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Of the Accused
I remember being younger than this, a time when I feared the dark and the monsters under my bed. I remember my father telling me stories before his years declined into a drunken and paranoid state, a time before I’d met my current best friend and whatever powers consumed me now. I remember the story of a world similar to this one, a world where a place called Salem existed, a place known for the killing of innocents.
It’s silly to think that such a thing could ever happen again. If magic ever actually had its place in this world, it has long been driven out of our closed minds, forbidden to be seen by our already clouded eyes. Even then, even if magic did exist and was unearthed in such a manner, would we consider it the Devil’s work? There may be a great deal of religions that acknowledge a Hell of sorts, though they do not reign over all individuals. If anything, people with that sort of power would be regarded as freaks, unknown animals to be captured and tested on. Those unable or unwilling to share their powers would be exterminated. People like that wouldn’t be allowed to exist. People like my best friend Anna. People like me.
There is a certain aspect to this world that I’d been blind to up until a month or so ago, a fifth dimension, a sixth human sense, an ability to wield whatever this power is that lurks within us. Anna had been the one to unlock this world in me. The night of my Change had been of no particular weather or moon cycle. There was no ominous flickering of street lamps or thundering skies.
Anna and I had spent most of the night at my house sorting through old school papers, reading the stories we had come up with in our younger grades. At one point she held a manila folder with a broomstick drawn on it, the folder overflowing with kid sketches of witches and magical ilk.
“Bryn, you’re interested in witchcraft?” she asked, “You believe in magic?” Laughing I had reached forward, snatching the file from her hand, leafing through it.
“My father used to read me stories of magic. I used to dream I was a witch, though not accused,” for a moment I paused, catching the look on her face. "Not anymore,” I added with a laugh, shaking my head, “Do you see what year I wrote on those? I would’ve been in elementary school, not a senior in high school. Why do you ask, anyway? So what if I did believe in magic?” My brow furrowed, eyes narrowing as my face twisted into a grimace. I had believed in such things for the longest time - sometimes I still did.
With a shrug she smiled. “Relax, I was just curious. I used to believe in such things too, you know. My mom had always said that I had magic in me because of my hair, that the color is a sign of faeries,” she said, twisting a fiery red lock around her index finger. Relaxing my stance, smile inching across my face, I played with my own shoulder length dark brown hair. Was brown a sign of faerie blood too? I did resemble my friend to the point where we were often mistaken for sisters, albeit the hair color.
With a sigh I turned to the alarm clock next to the bed on which we were sprawled. It was nearly midnight - my father would be home soon, though my mother wouldn’t be home from her night school for another few hours. I wasn’t exactly fond of being home when my father came back from a night of drinking. “We should go,” I muttered, Anna nodding once and sliding off the bed. We’d just do what we always did on nights like this - walk the three or so blocks to her house and sleep there. The streets were decently lit, and the development that we lived posed no threat to night joggers before, so the trip was of no concern to either of our parents.
Locking up the house at about half past 11 pm, we began the walk to her home. Talking idly about random things, we paid no real mind to any of the few passing cars. Following the road’s curve up the hill to the end of the development where the forest began, we found the sidewalk blocked off by orange mesh, ground torn apart, and street light off.
“I forgot they were fixing the sidewalk here,” Anna mused, crossing the street, “Do you realize how much noise they’ve been making? It’s a wonder you haven’t heard it down at your hou-” Her words cut off sharply, followed by the call of my name. Something hit me hard in the back as headlights filled my vision, and I fell forwards hard as the car swerved and hit the guardrail with a massive force.
Spinning on my heels, I held my breath for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened. The driver must not have seen us in the dark as it rounded the sharp corner, not having enough time to stop... “Anna,” I gasped, loping towards the other side of the street, my ankle aching, presumably from the shove from my best friend who had been just a few steps behind me.
Coming up on the side of the car, I resisted the urge to vomit. The stink of copper filled my nose, dark stain seeping from around the corner of the car. Creeping around the side, single remaining headlight casting an eerie light off of the wreckage, I stooped to the blacktop. My hand came away red as I pressed it to the sticky pavement, gagging me as I looked for the source, praying it was not Anna.
Falling to my knees I peered under the twisted metal, familiar splay of red hair greeting me. Her neck was twisted at some god-awful angle, features too bloody for me to tell the extent of her damage. She wasn’t breathing, though. I could tell that she wasn’t breathing. Calling her name, I backpedaled, low keen breaking through my throat. It didn’t even cross my mind to check to see if the driver was still alive as my shoes slapped the pavement, crossing into the woods.
I’m not sure how long I ran for. I’m not sure in which direction I ran or how far I got or what time it was when I stopped in a small clearing. All I knew is that I was there and that she was not. Pulling my legs to my chest, I stared into space for some time, eyes unable to fix on anything. Seemingly inhuman sounds broke through me as the tears ran down my face.
After a while, I felt a light touch to my shoulders, sending me spinning off of the rock. “I’m sorry!” I cried in panic, expecting to be met by a police officer or the driver. I was prepared for anyone other than who I then saw in front of me – Anna. Her clothes were ripped and blood covered her, but there were no unnatural angles about her body, no visible tears in her skin. Somehow I knew that if I inspected her further, I wouldn’t find a single cut on her body.
I rose unsteadily, creeping towards her. “You – You were dead,” I hiccuped, falling against her in a hug, “I saw your neck. I saw… Anna, there was so much blood, too much blood…” I pulled back, looking into her eyes with fear and awe. She had been dead. I was certain. At first I thought that I was seeing things; Anna herself had developed schizophrenia last year, and I knew the symptoms. Though, it didn’t seem like nearly the same thing.
With a frown she pulled me back onto the rock, head leaning against my shoulder. “I guess I was,” she replied with a whisper, and for a moment my mind whirled. “Your dad was right, Bryn,” she continued, voice sad, “I wish you didn’t have to find out like this. There is true magic in this world, true witchcraft. And I know how to wield it.”
It’s been nearly a month since the crash, a month since Anna told me the truth about her. The sun had risen by the time we had eventually gone back to my house. The driver had been injured badly, though he survived. No charges had been filed. Life went on, and so did my lessons. We’d spend hours out in the woods alone when we had the free time – I was being subjected to counseling for the shock of what had happened, though I never paid any attention. It was nice of my parents and everything to give me someone to talk to, but they were being a bit over protective. It wasn’t very pleasant, being in the house where my mother would cry so often for whatever reason. Whenever I tried to comfort her, to tell me what was wrong, she’d just cry harder and lock herself away in her room.
The time Anna and I spent in the woods, however, became my life. There was so much to be learned about my Change, after she had awakened my inner sense. As it turns out, witches aren’t demons or able to fly or brew lethal potions. If anything, Anna and I were more of “wiccans”, witches who used their abilities with nature and spells and charms.
The first spell that I cast was upon myself – a charm to help with confidence in school with a certain boy. Anna and I had been spending so much time on our own that we were rarely seen by others outside of school, though we didn’t have classes with each other. Simon, however, had caught my eye beyond this new world of magic. He was a nerdy, slim sort of kid always able to make me laugh and put a smile on my face.
Whatever the charm had done that Anna taught me, it worked. Within a few weeks, Simon and I were dating, though Anna didn’t approve. I wasn’t spending enough time mastering my spells, leaving Anna alone many afternoons in the forest alone. Simon began asking Anna.
A certain sense of paranoia began to take over me. He had to have known about what I could do. If he gave away our secrets, we would certainly be killed. I wasn’t sure what happened to discovered witches, and neither did Anna. Many days we would fight – I wanted to tell Simon and show him what we could do. She, however, thought it unwise, that it would be our ruin.
He began saying peculiar things to me, like who I’d been talking to or where I’d been. He would ask me if I could see things, if I could do things, even tagging along to the therapist with me, permanent grimace spread across his face. When I would forget to take the pills I’d been prescribed, he would seem frantic.
I was driving him to insanity. The things I could do and see… Anna had warned be about mortals. If I didn’t do something soon, he would be destroyed. To confess to witchcraft was horrible, but it had to be done before someone was hurt.
I cannot effectively describe how frightened I was those last few days. I stopped eating. I skipped my lessons with Anna. Everything seemed broken. The way that Anna would watch me quietly from sidewalks or down store isles, not bothering to say anything. The way Simon’s voice seemed to grow even softer around me, his words kept away, like he was afraid of breaking me. I knew they were plotting something.
My father stopped coming home - apparently the stress of having something unknown in his family was too much. Mother stopped crying once he’d gone, though the look of guilt fell heavily upon her face. I never asked why. All I wanted to do was to cut myself off from the magic, from Anna. I think that my teachers began to notice little things as well, give me strange looks when I mentioned Anna, as though they knew what she was teaching me.
We’d been sitting in the kitchen one morning before school, my mother and I. I broke from my thoughts, realizing that she was trying to get my attention. “Bryn, hon,” she said softly, looking over at me, “You’re going to be going to the doctor’s office today after school, okay? They want to check something out from... the accident a month ago.”
She knew. That evil, rotten woman. Perhaps she was just jealous of my talents because I could do things that she couldn’t. She was going to be the death of me.
“Mom,” I sputtered, mind running through excuses to buy me time, “I have Art Club today. First meeting. I can’t just miss the first meeting.” Seeing her questioning glance, I added quickly, “The roster for that club was huge. I didn’t think I’d actually get in, so I didn’t say anything. Just please, let me go?”
For a moment she studied my face before nodding. For five minutes more we sat in silence before she headed up to her room. As soon as the door closed behind her I took to my room, shoving extra clothes and money into my backpack. I’d go to school. I’d take the bus home. And then, when my mother thought I was in a club, I’d make my escape with Anna and Simon.
That day after school, I asked Simon if we could go for a walk in the woods, an activity which he happily agreed to. I led him through path in the woods, backpack bouncing between my shoulder blades. We followed the curve of the past paced river to a rope bridge, looking weary but still crossable.
Anna stood in the middle of the bridge, Simon looking distastefully towards the crossing. Catching my hand, he pulled me beside him onto a rock. “We need to talk, Bryn,” he said, stroking my hair into place, “We need to talk about this. What’s been going on. Why you’re out here all alone for hours. Why you’ve stopped taking your medicine. I just want to help, but you’ve got to let me. Just tell me what-” I pulled away abruptly, stopping him mid-sentence.
“Why don’t you trust me?” I whispered, backing towards the bridge. So he wasn’t going to come, wasn’t going to listen.
“Anna and I... we’re different, and you know it. I know that you’ve noticed.” Eyes wide, Simon took a step towards me, murmuring my name as he reached out a hand.
Scrambling backwards I hit the bridge hard, throwing Anna off balance, her legs flying over the edge, hands barely grasping the edge of the bridge. Crying I name I flung myself for her as Simon lunged for me, causing me to slide as I grasped her hands, trying to help her up. The damp wood swayed under me, my body beginning to slide off with her into the rapids below.
Again Simon was there, trying to pull me back onto the slim bridge. “Help us!” I cried, calling out as Anna began to slip from my hands again, her eyes pleading for me to do something.
With a groan, Simon tried to shift his weight, only to slip slightly, no ground gained. “You have to grab that rope. I can’t get you back up here at this angle,” he said through clenched teeth, indicating a hanging piece of rope to my left. To grab that, however, I’d have to let Anna go.
“Are you crazy?” I called back, Anna making a sound a protest as she slipped further.
“Let her go,” he said quietly, so softly I didn’t think I heard him right.
“What? No!” I struggled to shift my position, a calmness taking Anna’s face. “I’ll... I’ll use my magic! Anna. Anna, help me. Cast anything, do something,” I sobbed. At first I thought she was too angry to say anything before I realized that she just simply wasn’t. She wasn’t struggling, she wasn’t moving. Just watching me.
“Let her go, Bryn. It’s time for you to let her go.” Something in his voice, her eyes ripped a cry from me, my hands letting go of the girl I had been holding away from the rock teeth of the river below. Without a cry she hit the water. She didn’t even seem hurt that I let go of her. All she did was sink into the river as Simon pulled me up, her body not resurfacing.
We crawled back to solid ground where he held me as I sobbed until the medics could arrive.
I’ve come to accept that the past month of my life has been a lie. I’ve come to accept why my mother cries as she does and why Simon was so concerned for me. I’ve come to accept that my mother was not as faithful to my father as I would’ve liked to believe. I’ve come to accept that Anna never did make it out of that crash.
They say that I can go home soon if I promise to keep taking my medication and keep seeing the therapist. Apparently post traumatic stress disorder unlocked schizophrenia in me. The death of a family member would so vividly create the things that I saw and believed I could do.
I guess what some people are right, then. The bond of sisters is stronger than what anyone can imagine. I can’t wait to go back home. Maybe Anna will come to visit me when no one’s looking.