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  • Writer's pictureMick Brady

Out of the Safe

“We should have gone with your father, but I was too afraid.”

Will wanted to pull away, but Cora held her in her grip.

“His choice was impossible — betray his family or betray his world. Instead he chose death. He was courageous.” She looked her daughter in the eye. “And you’re just like him.”

Realization swept over Will, cutting through her anger, fear and guilt. It filled the void of her childhood grief like a landslide.

“You’re right, Mom,” she said. “I’m like him, but he didn’t give me courage — he gave me cowardice. I’ve been making a mess of things and then running away all my life. He taught me the fine art of abandonment. Somehow I made it home, though — even if he never did.” She pulled her hand free and then folded it protectively over her mother’s.

There. I said it. I broke the curse, Will thought. She felt elated — almost giddy.

“There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Cora murmured.

It’s okay, Mother, Will thought. Dream on. I can take it now.

“Willabelle.” Will recognized Cora’s ‘I’m near the end of my patience’ voice.

“Yes, Mom.”

The old woman sighed.

“Go to that mirror.”

Will walked to an ornately framed mirror on the wall opposite the bed. She looked at her reflection and the reflection of her mother behind her. The moment became etched in her soul — a freeze-frame of her last second of clarity before the long dive into the abyss.

“Take it down,” Cora said. Her voice sounded distant.

The mirror hid a wall safe, Will knew. Mechanically, she spun the combination lock and opened the door. She reached inside and lifted the single item within out of the safe — a heavy object in a black velvet bag. Will’s hands trembled as she carried it to her mother’s bed.

Cora no longer seemed old or even sick as she loosened the drawstrings and opened the bag. She seemed hungry. Gently, she pulled back the velvet, revealing a large quartz crystal ground to the precise size and shape of a human skull. Had the thing been enlarged to its size in Will’s nightmare, four people could have walked abreast into its deep black eyes.

Cora raised the skull until it caught the light, creating a fantastic display in the room.

“This is what your father died for, Willabelle. This is your inheritance.”

Will watched with transfixed revulsion as her mother stroked the curves of the crystal skull. No longer held aloft, its light was gone, along with any pretense of beauty. It looked menacing, even deadly.

“The jawbone is missing,” Cora pointed out, her eyes bright. “It still has tremendous power, but if the missing piece were ever found…” Words seemed to fail her. “It would be unspeakable.”

Cora looked at Will uncertainly, then thrust the skull toward her.

“Here,” she said. “Take it.”

Startled, Will took a step back but found her feet would go no further. Hateful as the object was to her, she felt drawn to it — as though it were a musical instrument she just discovered the urge to play.

She cradled it in her hands and looked unflinchingly into its eyes. Bottomless, she thought. Slowly, she moved the skull this way and that, feeling its cool smoothness. She turned it face down and felt herself descending into a state of deep meditation as she stared into the featureless dome. A halo formed around it, casting a golden reflection onto Will’s face. The room, her mother, everything fell away as an image resolved in the crystal.

Will saw Becky standing face to face with a large white dog, staring into its unearthly eyes — the eyes of the owl, the aliens, the skull. She dropped the crystal onto her mother’s bed as though it had become too hot to hold.

“What is it?” Cora demanded. “What did you see?”

“Nothing,” Will said. She wheeled around and left the room.

Polly was in the kitchen drinking coffee, her feet propped on a chair, reading a book.

“Where’s Becky?” Will asked. She didn’t attempt to cover her fear.

“Outside.” Then Polly jumped up and raced after Will, who had charged toward the front door.

Will stood in the yard, trying to calm herself enough to form a plan.

“Becky!” she called.

Everywhere she looked, she saw danger. The landscape was no longer familiar — it was vast and shadowed. There were countless opportunities for a child to be hidden or hurt or lost.

“Becky!” Polly screamed, but there was no distant answering reply.

“The pier,” Polly said. They ran, each calling Becky’s name every few steps. As the sisters approached the lake, Will saw with a flood of relief that Becky was standing on the small pier that jutted out into the water, her back turned to them.

“Becky!” Polly called sharply.

The little girl turned slowly, as though hearing a sound in the distance, unsure of where it was coming from. For an instant, her eyes looked blank. Then they registered recognition.

“Why didn’t you answer me?” Polly remonstrated, her voice shaking. “You had to hear us. We called and called.”

Becky looked at her mother, then questioningly, to Will.

“Did you see it?” she asked.

“No,” Will said, refusing to acknowledge the “it” she certainly meant.

“A bad dog was staring at me,” Polly said. “He wanted me to jump in, but I didn’t.”


This is Excerpt №9 of The Darkest Eyes by Mick Brady

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