Lizelle waited until her mother was outside, seeing off the guests, then she slipped the little bottle from her pocket. It was one of the little drink bottles that her mother regularly returned home with when she flew out on business. But this one had been opened, and Lizelle had added enough of the castor concentrate to the bottle to kill a human quickly. She replaced the bottle where she had found it, in her mother’s drinks cabinet. It was cheating, she knew, but sometimes things had to be helped along a bit. Lizelle turned to the table and started collecting the dishes.
Late afternoon sunshine fell through the big window, brightening the old farm kitchen. The last of the guests had left, and except for the quiet voices of Aunt Bethany and Uncle Jeff, the house was quiet. Aunt Grace was sitting at the dining room table, staring into space as she so often did. Lizelle opened the hot water tap and began filling the sink with water. Behind her she heard a chair being pulled out and she looked around. Her mother was sitting down at the kitchen table, lighting a cigarette.
‘Mom,’ she said, starting to pile dirty dishes into the sink, ‘tell me about Annua Morte, and tell me why you hate me.’
‘I don’t hate you Lizelle, what gives you that idea?’ asked her mother.
‘Mom, I’m sixteen years old today, not twelve. The tea-party is over and the guests have left. You’ve hated me my whole life, you can stop pretending otherwise.’
Behind Lizelle her mother sniffed, without looking around Lizelle could imagine the look of sour displeasure on her mother’s face, how her lips would be turned down, her eyes would be dull and her nose would be up in the air, as if talking to Lizelle was just too much trouble.
‘Don’t say I hate you Lizelle, that’s far too harsh,’ her mother said again, but the tone of her voice said otherwise.
Lizelle sighed quietly and closed the tap.
‘Tell me about Annua Morte then,’ she said, starting on the dishes.
This time it was her mother who sighed, a great heavy sigh as though the world had come to rest on her shoulders.
‘Who told you about Annua Morte?’ she asked.
‘Aunt Grace,’ said Lizelle.
‘Fucking bitch,’ said her mother, under her breath so that nobody else in the house would hear. Grace was the bane of her life. Actually Lizelle was the bane of her life, but Grace came a close second. The grey-haired old woman was nobody’s aunt, she had simply been on the farm for as long as anybody could remember. Even though she was no older than Merlina herself, Grace’s eyes were silver with cataracts, her face lined with age and her lips curled around almost toothless gums. She looked twenty years older than she was. The only thing about Grace that still seemed to work was her mind, and once again she had made life difficult for Merlina.
Lizelle ignored the comment, she knew how much her mother hated the woman.
‘Tell me about Annua Morte,’ she repeated, impatiently.
‘Annua Morte is one of the most difficult potions a witch can brew. The person who has a draught of the potion is doomed to cause, by apparent accident, the death of a person once a year, for the rest of his or her life.’
Lizelle could hear laughter in her mother’s voice, as if she was enjoying telling the story.
‘Somebody, nobody knows who, slipped you a draught of the potion on the day of your birth. The potion works in a strange way. Somebody in your close vicinity will be killed and it will seem like an accident. Nobody in their right mind would hold you responsible, but everybody will know that it was your actions that led to the death.’
The dishes in the sink clinked together as Lizelle washed them, her mind on what her mother was saying.
‘And it always happens two days after my birthday?’ asked Lizelle.
‘Just about. If you are alone on that day it might wait a few days, but somebody will always die.’
‘So who all died because of things I did?’ she asked.
‘Come on Lizelle, you know all about the deaths,’ said her mother.
‘Humour me,’ said Lizelle, with no humour in her voice.
There was a long, thoughtful pause before her mother spoke, as if she was making up her mind about something.
‘Your father died two days after your first birthday,’ said her mother, and now Lizelle heard a note of bitterness in her mother’s voice. ‘He was working on the car in the garage, and he’d left the engine running. You were only a year old and he was looking after you while I was out shopping. He’d put you on the front seat. You must have somehow crawled out of your blanket and then kicked the car into gear. When I got back from shopping the car had crushed your father’s skull against the wall, and you were lying on the floor of the car, sleeping as though nothing had happened.’
At the sink Lizelle frowned. She had heard this story before, but this was the first time she understood that there was a reason, the Annua Morte potion, why she had kicked that car into gear. When other people told the story they left out the details, glancing over how exactly her father had died. When her mother told the story she made sure Lizelle was left in no doubt how gruesome a death she had caused her father.
‘And the year after that?’ she asked.
‘When you were two years old you somehow managed to open a tap connected to the hose. There used to be an old, cracked pond behind the house. You filled that pond with water, and your cousin Mary drowned in it. She was only two years old herself, and hadn’t learned to swim yet. Her own father took her dead blue body out of that pond. Their family left this farm that day, and they haven’t been back or spoken to our family since.’
At the sink Lizelle nodded as she pulled the plug to let out the water. She was glad she’d only been two years old at the time, at least this was one of the deaths she could not remember. She could feel her mother’s eyes on her, burning, waiting for Lizelle to ask about the next death. She could hear the laughing accusation in her mother’s voice when she spoke.
‘And after that?’ she asked, keeping her back turned on her mother. ‘What happened next?’
‘When you were three you were standing up in a trolley at the shop. You reached up and tried to grab a bottle of mayonnaise off the shelf, but the bottle was too heavy for you, and too big for your hand. It dropped, landing on the head of a little boy innocently standing next to our trolley. His head was smashed open by the bottle.’
The dirty grey water swirled in the sink before her, but in her mind’s eye Lizelle saw the death of an innocent young boy.
‘And then?’ she asked, keeping her head bowed, watching the water.
‘When you were four you bumped into a coat stand which fell onto a young girl, knocking her down a flight of stairs, killing her. When you were five a pastor man came here to talk to us about religion. You accidentally electrocuted his wife with an old lamp we should have thrown out years ago. When you were six you started school. I’m not sure what happened that time, but two days after your birthday a school-friend lay dead, and the teachers were trying to hush it up. Make no mistake though, it was your fault.’
Lizelle watched as the last of the water drained out of the sink, then washed out the sink and turned to face her mother, her face suddenly frowning as a curious question came to her.
‘Is that why you hate me, because of all the deaths you’ve had to deal with?’ she asked.
Her mother shook another cigarette out of the packet and lit it with the first one, then crushed out the butt in the ashtray.
‘I told you, you shouldn’t say I hate you,’ she said, but her eyes were cold as ice. ‘But I won’t deny that it has been difficult, living with you and your curse.’
Lizelle filled the kettle and switched it on, then took two of the freshly washed cups and started making coffee, her back once again turned on her mother.
‘The next deaths?’ she asked.
‘You should remember all the deaths since then, Lizelle, you were old enough to remember,’ answered her mother.
‘But tell me, remind me again,’ said Lizelle, a bitter edge starting to creep into her voice.
Merlina’s eyes narrowed for a second as she looked at Lizelle, wondering what the child was playing at.
‘When you were seven it was the boy who got killed with the chain saw.’
‘I tried to save his life, though,’ said Lizelle.
‘Yes, you did. But he got that saw going, meaning to cut some firewood. If you had let him be, he would have been fine. But no, you had to try and grab the saw from him. It was the most gruesome death I’ve seen in my life.’
Once again Lizelle nodded. Her mother was right about that, it was the most gruesome death a person could imagine. She had never quite managed to get the picture of the headless corpse out of her memories.
‘At eight you tried to make your own potion for the first time. It was supposed to be Angel’s Kisses, which is supposed to make people feel great. But you were too impatient to wait for full moon, so you stirred it under the moonlight while the moon was gibbous. Everybody told you to throw the potion out, but you left it in a vial in your drawer. One of your friends, I think her name was Annabelle or something stupid like that, got hold of it and drank the whole lot. She got so depressed she killed herself hours later.’
The memory of poor Annabelle stirred in Lizelle, but her death did not raise much feeling in her. The stupid girl had stolen the vial of potion out of her drawer and drank it. She almost deserved to die. Still, the death had been caused by Annua Morte, not by Lizelle.
She stirred the coffee and turned around. Handing her mother a cup and taking one for herself, she sat down at the table.
‘At nine?’ she asked.
‘At nine you lost your balance on a ski boat when friends of ours took you out on the dam. You knocked Jimmy Johnson over the side and he got entangled in the ski rope. He died before they got him to shore,’ said her mother, taking a puff from her cigarette and blowing blue smoke through the kitchen. ‘At ten you and Pansy were supposed to sweep up the glass from a window your cousin Frank had broken. You tried to be helpful by taking the rest of the glass out of the window pane. A piece fell out and cut almost right through Pansy’s arm. She bled to death in three minutes. I’ve never seen so much blood in my life. That was when…’ her mother started, but stopped.
‘When what?’ asked Lizelle.
‘Nothing,’ said her mother, sounding irritated.
‘No, not nothing. Then what?’ insisted Lizelle.
Her mother took a deep breath and looked at her directly for the first time. ‘That was the first time I suspected that something was wrong with you. Remember the day we went to see that old witch who lived in the stinking flat in town?’ she asked.
‘Yes, I remember.’
‘Well the reason I took you to her was because she had some good senses about her. It was she who told me about the Annua Morte, how it worked and what it was doing to you. So you see, Lizelle, I never hated you, I’m just scared that I’m going to be the next one to fall victim to the curse that lies upon you.’
Lizelle looked at her mother, and a cold feeling of hatred washed over her. The woman was lying to her. She knew in her heart it had been her mother herself who had given her the potion. And she knew why her mother had given her the potion too. But she wasn’t going to tell the old woman this just yet.
Whether her mother suspected anything was hard to guess, but she didn’t say anything so Lizelle pressed on.
‘At eleven, it was that guy from the farm next to us, wasn’t it?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ replied her mother. ‘It was Harold. He’d come over here because he’d injured himself with the axe, and he didn’t have money for the doctor in town, so he’d come to ask Jennifer if she would work some magic for him. Jennifer was unaware that you had sat down on her wand earlier that day, cracking it. When she tried to heal him the spell blasted him with some serious broken magic. We had to hide the body, the poor man is still buried in the apple orchard out back.’
Lizelle hated that patch of ground in the apple orchard. The four trees closest to it had died within weeks after they’d buried the man there, and nothing grew on the ground there, not even weeds.
Her mother took a last drag from her cigarette and stubbed it out. ‘At twelve I tried to keep you away from people for a week after your birthday, but it didn’t help. The first day I sent you back to school the spell killed that kid who got driven over by the school bus. The bus driver told everybody how he’d driven over the poor boy because of you, you’d attracted his attention by tugging at his shoulder. That’s when I found out that the spell will kill, even a week after your birthday.’
‘That didn’t stop you from trying again when I turned thirteen,’ said Lizelle.
Her mother sighed. ‘It was worth a try,’ she said, pulling a sour face. ‘But then the school inspector came round to check why you weren’t at school. I promised him you would be back at school the next day and he died moments later, just outside the front gate.’
‘I’m still not sure if his death was my fault,’ said Lizelle.
Her mother snorted back laughter. ‘You’re the one who gave your five year old cousin my wand and told him to hide it.’
‘I just didn’t want the man to see your wand.’
‘And you didn’t think Barty would start blasting everything he could see with the wand? No Lizelle, his death might not have been by your hand, but it was your doing, plain and simple.’
‘It was the fault of whoever gave me the Annua Morte potion,’ said Lizelle.
Her mother sniffed again, as if she firmly believed that Lizelle should be able to stop the deaths despite the curse of the potion.
‘Two years ago when I turned fourteen you sent me away with family. Was that because you didn’t want to see the death happen?’ asked Lizelle, her voice not quite hiding a hint of sarcasm.
Her mother rolled her eyes. It was obvious that Lizelle had been thinking long and hard about the matter.
‘Yes,’ she answered.
‘You sent me hunting with my cousins, knowing that I was a time-bomb waiting to go off?’
‘Yes, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. So I sent you off with your cousins. At least this time the man who was killed was somebody I didn’t know,’ said her mother.
‘Yeah, at least you didn’t have to see it, but I did, didn’t I? I had to be the one who stumbled over the threshold of that stupid old house and knocked down uncle Peter, and he was the one who almost got locked up in prison for falling over with a loaded gun and pulling off a shot, killing his best friend!’
Lizelle’s voice shook with anger, but her mother didn’t seem to care. Merlina stoop up and stepped over to the drinks cabinet, from where she pulled a bottle of brandy, then took a glass from the drying rack and poured herself a drink.
Lizelle looked at the glass and sighed a tired sigh. Always when she became a problem for her mother, there was the brandy. Well, she was almost done for today in any way, she might as well press on.
‘Last year, when I was in hospital, you left me alone the night, knowing full well what might happen. I was at death’s door myself, delusional and deranged, and you left me in a ward with four other very ill people. Did it never occur to you that I might get out of my bed and accidentally pull the breathing apparatus from the woman lying next to me?’
‘How the hell should I have known that would happen?’ her mother asked sourly, taking a gulp of brandy and shuddering. ‘Besides, I was worried about you. Nobody knew what was wrong with you, why you were so sick. I thought you were going to die.’
Lizelle looked away from her mother, tired of listening to her lies. How could this woman sit there and lie to her like that, telling her that she was worried about her dying, when the woman obviously hated her?
‘I almost killed myself that time,’ said Lizelle.
‘What do you mean?’ asked her mother, surprised.
‘I knew my fifteenth birthday was coming up, and by then I also knew about the Annua Morte. I tried to make the cure, but you know I’ve never been any good with potions. I tried to make Dulcimer’s Song, but I got it wrong. That was what landed me in hospital.’
For the first time her mother looked at her with something that might have been concern.
‘Lizelle, even I won’t try to make Dulcimer’s Song, if you get it wrong the consequences would be catastrophic!’
‘Didn’t I just find that out the hard way!’ said Lizelle and laughed. ‘You were almost rid of me and my curse.’
Across the table her mother shook her head in disbelief and took another sip of brandy, smaller this time.
‘And what happens this year?’ asked Lizelle, a sarcastic smile playing on her lips. She already knew what was going to happen this year, she had a plan.
Her mother looked into the glass of brandy and pursed her lips for a few moments before looking up again.
‘We will see what happens this year,’ she said.
In the privacy of her bedroom Lizelle closed the great leather-bound book she had been reading. This was a book of spells, one of her many books containing information about spells and incantations, potions and poisons. This one had been handwritten by witches over many years, and was probably over two hundred years old. But it contained information about Annua Morte, the potion she had been cursed with. If her mother knew it contained this information, she would never have let Lizelle near the book, she was sure of that.
The language in the book was ancient and sometimes almost impossible to read, but after weeks of reading and studying Lizelle had figured it out, and the truth had dawned on her. She could use the Annua Morte. Nobody had told her this before, and that probably meant that nobody else in the family knew, but the book said it clearly. She could control the curse, she could decide who would be the one to die each year. And this year, Lizelle had already decided, it was going to be her mother. Because there was another bit of information hidden in the book, and the information was this – that when the person who gave her the potion was dead, the curse would be broken.
This year, Lizelle had decided, the last of the deaths would occur.
She stood up from the chair and climbed into her bed, pulling the soft covers over her. When she closed her eyes she could see the symbols from the book dancing in her mind’s eye, drifting in the air. She concentrated, and the thoughts started forming in her imagination.
Let the one who gave me the potion be the next to die.
She didn’t think of her mother, or see her mother’s face, instead she kept her mind focussed on the symbols that were swirling in the dark behind her closed eyelids. Let the one who gave me the potion be the next one to die.
She kept repeating the incantation, until at last she felt sure she had gotten it right, then she turned on her side, a smile on her face. Sleep felt miles away, but she kept concentrating her mind on the spell.
Lizelle swung her feet out of the bed and yawned. She was tired, dead tired. It had been a long night, and she’d spent most of the night waking from nightmarish dreams. Every time she would fall asleep again, and dream about all the people who had died the second day after her birthday, on her Annua Morte.
It was still early, but Lizelle could not stay in bed any longer, she needed to get up, needed to move around, to keep busy. It was no use trying to think about when the death would occur, or to try to make it happen, or to stop it from happening. The curse would take care of the death, she had to take care of her life.
In the kitchen she made coffee, then sat down at the table, waiting for the rest of the household to wake up. Her mother would be there first, she was an early riser, always heading to the kitchen for her first morning cigarette.
She was wrong, Aunt Bethany came in first, greeted her with a yawn and made coffee, then left the kitchen again. Nobody in the family apart from her mother knew about the Annua Morte, Lizelle was sure about that, or they would have been sure to be well out of the house since yesterday. Well, Aunt Grace knew about the Annua Morte, and she was out of the house today, she had left early in the morning to visit a friend. Lizelle didn’t worry about her, she was nearly dead in any way, she was so decrepit.
Her mother hadn’t gotten up yet, she was sleeping late for a change.
For a long time nothing happened, then Aunt Bethany came back, made more coffee, including a cup for her husband this time, and took it through to the living room. Lizelle could hear their voices. She ignored them, she was waiting for her mother. She felt mildly curious, this was the first time she would be waiting for the death to occur, she wondered how it was going to happen. Would her mother realize that she was going to be the one to die? Would she guess what Lizelle had done? Was that why she was staying out of the kitchen this morning? But today was only the day after her birthday, she reminded herself, her mother was not due to die before tomorrow.
Time crawled by, after an hour Lizelle left the kitchen to go have a shower and get ready for school, still waiting for her mother to get up. When she came back into the kitchen half an hour later her mother was still not there, the ashtray was still devoid of any cigarette butts.
‘Have you seen my mother?’ she asked Aunt Bethany when she brought back the empty coffee cups and placed them in the sink.
‘No, but she’s going to be late. I’ll go kick her out of bed,’ said her aunt and walked down the passage. Moments later there was a loud and terrified call from her mother’s bedroom.
‘Jeff! Jeff come quick! I think she’s dead!’
Lizelle felt her mouth fall open. She had expected her mother to get up, to walk around today. The Annua Morte always made sure that it killed its victim by some direct action of Lizelle, so how could her mother be dead in her bed without even coming close to her? She could not think of anything that she’d done that might have directly led to the death of her mother, and it was a day early. But then the answer came to her. It must have been because of the spell she’d done, it had killed her mother in her sleep. She must have run out of brandy last night, and found the bottle to which Lizelle had added the poison!
Lizelle smiled. It was sad to think that she had killed her own mother, but it had been necessary. Too many innocent people had died over the years, it had to end. And the old woman had hated her, it was not as if Lizelle was going to miss her much. She had hoped she would feel the curse lift, the book said she should feel it, but there had been nothing. Maybe it had happened while she had been asleep the night before, when her mother died. That, Lizelle thought, might be what had caused all the bad dreams. A rush of gooseflesh crawled over her.
She got up from the kitchen chair and started walking down the passage to where she could hear the shocked voices of her aunt and uncle coming from her mother’s bedroom. She tried to set her face in what she hoped was a look of shock, but she wasn’t sure she was succeeding. She had to try though, for the look of it.
Thunder rolled through the sky as Lizelle sat down at the dining room table. It had been a long day, starting with the doctor coming to the house to confirm the death of her mother, then the body had been removed and family members had been notified. The family arrived and, amidst the commiserations, the funeral arrangements had started taking shape. Lizelle had tried to keep a low profile, smiling wanly whenever a family member or friend had commiserated with her. Aunt Grace had returned during the afternoon, no doubt feeling safe in the knowledge that the Annua Morte had claimed its yearly victim, adding her sorrowful voice to those already filling the house.
Now all the guests had left, and Aunt Bethany and Uncle Jeff had joined Lizelle and Aunt Grace in the dining room for the first bit of quiet the family had had all day. Lizelle glanced up at the clock over the mantelpiece, and wasn’t surprised to see that it was almost midnight.
‘Are you OK, dear?’ asked Aunt Bethany, her voice radiating concern.
‘I’m fine, really,’ said Lizelle as more lightning flashed outside.
‘I haven’t had time to tell you this myself, Lizelle, but I’m really sorry about your mother’s death,’ said Uncle Jeff, reaching over and squeezing her hand for a moment.
‘Thanks Uncle Jeff,’ said Lizelle, smiling at him.
‘She wasn’t your mother.’ The words had come from Aunt Grace, who had been quiet up to then.
‘Grace!’ cried Bethany in shock, looking at the blind woman.
Lizelle also looked at Aunt Grace in shock. What did she mean?
‘It must out!’ said Grace, her voice filled with anger.
Aunt Bethany made a noise like a snake hissing and looked at the blind woman with anger burning in her eyes.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Lizelle, utterly confused.
‘That woman wasn’t your mother, Lizelle, I mean exactly what I say!’
‘Grace!’ interrupted Bethany. ‘We talked about this, you know what the decision was!’
‘And Merlina is dead now, and Lizelle deserves to know the truth.’
Lizelle could see the anger burning on Aunt Bethany’s face, but she knew that whatever Aunt Grace had wanted, she had won, because the truth was out, and Lizelle was going to find out everything whether or not Aunt Bethany wanted her to.
‘Tell me,’ said Lizelle angrily, sitting back with pursed lips and staring at the people around the table.
Across from her Aunt Grace chuckled, and then started talking, her blind eyes staring unseeing at Lizelle.
‘I heard you and Merlina talk about the deaths the other day, Lizelle. But Merlina was lying. Merlina did not want you to find out, but the first death caused by your Annua Morte was that of your real mother.’
Bethany hissed again, and Grace turned her blind eyes towards her. ‘Yeah can hiss all you want to, Bethany, but the truth must out. The girl must know!’
‘Let her tell me,’ said Lizelle to Bethany, holding up her hand to stop any further interruptions.
‘Your mother died two days after you were born,’ said Aunt Grace
Lizelle sat back in her chair, stunned.
‘What happened to her?’ she asked.
‘You were a tiny baby, Lizelle, as tiny as a baby could be. Your mommy was very worried about you, worried that you were too small and that something would happen to you. On your second day she decided that you were not warm enough. She climbed on a chair to get another blanket out of the top cupboard. While reaching up she heard you start to cry, and she turned around with the blankets still clutched above her head. Her leg twisted and she fell from the chair. With her hands above her head she had nothing to stop her fall with, and she hit her head on the table in the room. She was dead almost instantly.’
Lizelle sat looking at Aunt Grace for a few moments, thinking. Across the table Aunt Bethany was looking at the blind woman with daggers in her eyes. From the gleeful expression on Grace’s face Lizelle could almost swear she could see the expression on Aunt Bethany’s face.
‘How do you know what happened in the room?’ asked Lizelle at last.
Aunt Grace chuckled. ‘We’re a witching family, Lizelle, think! I simply went to my crystal ball and had a look.’
Lizelle nodded. That was true, the crystal ball was an easy way of keeping up with events. But her mind was racing, and she was putting two and two together now.
‘So that is why my mother hated me so much, because I wasn’t really her daughter,’ she said at last.
At this Aunt Grace burst out laughing. ‘Oh no, that is not why Merlina hated you, although that is part of the reason. Merlina had met your father before your mother did, and she was furious that he had asked your real mother to marry him, instead of asking her. She thought that he should belong to her, by rights. He was a very handsome man, was your father. Six months after your real mother died Merlina convinced your father to marry her, telling him that the child, you, needed a mother. He fell for her trick and married her, but then he died two days after your first birthday. That left her without the husband she had fought so hard to get, and she was stuck with a daughter she had never wanted.’
When she had finished speaking there was silence around the table while Lizelle thought this over.
‘She should have known my father might die if she gave me Annua Morte,’ she said.
Aunt Bethany and Uncle Jeff’s mouths fell open.
‘What are you speaking about, Lizelle?’ asked her aunt.
Lizelle looked at her aunt and sighed.
‘You don’t know about it, but on the day I was born, Merlina gave me a dose of Annua Morte. Do you know what that is?’ she asked.
‘I know full well what Annua Morte does!’ cried Aunt Bethany. ‘But your mother, Merlina I mean, would never have given you such a potion!’
‘And she didn’t,’ said Aunt Grace before Lizelle could say a word.
Lizelle goggled at her blind aunt. ‘So who did?’ she asked, curious to know what Grace would say.
‘I did, I gave you the Annua Morte.’
‘You!’ cried Lizelle, her face a mask of horror. Aunt Bethany’s mouth fell open and Uncle Jeff looked as if someone had punched him in the face.
‘Yes, Lizelle, it was me. Have you never noticed how I disappear for a few days after each of your birthdays? I went because I knew about the curse, and would not permit myself to be near you.’
‘Why? Why would you have given me Annua Morte?’ asked Lizelle, feeling stunned.
‘Because your mother stole your father from me. Merlina only thought that she and your mother had met your father first, but it had been me who brought him here in the first place. With my bad eyes and dumpy body your father was not going to fall for me though, not when those two arrived and your mother twisted him around her little finger. So when your mother stole him from me I took revenge, and gave you Annua Morte.’
On the other side of the table, unseen by the blind eyes of Grace, a smile was starting to form on Lizelle’s lips. She tried to stop it, worried about what Aunt Bethany and Uncle Jeff would think. Her mother, or rather Merlina, had not been near her when she’d died. Lizelle had not felt the curse leave her, and the book said that she would feel the curse leaving her when the person who placed the curse died. And now, opposite the table, Grace had just admitted to placing the curse. Lizelle thought back to the night before. She had not visualized the face of Merlina when she’d told the curse who to kill. She had told the curse to kill the one who had placed it.
Outside, a bolt of lightning earthed itself close by, sending a deep rumbling through the house. Lizelle placed her hands on the table and pushed herself up.
‘I’m going to make a cup of coffee,’ she said, and walked through to the kitchen. She looked at the kitchen clock. It was three minutes to midnight, three minutes to the start of her Annua Morte. For the moment, she had to get away from Grace, she needed time alone to think everything over. She had to stay calm. Let the curse do the killing, there was no reason for her to go for her wand, to strike the woman down. If what Grace had said was true she would die without Lizelle having to lift a finger.
She checked the drinks cabinet, the one where her mother stored her bottle of brandy. The little bottle of poison was gone. A sick feeling washed over Lizelle. She should have made sure, she should have checked if it really had been her mother who had given her the Annua Morte. She had killed an innocent woman, her own mother. Well, not her real mother, if what Aunt Grace had said was true, but the woman who had brought her up as her own, in any case. She sighed deeply, closed the cabinet and forced back the tears.
Lizelle opened the kitchen door just as the first fat drops of rain started drumming down on the flagstones outside. It sounded as if a row had started up in the dining room, she could hear the raised voices of Grace, Bethany and Uncle Jeff above the noise of the raindrops on the tin roof. More lightning flashed down, followed by rolling thunder. The kitchen light spilled out into the night, onto a patch of the patio where water was dancing, beating back the heat of the day.
She had been careless, she thought as guilt washed over her, and a tear finally escaped and rolled down her cheek. The woman who had taken care of her for almost sixteen years, killed by one purposefully placed bottle of poison. Yes, the woman had hated her, but now that Lizelle knew the truth that did not matter anymore. The woman had brought her up, in her own house, and there had never been anything but hate between the two of them. She tried to push the thought of what she had done away, tried to concentrate on the one thing she had never known before, that she had another, a real, mother.
This only caused her grief to deepen, and the tears to run faster, almost as fast as the raindrops that were now thundering down on the flagstones outside.
Then, from the dining room, Lizelle heard a massive crash. There was a loud thumping sound, followed by the sound of cups and saucers landing on the floor and breaking. Then Aunt Bethany’s voice cried out in concern.
Lizelle frowned and looked up at the kitchen clock. The second marker was still thirty seconds away from midnight, away from the day of her Annua Morte. It didn’t matter, because in the anguished voice of Aunt Bethany two things had been very clear. The first was that Aunt Grace was dead, and the second was that the kitchen clock was thirty seconds slow.
She hurried through to the dining room and stopped in the doorway, staring at the mess in front of her. Aunt Grace had slipped sideways off her seat, evidently clutching at the tablecloth on her way down, dragging everything down with her. Aunt Bethany and Uncle Jeff had risen out of their seats, and were gaping at the still form of Grace. Without a word Lizelle walked around the table and checked Grace’s wrist for a pulse, but there was nothing.
‘Call an ambulance, I think she’s dead,’ she said calmly. When neither Bethany nor Jeff moved she sighed and pulled her phone from her pocket. She would call the ambulance herself. The call took only a minute or two, then she cut the connection and pulled out one of the dining room chairs to sit down.
Aunt Bethany seemed to have unfrozen at last. She walked around the table and kneeled next to Grace, checking for herself if the woman was really dead. When she stood up again her foot kicked something, and a small empty bottle rolled over the floor. Bethany turned to pick it up, and suddenly Lizelle’s eyes went wide. It was the little liquor bottle she had kept the poison in, the bottle of essence of castor.
‘Grace always did like a bit of kick to her coffee,’ said Bethany absently. ‘I see she’s been at your mother’s stock again. Oh well, can’t blame her really. It was a tough day, she probably needed a drink.’ With this she walked through to the kitchen, where Lizelle heard her drop the empty bottle in the dustbin. Bethany came back a few moments later and took her seat at the table again. There was nothing to do but wait for the ambulance.
A strange tingling feeling took hold of the base of Lizelle’s spine, she felt a flush creeping through her body. A wave of warmth swept her body and seemed to gather in her mind. When she closed her eyes she could see a beautiful woman standing in a field of green grass, waving at her, then the image faded and the heat left her, seeming to drift through the top of her head. Immediately another flush started, again the wave of heat swept through her, gathering in her head. This time there was the image of a handsome man, he also waved at her.
Tears rolled out of Lizelle’s eyes. She knew these people, because both of them bore some resemblance to herself. They were her mother and father, both killed by the curse of the Annua Morte. She barely had time to register this when the heat was building up again, and again. More faces, young kids, friends, killed because they had been close to her on that day, the second day after her birthday. Fifteen times she felt the warm flush gather in her and rise, fifteen faces turned to look at her, and then left her. Merlina, she noticed, was not amongst those faces.
Coldness settled over her. The other souls had felt like love, warmth, but suddenly she was gripped by hatred, hatred so deep that it shook her. She saw another face, the blind eyes and cold baleful stare of Aunt Grace, who was looking at her from the other side of death, and whose face recognized what Lizelle had done, and where her soul was heading. The coldness did not gather in Lizelle’s head, but seemed to evaporate from her body, until at last the heat returned.
When the feeling had left her Lizelle stood up and walked to the kitchen. ‘I’ll make us more coffee, we’re going to need it,’ she said, glad to have her back turned on Aunt Bethany and Uncle Jeff.
Her face had broken into a grin.