Megan stared at the obituaries spread out on the basement floor. Her gift. And it was a gift, though not in the way her mother had looked at it. But then, mother was always full of crazy ideas that were usually wrong. She once said the moon held the lost souls of the dead, and Megan knew by the way she said it, the way her eyes flickered like candle light, the woman believed every bit of it.
Megan raked a hand through her oily black hair. She could still hear Mother’s voice after the gift paid its first visit. “You have something special,” Mother said. “Hold it close to your heart. Not everyone is so blessed.”
Megan closed her eyes against the obituaries. Six people. Six lives. At first it didn’t feel like a gift at all. More like a curse. She could have told at least two of them, the first being Mrs. Kowalksi. Number five. It was a Saturday afternoon. She turned the corner on the far aisle of the grocery store and almost crashed into the woman. She had opened her mouth to apologize, but the moment she caught Mrs. Kowalski’s gaze, Megan froze. It was the same look she’d seen a thousand times before, like she was a soiled rag to be avoided. And with that look came the memory: children, hands locked, circling and chanting. Megan Fitch, her mother’s a witch, who flew her broom into a ditch.
In the end, Megan couldn’t tell Mrs. Kowalski. Doing so would have only pegged her as another crazy Fitzgerald. Like mother, like daughter, right? And being called crazy was out of the question, a no-brainer. Besides, how would she have said it? Uh, you may think this a little strange--God knows I do--but tomorrow night… Well, tomorrow night you’re going to die.
She reached down now and picked up all that remained of Mrs. Kowalski: a photo and a synopsis of a life once lived. After a moment, Megan tossed it back to the floor with the others.
She once asked her mother how she could lose the so-called gift.
“What on earth for?” Mother had said.
Megan looked at her mother through the mirror, the woman preparing for another night of reading palms and dried-up bones.
“It bothers me,” Megan said. “I mean, why me? Why them?”
“As long as we can make money at it, I don’t care.”
Megan felt the anger rise up in her throat, a giant ball of it she would rather throw up than to swallow.
“It doesn’t work that way,” she finally said. “I can’t control it.”
The slap came so quick that Megan had no time to react. Mother’s razor-thin eyebrows almost touched. “What good’s a gift if we can’t use it? It wasn’t my idea for your father to abandon us, you know. No place to turn, no money to buy food.” She slipped on her headdress. “Now, get back to your room and find a way to make it work, or so help me I’ll beat you worse than your father ever did.”
It never worked the way mother originally thought it would though. At first, it came and went as it pleased, filling Megan’s mind with images she couldn’t control. It never bargained, never acquiesced. But then, just three days ago--
“Megan?” A voice from the stairwell. “You down there?”
Megan swept the obituaries together. “Yes, Aunt Nora, I’m here.”
“What’re you doing?”
“Just… stuff. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
“We’re about to leave soon.” When Megan didn’t respond, her aunt asked, “Are you okay?”
Megan looked down at the obituaries. “Yes, I’m fine. I’ll be right there.”
The door at the top of the stairs closed, and Megan quickly tucked the scraps of paper into her backpack. She slipped her arm through the shoulder strap, the pack heavy against her shoulder, and stood up. At the base of the stairs, she stopped and took a deep breath. The curse had visited again a few days ago, only this time everything changed. At first, the image felt as clear as anything else she’d seen: her mother stopped, checking on a car at the side of the road, the passenger dead from a heart attack. Watching the image play out, the anger returned. This time it burned at her neck, her face. Why couldn’t it be mother on the side of the road instead? Only, not from a heart attack; that would be too good. No, wouldn’t it be better for her to face a drunken truck driver, to see the grill of the semi as it bore down? Oh yes, that and more. To hear the pop and screech of metal, to see the explosion of glass as the truck crushed the car and everything else inside, that would be a perfect way for mother to go.
Climbing the stairs now, about to step outside and slide into Aunt Nora’s car to make the six mile trip across town to her new home, her new life, Megan smiled. Three days ago, she finally understood her gift and how anger made it work. And yes, it was a gift after all. Mother--Number Six--proved that.
At the top of the stairs, she snickered, thinking, My-oh-my, what a wonderful way to stop all of those children cold. No longer would she have to hear Megan Fitch, her mother’s a witch.
At least not for long.