See what I did there? No, well, fine! I've spent the week reworking this short story. It is not perfect. Because, again, was meant to be internal document type thing. I like though, so may as well share! I don't normally do this type of thing for a project, but I was leaping back into first person so wanted to get into the mc's head. The easiest way was to write this backstory for her. This is not first person. Because I was not in her head yet.
Tesia changed so much from my original inception of the story. She started as a dream, something I rarely use when writing, and then I had two scenes I wrote before even starting the novel.
Oh, and she was a pain in the ass. I had a love interest planned and then she liked someone else. (The life of a pantser is always a roller coaster.) Then, I heard a song and she informed me the current love interest was nice and all, but she had other plans. ARGH! Of course, I love where the novel ended up.
And it all started here. After the dream. I have one book done and I want to do a second. It is on the list.
Her name echoed around the barn, but Tesia didn’t come out from the stall she’d hid inside. The voice grew closer as she huddled down under the blanket she’d stolen from her brother’s horse. It was no less scratchy than the hay she’d piled around herself, but at twelve the straw and blanket fort was the best she could do so quickly. They’d found her in her closet and even under her bed.
“Tesia!” came closer.
Tes clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a whimper. Was that them? Were the coming to get her? Tesia felt them near waiting for her to make the mistake of looking out of her fort.
“Won’t do it,” she whispered to herself and froze. Had they heard? She pulled the blanket down so it was atop her.
“Tesia Faustina Jaskolski! You come out right now!”
Oh, thank God! It wasn't them. It was her mom. Her mom sounded furious so she didn’t pop out. Even though, more than anything, she wanted to feel her mother’s arms around her.
The voice came from the same stall she hid in now. Despite her best efforts at fort building her mother found her instantly. The blanket was yanked off and it captured her flyaway brown hair and created a halo around her face. Blinking brown eyes sat under heavy eyebrows as she stared at her mom with unconcealed fear.
“Mom,” she whispered before she threw herself against her mom despite her angry face. Tesia didn't know how long the anger remained as she buried her head in her mom’s shoulder to sob. It wasn’t until her mother hugged her back that she began to believe things might be ok. Even then she felt them watch her while they hovered out of sight. They waited to grab her. Tes dared to lift her head and look around. A flicker of grey from the corner of her eye sent her back to hide against her mother’s shoulder with a sob.
“Mom, please.” They drew closer. “Mom, don’t let them get me.”
Her Mom did nothing and they continued to stalk closer. Her mother began to whisper, but Tes realized it was not to her. Most of the words made no sense. In truth, she did not even know if they were words.
Well, not all of them Some of them were words she was not supposed to say, but did when no one else was around. Forbidden words felt different on her tongue. Tesia loved the illicit thrill of it all even if she was not brave enough to say them when anyone else might hear. Even as she thought illicit words the fearfully cold, eerily beautiful creatures grew closer.
Tesia, they both called and she tried to pull away from her mother to run again. Surely she could find someplace they wouldn’t catch her? Her mom’s arms tightened around her when she tried to get free. Tes reeled at the betrayal. How could she do this to her own daughter? Let these things get her?
We are not things, they said and their voices echoed inside as they burrowed into every part of her brain. No, deeper than her brain. It was like they poked into her very being, her soul. She felt them root out her secrets and shames and felt their displeasure at each and every one of them. Tesia’s sobs grew louder, but it did not deter them.
We are glorious, whispered into her head, but she didn’t believe it for a second.
We are glorious, thundered inside her head and Tesia screamed. She kept screaming even after their cold displeasure was soothed over. Something stopped it and despite feeling them inside, whatever these terrifying, glorious creatures were, Tesia was able to put a wall up between her and them. Inside the walls she huddled in fear as she heard something else.
Tesia, remember you’re not just your mother’s daughter. The voice wasn’t one she recognized at first. Then, as the walls were torn down by the fearsome creatures, Tesia remembered the voice.
“Granny Janka!” she screamed out loud. “Help me!” Except Granny Janka was gone, run off by the things in her soul.
We are glorious, the creatures insisted. Tesia wondered if she should agree with them like she did with her mom. It was easier to just agree with adults.
So, she tried a tentative, You are glorious.
It didn’t work.
The pain flared back to life. Tesia felt like her head was going to explode before blissful blackness overtook her. In the blackness she saw two points of light that grew brighter until her head did explode.
“Tesia, I don’t think you should be going out with him.”
Tesia stared at herself in the mirror with a frown. Her hair refused to do what she wanted. Her mother kept talking behind her, but Tesia ignored her despite the twinge of disapproval she felt forced upon her.
“Tes!” her mom shouted. With a sigh, Tesia turned to face her mother, still hating her hair. “I do not approve of him.” Tes stared at her mother in disbelief.
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” Tesia asked. Again, there’s that twinge of disapproval. Words accompanied the feeling this time and her head echoed with them. Words she’s heard for five years, but still fought against even if it led to pain. “Fred’s a nice boy, mother,” Tesia offered despite the twinge of pain. They always knew when she lied.
It was the action that created the most trouble for her. Especially as she lied to her parents frequently. They refused to believe it was almost required as a teenager. Ageless, divine beings did not understand being a teenager.
“I don’t like that boy.”
Tesia left the mirror to go back to her closet. Flipping through her wardrobe she wondered if she should change. Was there time? She was supposed to meet Fred in less than an hour and her mother could go on for twice that long.
“Tesia,” her mother said, in her I’m giving you one last chance to be reasonable tone, “You have responsibilities. You should be training for your work and not messing around with such things. If you spent less time on your grandmother’s-“ her mother began and Tesia knew she was in for it now if she didn’t speak.
“Mom,” Tes interrupted. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been to see Janka in a month. I swear.” She skirted the edge of the truth with the words, but they’re distracted by something now and don’t notice. “Look, if you promise I can go out tomorrow with Sara and the others I’ll study tonight.” If having angels of the Lord in your head taught anything it was how to speak like a lawyer. Wanting to sell the promise she picked up her cellphone and texted Fred. As her mother watched she sent MEET U THERE NSTEAD.
Even with the shortcut through the woods it’d be a close call to get to their meeting spot before Fred got bored and left. Tes was quite aware Fred was not the good boy she claimed. That was the point. Tesia tried to look innocent as she threw herself onto her bed and reached under it for the ebony box hidden away from everyone.
“Tesia, I know it is hard on you, sweetheart. Please understand I did not want this for you. I never wanted this to happen this way.” Her mother had said the words before. At least once a week for the last five years.
Tesia, as always, shook her head to stop her mother. “Mom, it’s fine. I know, ok? Look, can I be alone?” The trick was to not have to open the box. If she opened the box she had to actually stay long enough to appease them. If she stayed any time she’d miss out on Fred.
"Very well, Tesia,” her mother finally said. “Do not overtax yourself in your studies. I shall discuss with your father if you may go out tomorrow.” The final look from her mother was filled with distrust.
“Finally,” Tes muttered. Knowing her mother the way she did there was no bolting out the window yet. Instead, Tesia sat on her bed, fingers tracing the ancient words carved onto the wooden box. She opened it as little as possible because it only invited their attention. With them distracted by something right now she didn’t want them coming back to her. Crossing the room to get her phone she sent another text to Fred. HEADING OUT C U SOON. Phone tucked into her pocket she stretched out on her back and counted to one hundred.
When she hit eighty the door opened and her mother’s head peeped in. “Do you want to have ice cream?”
“What flavor?” She’d been through the freezer so unless her mother had run to the store, unlikely as it was half an hour away, she should be safe in asking the question.
Tesia wrinkled her nose as she pointed to the dresser. “I’ve got some jelly beans in there if I want something sweet.” She’s not supposed to have food in her room, but her mother wouldn’t give her trouble tonight. It would help explain away any guilt she felt. They latched onto guilt like her dog with a fresh bone.
Again her mother hesitated, but Tesia ignored her. Once the door closed, Tes sprang up and hurried to press her ear against it. After she heard the squeak from the bottom step she turned the lock. Shoes in one hand, she darted to the window and slid it open quietly. Ever since she’d figured out she could drop herself onto the porch roof, Tesia’d been sure the window was well oiled.
Her shoes were tossed down first. Bare feet touched down on the porch roof and she grabbed the rope tied to the window to pull it down almost all the way. Quietly inching to the edge of the porch she peeked over until she could make sure no one looked out the window. Dropping down she grabbed her shoes and raced for the tree line. She stopped only long enough to put her shoes on. Tesia’d raced through the woods since she was a kid so there was no need to worry about surprises.
At the old iron fence, she stopped and counted iron bars. When she found the one she wanted she gave a tug to free it and slip inside. The old cemetery was long out of use. Even Tesia’s family had switched to the one behind the church. Once she learned about the busted bar from her brothers this had become Tesia’s private hangout since she first started to sneak out of her house.
“Thought you wasn’t going to make it,” Fred said from the top of a crumbling headstone. He set his feet on the ground and walked over to Tesia. “Would have been a shame,” he said before holding out his arms.
Tes made him wait until she counted to five. Then she laughed before stepping into his embrace. Her nose wrinkled at the smell, he’d been smoking, but she didn’t resist when he tipped her head up for a kiss.
He tasted like cigarettes, but Tesia did her best to ignore it and find the thrill Fred usually caused in her. There’s nothing this time so when he tried to push his hand under her shirt she backed away. “Ugh,” Tes said with a grin. “You smell. I thought you said you’d stop smoking before we met up.”
Fred stepped closer and tried to flatten her resistance with his cocky, charming grin. “Aww. Come on, Tesia. You were late and I was bored.” He grabbed the sleeve of her shirt to tug her back to him. “I missed you so much,” he said before his hands tried to get under her shirt again.
Tesia frowned and tried to jerk away, but his hands tightened on her. “Cut it out, Fred,” she warned before yelping when his fingers tightened more painfully around her arm. “Not amused.” Fred pulled her closer and she didn’t fight because she felt them stir in her head. “Come on, Fred,” Tesia said. “You had your fun. Now lemme go. I’m so not in the mood for this.”
Fred kissed her again and Tes tried to get away, but he had both his arms around her. “Tired of the games, Tes,” Fred said as his hand shoved down the back of her pants. “Always teasin’ me and meetin’ me places you could put out, but you never do. I know you want to.” Tes was so stunned by his words he managed to shove her to the ground. When she felt the rough edge of a fallen tombstone scrape her back she kicked at Fred.
“You’re an idiot, Fred,” Tesia said as she managed to get away and scramble to her feet. His eyes narrowed as his lips turned down grimly. Tes backed away. She felt her heartbeat speed up even as she tried to keep it down.
“You’re scared,” Fred mocked as he kept following her. He made her take careful half-steps in the dark. “Nothing to be scared about now, Tessie.”
She was scared, but not because of Fred. A bitter wind blew up from nowhere and fallen leaves and bits of stone flew around the cemetery. A piece of stone hit her cheek and she cried out as it embedded itself under her left eye. The wind grew stronger as Fred’s eyes widened and he looked around with alarm.
The vessel must not be harmed, whispered in the wind.
“What the fuck!” Fred yelled as he ducked a branch heading for his head.
The vessel must not be harmed, was repeated as Tesia saw twin flashes of light in the windstorm.
“No!” Tesia yelled into the wind. “I’m not harmed. I’m ok. He didn’t mean nothing. Please.” She didn’t know what they’d do. She’d read enough in the books locked in the wooden box to know what they could do and she didn’t want to be a witness to any of those things. “I’m ok,” she cried out again, but it didn’t matter.
The vessel shall not suffer the touch. There must be an Answer.
By now Fred’s eyes were white and he’d begun to tremble. Larger pieces of debris smacked into him, knocking him about in the wind. A blinding light that Tes hoped for a second was headlights left her unable to see. When her eyes cleared she stared in disbelief.
The cemetery was a shambles. Tesia cried out as she lifted a hand and found the piece of stone stuck in her cheek. She pulled it out and shoved it into her pocket. Looking around she screamed at what she saw. Fred, what she believed was Fred, stood before her, arms up to ward off something about to strike his face.
He is cleansed, danced in her ears and Tesia continued to stare in disbelief at what stood before her.
His clothes were still clothes, but his body was no longer flesh. A shaking hand touched his face and came away covered in a fine white powder. Sniffing her fingers, she recoiled when she almost put her tongue to her flesh.
“What did you do?” she whispered. Tears streaked her cheek and she touched Fred again. He’d been an asshole, that familiar twinge of disapproval at the name calling passed almost without notice, but he wasn’t this much of one.
The unclean shall not touch our vessel. They shall not harm our vessel. Our duty is to the vessel. Her duty is to the greater good. The vessel must not be harmed.
Tesia wanted to scream at their answer, but she didn’t. It would do no good. “But what do I do about this?” she asked the beings lurking in her head. “Someone will come looking for him.” The answer was given and she recoiled from it. “No,” she said, but they would not be denied. She’d never gotten away with telling them no.
The pain from her disobedience was welcome as it distracted her from what they wanted her to do to Fred. Her resistance did not last long and she gave in as tears blurred her vision. Several minutes of shoving made Fred’s body rock. When it finally went over she covered her eyes. The smell opened them again and she ran a few feet away to drop to her knees and lose her dinner. Heaving, trying to breathe through her mouth, she ran.
Disobedience, they whispered, has consequences for all involved.
Her hands shook so bad she was unable to get the bar back in place. So, she left it and raced for home. It was impossible to see through the tears and she tripped over rocks and roots she’d normally leap over with a laugh. There’s no laugh in her now. They’d stolen her laugh. They’d stolen her life. The thought was out before she could stop it and Tesia fell against a tree as her head exploded in shards of light.
We are a gift. We are glorious.
Through the pain she made her way home, but she couldn’t stand the thought of climbing back to her room. Instead, she stumbled in the back door, a mess of blood, bruises, and vomit to be stared at by her parents. Her mother sat down the phone as her father turned off the small tv in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. They were the only words she could managed as her parents helped her up the stairs. Her mother put her in the shower and Tesia grabbed her tight as she continued to whisper, “I’m sorry.”
After the shower, her mother tucked her into bed. Her father came in a few minutes later as all the lights shone down on her. He took the box and put it away under the bed. As he turned off the lights she started shivering again, but he replaced the electricity with warm, scented candles that seeped into her body and calmed her.
“Tesia,” her dad said as he sat on the bed. She pulled her hands from under the quilt made for her by her grandma Janka. On her palms he traced a sigil in sweet smelling oil.
Thank God, there’s that twinge of disapproval, but farther away, for her father and his mother. Without grandma Janka and her father she was sure the angels would have made her mad by now. Tonight, her father’s magic kept her safe from them. He sat with her until she fell into an uneasy sleep. When she woke several hours later the room was empty except for the scent of low burning candles.
“Never again,” Tesia swore aloud. “I’ll find a good man or none at all.”
There would be no more deaths on her hands.
There would be no more dancing with trouble and seeing how far she could push those tethered to her soul.
She knew now there were limits. Unfortunately, she’d learned that through Fred. In the fading light of the candles she felt her grandmother watch over her, keeping the angels at bay. In their distant, disapproving watchfulness she knew they witnessed her oath. The thought nearly comforted her, but as her eyes closed she saw Fred again. His whole body was not turned to salt, only the outside. When he’d fallen, he’d crashed into wet, fleshy pieces.
Tesia whimpered at the memory and spent the rest of the night staring, wide-eyed at the ceiling to try to forget what she’d seen.
The service had ended a couple of hours ago. Tesia was happy to be left alone in the church for a few minutes before her brothers brought the car around. The temperature outside was dropping again and with the rain already coming down that meant a long drive back home. A long, uncomfortable drive back home. As she sat at the front of the church she divided her attention between the flowers overpowering everything with their smell and the wooden cross hanging behind the altar.
It still didn’t seem real. Tesia had thought when her mother had died she’d never feel this lost again, but the accident that took her father sent her into a tailspin. For a week she’d fielded visits from family and friends offering condolences. Her fridge was stocked with food, most of it she had no interest in touching, but she’d still have to empty and clean and return the containers.
The state trooper who’d responded to the call had shown up at the farm in person to deliver the news. Not that Tesia had needed him. Her father had shown up when she was making dinner after getting off work early. Her hand still ached from the burn she’d received that night.
Tesia hadn’t truly noticed the burn as her father stood silently before her. He hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t needed to say anything.
Bill, a nice man she’d dated briefly after graduating, had knocked tentatively at the door. Tesia, red-eyed with a wet towel wrapped around her hand had answered. Bill’s family had lived in the area a long time and his mother had known her granny so he didn’t ask how she knew. He’d sat with her until she called her brothers and he’d driven her to the hospital on the icy roads to see her father. The call from the hospital had come as they were navigating a particularly nasty corner on the way into town.
All of that was a week ago, however, and now she had to deal with the aftermath. Her brothers, Jarek and Casimir had arrived yesterday. Too late to have been of help, but plenty early enough to have gotten on her nerves. Their relationship had been strained since Casimir had run off to attend college in Colorado. His leaving the state had been the nail in her coffin. Tesia closed her eyes, waited for the familiar twinge of disapproval, but it didn’t come. They’d been suspiciously quiet the last week.
Despite the wind outside, Tesia stood from the pew and buttoned up her coat. She slipped out the side door and went around the back to the cemetery. A twinge of guilt pierced her when she pretended not to see Daniel still hovering nearby.
No one was there and she was thankful. The fresh dirt drew the eye like nothing else could. Tesia ignored the cold and the knowledge her brothers would be looking for her soon. Sinking down beside the grave she laid her head against the headstone.
She’d paid extra to be sure it was ready by the time they buried him. It matched the one made for her mother a few years ago. It also bore a striking resemblance to the one on the other side of his plot where her granny had been laid to rest. The same symbols, carefully write in granite, protected him in death. Her mother’s stone has no such symbols. She’d never want such heathen things haunting her in the afterlife.
“Your forehead will freeze there if you’re not careful,” she heard behind her and Tesia opened her eyes before lifting her head. Unshed tears finally fell as she saw her father stand at the foot of his grave. He didn’t get closer; they wouldn’t let the dead get closer. Even if the dead were family.
“Maybe,” Tesia said as she cried. “But the company would be better.” Ever since they’d arrived she’d done nothing but argue with her brothers. The same thing had happened at her mother’s funeral. Only then her father had been able to smooth things over. Now there was no one and she’d found she didn’t care.
“They’re still family, Tesia.” There was no chiding in his tone. “I know it’s hard,” her father continued when she had no response for his words. “I’m sorry,” he said and Tesia wrapped her arms around herself at the pain she heard in his voice.
Looking up again she couldn’t make him out as clearly as the first time. Their time grew short. She struggled to find words, but they refused to come.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she managed to get out finally. “Do you get to be with mom?” The question’d haunted her for as long as she could remember. Her mother had once carried the same burden as her; given up only when her second child had reached maturity. The fact that child had fled before the mantle settled upon him didn’t matter.
Her father, however, had been trained by his mother in other magics. Was his witchcraft keeping him from being with his beloved wife now they were both dead? Tesia wasn’t sure she truly wanted to know the answer.
“He’s not cruel,” her father said. Tesia wasn’t quite sure, but that thought she buried down deep so they didn’t hear even a hint of it. “She’s unable to come, Tesia. It’s not in her blood. But if you have need of me your granny will let me know. Trust her.” As she watched he faded further, almost invisible now. “Tesia, do not despair. I know there will be trials to come and you will feel alone, but you’re not. Remember, Tesia, He does love you. Don’t lose faith. There are whispers, I wish I could say more. Be vigilant. Trust in God, but more importantly, trust in yourself.”
Tesia listened, strained to hear what he said as the wind started to blow over his words. “We love you, Tesia. Don’t hate your brothers for their weakness. They can help it no more than you can help your strength.” Tes watched her father fade from sight before she stood.
The thin sheet of ice forming on everything made it hard to cross the cemetery, but she didn’t let it stop her. Kneeling down again she pulled the flower from her coat and set it on the ice covered headstone she stopped before. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in the wind. Her fingers brushed over the name carved on the stone. For five years she’d made the trek to Fred’s grave looking for…something. She didn’t know what. Forgiveness, maybe, for stealing his life. Maybe for the pain his family continued to suffer over not knowing what happened to him?
She heard the shout so headed back for the church with a frown. Her brothers waited inside and Jarek shut the door behind her. “Goddamn, but it’s freezing,” he said.
Tesia felt the pulse of anger from the angels. Without thinking she slapped her brother who recoiled from her with narrow, red eyes. “Jarek Jaskolski,” she said in a low voice. “Do not take His name in vain and especially not in His own house.” It was not only the angels’ anger that filled her words. Her anger came from a more selfish place, but she didn’t know if the angels knew, or cared, so long as she was angry at the broken commandment.
Jarek didn’t say anything until Casimir nudged him. “Yea, sorry.”
Tesia knew he didn’t mean it, but she tried to hide her knowledge from them. If they were appeased then, for now, that was all that mattered. She was not up to dealing with their righteous wrath today.
“Come on,” Casimir said as he took her hand. “Let’s get home. Are we expecting people?”
“Wait.” Tes pulled her hand from his and left her brothers to go find Daniel in his office. The door was open and he stood in front of one of the many bookshelves inside. He looked good, as always. Some small part of her wanted to go inside and let him hug her until everything was better. She always squelched such ideas. It was nowhere near time to settle down. Especially not with a pastor.
“Tes?” He smiled at her and left the books on the shelf to cross the room. This close she caught the scent of his shampoo and laundry detergent. He always smelled clean. Even in high school.
A sob rose up and she did not resist when he pulled her into his arms. Neither of them spoke. Daniel stroked her back through her coat and she sobbed against his shirt. Tes finally pulled away when the feel of his hand went from a comforting touch to something else.
It was all her as his hands did nothing new. This just happened sometimes. They were friends from way back, but every now and again she felt a distinct twinge of lust for him. As wrong as it surely was, she basked in the temptation for a moment. Shut the door, seduce him on the overstuffed sofa, and forget everything wrong for a time. Tes stepped backwards into the hallway.
“Thank you. I- I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She felt his eyes on her as she fled the temptation of him.
Her brothers waited by the door and she let Jarek take her hand. Tesia let him lead her from the church, but once outside she pulled her hand away. He’d driven them to the church, but she didn’t want him driving her home. Pulling open the door to the truck she slid behind the wheel and turned the heat up all the way.
“Can’t believe you still drive this,” Jarek said as he dodged the spring in the middle of the bench seat. Tesia ignored him as she carefully got her seatbelt attached. When neither of her brothers did the same she turned to look at them, waiting in silence until they did their own belts. Only once they’re secure did she carefully pull out of the church parking lot.
Twice more they asked questions or made comments designed to get her talking, but Tesia ignored them all. The road needed her attention. It’s what she said when Casimir pushed a few minutes later for an answer to his original question in the church. They were quiet after that and the only sounds to accompany her drive home were the crunch of tires and the heater blasting warm air.
Tesia made the turn off the road onto the long driveway with care. Another mile, she told herself. Then she could leave them to entertain anyone who did decide to show up. The thought of a hot shower and silence comforted her more than any of the words of condolence she received today from friends and relatives. They would not bring the peace Daniel’s embrace had, but neither would they bring confusion.
Unfortunately, she realized, as she pulled the truck into the old barn her father’d always meant to convert to an actual garage, silence wasn’t what was in store. An old, black Cadillac sat idling in front of the porch. Tesia ignored it and the man inside as she hurried to unlock the door and build the fire back up. As she opened the front door, Tesia still shivered, but not from the temperature change. No, it was the angels’ sudden and intense attention that made her body react. The weight of it had her resting a hand on the wall to remain upright.
“Not now,” she begged silently. She could not deal with it now. Three sets of footsteps had her turn to greet the unwanted guest. Tesia’s smile was in place for the family lawyer, but she couldn’t ignore the way he looked around. As if being there was the worst experience of his life.
“Mr. Nallin,” she greeted as her brothers removed their coats. “I’m surprised to see you here. We missed you at the service.” It left her time to wonder how long he’d been this way and she was proud of the way her voice didn’t waiver when Nallin’s eyes looked into hers. Did he know she knew? It would be easier if he didn’t. “Would you like coffee?” she asked before heading for the kitchen. There was less to break in there and the tile floor was less precious to her than the original hardwood in the living room.
Since she didn’t wait for a reply the other three were forced to follow her into the other room. Tesia grabbed the holy water from the counter before they came in and splashed a few drops onto the heater in the corner before turning it on.
“We appreciate you coming out in this weather.”
Tesia laughed at Jarek’s words. She wished she’d been able to stop herself. Three sets of curious eyes, one a little hostile, turned on her and Tesia smiled nervously.
“Sorry. Just…this weather. You’ve adapted too well to California,” she said and it seemed to be an acceptable answer. Filling the old coffee pot from the kitchen faucet was easy. Getting a few drops of holy water into the pot was harder, but she managed. Tesia sat at the table after turning on the coffee pot. “Is anyone hungry?” she asked.
Casimir opened the fridge and pulled out a pie dropped off two days ago by one of Dad’s poker buddies from the senior center. “Anyone?” he asked and Tesia tried not to watch Nallin too carefully when he answered.
“I’d better pass,” the lawyer said. “I promised my wife I’d lose the extra ten pounds after the holidays.” It’s a perfectly acceptable answer, but Tesia saw the slight twist at the corner of his mouth. Self-satisfaction at the lie received was almost always a giveaway. Tesia tried to stop the nervous tapping of her foot on the tile, but had no success. Hopefully they would write it off as post-funeral nerves. Casimir sat at the table with a large piece of pie in front of him as the others waited for the coffee.
“Is this about father’s will?” Jarek asked. Their mother’s death had been easier that way as well. Everything of hers was left to their father except for a few small things given out to cousins, family friends, and her children. This time was different. Tesia already knew what her father’s will said as she’d been appointed his executor. He’d had her help him decide who got what and in a way she was glad of that now. No surprises for her. Surprises stopped being her friend a long time ago.
“It is,” Nallin said as the coffee pot gurgled to let them know it finished. Tesia forced herself to count to ten in her head before rising. From the nearest cupboard she pulled out four mugs. She whispered a quick prayer over each of them before running her finger around the ring of color on their rims. Once the cups were filled she carried them to the table. Jarek grabbed one immediately for a long drink.
Nallin was slower, but he reached for a cup. He wouldn’t be able to get out of a drink. That was why she’d brought over the mugs without asking who wanted a drink. Casimir dumped sugar in his, even more than Tesia liked. She opened the door to the fridge to ask, “Milk?” All three shook their heads so she only grabbed the small pitcher for herself. Tes bought herself time as she doctored her coffee, but they were growing restless.
Finally, she took a sip and lifted her mug. “To Dad,” she said sadly. The others at the table lifted their mugs and everyone took a solemn drink. Even the lawyer. Tesia ignored the shout of triumph inside her head as the angels felt the lawyer fall into her trap. Eyes full of fury turned on her as the mug fell from Nallin’s hand and spilled onto the table. Casimir and Jarek shared a surprised look as Tesia sprang to her feet.
“Are you ok, Chuck?” Jarek asked as he reached for Nallin’s shoulder.
Jarek pulled his hand away, eyes wide as Tesia ignored their guest. From the top of the fridge she pulled down an old tin can. Dumping it out onto the table she selected three pieces of worn chalk and dropped to her knees. “Stay away from him,” she warned as her brothers looked on in puzzlement.
“You stupid whore,” Nallin spat as she started to encircle him on the floor with colored lines drawn in chalk. Under her breath she enunciated words carefully taught her over the years. The chair rocked as Nallin tried to regain control of his body. He didn’t drink much so it won’t take long. The heated water in the air would help, but she needed to move quickly or someone would be hurt.
“Tesia, what are you doing?” Casimir demanded, but Tesia stopped his approach with a withering look.
“Your job,” she told him. Pointing to the coffee on the table she said, “Clean it up before it spills into the circle.” To his credit, begrudgingly given, Jarek grabbed a towel to clean the mess without asking further questions. Once the circles were in place she rose to her feet. “What’s your name?” she demanded of the demon inside their family lawyer’s body.
“That knowledge won’t save you,” the demon snarled as blood leaked from the lawyers’ eyes. Tesia felt her brothers’ shock, but she had to ignore it for now. Without taking her eyes from the demon she took a deep breath. This was always the tricky part and she was still not comfortable with it. Already she could feel the will of the angels trying to force themselves on her.
“Is he in collusion?” Tesia asked as she struggled to let the angels leave her in control. If she found out the lawyer welcomed such a deal there was no stopping the angels. A possession would be easier. It would definitely be neater. Crossing the room without looking away from the demon she opened the cupboard to the right of the sink to take out a green glass bottle. “Is he in collusion?” she asked again as the demon laughed when he saw what she held.
“You cannot stop me with that.” The demon edged a foot close to the circles written on the floor, but he pulled it back quickly before it could cross over. “The lawyer’s body served its purpose,” he finally said as Tesia uncorked the bottle and stood just outside the circle. “It is not so strong it will survive what you intend.” Blood seeped from the corners of the mouth used by the demon before he grinned to show blood-coated teeth.
“Will you be a killer?” the demon asked. “Will you break His commandments to sever my ties from this Earth?”
He meant for the words to give her pause. The first demon she’d faced had done so with those same words. Unfortunately for the fellow in her kitchen he was not her first demon.
“There’s no commandment about making a mess on my kitchen floor,” Tesia quipped despite the disapproval from the angels and her brothers’ continuing confusion. “This will be easier if you tell me your name.” Tesia wasn’t sure those words were the truth, but the angels always said it would be easier and she tried not to even think them liars. Those thoughts never ended well.
“You have no authority over me.” The demon’s words sounded more desperate and Tesia said a quick prayer of thanks for the desperation. A weaker demon meant she might be able to save the body. Chuck, she reminded herself. Mr. Nallin. The family lawyer for the last ten years. A man she knew. It’d never been someone she’d known.
Tesia resisted the urge to look behind her when she heard a noise. Sometimes when they were desperate a demon would pull out the same old tricks to distract. “If you believe that you don’t know who you’re dealing with,” Tesia informed him as she carefully pours a small amount of thick liquid into her palm. It heated the skin, but she ignored the sensation to focus on the demon. “I am the Holder of God’s Gift,” she intoned as the demon’s struggles grew more frantic.
Blood seeped from the body’s eyes and mouth as she watched.
She rubbed the oil into both of her hands as she stepped within the circle. The demon’s look of triumph faded as she placed her hands on his head. The soft scent of herbs was a sharp contrast to the scream of pain from the demon. He looked frantically around as best he could and cried out, “Please help me! She’s killing me! Please!” Tesia, long used to the antics of demons about to be removed from their host, paid him no mind, but her brothers were not so immune to his cries.
“Tesia,” Casimir said as she felt him move to stand behind her. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” The doubt in his voice angered her, but the angels’ warning came after she’d already taken a calming breath. Doubt and anger were emotions demons thrived on and to let either in now would be disastrous. Jarek didn’t voice any concerns he might have, but she felt him hovering.
“Yes, Tes,” the demon said as she felt the angels grow more agitated at the time she took to finish the job. “Do you know what you are doing? Poor Chuck here doesn’t think you can save him. He thinks he’s going to die. He has for some time.” Under her hands she felt the demon jerk the body around. Chuck’s head snapped back and he let out a moan of despair.
“I don’t want to die.” Tesia wasn’t sure who spoke. Not that it changed anything.
Her hands burned now as they touched the demon’s head and she wasn’t able to hold back the angels any longer. “There is no death, but eternal life if you have faith in our Lord. Do not despair, Charles Alexander Patrick Nallin.” Tesia hated when they speak through her. Thankfully it was not that often. “We are the protectors. We are the power of your Lord made manifest on this Earth.”
Tesia knew when they gathered their power to expel the demon and she said the words in her head that her grandmother had taught her. The angels disliked her interference with their power, but an uneasy truce had been reached in that regard.
“Have faith,” Tesia whispered to Chuck before the angels took her voice once again.
“Out, demon,” they cried from her mouth. Tesia felt the struggle as the demon resisted the surge of heavenly energy that poured through her hands. She’d witnessed exorcisms done by those without an angel, or two, on their shoulder. It could be done. All it truly took was an unshakable faith. Tesia, in times like these, was thankful for the angels because she’d never called her faith steady.
“In the name of God,” Tesia said, her words echoed by the angels. “By the power he grants all those living to resist evil, I command you to return to the Pit. In the name of Jesus Christ we ask mercy for Charles Alexander Patrick Nallin. Be gone, demon, and trouble this man no more.”
The demon howled and Tesia felt the body under her hands twitch and jerk as the infernal creature struggled to hang on. His resistance grew weaker and there’s a joyous shout from her and the angels when the demon tore free and was gone.
“Call 9-1-1,” Tesia yelled as the lawyer’s body jerked and fell to the floor. This too she’d done before. “Someone bring me the jar atop the fridge,” she said as she loosened the lawyer’s tie and pushed the chair out of the way. The chair crashed to the floor as Jarek handed her the jar. From the jar she pulled out a soft cloth that reeked of the fragment oils it had been left to soak in.
The angels were not interested now that the demon was gone. Thankfully, they offered no arguments when she whispered her grandmother’s spells to try to strengthen Chuck’s body. In the background she heard Casimir on the phone stammering about what happened. Growling in frustration she broke her spell and told him, “We don’t know. Maybe it’s his heart? He’s breathing, but not responding to our voice. He just fell over.” Casimir repeated the words and Tesia shoved him from her mind again to pick up her spells. The herbal floral scent from the jar filled the room and washed away the last of the demon’s scent. As she wiped a corner of the clothe with care over Chuck’s face she whispered for healing and caught the soft flare of power that combined her will with the prepared oil.
Casimir continued to talk to the dispatcher, but Tes was too deep in the spell now to help out. Jarek would have to pick up the slack. Tesia basely felt Chuck’s body respond to the spells and she had no way of knowing if his mind would return. If not, they’d likely chalk it up to a stroke and leave his family to deal with the aftermath. Tesia hoped if his mind was lost then it was truly gone and not locked in the torment the demon had trapped him in before. As her own mind came back to the room she felt the first sting of pain on her palms.
Ignoring the pain, she rocked back on her ankles and rose to her feet. “The jar,” she said as she sank into her chair. Jarek picked it up to set on the table, but when he got to close it she stops him. Another square of clothe from the jar was pressed against her palms. The burning on her skin stayed, but grew no stronger. This made it easier to keep more tears from falling.
“Tesia,” Jarek asked quietly as Casimir remained on the phone with the emergency dispatcher, “What happened?” The absurdity of the question made her laugh. Jarek’s look of alarm made her laugh harder.
From outside she heard sirens coming closer and she left the answering of the door to one of her brothers. Rising from the chair she walked out on to the back porch. Ignoring the bite in the air, she sat on the battered couch and listened to the EMTs rush in to see to Chuck. They were out of luck if they needed anything from her. Sleep crept over her brain with a welcome respite from the day.
Snow fell when she woke and through the wall of windows she saw nothing but the white blackness outside. Someone had covered her with her favorite quilt as she slept and the woodstove radiated heat to drive away the winter night’s chill. As sleep abandoned her she realized she was not alone.
“You had us worried,” Jarek said as he handed her a mug. Tesia struggled to sit up and claim the mug with a mumbled apology. Jarek sat as he told her, “Casimir’s packing.”
“Not so surprised,” Tes said before the rich scent of chocolate and cinnamon lured her towards the mug. She peered into it with a smile. “You remembered.” Jarek said nothing and she was thankful for the silence. The snow fell outside and other than the occasional pop from the wood stove it was quiet. “I miss you,” Tesia whispered to her brother as she tried to hold back tears. “Now I have no one.” She knew they wouldn’t move back and she wasn’t able to leave.
He is with you, echoed in her head and Tesia did not even try to explain the difference. We are with you. It was the first time Tesia’d ever heard an ounce of comfort in their voice. The vessel should listen more carefully, they scolded and she smiled.
“Tesia? Are you ok?” She looked at her brother and read the worry in his eyes. So, she shifted her mug to her other hand so she could touch his arm.
“I’m fine, Jarek. How’s Mr. Nallin?” The question was the one she was most afraid to ask. Jarek sat in silence which was all the answer she needed.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Jarek finally said. “We got a call a couple hours ago. He died at the hospital.”
Tesia let the words sink into her brain without a response. To buy herself time she drank her cocoa and watched the snow. The dark outside made her nervous, but she wasn’t sure why. At Jarek’s nervous look her way she let out a heavy sigh.
“I know it wasn’t my fault,” she told her brother. “It was the demon’s. Maybe it was Mr. Nallin’s. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.” The hard note in her voice startled her brother, but Tesia saw no reason to temper her words. “I have a duty.” The porch was oppressive all at once and she wanted to be alone.
So, she stood and wrapped the quit around her shoulders. “Thanks for the cocoa.” The feeling in the pit of her stomach that it was not smart to go outside was ignored. The backyard was dark and cold, but not so cold she wanted to go back inside. Tesia sat on the old picnic table her grandfather had built and sipped her cocoa.
Someone was coming. She had no idea who, or what, but she felt the land still in anticipation. The family’s protections served as wards over the farm and should keep anything bad from intruding.
“Witch daughter,” whispered on the wind and Tesia forced herself to look around slowly despite the rapid beating of her heart. She found no one, nothing, within view, but gave into the pull of the voice to follow it to the edge of the yard. The woods were dark despite the full moon. That darkness blossomed within the bare branches and flowed to where she stood. Tesia whispered a prayer and wove it into a spell for protection. In the blackness a point of light appeared and flickered out.
“Witch daughter,” the wind whispered again. Tesia refused the force of the words and stayed her distance from the darkness. The angels were quiet. It almost felt as if they hid from something, but they’d never done that before. What was held in that dark that angels of the Lord hid from it?
“There is a line, witch daughter,” the darkness told her. “You dance upon the line, toying with His plans as if it is your right.” Unable to look away from the light that danced in the darkness Tesia found herself unable to speak or move.
The vessel does as she should, argued her angels as their presence suddenly flooded Tesia with the strength to move. Her feet took a step backward, away from whatever hides in the woods. The vessel was Chosen for our purpose as is right.
Again the wind picked up and Tesia shielded her eyes from the debris whipped up from the ground. “The witch daughter must be taught,” the wind howled. Tesia barely managed to stifle her scream as the cold wind tore at her body before it sank deeper.
“Help me,” she whispered to her angels, but they did nothing. It reminded her of the day she was twelve and the angels first appeared to her, only worse. Tesia had thought the pain of that day was unendurable and the worst thing to happen to her, but she was wrong. The cold wind buffeted her very being and not even her spells helped. Driven to her knees she was barely aware of the snow as it seeped into her clothes. The physical pain, at least, gave her something to hold onto. She used that to help get on her feet and back away from the pain the creature on the wind seared into her soul.
“In the name of God,” Tesia whispered, putting as much power in the words as she could pull from the sleeping land under her, “Begone!” She hurtled generations of power at the being in the woods. She felt shock from the creature before it vanished.
What has the vessel done? they asked fearfully as Tesia turned from the woods. There was no answer, not when it took all her strength to get back to the house. Without a word she made it to the fire in the living room, blessedly empty of family, and sat down before the flames, thankful for the warmth. Only when she was able to feel all her fingers again did she stand.
Hearing nothing from upstairs she went to the kitchen to gather what she needed. The angels’ demands for information she ignored for now. Tes opened the windows and shivered at the cold. Despite the cold she laid the quilt over a chair and stripped. Only long practice let her force out the right words through the chattering of her teeth. With a piece of chalk, she drew a circle around herself on the kitchen floor as she chanted the spells her father and his mother had taught her.
The angels had no choice but to be within the circle with her. Tesia continued to ignore their demands for information. Not until she pulled on them for additional power did they understand.
The vessel must not.
She ignored their warning. Not even the prickle of pain that came with their objection stopped her. Tesia’s chants grew louder as she wove in prayers learned at her mother’s knee to the spells of her father.
The vessel must not.
“He was taking you from me,” Tesia whispered after finishing her spells. In the circle there was nothing now but her and the angels. Not even the cold of the night would break through her spell as she closed her eyes. “I don’t know what or who that was,” she said as she felt the spell start to weave between her and the angels, “but I won’t let that happen again.” She opened herself up to the angels completely. She felt them root through her whole soul, even the places she’d kept private before. Nothing was hidden from them now.
“If I am bound to you,” Tesia said as she allowed herself to be overwhelmed by their presence, “Then so are you bound to me.”
An air of finality rang in her words and Tesia fell into a light too strong for her to bear as the spells bound the three together beyond what was already in place. As she crumpled to the floor within the circle of power a pair of lights flickered to either side of her.
She knows not what she does, one said as they stared at her still form.
They both thought of what had visited the farm that evening. If it were possible to doubt their destiny they surely would do so now.
He must have seen this, one offered finally. Tesia shivered on the ground and with a pulse of power she never felt the angels pulled her quilt to the circle and laid it over her.
The vessel must not be harmed, they said together. As they roused Tesia and urged her upstairs to her bed they worried amongst themselves without her knowledge. Brooding through the night as they watched Tesia sleep it w’s not until the first rays of light came through her unclosed curtains that one said Did He know and send Sariel to stop this? It followed this up with Why do I question His knowledge now?
If angels could sigh the other would have. The only answer given comforts neither of them. We are of the vessel and the vessel is of us. We can only trust in His plan.
Tesia woke not long after the less than comforting words and they retreated to hide their doubts from her. The vessel must never doubt their faith in His plan.