This is my twelfth Pay It Forward Offering for 2019. I’m a little late, I know! This story features Nathalie, Elaine and Dawn. Enjoy!
The snow had come first. Elaine had been right about that.
That didn’t make it fair. She was the eldest out of all three of them. She had been around for more winters and knew its scents and sounds. Nathalie sighed and closed the large leather-bound book she had been writing in. The leather spine creaked, and the pages ruffled themselves loudly. She stroked the cover of the book as if to soothe it. “Shoosh, now. None of your complaining.”
Going to the window, Nathalie looked at the large flakes as they fell from the sky. The stars blinked down at her. Nathalie could see them winking at her through the flakes of snow. When she saw the man’s face, she looked away from the snowflakes and at him instead. His face flickered in the candlelight and she narrowed her eyes so that she could see more clearly.
She gazed out the window and saw the man. He had dark hair and what looked like a fine complexion made rugged by the stubble that covered his chin. He was glaring at their house with an expression on his face. Nathalie couldn’t tell if the gaze the man wore was one of desperation or one of fear. As he started towards their house, the snowflakes falling around him, he began to fade away. Gripping the windowsill, Nathalie tried to see clearly, but the man grew blurrier the more he came towards the house. The one thing that she did see was the knife that he was holding in his hand. It dripped blood onto the snow. Then, as if sensing her presence, the man looked at her, right into her eyes. She saw that he had the same eyes as hers and she cried out. Then the man, the knife and the blood were gone, taken by the wind.
“Fuck.” Nathalie swore.
There was the sound of footsteps behind her. Her sister Dawn entered the living room carrying a tray carrying a teapot, cups and a plate of biscuits. “Another vision?” She asked. The firelight twinkled off of the gold edges of her glasses.
Nathalie nodded, wringing her hands. “It keeps coming. It lasts longer each time and it’s always the same man.”
“Wait until Elaine has come. She is making sure that all the windows and doors are locked and is placing a line of salt around each exit. You know how she gets during snowstorms. In the meantime, how about I pour you a cup of tea?”
Nathalie nodded eagerly. “Yes, please. That would be lovely.” Sitting down on one of the comfortable wingback chairs, Nathalie watched her younger sister as Dawn poured the tea. While several years younger than her, Dawn had the same reddish hair and the same slim oval face that they all did. They got the red hair from their mother.
Dawn had brought her tarot cards, too. While Nathalie had visions of the future, Dawn saw glimpses of it through other means, whether they be tarot cards or tea leaves. She was always accurate and predicted the future with frightening accuracy. Nathalie envied her sister. While seeing visions could be helpful, they often weren’t of any assistance until it was too late. Nathalie only saw pieces of what was to come while Dawn could see a whole path or story in front of her.
The scent of lavender and jasmine reached Nathalie. Dawn had made a calming brew of tea. Perhaps she already knew something of the night ahead of them if she was already brewing lavender and jasmine tea. Snow made all of them nervous. It had always been this way. Nathalie knew firsthand how much the snow could hide and what it could take away.
They heard the sounds of movement in the house. Nathalie watched as Dawn reached out and filled the two remaining teacups. The house began to creak and groan and their sister Elaine entered the room. The house let Nathalie go where she wanted without making a noise. With Dawn, you could hear her footsteps wherever she trod. With Elaine, the house liked to announce her coming.
Whereas Nathalie had short red hair streaked with grey and Dawn had hair that was the red of freshly bloomed rose, Elaine’s hair was white streaked with grey. The red colour of her hair had been taken away by time and had not returned for some time. Elaine always looked as if she were about to break out in a smile, but Nathalie knew what a smile could hide as well as the snow. When they were all together at their studies, their mother had called them Maiden, Mother and Crone. Nathalie and Dawn often argued about who was the Maiden and who was the Mother.
Flopping down into the couch across from them, Elaine let out a loud groan. “Why does a house have so many damned windows and doors? Would you believe this house has thirty windows and twenty doors?” She asked.
“I thought it had ten doors and thirty windows at the last count?” Dawn asked, handing Elaine a cup of tea.
“Numbers mean nothing,” Elaine said. “You know as well as I do that this house grows and shrinks as it sees fit.”
“Don’t I know it.” Nathalie said. “I’m still looking for that library that was filled with occult books that I found last week. I went back to look for the book I had been reading on Victorian botanicals and still can’t find it.”
Dawn placed a cup of tea in front of Nathalie. “Maybe just ask nicely for the book. You know that it can’t hide things for too long.”
Elaine took a sip of tea and put the cup back down. She closed her eyes and rubbed her head slowly. “Are you okay?” Nathalie whispered.
“Don’t I wish. Why does the snow always bring them out? Why can’t I just enjoy a small glass of sherry in front of a fire during a snowing? Why must they bother me so fiercely every time it snows?”
Nathalie reached out and squeezed Elaine’s hand. She knew that while both her and Dawn saw the future in some way, Elaine saw the past. Specifically, she could see ghosts and spirits. They always came to her in various degrees of dying or they had been dead a long time. Whenever it snowed, Nathalie knew that the spirits bothered her endlessly. Even though Nathalie couldn’t see the spirits, she could feel them. During a snowstorm, the house expanded to provide room for all the spirits that visited her sister.
“Have another sip of your tea,” Dawn said. “I made it with lavender, jasmine, juniper and rosemary. It should help clear your vision and aid you in seeing clearly.”
Elaine took another grateful sip of the tea and let out a sigh. “There are so many of them today. I wish they would leave this old lady alone.”
“How many spirits have there been?” Nathalie asked.
Elaine shook her head. “I stopped counting at thirty. Have you ever heard thirty people talking at once, each of them clamouring to be heard?” She let out another sigh. “It’s a wonder that my head isn’t done in. All of their yammering, it’s constant. I hope the salt will keep most of them away. Enough of that, though,” She gave Nathalie a shrewd look. “What troubles you, sister?”
Taking a sip of tea to calm herself, Nathalie told Elaine and Dawn of the vision. “It’s clearer each time. He gets closer and closer to our house each time as well.”
“How long have you been having this vision?” Elaine spoke sharply.
“It’s been a week or so. Every time I pass by the window, I can see him. Sometimes, I can hear him singing a song, others calling out to someone that I can’t see.” Nathalie took another sip of tea. Calm yourself, Nathalie thought.
Dawn reached for her tarot cards. “Shall I see what the cards have to say?” She didn’t wait for either Elaine or Nathalie to respond and started shuffling the cards. Nathalie knew that she didn’t have to ask her question out loud, that her Dawn would intuit whatever the cards had to say anyways. When Dawn was done, she put the deck down on the table and drew three cards.
There was the three of swords, the nine of swords and the ten of swords. Dawn’s eyes grew wide and she drew a fourth card for good measure. It was the seven of wands. Dawn took a deep breath and let it out. Then she took a sip of her own tea as if to calm herself. Looking up at both of her sisters, Dawn said “There is trouble here.”
“What do the cards mean, Dawn?” Elaine asked. “You know I have no sense of cards or tea leaves.”
“The three of swords is heartbreak and torment. There is pain there. The nine of swords is someone at their wits end, unable to focus on anything else but the mental torment that plagues them and the ten of swords is the end, someone who is finished and has given up entirely. The seven of wands is tells of a fight, of protecting what is ours.” She took another deep breath. “These are unhappy cards.”
“How fitting for an unhappy spirit.” Nathalie said. “These are all well and good, but what do we do now?”
“Weren’t you listening to your sister?” Elaine said. “We have to defend ourselves. We must prepare for battle.”
Nathalie looked at the cards more closely. Pointing at the five of swords, she said “That is the man I’ve seen in my visions.” She tapped the card. “He’s was even carrying a knife the last time I saw him.” The man on the card was so similar to the one that she had seen. Shivering, Nathalie took her hand away from the cards.
“That is even more worrisome.” Elaine said. “We shall have to ready our defenses.”
“Do you really think that is necessary?” Nathalie said.
“Think on your vision, sister. Do you think the man means us harm?”
Nathalie closed her eyes and tried to see past the shadow realms, to see deeper into herself. Then she saw him, the man that had been haunting her visions for the past week. She saw him and tried to go nearer to him so that she could learn more about who he was and what he meant to her, but it was like he heard her footsteps and when he looked up into her eyes, she saw the flash of gold and then a flash of silver.
Opening her eyes, Nathalie let out a cry. It sounded primal and she had never made that noise before. It was one of pain and discovery, of heartbreak and wonder. She put a hand to her stomach, feeling a weight inside her that was not there before. “He has golden eyes.” She said. “He has golden eyes.
Dawn let out a cry of her own and pointed at Nathalie’s dress. There was blood that had seeped into the fabric of Nathalie’s dress where her stomach. With a trembling hand, she touched the spot of blood and took her hand away, looking at the blood upon her fingers. Though she had seen blood before, this frightened her.
The book Nathalie had been writing in before flapped open and the pages began to ruffle themselves as if they were being moved by an unseen hand. The house moved and shook around them, sounding like it would crumble at any moment, so loud were the creaks of wood, metal and glass. The pots in the kitchen began to clang against each other.
“The spirits are restless.” Elaine said softly, worry heightening the terseness of her words. “They are in a torrent of movement around us.”
“I can hear them,” Dawn said, worry coating her words. She moved towards Nathalie, wanting to protect her, but Nathalie put her hands out.
“Not yet.” Nathalie said. “Don’t come near me yet.”
The house continued to move and shift around them and Nathalie could feel it expanding and contracting, growing and shrinking with each passing moment. When she thought she couldn’t stand it any more, when the howl of the wind that was moving through the house reached a screaming pitch, the wooden broom that they kept in the kitchen fell to the floor, slapping the hardwood floors with a sound like a bullet.
All three sisters jumped and they looked at each other, worry on their faces. The sounds, the wails of the wind and the creaking of the house had stopped. It was as if the broom falling had been a period on the end of a particularly long sentence.
Elaine looked at Nathalie with worry in her eyes. “It seems like the enemy is not coming from outside our house,” She said. “But from within.”
Dawn and Elaine looked at Nathalie. She saw the worry there and she knew that it was echoed on her own face. Nathalie could only place one of her hands on her stomach, her skin now slick with blood, and wonder what would come. As the house settled around them, she wondered how they would defend their walls against themselves.
Standing, she went to the book and read what it had to say.