True of Blood Chapter 1

Chapter 1

I have a television so I know what a family is supposed to look like but mine is nothing like that. To begin with, both my parents are dead. Not the kind of dead where you bury them in the ground, say some nice words, cry a lot and then never see them again. Nope, when they died they refused to ‘go into the light’ or whatever it is you’re supposed to do when you die. Instead, they came back home. As ghosts. Have you ever been sent to your room by a parent who has no corporeal form? I have and it sucks.

My parents died three years ago in a car accident. We live deep in the mountains in Colorado and the roads here are treacherous on the best of days but in the dead of winter after a snow storm they’re almost impossible to manage. When he was alive, my father was the only doctor for a seventy mile area and one night in January, he got a call from a distraught man whose wife was in labor and the baby was trying to come out feet first. Apparently there was a lot of blood and other gross stuff that made my dad think it was a good idea to drive on snow covered and icy mountain roads. My mom went with him to help deliver the baby and to help calm down the expectant father who was becoming more hysterical by the minute.

They did manage to deliver the baby and Dad fixed up the mom so she stopped bleeding and wouldn’t get an infection until she could get to the hospital in Denver when the roads were better. While they had been doing all that, the snow had continued to fall and about half a mile from home, my dad misjudged where the edge of the road was and their car careened over a cliff to a road below killing them both. Well, their bodies anyway.

Let me tell you, it is more than a little disconcerting to have your parents leave the house with bodies and then come home without them. I think it must be a lot harder on my little brother, Zacchaeus, or Zac for short, though, dealing with the ghost parents thing than it is for me. At least I can remember when Mom and Dad were able to give us hugs and kisses but he’s only eight and he’s having a hard time remembering them as anything but what they are now. I try to make up for it by making sure that I hug him everyday but a hug from your sister will never compare to a hug from your mom or dad.

After the initial shock of the accident, I had to start making phone calls. Mom and Dad knew it wouldn’t be long until their car was found and we had to make sure that Zac and I could stay together. I was only fourteen at the time so Social Services would have stepped in and put us in foster homes at least temporarily, so the first phone call Dad had me make was to Aunt Barb. In their will, she was named our guardian in case anything ever happened to both of them. She had agreed when it was written but I’m pretty sure she never expected to have to actually become our guardians and move into the mountains with us.

Don’t get me wrong, Aunt Barb was fine with it and she’s been great but she’s this brilliant scientist who had been working on proving that it was not possible for there to be another plane of existence. Seeing her brother as a ghost put the kibosh on that research project. Not only was she proven wrong, she had to tell her boss that her research had all been debunked. Of course, he didn’t believe her at first. Not until she brought him home one night and introduced him to my parents. After she woke him up from his faint and swore him to secrecy, he agreed that she should shift the direction of her research. Now, she is working on proving that astral projection is possible. Unfortunately, even with the support of her boss this is an area of science that is not well respected. Her reputation has taken a beating but she’s okay with that. She sees the living proof, of course no pun intended, of her research every day. Over the last three years, she has brought home a couple of her most die hard critics but she can’t let everyone in the world know that my parents are ghosts. It would cause chaos and we would become the equivalent of side show circus freaks.

Fortunately, Aunt Barb is able to do a lot of her research at home because it’s an hour and a half drive to the research facility where she works in Denver. After what happened to my parents, there’s no way she would get into her car and drive down the mountain when the roads are covered with snow. At home, she does all the physical stuff that my parents can’t do like cooking and technically she’s our legal guardian but my parents are still the ones in charge of Zac and me giving Aunt Barb plenty of time to work in the office/lab area she set up in the heated garage.

Zac and I have always been home schooled so I haven’t really been around a lot of other kids. My mom tried to get me active in things like girl scouts for a while when I was little but it was too hard to consistently make the meetings so I’ve lived a fairly lonely life in regards to friends. Thank God for the internet. At least I’ve met some nice people my own age online. After my parents followed their IP address back to their computers to make sure that they weren’t creepy forty year olds trying to prey on kids, that is. Okay, sometimes it rocks to have parents who are ghosts.

It’s seven in the morning now on a Tuesday, and Mom has already given me a warning wake up call. I don’t understand why if we’re homeschooled that we have to get up so early but when I bring that up Mom and Dad always say something like it builds character or it teaches us discipline. I believe I have enough character and I certainly have enough discipline and I don’t need to add to it every morning.

“Xandra Illuminata Smith, get out of that bed this instance!” Mom yells from my bedroom door she just passed through. Uh oh, she’s using my full name so maybe that last wake up call wasn’t the first one. They tell me my name means ‘defending men from light,’ whatever that’s supposed to signify, but I think it was just a cruel joke on their part.

“I’m awake,” I mumble into my pillow.

“I don’t want you just awake; I want you out of that bed and dressed. Your aunt has breakfast on the table. It’s rude to let it get cold,” she says crossing her transparent arms across her equally transparent chest. I’m not a hundred percent convinced that Aunt Barb likes getting up this early either but she goes along with it better than I do.

I pry my eyes open again and Mom is tapping her foot as if it could still make noise instead of her toes disappearing through the light blue throw rug on my bedroom floor. “I’m up,” I grumble as I push the covers off and swing my legs off my bed. I stumble to the bathroom still only half awake only to find that Zac has beat me to it. Crossing my legs, I pound on the door. “Hurry up, I’m dying out here.”

“Not funny,” Mom says over her shoulder as she floats back to the kitchen.

Five minutes later, after pulling my long hair into a ponytail and washing my face, I walk bleary eyed into the kitchen and am greeted by the smell of fresh pancakes and bacon. Aunt Barb really outdid herself this morning. Usually it’s toaster waffles and microwavable sausage links or something equally as easy to make. She’s at the stove in jeans and a black wool turtle neck with a white apron hung over her neck. The apron is coated in flour and pancake mix. “What’s the occasion?” I ask sitting down in front of a plate. I douse my pancakes with syrup and dig in.

Aunt Barb stops in mid-flip of a pancake and raises her eyebrows. The way she’s looking at me is making me self-conscious. I feel around my mouth with my left hand thinking I must have gotten some syrup on my face. “You really don’t know what day it is?” she asks.

I shrug my shoulders as I put another forkful of pancakes in my mouth but then it dawns on me and I look up at her sheepishly. “Oh, yeah, it’s my birthday. I can’t believe I forgot. Thanks for the special breakfast, Aunt Barb.” I’m seventeen today and I really had forgotten.

Aunt Barb smiles and shakes her head. “You are the only person I have ever met who could forget her own birthday.”

I bite my tongue so I don’t say that all the days here kind of run together since I don’t get out much so it’s easy to forget what the date is. I go outside, of course, but I don’t really have any place to go besides taking a walk around the mountain and the seasons are pretty much winter, winter, winter and a two week summer. Okay, I’m exaggerating but the days do get really monotonous. “I’m just tired. My brain hasn’t woken up yet,” I say with a yawn.

“Did you study for your anatomy test?” she asks as she scoops a slightly burnt pancake off the griddle and onto a plate.

I sigh inwardly. Sometimes it’s rough being home schooled by a doctor. Other kids get to just go over the highlights in subjects like anatomy but Dad not only makes me learn the names and functions of all of the body’s systems down to the minutest detail but also the diseases associated with them and their treatment. “Yeah, and I think I’m developing cataracts from all reading I had to do.”

“You don’t get cataracts from reading,” Dad says as he floats into the room and gives me a pat on the shoulder leaving my skin slightly cooler than it was even through the sweatshirt I had thrown on over my long sleeved tee and pajama pants I had slept in. One nice thing about living in the mountains – there aren’t any fashion police. “It smells good in here, Barb.” He floats over to the bacon and inhales deeply. Dad really misses food.

“Thanks,” Aunt Barb says and then quickly flips a pancake that’s starting to smoke. Okay, science is her forte not cooking.

“Morning,” Zac says as he flops down into the chair across from me at the kitchen table. “Can I have four pancakes, Aunt Barb?”

Mom, who’s been hovering around the stove and trying hard not to remind Aunt Barb to flip the pancakes because nobody likes a critic, looks at him doubtfully. “I think your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

While Zac is focusing his attention on Mom, I reach over and take several pieces of bacon from his plate leaving him only one. “Hey! That’s not fair,” he complains loudly when he turns back around.

Mom looks at me sternly. “Xandra, live and let live – fairly take and fairly give.”

Mom’s always spouting off things like that. It’s like living with the Dali Lama sometimes. Reluctantly, I put two pieces of bacon back on Zac’s plate and he grins smugly at me. Ignoring him, I turn to my dad. “Dad, since its my birthday and I’ve had to spend so much time preparing for the Anatomy test, can I have an extra day or two for my physics paper?”

Raising an eye brow skeptically, he considers me for a moment. Finally, he says, “Alright, you can have two more days but I want an extra page then.” Hmm, that didn’t work out exactly as I’d planned.

Mom whispers something to Aunt Barb who fishes in the pocket of her apron and pulls out a small wrapped box. Turning her ghostly body to me again, Mom has a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. “I’ve been saving this for you. My mother gave it to me when I was your age and her mother gave it to her.” That surprised me. Mom doesn’t usually talk about her parents and will become tight lipped if asked about them. I assume they had some sort of falling out and I don’t even know if they’re still alive or not.

Aunt Barb sets the gift on the table and I pull at the paper and open the box. Inside is one of the most unusual and beautiful bracelets I have ever seen. It’s a cord tied in knots and in between the knots are pieces of stones in a variety of colors. “It’s pretty, Mom, thank you. What’s this stone,” I ask pointing to a green stone with flecks of red in it.

“That’s called a bloodstone,” she replies. “The green matches the color of your eyes perfectly. Do you really like it?”

I nod. “It’s great.”

“Good, I’m glad. I have one more thing for you that has also been in my family for generations.” She nods to Aunt Barb who fishes another small box out of her apron and sets it on the table next to my plate of cooling pancakes.

When I open this box, I find a necklace on a similar cord with knots but this one has only one stone in the center. The stone is amber colored and shaped into a circle with a hole in the center that contains a rust colored metal. The stone is embedded in a cradle of silver.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Thanks again, Mom,” I say as I pull the cord over my bone straight, long black hair and settle it on my neck. Mom looks pleased as I continue to examine the various stones of my new bracelet and necklace. She has never been one for jewelry and I know I’ve never seen them around before so these presents surprise me. Dad always says Mom is too pretty to need jewelry. I suspect they just don’t want to spend the money on it but he’s right, Mom is very pretty with long curly blonde hair and an oval face with eyes so blue that even as a ghost they’re the color of the ocean and shine brightly. Dad also has blue eyes and sandy brown hair like Zac and he has a stocky build. There must have been some serious recessive genes in their DNA to give me black hair and green eyes. Even the shape of my face is different with high cheekbones and a slender face. Mom says I’m beautiful, too, but I always wanted to look more like her.

Mom is beaming at me and Dad is smiling at her. Even as ghosts, the love they have for each other is almost tangible. Mom says it was their love for each other and for us that anchored them both here to continue to take care of us. I often wonder if I’ll ever meet someone with whom I’ll experience that kind of love. But since there are no boys in a fifty mile radius of where we live, it certainly isn’t going to happen any time soon.

After breakfast, Zac and I do the dishes. I wash and he dries and puts away. We have an unspoken mutual agreement to drag this out as long as possible to postpone starting on our schoolwork. That’s one good thing about Aunt Barb not being the greatest cook, the pans she uses usually need a lot of scrubbing to get the burnt food off from them.

“Xandra, I can see myself in the Teflon,” Mom laughs as she hovers over my shoulder. “I think it’s clean enough.” She knows what we’re up to but she doesn’t usually give us a hard time about it. She thinks a little rebellion in kids is a healthy thing.

Not being able to avoid it any longer, Zac and I trudge into the small room at the back of the house that is set up like a classroom. There’s a whiteboard on the far wall, a large desk off to the side of the room, and two smaller desks facing the white board for Zac and me. The wall behind the larger desk that Mom and Dad used to use when they could actually sit on furniture is lined with educational books. Everything from math and science to English grammar and literature to obscure ancient texts of religion and mythology. I love looking at those. I have a fascination with anything that has to do with magic. When I was younger, I used to wish that I was Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series although I don’t ever admit that out loud.

While I’m taking my Anatomy test, Zac gets a lesson in dividing large numbers. He’s having a hard time sitting still this morning because we’ve been snowed in for a week and he hasn’t had much of a chance to play outside. When the snow is this deep, it can be dangerous to wander too far from the house and Mom and Dad worry a lot. I remember how it felt when I was his age to have all that pent up energy and no way to release it, so I feel for him. But he is making it hard to concentrate on my test as he keeps interrupting Mom’s lesson with questions and comments.

When he accidently knocks his pencil holder off his desk, Mom looks at him sternly although I can see a sympathetic gleam in her eye. “Zacchaeus, soft of eye and light of touch – speak you little and listen much.” I’m pretty sure she got that one from a fortune cookie. Zac makes an effort to concentrate on his lesson and I finish my anatomy test in peace before starting on a physics assignment Dad had given me.

Finally, it’s lunch time and we can take a short break. I usually make lunch for me and Zac so Aunt Barb can work uninterrupted until dinner time. Zac and I head to the kitchen and I make him his favorite sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly, light on the peanut butter and heavy on the jelly. I make myself a turkey sandwich with cheese. It’s a little dry with no condiments but I’ve never had a taste for mustard or mayonnaise.

“I think the snow is letting up,” Dad says as he floats into the kitchen. “Since it’s your birthday maybe we can play hooky and take a walk later and look for tracks.” Zac grins. He loves taking nature walks with Dad and learning how to spot animals. At this point, I think he could track a mountain lion through a blizzard.

“Did you grade my test?” I ask nervously around a bite of turkey sandwich.

“I did and you passed with flying colors like you always do,” he says with a proud smile. “I think you deserve the afternoon off even if it wasn’t your birthday. What do you think, want to go?”

Hmm, tough choice. Slaving away over physics and Dante’s version of hell for the next three hours or trudging through knee deep snow. It really is a toss up. I don’t consider nature and me to be friends. But, Dad looks so excited at the prospect that I can’t refuse even though the thought that as a ghost he can no longer feel the cold runs through the back of my mind. On the other hand, he also can no longer do any of the things he used to love to do outside like hunt or fish or even chop firewood for the fireplace. For his sake, I try to muster some excitement. “Sure, sounds great.”

Dad chuckles at my lukewarm response but chooses to ignore my hesitation. “Great, after you finish up lunch throw on your winter gear and meet me outside. I’ll see if your mother wants to come, too.” He floats off in the direction of the living room where Mom is reading a novel on the computer that Aunt Barb programmed to automatically turn the page every sixty seconds. She decides to stay inside and finish up her book.

The nature walk is everything I expected it to be. Cold, wet and miserable. After an hour, I start to get whiny and by two hours, I’m down right surly. Dad finally gets the hint and we start heading back towards home. After climbing up a particularly steep slope and losing my footing twice, I vow not to leave the house again until July. I’m so excited to finally be at the top that I almost walk through Dad who is staring at the ground with a puzzled expression on his face.

“What’s the matter, Dad?” I ask.

“There’s people tracks,” Zac says excitedly pointing to a spot about ten feet away where there is a line of tracks in the snow that do indeed look like human footprints.

“People tracks? Who besides us would be crazy enough to trudge through this snow and get this close to being a human icicle?” Okay, I already admitted that I was surly.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Dad says completely ignoring my icicle comment. Peering closer at him, he looks worried. The way he’s standing there so still as only a ghost can do and staring with his brow scrunched together is making me nervous.

“Is everything okay, Dad?”

Shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts, he looks back at Zac and me. “Yes, of course. Just wondering why someone would be so far off the trail.” The closest hiking trail is over five miles from our house. Someone would have to be seriously lost to find their way here.

He must have been thinking the same thing. “Why don’t you take Zac back to the house. I want to see where these tracks lead and see if someone needs help.” He’s totally oblivious to the distress that coming across a ghost when you are already lost in snow filled woods and thinking you’re going to freeze to death would cause. But his heart is in the right place. Maybe a spirit guide through the woods would be welcomed by a lost hiker.

Zac and I make it back home and I’m finally able to peel off my soaked jeans and gray long underwear, which are unfortunately a necessity at this elevation, and step into a hot shower. By the time I’m done and come out of my room, Dad’s home and he and Mom are in the living room speaking in hushed tones.

“It couldn’t be,” Mom is saying. “There’s no way anyone could have found us here.”

“Then how do you explain the tracks suddenly disappearing? Who else could do that?”

What is he talking about? “Dad, what’s going on?” I ask coming into the room startling them both. If they could turn any paler, I believe they would have.

Dad tries to put a convincing smile on his face. “Nothing’s wrong. I wasn’t able to find the hikers and I’m worried that they’re in danger.”

“What did Mom mean about someone finding us?” I don’t miss the guilty look that washes over her face before she puts her own unconvincing smile on. “I was just hoping that they would find our house so we could help them but we’re so deep in the mountains that it would be almost impossible. I hate to think of someone being all alone and lost. I think I’ll go talk to Barb about getting dinner started.” With that, she floats through the living room wall in the direction of the garage and Aunt Barb’s lab.

“I think I’ll take another quick look around,” Dad says as he floats through the large picture window.

Okay, Mom and Dad have never lied to me before that I know of but their explanation just isn’t adding up with the conversation they were having but they’re obviously not going to say anything else on the subject. All through dinner, they both have a hard time looking me in the eye when talking to me and I am getting more uncomfortable by the minute. What is going on that they don’t want me to know about?

After dinner and dishes, I go to my room and log onto my Facebook account. I get lost for the next couple of hours in my own little cyber world of friends. By the time I come out to get a snack before bed it’s already Zac’s bedtime. I stop by his open bedroom door and listen to Mom tuck him in. From the time I can remember, Mom has always sang the same lullabies to us. I used to look forward to them every night when I was younger and still needed to be tucked in. I still love to hear her lilting voice as she sings the songs she says have been sung to all the children in her family for generations, so I stand in the door to listen as she sings softly:

“Deosil go by the waxen moon - sing and dance the Witch’s Rune;

Widdershons go when the Moon doth wane, the wolf will howl by the dread wolf’s bane;

When the lady's moon is coming new, kiss your hand to her times two;

When the moon is riding at her peak, then your heart's desire you should seek.

Heed the north wind's mighty gale - lock the door and drop the sail;

When the wind is from the south, love will kiss thee on the mouth;

When the west wind blows o'er thee, the departed spirits will restless be;

Heed ye flower, bush, and tree - by the Lady blessed be.”

I have no idea what the song means and when I’ve asked in the past, Mom just smiles at me mischievously and tells me that the important thing to remember from the lullaby is that to bind the spell every time, let the spell be spoken in rhymes. Then she says that it was a southern wind that brought Dad to her. As far as an answer goes, it’s not a very good one but I can never get her to tell me anything else.

“Will you sing both to me tonight?” Zac asks as he yawns widely.

Mom smiles. “You look awfully tired, are you sure you want me to sing again?”

“Uh huh,” he says as his eyelids already start drooping.

“Alright, we’ll do both tonight.” Mom begins to sing softly again.

“BeWitching Goddess of the cross roads

Whose secrets are kept in the night,

You are half remembered, half forgotten

And are found in the shadows of the night.

From the misty hidden caverns

In ancient magic days,

Comes the truth once forbidden

Of thy heavenly veiled ways.

Cloaked in velvet darkness

A dancer in the flames

You who are called Diana, Hecate,

And many other names.

I call upon your wisdom

And beseech thee from this time,

To enter my expectant soul

That our essence shall combine.

I beckon thee O Ancient One

From far and distant shore,

Come, come be with me now

This I ask and nothing more.

Zac is sound asleep by the time she finishes. I think she only kept singing because of me listening at the door. Even if I can’t explain what the songs mean I’ll probably still sing them to my kids some day, too, just because they’re so beautiful and comforting. I’ll hold off on the cryptic replies, though, when they ask me what they mean and just admit that they don’t mean anything I think as I head back to my room with the apple I just got from the kitchen.

A little while later, Mom comes into my room. She’s in pajamas now and I can’t help but think how cool it is that she and Dad can appear how they want to appear. They don’t sleep any more but they still appear in pajamas every night. She sits down next to me on my bed where I’m reading. She and Dad have gotten much better at hovering and appearing to sit on things. They used to look like they were sitting inside of them or a foot above them.

“Good book?” she asks.

I shrug. “It’s okay.”

“I can’t believe you’re seventeen already,” she says as she presses a cold translucent hand to my cheek. “There’s so much that I still have to teach you.”

“From the amount of homework you and Dad give me, it seems like my brain is already going to burst,” I grumble and she smiles.

“I wasn’t talking about schoolwork. I mean about life. About mistakes. About destiny.”

My brows furrow as I consider what she’s saying. “Mom, is this the birds and the bees talk because I figured all that stuff out a long time ago and since there aren’t any boys around here for me to make any mistakes with, you really don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Not your mistakes, mine” she says quietly and I swear by the way she is looking at me that if ghosts could have tears in their eyes, she would have them now. She gestures to my necklace and bracelet. “Promise me you will wear these always.”

“Mom, you’re making me nervous.”

With a cheap imitation of a smile, she rises from my bed. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to. I’m just a mother who is having a hard time with the fact that my daughter is all grown up now and I realized that I haven’t truly prepared you for the world. I always thought I had plenty of time but now you’ve reached a magical age and you’re unbound and falling into adulthood without any practical guidance.”

Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel better. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing we need to discuss tonight. We’ll talk more tomorrow.” With that, she touches my face one more time and then floats out of my room leaving me perplexed and a little bit frightened. It’s now impossible for me to concentrate on my book as I ponder yet another cryptic conversation with my mother.

Later as the light of the full moon streams in over my dark blue comforter from the large window that faces out into the woods, I think of the verse in the lullaby that Mom sang to Zac which says when the moon is riding at her peak, then your heart’s desire seek. What is my heart’s desire? There are so many things that I want. I would love to have my parents be corporeal again. I would love to live some where that has summer all year long instead of being almost constantly surrounded by snow or rain. I would love for Zac to have other little boys to play with instead of being stuck in this house most of the time with very little to do. And I would like to have friends of my own to do things with like go to the mall or the movies instead of being stuck in this house too with very little to do. That last thought tugs at my conscience as I think of the loving household that my parents have provided for us. They love Zac and me so much that they have forsaken an afterlife which promises to be glorious and instead anchor themselves here to be sure that we are safe and well taken care of. If we moved off this mountain and around more people, there’s a good chance that they would be discovered and our family would suffer. Zac and I might even be put in foster homes. It seems ungrateful of me to want more than they have already given us but maybe Mom’s right, maybe I haven’t experienced enough of the world at large and I’m missing out on some important life lessons. That’s the thought that lingers in my mind as I fall asleep on the night of my seventeenth birthday.

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