The glare of the sun makes more sweat emerge from my brow. As it drips into my eyes, the sting of the salt almost drives me to raise my hand and wipe it off. I catch myself in time to keep myself steady. This is not the time to worry about trivial pain. I’m hanging at the side of a cliff, getting a sample of the obsidian that I need to take to my laboratory. If I let go, I’ll fall and there is nothing fun about that.
The obsidian that I am here to take has been here since a group of wizards decided they knew better than every witch alive. The witches told them it was impossible for them to produce the obsidian. But the wizards decided they knew better. They used an ancient spell that was supposed to create the rock. But this spell could only work if you have a connection to the earth. Which wizards don’t have because their connection to the energy is centered about intention.
The spell relies on the knowledge of the spell caster to transform common rock into obsidian. Since the knowledge the wizard had was superficial they couldn’t use the spell. The rock they produced was a facsimile of the authentic thing. At first it seemed identical, but once you opened only the outside had changed.
They spent all that time and materials for nothing. The council’s witches told them that only specialized witches could use it. But they refused to listen. Terra witches are the only ones able to cast it because of their connection to the earth.
It wasn’t about scientific knowledge. Terra witches have this affinity that gives them instinct knowledge of everything that comes from the earth. That is why the council uses them to know when and where earthquakes can happen. They are the reason there weren’t any major disasters in our written history. Because their connection guided them.
The wizards didn’t care about any of that. They were angry at the recent rules the council had imposed and since obsidian was such a valuable commodity; they tried it anyway. If they had produced obsidian they would have been able to sell it. Becoming a corporation would have been the next step. And with time they would have enough power to strong-arm the decisions of the council.
At least that is what history tells us. This all happened a century ago when the recent rules were approved.
A few years after the wizard failure when the company that I work for, Montelch Enterprises, came to clean up the mess they left, they discovered a large deposit of obsidian. The irony could not be clearer.
That is why my job is to come here and take a sample of every pocket of obsidian on the query. Take it to the lab and see which one is real. Only then can the diggers come to excavate.
Sometimes I wished those wizards had worked the spell correctly. Then I wouldn’t be hanging on the side of a cliff collecting samples. It wasn’t so much the hanging that I minded. It was the fact that I had to work and not just enjoy the surrounding view.
I secure my safety rope on my belt, reaching for my hammer as I pick at the rock with care so I can take a sample. There is only one more sample for me to collect, then I can go home. My mother doesn’t like it when I’m late for dinner.
Concentrating on the task at hand, I take my sample and secure it to my bag. I climb a few feet to the last one I have to take.
When I am zipping my bag a gust of wind comes out of nowhere. The gale is so strong that it lifts me off the cliff and I lose my foothold.
The fall seems endless. I feel my heartbeat a mile a minute and I can feel sweat break out of my skin. I flail my arms, trying to find purchase anywhere, but I only get scratched for my efforts. The adrenaline is kicking my brain into overdrive but instead of being focused panic sets and logic disappears.
The yell snaps me out of the panic, and I relax my body. I will only fall until the rope locks off on the belay. The biggest problem is when I stop. The rope breaking my fall will throw me against the wall and I have to make sure that my arms won’t take the brunt of it. I can handle the pain on my legs, but I need my arms to climb and collect all of my equipment.
The fall ends and I swing towards the wall. I turned my body sideways so I will take the brunt on my left side. Luckily my thigh takes the most damage, this will hurt like hell when the adrenaline wanes but for now I only feeling mild pain.
I right my body so I’m facing the cliff before starting to climb again. I can’t stop now because once the adrenaline lowers my body will hurt a lot more. As I climb what I feared happens, the adrenaline leaves my body, and the pain becomes more striking. When I reach the top of my climb, I collect my equipment. That is when I notice that my fingers are shaking.
Not only my fingers, but my complete body is shaking. The pain on my thigh is reaching a peak and I settle on a ledge so I can let the pain wash over me. I need to climb down so I need to move. It’s painful, but I just have to wait for it to pass its peak. Then I can climb down.
By the time that I get back to the ground, my arms are shaking and my legs feel like jelly. But I got everything that I needed. So I won’t have to come back here. My job is done and I don’t need to go back to the lab until tomorrow. That means going home to a very long, very hot bath. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
The trek to my car takes me another half an hour which means that I will be late to dinner. I sigh thinking about the sermon waiting for me when I get home. My mother is always scolding me about how much I work.
When I get to the car, I take a couple of pills for the pain on my thigh. I can’t be limping when I get home because my mother already hates that I work for Montelch Enterprises. She can’t know that I got hurt doing my job.
I never understood why she hates this particular company. As far as I know, they did nothing to us. But the moment that I mentioned getting their internship when I was in college, she lost her mind. She spent the next week until my first day lecturing me that the company is evil. She never gave me a reason. Just that it was.
She calmed down when I started working, and nothing happened. I was lucky to be picked out of the hundred interns that worked there. The job offer set her off into another series of lectures. But I explained to her that with a geology bachelor I didn’t have many options in our town. The only company that would hire me would be Montelch.
There has been contention between us since then. Whenever I am even one minute late from work, she scolds me. The spiel never changes. She never gives me a reason, only the same thing repeatedly. I don’t argue anymore; I listen and nod along. She knows that I will not quit my job because of vague reasons that she refuses to explain. But that won’t stop her from trying.
Driving home, I pass beside the shifter compound. The sight of the imposing structure only brings frustration. Most my childhood was spent inside those walls. Yet when I needed them the most they refused to help.
Every time that I have to go to the quarry I have to pass the compound. It sits outside of town because shifters don’t like to mix with the other species. There is already a separation because of the council’s rules. But shifters are more skittish than everyone else.
Before my father died, he was an exceptional friend to the alpha of the compound. Everyone there treated us like we were royalty. But after the accident, I tried reaching out because I thought they would understand how much I missed him. Not only they didn’t respond, they didn’t even listen. I couldn’t burden my mother because she had to take care of my newborn brothers.
And yet when I reached out, they shunned me. They sent me a page from the council’s website stating that a recent rule had been approved. No regular could go to a shifter compound without an escort.
They wouldn’t even respond on a person. They cut all contact with us and never answered the myriad of letters I sent.
That was the day that I realized that you can’t trust anyone outside of the family. Because they can’t cut ties with you at any time. Without fanfare, without warning. They can abandon you.
That was the day that I decided that I wouldn’t trust anyone outside of my family.
I chase these thoughts out of my head because shifters are no longer a part of my life. I have to let these feelings go so they won’t weigh me down. Even though I tell myself this every time I come here still the anger lingers. One of these days it will work.
Arriving at my street, I mentally prepare myself for the lecture that is coming. I park the car on our garage and turn to take my bag with all of my climbing gear from the passenger seat. When I go to open the car door, I notice someone stands in front of it. I jump on my seat before I see that is my mother with a frown on her face.
“Lisa.” She said.
“Mom.” I sighed. Here comes the lecture.
“Is this an appropriate time to get home?” She asked.
“Mom, you know I was working,” I said.
“Do you have to work this hard? I told you that the company only wants the worst for its employees. You should quit and go to work for your grandmother. She told me today that she needs a geologist to look at some things on her property.” She said reaching for my bag and getting inside the house.
“Mom,” I called to her before she disappears inside. She always uses this tactic. She says something that I don’t want to hear and then leaves the room preventing me from arguing. Is her way of stating what she wants without repercussion. Before I get inside I need to sort out my equipment. So that will force me to go over what she said before I can discuss it with her.
Working for grandmother would be interesting. She is my father’s mother, and she always had a connection with nature that I envied. My entire family has an affinity for the outdoors. The one exception is my younger brother Tyler. He loves tinkering with his computers and spends most of his time indoors.
The rest of us are outside as much as we can. Including my mother. She was a foster child that stayed in the system until eighteen. One of her escapes was going out to the forest outside the orphanage as much as she could.
That forest is where she met my father. She was just strolling after one of her many shifts as a waitress in the diner at the edge of town. My father was hiking like he did every morning. From then on they always would meet up in the morning until my mother tired of waiting for him to ask her out and asked him.
Six months later they were married.
Because my mother never had a stable family grandmother became her parent just as she was with dad. My entire family is very close to one another. We have an unspoken rule that it doesn’t what you do with your life. If you need help, your family will be there.
So working with her would be a blast. I just don’t understand why my mother would want that. I would have to move to my grandmother’s place, eight hours away from here. That meant that I would be away from home.
She would rather I lived eight hours away than work for Montelch Enterprises. What is so wrong about that company? She has been more insistent about me quitting for the last month. What changed?
“Hey, Lisa, finish it already. I’m starving.” Thomas draws me out of my thoughts. He is always so full of energy. Being the older of the twins, it seems like he never stops moving. Tyler is the polar opposite, studying all the time and messing with his computers. Even though their personalities couldn’t be more different, they are as thick as thieves. While Thomas is training for soccer, Tyler is in the computer room coding. And yet somehow they are the architects of most of the pranks on their school. Nothing the principal can prove it but a fact that everybody knows.
“Come on, Lisa. You took too long to come home and mom forced us to wait for you. Come on.” Thomas urged me, getting back inside.
I chuckled, storing the rest of my gear and following him.
Inside, the wonderful smell of spicy chicken permeates everything. This is one of my favorite dishes because I love spicy foods. The polar opposite of my mother and brothers. So I know she is still trying to convince me to work for grandmother.
Going to the kitchen, I see that the table is set, and everyone is waiting for me. Hurrying, I sit in front of Tyler who is glued to his phone as always. I just hope it is nothing illegal. And if he doesn’t get caught. I dish the food out and dig in before my mom clears her throat.
“Lisa.” She starts. “I know you don’t like the idea of quitting your job out of the blue. I understand that you feel comfortable here. But you have to expand your horizons. You need to see the world. And what better way of doing that then moving into a new city?” She finishes excitedly.
I chew slowly, letting her talk. There is an edge of sadness that never leaves her, no matter how happy she can be. I have never seen her happy since my father passed. But today is different.
There is desperation in her every move. Like something is coming and she can’t stop it. But I don’t if this is just in my head because Thomas continues to stuff his mouth with food and Tyler eats absentmindedly, still focused on his phone. Maybe it is all in my head, I’ll just focus on my food for now and confront her after dinner.
Focus. This word reminds me of earlier. When I fell I thought I heard someone shouting at me. Probably it is my imagination, but now that I think back the yell is the reason that I stopped panicking. Which is the one thing you can not do when you are climbing solo? If something happens, you have to deal with it. Otherwise, you could die.
The dinner continues while my mother gets increasingly desperate for her speech about me moving. Her tone rises while tears gather in her eyes.
“Mom.” I stopped her. “Why are you crying? If you want me to move that much I will. I promise.”
“Really?” She cries. “Are you really going to leave that company and move?”
“Yes, mom. If you want that much I will.” I said, trying to console her the best I can. I don’t why it is so important to her. But if it is important enough that she is crying because of it, then I will do whatever I can to ease her sadness.
When everyone finishes there is a knock on the door. Thomas jumps out of his chair telling us he will get the door but mom stops him cold.
“Not so fast, young man. Tonight is your night of doing the dishes.” She scolds him, gesturing for the sink. “I’ll get the door.”
“Damn.” He mumbles under his breath. Tyler and I laugh because everyone in our family hates doing the dishes. So everyone takes a turn and we always try to get out of it. Never works.
I hear the door close and see Mom walking down the hall towards us. She stumbles on the rug under the table and I jump to catch her before she hits the ground.
“Mom, are you okay?” I asked.
“Of course, honey. I’m fine.” She said.
I waver, looking at her while she brushes dust out of her pants. She called me honey.
“Are you sure you’re okay mom?” I asked, tilting my head.
“Yes, honey. Don’t worry. I just wasn’t looking.” She looks at me, smiling. But at that moment I see her eyes change. “I am perfectly fine.”
The smirk on her face is disconcerting, and the sadness that always clung to her is gone. The look in her eyes is predatory and I know down to my soul that something is terribly wrong.
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