Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2020.
A streak of sunlight through once-cream curtains, now yellowed with age, woke Ada gently. The light was warm on her face, and she tried to roll away to sleep deeply once more, but her body was ready to move. A single thump outside finally pushed her to move out of bed out to the hallway bathroom.
“Morning, morning!” Millie waved as Ada shuffled past. It made the young witch suddenly aware of the cowlick in her hair and the sleep in her eyes, but she smiled softly and croaked a reply.
“Will you be down for breakfast? Miss Maeve and Priddy are already in the kitchen with Cousin Hector. He woke up early this morning looking a little more frazzled than usual, which is quite an accomplishment for a frazzled fogey of his nature,” Millie continued, kicking the stairs with her one-shoed foot.
Ada nodded with her eyes half closed and made her way first to the bathroom. Another thump resonated through the second floor, and Ada washed her wands with a chill down her spine.
The kitchen was warm, one window open above the sink. A bracing chill blew through the inch of open space between window and frame, and it made Ada’s lungs feel a little fresher as she sat amongst the thick smell of sausage and eggs.
Hector sat with his hands in his hair and his face hanging above his plate of half-eaten food. To Ada’s side sat a quiet Maeve, her fork on her plate the only sound in the room aside from Grandpa’s Mellis’s groans and grumbles every few minutes.
The sound of paws tapping on the floor preceded Priddy’s appearance in the kitchen. She licked Ada’s hand and rested her head on Ada’s leg, her long ears fanning out across the sweatpants’ fabric. “Did you sleep well, Ada? Were you comfortable? I’ve been playing, and now I’m tired, so I’ll sleep. But did you sleep well?”
Ada smiled at the dog’s wagging tail and natural smile. “I slept well. Thanks for asking, Priddy.”
“Priddy is a good cuddle buddy,” Maeve said, and her voice sounded rough with sleep. She cleared it and took a sip of juice. “All that fur makes her like a little heater.”
“It’s true! I’m always warm, just like Ada. Right, Ada?” Priddy wagged her tail as Ada patted her head.
“Not exactly like me, but pretty close.” Ada could still feel Ostra’s magic flowing through her, keeping her warm and content at all times, even as she sat across from the drafty open window in her short-sleeved shirt. A layer of silence blankets the kitchen, punctured by thumps in the stairwell and groans in the living room.
Priddy made her spot in the sun shining through the backdoor window to sleep. As the humans ate, Hector’s head sank further into his hands, and he began tapping his foot on the old tiles of the floor. Ada didn’t want to say anything. She wanted to eat the now-lukewarm food in front of her and think about nothing, but the tapping grew louder until Ada cleared her throat and Hector looked up.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
Hector looked at her with drooping eyes and a heavy frown. “Do I seem out of sorts?”
“A little,” Maeve interjected with a mumble.
“A little,” Ada repeated, fork in hand.
With a sigh that rustled the cloth napkins on the table, Hector nodded slow and long. “It’s no cause for worry. I simply regret my life and must mull on my mistakes every so often.”
“You mean the—” THUMP. Ada tilted her head toward the noise. “You mean that, right?”
“Yes, of course, I mean that!” Hector lifted his hands and squeezed them over and over into fists. His eyes did not meet Ada’s, but she could see the lines in his forehead deepen with the wild expression on his face.
“Hector,” Ada began, placing her fork down on her empty plate, “you said before that you couldn’t figure out how to fix it, right?”
“That’s right,” Hector sighed. Then, with his elbows on the table, he leaned forward and whispered. “Truth be told, I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m afraid of mentioning it to Millie or Grandpa; I’d give them the choice of leaving, of course, but they might take offense at the idea. Still, I can’t test anything without the help of some actual ghosts.”
Ada’s eyes flicked to Maeve for a moment, and the witch noted the dark roots growing into her friend’s fading lavender hair. She wondered about what Maeve said the night before: that Ada is a good person, she thinks. Maybe Ada could prove it to the girl. “Why don’t we do some research?” Ada suggested. For a moment, Hector perked up, his head tilted in the same fashion as Priddy’s. “There has to be a library nearby, right? Libraries are full of occult information.”
“On getting rid of ghosts?” Maeve mumbled, a groan ringing out from the other room that gave the girl obvious shivers.
Ada shrugged. “I remember very little of my own life, but I have some sort of lingering reverence for libraries, so that must mean something.”
“I can’t just—the library is—we’d have to go into town,” Hector stammered. “I have no automobile.” He gestured through the doorway to the foyer towards the neatly stacked carboard boxes that lined the walls. “I don’t leave.”
“Well, if my phone hadn’t been bricked, we could get a car,” Maeve grumbled. She rubbed her hands on a napkin as if it eased her nerves. “Is there a bus stop near here? I think I remember one when Belén dropped us off.”
“And what if there is?” Hector said in a high-pitched trill. He stood, his hands on the table, and Ada had to reach out to keep her glass of juice from falling. “There is no need to go exploring libraries in town with all those people around.”
“Hector.” Ada stood, too, rising at the same time as a molten anger that flushed from her stomach up to her throat. She pushed it back down for the moment, but the residue stuck to the roof of her mouth, and when she touched her tongue to it, she felt heat. “If you want to change something, then you need to do something about it. I’ll go with you. You’ll be safe.”
Standing there, Ada felt like herself, and it made her nauseous. If this was her—if this was Adathis—at her mildest, then what was she at her fiercest? She watched Hector falter and saw his face shift, watched him as he sat, watched him nod and sigh. He agreed to go, and that was when she realized she was still standing and staring him down. When she finally resumed her seat, she saw that Maeve was stiff beside her, and her hands were lying curtly in her lap. Maeve did not meet Ada’s eyes.
The sound of Priddy stretching, and then a thump from Millie, allowed Ada some space to reclaim her body from the angry heart that kept overtaking her. She cleared her throat. “So, how do we ride a bus?”
The library was clean and warm, just how Ada liked it. She didn’t realize that was how she liked it until they were outside of the glass doors to the place, standing on the concrete under the overhang roof, and she could see the librarian’s desk and the rows of shelves and the carpet decorated with muted strips of yellow, orange, green, and red. Staring through the layer of glass, Ada felt welcomed, and the library tugged at her, urging her to enter its embrace.
They’d been sitting at a round, wooden table for two hours when the noises began. Ada and Hector sat with stacks of books blocking their vision of the rest of the library, while Maeve held a decade-old magazine gingerly between her fingers. At first, Ada ignored the creaking woosh that seemed to come from outside.
“Hey, do you two know anything about animal migration?” Maeve mumbled from behind the yellow-trimmed cover of the magazine. “It’s, like, super fascinating. Something like genetic memory, I guess.”
“How lucky I am to be free from the harms of my ancestors’ memories,” Hector said with a shake of his head. “Although, knowing what they knew might have been helpful for me at this particular moment.”
Another woosh lifted Ada’s head, but she saw no one else in the library—about three other people scattered around, including the wholly dedicated librarian who sat with her head held high and a smile on her face as she typed on her computer. None of them seemed to notice the sound.
“It’s rather windy outside, isn’t it?” Hector said, not raising his own eyes.
“You hear it too, then?” Ada replied, craning her neck to peer out the large library windows. She spotted a flash of white, but, then, was it only a plastic bag?
“I mean, it’s getting colder out. These Illinois plains are perfect for kicking up some fall wind,” Maeve added.
But Ada saw another flash of white, a large, round collection of white mist fading in and out of sight. She looked frantically around the library and spied a poster with picture of a pile of books neatly stacked, and the words REMEMBER TO CLEAN UP! STACK BOOKS ON THE RETURN CART WHEN YOU ARE DONE WITH THEM. THANK YOU.
Clean up, Ada thought with tingles of panic in her fingers. I forgot to clean our shadows.
“We have to go,” Ada said as she stood. The library doors blasted open for a moment, and the librarian leapt up with a series of comments about the ‘wind out here’ to go shut the door. But Ada saw.
Her friends stood from their seats, Hector’s chair crashing to the ground, as the collectors whistled their way into the library. They blew books open and hair up from people’s necks. The others in the library looked around in confusion, but they could not see the clouds of white that knocked over their books and ruffled their shirts with wind.
“I told you, by God, I told you it wasn’t safe here!” Hector screamed. He launched a heavy book toward one of the collectors, but the object fell through the ghastly form.
Maeve, too, was frantic, stepping back and forth behind the table, unsure of where to hide.
“Calm down,” Ada hissed, feeling the old anger bubbling up to her. Even if Priddy had been here, there were too many collectors—four sets of eyes in a writhing pile of mist—for the dog to effectively scare them away.
“I never should have left the house,” Hector screeched. “Damn you, Ada, and damn these monsters!” The witch fumbled with something in his pants pocket, and his shaking hand brought out a silver, round hand mirror. Clumsily, he opened it, but the thing fell from his hands.
The old anger inside Ada—no, the ancient anger—rooted itself into her nervous system and made her arms burn. She reached down for the mirror as the collectors circled them, and she held it in front of her. Maeve screamed. The circle grew smaller, grew closer and closer to the witches and the girl, but wouldn’t go any further than the mirror, and the collector’s eyes—they seemed closed.
Ada straightened her arm and pointed the mirror toward the swirling collectors. The let out low screeches and their circle wobbled, but they did not stop. She felt something red hot gush from her heart and up into her brain, then spill down her arm. It told her to twist her hand to the side. She did.
Dust like snowflakes rained down around them. The swirling collectors stopped. Each one hovered nearby, eyes flicking back and forth. The dust fell almost to the floor, scattering over Ada’s and Hector’s and Maeve’s heads and shoulders, before slowly rising and gathering into a single form. The reformed collector turned and burst through the door, taking the others with it, until they were all gone, and the library was left with the consequences.
“I suppose I need to ask you everyone to leave,” the librarian said, her updo askew and a frown on her face. “I don’t really—I’m not sure what happened, but that seems like the best option.”
The three of them shared a glance before hurrying out the door toward the bus stop. Ada held the mirror tight in her hand. What had she done?
“Your hair,” Maeve said, holding her coat tightly around her, “is, like, floating, Ada.”
Ada lifted her hand to her hair and felt the strands floating, just as Maeve said. The prickle of static touched her fingertips. She shook her hair out hair, but it wasn’t until she took deep, cool-aired breaths that the static dissipated.
“That was magic,” Hector said. He rubbed his arms over his sleeves as if he was freezing, but Ada could still feel the temperature of the air in her mouth and nose, even if it didn’t chill her, and she knew it wasn’t a frosty day. “You did magic back there, Ada.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“But you did it,” Hector continued. His voice was a wobbling, wavering line, like ripples in a pond, and he seemed ready to cry. The past a couple on the sidewalk and Hector lowered his head. “That was strong magic, too. If it had been one of us, instead of a collector, our ashes would not have come back together.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Ada repeated, but she had to hold the words on a tight leash as she said them, for her anger hadn’t gone completely, and she was afraid to say something worse.
“We’re none of us safe anymore,” Hector whined. “I never should have listened to you. Oh, he’ll be at my door, for sure. He’ll make me kill someone extra, or chop me up, or turn me into a ghost in the house—”
The redness bubbled up into Ada’s throat. “Stop talking!” she yelled as she turned to Hector. He was taller than her but slouched so low in that moment that she almost felt like she towered over him. “You’re a worthless, cowardly fool! All you do is complain and wish that someone else would fix your problems, but you have no friends to do it for you!”
For a moment, Ada saw nothing but black in her vision. Slowly, she felt the ground beneath her feet, and then the air on her fingers, and the weight of her body on her spine, and then she blinked and could see Hector sniveling in front of her and Maeve staring in astonishment nearby. She felt that the bubbles in her throat had popped, and now the redness in her belly fizzled out. “Hector,” Ada began, holding the closed mirror out to him, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what that was.”
With a shaking hand, Hector took the mirror and nodded once. “You’re right. My problems can be fixed by none other than me. I may have inherited some of them, but others are mine completely.” He tested the weight of the mirror in his palm, then closed his fingers tightly around it and met Ada’s eyes. “I want out of my contract,” he said in a voice that did not match the fierceness of his gaze. “No matter what happens.”
For the first time in as long as Ada could remember, she stood up straighter and felt a sort of power course through her. She smiled. “I’m glad to hear it.”