The Witch’s Key – Sarra Cannon

They buried my parents on a Friday, and by Saturday afternoon, I was on my way to live with an uncle I barely knew in a town I’d never heard of before in my life. Well, technically he was my great-uncle. Martin Thorne. I’d only met him a handful of times when he’d come to visit my dad on official “family business”, as they liked to call it. Back then, the family business just meant that the grownups would close the door and speak in hushed tones. In a way, I wished they’d never opened that door and told me what it was they really did for a living. I didn’t want to know the truth anymore. Not after what happened to my parents. And after they were gone, I definitely hadn’t wanted to go live with a family member who’d been a Keeper for most of his life. But where else could I have gone? My Great-Uncle Martin was all I’d had left when my parents died. To be honest, he’d always creeped me out. In the eyes of a young child, there was something terrifying about his tall, thin frame and pale, almost-translucent skin. He’d once put a bony hand on my arm, and I’d recoiled at the blue veins pulsing underneath the surface. In my mind, I’d always thought of him as ‘the dying man’, because there had always been something ancient about him. But in the end, it was my parents who had died first, and it was Great-Uncle Martin who had saved my life.

I’d spent the entire summer with him now, and as the time passed and I had some distance between myself and the death of my parents, he’d become one of the only reasons I had to keep going. And still, even time hadn’t taken away the pain of it all. I missed them so much, even now, it sometimes felt like my chest would cave in on my heart, crushing it beneath the weight of my grief. “Lenora?” A light knock on the door woke me from a terrible dream that seemed to slip away the moment my eyes opened. I groaned and rolled over in the small twin bed that had been mine now for the past three months. A bird cawed outside my window, and I glanced over just in time to see a black raven spread its wings and fly away. A raven? Was that just a coincidence? The thought came and went in an instant, because I suddenly remembered why Martin was waking me up so early when he usually let me sleep in as long as I wanted. I pulled the covers over my head. Couldn’t I just skip my senior year? Take classes online? Avoid all normal human interaction forever? Another knock, and this time the door opened just a crack. “Lenora, have you seen the time? Breakfast is ready for you downstairs.

” With a sigh, I sat up and turned toward my soft-spoken Great-Uncle Martin. I’d been living with him now for an entire summer. It turned out he wasn’t actually creepy at all. He was more like a sweet teddy bear, and I couldn’t even fathom the thought of leaving the comfort of his calming presence to enter the world of regular teenagers. Talk about creepy. “I can’t do it,” I said, shaking my head. “There’s just no way.” Martin’s eyes sparkled with compassion. “May I come in?” “Of course.” He always asked before he came into my room, which I appreciated.

I was the intruder in his home, and yet he acted like I’d always belonged here. “I understand how difficult this is,” he said. “Try to see it as a chance for a fresh start. I may not agree with it, either, but attending Newcastle High School is part of the conditions the Council placed on allowing you to stay with me.” “Which I totally don’t understand,” I said, a tiny spark of anger igniting in my chest. “Why does the Council suddenly care so much about my high school education? And why do they get to place conditions on me living with a member of my own family? It’s not like they cared about any of this when my parents were alive. I’ve never had to go to a normal school before. Why now?” “You know as well as I do that the Council doesn’t need to give reasons for their proclamations or their rules,” he said. “But from what I understand, they want you to get a taste of normal life before you make a decision about whether to take the test to become a Slayer on your birthday.” I groaned.

Just the thought of the Council’s test made my stomach churn. I used to want nothing more than to be just like my parents, but now, I wasn’t so sure. I’d watched them die, and I would never forget that night for as long as I lived. I’d always believed they were invincible. That we were an unstoppable team, and that I would someday be just as powerful as they were. But that night, they hadn’t even had a chance. I still wasn’t sure what happened the night they died. The attack had come out of nowhere, and I’d just watched it happen. I couldn’t move or cast. I’d just watched.

It was my fault they were dead, and when I really thought about it, I didn’t see any way I could follow in their footsteps and become a Slayer. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t worthy of that title. And yet, being a witch was the only life I’d ever known. Could I even fit in with normal people after that? I sighed and threw the covers off my legs, revealing the same pair of black leggings I’d been wearing all summer. Turns out when you’re grieving, no one cares if you change clothes. “Okay, I’ll go, but I don’t have to be happy about it,” I said. Uncle Martin smiled. “No teenager ever is. Now, get dressed and meet me in the kitchen.

I made your favorite pancakes.” I smiled despite my generally crappy mood, and turned to my closet. What did normal, regular humans wear to their first day of school? And what vibe did I want to give on day one? Did I even want to try to make friends? Or did I want to send a clear, ‘leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-put-a-curse-on-you’ kind of message? I could be the mysterious, loner orphan, or I could try to fit in, whatever that meant. I’d grown up traveling the world with my parents and being homeschooled in things like alchemy along with basic math. I’d never had friends my own age before, as lame as that sounded. Was there really any point in trying to make some with just a year left, anyway? After standing in front of a closet full of clothes I barely even recognized anymore, I finally went for what I felt would be a safe in-between. Black jeans, graphic tee with the Umbrella Corp logo, and a pair of black boots. I parted my long, brown hair down the middle and twisted each side into a fat messy bun, then threw on some black eye-liner and my favorite moonstone ring. Finally satisfied, I made my way down the long, empty hallway to the even longer grand staircase, and down to the large, chef’s kitchen in the back of the house. I still wasn’t comfortable living in such a giant old house full of strange, witchy relics, but at least I wasn’t getting lost as much anymore.

Uncle Martin said this house was my legacy. The Thorne legacy. He told me it would be mine when he passed away someday, since we were the last of our name now, but every time I thought about living in this big, empty house all by myself and growing old alone the way he had, I got the itch to run away forever. Or burn it to the ground. But that was just me. Besides, I wasn’t quite ready to lose the rest of my family just yet. As scared as I’d originally been to move in with him, Martin had saved my life. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t think I would have made it through the summer. I grabbed an apple off the counter and stuffed it in my bag before sitting down to a large stack of pancakes. “Took you long enough,” he said with a wink.

“But you look beautiful, as always.” I smiled. “A slight upgrade from sweats and leggings, huh?” He lifted his hands in defense. “I never said a word, did I?” “No,” I said, lowering my head in recognition of his politeness. “But you could have.” “There’s one more thing that outfit needs, though.” He motioned toward a drawer across the room, and it floated open at the flick of his wrist. A small box tied with a red ribbon made its way through the air and into his hand before he set it down in front of my stack of peanut butter, chocolate chip pancakes. I narrowed my eyes at him. “What’s this?” I asked.

His ancient grey eyes sparkled. “Open it.” I pulled a knee to my chest, resting my black boot on the chair. I wasn’t great at receiving presents. We’d never really been much for gifts growing up in my house. Mom’s idea of a birthday treat was letting me be the one to stake the vampire. “It’s not going to bite, I promise,” Martin said. “Come on.” I tugged on the ribbon, and my mouth fell open slightly as I opened the box. Inside, a familiar silver locket lay on top of red velvet.

I opened it to find the familiar photos of my mother’s parents had now been replaced with pictures of my own mom and dad. “I thought the Council took this,” I said, my voice hitching slightly as I ran a finger across the pentacle engraved on the front of the locket. He’d chosen the perfect photos of them to put inside, their smiling faces trapped forever in a memory of a time that would never come again, no matter how much I wished for it. “I petitioned to have it returned to you once the evidence was no longer needed,” he said. “I had to call in a few favors, but that locket belongs to you, Lenny. Your mother would have wanted you to have it.” “Thank you,” I said, standing and throwing my arms around him. How could I explain to him what this meant to me? “Here. I’ll help you put it on.” He turned his head to the side, but I didn’t miss the way he cleared his throat.

I’d never seen Martin cry. Not even at my parents’ funeral. He’d been my rock, and I suddenly realized just how much I’d come to love him over the past few months. I hadn’t even wanted to come here at first, and now, I didn’t want to so much as walk out the door. “There’s one more thing, of course, if you’re ready for it,” he said as he slipped the locket around my neck and fastened it. I gasped as a silver key slid down the chain to rest next to my mother’s locket. I nearly laughed with joy. “Does this mean what I think it means?” I asked, twirling around and grasping the key with both hands. Martin nodded and smiled. “The Council made their ruling just yesterday,” he said, his smile fading with a hint of sorrow.

“It wasn’t your fault, dear girl. Of course it wasn’t.” I swallowed back the guilt that seemed to get stuck in my throat and focused, instead, on the really good news. I had my key back. I was free to use my magic again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to become a Slayer and move up in the ranks of the coven, but I would always be a witch. And a witch needed her key. “This doesn’t give you carte blanche to go casting whatever you want,” Martin said, and then added under his breath, “So much like your mother.” “What does that mean?” I asked, unable to take my eyes off the locket and key. What had started as a bad day was really looking up.

“It means I want you to be very careful at school today,” he said, his tone suddenly even more serious than normal. “Don’t let anyone see the key, and don’t tell anyone who you really are.” I looked up and smiled. “I think I can handle high school,” I said. “I might not like pretending to be normal, but I don’t think anything dangerous is going to happen in English class. Besides, how many dangerous people can there really be in a town like Newcastle? You said yourself it was boring here most of the time.” I expected my comment to make him smile, but instead, he looked concerned. I hadn’t expected Martin to be the overprotective type, but maybe after what happened to my parents, he was feeling scared today, too. “Is there something I should know about?” I asked. “Are there people like me at school here?” Martin raised an eyebrow and took a deep breath, slowly shaking his head.

“I don’t believe there’s anyone quite like you in the entire world, child. But no, there’s nothing you should know about. I simply want you to be careful,” he said. “Go straight to school and come straight home afterward, and you’ll be fine. Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you to school?” I imagined the looks we’d get pulling up in Martin’s antique black car. Not really the first impression I wanted to make today. “I’m sure,” I said, wondering what he really thought could happen to me in the three blocks between here and the high school. It would take me less than ten minutes to walk there, and we lived on a relatively busy street. I would be fine. “If you insist,” he said.

“Just come home as soon as you’re finished. I have plans for us this afternoon.” What? This was the first I’d heard of any plans. “Like what?” I asked. “You’ll see when you get home,” he said. “For now, you’d better eat your breakfast. You don’t want to be late for your first day.” “Thank you, Uncle,” I said, standing on tip-toes to kiss his pale cheek. I turned and ran out the door. There was no time for pancakes if I wanted to try out my key before school.

“Lenora, where are you going?” Martin called after me, but I was already halfway back up the stairs to my room. I sat down in front of the large, mahogany cabinet I’d been given when I was just five years old and crossed my legs underneath me. I took a deep breath and placed a fingertip on the silver key, making sure my intentions were clear as a bell. I was out of practice after a few months, but apparently using a spell cabinet was like riding a bike. Once you learned how to do it, you never really forgot. The cabinet doors swung open before me, and I giggled with excitement at the sight of all my herbs and potions and gemstones. My collection of tarot cards. It was like seeing old friends again. I clasped my hands together. So, what spell should I cast first?



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