Morgan and Marie stuck out their writing arms. Fa walked down the line of her daughters and carefully squeezed their outstretched arms through jade bracelets that she had removed from a bronze box in the attic. Morgan’s bracelet was a precious white jade, while Marie’s was green with a swirl of red.

The twins could only remember one other time they had worn the bracelets. It was three or four years ago, when their powers had first started to show, that Fa had brought them to the attic and opened the box. The bracelets glowed in the darkness. There were four in total–one for each of the sisters–and Fa brought out the middle two. She levitated them in the air while speaking softly and severely.

“You are starting to become powerful,” she had said. “It will be easy to let things get out of control, it may be tempting to show off, even.” The bracelets spun in the air slowly as Fa talked. Morgan and Marie were rapt, listening fully for once in their lives rather than communicating silently to each other between the lines.

“It will be important for you to develop your powers so that you can control them, practice so that they don’t come out when you don’t want them to,” Fa had continued. “But it will be even more important for you to understand that no one outside of this house can ever see them. I trust you–” Here Fa looked deep into each of her daughters’ eyes. “But if you ever break my trust, these bracelets will serve as your punishment. They will trap your powers as long as you wear them. Only I can put them on and remove them.”

She had then asked the girls to try on the bracelets to prove their efficacy. Marie had felt a hot flush rise up from her chest to her face and down to her toes, a warmth to evaporate the water inside her, and Morgan a shuddering chill down her spine, extinguishing her fire. As soon as it arose, the flush and chill went down and the girls felt normal again. Fa ordered Morgan to try to light a candle, and Marie to pour a glass of water on top of it. The girls struggled but neither of them could, and when they tried, the same hot flush and chilling shudder they had felt when they first put on the bracelets swept through them. Since that first time, they had never seen them again.

Until now. Marie supposed she had expected it. Morgan pouted her lips, but she knew there was nothing she could do. Mina stood next to them, eyes big and scared. She had never seen the bracelets before, and frankly did not know what they were. Since she hadn’t begun to show any magical qualities, her mother had not yet given her the warning talk. Her only guess as to the nature of the bracelets were the grim look on Morgan and Marie’s faces.

The girls were going outside of the house–with their mother, but Fa could take no chances. It was a memorial service for Graham Hunter. The Switch family was obligated to make an appearance.

The night before, the mayor had made another visit to the Switch house to inform the girls of the memorial service. He had emphasized that he believed it would be good for the overall image of the family to attend the service, adding that he and his wife would appreciate it as a token of the family’s sentiments. The visit was hurried, with Mayor Hunter barely taking a glance around the apartment before he gave his invitation and disappeared out the door.

The girls were left confused and feeling conflicted. The mayor’s behavior had been more than a little odd in the week since Graham’s death and Mara’s arrest. After the comments in the newspaper and the initial visit to the Switch House, he had immediately convened a press conference in which he had allowed his wife to berate Mara once again. Ms. Hunter, normally a silent smiling figure at her husband’s arm, had spoken more opinionated sentences in the past week than she seemed to have spoken in all the rest of her life combined. Though her tone had quieted since the night of the wedding, she still hinted strongly at feelings that opposed her husband’s diplomatic visit, calling the murder a “tragedy that could have been avoided,” and urging the townspeople to “take caution against known suspects and their affiliates.”

What struck the girls–and especially Marie, who later conferred her observations to her sisters–as strange about the press conference was that the mayor appeared much more grief stricken than he had at their house. During the visit he had appeared weary and saddened, but at the press conference he teared up many times, choking on his words and once even breaking down to the extent that he hung his head silently over the podium for a minute while he regained his composure. He mentioned that if only he had known “certain things, he “might have considered things differently,” and closed the speech with an earnest plea for the support of townspeople for the Hunter family during these difficult times. It was also noted that the suspect in question was to have no visitors.

The town showed their support. Within hours, people started to arrive at the garden where Graham had been murdered, bringing trinkets, flowers, and small notes to memorialize him. During the night, when the girls should have been sleeping but stayed awake whispering quietly under their covers, anonymous citizens rode by the Switch House, the sootiest, smallest, and most rickety house on Tamany Lane, and threw eggs or rotten vegetables at its wooden sideboards. It was the sort of thing that Fa could easily fix or prevent, but for some reason she refused to, and the outside of the Switch House became even more moldy and decrepit.

Graham’s body had still not been found, but he had been gone long enough, and the outpouring of public grief and sympathy was so strong that it made sense to have a memorial service for him. Besides, the blood on Mara’s dress had been analyzed by a genetic lab and confirmed to be his. The lack of hard evidence did little to disuade the citizens–it only made them believe more strongly that his disappearance was the result of some abnormal foul play.

And so it was that the Switch sisters were piling into their tiny car again, this time without Mara, all four of them dressed in white. They wore white because Fa made them–in China, white instead of black was the color of mourning. This was precisely the kind of thing that Mara had found so hypocritical of her mother, that despite her desire not to stand out or call attention to themselves as witches, she was so stubborn on small  cultural issues such as what color to wear on a certain occasion. It had taken a fight for Fa to agree that Mara could have a white Western wedding gown, rather than the traditional red qipao. Ironically, however, Fa’s wish had been grotesquely met at the end of the night when Mara’s dress was stained red with blood.

The Switch sisters pulled up to the front doors of the church, where once again what seemed like the whole town had convened, where just one week ago Mara and Graham had exchanged their vows. Except this time, neither the bride nor groom were present.

Advertisements