Great Grandmother

Long and sparkling waters of a silver, crystalline brightness; the rivers of Killarney, Ireland. Johanna could tell right away those were the waters of her old country; the green blades of grass caressed her soft, pink ankles, as she stood at the shore of the river. Johanna grew warm with the sun’s embrace, its rays falling upon the tender cheeks above her smile; she also noticed the cherry-bright red hairs that fell around the soft skin of her face and neck. This was all strange, for she was actually ninety-seven years old, and yet… she was young again.

A second warmness grew from within her chest, as Johanna turned and looked around to witness the chestnut mountains covering the entirety of the horizon, as far as her teary green eyes could see. Eighty years had passed, since the last time she stood among the emerald fields and silver rivers of Killarney, her homeland.

¿What is this place? ¿How am I here? ¿Why am I young once more?

Johanna heard the lively chorus of adults and children, their voices called her by many names. Mamma. Mother. Grandma. Grandmother. Her soft neck turned and her green eyes released tears of unbelieving happiness. Several figures approached her, all jogging towards her, all held from their hands; many were tall, many were small, many were men, women, and children too. Mothers and fathers, and grandparents too, old and young, all walked towards Johanna, each holding a child or grandchild of their own; her two daughters and her two sons, nine grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren. All of her family.

Like a full glass of drink, brimming with the happy joy of the toast, Johanna’s eyes opened wide, as she extended her arms towards all of her children, and her children’s children, and theirs too. Johanna’s happiness didn’t allow her to think about the impossible differences in age… she simply ran, joyfully running over the wide green fields of Killarney.

Her heart sank, slow and full of fear, when she gazed upon the faces of her family, for they did not match her joy. As they approached, Johanna noticed their faces, the expressions filling every eye, every cheek and every line on their face with painful sorrow. Their movements became sluggish and weakened, for both the young and the old, as their effort was too great to sustain them.

Though Johanna could see them all, she took greater notice of the eldest of her daughters, her secret favorite: Magnolia. The woman’s painful movements accompanied a terrifying transformation, as the ashen hair upon her head turned to dust, her skin crackled like broken clay upon her face, the latter showing an expression of suffering, an impossibly cruel pain tormenting her. Magnolia held her granddaughters on each hand: Sarah and Carrie, the small and tender faces aged and hardened with painful violence, as gray hairs fell from their heads. Johanna’s vision was one of horror, as she saw every child of hers, senior and toddler, suffering the painful and unnatural death that took them away, as it forced the empty remains to fall upon the ground, lifeless dirt and dead grass beneath their bones.

Johanna ran towards the dying figures, her face red, flooded with tears of anguish as she grabbed the ash and bones that littered the ground beneath her knees, the dust of her children passed like sand through her fingers. Her green eyes lifted, as darkness enveloped the entirety of the world. She lifted her wet face to the darkened clouds that covered everything. No sky, no mountains, no rivers… only darkness. Above her face, she saw it, the vision that made everything clear: Teeth.

Two gigantic rows of fangs, smiling bloody from the darkness above, huge animal teeth dwarfing the moon in the night sky, both mandibles floating in the middle of the dark void that surrounded her. Johanna looked humbly at the colossal, sharpened, savage fangs upon her.

The Dragon.

She shivered at the memory of the name. Deadly breeze covered her frail arms, when the teeth opened. The bloody rows opened and roared with a deafening cry. Johanna covered her ears and cried loud, screaming, sharpened pain inside her head and her chest.

Johanna opened her eyes; she had awakened in the middle of the night. Her face was full of bright sweat, shining by the moonlight that passed through the windows; she raised her hands, and saw them old and wrinkly. As they should be. She turned her head towards the mirror, and the latter reflected the face of an old woman, one who ninety-seven years of age.

Concerns about her appearance were faint and passing, nonetheless. Johanna remembered every bit of the dream, the vision, and the dark truth that hid beneath. She closed her eyes, her breath slow, as she held back the painful thoughts; she steeled herself. Johanna rose from her bed and put on some clothing: leather shoes, blue jeans, and a good stuffy brown jacket. She walked as quickly as her ninety-seven years allowed her, down the stairs from her room.

Johanna’s lips trembled in silence. Fear beckoned her, from the memories of the vision in her sleep. The Dragon.

There was no need for words; she acknowledged the meaning, the danger of the omen. Eighty years it’s been, since Johanna had been forced to flee Ireland, expelled from her homeland by the neighbors of her own rural community. Witch, was the name they branded her with, the perfect word to misunderstand the magical gifts that ran through her family, through her lineage, through her blood.

At seventeen years old, she had escaped the old country into the safety of the american dream. Still, even though some enemies could be avoided, some couldn’t. Her magic attracted the best and the worst in the world, and the worst was The Dragon.

Johanna thought of her five children, her nine grandchildren, and her sixteen great-grandchildren. Some were as little as toddlers could possibly be, all cute laughter of joy, all sweet voices of innocence. Fear filled her old heart, as she recognized the danger. The Dragon’s hunger was insatiable. It would never be content with her; it would seek her family as well. Innocent and guilty, young or old, all would be prey to the ravenous and unnatural appetite of the magical abomination that was The Dragon.

There was hope, however.

Johanna ran downstairs to the first floor, to a small storage room below the stairs. She opened the door and furiously searched through trinkets and junk, until she stopped. She pulled a mysterious object with her hands: a small leather wrapping, its contents swaddled tightly and held with string ¡Time to go! Thought Johanna, as she ran through the front door of her home.

It was a small house in the forest, in the San Gabriel Mountains, outside of Los Angeles. Johanna ran straight into the forest, through tall pine trees and the brown woods of the immense valley surrounding her. Above, dark clouds gathered, the moon and the stars disappeared one by one. Soon, echoes of thunder and lightning rumbled from the heavens. A massive storm looked down upon the old woman.

Johanna ran as fast as her bones allowed her. Painful joints, lack of breath and tired legs did little to stop her, as she dodged every pine trunk and green bush in her way. She persevered through the leaves that hit her face and the bugs that buzzed around her ears, thorny branches and bushes scratched her arms; all seemed to come from the shadows themselves, dancing to the chaotic beat of the thunder above. Johanna pressed forward, deeper into the forest.

The woods opened, the leaves and branches receded, bugs ceased their flight, and a clearing opened before her green eyes. The clear sight of grass, on top of a small hill, illuminated by the faint moonlight that struggled against the dark clouds. On top of the hill, there was a gigantic, twisted tree.

The tree bore no leaves, no fruits, it was simply still. It remained tranquil and unmoved; the winds and shattering from the storm above did nothing to sway its branches. It remained in peace, its twisted trunk and exposed roots towering over every plant and creature surrounding the colossal tree.

¡Here! Johanna made her approach and stopped at the base of the tree. As she kneeled, she quickly untied the string from the brown swaddle. As it opened, it revealed the singular content within: a sharpened knife. Johanna held the wooden base of the blade, tight fingers around the grip.

On her knees, in front of the tree, she closed her eyes and raised both arms to the heavens, her back straight as a sword made of steel; she remained still, holding the knife. Above her, the storm raged furiously, thunder cracked and whipped the clouds into a dark, frightening formation. The stars and the moon vanished from the sky, in their place… teeth.

From the dark heavens above Johanna, two rows of gigantic fangs appeared in the sky. Sharpened teeth, each the size of a house, each a part of the dark mandibles that loomed over the old woman; The Dragon had revealed itself. Johanna looked from below; green steely eyes watched the monster. She was ready now.

She held the blade to her palm, and she cut.

Blood trickled from the base of her bloody hand. The Dragon was quick, as it recognized the spell; it roared from the blackened clouds with deafening anger. Johanna stretched her bloody hand in a graceful motion, using her fingers to coat her face in the special symbols of the spell. Tiny curves, precise spots and swift lines that covered her face like an exotic painting; a simple mask, built from an old, powerful language

¡A witch, they called me! Johanna smiled.

The woman chanted, her strange language, sung loud and clear to the huge twisted tree. The Dragon was furious, as the teeth in the clouds opened and roared with an inhumane, monstrous cry. Thunder raged from the clouds, a sudden tempest erupted from all around the forest. The heavy rains fell over Johanna, as did the winds crossing and moving through the pine trees. She remained unmoved, her chanting rose above the whistling of the winds, her bloody mask firm and painted, despite the waters that tried to wash it away. The Dragon roared in anger.

Johanna chanted, and then she extended her bloody hand, the one that was cut, towards the tree. The old woman planted her bloody palm firm upon the trunk of the tree, never stopping her chant… until The Dragon responded.

Booming lightning broke the sky, as the teeth opened like jaws, an extended roar from the darkest heavens humanity had ever witnessed. Johanna had met her match, and now felt as if the magic faded. The Dragon was strong. She opened her eyes, saw the tree and felt the pain of her bloody cut. She realized, just as well, that her chant was also finished, and yet The Dragon still loomed upon her.

¡No! She thought. She lifted her old green eyes, and saw the colossal mandibles, floating towards the earth, towards Johanna. The woman looked at her bloody palm and then pressed it on the trunk of the twisted tree. She repeated her chant, from the beginning… it had no effect, her mind was blank, her power insufficient. Johanna opened her eyes again and noticed her hands were shaking.

¡Do something, you old hag! She thought. She was still for a moment, and then she closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, extended both arms towards her sides, as she kneeled… and then she began. A sudden, peaceful wave of soothing energy filled her chest, her lungs, her heart, with golden energy; The Dragon roared in protest, the teeth shook in disarray, the maddening motions of each fang, as each stopped, ceasing it’s advance on Johanna. Her magic was powerful, her will absolute.

As The Dragon roared, lightning began to fall downwards, upon the soil and earth around the twisted tree. Thunderous blasts came down near Johanna, as she concentrated, the images in her head strengthened her magic, the latter powering the spell that crushed the might of the monstrous creature above roared… now in pain.

The old woman kneeled in front of the tree, smiling with glee. Five children, nine grandchildren, sixteen great-grandchildren. All around her, thunderbolts struck the ground with violent anger; burning grass went aflame all around Johanna and the huge twisted tree. The great grandmother never wavered, as images of her all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren filled her mind. Little toddlers with hair the color of strawberries, running and laughing with the joy of their innocence; babies lifted by fathers and mothers, sharing their love with warm kisses and loving hugs. Now her magic was, now The Dragon roared in painful response.

A final thunderbolt fell upon the woman, kneeling in front of the tree. It burned the ground beneath her, a tall golden flame burst in response.

As it shot the ground, so did the fangs on top of the sky break and tore of each other, vanishing amidst the dark clouds. The Dragon was dead.

The moon showed her face again, as did the stars. Even for a dark night, its shining colors of bright silver and darkened blue had returned to the sky. The flames around the tree had subsided, doused by an invisible force that soothed the wild burning, all around the grass. The huge and twisted tree remained untouched.

Johanna was nowhere to be seen. Her essence had disappeared with the thunderbolt that had fallen upon her. She was gone, forever.

As soon as the blue of the morning rose through the horizon, as quickly as the sun’s golden rays fell upon the huge twisted tree, a single flower of a warm yellow center and little pink petals emerged from one of the branches...

…a flower only seen on the green fields and silvery rivers of Killarney, Ireland.

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