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Adele Ellsworth Nott

I’ll haunt the world inside you

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Adele Ellsworth Nott

Even with magic, Adele Nott was not a good cook. She burned toast, then overbuttered it, pulping it to mush her children ate with refined fingers. When left in her care, they ate like mongrels, bits and scraps, cold cooked meat and previously plattered cheeses, crackers which slid easily from paper sleeves, easy seedless fruit that didn’t need chopping up: grapes, or berries. One part of her felt ashamed for treating her children in such a way, but another part was defiant and pleased: she liked picnics, and what other mother would lead her children into organized gluttony with such tender gall?

 

A halfway-decent one, probably, but it wasn’t as though Adele were under any delusion that she was any good at mothering in the first place, so what did it matter, really, if she failed in the kitchen, too? They would always have Lego to make good suppers. And Del was a dab hand at tea when she didn’t leave the kettle screaming on the stove for long minutes at a time while she sat, caught in a thought elsewhere in the house, or reading a book – just to the next chapter – before getting up to lift the wailing thing from the burner.

 

These were the sounds of her children’s days: crumbling crackers, turning pages, and overboiling water. Hen and Gull never complained, but that wasn’t an indicator that they liked any of it: perhaps they were just polite.

 

Despite his wife’s culinary ineptitude, Reginald had commissioned a long table be built for the kitchen. Adele thought it a jab, a hint that her husband wanted two dozen children, or at the very least friends, and she said so out loud once, trying to make it sound lofty and joking. Reg didn’t laugh. (They were hit or miss now, these quips that would have once had him smirking and shooting one just as sassy back at her.)

 

“Legolas informed me of your tendency towards buffet lunches,” was what he’d said. “I assumed it would be good if you and the children had more space.”

 

It wasn’t without grudge that Adele agreed: yes, it was good they she and Honorine had more space, and it was also good that any guests Reginald brought home did their eating and negotiating in the dining room and not the kitchen, because Adele and the children used the table as a workbench, display case, and bookshelf in addition to eating off it like highbrow heathens. Books, crafts, newspapers, maps, bottles, and skeins of yarn jostled for space; crusts and crumbs and spreading tea stain pools that the aging Lego could not keep up with pocked and uglied the table’s face. Adele had always been messy, although straight filth was never an option, and this table her husband had chosen for his family was being put to good use, well-disguised commentary on her lifestyle though it might have been.

 

Today, Adele was watching the kettle (or: standing closer to it than usual while reading a worn-out copy of Livadia Quelly’s Castle Gripworthy, because Honorine had earlier made the comment that being so far away from burning hot things was, not dangerous, but unwise – the word choice gave Adele an inward chuckling feeling) while Hen sat at the table. When the kettle began to steam and scream, Adele finished the sentence she was reading, not looking at any expression her daughter might be wearing at that moment, and poured hot water into mugs. Tucking Gripworthy under her arm and adding teabags to steep, Adele moved to the table and sat across from her eldest child.

 

“Cream today?” she asked. “And sugar?”

 

(Was it that Honorine took her tea different every day, or that her mother could never remember how she liked it?)

Edited by Adele Ellsworth

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Honorine Nott

They lived at that table.

 

This occurred to Honorine as she pretzeled herself into her usual chair and assessed its contents day in and day out, sharing a knowing look with Legolas. The house elf had a way of glaring at the table for a solid eight seconds before turning his nose up to the mess and his better nature, finding something else to clean. He was her second–best friend.

 

She wished she could say there was rhyme or reason to the mess, that everyone had their own section of the table to do with as they pleased, but this wasn't the case. Gull had made broken quill art on construction paper, which had immediately been squashed by a mountain of Adele's paperbacks, which Hen had been surreptitiously cutting to bits and pieces to make her cut-and-paste poems, which were stacked neatly by a pile of dishes that looked clean, but she wouldn't necessarily count on it. A string of yarn lined the edge of the table, the ball it belonged too fallen to the ground and currently being used by Gulliver as a pillow. The girl absently pitter-pattered mindless patterns onto his hibernating body with her sock-clad feet, knowing very well that he wouldn't feel a thing.

 

Nott Family Living, were it to become a periodical, would consist of this table and this table alone. Even Daddy sat at it when he was home. It was the closest thing to the foursome bonding that they had, and though she'd never admit to it, she clung onto the moments when all their sounds and scents mingled together among the perpetual smell of burnt toast and the sad smiles you could seen in all their eyes.

 

Today she munched on blueberries swimming in plain vanilla yogurt and watched Adele, as she always did, to make sure that the house didn't burn down. During times like these, she communicated in loud sighs that only sometimes worked, and that was fine by her. So long as the tea made it onto the table without bursting into flames, she was the happiest Hen in the coop.


"Lemon," she replied. "And honey." To her only slight surprise, the two things burst forth from their cupboards and landed onto the table in front of her with a thud. She wrinkled her nose, her fingers immediately going to her eyebrows in distress. "That keeps on happening," she mumbled in frustration. "I wasn't even feeling things that time." Her accidental magic had reached its pinnacle in the recent months. It was all the girl could do to shift her eyes at her mother, search for any hint of annoyance, and go back to playing with her yogurt.

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Adele Ellsworth Nott

Del's stock of paperbacks had been on a constant tide of ebb and flow since the children had been born. What Gulliver wanted with them she had yet to discover, though she had seen him carrying them around – the ones with the drearier covers, especially, to the attic, especially – and they never came back again whole. Honorine used them for clippings and words. Adele prided herself on her composure over this: most mothers, she thought, would rage and lament, would quash their kids down with lectures on the importance of literature, of caring for other people's things more than you cared for you own. Adele had no such mantras. These poem pieces: Honorine might not know it, but they came from her mother, Adele's memorized words from mesmerized worlds.

 

The poems were stacked by dirty dishes which were stacked by two sacks of small potatoes and a head-sized red onion on the counter. As Del took the kettle off the burner it hushed, but Hen groaned: cupboards snuck open, a lemon tore itself from its woven sack and a jar of honey, purple-capped and kingly, flew through the air and landed in front of the seven-year-old.

 

Hen hated her magic.

 

Adele poured two mugs of hot water (if Gull wanted anything it was cool, or direct from the sink) and brought them to the table, sitting across from her daughter. She thought of a poem she had crafted, snipped from the pages of Marrowbone's Cuthbert's Conviction, a maudlin novel from the mid-1800s about a mediwizard's undaunted dedication to a winless war. The poem was accordingly sad, and Del found that she was alternately proud and worried to note this: it gave Hen credit towards maturity, but could also define her as morose.

 

Tea bags plucked from a tiny bowl with tiny tongs, placed in burly mugs. Del's foot joined her daughter's on Gulliver's back. He did not stir; she could feel his snores in the sole of her foot.

 

"Feeling's not everything to do with it," Adele said, gently but with matter-of-factness, too. "Sometimes magic is nothing more than proof of a world that doesn't react the way you want it to all the time." She'd once broken a full wine bottle in the woods with Miles at the ripe age of nineteen, and that was out of emotion, but then so many of the times were unexpected accidents: showing her brother Tristan a feather she had found in the woods in Giggleswick, only to have it prop itself up on its nib in her palm and rotate, on display; the time she had wished absently for an apple in the midst of a particularly enchanting paragraph about an orchard in The Mooncalf by Tabitha Eagerheart and one plunked out of cold storage at the Vicarage and rolled all the way up the cellar stairs to the back porch to knock into her foot, battered mealy brown.

 

She doctored her daughter's tea with the cheeky lemon and the honey, mimicked the method for her own, sat back and examined her firstborn. The girl's face had elongated, some, and her eyelids had gotten heavier. Or was she tired? Or bored? Underfed? Overtea'd? Adele could think she knew something, then remember very quickly that surety was an illusion.

 

"Does your magic…bother you?" she had to ask. Adele had only ever known power in accidents: she was a bad witch, bad at spellcasting and bullocks at charm. She could not pass that on to her children. She could not pass Tristan's hatred of magic, his inability to cope, onto them, either.

Edited by Adele Ellsworth

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Honorine Nott

They never discussed it, how much like her father she could be. How the appearance of control was one of the things that mattered most to her, even if that was all it was—an appearance. The chaos they lived in, the perpetual they were cluttered in, was a source of comfort for Honorine, because it was a choice. She could choose to clean up after her haphazard family, or at worst could command Legolas to clean it for her.

 

Magic, at least thus far, was far from controlled chaos.

 

She removed her hands from her face, checking the pads of her fingers for stray hair before gripping the bowl in front of her once more. She likened her magic to the nervous habits she possessed: the twisting of her brows, the grinding of her baby teeth (made difficult in recent weeks by her missing incisors), the cracking of her knuckles, all of these were things that just happened, whether she liked it or not, and that was fine. Implosions that were limited to her mind and body were something the young girl did not concern herself with, a forgiveness of harm unto herself that would have been alarming, if she weren't so hyperconscious of it. Magic did not limit itself to the confines of her personal space, however. And that was what bothered her. Scared her.

 

These were things she could share with her mother, if only she found the right words to share them with. Luckily, Adele was adept at giving her the openings she needed to make the words flow out of her the way they needed to.

 

"Yes," she replied to the question. "Sort of." She wrapped her tiny hands around the warm cup, pressing her face into the steep. Where her brother was cool and dry, she was warm and humid. Where he was deadened smiles, she was dark frowns and pinched faces.  "I don't mind having the magic itself. I mind that...that the magic has me just as much as I have it. That it does what it wants and doesn't care what I want." Honorine was particularly talkative when it came to her mother, opening up with her in verbose ways that she couldn't manage with anyone else, but even with her there was a point where she simply ran out of steam. She looked up at her eyes reflected in Mum's through the fog of the piping hot pot, wondering not for the first time what the woman made of this girl she'd brought to life.

 

Hen took another sip of her tea, reveling in the way it rushed through the holes in her smile and scalded the roof of her mouth, waiting for the appropriate amount of silence to pass before daring to speak again. "So if, if it's not feelings that makes it happen then what does?" She knew better than anyone that you can't simply tell monsters what to do.

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Adele Ellsworth Nott

Adele sipped her tea and listened. The rush of the boil made her tongue-buds bloom, the roots of her teeth creak; Hen’s rush of words filled her ears and a little wrinkle pleated her brow.

 

Her daughter was describing her magic the way one would a dog: possessed and possessive, misbehaving but sweet. If she had inherited anything from her mother, it was her way with words, although it was rare for Hen to use them so candidly. Del knew perfectly well that Honorine spoke to her with more frankness and vocabulary than she gifted anyone else, but she had to wonder: if this speech was merely the words she chose to make audible, what others buzzed around bright in her little head?

 

Gulliver wriggled, caught in a dream. Del stroked his back with her foot and he calmed. She took another pull of tea, and a breath.

 

“One day it will do what you want…mostly.” Del – bottle-breaker, sad-song-maker – knew she couldn’t promise anything when it came to magic: her own was unpredictable and thrifty, choosing its rebellious moments when the opportunity arose to show the people she loved most exactly how she felt, even if she wouldn’t say it. Adele of all people knew what it was like to feel as though your magic was as uncontrollable as an untrained Mastiff.

 

“My magic is strongest when it’s made of feelings, but it’s also imposs— hard to control when that happens.” She twisted down to glance at her son. “Gulliver’s magic is like mine. And Uncle Tristan’s.” She kept mum on the nature of her brother’s nasty magic, mum on how worried she was for Gull.

 

“I think yours comes more from your thoughts. Wills and wants. Your magic reads you like a book.” Del smiled, trying to encourage. Lifting her mug, she pressed it to her chin, feeling the heat, letting the steam cloud her vision, thinking.

 

“Your feelings seem to happen after your magic does, so it needs to draw from somewhere else.”

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Honorine Nott

It must have something to do with her genetics, obviously. The passionate, frenetic outbursts of her mother's magic combined with the callous and overwhelming nature of her father's predestined this hurricane of power that consumed her. She suspected that it was half the reason Gull slept so much—you could hardly do the damage they were capable of while you were unconscious. Knowing where it stemmed from didn't do much by way of staunching her frustrations, though.

 

That was where Adele came in. Though she acknowledged her father as the smarter half of her chemical makeup, he also had little patience for the ambiguous, unless he could take it back to his lab and break it down into logical parts. Mum was the opposite. Even as she was, she understood these things.

 

And Hen knew, without having to think too hard about it, that she'd be quoting the sound of her mother's voice back to herself until the day she lost her mind.

 

"Like a book," she repeated, sounding skeptical but liking the idea. If her magic was merely picking up on the bits of foreshadowing in her life that she tended to miss, then everything immediately started to make a little more sense. She took another sip of tea, falling into the vortex of thought that her mother was surely used to by now, staring at a spot just over the woman's left ear as she tried to make sense of it all.

 

Then her mother said something interesting, that had the girl unconsciously rephrasing her. "I don't have feelings so the magic clings to something else. It can't get into my heart so it gets into my brain." She furrowed her bushy brows. "I can't stop thinking though, so the magic will just keep happening. All I can do is...trick it into doing something less annoying." She relaxed a little, a ghost of a smile on her face. "Edit the endings. Right?"

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Adele Ellsworth Nott

Honorine’s mind was billowing and big, though Adele could not imagine it was a bright place. With thoughts like hers, the inside of Hen’s head was probably more made of glowing bursts and pulsing beams, mostly awash in gloom and wonder rather than burning with the dumb curiosity of a child unafraid of anything. It wasn’t better or worse to be this way, but Del had to imagine it was painful, sometimes.

 

She nodded and wondered along with her daughter. Gull yawned and rose, spectral, relocating himself to the bench with his curly little head heavy in Del’s lap. She did not touch him, just let him rest.

 

“Right,” she agreed, though she did not reflect Hen’s specter smile. Editing a brain like a book was different from training it like a dog. It was more like changing direction than forcing a will. Like raising a puppy, though, it was best to start young. Perhaps control would come, and affection, eventually, if Hen started practicing early: caution and care, redirecting her blurring frustrated mind into a funnel of bright sides.

 

“Don’t try to stop your brain from thinking,” Del recommended finally. “But don’t always let it go anywhere it wants. There’s power in that.” Now she smiled. Gulliver stirred against her thigh, put his hand on her knee. Del petted his head, now.

 

“Your head and heart should work together to write your story.”

Edited by Adele Ellsworth

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Honorine Nott

Her brain was not an easy thing to explain, nor to describe. For Hen, it often felt like there were two versions of her battling it out in her mind: the Hen that she should be at nine years old, all cheerful naivety and carefree curiosity; and the Hen that she was, cynical and quick to compartmentalize, so break things down to their simplest parts until they lost meaning. She was Noam Chomsky's living nightmare, with vortexes and black holes that defied any semblance of universality. That was her version of normal; her magic simply needed to get used to it.

 

If she were being honest, she was grateful that these types of conversations didn't happen often. She noted quickly the point in their talk when her mother went from giving her genuine advice to pelting platitudes at her, filling in the gaps with stuff that you'd only find in self-help books, or worse, diaries.

 

Whether her mother knew that she did this or not was well beyond Hen's ability to care.

 

At last she relaxed, her face retaking a child-like composure, her shoulders slouching. "If they don't want to work together, I can't force them." As close to a joke as one would ever get out of Hen: deadpan snark. She took a final sip of her tea, which was growing cold, tapping her toes to the ground three times before standing up, signaling to her mother that as far as she was concerned, this conversation was done. It was a rare vestige of power that she held: the ability to cut something short. "I like that though. I feel like I can make something with the Neruda book. Can I use it?" She grabbed the tiny pink book of love poems with nimble fingers, knowing that though her mother hated the way her daughter destroyed books for the sake of her own art, she'd never stop her.

 

She was halfway out the room when she turn, her fringe tickling the tops of her eyelids as she said, "Thanks, Mum. It's gonna be okay, right?"

 

She didn't have to wait to hear the answer.

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