Persistence of Frost and Memory (2 of 3)
An original story by booksofchange
Genre: modern fairytale
Summary: Yesterday, Jean found Michael up in a tree. The day before, she caught him floating after the helium balloon he let go to the open sky. Today, she found him covered in frost.
A short tale of a woman who finds out her extra-legally adopted son might be the personification of winter.
Heath called for a pow-wow soon after, because of course he knew what was up without any visuals.
“Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way,” he began, solemn and serious, as soon as Michael settled on Jean’s lap. “Supernatural powers are at play.”
Erik said, “Yes. We call it chokmah. It’s often translated in English as ‘wisdom’. We call ourselves wizards, as in ‘wizen one’ or ‘wise one’, for that reason.”
“You must have so many people thinking you have magic powers.”
“I rue the day Harry Potter became a thing, yeah.”
“Do we—I mean, will Michael need to go to wizard school?” Jean asked.
Erik shook his head. “No. Most wizards start in their thirties. Twenties is considered precocious. Think of it as pursuing a second post-doc degree.”
Jean, who’d salvaged her moribund Kinesiology degree by the skin of her teeth, quelled the urge to slap Erik’s stupid pretty face. “We can’t let this keep going,” she pointed out.
“Well, no,” Erik granted. He bit down on his lower lip for a second. “How should I put this…For every person who gains chokmah the slow and right way, there are ten who try to cheat.”
Heath got it immediately. “Cheater wizard-wannabes used Michael as their guinea pig?”
“Top marks,” said Erik with a crooked smile. “My guess is that his captors tried to summon a dead wizard and make his or her spirit possess Michael. It’s a popular cheat; if it works as intended, you gain the late wizard’s chokmah.”
“Did they succeed?” Jean asked.
“No idea, since don’t know who they were hoping to get,” Erik replied.
“You can’t tell from the ice?” asked Jean, waving a hand at the frost still lingering on her hotel bed. If she didn’t know any better, the ice was staying to spite them and their seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit room temperature.
Erik licked his lips, “About that…What is your view of demonic or angelic spirits?”
“We need to call an exorcist?” Heath exclaimed with obvious disgust.
“There is no known instance of a human being expelling a spirit without divine intervention,” said Erik flatly. “We are, by definition, weaker than spirits.”
“And you call yourself a wizard,” accused Heath.
Erik glowered at him. “Shock, you are an intelligent person fully aware of cognitive biases. So I need not remind you that domain expertise does not transfer well.”
Jean mentally applauded the way Erik told Heath, “shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I could be wrong, and I likely am, since I know less than nothing about you wizards, but Michael doesn’t look possessed,” Jean said. “So can we get a second opinion? No offense.”
“None taken,” said Erik kindly. “It’s a good idea, and I appreciate you suggesting it, Jean. If you can trust me, I can certainly find others who can take a look.”
Jean sagged with relief. “Great. Thanks.”
That morning was the last day of the TED Talk conference, which meant all the keynote speakers were swamped. Even so, Erik managed to find the time to send a handful of wizards Jean’s way.
The wizards that came to check Michael looked as wizardish as Erik. That was to say, Jean wouldn’t have known they were wizards if they didn’t say: “Mr. Erik Ransom sent me.” Three of them were women. All of them agreed ‘Michael might be possessed by [ice] demon[s]’ was a likely explanation. One went so far as to suggest Michael might’ve turned into a winter personification, of the likes of “Jack Frost”, “Father Winter” and “Snow Queen”. Not that humans can really turn into demigods, that was impossible, the particular wizard hastened to add.
The last wizard to introduce herself to Jean was tiny, elderly lady in a wheelchair named Chalice. She recognized Heath as so-and-so’s hooligan son, which made Jean decide she was going to like her forever. Her partner going after Heath with murderous intent didn’t change this.
“You offended a wizard?!” Jean shouted while keeping the old man in a chokehold; a difficult feat as he was at least a half a foot taller and remarkably strong.
“I didn’t know she was a wizard!” Heath protested. “Besides, I apologized! Profusely!”
“He did, and I accepted his apologies,” said Chalice. She gave her partner a ruinous look. “Max, promise me you won’t harm him.”
“Fine, I promise,” Max grouched. To Jean, he said with an arched eyebrow: “That was a vow. You can let go of me.”
Jean gave him a warning squeeze before loosened her grip around his neck. As Max straightened himself and corrected his lapels, a picture of ruffled dignity, Jean looked at him up and down. “Chalice must put up with you for your looks.”
“He is my perpetual folly, yes,” sighed Chalice, as she folded her hands on her lap. “To return to the important subject at hand, I think it is possible the kidnappers did know one cannot summon a dead wizard’s spirit. So they opted to summon a dead wizard’s memories, which is accessible, instead.” She smiled. “Erik has been quite vociferous about this fine point. I have reasons to believe it’s sticking. Ask him to test your child to see if this is the case.”
Jean’s heart squirmed at the ‘your child’. “Will do. Now question: If it’s just memories of dead people that haunting Michael, can you or Erik remove them?” She didn’t mention Michael’s night terrors.
Chalice’s smile gentled and the rest of her expression turned sad.
“I’m sorry, my dear. One cannot remove memories without causing harm. The best you can do is help him forget.”
That evening, after the conference ended, Erik demonstrated how a wizard can turn liquid water to snow using chokmah (and thermodynamics) inside Heath’s hotel suite bathroom. Then he encouraged Michael to try. Michael, after a few false starts, made the shower run with puffs of snow.
“Good job, Michael. Your control is improving,” said Erik, beaming. He then turned to Jean. “Looks like Lady Chalice is right. Serves me right for thinking people can’t learn.”
“Just memories, then?” said Jean.
“Just memories,” Erik sighed. “That doesn’t mean he’s fine. Just not as bad as being possessed.”
“Intermittent symptoms resembling schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder?” Heath guessed.
“For starters. For us wizards, the universe is the limit,” Erik sighed again. “Heaven alone knows what a child who has the knowledge of an eighty-year-old wizard will do.”
Then Erik made a wordless beckoning gesture at Jean. When she came over, he said in a low undertone:
“I need to take Michael to the wizard sanctuary Chalice runs. I grew up there as a child, so I can vouch for its quality. But I’m loathed to separate him from you.”
Jean didn’t stop to think. “Do they mind not-wizards?”
“All wizards and parents of wizards are welcome. It’s very kind of you to offer, Jean, but,” Erik flicked his gaze away for a second. “Once you enter, you might find it difficult to leave. Not because we stop you. It’s just … time runs differently in the sanctuary. A minute there could be a decade here, and an hour here could be a century there.”
Jean swallowed. “That’s fine. As long as it takes to help him settle.”
Erik’s eyes welled up. “What about your family? Friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, significant others?”
“My dad’s dead. My mom and sister will kill me and bury me in a shallow grave when they find out. But they won’t be surprised.” Jean shrugged. “Other than that… No S.O.s, no boyfriends, and all my friends are idiots who spend too much time on social media. Before you ask, yes, I’m willing to quit my job.”
“You realize he’s not your responsibility,” Heath said when Jean returned to his side.
“Eavesdropping, now?” Jean said lightly.
Heath scowled. “This is serious. Keep going this way, and you might get arrested for kidnapping a minor. That’s a federal crime. And it’s only been three days. Too short to make life-changing decisions.”
“You think?” Jean elbowed him. “Worried that my terrible life choices will tarnish your reputation? You know after tomorrow I’m no longer your bodyguard, right?”
Heath looked stricken and even hurt. Jean realized with a start Heath cared, and that he was going to miss her. Though why for either she couldn’t even begin to guess.
“Hey, I know you’re telling me this because you’re worried,” said Jean. “Don’t be. I’m a big girl. I know what I’m getting myself into.”
“Do you?” Heath challenged.
Jean drew in a deep breath.
“I know I’m putting my whole life in jeopardy to be the illegal mom of a child who will likely have severe mental problems for the rest of his life. If or when the world finds out, everyone will mock or demonize me. The FBI will be after my sorry ass. But if I leave Michael now, it will take a miracle for him to trust another human again. Now, this is me speculating, but I think chances are high Michael will lash out and turn the world into a perpetual winter with no Christmas if we don’t do this right. How does that sound?”
Heath didn’t reply; just looked down and clenched his fists on top of his knees.
Jean studied him for a moment. Then she reached out and covered the nearest trembling fist with her own. It was awkward; never before had Jean been more aware how rough and unladylike her hands were.
“You’re a good guy, Heath,” said Jean quietly and sincerely. “It was an honor protecting you. Now don’t put yourself in danger when I’m not around, okay?”
Jean didn’t sleep that night. A litany of “What the hell am I doing?” ran through her head over and over. Looking at Michael didn’t silence the thought. If anything, it got shriller.
Morning dawned as always. Jean went over Heath’s itinerary for the last time. She reported “all is well; client ready to meet escort” to her bosses after checking out from the hotel. She didn’t tell them she was going to quit. Later, she thought.
Silence reigned during the drive to the airport. Heath stared out the window. Michael sat in the back and made no noise. Jean focused on the road, afraid if she let her thoughts stray, she’d do something she’d regret.
They made to the airport on time. Jean parked the car by the strip for rental returns. Heath allowed her to help him out of the car and get his luggage. He took two steps towards the nearest departure gate but stopped short when he noticed Jean was staying put.
“You’re not going in with me?” Heath asked. There was a pleading note in his voice.
Jean jerked her chin at the approaching escort. “They’ll take care of you.”
Heath pursed his lips. The muscles under his cheeks twitched. In the end, he offered his hand and rumbled:
Jean shook it. “Thanks. Gonna need it.”
They let go. Jean watched Heath walk away, join his new escort, and then vanish into the crowd inside the airport.
Erik materialized next to her.
“Ready to go?”
Jean let out a sigh, squeezed Michael’s hand, and commended herself to not tear up.
“Ready when you are.”