This story has Australian spelling and colloquialisms.

Best for ages 14 and over.

The Wounded Talisman

Chapter One

Forbidden Practice

'Stay right here.' My mother jabs a finger at the rug that she's laid out under the mango tree. 'I mean it, Lucida. Do not leave the garden. I need to get this job application done today otherwise I'll miss the deadline so I don't have time to check on you every five minutes. If I catch you in the forest again this will be your last Sunday down here, do you hear me?'


'Yes, Mumma.' I barely manage to keep the frustration out of my voice. Every Sunday she gives me the same old lecture. Ever since she caught me coming out of the forest with my colours lighting up the trees and my fingertips still glowing with esse she's been watching everything I do. Airbrushing out there by myself was a stupid move. I should have known she'd be watching. It was only a few weeks after she banned Claire from teaching me.


The sound of the zipper opening on my backpack takes my attention from the rainforest that towers above the garden, cool and silent, it's canopy swaying as one in a mild breeze. Mumma takes out my art box and snacks and lays them on the rug. If I didn't know better I would think she's being helpful but it's not just a play area she's setting up. It's a boundary.


She hands me my drink bottle. It's covered in icy water that drips down my arm.


'I don't understand why you want to be outside in this heat,' she says wiping sweat from her brow.


'It's not that hot,' I say but she looks at me like I'm insane. 'I mean down here in the shade.' This is not the time for a dispute about the weather. I only get one afternoon a week to myself and I won't lose it.


She studies my face as if it can help her decide if I'm trustworthy but I'm good at keeping it blank. 'Stayin the shade and behave,' she says and leaves.


'Finally,' I say breathing out a sigh of relief. As she disappears around the bend on the path back to the house I set the timer on my phone. Sometimes she sneaks around the side of the garden to catch me out so I always wait ten minutes before I begin my practice.


Usually I just play on my phone but today I have new coloured pencils. I open my art box and take out my sketchbook and choose green and grey pencils to chase the shadows of the leaves above me across the page.


Six minutes to go, the timer on my phone tells me. I replace the green and grey pencils with beige and yellow. Banded together they make good sunlight between my scribbles. I leave some of the page blank for the brightest light.


The picture feels done so I lay on my back and gaze into the forest imagining Awen Deva waiting for me. Down here at the forest's edge I can't see her, but up at the house she's the first thing you notice when you look across the garden. Tall and wide, her thick leafy canopy rises above the forest. Nan says she's the mother of all the trees, even the tall scribbly and blackbutt gums. I miss her.


Four minutes to go. I desperately want to get started but I can't risk getting caught again. Then I'd have to sneak out late in the night and airbrushing is much better closer to the midday sun when my esse is steady and my colours bright and it's easy to see the spectral toxins that I brush away. They're the worst. When they're out of control they make people crazy with madness, miserable with depression, or nasty with anger. I've only seen them bad a few times. Once with a homeless man in the park walking in circles muttering about shadow people, and another time when Nan's friend got so angry she kicked her dog and now he limps. Both of them had black snow swirling around them.


'I don't understand how brushing toxins from the air can be a bad thing,' I complained to Claire before Mumma ended our lessons a few months ago. 'Esse soothes and nourishes everyone so why has she suddenly decided that it's dangerous?'


'She just wants you to be safe,' Claire explained. 'We’re not like other people, Lucy. Your esse is the most concentrated energy alive. Given the chance bad people would exploit it.'


'What's the point of a gift I can't use?' I complained but Claire kept defending Mumma which I don’t understand. It’s not like they’re friends any more.


It's bad enough that Mumma makes it difficult for me to practice but it's also frustrating without Claire here to tell me what I'm doing right and wrong. Mumma timed the ban perfectly. I was just about to take my final test and earn my missing part. I don't understand it at all. She knew who I was from birth so it makes no sense that she's now so opposed to letting me be me. There are so many things she won't discuss with me, like why I don't have a dad, why we live with my grandmother, and why I have lighter skin than everyone else in my family. All of those things I can accept not knowing, but not this. Claire had better come back soon.


With three minutes to go I close my eyes and breathe from my stomach to replenish my esse. I have to do it every day so that I don't forget who I am. With my inner senses turned up full, I enter the deep silence beneath the chirping birds and distant sounds of traffic and voices. It's the best way to open up wide to the life energy that fuels me. I've been practicing daily so it doesn't take long for my esse to flow along my energy veins, all through me, like warm light.


I roll onto my stomach to watch my fingertips start to glow pale blue but my phone chimes. Yes! A quick final check to make sure it's safe, I toss my sunhat aside and kick my legs to make my shoes go flying. With my feet and head bare I stand as I've done many times before, in the soil to ground myself.


Just the thought of airbrushing draws esse through my breath to tingle my tongue. Still wary of being seen I slowly exhale faint misty vapours, not just on my breath but from my pores, too. Over my skin they drift out to float in front of me like bits of escaped rainbow. I like the buzzing feeling of pushing my colours into the world to make them come alive or go still like lake water. The more connected I am to the ground and sky, the stronger they get until my aura radiates steadily. It starts with red near my skin and ends with violet that vanishes into the air about eight centimetres from me, vibrating ready for action.


'Round and round I go,' I murmur. Vivid colours smear the air as I spin in circles, stopping only to smile at the spot where Claire no longer stands praising my progress. I miss her so badly but by my estimations I'll be able to form particles by March and maybe even manage to compress my colours into white light by April. Then I just know she'll come back for my final test, no matter what Mumma says.


I push more esse into my aura and spin for the fun of watching my colours splash into the air like paint smeared on glass. Dizzy, I stop spinning just as an airy whistle rustles the leaves and brings a woody-earthy scent to me from the forest on a gust of cool air.


Mumma! I breathe my colours back in. My aura dims. Trying to pretend like I'm just looking around, I check the shadows between the trees. Mumma's not there but she could be watching from somewhere else. My shoes lie out of reach. If I stretch out I can reach my hat. With a sigh I realise how much I don't want to worry about getting caught any more.


A humming noise has me wondering if it isn't my mother checking up on me. The ground rumbles. It's coming from the forest. Goose bumps dot my arms as I pick up my hat and tiptoe over to my shoes and put them on. I tiptoe to where the grass ends and the forest begins and peer through the trees.


Light flickers in the distance. The humming becomes a crackle, a cool breeze carries the smell of something sour. A branch creaks, more leaves rustle. A gust of icy wind snaps at my face, whips my hair across it, and then disappears to leave the day too quiet. I rub goose bumps on my arms. It's early January and already the hottest month on record so the cold makes no sense. Just as I'm thinking it, a blast of hot air takes my breath away. It swirls around me, carrying the smell of something sweet, and then also disappears. Something's wrong somewhere.


Expecting to hear Mumma yell, 'Get back to the rug!' I turn with a flinch. There's no one there. For a moment I watch the path back to the house, waiting for her to appear. She doesn't. Satisfied that I'm alone, one foot and then the other, I step through the brush into the forest, and head for the light.