A Thief’s Ember

Nothing amazing ever happens here.
          Mama and Papa are almost always gone which means it’s just Joey, Marcy, and me.  There’s also Billy, I suppose. He’s our ginger cat who likes to sit on the old grandfather clock in the welcome room. His tail whisks back and forth and it makes Joey laugh.
          It was a surprise, then, when Mama and Papa came home last night. It was a surprise by itself, but they had three little bags as well, one for each of us children.
          At first we wondered – or I wondered, because I was the only one old enough to think that there was a difference between fantasy and reality – about these strange things that Mama and Papa had brought us. They rarely returned home and the idea of presents were foreign to us. Joey and Marcy absolutely adored their gifts; snow globes, I believe.  I went to sleep two hours after and they were still shaking them and watching the flakes flutter down.
          Mine was an Aethe, Papa told me, but not Joey and Marcy. It looked a lot like the snow globes, but the inside is clouded like small bits of fog were delicately placed inside of the glass sphere. There are no small specks of white dancing around, but there is a faint glow that I can feel on my hands.

          Papa wakes me up very early the next morning while the sun is still sleeping. He pulls me aside and tells me that I will need the Aethe and that it is real, and that no way can I ever tell Joey and Marcy because theirs were playthings and mine was not. It is early, and it takes me quite a long time to figure out exactly what Papa is referring to.
          He said the Aethe has powers, magic far beyond anything I can ever imagine, and he is right. Magic isn’t real. Magic is part of fairytales. There is no magic here in London.
          At least, not anymore.
          Before Joey was born, before even Marcy was born, I’d sit on Mama’s lap and Papa would tell us stories about magic and he’d twirl fire on his fingers in front of my eyes. He’d let me touch it and I was scared. He promised it wouldn’t hurt and I trusted him. I always trusted him when I was little.
          I was seven when they first left, Joey was four, and Marcy was two. They were only gone for three days that time, so I was okay, but somewhere deep inside of me I was scared. What had happened to my protectors? Mama and Papa started leaving more and more often and staying away for longer periods of time. I practically raised Marcy by myself.
          “You’ve grown into a very strong boy,” Papa says. The sun peeks through the large window on the opposite side of the room, lighting up Papa’s golden eyes. I take a glance out of the smudged glass and see a black carriage on the cobbled street in front of the house. Mama is sitting inside, and I am scared. “I am proud of you.”
          I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. I’ve never seen Mama and Papa leave; they’ve always gone when us children are not watching them, like they vanish into thin air.
          “Mama and I need to leave now.”
          “You and Mama always leave.”
          His posture changes and I think I may have hurt him so I start to apologize, but he sees the words forming on my lips and presses a finger to them. “Hush, son, you must not wake your brother and sister. Time is dear to your mother and I, and we must go.”
          “You will come back, won’t you?”
          It’s a question I have never asked before and the words taste strange on my tongue; metallic, perhaps. I don’t like the way it feels, to have to think if my parents are coming back.
          “Barney, you’re twelve now you should know t-“
          “You always leave! You come back for a day and say nothing about where you are or what yo-“
          Papa’s hand smells like burnt wood as he presses it to my mouth. My hands flutter at my side while I wish my stomach would implode so I could get the sick, sinking feeling out of it. Tenseness rocks my body and I can feel myself shaking, ready to burst at any moment.
          But I keep my lips pursed into a thin line and Papa removes his hand.
          I don’t think Papa has moved one bit. He is bent down so that our eyes meet but I can’t look at him because I am mad. I look out of the window and Mama is staring back through the carriage window. I can see her just enough to know that she is smiling, and I want to smile back. I do not.
          “Barney, look at me.”
          The floorboards are dirty.
          “Barney.”
          There’s a spider scuttling perpendicular to the wooden slats.
          “Barney Jameson.”
          He presses his fingers against my chin and props my head up so I am forced to look at him. “Do you remember when I showed you the magic?” he asks, and I nod. “Do you know Elias Oliver?”
          I tilt my head ever so slightly. Mama and Papa are never here when Elias Oliver visits. I believe he doesn’t even know that Joey, Marcy and I exist, because I’ve always instructed them to hide when he comes because he makes my heart race uncontrollably.
          He’s a big man, bigger than Papa is, and Papa is the biggest man I know. He carries a long club that is thicker at one end than it is the other, and he tosses it between his hands as he slowly walks across the old floor, the boards creaking every time his feet land on it. Billy is scared of him. I think we’re all scared of him. He comes once a month, that I know for sure, but he shows up any old day he wants to.
          He’s been coming here for five years. He showed up the day after Mama and Papa left for the first time.
          My eyes are wide as saucers and my breath catches in my throat.
          “You left because of Elias Oliver, didn’t you, Papa? You’re scared of him, aren’t you?”
          Papa stands up and looks me in the eye before turning away, placing his hands inside of his trouser pockets. “I cannot tell you all that has happened in five years, because I have too little time and there is too much to tell.”
          “Papa, please!”
          “Quiet, boy, and listen.” He pulls the Aethe out of his pocket. I left it downstairs last night, and Papa must’ve picked it up. He hands it to me, placing it gently into my hands and wrapping mine around it. His hands cover it completely, but mine leave smoky parts showing through.
          There is nothing telling me that anything is inside of this glowing ball except for glow.
          “When you were little, I had magic, but I can no longer keep it.”
          It is warm against my pale, bare hands.
          “Mama had magic a long, long time ago, before you were born.”
          Something is inside of it; something alive.
          “The Aethe is holding my magic and I need you to keep it safe while I am gone.”
          I am holding a ball of magic, and if Papa wasn’t holding it as well, I am more than certain I would’ve dropped it. His hands tighten around mine as he kneels down so he stares up at me.
          “Barney, under no circumstances can you let Elias Oliver find this.”
          “Why not?”
          “He will kill you.”
          I stiffen but Papa makes no move to comfort me. There is yelling from outside and the look on Papa’s face says he has to go. “Why can’t you take it with you?”
          “He suspects I have it, and he will follow me when I leave.”
          I want Mama and Papa to be alright.
          “The magic is rare. I need you to keep it safe,” Papa repeats.
          I look up at him.
          “Can you promise me that?”
          There is power in my hands.
          It trembles and vibrates against my skin.
          It feels strong, and for a moment, I do too.
          There is another shout from the carriage and I look outside. Mama’s face is against the window, and her eyes plead for Papa to hurry.
           “I promise, Papa.”

          The sun fills the room as Papa places the full weight of the pulsing orb in my hands and as soon as he treads downstairs and outside and touches the carriage, the driver whips the dark horses and they are clip-clopping off at a rapid pace down the lane.
          // Julianna B.
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2 thoughts on “A Thief’s Ember

  1. That was very interesting to read, and it really gets your mind spinning. You guys are good at writing short clips like this. 🙂

    Like

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