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I am Josephine Darly, and I intend to live forever.
It is impossible to know who you really are until you spend time alone in a cemetery.
The headstone was cold against my back, pressing my thin T-shirt into the sweat trickling down my skin. Dusk washed the cemetery of shadows, lending it a quality of between-ness: neither day nor night, but a gray, teary moment. I sat with my legs crossed and the book in my lap. Beneath me, scraggly grass hid my parents’ graves.
I brushed dirt off the front cover of the book. It was the size of a paperback novel, so small and insignificant-seeming between my hands. The mahogany leather cover was soft and scuffed from years of use; the color had worn off the corners. The pages used to be gilded, but that was rubbed off, too. Cracking it open, I read the inscription again, whispering it to myself, making it more real.
Notes on Transformation and Transcendence Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.—Shakespeare
It had been one of Dad’s favorite quotes. From Hamlet. Dad used to recite it whenever Reese or I stormed out of the room to pout. Said we had nothing to complain about compared to the prince of Denmark. I remembered his blue eyes narrowing at me over the rims of his glasses.
The book had arrived in the mail this afternoon, wrapped in brown paper with no return address. Drusilla Kennicot was written in plain block letters, like a summoning. There were six stamps in the corner. It smelled like blood.
That particular raw-penny aroma stuck in the back of my throat, clinging with memory. I closed my eyes and saw a splash of blood streaked across bookshelves.
When I opened my eyes again, I was still alone in the cemetery.
Inside the front cover of the book was a note, folded in thirds and written on thick, unlined paper.
Silla, it began. I shivered every time I saw my name written in the old cursive hand. The bottom of the s spiraled into oblivion.
I feel your loss as my own, child. I have known your father for most of his life, and he was a dearest friend. I regret I am unable to present myself for his memorial, though trust that his life is celebrated and his death greatly mourned.
If there can be any small consolation, I hope that this is it. Here in this book are the secrets he perfected. Decades of research, a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. He was a gloriously talented magician and healer, and he was proud of you, proud of your strength. I know he would like for you to have this record of his work now.
All my brightest hopes be with you and your brother.
It was signed only The Deacon. No last name or contact information.
Crows laughed, bursting up through headstones a distance away. The black cloud of them cut through the air in a flapping of wings and raucous cawing. I watched them against the gray sky as they flew west toward my house. Probably to terrorize the blue jays that lived in our front-yard maple.
Wind blew my short hair against my cheeks, and I brushed it back. I wondered who this Deacon was. He claimed friendship with my dad, but I’d never heard of him. And why he would suggest such incredible, ridiculous things: that my dad was a magician and healer, when he’d only been a high school Latin teacher. But despite that, I knew without a doubt that I was holding a book my dad had written: I recognized his fine, delicate handwriting, with its tiny loops in every capital L and its perfectly angled Rs. He’d abhorred typing, and used to lecture Reese and me about learning to write longhand legibly. Reese had compromised by printing block letters, but I’d been too enamored of wild, looping cursive to worry about readability.
No matter where it had come from, this book was Dad’s.
As I flipped through it, I saw that every page contained lines and lines of perfect writing and meticulous diagrams sprawling like spider webs. The diagrams contained circles within circles, Greek letters or strange pictographs and runes. There were triangles and octagons, pentacles, squares, and seven-pointed stars. Dad had made tiny notes at the edges of the pages, written descriptive paragraphs in Latin, and made lists of ingredients.
Salt dominated the lists, and recognizable items like ginger, wax, fingernails, mirrors, chicken claws, cat teeth, and colored ribbons. But there were words I didn’t know, like carmot and agrimony and spikenard.
And blood. Every list included a drop of blood.
They were magic spells. For locating lost items, for blessing new babies and deterring curses. For protecting against evil. For seeing over long distances. Predicting the future. For healing all manner of illness and wound.
I flipped through, heart alight with wonder and fear. I could taste excitement, too, like electricity in the back of my throat. Could it be real? Dad hadn’t been one to play elaborate tricks, and was the opposite of fanciful, despite his love for old books and heroic tales.
There had to be a spell I could try. To test it. To see.
As I thought about it, the smell crawled up the back of my throat again, blood clinging to my sinuses and trailing like sticky smoke down my esophagus.
I raised the book to my nose and drew in a long, cleansing breath. And I imagined I could smell him in the book. My dad. Not the overwhelming blood that had saturated his shirt and the carpet beneath his body, but the slightly oiled cigarettes-and-soap when he came to breakfast every morning, after a shower and quick smoke on the back patio. I dropped the book into my lap and closed my eyes until Dad was right there, sitting in front of me, one hand touching my right knee.