why did they choose a vision that I couldn’t figure out?” he asked the ghost. “Why would they do that to me?”
“You must see what the Orenda choose to show. You must learn what the Orenda choose to teach. That is the way.”
“Then to hell with the way!” he shouted as he ran and jumped in the center of the pool, spattering and kicking the strangely warm contents out onto the frozen ground. He kept jumping and splashing until the pool was empty and his shoes were covered with the soft brown mud at the bottom of the pool. He ran over and kicked a glancing blow at one of the stones and collapsed on the ground. His feet were numb from the cold and his pant legs were soaked to the knees. He lay on the ground, panting and cursing the Orenda. “What the hell good are you anyway?”
As he lay on the ground, he noticed that the slight breeze had stopped and the sun emerged from behind a cloud, cutting through the mist and warming him. It felt good on his dark jeans as the water started to freeze on his pant legs. But he didn’t want to feel good. If this was a gift, he didn’t want to accept it. He didn’t want to be happy.
He got up and slowly walked back to the Pathfinder lounge, not saying another word to the Hunter or the Orenda. I’m done with both of you. The others were gone by the time he got back and he knew he’d be late to his first class. And I don’t care anymore.
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