Short Summary: Aunts in the Family hold the magic, channel it, and generally direct the family – although the older women (grannies and mothers) often hold as much secular power, if not more. Aunts are childless, unmarried…
…except sometimes, it seems, when they’re not.
Pearl was worried. She was more than worried, she was terrified. More than just terrified, she was living in fear of her grannies and sisters, a fear that no normal woman would have grounds to understand, much less feel.
She’d kept it a secret as long as she could, and that had been months longer than she’d thought she’d be able to. She’d used every charm she thought safe and some she wasn’t sure about; she’d used every deceit and a few fashion tricks from her friends not in the family. Those friends knew – and if the grannies found out that, Pearl was doubly and triply doomed. She’d gone out of the family for help.
Now she was going out of the family to escape. She’d packed up everything she thought she could get away with. Half of it she’d mailed ahead – some to a distant cousin, back in New York; some to her friend Ilene, in Missouri, where she was going; some to her grannies’ gran, living in peace in a house nobody bothered without an express invitation, just three miles away but might as well be on the moon.
What she hadn’t mailed, she had with her now, on the platform at the train station. She’d left a note, warded so that it didn’t reveal itself too soon. She’d mailed her niece Cora another letter, this one more explicit. She’d… she’d… she’d… She took a deep breath. She’d done everything she could, and there was nothing left but to get on the train and go far, far away.
“Did you think we wouldn’t feel the shift in the power, you ridiculous girl?”
The voice snuck up behind her like a snake. Pearl held as still as possible, knowing that wouldn’t help, knowing she couldn’t help but do it. She said nothing. There was nothing to say against that voice.
“If you don’t turn to speak to me, your death on this platform is going to be a mysterious tragedy. Did you think you held all the power? Did you think you had all the knowledge?“
Pearl gulped quietly and did not turn around. She did not answer. Her aunt Irma had always been particularly disdainful of her, but, then again, Irma was disdainful of everyone. It was just that Pearl had been chosen by the power, and that gave her an edge Irma did not usually consider.
“This is your last chance, Pearl Maria O’Conner. If you do not turn to face me, then nothing will be able to help you. Nothing.”
“Nothing’s been able to help me for seven months now, Aunt Irma.” It was unwise, but she couldn’t help herself. The words just slipped out of her mouth. “Not you, not Aunt Ida, not even great-gran.”
“Don’t you mention her name. Don’t you dare.” Irma was getting angry. Pearl kept her feet planted exactly where they were. “You know what a pregnant Aunt does to the family.”
“Actually,” Pearl was surprised at how level her voice was. “No, I don’t. Do you?”
Irma huffed. “Don’t be difficult, child. Recalcitrant. You know as well as I do that you can’t have a pregnant Aunt. It’s not done, it hasn’t been done, and it shan’t be done.”
“The thing is…” Pearl pulled herself to her full height and eyed her elderly aunt. On some level, she quailed at her own chutzpah. But this was not the time for timidity. “…nobody knows why not. I’ve read all of the journals. I’ve visited some of the other Aunts, and read their books. I’ve look into the archives and asked the family ghosts and spirits. Nobody knows.”
“Because we do not allow it to happen.”
“So you’ve said, but the question is, again, why?”
“Just because you’ve gotten yourself into a difficult position is no need to start shaking the tree, Pearl Maria. Now, will you come peacefully?”
“And if I don’t?” She had thought she could run from them. She realized now that she was going to have to be a little more firm than that.
“If you don’t, then we will take you. The child will go, the power will be severed, and you will be institutionalized for your own good. A mad child who believes her family stole her baby and her magic? The doctors will be tripping over themselves to try new treatments on you.” Irma’s smile was unkind.
“The thing is…” Pearl tok a step backwards. The train was nearly here. “I wasn’t sure what I would do, if you came for me. I wasn’t sure what you would do, either.”
Irma sneered. “Always the slow one. I never thought you were a good choice for Aunt.”
“I like to see the best in my family,” Pearl countered. “Are the others here?”
“Sondra. Laverne. The rest didn’t have the stomach for it.”
“Funny. I didn’t think I would, either.” Pearl raised her hand. “Those rituals, Aunt Irma? To cut someone off from the power? They require an Aunt. And… at their core, that’s all they require.”
Irma laughed. “Is that a threat, girl? You need to work on them, if so.”
“No. That’s why I’m not afraid of the family right now. This, this is a threat.” Pearl sighed. She knew she had Aunts in her bloodline who were dark, Aunts who would not have flinched at this. That wasn’t her. But she could do this. She could do it, for her baby. The train was nearly here.
“Well? Threaten away. I don’t have all day.”
“It’s a tragedy, don’t you think, a woman in the prime of her life — or a bit past it, i suppose, but let’s be generous — falling so ill, when she’d just come to see her niece off? A stroke, I think. So sad.” She heard the train stop behind her and stepped backwards onto the boarding plank. She twisted the magic and muttered to herself.
“There was quite a bit to read in the family archives.”
Aunt Irma shuddered and sat down abruptly. Pearl handed the conductor her ticket and her luggage, and did not watch.
The magic will be yours soon, her letter had said. Burn this letter when you’re done, and say nothing of it in the journals. I’m going to lose myself, and then I will loose the power. Remember always: the connections are between you and the family, and you and the power. To sever either is a horror and a tragedy.
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