Chapter One

August 27th, 2025

9:55 pm

The firelight casted shadows across the barren wood paneled floor. I sat in silence, waiting for the usual knock at the front door and consecutive orders shouted through its aging wood.

Night seemed to come so early. Dinner was no longer filling. Life was no longer carefree. So many changes in a span of a year, and not one made life better.

I looked up from my stool and watched as my mother gathered her bag of salt and a faded stump of chalk. Turning to face me, the light cast her face in a withered glow. Her features were written heavily into her skin, the furrowed brow lines now a permanent resident on her face. Her hair was greying around the temples. The golden glow of her eyes now a dull shade of yellow. "Lyle can you please watch the bedroom door, we can't have the Watchers getting suspicious," she whispered.

I nodded.

Taking her things, she walked on her toes into her bedroom and closed the door. I knew what she was doing in there. It was never spoken about for fear of government bugs, but it was common knowledge in our household. What she was doing was forbidden, a broken law that was worse than murder. No judge would oversee her if caught, no jail sentence imposed. Those definitive American staples were now gone under the New Laws. America the free wasn't free anymore.

I could hear under the sharp crackled of the firelight a low chanting. My mother's voice was unmistakable. The words of magic were unmistakable, too.

Heavy footsteps from outside the downstairs door broke my concentration, and I could feel the heavy thud of my heart inside my rib cage. The blood pumped hard, drowning out sound entirely. I grabbed my wrists to stop them from shaking and swallowed hard.

"Watcher Mitchell here imposing curfew at this residence. Do not leave until 7 am under penalty of law 201.45. Anyone caught leaving their place of residence will not be spared swift punishment!" The voice boomed.

"Yes sir," I replied.

I waited a few beats and strained to hear, waiting in my seat in fear of any noise may set off suspicion.

A few leaves crunched underfoot as I heard the man called Marshall take his leave. I breathed out my stolen breath and ceased shaking.

Safe. For now.

I knew what mother was doing couldn't go on much longer. I was eternally grateful for her willingness to risk death just to feed us more than the Government rationed us. But the law was no longer forgiving or kind. It was hell.

"All clear mom," I called. I could still make out the low hushed chanting.

There was so much about life that had been warped in such a short amount of time. Schools were no longer open, grocery stores no longer bustling with mothers shopping for important dinner dates. Freedom to go and come as we pleased was no longer a right but something that was punishable by death.

The bedroom door swung open cautiously, and I nodded to make sure mom knew the area was safe. She smiled a warm smile and pulled a bundle of bread wrapped in a stained cream colored cloth from behind her back.

Food.

I could hear my stomach respond to my eyes at the viewing of the rations. She had successfully pulled off one of the more difficult spells it seemed. She was getting quicker and quicker at conjuring, and if left unchecked she could soon find herself tempted to conjure things that the government would have trouble stopping.

"Thanks mom. Were you careful? You know the watchers now have the legal right to use magic in the search for other magic users," I asked, taking a loaf of crisp white bread and tasting its sweet cloud like innards.

"Yes sweetheart," She responded, taking a bite herself.

Silence swallowed the moment in all its purified glory as we sat, by the heat of the fire, and aloud thoughts of a better time fill out heads. How simple and beautiful life had been just a short year ago.

Without warning, the door came crashing in with a snap. Dust settled upon the hardwood floors as the silhouette of 4 uniformed Officers stared back into the haze with beady eyes.

It was then I realized that safety is nothing but a mere illusion.