Wyld FLASH September 10th 2021
I turn to see a dark-haired woman gripping the hand of the child at her side, a boy of no more than seven. What I don’t see is an ill or injured pet, or any other obvious reason the two would be waiting outside my veterinary clinic at closing time. It’s been a long day and there is a generous glass of red wine calling my name, so I finish locking the door before asking, “Can I help you?”
Wordlessly, the woman touches the pendant that hangs from a simple cord around her neck. The stone glints in the honeyed glow of the setting sun, revealing a symbol etched into its polished surface.
I stiffen, fingers tightening around the strap of my shoulder bag, and curse myself for not seeing it sooner. “I treat animals here,” I tell her. “Nothing more.” Whatever her ailment, her curse, it’s not my concern.
“Your father sent me here. He said you can help.” The woman raises the hand entwined with her son’s, displaying an old but obvious bite above his pale wrist, a faint spiderwebbing of darkened veins creeping up his forearm.
Sucking in a breath, I step forward and reach for the boy’s wrist, but course-correct at the last moment and instead gingerly grip his elbow. “What did this?” I ask as I drop into a crouch. “Was it a…” A dog? Wolf? I already know it wasn’t, and she wouldn’t be here if she thought otherwise.
I push up my left sleeve, fingers ghosting over the ridged black lines that mar my forearm like piping. My mother’s body was covered in markings just like this.
It shouldn’t have been me who lived.
I draw my hand away, the spell broken, the wave of memories receding. When I was finally old enough to leave that world of creatures and curses behind, and by extension, my father, I had my own scars woven into an intricate tattoo of tangled, flowery vines. A reminder, and a warning.
This is not my world anymore; I refuse to allow that particular infection to take hold again. “It only hunts those it’s marked under a blood moon,” I say, straightening. “He’ll be safe until then.” Until you find someone else to help, I add silently.
The woman eyes me curiously, then raises her gaze to the darkening sky.
I feel it then, a rush and tingle across the exposed skin of my face and arms that has nothing to do with the chill of impending Autumn. The lunar eclipse is tonight, the blood moon quickly approaching.
She tilts her head apologetically, knowingly. This stranger has brought more than a mystically ill boy to my doorstep. It’s been ten years since I spoke to my father, but if he sent her here, to me, then he was unable to cast the warding himself.
“Come inside,” I say, briskly now, swinging the key in the lock and pushing the door open.
I lead my visitors into an exam room, flipping on the light and snapping on a latex glove. I catch myself while pulling on its mate. It’s been years since I…practiced, and the gloves will only serve to dull whatever magic I am able to muster.
Looking at my newest patient, I force a smile. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Jess. It’s gonna be okay, Jonah.” I hope the bitterness on my tongue is from the fear, not the lie.
Without a proper exam table, I drag over a chair for Jonah. His mother wraps her arms around herself, fidgets. Her wide eyes are locked on the window, beyond which the light is rapidly dwindling.
At the back of the cabinet in the exam room there is a box, long unopened but never forgotten, where I’ve locked away the last bits of that life I left behind. Herbs you can’t find in the produce section, dried, pressed, and stinking to high heaven. A few rough-cut crystals. My own runestones.
“This isn’t a permanent fix,” I tell Jonah’s mother, “but it will get you through the night.” I grind together the necessary herbs and imbue the mixture with a whispered word of abandoned magic. My skin flushes, tingles; it comes back easier than I expected. Just like Dad had told me it would.
The first muted rustle hits my ears as I’m painting the sigil onto Jonah’s arm with a gentle fingertip.
I can’t help myself—I look to the window. The creature’s sticklike limbs are eerily outlined against the orangey-red of the moon. Jonah’s mother curses quietly, wrings her hands.
“Almost done,” I say in a sing-song voice, though my heart is beating madly against my ribs. Against the door, a scratching sound, a low hiss that sends a chill racing through me. A stench like damp earth permeates the clinic. Down the hall, the kenneled animals whine and fret within their cages.
I concentrate, making sure the final line of the protection sigil is smooth and unbroken.
The scratching ceases and the animals calm, like there was nothing there in the first place.
Jonah inspects the new symbol painted onto his skin. “It’s just like mine,” I tell him, showing the boy where my own sigil is buried within one of the tattooed flowers.
His mother wraps him in a tight embrace, presses a kiss to his forehead. The sight of it ignites an ache in my chest, the same raw pain that emerges every time I stand to the side and watch a pet owner say their final goodbye to a longtime companion.
They leave with a drawing of the sigil and instructions to make the imprint permanent as soon as possible, and I sag against the wall until I’m seated on the linoleum, feeling exhausted but accomplished.
Finally with a trembling hand, I reach for the landline phone and punch in a number I’ve never forgotten.
He answers immediately, voice weaker than last we spoke, gruff yet affectionate. “Jess?” I swallow. “Hey, Dad.”
Author Bio: Chrissie Rohrman is a training supervisor who lives with her husband and herd of fur babies in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has grown addicted to writing competitions, and her short stories have been published in various online and print magazines. She is currently drafting the first installment of a fantasy trilogy. Follow on Twitter @ChrissieRawrman or ‘like’ Chrissie Rohrman Writes Things on Facebook.
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