Something is wrong with my mother.
When I heard the glass shatter, my eyes burst open. I rolled and stumbled to my feet, blinking away the burning in my eyes.
“Mom,” I mumbled. The thoughts threw themselves together, and I remembered my encounter with Maxton. “Mom!”
I found her staring at the ceiling. Wide, glowing eyes. Hands still partially out where a still empty cup had been resting. The mark near her shoulder has spread across her chest, arms, up her neck, and down her stomach and legs. Glowing lines, like those on a sheet of music, only these twirl and quiver as if they are alive, as if they are veins filled with fluorescent blood, stretching even to the tips of her fingertips.
I glanced around nervously when I first saw her, but yes, our curtains are closed and cover every inch of the windows. I still wish they were thicker.
So it wasn’t Maxton, the supposed hunter. It was something else.
I sit down and watch her. Talking does nothing, and if I accidentally break her connection to whoever is on the other side, she’ll pass out. I watch the spinning lines emerging from her mark. They fan out and even have little notes like budded flowers forming in some places. Music that only my mother can hear. Music is her gift, after all. My father’s had been art. She told me that his mark created swirling patterns of what looked like clouds, waves, and wind.
Part of me hopes that I never get a gift, but I’m still curious for what it could be.
I close my eyes, but I can still see the limbs of the mark, even with their glow already partially covered by her tank top and pajama pants. Her root mark is the same as mine and all the other Gatekeepers’ marks. Something that looks like a sun, circled once with a full circle and extra lines partially forming a circle on the four corners of the mark, supposedly representing an opened gate.
Opening a gate is a forbidden practice.
I close my eyes and remember my first teacher. Ms. Sonata and her somber gray eyes. Why? Why is it forbidden? I don’t remember what an original mark looks like before the transformation.
It can only be done by certain people. Forbidden people.
Her gray eyes had shined. What did she think about it? Forbidding people from existing because they served a different God than the Ruler of the World Empire.
I didn’t know what it would mean to become a Gatekeeper. It just… happened. But there’s no reversing the transformation.
Did they know that? We can’t change back even if all we want is to be normal? To stop hiding?
I’m probably the only Gatekeeper who thinks this way. Most embrace their power.
But what good is power if they kill us for using it?
I remember when Alexa Solomon showed me traces of her gifted mark.
I can use some of it when I wear this navy sweater. It doesn’t show through. See?
She didn’t know what her gift was exactly. Her mark’s limbs were jagged lines like lightning. It wasn’t as bright as my mothers.
I can help people without them even knowing it.
Thinking of her smile makes my insides crawl uncomfortably. That’s the only point of Gatekeeper’s power. To help others see past the Gates put up by the Ruler of this world to the King of the other, so they can pass through and become citizens of this other Kingdom.
At the time of my transformation, I agreed that this Ruler was not a just one, that I would rather serve another, that I would rather be free and pass through the Gate. But now, I don’t even see the point of becoming a citizen of a different world, and it’s not like things in this world are so bad… besides us Gatekeepers being hunted and executed.
I want to ask my mom about it all, but I’m afraid of what she’ll think of me. I hate talking about it. It makes me so uncomfortable when she tries to talk to me about it.
I think the point is that when there are enough of us Gatekeepers, the Gate to the Spirit world will completely open, and the King will come through and take over this one. But I can’t really remember.
My mother inhales sharply. I don’t get up and grab her in time. She falls to her knees in a coughing fit. Trembling.
“Mom?” I rub her shoulders. She covers her eyes. The message must’ve been bad.
“It was Tracey Solomon,” she heaves. “Apparently… apparently a family here in the capital has been discovered and captured… and they had a daughter at the Academy.” She turns sideways to me as my heart begins to throb. The mark’s limbs have begun to fade. “She was making sure we’re okay.”
I help my mom get into the armchair. I offer to make coffee. It’s four in the morning, but I don’t think I’ll sleep any more, even with the presentation being due tomorrow.
“Thalia honey, do you have any idea who it would’ve been?”
I try to imagine anyone who didn’t fit it, who was a little too kind, too bright-eyed, like my mom, but no one stands out. Then again, I probably don’t stand out either.
“No… but we’ll find out tomorrow.”
“Doubtfully. They won’t want it getting out that they had someone like us at their Academy.”
Only the second week of classes, and they’ve already caught someone. How many of us are there? Surely there can’t be that many.
I want to tell her that we should just leave. That I’ll fake getting sick and miss a bunch of classes. I’ll do bad on my presentation… pretend to forget my lines or something. Anything to get kicked out.
But what if they study you when you get kicked out to figure out the reason for why you failed? What should I do?
Sweat forms on my palms and forehead.
She laughs. “You have nothing to worry about.” She closes her eyes, smiling. Always so cheery, even with our lives potentially on the line.
I don’t say anything because I know she’ll say something like how the King will take us through a particular Gate into his world, so we have nothing to fear in death. It seems so dumb, but the powers Gatekeepers have are nothing to laugh at. And my mom is one of the strongest. She has one of the closest relationships with the King. Basically his daughter.
My mark is barely visible.
All the limbs from my mom’s root mark have faded. I wish she would wear a thicker shirt to bed, or at least one with sleeves, in case our house was ever searched or broken into.
“I wonder how they were caught.”
“They weren’t as smart as you.” My mom grins. She cracks her eyes open to look at me then closes them again. “But don’t worry about that now. I know you have a big day tomorrow.”
I kiss her cheek, and she kisses mine.
“Goodnight, love you.”
“Love you too.”
But I don’t sleep. I stare at the ceiling and think of all the ways I can subtly end my friendship with Maxton Locksey.
(Photo: Christopher Burns)