I’m playing in the sand with Shawn and Shane when Mama leans out the window and shouts, “come on, Vettie. It’s time to save the world.”
My brothers and I turn to the house. For a moment, I think she means our game. Shane has created a little world of sand and pebbles. Tiny mountains and hills sculpted in his uneven nine year-old-way. He’s even made a group of horses and knights that grind slowly across the sandy plains. When he tries really hard, the gravel trees blow like there’s a wind.
And Shawn has added water. So the little knights have to ford a river. It rains on them a lot, which Shane hates because it’s hard to keep the horses together. Shawn doesn’t know how to make raindrops smaller, so a piece of water the size of a boulder will take off a horse’s head if he’s not careful.
The princes are coming to where I stand, a giantess in the ocean. I cackle and step on them and kick away knights’ swords. Shane and Shawn say they let me win because I’m only seven, but I suspect it’s only because they haven’t figured out how to beat me yet.
So my feet and hands are full of sand and salt when I ask, “Say again, Mama?”
Mama grins, madness in her eyes. Her hair, green as a lagoon, thrashes around her brown cheeks, though there is no wind. “You’re gonna save the world today, Vettie. Let’s go.”
She pulls her head back into the cottage and slams the shutters hard enough that some of the sand slips off the rocky face of our home.
I scratch my head and stare at the bright green shutter as if she will reappear and start makin’ sense. Nothing in the house changes.
Shane and Shawn look up at me then at each other matching their movements with accidental twin grace. Little tendrils of water circle around Shawn’s neck and shoulders and the sand matting Shane’s black curls blend his hair to match his mud-covered face.
“Does she mean the rift?” Shawn squeaks, and the watery snake around his bare shoulders pops like a bubble in Mama’s cauldron, drenching the sandy world.
“Shit-fire!” Shane glares as the horses and knights and trees dissolve under the explosion of water. The mountain becomes a muddy volcano. “Damn it, Shawn!”
“It was only sand!” Shawn holds up his hands defensively, then giggles. “Don’t be mad, honey. You can make another one even bigger next time.”
Shane is not soothed by this and slams his fist into the earth. His hills and mountains flatten in a rolling earthquake that sprays sand onto Shawn’s damp face and bare chest. Shawn chokes on the muck and grimaces because he hates to be dirty. Then he laughs and splashes Shane with a tidal wave from the miniature ocean I’m standing in.
“Hey!” Both of them jolt and look at me when I shout and fix them with my most Mama-mean glare. “Don’t get me wet or dirty. And clean up.”
“Yes, Vettie,” Shawn says and wicks the water away from his clothes and body.
“Sorry.” Shane does the same with his mud and grimaces as he pulls his own hair in cleaning himself. Shawn licks him with a light mist to get the smudges of earth off Shane’s face. Shane scowls, but when his twin smiles, Shane relents and says, “Thanks.”
“Vettie!” Mama comes out of the big green door with a shout. It jolts the three of us. We all stand at attention.
Mama’s eyes are flustered and wild, and she tosses her head around like she can’t see us. “Where’s your brothers, Vettie?”
Has she got a spell wrapped around her face or what? “Which ones, Mama? I only got seven.”
“Don’t sass me today.” She fixes me with a sudden angry glare. “The Eds and Ben, where are they?”
I glance over at Shawn and Shane and shrug. “I think I saw Ward and Ben fishin’, but I don’t know what Gar’s got into.”
“Check the lagoon. He borrowed some books from Ms. Tomlins,” Shane says.
“Useless boys. Never around when I want them.” Mama mutters and pulls her pipe out of her skirt pocket. I love her pipe. It’s got all sorts of seashells and weird things carved on it, and it always smells like sweet magic not tar and tobacco like the fishermen on the wharf.
“I’ll fetch them,” Jack-Daw says from his nest on the roof.
I didn’t even know he was up there watching. I would’ve made him come down and make proper winds for Shane’s mud world. He’s thin as a scarecrow with hair whiter than a seagull’s feather and big sunken eyes, half-feral and unkempt. I hate lookin’ at him because he’s my twin, but he’s not part of the family. Mama says I don’t look like him at all because we’re not identical twins like Shane and Shawn. For one, I have Mama’s sea-foam green hair, and or two, I always wear nice dresses that fit me properly. I’m pretty, and he’s wicked.
Jack-Daw doesn’t wait for Mama to agree to his offer. He just jumps off the gravelly roof and away from the nest he made up there of driftwood and metal sheeting. He don’t fall, of course. He flies in a wind so controlled it hardly ruffles my hair.
Before Mama can chastise him, Jack-Daw’s high over the ocean. Doing what he said and fetching our older brothers. I hate watchin’ him fly. He makes it look so bloody easy.
He’s got that on me. He’s so full of magic, he makes the fire flare when he gets too near it. I haven’t got a lick of power in me compared to my twin.
But Mama won’t believe it.
“Lice-invested screecher.” Mama hates him, too. Then her eyes focus on the rift. She squints so hard that I squint at it, too.
The rift, a hole in a sky bigger than our house, leads to another world. It’s not a good world like the one down South in the yothgre lands. That hole leads to a place without magic and with only humans. What’d they name it? New Jersay, I think. And they built a cute little wall around it so people can go back and forth.
This tear is a mean one, gaping and wild and no one wants to go into the world on the other side. The people in Selkie’s Way—all fools and drunkards Mama says when she’s being generous to the folk who live on the south-side of the mountain—they say the rift came with my family. That my great-great-grandma come from that other world. That ain’t true. I couldn’t tell you where my great-great-grandma come from, but there’s only death on the other side of that rift. Sure as I’m a witch, I know that.
I forget about the rift mostly, the way a cursed man goes on eating breakfast every morning even though there’s black magic stitched into his fate. The rift just kind of lives there, out over the ocean in Lost Sound, hovering in the sky between the mountains hemming us in and the wider ocean. If I think about it too much, or look at it too long, I might go a bit mad.
But the damned thing has been there my whole life, and I can glare into it, same as my Mama. I won’t be cowed by no rip in space and time. It looks more jagged than usual today. Caught in a storm that’s starting in that other place and is blowing into our place. The gash, flapping in the gale wind invading our clear sunset, is just tall and lean enough for a cargo freighter to pass through. Though you’d have to be an idiot to get near it.
It’s nighttime on the other side. Looking at it now, I can see the stars twinkling on the purple-black of a strange sky. At night, that other place glows a gray red and bathes the ocean in what Mama calls an ‘
unhallow’ed light.’ It’s all right to look at it when it’s nighttime because you can see the fine mesh Mama stitched over it. Probably her Mama and her Mama before her. We Masavanas have been mending that tear for generations. Weaving the fabric of two worlds together to keep the gash from gaping any wider.
Mama puts her hand on my head. As if I’m a cat. Her long fingers tangle in my tight curls. We look out at the storm darkening the pink and purples of the sunset. I lean against her hip, drinking her calm steadfastness.
Then she says to Shane and Shawn. “Get the skiff ready, boys. Vettie’s gonna sew up the rift today.”
I gawk up at her. Like hell I am.
But Mama’s face is calm and serene, strong and comforting in the face of the storm that’s blowing across the ocean. Blue smoke curls out of her pipe and I realize something for the first time in my seven years of life.
Mama’s dog-damned insane.
Shane and Shawn come back with the skiff. Shawn is in the water, holding onto the bow while he swims, pulling the boat with his magic. Shane sits in the stern steering with the little wooden rudder, though I bet Shawn is really doing the steering.
I still stand on the shore with Mama. I want to wring my hands, to fret and squirm. But I’m the next witch of Lost Sound. I won’t be afraid. Not in front of Mama.
But Mother Destiny, she is dog-damned insane.
There’s a basket of hints I’ve ignored until I think about them now. Mama once made Zake, the eldest of us all, sink a ship and drown the crew because the captain called her ugly while she was stealing his cargo with the boys.
And Mama sells potions without telling people the whole truth. Like the love potions that run out after six years or poisons that only work when mixed with homemade meals. Or the way she tells futures that aren’t real if she has a clever punch-line.
Up ‘til now, I always excused it. Mama was smart. Mama was fair.
But right now, I know she’s just sail-off-the-point-of-the-moon insane.
Me. Sew up the wrongness in the world. Me?
The Eds fall out of the sky, all tumbled around from the gusting wind that brought them here. Gar flutters down like a feather when Jack-Daw’s magic releases him, but Ward drops hard into the sand and loses his balance. When he tries to catch himself, he punches the sand hard enough to make a little crater.
“Jack-Daw, can you warn us next time?” Ward gets up shaking his hand. He hit hard enough that new stone flakes off his fingers. Gar finishes his downward flutter and lands next to him.
Jack-Daw is already perched in his nest, crouched like a grey crow in his rags and glowering under his long white hair. “When the ground comes to meet you, that’s your warning.”
“Where’s Ben?” Mama directs the question to the Eds and Shane and Shawn, but really she means for Jack-Daw to answer. She won’t look at him.
Benjamin told me, she ain’t looked at Jack-Daw directly, since she dropped him out the window ten seconds after he was born. When I asked Mama what happened, she said she didn’t waste no time dropping. She threw. Then she told me, “I didn’t have no need for another son once I got you, Vettie, my little witch.”
Jack-Daw was okay, of course. We Masavanas tend to catch ourselves when we fall.
Now, he drops deeper into his nest and slumps back into his book. He don’t look at Mama, either. “Ben’s making his own way home. The Eds were in Selkie’s Way, but he’s just around fishin’ in the lagoon.”
Mama and I look out to the lagoon and see Benjamin on the water. He looks very little at this distance, but he’s fourteen years old and the biggest human I know. He’s skating over the ocean towards us, making a trail of ice over the water and coming home fast. I think he’s got a canvas sack on his shoulder, but I can’t really tell.
“Everyone, get in the boat,” Mama says. “Vettie’s gonna close up the rift.”
Ward scoffs, and Mama turns sharply to glare at him. If he had sass to give, he don’t dare.
Mama raises the earth in a little bridge to the boat and leads the way into the skiff. I follow her, feeling all shivery inside. I don’t even want to look at the rift. How am I suppose to sew it shut?
The Eds come into the skiff after us. They’re both twelve, and Ward especially makes the boat rock until he sits toward the back and takes the rudder away from Shane. I stand at the bow because it feels right to be at the very front of the boat where Mama sits. She holds my hips so I can lean on her leg.
Ben arrives with a chill in the air and fast-paced breathing. “What’s happening? I saw Jack-Daw headin’ into ‘Kie’s Way, and I come as fast as I could.”
“Steer, Benjamin,” Mama says. “Vettie’s gonna close the rift.”
I wish she’d stop saying that. It makes my stomach knot and tumble. I’d rather slap the First Wolf in the face than hear her say it once more.
Benjamin looks over the boat and its passengers. It’s a small skiff. One person can sail it herself, but it will fit us all. But Benjamin looks like he don’t want to take his chances with us.
Still, the ice under his feet is melting in the heat and salt.
“Get in the boat, Benjamin,” I tell him. “You gotta steer.”
Shane’s moved to the middle bench, crowded between the Eds who tower over him though they are only twelve.
Shawn laughs from the water. “Yeah, Ben. It’s a family outing to the edge of the world. Climb aboard.”
Benjamin stares Mama down, the only one of us who might put up a real fight, though even he doesn’t dare. Instead, he makes a big block of ice around his canvas bag and drops it into the water.
“See that fish to shore, Shawnie. That’ll be supper when we get back.” Benjamin steps into the boat and sits by the rudder.
Shawn waves his hand, and a stronger current than the regular tide carries the block of ice to the shore where it crunches across the sand and sits in a tidal pool.
“All right. That’s fine. Come on, boys.” Mama fixes her eyes on the horizon pleased by everyone’s obedience. Then she scowls a little. “You can follow along, Jack-Daw.”
Shawn pushes the boat out before Jack-Daw can stir. I hear his book close, but I don’t give him my attention.
I’m snared up in the rift, feeling it gnawing at my soul, hanging threatening in the sky out in the distance. And getting closer as Shawn pushes the skiff through the water.
I want to scrub my face and scream, to dive into the water and sink to the bottom, to bury myself under the mud. Anything to not be in this boat with my mother’s arm around my waist. With my brothers’ eyes fixed on me. With the heavy weight of that wound in the world bearing down on my head.
Sew up the world. How hard could it be? I can do anything I like, can’t I? I’m the next witch of Lost Sound.
I ain’t scared of the end of the world.