TITLE: The Curse
GENRE: YA fantasy
"Witches, Witchcraft, history of-"
Cynthia felt a tingling of anticipation that brought her spine into alignment and cleared the hovering daze from her eyes. Twenty-seven volumes through Merna's Encyclopedia of Forgotten Lore made her ripe for sleep, but hope kept her away from bed and home. She angled the book toward the light--a flickering candle tree that kept the gloom of the library at bay, but did little for eyestrain.
The first couple of lines, something about alchemy, earned only a passing glance. The next several paragraphs looked too much like a history lesson to be of use. She skipped them. Wars and blood and... ugh, a lot of sacrificial details. Skipped.
Where was the magic? The curses? A fleeting image of a dark-robed woman waving a magic wand passed through her mind, complete with gnarled hands and warts. The room seemed to grow colder. With a shake of her head, she resumed reading, glimpsing a pair of names that drained her enthusiasm. Bartholomew the Wise and the Hexus demon. Only nursery children believed in Hexus, the ultimate ghost story.
The entry ended with some magical sickness and a treaty and a reference to "See also Plagues and Mass Death." Useless.
Cynthia rubbed her eyes and tried to summon the same hope over the next entry: "Witchcraft, modern uses and ailments-" though her eyelids felt like lead. Skimming along, she turned the page and jumped up, screaming, as a huge cockroach skittered across the page toward her hand. Book and bug went flying across the room as Cynthia beat wildly at an all-over crawling sensation on her skin.
"Go eat someone else's books!"
Unharmed, the bug disappeared through a crack in the wall and Cynthia stared at the crumpled volume, waiting. When no other creepy crawlers appeared, she poked at it with the tip of her toe, then picked it up and gave the book a good shake. Flakes of glue and dirt fell from the binding, and half the pages dropped, disintegrating further with every attempt Cynthia made to put them back in order. What little she found labeled "Witchcraft" was riddled with holes and chewed into lace.
"Figures." She dropped the remains of the book to the floor and returned to her chair, clenching her fists to stop their shaking. "Cursed forever because of hungry bugs." Tears pricked at her eyes, the back of her throat grew tight, but she refused to cry. Not now. Don't you dare think it, she told herself, which was almost as good as indulgence. The more she tried to fight her feelings, the more powerful her doubts and fears became.
Is there a cure? Will I ever be free? Will he return? Should I give up?
No. As always, she found strength in her determination. But that broken book, that heap of pages crumbling to dust, seemed to shake her. Who knew what information was now and forever lost in that pile--information that might have set her free. As if spoken by someone else, Cynthia heard her darkest fears whispered in her head. You will never succeed. He gave up, and so should you. Nobody ever loved you, or ever will. Give up. Give up. Give up. Give up. Give up.
"No!" The force behind her voice made her jump, which made her glad no one else was around to see. "Scaring myself." She shook her head. "And now, talking to myself, what next?" Next, she would go mad and forget who she was. That, or accept failure and go home, which she could never do.
Her eyes hurt and her head ached--even more than usual. The piles of books waiting wherever she looked made optimism a slippery thing. "I will find it," she said softly. Logic dictated that anything made could be unmade, including curses, and she intended to prove it, if not through talent, then through diligence in research. Somewhere, there had to be an answer. Perhaps in the very next book.
Her fingers brushed another book when a loud, croaking call made her freeze. "Not now," she groaned, muscles going stiff as she looked, first to the stairs, then to the destroyed encyclopedia. The call repeated, echoing louder down the stairwell and Cynthia knew it was too late to try and hide what she'd done. She covered her ears and ducked behind her chair, thinking invisible thoughts. Once, she had read that the power of thought during stressful situations was magnified by up to fifty percent.