Broommates: The Seventh Son

Part 6 of the serial Broommates. Start from the beginning or read the previous episode or click the “Broommates” link at the top of the page to see the full list.

* * * *

Carrie stared out the window of the car, watching trees yield to open farmland dotted with black and brown herds of cattle. Her sister Joanie was glued to a video game, as usual, and her parents were arguing, again as usual.

“It’s the next exit,” her mother said.

“The one after is closer,” her father insisted.

“But then we have to backtrack–”

“That takes less time than going straight there from this exit.”

Her mother crossed her arms. “Fine, great, there goes the exit anyway.”

“How about you drive on the way home?”

“I hate going to Grandpa’s,” Carrie mumbled. “He always does stupid magic tricks.”

“Don’t be rude,” her mother said, turning to look at her. “Your Grandpa loves to see you.” She launched into a lecture and Carrie tuned her out.

Soon enough they made their way down a dirt lane, a cloud of dust trailing behind them. Poplars and crepe-myrtles yielded to great oaks that arched their long, thick arms over the road, turning it into a green and brown tunnel. Old-man’s-beard hung in gray-green tangles that brushed the roof of the car, which had to slow down to avoid tree roots poking up from the ground.

“Nature’s speed bumps,” her father muttered. “Your dad should get them removed.”

“It’s his land,” her mother said. “He does what he wants.”

The house was as Carrie remembered: a two-story wooden mansion, whitewashed and spotless, lifted off the ground by brick pillars. A set of double stairs led up to the wraparound porch, whose white columns supported the grey shingled roof that separated the first floor from the second. Green shutters flanked every window, except for the one in the attic; those shutters were always closed.

Grandpa sat in a rocking chair on the porch, one of his large, wrinkled hands resting on his pot belly. His gray hair was smoothed back, neat as the white suit he wore even in the midday heat. As the two girls piled out of the car, a broad smile lit up his face and he stood to greet them.

“How are my little sweet potatoes?” he said, grabbing them both in a big bear hug. “Oh, you are getting so big! How old are you now?”

“Seven!” Joanie said, holding up her fingers.

“Ten,” Carrie mumbled.

“My goodness, but you are some fine young ladies!” He looked up at their mother, who blushed. “Do you want to see a magic trick?”

Carrie rolled her eyes and Jeanie nodded. With exaggerated care, Grandpa showed them that his sleeves were empty, then reached out and pulled a quarter from behind Jeanie’s ear. She giggled. He hid the coin in his fist, waved his other hand over it, and opened the fist to show a now-empty hand.

“It’s in your other hand,” Carrie muttered.

“Oh, someone’s getting sharp,” Grandpa said. With a smile, he showed her that both hands were empty. Carrie shrugged. “Check your pocket,” he said.

She did, but instead of a quarter, she found two dimes and a nickel.

Grandpa laughed at her frown. “Come on, then, into the house for some lemonade. You can go explore while your parents and I chat.”

Grandpa always put too much sugar in the lemonade, but Carrie drank it politely and then wandered outside with her sister. Joanie chased after the squirrels and butterflies, shrieking in excitement, while Carrie found a sturdy stick that became a makeshift sword. She swung at the flickers of light and shadow formed by the shifting leaves overhead until she found herself in an open area covered in grass, except for one place: a circle of rocks, or maybe mushrooms, large enough to fit a person inside. Moving closer, she stretched out her stick to poke one of the grayish-brown lumps that made up the circle.

“Time was that could get you killed,” a voice behind her said. She spun around, wielding the stick like a weapon, but it was only Grandpa leaning against a tree.

“That’s a fairy circle,” he said, ambling toward her. “Sacred to the Hidden Folk. Step into one of those and poof!” He showed her his empty hands as he had earlier.

“Fairies aren’t real,” she said.

He laughed. “Sure they are, pumpkin. They’re just a lot harder to find these days.”

“No, Grandpa,” she insisted. “It’s like fairy tales. Like Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty. It’s all made up.”

“Like magic?”

“Yeah, like magic.”

“Then I guess you wouldn’t be too scared to get in that circle.”

Carrie eyed him warily. “Sure,” she said. “You first.”

“That’s my girl.” He stepped over to the stones–mushrooms?–and raised his leg, letting it hover in the air melodramatically. Carrie held her breath.

Grandpa put one foot inside, then the other. Nothing happened, not even a change in the wind or the cry of a bird.

“See,” she said. “No fairies.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he told her, crouching down and tapping the ground. “They’re all in here. Fairies and elves and duergar. All the Hidden Folk. Right on the other side of this door. Only it’s locked now. Can’t get in.”

Carrie backed away as Grandpa began to draw symbols in the dirt with his finger, muttering under his breath. She was almost to the trees when he looked up at her, his eyes black as the inside of her closet at night. He crooked a finger and she froze, unable to move or even blink.

“Nobody believes in magic anymore,” he said bitterly. “Not since the doors were closed. After the war.”

He made a curt gesture and Carrie’s legs jerked of their own volition, moving her forward like a stiff-limbed puppet. Like in a nightmare, she was unable to scream, her voice stuck in her throat no matter how hard she tried to push it out.

“Still one door open, though,” Grandpa said. Carrie reached his side and he pulled out a long curved knife, so sharp that she didn’t even feel it cut her arm. “Just need more time to get to it. More time. Some of yours…” Her eyes met his and she fell into their fathomless depths, flailing phantom limbs even as her body stood frozen, casting a lengthening shadow in the slanted light of the afternoon.

“Now,” he whispered. “Forget.”

* * * * *

The drive home was silent with the two girls sleeping in the back seat. Their mother drove while their father checked emails on his phone.

“Dad was looking good when he got back from his walk.”

“Fresh air and exercise, nothing like it.”

“He still drives me crazy, though. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for not being a boy.”

“Please. You have six older brothers. He has six older brothers. How many more boys does a man need in his life?”

“One more, I guess.”

“You see how he fawns over the girls. Relax.”

“Easy for you to say, you didn’t grow up with him.”

“We go over this every time we visit. You don’t have to keep seeing him if you don’t want to.”

“I…” She tightened her grip on the steering wheel, then relaxed it, a faraway look in her eyes. “You’re right. He really is attached to the girls. I wouldn’t want to take that away from him.”

* * * *

Part 7: Homeward Bound

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21 Responses to “Broommates: The Seventh Son”

  1. Seeing that I have not read this entire serial (pressed for time as is!) I can give feedback on this piece. It was cute, but left me feeling just a wee bit confused. The dialogue was spot on, and the descriptions nice and vivid. I guess I’d have to read from the beginning to understand the impact of this segment’s intent.

  2. Valerie says:

    I’d be glad to know what confused you in case there’s something I can fix. Let me know if you do happen to read the rest and this is still not working. Thanks so much for the comments!

  3. I hope to have some time over the weekend to read the whole series too as I was a bit confused myself, specifically the part where he cut her arm. Did that mark disappear so that her parents wouldn’t have noticed?
    Of course it could just be because I’m so tired. The descriptions and dialogue are fantastic. I especially liked “..his eyes black as the inside of her closet at night.” Vivid.
    I look forward to catching up.

  4. Valerie says:

    Deanna, thanks for reading and commenting. I’d intended to ignore the question of the mark so as not to be even MORE expository at the end but can settle it if that would be preferable; it’s a simple enough reason. The most important thing that should come across is that the parents are being magically manipulated, especially the mother. If that’s not clear then I need to make it so. Thanks again!

  5. You know what I love most about his story? The natural flow of the words. Really felt “right.”

  6. ganymeder says:

    I thought this was brilliant. I assumed the blood was part of a ritual to reach the fairies or access magic or something. Obviously the parents are oblivious for whatever reason. I don’t know if that needs to be spelled out more. I liked the piece. Well written.

  7. Marisa Birns says:

    Yes, I took away from this that the mother was influenced by her father’s magic, so that’s why she makes them all visit.

    And Pumpkin’s blood is needed for that last door to be opened.

    Great description and dialogue!

  8. John Wiswell says:

    — “Seven!” Joanie said, holding up her fingers.

    “Ten,” Carrie mumbled. —

    I don’t know why that stuck out for me. Something about how joy is drained out of us, or how we strangle it, as we get older. One so happy to announce her age, the other miserable to even be there. Maybe we could use more mental seven-year-olds.

  9. Gracie says:

    Sheesh, the haunted South. Being from down that way originally, this really rang those scary bells for me.

    And nice-on-the-surface and creepy-underneath Grandpa was perfect. He made my hair stand on end.

    I thought it was well-done, and I got the manipulated aspect of it. Good job, Valerie! 🙂

  10. Valerie says:

    Thanks for reading, you guys. I guess I’ll hope that confusion resulted from lack of prior knowledge unless someone tells me otherwise.

    John: I totally agree. I’ve seen enough sullen kids to know that the change seems to start toward the end of elementary school. Suddenly no one wants to hug anymore and they start to do the Molly Ringwald eye roll. So sad.

    Gracie: I’m glad the location was clear and felt authentic. Didn’t want to be too specific but it’s the kind of place you’d find somewhere in the Confederacy. I wasn’t sure how obvious Grandpa’s eventual evil might be but I hope the writing carried it anyway. 🙂

  11. What a guy. Verrry creepy tale!

  12. This segment stands well on its own, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it ties into the rest of it. Was it Grandpa who sent the dragon? Enjoyed it, as always!


  13. Cool story! I love how you weave the magic into the story–sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly. It works well.

  14. Sam says:

    Ooh, I LIKE this! Hidden Folk, locked doors and a war – whatever is their Grandfather up to? I really like the magical mind control he used. Can’t wait to tune in for the next installment.

    Aha…even as I type this, the penny has just dropped – Grandfather is the Seventh Son, right? That’s why/how he can do the real magic?

  15. Caught up! Yay! Nice change of pace in this segment. Very much looking forward to more. (Sorry so greedy… 😉 )

  16. Valerie says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Grandpa is indeed a naughty sort. And yes, Sam, he’s the seventh son… but not the seventh son of the seventh son! Such a shame. I can wax poetic about the world but let’s say that his magic isn’t unique, just taboo. You’ll see. 😉

    Glad you’re caught up and enjoying this, Katherine. More to come next week! As a tease, the next installment is called Homeward Bound, and it will answer a couple of questions about the war, and the last open door…

  17. This is an awesome installment, really enjoyed all the imagery and the creepy grand-dad. I figured there had to be some reason the girls didn’t care to go, even though they weren’t quite sure why. Can’t wait to read more about the war, the door, the magic and the fairies!

  18. Laura Weed says:

    WOW, Valerie. Having read only this installment I assure you I’ll be following from now on. You caught me immediately and I was completely drawn in. Don’t add ONE MORE WORD to make things “more obvious”. You’re doing a terrific job setting your scene. Can’t wait to see where Carrie’s blood takes Grandpa next.

  19. Laura Eno says:

    I love faeries and magic so I loved this! Brilliant dialogue.

  20. Xanto says:

    At first I was a little disappointed that you didn’t continue with Miranda and the others, but this was a great segment! I’m glad that we didn’t have to wait too long to find out who the bad guy was. Grandpa was really creepy! Great job!

  21. Certainly Grandpa has some tricks up his sleeve. Some confusion might stem from dancing around the subject without coming out and saying it, which is good in that we want to continue to find out more to fill in or confirm our suspicions.

    I like how Carrie finds the lemonade too sweet; she’s growing up and also not in the best of moods. Both girls announcing their ages in different ways also sets the tone leading to what we expected; a little magic hidden within the world.

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