Call me strega, p.1
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       Call Me Strega, p.1

           Amber Marshall Kris Lewis
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Call Me Strega
Call Me Strega: A short story

  By Amber Marshall and Kristopher Lewis

   

   

  Copyright © 2012 Amber Marshall and Kristopher Lewis

   

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. 

  All rights reserved

   

  The heat from the fading sun seemed to bleed away into the rock Massimo sat upon. He was sitting on the Spine, the wall surrounding Merspire, his feet dangling over the edge. The cliffs below sank into blackness; it gave him vertigo to stare, a sensation of falling that was almost tempting. It matched the sinking feeling in his gut.

  Gisele was going through her trials today, the ritual that would initiate her into the sisterhood of the Strega. Massimo didn’t know what the trials entailed; as a male child he would never know of the mysteries. He did know that not every initiate survived this culling. He wondered which would be worse: losing his childhood friend to the seas of Acheron, or watching her become the twisted thing they both hated.

  It seemed no Strega ever loved her child, though Massimo’s mother came closer than most, on rare occasions. It was almost worth how harshly she treated him after her bouts of “weakness,” as she thought of them.

  Last night she had asked what ailed him, when he pushed his dinner away untasted. Massimo had hesitated, not knowing how much to reveal. So he left out his disgust for what Gisele was to become, and told her, “I’m worried about Gisele.”

  “She’ll survive the ritual. She’s strong enough,” his mother assured him. “In truth I wish she was my daughter.”

  Massimo ignored this; he was used to his mother’s lament that she had a son. “I guess—“ he began, knowing he should stop but going on anyway, “I’m just sad I’m losing my friend.”

  His mother’s lips tightened then. “Instead of being selfish, you should be happy for her.”

  “I am,” he lied.

  “And anyway, Massimo, there is no such thing as friends in this world, not truly. Only pawns.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “Oh? And who do people make friends with? Those who can benefit them in some way. Someone who has something useful to them.”

  “That’s not why we’re friends,” Massimo insisted, his voice rising in volume.

  “Oh? And I suppose you don’t enjoy Gisele’s beauty?”

  Massimo’s pale cheeks flushed and he lowered his head, his hair falling over his face.

  The next morning, his mother was gone, but there was a package on the table, a little card propped against it; it read Massi in his mother’s handwriting. It was a wooden box, the lid carved with a leviathan curled around a three-masted ship. He flipped the latch and opened it.

  Lying upon seaweed-green silk was a bone flute, a larger version of the little tin whistle he learned to play upon as a child. It was as smooth as if it had formed naturally from bone; even the holes along its length looked natural, not carved or drilled.

  It was in the inside pocket of his jacket now. He slipped a hand into his pocket and rubbed his fingers against it. It was warm from his body.

  “Massi?” The voice startled him; had he been leaning forward he would have tumbled to his death. A hand clamped down on his shoulder and steadied him. “Careful there. I don’t know why you like sitting here. It gives me shivers.”

  Massimo looked down; Gisele smiled up at him. “Come on down before you kill yourself,” she said. He threw a leg back over the edge of the wall and joined her in leaning against it.

  “Aren’t you supposed to be preparing?” he asked, his heart sinking like an anchor in his chest. He didn’t look at Gisele directly, instead peering at her from the corner of his eye. She was wearing a simple, black robe, her white-blonde hair hanging lank down her back. Tiny, bone-white horns curled out from the hair by her temples. Her ice-blue eyes were rimmed in red.

  “How am I supposed to prepare for this?”

  “I wouldn’t know.”

  “Of course not.” Gisele planted her hands against the wall and peered over the edge. “So tempting,” she murmured. “I wish I was a boy, like you.”

  Massimo chuckled without mirth. “My mother told me last night she wished you were her daughter.”

  “Sometimes I wish I was. At least she smiles at you, sometimes.” Gisele bit her lip. “I’m scared, Massi,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. She turned and flung her arms around his shoulders, her face buried against his neck. He rubbed her back as she shuddered with sobs. “I don’t even know what awaits me in there. It could be anything.” Gisele sniffed loudly. “I don’t want to be like them,” she whispered, her voice wavering in his ear. “Cold and cruel and monstrous.”

  “Then run away,” Massimo said, easing her gently back and wiping tears off her cheeks with his thumbs. “I’ll help you.”

  She half laughed, half sobbed. “What are you going to do, summon a leviathan with your tin whistle?”

  “No. I have this now.” Massimo took out his flute and handed it to Gisele. She took it and turned it over in her hands.

  “It’s beautiful.” She handed it back. “Play me something. Play that song I like.”

  Massimo brought the flute to his lips. In truth, he hadn’t played it yet at all; when he found it, he put the box in his room, slipped the flute into his pocket, and went out. He hoped it would sound all right, that he wouldn’t mess up. He knew this was important to Gisele.

  The notes flowed out smooth and strong, giving the haunting, sad tune the extra gravity that his piping tin whistle never could. It sounded like the wind in a seashell, the moan of whales as they breached. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Gisele’s sparkled with unshed tears. She wiped at them with the hem of her sleeve.

  “You could summon a big monster with that,” she said, her voice thick. “We could ride him all the way to Beiyokura.” A small smile tugged at her lips. “But I don’t know what we’d do there.”

  She was baiting him. They played these kind of “what if” games often. Massimo blew out a breath. “Well, we could be fishermen. I could play a song to lure the fish into our nets.”

  Gisele scoffed. “They’d know we were witches then! All that mysterious good fortune… they’d be stoking the witchfires within a week.”

  “I don’t think a kimono would suit you anyway.”

  Gisele stuck her tongue out at Massimo. “You’d probably get addicted to Mayaku—“

  “I wouldn’t need it.” His eyes locked with hers, and she blushed. Massimo fumbled for something to break the tension. “Okay, then we could train dolphins to do tricks. Put on a show, you know? ‘Massi and Gisele’s Dolphin Dancers.’”

  “We’d have to change our names. Something outrageous.”

  “And costumes.”

  “Wait!” Gisele said. “Before we do any of this, we’d have to get out of here.”

  “That’s right.” Massimo rested his elbows on the top of the wall and steepled his fingers against his lips. “Well, we’ll have to cut your hair… and get you some trousers.”

  “Yeah, we’ll glue some of the hair to my chin so it looks like I’m trying to grow a beard.”

  “Hey…” Massimo had tried to grow a sinister-looking goatee once, but it had looked instead like he had tried to nuzzle a hedgehog, as Gisele described it.

  “Then we can just act like we’re going out to get supplies for our mothers. No one cares what boys do anyway.”

  “You think so, hey?” Massimo snorted. “At least you eventually get a say over your own life.”

  “Do you think I had a say in this
?” Gisele rested her cheek on the top of the wall and fixed Massimo with a piercing look. Her eyes seemed to glow as the dimming sunlight hit them.

  He broke the gaze after a moment. “No. Do you think we could really escape?”

  “No,” she sighed, “but thank you anyway.”

  “Giz…”

  “Massi,” she turned to him, “you won’t forget about me, will you? Whether I make it or not, you won’t—“

  “Of course not.” He forced a smile. “Just… be careful, huh?”

  She nodded. The last sliver of the sun sank beneath the horizon. Bells tolled. Gisele looked up, startled as if by a gunshot. “I have to go,” she said.

  “I know,” Massimo forced the words past the lump in his throat. He sucked in a harsh breath. Gisele leaned in toward him. Her lips brushed his cheek like the wings of a moth fluttering by. Then she was running up the stairs, her white-blonde hair straight out behind her as she dashed for the temple.

  Massimo watched until she rounded a corner and disappeared from view. Then he climbed back atop the wall. He tried to play the flute once more, but only strangled noises would emerge. Shoving the flute back in his pocket, Massimo leaned his cheek against the cold pillar beside him and gave up on fighting his tears.

   

  ***

   

  He didn’t see her again until two years later. He was standing on the dock, watching his mother bully the slaves that were loading their possessions onto the ferry that would take them to the nearest port. They were meeting some pirates there, his mother said, but revealed nothing else.

  Someone jostled him. “Watch where you’re going!” a harsh voice said, though he had been the one standing still. He turned to see a girl with white-blonde hair, two twisted spires of bone poking their tips through it. The blue of her eyes was eclipsed completely by a sucking blackness that seemed to swallow light. Her bared teeth had been filed into points.

  “It’s you!” Massimo exclaimed, a grin spreading across his face. Her name was on the tip of Massimo’s tongue. Why couldn’t he remember it? “You made it through. I never found out if you did. I didn’t see you around… I thought maybe you were—“

  “Do I know you?” She cocked her head to the side.

  Something twisted in Massimo’s throat. “It’s me. Massimo.”

  “Ah yes,” she said, nodding. “You were one of my childhood playmates.” She said it as though her childhood had been a worn old thing she was glad to be rid of.

  “Last I saw you was before the ritual.” Massimo frowned. “Why can’t I remember your name?”

  She lifted her chin. “It belongs to Lord Merrow now, and only he may speak it. You may call me ‘Strega.’” Her face held no emotion at all as she continued on.

  Massimo watched her disappear into the crowd, fire gnawing at his guts. If he could remember her name, he could call to her. It would break this spell she was under, whatever spell the Strega put on her to make her this cold, terrible statue she had become. But it was as if it had been plucked from his mind. He could remember her tears on the day of the ritual, the way she smiled when he played his flute. But her name eluded him.

  He didn’t notice his mother had come up behind him until she laid a hand on his shoulder. He flinched. “She is not for you, héjoré,” the Strega spoke. “There will be others.” Massimo swallowed hard. “Come now. We have work to do.” Her hand left his shoulder. Massimo lingered a moment before following his mother up the gangplank.

   

  About the Authors

   

  Amber Marshall and Kristopher Lewis are the authors of The Trident of Merrow, of which this short story is a prequel. It is their first novel. They can be contacted at marshallandlewis@gmail.com or at talesofaquan.wordpress.com.

   

 
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