Chapter One: The 4,444th Day CHAPTER ONE The 4,444th Day
Most people expect seers to live somewhere weird. A creepy house on the corner with roses that never bloom. Some lonely farm with a hunched roof. Anything mysterious.
Which is why people are always surprised by Grammy’s very suburban townhome. It’s just so plain. I like watching her customers park on the side of the road. They always check their phones to make sure they’ve got the right address. Could that really be it? It’s not painted midnight black. No cobwebs on the front porch. What kind of seer lives in a house like that? And how could they be any good?
Eventually the customers climb out of their cars. They’ll look up and down the sidewalk before crossing our well-manicured lawn, starting up our well-swept steps, and knocking with a handle that’s disappointingly not in the shape of a gargoyle.
Grammy takes great pleasure in making her first appearance. She’s in her seventies now, but walks every single day and has an eye for what’s fashionable. Most of her customers take a look at her and their doubts double in size. No crystal ball? No pointed hat? No cats slinking in the background?
“Expectations are their own kind of magic,” Grammy always tells me.
So the customer enters. Grammy allows the disappointment to grow. She sits them on a normal-looking couch, gives them a normal cup of coffee, and doesn’t ask them to pay in vials of blood or anything weird. A credit card will work just fine, thank you. And at the exact moment that the customer’s doubt has reached a peak, Grammy invites them into the world of magic.
I like watching them leave as much as I like watching them arrive. Some walk out with a haunted expression. Others leave with a face-splitting grin. It’s a miracle any of them can drive away without crashing straight into the bushes, because every single one of them leaves with a little slice of the future in their pocket.
For better or for worse.
But today there are no customers scheduled.
I sit by my window upstairs and watch as the other neighborhood kids head for the bus stop. Jordan Lyles comes up one side of the street. He’s wearing his chrome headphones and carefully avoiding puddles and fallen leaves so his new sneakers remain in pristine condition. The Kapowski sisters have to chase their little rat terrier—Chutney—down the steps of their house on the corner. It takes them a minute to usher him back inside before they head out the door themselves. Next to arrive is quiet Jeffrey Johnson. He’s carrying his soccer bag up the hill like it’s full of bricks.
The last person to join the crowded corner is Avery. A knot forms in my stomach. It’s been almost eight months since we last talked. Way back at the very start of the school year. We were standing in the park near the bus stop. I can still remember how bright red her cheeks had gotten, how loud our voices echoed. All I was trying to do was help, and she blamed me for everything.
A part of me is still mad at her. A bigger part misses her. On today of all days, it would be nice to have my best friend at my side. Instead, I watch as the bus arrives to pick them up. Everyone is out there except for me. The doors rattle closed and the engine rumbles and they vanish around a corner.
I’m not going to school today because it’s the 4,444th day of my life.
Mom called the front office and told them I was sick. Grammy has been humming excitedly to herself all week. It’s not like I woke up with horns or anything like that. But this day has always been very important in the Cleary family, stretching back through the generations. It is the day that I will see my first prophecy. It is the day that every alternating generation of Clearys sees their very first vision.
Taking a deep breath, I head downstairs. Mom’s voice echoes from the front office area. She’s working from home for my big day. I reach the bottom step and glance back through the hallway. I’m surprised to see she’s fully dressed, even wearing her nice shoes. It’s just like Mom to want to look the part, even if she’s not going into the office.
Mom isn’t magical, at least not in the way that I will be. Our prophetic gifts always skip a generation. Which means no magic, no prophecies, nothing at all. I’m pretty sure reality suits her, though. She’s one of the best attorneys in town. Last year one of her cases was even made into a documentary. Everyone knows her name in our area. I pause in the hallway to listen for a second.
“Look,” she’s saying. “Allen hasn’t even done his due diligence… No, I don’t think…”
I can’t help grinning as I imagine whoever is on the other end of the line. Even without magic, Mom is a force of nature. Always getting the job done. I continue into the kitchen.
Grammy stands with her back to me in front of the stovetop. She’s got a huge mixing bowl planted on one hip, and her hair is up in a messy bun. She thrusts the mixing spoon into the air without looking back, accidentally splashing a little egg yolk.
“I predict someone is here for omelets!”
I take a seat at the kitchen table. “And I predict… that something is burning.”
Grammy curses as she slams the bowl down and darts over to the toaster. She juggles the dead toast onto the nearest plate and examines it.
“We have the technology. We can rebuild him!”
I laugh as she starts using a knife to scrape away the burnt sections. Sliding out of my chair, I cross over to the kitchen counter. Before she’s in too deep, I unravel the bread tie and hand her two more slices.
“I predict these will do better.”
With a nod of concession, Grammy clears the plate and starts fresh. “So. Are you excited about your big day, Celia? Skipping school, burnt toast! It’s already off to a promising start.”
I’m not sure how to feel. My hands have been shaking a little all morning. Grammy is always saying that a first prophecy is kind of like a first birthday. Almost like starting a whole new life. I’ve been waiting for this day since I was three years old. I’ve always wanted to be just like Grammy.
Until the fight with Avery.
It just so happens that the argument that ended our friendship was about my family’s magic. I can still hear words like fake and freak. I’ve tried to tell myself that she was just mad when she said what she said—that she didn’t mean it—but she hasn’t spoken to me since.
The Cleary family has possessed the gift of prophecy for centuries. My ancestors have been navigators and military strategists and talk show hosts. Some used their ability to see the future to do good—like Grammy—and quietly blended into the real world. Others ended up being notorious outlaws or hermits.
When I was little, I used to ask Grammy about cauldrons and broomsticks. Like a lot of people, I thought being a seer would look like what I saw in cartoons. She patiently explained that families like ours inspired the modern idea of a witch, but that once the concept was in Hollywood’s hands, there was no chance of accuracy.
Actual seers have the future and a few minor spells at their disposal. We were not, she insisted, running around with wands casting bolts of lightning at each other. At the time, I was pretty disappointed. Lightning bolts sounded fun.
Grammy never denied that there could be other magical users out there in the world, but she suspected the most powerful branches had faded centuries ago.
“Even seers,” she told me, “are a dying breed. There are very few families like us. Most didn’t treat this gift as something worth preserving at all costs. Instead, they stamped out their strangeness. It’s easier to fit in with everyone else than it is to shine in your own way.”
After the fight with Avery, I could understand someone wanting to hide their abilities to fit in. But I’ve waited for this day my entire life. I’m nervous, honestly, because a part of me knows this could be my chance to prove Avery wrong and to use my powers for good. Maybe it’s my chance to win her back too.
“I’m excited,” I finally answer. “Tell me about your first prophecy again.”
It’s one of my favorite stories. Grammy empties her bowl into the skillet, spins it back onto the counter, and turns to me. She’s always thrilled to tell this story, because it’s her favorite too.
“Well, I was living in Asheville. Our family was a little bigger back then. Take your five wild cousins and multiply by five. Our house was always full of people. I kind of felt like I was floating. Talking with everyone, but not really hearing what they said. And then there was this moment where I felt cold. That crisp feeling you get when you go up into the mountains. And without warning, the entire room vanished.
“All I could see was this gorgeous red rose. A single thorn. Lovely petals. It was so beautiful. Some of my cousins had already had their first visions. And of course I’d spent months listening to them retell their stories. Some of them could walk around their vision and examine every angle. Others could change the details! Not me. All I could see was that perfect image of a red, red rose. It was another ten years before I saw it again.”
“Grandpa,” I say with a smile. “The day you met Grandpa.”
“He was plenty handsome,” she says. “But when he held out that rose, I almost fainted. It was exactly the way I remembered it. Now, keep in mind that not everyone sees through a romantic lens. There are plenty of branches of magic. My cousin Tessa is a genius with weather. My grandma was a Doomspeak. So don’t go assuming you’re supposed to go off and get hitched to some stranger.”
I roll my eyes. “No worries there, Grammy.”
She’s about to offer another piece of advice, but Mom’s arrival in the kitchen cuts her off. Business heels click along the hardwoods. Mom pours a cup of coffee, carefully mixing in a healthy dose of creamer. I frown when I realize it’s a travel mug. Grammy notices too. Mom turns around and she’s already wearing an apologetic smile.
“I’m so sorry, Celia. Someone has royally screwed up something at work. I’m afraid if I don’t go in, we’re going to be dealing with the fallout for weeks.”
I nod back, a little too quickly. “Yeah. No problem.”
She doubles down by throwing out a bottom lip. “I know it’s your big day, honey. Really. I’m so sorry. But I’ll try to leave work early. We’ll watch a good movie tonight to celebrate. Sip some hot chocolate. You can tell me all about your vision, okay?”
I nod again. “That’s perfect. Seriously.”
She kisses my forehead and sweeps back out of the room. I can feel Grammy watching me as we both listen to the noises of leaving. The light jingle of house keys. Doors groaning open and closed. The car firing up in the garage. I don’t realize, at first, that I’m tearing off little strips from a napkin on the table. I set the pieces aside and look up. Grammy is still watching.
“I’ve never told you this,” she says. “But my mother missed my first vision. She didn’t need a disaster at work to slip away either. They found her picking scuppernongs out in one of our back fields. Try not to blame your mother too much. It’s a hard day for someone who will never taste magic.”
It makes all the sense in the world, but I have to look back down at the napkin and tear off more strips to keep myself from crying. Grammy seems on the verge of saying more when a loud beep sounds. Two slices of absurdly burnt toast appear. The sight of them breaks the gloomy spell. Grammy and I exchange a look before bursting into belly laughter.
“Come one, come all,” she thunders between laughs. “Witness the seer who can burn toast!”