Dying didn’t really feel like anything. It was a bit like they say, like falling asleep, drifting away… Away from my body and pain and anything that bound me to this physical plane… Floating, only the scattered musings of my consciousness tethering together something that was not me, but still… me.
Through the incorporeal I wandered, my identity strewn about like plastic bags across an endless car park, until one thought pulled everything sharply into place.
It was you.
As though the universe had heard me, I felt myself being dragged back into the material world. Well… alongside it, not into it. Never into it. It’s like watching from the other side of a veil – almost there but not quite, seeing but unseen.
The first thing I saw was marble, the kind they use to make tombstones, and at once I knew that I had been consecrated, tied once more to the earth. At least the turnout for my funeral was pretty good – nearly the whole coven was there. An Elder was speaking, calling me brave, a hero. But I didn’t want to look at her, or any of them; I couldn’t listen to the lies.
I saw you, there, right at the front. You were bundled in your little coat, arms wrapped around yourself and shivering in the cold. And I remember your face – not crying, you never cry, but… haunted. That was when my heart broke – I had failed you.
Good mothers don’t leave their children. Good mothers aren’t reckless, thoughtless… selfish. I wasn’t a good mother. But I was lucky. With my consecration, I was given another chance. I couldn’t give you my words or my protection or my embrace, but I can give you my magic. I will make you strong. I’ll make it up to you.
You wouldn’t know this, but I never left your side. Not once. From the moment I saw you shivering in your coat, I was there, watching over you. Spirits on the Other Side… we can wander, see the world if we want to, but I never did. I was there for you.
I watched you grow up – your first day of high school, your first kiss, your first magic lesson. I was a spectre who loved you always. I revelled the day you were first told of ancestral magic; I wanted you to know that I was still there, ever willing to lend you my help. I’m sorry I left you, but I’m not really gone – we’re still connected! I feel it every time you channel my magic, every time you use my power.
I remember in middle school when that boy kept taking your lunch. I could see you were angry, humiliated, but even then, you never cried. Remember when you confronted the boy? You walked right up to him behind the school building – you were always so strong. When you fought, and your skin seemed to burn so hot it began to scar his hands… that was me! My magic! I will always protect you.
I won’t lie to you – it’s lonely on the Other Side. The other ancestral spirits have shunned me, so I’m on my own. In death just as in life, I suppose. To be a spirit is only a half-existence; it’s an endless purgatory. The living do not spare it a second thought as they scatter petals and rosewater over our bodies to trap us forever behind the curtain, on the other side of the one-way mirror. They only want our power, our magic. It’s cruel. But it’s all okay because I have you. For you, I’d happily condemn myself.
Oh daughter… You’re not strong enough to do this on your own. You can’t do it. You shouldn’t have to.
I’m sorry. I should have been there for you… But I hope you can see, I still am! I’m doing all I can to make it up to you. Every time you channel me, when you call upon my power, I am holding you close in the only way I still can.
So even now, even as you need more power than I have in me to give, even as I feel the pain of being torn to nothing from within, I will stand behind you. Where all the other ancestral spirits have forsaken you, abandoned you, I will never. I will never leave you again.
But you are asking more of me than I can provide this time; it’s too much. The delicate tether that holds my spirit to this earth is breaking.
The last thing I see is blood, the kind that’s red, thick, stains everything it touches. The whole coven is here. The Elder is the last to die, choking on her garbled words. They didn’t matter.
I see you, there, right in the middle. You’re splattered red, shaking from exhaustion and on the edge of collapse. This is the first time you’ve cried, but they are tears of triumph. You’ve finally won, but your victory is also mine. We reached your goal; we got your revenge against the ones who made me leave you. I helped you find your peace.
The last thing I see is you, my beloved daughter, before I fade into welcome oblivion.
I’m proud of you. I’m happy.
I am a good mother.
© Michelle Hendriks
Winning Story: Contest #5
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards