I consider this phenomenon like a confession, just without a priest.
I think I just have one of those faces. People always want to tell me things. Secret things, deep things, painful things. Secrets that have been on their minds and hearts for far too long.
“My baby... I haven’t seen my baby since he was two years old. When her daddy left me and took her with him. I don’t know where they went, I worry for her so much. I kept hoping they’d come back, but they never did. I keep hoping that I’ll see her, but how will I even recognize her?”
I listen though. To everything they want to tell me, every detail, no matter how dark, every hiccup and every sob. Some people are like a river, their hopes and secrets come rushing out, from others, secrets drip out slowly, like a melting icicle under winter’s sun. I consider this phenomenon like a confession, just without a priest.
People such as these, I don’t think they know why they want to talk to me. They don’t even know me. But when they get desperate, when they need something so much it hurts, they always find me. In the park, in a bar, on a bus, the doctor’s office, anywhere.
If I am there, they find me. They never lie, not even to themselves.
“I spent all our money, all our savings, my son’s college fund, even the money we hid for hard times. All gone. My husband’s going to notice any day now. I want to make it right, how can I make it right?”
Oh, don’t mistake me. They know what they’re doing. The deal they’re making. I’m not a fixer, nothing like that, but I do offer an ear, and a solution for their problems. And I give them their deepest desires.
“I should’ve taken her phone call, why didn’t I take her phone call?”
Sometimes, it’s simple. A wrong person at the wrong time. A car that runs a red light.
“I wish my parents would just disappear.”
Sometimes, the problems require a bit more skill.
“If I could go back and do it all over again…”
In the end though, they all get the peace they’re really looking for with me. As can you.
So tell me, what is it that you most desire?
All it costs you is your soul.
We have two dogs, big, and admittedly, a bit lazy, Tony and small, yippy Steve.
I am shaken awake by the notification on my phone. I look around in confusion, my eyes settling on a green blinking light on my device. Thinking back I recognize the sound that shook me awake as the pet camera me and my wife have had for the past two months. The kind that start recording as they detect movement and start recording it, all together with alerting you to it. I check the phone, 3 a.m.
I admit, we don’t use the cameras so much, they’re mostly for the peace of mind. We have two dogs, big, and admittedly, a bit lazy, Tony and small, yippy Steve. While we don’t really need the cameras, they’ve been useful in answering questions such as which one of them made this mess or learned how to open the fridge (but not how to close it).
Of course, now I’m lying awake because the light from the phone is blinding me. I’ve never been as good at falling asleep as my wife. I try to ignore it and turn away from the phone. My upper body moves, but my legs stay, sluggish and not wanting to move. I almost scream before I realize that my legs are simply trapped under Tony, the big lug, who always sleeps at the foot of our bed, spread over our feet. So, if there’s a mess downstairs in the morning, it must be Steve.
I try to free my foot and when I am successful, I accidentally hit a smaller lump on the bed, which gives a light, high-pitched woof. Definitely Steve then. But that means...
I strain my ears to catch any errant noise, hearing four sets of breathing in my vicinity. I can hear faint rustling downstairs, but really, the noise could be a thousand innocent things. We live in an old house, we could have mice, one of the windows could be open, the one in the kitchen being very persistent about opening for no reason. I’ll check the camera and then go to sleep. If there’s something, I can always wake my wife, she’s a cop.
Giving in to the fact that if I don't check the app, I won’t go to sleep, I take my phone and check the camera. My heart jumps when I see a big, dark lump on the living room floor, white eyes gleaming in the bad night vision quality. My hand almost shoots towards my wife to wake her up when the lump lifts its leg and scratches behind its ear. The sudden rush of relief spreads through me when I realize it’s just Tony.
With an annoyed sigh, I put the phone away. I snuggle back under my covers and close my eyes. But before I could fall asleep, a question entered my head.
If Tony is downstairs, what, or who, is laying on my legs?
Reluctantly, I looked up. There was a decent crowd in tonight and every member of it was watching me.
The rain was pooling on my cloak as I dashed across the courtyard. It had started up around a mile back and had drenched me in moments. It was just one more thing to contend with on a day of hard travel that had already well filled it’s quota of unpleasantness. I swatted at my face as I neared the inn building but my sleeve was so sodden that it made no odds. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a crescent moon in flaking blue paint before ducking beneath the swinging wooden sign and into the brightly lit common room beyond.
I stood there dripping for a moment, trying to stamp mud from my boots. When I realised that I was making a ridiculous squelching noise with each step, I stopped it. It was only then that I became aware of the hush. Reluctantly, I looked up. There was a decent crowd in tonight and every member of it was watching me. Expressions ranged between wary interest, through irritation and right to open hostility. I didn’t so much as flinch. I was well used to it. All the same, the warmth of the fire in the grate didn’t seem quite to reach me as I made my soggy way between the tables and benches.
There was a loud scraping and my hand twitched towards the hilt of my sword. I stopped myself just in time. These people had enough reason to despise the uniform I wore without provoking them. A large man in the apron of a blacksmith had got to his feet. He regarded me, his jaw working as though there was something he’d very much like to say. I waited politely. If he swung a punch, then I’d have to defend myself and the room would erupt like an ants' nest splashed with hot water. He wavered for a second, then shambled off, taking the long way to the door so that he didn’t have to come within a foot of me. I let myself relax ever so slightly. I never liked causing trouble.
I made it to the bar without further incident. Slowly, talk resumed. People who had been watching me now seemed intent on pretending I didn’t exist. It was a mite more comfortable, but no safer.
“What can I get you?” the man behind the bar asked, giving me a broad smile.
Perhaps the cold and wet had caused my mind to stiffen up like my joints but all I could do was blink at him for a moment. “I can warm something up for you, take the chill out of your bones.” He was still smiling.
“Warm would be welcome,” I said, finding my voice a much smaller and halting thing than usual.
“Right you are,” he nodded and bustled off. I stared after him. It might just be good business sense, but the kindness kindled something in my chest. Whatever the reason, it was once in a blue moon that anyone had a friendly word for a royal guard like me.
[...] she remembered hurrying along here with her mother’s lightweight jacket held over her head, trying to ward off raindrops the size of golf balls.
She parked in the same place they always had, a little square of gravel surrounded by tall plain trees. The hike into the village centre was a hot slog along shimmering asphalt. It hadn’t always been this hot. Coming in the spring had always meant playing dice with the weather: she remembered hurrying along here with her mother’s lightweight jacket held over her head, trying to ward off raindrops the size of golf balls.
The little Lebanese restaurant was still open, its sign looking a little worse for wear. They’d always intended to try it one year and never had. She considered it for a second, then hurried on. It wasn’t time for lunch just yet.
One of the bakeries had closed and become a fancy homewares shop. The bright casserole dishes were pretty in their way, but nothing to the layered cakes and slabs of nougat that used to reside behind that window. The café with the green awning was still there and the site of the tables outside made a phantom taste of vanilla ice-cream dance across her tongue. That had always been her reward for good behaviour on the long drive down south.
She peered through one of the dusty side windows of what had once been a church. From the looks of the rickety stands and information boards inside, the little town museum was still in business. Rounding the corner of the building, she experienced a tiny thrill when she noticed that the sign was actually turned to ‘open’. She couldn’t remember a time when that had happened. She paused on the threshold but couldn’t quite bring herself to go in. It would ruin the magic of many years to finally solve the mystery of what was inside.
Walking on, she found herself in the square. Water splashed up from the fountain and cascaded back down over the back of the statue in the centre. She went over and peered in. People still dropped coins in it, despite the notice nearby pleading with them not to. She reached mischievously for the loose change in her pocket but the memory of what her dad would have said stopped her in time. She let the fountain mist her face for a second, listening to the distant hum of traffic and the sound of chatter from one of the café terraces. She let time collapse in on itself, spring after spring overlapping and merging into one past present. Then she straightened. As lovely as it was to dwell amongst the ghosts of happy times that inhabited this place for her, there was lunch to eat and still a long way to drive. She set off across the square, enjoying the feel of the sun and the moment.
As I predicted, he was adamant. He insisted I could not keep the kitten and told me to take her back outside.
It was a cold afternoon as I ran down the side street on the way home from my friend Emily's house. I hadn't planned to stay as long as I had, but I was enjoying myself so much I lost track of time. Now it was sprinkling rain, and it appeared a storm was approaching, I was late, and my father was going to be upset.
I just barely heard the piteous cry. I stopped and noticed a metallic looking box placed beside the side of the road. The box contained a tiny, shivering kitten. The poor creature had long, black matted fur, and its eyes were barely focused. “Someone must have just dropped it outside and hoped someone would pick it up!” I thought. I had always wanted a cat, but my father had refused. He said I needed to focus on my future studies and once I graduated from Hogwarts I could do as I pleased, but no cat for me until then! And yet, I knew I couldn't possibly leave this kitten here to die. If I did, I'd be haunted by nightmares for the rest of my life.
I used a charm to dry the kitten and carried her home under my robe. I briefly considered sneaking her into the house and hoping my father would never notice, but I decided to go ahead and face the music. As I predicted, he was adamant. He insisted I could not keep the kitten and told me to take her back outside.
“But, father, no one would have picked her up, and they won't here, either! Can you blame me for bringing her home? It had begun raining, and the box was filling up with water. The kitten nearly drowned. I noticed her suffering. Nothing deserves to die like that!”
“There's a reason for that, Sandra!” my father responded. “No one wants her. A waste of perfectly good food, time, and energy if you ask me. I'm going to release her into the woods.”
I looked at the small, matted fur cat, and decided the kitty was meant for me. “I'll take her! I'll love her and take good care of her.”
My father spoke up. “Wait one minute, young lady. Do you know any thing about taking care of a cat? Feeding it? Grooming it? The theory and practice of cat litter boxes?”
I looked at the cat, and then back to my father. “No,” I replied. “But I can learn.” I stuck out my lower lip, having made my decision and determined to have this kitten. “I'll change her litter box every day if I have to. And I promise I'll brush her fur regularly. I want her, father!”
My father, recognizing his daughter's mind was made up and secretly proud of his daughter's spunk, agreed to the cat. Besides, daughter and kitty would be leaving soon, and the cat would be Hogwarts' problem – not his.
“Ok, you can keep the kitten. But when you go to Hogwarts, she goes with you! Just remember that!” I smiled. I saved a life, and gained a new companion!
“The kitchens? Aunt Viola says only the really good Potions students get to go there, since they're the ones who brew the Pumpkin juice. Pumpkins can't produce their own juice without help, you know.”
I'll never forget the my own Sorting Ceremony! Ihad never seen anything more beautiful or overwhelming. There were sixteen of us, walking up the aisle towards the front stage, Four long tables, two on each side, were packed with staring students. Long tables in front of us were packed with staring professors. An odd looking, tattered hat, was placed on a stool, and we were quickly approaching it.
I felt a tug on my sleeve. “Noxanne look up! Floating candles! They don't drip wax, do they? That could be really painful!” I had met my fellow new student Rosalie on the train ride, and somehow she seemed more nervous than I was. I forced myself to smile and considered words of reassurance, when Voldemortina, another new student, responded. “No, Rosalie, those are special candles. I hear they've added flobberworm wax to them this year so they won't drip. We're perfectly safe.”
My mouth dropped open, but I was too stunned to speak. Unfortunately, Joan, another 11 year old I'd met on the train, piped up: “Who cares! All that matters is being sorted into the right House. I'm going to be sorted in Slytherin. My entire family is always sorted into Slytherin!.” I managed to step aside, just barely avoiding being hit by a mass of golden curls.
The professor who had shown us into the hall was pointing to the hat, which began to sing. I listened, mesmerized by the sheer wonder of it all, my curiosity growing as the song progressed, wondering which House would become my Home. A special, never to be forgotten moment when that hat would be placed upon my head and my fate would be sealed. I was lost in the moment until Rosalie tugged on my sleeve: “I'm so scared! What if I'm put in Gryffindor? They don't really expect us to be brave and all that, right?”
“You, Gryffindor?” Joan hissed. “You'll be lucky if you aren't assigned to the kitchens!”
“The kitchens? Aunt Viola says only the really good Potions students get to go there, since they're the ones who brew the Pumpkin juice. Pumpkins can't produce their own juice without help, you know.” Voldemortina again.
“Noxanne Alabaster!” My name! I noticed the professor motioning to me to have a seat on the stool, and the hat was placed on my head. I waited with nervous anticipation.
The hat began to speak. “Let's see. No more than an average amount of bravery, I see. You seem to have no ambition, and you fear hard work. Ah - but you actually believe Hogwarts: A History was the most fascinating book ever published. Stranger still: you've actually read it. Interesting. Very interesting. RAVENCLAW.”
The professor removed the hat from my head and I jumped off the stool and ran to one of the center tables, where people with blue and bronze badges were beckoning me. My new home for the next seven years! They seemed so friendly, and I knew I'd feel right at home there, amongt my new friends.
I thought my happiness could know no bounds, but then Voldemortina, Joan, and Rosalie joined our table. They'd gotten Ravenclaw, too. Merlin's beard! To be honest, I was hoping they'd be in a different House, but that's ok. Surely we won't all be in the same dorm room.
Pop! A mouth watering feast suddenly appeared in front of us. Rosalie shrieked and Joan rolled her eyes, while only Voldemortina seemed as impressed as I was. Deep in admiration for the feast, she turned to our Prefect and asked who the Potions professor was, and he pointed out a man who looked really intimidating and like something out of a muggle B movie horror flick. Voldemortina, undaunted, waved at the man and thanked him for the Pumpkin juice. The blackest eyes I have even seen simply stared at her. I wanted to hide under the table.
Finally! The Prefect was showing us to our Common Room. A riddle to answer! Finally: a chance to show off my riddle solving abilities! With shiny fangs , my bloodless bite will bring together what's mostly white. What am I?
My stomach hit the floor. I had no idea! Rosalie started crying, afraid she'd never be able to enter her own Common Room and hoping we'd be taught how to conjure floor mats on the first day of lessons. Joan glared at the door. Voldemortina, however, piped up: “Oh, good, an easy one!”
And it was.
Feeling a bit annoyed with myself for not guessing the riddle, I entered the Common Room. We were in the west wing of the fifth floor, in the most beautiful tower I had ever seen. White walls, deep blue furnishings, bronze accents, stars on the ceiling, and books! Lots and lots of books. A marble statue with the name Rowena Ravenclaw was listed on the plaque. The setting sun was shining through 12 ft. tall windows, which offered stunning views overlooking the lake. I was lost in admiration and having happy thoughts of my good fortune when I was startled by a bundle of fur landing in my lap: my cat, Muffin! She was here! I hugged her warmly and was rewarded with a small meow.
The door opened, a wizard entered and introduced himself as Professor Anderson, our Head of House. He told us about the history of Ravenclaw and some general information about Hogwarts, During his warm greeting, my cat jumped out of my arms, off to explore the beautiful surroundings. I smiled at the wonder of it all.
“The following will be sharing a dorm room: (I held my breath)
Oh, well, I sighed. I refuse to allow this to ruin my perfect, never to be forgotten day.
Rosalie, however, was still sobbing. “Professor, we're awfully high up! What if we have an earthquake? What if the tower falls?”
“Never fear, my dear child! This tower has stood for over a thousand years," smiled Professor Anderson warmly. I liked him. “Here, have some delicious little cupcakes. I bet if you ask them to, they'll even dance for you!” The Professor turned towards a small table, but suddenly looked confused, as if he'd lost something. “Has anyone seen the cupcakes?”
Muffin chose that precise moment to jump back into my arms, her little furry face covered in blue and white frosting.
It was going to be a very long year.