August 2020’s short story of the month
Always the same old lines whenever she came home for the holidays, like her parents were rehearsing a play over and over and never could get it right. Yet they didn’t seem to notice how much they repeated themselves. Her father would sit down to dinner and say how much he missed her, he couldn’t wait to hear about where she was living now, and he had a story or two to tell about her nieces and nephews.
Mary was sure he meant well, but that same old small talk turned into criticism in her mind. Saying he missed her meant she didn’t visit enough. Asking about her new job was really his way of saying she was unsettled, and the icing on the cake was finding a way to mention her nieces and nephews. She knew exactly why he always brought it up.
She was his oldest daughter and unmarried without any children. Who would inherit her gifts if she never had children? Did he really think she didn’t dwell on those things constantly? Her mother never failed to voice her disappointment.
Magical families tried to arrange marriages to keep the bloodlines strong and powerful. Even then, some children inherited more of the gift than others. It was completely random. Having a parent with strong magic didn’t guarantee children with the same, but in her case, her father was one of the strongest casters of his generation and she had inherited magic even stronger than his. She could manipulate all the magical elements, and even more rare, she could affect time.
Her gift was so rare that even the council of mages who ranked casters had made her prove her gifts over and over again before they would believe it. A mage who could affect time hadn’t been born for over three centuries.
Unfortunately, she was in her thirties and wasn’t married yet. Her parents had been fighting with her about it for a long time now, but something was different this visit. The normal prattle of her father was even more chipper and upbeat. Her mother was bustling around the kitchen and kept looking over at her and smiling. Something was up.
Mary was nursing her cup of tea and not really listening to her dad’s chatter. She heard a noise outside. She didn’t turn to acknowledge it because neither of her parents did. If she heard it, they definitely had. They knew someone was coming. What was going on?
Come to think of it, they didn’t usually invite her over without inviting her sisters too. Where were they? She’d spoken to both of them this week and neither had mentioned dinner with her parents.
Her parents glanced at each other, and she could have sworn she saw her dad wink at her mother.
“What is going on?” Mary said, getting to her feet and pushing away from the counter.
“What do you mean, dear?” Her mother tried to catch her father’s eye, but he was staring at his cup of tea avoiding all eye contact.
“You two are up to something.” Mary glared at her parents trying to look pissed, but honestly she was kind of curious what they were up to. It wasn’t like them to be sneaky; subtleness was not their strong point.
“Mary, we are not up to anything,” said her dad smiling a little too broadly.
“Please don’t lie to me.” She looked back and forth between the two of them. “You know I don’t like surprises. Please. Whatever it is. Just tell me.”
They never answered because the doorbell rang. Her mother wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and practically bounded out to answer it.
“Dad…” Mary said pleadingly. “Please tell me what is going on.”
Her dad wanted to tell her, but there wasn’t time. Besides, nothing he could say would change what was about to happen.
“Just remember she is only doing this because she loves you,” her dad answered.
Then Mary did something that she hadn’t done in a long time, mostly because after she cast the spell, the council would always show up to see what was going on. They had a way of knowing when she messed with time, and they had warned her from a very young age to not meddle too much with time. She listened, mostly, but if she was the only mage who could manipulate time, why shouldn’t she use it and learn how the magic of time worked? She reasoned with herself that it was better to be prepared.
She froze time. Without even waving her hands or saying a spell, she stopped everything. She didn’t have to use written spells or devices to cast time magic. How easily it came to her was another reason the council didn’t like it. They didn’t understand it, and they couldn’t stop her from using it. She could manipulate time by just thinking about it.
She left her dad in the kitchen and made her way down the hall to the foyer. Her mother was there, still as a statue, shaking the hand of another woman similar in age. With this guest was a man, also of the same generation, and a younger man.
It was a set up. Of course it was. This was a suitor or some such nonsense. Her mother had gone too far this time. Even though most magical families arranged marriages for their children, her parents had allowed her sisters to choose their own spouses. Her mother had some nerve.
Mary was contemplating how to handle this situation when the strangest thing happened.
“Hello, Mary. It’s nice to meet you,” the unwanted suitor said.
“How are you talking right now?” Mary asked. She looked him up and down. No one had ever been able to break one of her time spells.
“With this,” he said holding up an amulet that had been hidden by his shirt.
“What is that?” she asked, alarm bells were going off by this point. Why had he come prepared to stop a time spell? He obviously knew what she was capable of, but if this was just a potential suitor, why was he counteracting her magic?