She devoted the next hour to unpacking the boxes that had arrived ahead of them that morning. Dishes in the cabinets, throw-pillows on the couch. It was as she was arranging things that she noticed the black amulet resting on the coffee-table. Her cousin’s sword. His prized possession, and the thing he loved almost as much (if not as much) as his girlfriend.
Okay, so she was bored. Taking it steadily into both hands and inspecting the red braided thread that made a necklace of it, she could see in her mind the deftness he used. A magic she could never possess, enabling him to hold the thing in such a way that it could become a sword. His lyric—she’d memorized the action, the motion, the sound of his voice.
But in her hands it did nothing. She could go through the motions, recite the words perfectly, and she knew that no sword would come of it. Magic was a family commonality, even her kid sisters knew the simplest techniques—basic healing, temperature control; as they grew older they would learn more. But she, in the meantime, could only improve her physical skills. She could fight well, move quickly. But that was it. Nothing made her unique to her family.
It was as though some subconscious fantasy came to life suddenly. She looped the braid around her neck and toyed with the amulet in her fingers, daydreaming, pretending, imagining herself capable of even the smallest magical talent.
The lights flickered. Lightning flashed the room bright yellow, the rain was pounding and it was as though the sky had burst apart.
Then nothing. Silence. No electricity, just the gray drizzle through the curtain. She grunted, annoyed, and retrieved her cell phone from her pocket to dial her cousin’s number by heart.
The connection was weak, interrupted by static. “The stupid power’s out,” she managed. His response was garbled by an eruption of white noise. Lightning again, thunder that shook the stoic brick building. She was going to ask him if he’d packed candles, or maybe a flashlight. But her cell phone hit the floor with a tiny plastic crash. The lights flickered back to life with a whirr of mechanical power as though nothing at all had happened. It was as though Meiling had never existed, her presence gone from the building. There was only a cold breeze through the open window, and a curtain that wavered, uncaring, to the constant strum of static rain.