Yesi - June 2020
Twenty-one days. Only twenty-one more days.
I rose slowly from my sheets into an upright position, rubbing my eyes in an effort to clear my vision. A yawn built up in my lungs, and I did my best to stifle it, but I only ended up prolonging the inevitable. With a groan, I pulled my comforter aside and shuffled out of bed, hoping to get to the bathroom before my mom could barge in and harass me about getting dressed for the day.
My name is Yesenia Xirau. I was in the middle of my summer break from classes, and come August I would be a senior at the University of Colorado. I majored in chemical and biological engineering, so I was enjoying the time away from my strict curriculum. Before quarantine, I lived in the dormitories designated for engineering majors, but I returned to my family’s home in Colorado Springs after they sent out the eviction notices.
Oh, and I’m also a witch. The future matriarch of our coven, to be exact.
While it didn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things--the Xirau Coven was small and less influential compared to more dominant witch families, like the Zaldivars and the Porters--it meant the world to me. Accepting my birthright meant I would be acknowledged as a powerful witch; I would manage the day-to-day of our people, handle our business ventures, and be the coven’s spokesperson at social gatherings for Enchanters and other magickal beings.
In our world, members of the occult (with a few exceptions) can split into three separate classifications: Haunters, consisting of vampires, spirits, and other members of the undead; Hunters, made up primarily of werebeasts, but also housing merfolk and just shapeshifters in general; and Enchanters, the class dominated by witches but also including fair folk, elves, and gorgons. Technically, humans made up a class of their own called Berserkers, but we tended to exclude them from occult affairs, what with their history of hunting down and exterminating our kind. The trappers, as we call them, are rare in this day and age, so we don’t worry as much anymore.
And by the end of the month, the responsibility of our people would fall upon my shoulders.
These days, covens tend to make their witch heads wait until they reach twenty-five before allowing them to take over, but ours was one of the few that allowed the transition of power at twenty-one years old.
Twenty-one more days, I mused internally. Until I become matria--
THUNK! The toes of my left foot slammed into a hard, plastic container situated at the center of my spacious room. I doubled over from the pain and bit back the slew of profanities I was close to saying aloud, leaning against my dresser for support as I lifted my foot and rubbed my little digits. All five were sore but accounted for, with only pain and aggravation as a reminder of the incident. Who put this here?!
That was when I noticed the card folded in half and placed on the container’s lid; it had fallen onto its face after I bumped into it. I plucked it from its resting place and felt around my desk for my glasses. Once I had them on, I found that the card was entirely handwritten. It was addressed to me, the white front adorned with my first name in wide cursive font.
What the hell..? I frowned and opened the card, reading through the short paragraph hidden within. I barely made it halfway through the second sentence before I barreled out of my bedroom and shouted, “MOM!”
Remember earlier when I said we were a small coven? Well, my mom was a politician in the occult world, which barely paid enough to keep us afloat--but in the mortal realm, our family managed and ran a home care service for senior citizens. My mother was the administrator of Golden Valley Senior Living & Hospice, a position I was expected to take as well one day. Sure, it paid more than being the Enchanter Delegate for all of Colorado, but it still wasn’t enough to handle all the expenses of a typical witch head household, so… Our home is a little on the small side when compared to other covens.
My bedroom was one of two on the second level; the second, smaller room was technically a guest room, but we rarely had guests, so I converted it to a makeshift study as a way of claiming the entire floor as my own. The third story was where my grandmother stayed, and the ground floor housed my mother’s suite. My floor was only half the size of the house, though--we had a small loft by the stairs that allowed me to look down at the living room, AKA the heart of our home.
Between my morning injury and the shock of what I had just read, all of my exhaustion gave way to fury. I stomped out of my bedroom, down the hallway, and leaned over the curved railing as I called out, “Mom?”
I had a perfect view of my mom’s study and the hall that led to her suite from my vantage point, so my eyes were fixed on her bedroom door when I heard one of the study doors open with a soft clack. A little woman stepped out quickly and quietly, shutting the door behind her in the same manner before she gazed up at me. Her grey hair was pulled up into a neat bun with only a few stray curls left loose. Her button-up maxi polo dress had long sleeves and was worn open like a duster coat, revealing a white mock neck top tucked into the cinched waist of her relaxed-fit ankle pants. Her bottoms matched her outerwear to a tee, and her feet were clad in navy flats. Double-drop crystal earrings dangled from her lobes, adding to her youthful ensemble.
Abuela Malena made a shushing gesture and strolled across the living room until she was almost underneath me. “Vistate, mijita. Tenemos compañia.” Get dressed, my little child. We have company.
I frowned at my grandmother. For her to be so dressed up this early, it must be someone important. “¿Quién es?” Who is it?
“Los alquimistas.” The alchemists.
A tiny gasp passed through my lips as I spun around and ran back to my room, desperate to hide before our guests could see me. The only coven in Colorado with an affinity for alchemy was the Porter Coven, which could only mean one thing:
Leon Porter, the patriarch of the Porter Coven and my high school bully, was in my home and waiting for me.
It took only thirty minutes, but after a speedy shower, freshening up, detangling my hair, making up my face, and pulling something simple and cute yet presentable from my closet, I stood before my full-length mirror and contemplated if I had done enough.
My black hair fell halfway down my back, framing my face in dark twists that gave off a different colored tint depending on the light. I had taken two strips of my hair and braided them before pulling them behind my head and combining them with a little clip. My face was round, my slender brows arched slightly, and a soft button nose rested between two large eyes hidden by wire-framed cat-eye spectacles. My irises were an earthy shade so dark they appeared black, only a couple degrees away from matching my pupils. My lips were rounded, curving up in a naturally-appearing smile that made me seem confident and more approachable. In reality, I was a shy young woman who simply exercised politeness when meeting new people. I was just as insecure as the next person…
Especially as my eyes traveled further south, taking in the rest of my reflection.
I have always been a full-figured girl. That’s not to say that I was unhealthy or anything--I had put myself through intense workouts, met with dieticians, and had an unfortunate stint in a rehabilitation center for an eating disorder before I came to terms with the fact that I would never look like the models in fashion magazines. And on TV. And in music videos…
At only twenty years old, I stood at five-foot-four and weighed a hundred and fifty pounds. I wore a DD-cup, and I seemed to yoyo between a 1X and a 2X depending on the clothing brand. Sure, I guess I technically have that hourglass figure girls would kill for and guys go wild over… So long as you don’t check out my side profile. Then it becomes painstakingly clear that I have a bit of a belly, what my grandma affectionately refers to as my sopapilla--cute, sweet, and her favorite pillow.
I had just finished touching up my makeup when the door to my bedroom opened, and I saw in the mirror’s reflection the very woman I was looking for. I gasped and twirled around, facing her. “Mom! What’s going on?”
“Shhh!” she urged me, shutting the door behind her. Her knee-length, juniper green skirt swayed around her, and the white torso portion and three-quarter sleeves were without wrinkles. A slender belt hugged her waist, the opal brooch at its center matching her faux cuff links. Her black curls were streaked with the occasional strand of silver and pulled over her right shoulder in a low, loose ponytail. A triple-tier opal earring hung from her left ear, and I wondered only for a split second if she had a stud earring adorning the opposite ear. “Keep it down! What’s taking you so long?”
I take after my mother a lot; dark hair, dark eyes, round face and curvy figure. She was obviously a lot thinner than I, maxing out at a medium dress size, and I had a few inches on her vertically as well. That last part was to be expected; Guadalupe Xirau was nearly two inches taller than her mother, who was over an inch taller than her mother, and so on. She attributed my “huge” height advantage to my father, who was a human visiting from one of the northern states.
You may be wondering why my father isn’t in the picture. I’m sure you’re imagining lots of juicy, dramatic scenarios: perhaps he died a tragic death, or passed away from a strange disease, or went missing one day and will hopefully turn up… But none of those scenarios apply to me, because I am a witch from a coven that veers on the traditional side.
Witches uses divination to seek out human partners that will further their magickal bloodline; mating with other witches is possible, but in a small coven, you eventually run into a little problem called incest. Sure, we could try to start families with witches from other covens, but that leads to witches with multiple affinities, which can lead to power imbalances, and in turn can result in war… So, to avoid that, we seek out humans for the sole purpose of procreation.
“But what happens after the child is born?”
The human dies.
Mating with a witch is so tricky that only other members of the occult can expect to do so with their mind, body, and soul intact. Any offspring that would result from their union would be strong enough to handle the power they will inherit--but a child that is part human requires a sacrifice in order to make up the difference. When a witch and a human conceive a child, they also conceive a curse that will kill off the weaker of the two. A life for a life--a parent is sacrificed so their baby may live.
They say this ritual--courting a human, conceiving a child, bringing said child into the world, and watching the human die mysteriously--can be emotionally taxing on the witch involved. Some cope by treating it like a one-night stand, hiring a tracker to keep tags on their human until the child is born. Others will do everything they can to counteract the curse, revealing their occult lineage to their mortal lover and urging them to take counter-curse measures.
My mom… Well, she did things a little differently.
Guadalupe fell in love with my father from the moment she saw his visage in her scrying mirror. She dedicated the next year to him and him alone, both adoring and lamenting over his excitement in their shared future that would never come to pass. Mom never wanted him to know about us or this life, but she never really explained why. If she had, she could have saved him.
Instead, I was born. My father died… And my mother never loved another man again.
“Why are the Porters here?” I demanded, keeping my voice low.
My mom was about to answer when her eyes flitted downward, and a tiny wrinkle formed above the bridge of her nose. “Is that what you’re wearing? Mija, you’re in college, not high school.”
I frowned and turned on the spot, studying my reflection once more. I had chosen a white polo dress with long sleeves and a short, pleated skirt worn underneath an elegant vest blazer with mock pockets. Three large buttons held the piece together, with the vest hugging my figure in a manner that accentuated my curves without calling attention to my midriff. Silver hoop earrings dangled from my earlobes, and strappy kitten heels granted me a two-inch lift.
My hands smoothed over the creases in my sleeves and skirt, suddenly self-conscious. I used the action to inconspicuously check my nails; they were on the short side, rounded and painted black. The polish was chipped in a couple of spots, but I doubted Leon or whoever he brought with him would pay much attention to me.
“I look fine, Mom,” I grumbled, facing her once more. “I’m sure the Porters won’t think less of me over my outfit. Why are they here? And what’s with that?”
I emphasized the last word with a gesture toward the plastic container that was now sitting across my room. I had slid it aside to avoid stubbing my toes over and over.
“You didn’t read the card?!” she hissed, her eyes wide.
“Not the whole thing!” I huffed in return. “I read the word, ‘marriage,’ and went to find you. What’s going on? What do you mean by--?”
My words were cut off as my mother stepped forward, taking my hands in hers. I hadn’t even realized I was flailing them around until she did this, and I immediately began to take cleansing breaths.
“Calm down,” she said, speaking slowly. My mother, the matriarch of my coven and the giver of my life, gazed deeply into my eyes. I could tell she was searching for something, but I wasn’t sure what. “Do you remember when the Zaldivars first threatened to absorb our coven into their own and unseat us? When they threatened to steal your birthright?”
I scoured through my memories, drawing from far back in my childhood. “I… I think so? I remember when they visited us, and you and Abuela were both upset…”
She nodded. “Well, they threatened to do the same to the Porter Coven. In response, Dexter and I made a covenant to join our covens together and form a new coven that could rival the Zaldivars. They backed off after that, but they’ve gained many followers in the decade since.”
I shook my head. I knew what that meant--what the uniting of two covens entailed.
That doesn’t mean I was ready to accept it.
“I-I don’t understand. Are you m-marrying Dexter, or Leon?” I stammered. My heart was sinking with each passing second, and it felt as if the room were spinning.
My vision was so screwed up by that point that I barely noticed my mother shaking her head again. “No, mi vida… I’m sorry.”
“Since Dexter retired earlier this year, Leon is their patriarch--”
No, no, no--
“And since we’re less than a month from your coming of age ceremony, it makes more sense for the two of you to marry,” she revealed.
Was the room moving around so much because I was shaking my head? I couldn’t tell.
“Yesi, I wouldn’t ask you to do this if there were any other way,” my mother pleaded. Her tone was dripping with a despondence that added a layer of urgency to her words. “You have to marry Leon Porter after your twenty-first birthday--and the two of you need to conceive an heir before Samhain. You’re our coven’s only hope--”
The spinning all but consumed me as my vision faded to black, and the last thing I heard as I lost consciousness was my mother shouting for help.