It was on the eve of my sixteenth birthday when I learned that I came from a long bloodline of distinguished witches and that my particular lineage just happened to be cursed. This life-altering realization began abruptly, painfully, and while I was surrounded by other students in my English Literature class.
Only a few minutes remained before the end of the lackluster hour on 18th century novelists as I sat impatiently waiting for Professor Clements to dismiss us. Then I felt it…a slight pinch at the base of my right wrist.
At first I’d thought a spider had scrambled unacknowledged across my desk to leave me a small memento with its tiny fangs. But the feeling didn’t remain at my wrist. Slowly, progressively, it moved up the length of my limb toward the elbow. By the time it reached midway, I’d twisted the soft underside of my arm toward me.
My breath caught then, after realizing it wasn’t a spider bite. The thing causing my discomfort, which resembled what I imagined a third-degree burn might feel like, was actually something far worse.
There, on the fleshy part of my arm, which only seconds ago I knew to be smooth and flawless, was the distinct, taut undulation of a scar.
This was no normal scar, however. There was something unmistakably odd about the mark, something I had never seen or read of before. A moment ago, I didn’t have a single scar on my body. And one this large would have been caused by significant injury of which I’d never encountered.
It remained in motion, growing slowly, steadily searing its path, and only ending when it reached the fold of my elbow.
Despite its blistering heat I remained stationary, amazed at what I was witnessing, trying to make sense of it. Then, by instinct alone, I glanced at my other arm expecting to see another injury growing there too.
Covering that limb was a stretch of milky-white skin and a white metal bracelet wrapped around my wrist, a gift my mother had given me which, by her instructions, I have never removed. The clear white, crystal quartz stone embedded in it caught my attention for only a moment and then I returned to the far more serious issue on my right arm.
Even as my mouth hung open, I couldn’t seem to control my breathing. My lungs were stuck in place, immovable. In fact, the only things moving were my heart, which was beating much harder now, and my fingers, curling in to a clenched fist that looked ready to hit something. Then, the scar stopped but the pain remained.
I felt as if it were almost screaming at me to notice it.
Sandra Kitrick, who’d been ignoring Professor Clements in favor of feverishly writing a note to her friend for most of class and one prone toward dramatics, looked up and gasped, jarring me from my focus.
She’d now seen it, too.
“Are you…” she began, never getting the chance to finish.
Chairs were now scrapping across the tiled floor, gasps were being emitted from those closest to me, and heads were suddenly bent over me for a closer look at my arm.
Great, not only was I in pain, I was now a spectacle. I wanted to turn and give Sandra a sarcastic thanks but realized this may not be the best time for it.
Professor Clements weaved her way between the students to reach my desk, her curt tone a sign of irritation at the class’s disruption. “Jocelyn Weatherford, what are you up to now? If I have…”
I looked up to find her ashen, her mouth ajar, her eyes wide and locked on my arm - the scar on my arm to be precise.
Professor Clements’ eyebrows furrowed then. “Is that…Have you had that all along?” she asked in a way that confirmed she already knew the answer.
“No,” I said, proud to find my voice steady.
The scar was now a long, purplish disfigurement, an inch wide and reaching from my wrist to my elbow. It would have been hard to miss today or any day since I’d arrived at this school.
My answer spurred her to action, her commonly cynical expression transforming to one of panic. “Move,” she commanded the class, making a path through to the door. “Move! Back to your seats and finish Chapter Three. Move!”
The class shuffled quickly back where they’d been moments ago and I was following Professor Clements, having enough sense to sling my book bag over my shoulder. It was clumsy, not wanting to move my uninjured arm too much, but looking like a fool was the least of my worries at that point.
I was ushered, or more precisely yanked, out of the classroom and into the hallway, where our walk to the nurse’s office was quick and silent.
I’d lived at Wentworth Preparatory Academy in upstate New York my entire life, having been deposited here by my mother when I turned old enough to be admitted at the ripe age of five. I didn’t remember much prior to that date, but my memories were vivid from that point on. I had celebrated my birthdays, my first straight-A report card, my first crush (on Dylan from the boy’s academy down the road). This was my home and yet, for the first time, I realized I’d never been to the nurse’s office.
I was healthy, never having come down with a single cold or suffered an injury greater than a paper cut. Unlike everyone else I knew, my skin had never seen a single blemish, my knees had never been scraped. I had no freckles, birthmarks, not even a pimple. As of only a few minutes ago, I didn’t have a scar anywhere on my body.
In fact, as I passed the darkened glass wall lining the dining room’s entrance, my instinct was to perform a quick inspection to see if anything else had transpired. Maybe my hair had fallen out or my ear had ballooned up. What I saw instead was a briskly moving girl just as tall and lanky as she’d been when I saw her in the mirror this morning. My hair was still there, straight and black as a starless night sky with its permanent curls at the ends bouncing as they always did off the middle of my back. My hazel eyes were their average size, my nose and overly plump lips were unchanged. Everything appeared to be normal, to my relief. Everything except the scar on my right arm.
Professor Clements guided me through the hallways and down a flight of stairs to the academy’s first floor, shoving open a door at the second turn on the left. A single word was etched in the frosted glass, NURSE. Inside, it was bright, white, and quiet, like a sanctuary, or a morgue depending on your perspective.
Professor Clements was a rather robust woman with powerful lungs so that when she barked “Nurse Carol!” I jumped and temporarily forgot the searing pain the scar was causing.
She shouted it twice more before a calm voice came from the next room.
The words reached me just as she emerged from around the corner. “Well, well…At long last.”
It was an odd response given the urgency Professor Clements had shown, I noted. In fact, the woman seemed more curious than hurried. Dressed in a standard white nurse’s uniform with the same padded-soled shoes a nurse would wear, she smiled warmly while crossing the room toward me.
I had seen Nurse Carol before but we’d never spoken until now. On the grounds of an all-girls school that required students to wear a white button down shirt and plaid skirt with matching blazer at all times, a nurse’s stark white uniform stood out. While she never approached me, I couldn’t help noticing when she’d scan the dining room or the hallways until her eyes landed on me, as if she were checking in to confirm I was all right.
Professor Clements snorted in annoyance at the delay before launching into a tense discourse. “I have a student here needing immediate medical-”
Nurse Carol didn’t allow her to finish. “That will be all, Professor.”
Professor Clement’s head snapped back. “Well, I…” She released an exasperated sigh. “I wasn’t done speaking.”
“I’m sure Jocelyn thanks you for your assistance. I can handle it from here.”
While that response didn’t seem to sit well with my teacher, she must have figured there was no sense in delaying the inevitable. She would need to return to her classroom eventually and let Nurse Carol do her job. She gave me a curt nod and Nurse Carol a glare before leaving the room.
The door closed before either of us spoke.
“I understand you have an injury,” she said, her voice free from nerves.
This was good because mine were in chaos.
Without waiting for me to respond, or even to tell her what had happened, she assessed me. Finding me favoring my arm, she took it and turned it for a closer inspection.
Her gaze was unperturbed as she took only a second to perform a cursory evaluation of it.
Then she did something that truly set my nerves on edge.
She released me, marched toward the phone, dialed, and after a brief pause, she announced, “It’s me. And it’s begun.”
Begun, I thought. What’s begun?
Remaining silent and listening for clues, I was disappointed when she didn’t speak again until after she set the receiver back in its cradle. Then she looked at me, her easygoing demeanor gone. “You’re going to need to pack your bags. You leave for New Orleans in fifteen minutes.” She gave me these instructions offhandedly, as if it were a foregone conclusion, as if I had some hand in making them.
“What?” I demanded the searing pain down my arm forgotten. “You have no right to make that decision. Who do you think you are?”
I was hoping my words would instill some sense of apprehension in her but she easily ignored them. Then she countered by delivering the news that would change my life forever.
“Jocelyn,” she said her tone steady and calculated. “You are in danger.”
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