Authors: Lexi Witcher
Copyright© 2014 Lexi Witcher
All rights reserved.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living, or dead is purely coincidental.
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My name is Dodie Jenks. Well…my birth certificate reads Dorothy Anne Jenks, but everyone has called me Dodie for as long as I can remember. My older brother, Brody, couldn’t say it right because he was only two and it came out Dodie and instead of correcting him, people thought it was cute, so the name stuck.
I’m nothing special, just a plain, ordinary, teenage girl with above average height. I even have a patch of freckles across my cheeks and nose. Mousy brown hair that I tend to keep braided. I like to braid. And you’ll rarely find me wearing a dress. I prefer broken in jeans, a t-shirt, a hoodie if it’s chilly, and my favorite kicks. My best friends Callie and Lisa are the pretty ones.
Today is my sixteenth birthday party, but I’m not particularly excited. I mean, why should I be? It’s hard to get excited about the day you’re going to die.
Yeah. You heard me right.
I’m going to die.
I learned my fate a month ago, when my parents finally took me to see my grandmother. I’d thought she’d passed away when I was little, but they’d been keeping me from seeing her because she’d told my mom about the family curse. Apparently my parents thought they could avoid it happening if they ignored it, but as I got closer to the appointed hour my mom started worrying that I really would die, and they wanted to stop it if they could, so we made the trip to Franklin.
Grandma Jenks is my dad’s mom. She’d been blessed with four sons so the curse skipped a generation. My uncles all had sons as well. And when I was born, Grandma knew I would be the one, though she had kept quiet about the curse until I was four years old. That’s when she told my parents about her sister Portia and how she’d died at sixteen and how their father’s sister had died at the same age and so forth and so forth.
It really is a mind-boggling concept to think any family could be cursed, killing out daughters every other generation or so. I was curious where the curse originated from and wished I’d been given more time to investigate, but a month was a snap in time. Not enough time to do anything.
I don’t know how it will happen, just that sometime before my birthday ends I will take my last breath. So before I do, let me tell you about Franklin and how I found out about my fate. And how I fell in love.
It’s a small, out-of-the-way town where my grandmother moved after my grandfather George passed on six years ago. Dad said she’d talked about growing up there, but he’d never been before. So going there was an adventure for us all. Brody had even tagged along, which surprised my parents.
The two-hour drive wasn’t bad. Brody and I sat in the back of the family SUV listening to our individual iPods. We have different tastes in music. He’s into heavy metal from the 80s while I like classical. I know. Weird huh? But there is something about Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart that stirs my soul. I guess I should have been a ballerina, I’m lanky enough. And my general music teacher in middle school once told me I had the bone structure for it.
My dad slowed down the vehicle and took an exit off the interstate that said Franklin six miles to the right. Although November had come in cooler than usual I noticed a shift in the temperature immediately. The sun which had been playing peekaboo behind the clouds for the last few miles disappeared totally. And even though it was still early morning, there was a shroud of darkness that seemed to follow us as we traveled closer and closer to our destination.
I turned off the music and removed the buds from my ears watching as the elongated shadows reached out from the bare trees toward the vehicle. Chills ran up and down my spine and my breathing became labored when we passed a graveyard beside the Canaan Episcopal Church. I leaned my cheek against the cool car window and closed my eyes, but I could still visualize the buildings and storefronts as we passed by them. Stores that had long gone out of business where we lived still flourished in Franklin, or at least that is what I heard my mother exclaim. She particularly got excited over a novelty store that featured a classic soda fountain.
“Do you think we should stop for lunch?” Mom asked. “I don’t want to impose on your mother.”
“We won’t be, Glynis. She’s glad we’re coming and said she’d have a meal awaiting our arrival.”
Mom frowned, folded her arms over her chest and settled back into her seat, not making another sound the rest of the drive.
Grandma’s house was about a mile outside of town off the main road. Two brick columns were situated on either side of the driveway and a plaque that said Doughton Place was on one and a plaque that said 1822 East Main was on the other. A few oak and pine trees lined the paved driveway to an old three-story, antebellum-looking home that had been well kept.
A large black cat jumped down from a stoop on the porch, and the front door to the house opened before we even stepped from the SUV. My grandmother didn’t look a day older than she did in the one picture I’d found of me and her together at my fourth birthday party. In fact, to see my father and her together you’d think she was a sibling rather than his mother. Her dress belied her age as well. It reminded me of what the popular girls at school wore. Leather knee high boots, black leggings, a belted mosaic tunic top, and a silk scarf wrapped around her neck. Gold, double hoop earrings adorned her ears and a cluster of gold bangle bracelets were stacked up both of her arms. Her auburn hair had both golden and dark chocolate highlights and was piled on top of her head with ringlets of curls that hung around her ears. Her features were flawless. Not a wrinkle in sight. And I wondered how she stayed so young looking.
“Robert, Glynis,” she called holding her arms out to them both. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Mother.” My father didn’t make a move to hug her, though my mom did.
Grandma looked at Brody and winked. “You’re the spitting image of your grandfather George at that age. What are you, eighteen now?”
Then she looked in my direction and smiled, coming to me and cupping my face in her hands. “Dodie. My sweet angel.” A single tear slid down her flawless features and she brushed it away in one smooth motion.
“Come inside. I’ve made a wonderful luncheon for us. I hope you like Prime Rib.”
“Heck yeah.” Brody, the meat eater, did an air pump with his arm as he hurried up the walk behind her.
I lingered, watching my parents closely as they fell in step beside one another yet they didn’t hold hands, which was their normal custom. Something was wrong. They’d hardly said more than five words to one another since we left home.
“Dodie, come along,” my mom called, looking over her shoulder.
I sighed and shoved my hands into the pockets of my hoodie before trudging along behind them.
The inside of the house was spectacular. Polished hard wood flooring gleamed and I could imagine sliding across it in my sock feet, chasing Brody through the house. But this wasn’t a house for horseplay. The pristine white walls called for respect, while the huge four tier chandelier in the foyer that hung over a marble top circular table with a large vase of fresh cut blood red roses proclaimed riches. Did my grandmother have money? I knew so little about her.
A grandfather clock sat off to the side and chimed the hour. To the left was the dining room, the table laden with food awaiting our arrival, and to the right was the living room. A staircase led up to the second floor and I imagined ladies in ball gowns descending for parties that had once been given here.
“You live here alone?” I asked, speaking for the first time.
“Yes. But this is the house I grew up in so I have my memories to keep me company.” Grandma Jenks smiled and motioned toward a hallway leading to the back of the house. “If anyone needs to freshen up before we sit down there’s a powder room at the end of the hall.”
“Thank you,” my mom said before walking in the direction Grandma had pointed.
“Would anyone like a drink?” Grandma asked. “Robert, I made mint juleps. Do you still like them?”
He nodded. “Thanks. I’d love one.”
“What about Glynis?”
“I’m sure she will as well.”
“When can we eat?” Brody asked.
Grandma patted his cheek as she walked toward the dining room. “Soon. Come help me with the drinks. Dodie, you can hang up your jacket if you like. There’s a closet behind you.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine.” I shivered despite the house being comfortably warm. My dad came up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders, urging me to go into the dining room.
I looked up at him and he smiled at me, but I saw dread in his eyes and that made me shiver again. Something was going on, but I didn’t understand it. Why had the family suddenly taken this trip to Franklin?
He pulled out a chair for me to sit, and scooted me in.
“Robert, please take the head of the table. Glynis, darling, sit on his right.” Grandma came back into the dining room carrying a silver tray with three tall glasses of liquid, while Brody carried two iced teas.
He set one in front of me, and placed the other at the place setting beside me, before he sat down.
“Everything looks wonderful, Cherie.” Mom took her place beside dad. “You really shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble for us.”
“It was no trouble at all. Besides, it has been so long since we’ve gotten together. I wanted to make today special.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
Dad cleared his throat. “That’s not really important.”
“Obviously it was or today wouldn’t be so special,” I replied.
Brody snickered and I glared at him.
“Dodie, watch your tone.” My mom unfolded her napkin and placed it in her lap. “We’re here to have a pleasant time so don’t spoil it.”
Don’t spoil it? Really? Did she just say that?
“I don’t think I’m the one going to spoil today.”
“No you aren’t,” Grandma said. “I am.”
The room became so quiet after what Grandma said that one could literally have heard a pin drop on the large Oriental rug underneath the dining room table. I swallowed hard as a chill so cold it almost took my breath away ran up my spine.
“What’s going on?” My voice trembled and I looked from my mother to my father, silently pleading for them to tell me why we were there.
My mother looked away. “Couldn’t this wait until after we’ve eaten? It’s a shame to let good food go to waste.”
“I suppose,” Grandma conceded. “Brody, go ahead, dear, help yourself.”
My brother, being the jock that he is, lives to eat and he did not have to be told twice to dig in. He stabbed two slices of the prime rib off the platter and handed it to me.
The meal progressed without any unpleasantness and after dessert Brody and I helped Grandma clear the table. I was shocked to see the state-of-the-art appliances in her kitchen. I scrapped the plates and loaded the dishwasher while she put away leftovers.
She poured a pot of coffee into a silver carafe and carried it with several china cups on a silver tray into the living room where my parents waited. Brody had disappeared, but I later learned Grandma had sent him on an errand into town.
I settled into an armchair since my parents sat on the loveseat together and Grandma took the other armchair. A low fire burned in the fireplace, yet I still felt a chill in the room.
“Did you decorate the house yourself?” Mom asked, taking the cup of coffee she was offered.
“Yes. I’ve always
had a passion for it. Don’t you remember, Robert?”
Dad nodded but looked uneasy as he reached for the offered cup. “Vaguely. Let’s cut the chit chat and get to the point.”
Grandma pursed her lips together and shook her head. “Out of all of my boys you were always the killjoy. All business and seldom any pleasure. No wonder you’re a banker.”
“My profession has little to do with why we’re here, mother.”
“All right.” She sat in the chair and crossed her legs. “Dodie, dear, I’m sure you are wondering why this is the first time you’ve been here or why we haven’t seen one another in twelve years.”
“The reason is simple. Your parents asked me to leave and not come back because when you turned four I informed them of a family curse that will affect you as their oldest daughter.”
“A curse?” I gave a nervous laugh. “Come on. Everyone knows that curses aren’t real.”
“I’m afraid you are wrong, child. Curses are real and the Doherty family has been plagued by this one for many centuries. My sister Portia died from it and so did my father’s sister Dorthia.”
“And you think
going to die?”
“I know you will.”
I laughed, but the chill I had felt was colder and the elongated shadows from the bare trees reached for me, pulling me toward the cemetery in the center of town. I wrapped my arms around my middle and hugged myself close.
“This is insane. If this were April I’d think you all were trying to play the cruelest
April Fool’s joke on me. When…when am I supposed to die?”
“On your sixteenth birthday.” Dad’s voice was devoid of emotion and neither he nor mom would look at me. They’d been doing that a lot today.
“Sixteenth?” I jumped up out of the chair. “B-b-but that’s only a month away. No. No.” I clutched my fists tight pressing my fingernails deep into my palms until they almost brought blood. Tears filled my eyes and I blinked them away, too angry to shed them.
This was absurd. Surely I had fallen asleep in the car on the way here and I was having a nightmare that only seemed real. This couldn’t be happening to me.
Grandma stood and came toward me, but I flinched away. I didn’t want her to touch me because if she did then I would have to admit this was real, that I was awake.
She reached for me, but I shook my head. I didn’t want anyone to console me. No one could. Why—why had they waited until now to tell me? Why even tell me at all?
I bolted from the room and out the front door, startling the black cat off its stoop. It squalled and hissed at me. But I didn’t apologize. Why should I?
I took the three steps down from the porch and ran toward the woods off to the right of the house. I trudged through the fallen leaves; the sound of them crunching filled the air as I ran. I didn’t know where I was going, but it didn’t matter. All I wanted was to be alone and try to deal with what I’d been told.
I ran until I came to a clearing and a wooden fence that spanned as far as I could see in both directions. Up a hill sat a house, much in the same style as my grandmother’s. I leaned my arms on the wooden slats and stared at nothing as thoughts cluttered my mind.
How was I supposed to die? I was healthy.
And what about my parents? They’d known about this since I was four, but had chosen to cut ties with my grandparents instead of deal with it? Obviously ignoring it wasn’t going to work. Had they realized that? Was that why we were here?
I took several deep breaths and hung my head low. If I really had only a month to live then I really didn’t have long to be angry. Or to at least find out why this was going to happen to me. Did Grandma know? She’d lost her sister. Did her family tell her why it happened?
Confusion enveloped me and I shoved my hands back into my hoodie pockets before I began to walk toward the house. Grandma met me as I emerged from the edge of the woods.
“I thought I should come find you,” she said. “I’m sorry, Dodie. I know this is hard for you to understand. And maybe I was wrong to warn your parents and not to tell you, but you were so young back then. And now, I didn’t want this to happen without you knowing first. My parents didn’t tell my poor sister. They let it happen like so many generations before her.”
“But why does it have to happen?”
“My father didn’t know much about the curse, only that sometime in the late seventeen hundreds when the Dohertys resided in New England, a girl who was believed to be a witch was scorned by young Walter Doherty when he married another. She vowed on their wedding day that the union would be cursed forever more and that if they bore a daughter, she would know her fate upon her sixteenth birthday. And every generation after that would know the same fate.”
“A witch? Was the girl really a witch?”
“No one knows for sure. There have been tales of witches and trials, burnings and hangings all throughout history.” Grandma placed an arm around my shoulder and we walked back to the house. “I’ve had a lot of time to research this. I had hoped that when I married and had all sons and they had sons that maybe the curse would be broken. Then you came along.”
“How did your sister die?”
“She spiked a very high fever.”
“Had she been sick?”
“No. She never got sick so when this happened on her birthday my father was beside himself. And that is when I first learned of the family curse.”
I shivered. “Couldn’t it have all been a coincidence?”
Grandma shook her head. “I’ve traced the family genealogy. I’ve consulted historians. I’ve even had my sister’s body exhumed for an autopsy.”
“What did that show?”
“She died of natural causes.”
I got strangled on my next breath and coughed, repeatedly. “Does that mean I’m doomed?”
“Not if I can help it.”