I wanted to be as far away from her as I could. Her stillness and grey complexion made me queasy. There was a faint shadow of darkness hovering above her. It was barely visible now. It had been fading since she was taken away by the paramedics, that was last week.
Goosebumps tickled my arms and legs, causing the tiny hairs on my skin to stand up. I absently rubbed the bumpy flesh and looked around the dimly lit room from the hardwood pew in the back. Guests were trickling in. The soft hum of conversation filled the modestly decorated room—one of two in the small funeral home.
Whispered apologies of guest offering their sympathy and regret to G.G. and Grandma. Most of their faces I didn’t recognize.
‘They know a lot of people. Don’t do anything stupid. Blend in’. I pleaded silently with myself as I shifted nervously in my seat. Crowds made me uncomfortable.
The brick-colored vinyl seat cover made the backs of my legs sweaty. The pleated knee-length skirt of my modest black dress only reached mid-thigh. I slipped my hands between my legs and the damp upholstery to let them air out.
‘I should have worn tights.’ Grandma told me to, but they make my legs hot and itchy, and I hated having to pull them up all the time.
“Hi, Mim!” The pew shook as Maggie climbed up next to me and gave me a wide grin. Her tongue was poking through the gap where her top two teeth used to be.
“Hi.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the six-year-old with dark frizzy curls.
“Want a snack?” she reached for the brightly colored unicorn backpack dangling off her shoulder. She unzipped it and pulled out a couple bags of fruit snacks, and handed me one.
“Thanks.” I smiled gratefully, happy to see a friendly face—the warm honey glow flowing from her, calming the swarm of butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I tore open the foil packet, popping a gummy strawberry into my mouth.
As we snacked in silence, I looked around the room, happily cocooned in Maggie’s warmth. I liked having her near me. She made it easier to watch the colors without them touching me. I found out a long time ago; each color feels different. Some people use words to hide their feelings, but the colors always show the truth. If I get too close, they stick to me like tree sap, and it can take days for them to wear off; or longer.
The colors are tricky to read; it is more about its shade at any particular moment. There could also be more than one color to the person’s glow. People are very complicated.
The pale colors are the worst. They usually take the longest to wear away, especially the ones that make me feel hopeless. It reminds me of being back home. It reminds me not to count on people; they just let me down in the end.
Some colors aren’t so bad, though. My grandpa’s glow reminds me of lemon custard, topped with blueberries. He felt comfortable and warm, and it didn’t seem to change. He makes me think about different things, like how toasters toast or how a lightbulb glows. I don’t know much. I’m not a smart kid, but I ask a lot of questions, and he knows a lot of stuff. I like talking to him.
My Dad’s glow was scorching, a wildfire burning with rage. I still have nightmares, but not every night like I was. He didn’t like me asking a bunch of questions or much else about me for that matter.
Grandma’s color was a lot more complicated. It changed all the time, mostly if I did something to make her mad. For the most part, though, she stuck to a set of colors. Green and blue. She was safe, but some shades feel weird when they touched me. They weren’t bad feelings, just different. Like I was important.
I wanted to be listen to, but no one seemed to think I was important enough to hear out except for Grandpa. I hated being talked too like I didn’t know anything. I liked feeling important, but I don’t like being ignored or told what to think.
My mom always told me I was dumb, but she’s the one who wouldn’t let me go to school. Her glow was a kind of tangerine orange at the bottom, close to her body, and sort of faded into a pale yellow as it radiated outward. At least she didn’t try and hide her feelings. She was always very clear about how she felt about me. I was a burden, and she didn’t want me. I ruined her life and her body. Sometimes the yellow turned to red. I absently rubbed a set of small circular scars on my thigh.
I made a lot of mistakes, but I was learning how to read people. Everyone has a secret, something they don’t want people to see. It usually shows the second they let their guard down.
I popped the last fruit snack into my mouth. My pastor back home was a perfect example. Everyone loved him; he smiled and told them all about the mighty healing power of Christ the Lord, preaching against sin, the devil, and greed. His glow told a different story. It sparkled like gold in all its metallic glory.
Every Sunday left me feeling drained and guilty. As if I could have given more, but I didn’t have anything left to give. It would take me a few days to recover each week, only to have to endure it again. The cycle was never-ending, and I hated it. I’m glad my grandparents didn’t go to church. It was always so exhausting.
The Pastor was always talking about making sacrifices, helping your fellow man, give to the church, and the Lord will remember your charity and gifts. Yet he lived in a big house with fancy cars, in a wealthy neighborhood. My family was struggling, but that didn’t matter. All he seemed to care about was filling up his pockets. He hid behind his preaching and finger waving, all the while lining his own pockets with greed and lies.
“There’s my mom.” Maggie pulled me out of my thoughts. “Who is that creepy guy she’s talking to?” she pointed towards the door.
I looked over to see an aging man, in a dapper grey suit and greasy slicked back hair, standing closer than would be considered polite to Maggie’s mom. “That’s Victor, Grandma’s brother. He’s in town for the funeral.” I didn’t trust him. He was always sneaking around. Hiding behind a fake smile and dirty words. He reminded me of Rattigen from The Great Mouse Detective.
Gloria didn’t seem to be bothered, but I could see his mustardy glow trying to mix into the vibrant lavender shimmering around her. Weird, it didn’t seem to be sticking. She politely excused herself and walked away, not a speck of mustard on her, but her glow seemed to dull slightly where they touched.
‘How did she do that?’
Victor’s beady eyes shrank as she made her way towards us. He was furious. The spot over his heart turned to a pool of red, creating little rivers of bloody-orange that sort of reached out like angry fingers, curling themselves around his torso. I felt my muscles tense, despite being cradled in Maggie’s glow, the heat from his singed the edges of theirs as his rage caused the rivers to pulse and seemed to grow bigger with each beat.
I felt Maggie stiffen next to me. I put my arm around her as her glow grew pale. “He won’t hurt us,” I whispered, trying to convince us both. “He’s not that dumb; there are too many people here.”
There was a subtle shift in the air—a whisper of something powerful and assertive. I looked over at Grandpa. His lemon-yellow glow shifted around him. Moving like water as it spread out, forming a citrus colored wall between himself and Victor.
I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and looked around the room. No one seemed to notice the two men staring each other down in the back of the room. Or hear the burning hiss as the two colors pressed against one another.
I watched in stunned silence as Victor’s glow moved like Grandpa’s but his burned and shifted like a flame, scorching everything it touched. The smell of smoke filled my nostrils. I felt the fear flooding in. I closed my eyes tightly as the angry red faces flash through my mind.
‘Please no…not again’ I pulled my legs to my chest and buried my face in my knees, wishing I could disappear into the pew I sat on and wait for the storm to pass.
The burning smell cleared, replaced by a sweet fruity aroma that reminded me of a freshly ripe peach. The noise around me faded out, except for a soft humming in the distance. I felt a gentle hand stroking my hair. “It’s okay; Karl won’t let anything happen. Look, it’s already passed.”
I lifted my head cautiously and opened my eyes. Maggie’s mom smiled down at me kindly. I felt the tension in my body ease and peered through the lavender haze that now surrounded us and saw my grandfather escorting Victor out of the room. Grandpa’s glow was now completely encasing Victor like a lemony suit of armor as they made their way through the crowd. He seemed to be walking more stiffly than usual as he gathered his wife and made his excuses.
“How did you keep his glow from sticking to yours?” I blurted out without thinking.
“Years of practice.” She chuckled softly, unphased. “Have you told anyone what you see?”
“I told my mom about seeing people glow when it first started, but she got mad at me and told me to stop making up stories.” I rubbed my hands together anxiously. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable.
“I think you should tell your Grandpa what you saw.” She said thoughtfully. “I imagine you have questions after all. I think he should answer them instead of me.” She reached into the small black purse dangling at her hip and pulled out a small box. “Here, this will help shield you.”
“Thank you,” I said politely before talking the box curiously. Inside there was a silver chain holding a small circular pendant carved from wood with dark purple streaks. I slipped it over my head and looked at the inscriptions carved into the back but couldn’t read them. “What does it mean?” I asked as I examined it closer.
“It’s a protection amulet to help with sticky ones.” She smiled cheekily. “It is carved from Amaranth. When you wear it, it makes your aura slippery like soap and keeps you squeaky clean,” she winked.
Maggie giggled next to me. I looked over to find her listening in. “Do see the glow too?” I asked as I noticed her playing with a similar amulet dangling from her neck. It looked just like mine, except her’s had a small opal in the center.
She shook her head. “No, I don’t see the colors, but I feel them. Mommy gave it to me for my birthday.” She lovingly held it up for me to see before letting it settle back into place.
I flipped it back to the front and ran my finger over the symbols along the amulet’s outer rim. The marks looked oddly familiar, even though it was written in some ancient language. Inside the ring were many staff, or pitchfork looking things, all pointing in different directions. It looked like someone used a knife to carve them. My older brothers like to use knives to cut the same symbols into tree trunks when we played out in the house’s woods. Before they went away. Before things got bad.
“Kevin and Jake, my brothers,” I explained, “used to carve shapes like these in the woods around our house.”
“Perhaps they wanted to keep you safe.”
“Then why didn’t they take me with them?” I bit off icily and frowned as I remembered the loneliness I felt after they left me on my own.
“They are the reason you are here.” my head snapped up in confusion. “They wanted to take you with them when your father made them leave, but that would have been called kidnapping. They had to build a case against your parents to safely bring you home to us. Kevin and Jake couldn’t give your dad any excuse to keep you from us. Now that you are here, we never have to give you back.” she grinned and poked my nose with her finger.
“You know my Brothers?” I sat back in surprise, letting her words sink in. I didn’t really know what to say or how to feel. I always thought I did something to make my brothers mad, and that is why they left me behind, but now…I didn’t know what to think. The pressure was building in my chest, and I felt hot tears stinging my eyes.
“Can I see them?” was all I could manage to stammer out before I started bawling, unable to hold back the flood of relief.
I suppose if I was going to cry like a baby in front of a bunch of strangers, it was best to do it at a funeral where no one thinks twice about it. I don’t know how long I cried, curled up in Gloria’s lap like a baby, or remember much of the service. Still, I remember grandpa coming to find me and carrying me to the car when it was all over.
I heard him and Gloria talking, but I was too tired to listen. The gentle thump of grandpa’s heartbeat was comforting as he gently cradled me in his arms. In the morning, I would talk to him and ask to see my brothers; I just wanted to sleep for now. I had a feeling I was going to sleep soundly, for the first time since my brothers left.