A long time ago, somewhere out in the countryside, there was a small town. In the biggest house, there lived a humble wizard and his wife. The day the two were married came as no surprise to the rest of the town. The couple were well known as childhood sweethearts in the whispers of the local gossipers. Their wedding celebration was one of loud music, energetic dancing, and happy wishes. Only a year later did the couple announce that the wizard’s wife was expecting a child. Celebration was in the air once more. Every woman in town came to the sweet lady’s shower, burying her in a mountain of freshly-sewn clothes and handmade toys for her child to enjoy when they arrived in the world. The wizard hardly went a day without hearing some form of “Congratulations!” shouted at him when he walked into the market. Though it was tiring, the wizard would always smile and thank them with a wave.
Finally, just at the dawn of spring, the day arrived when the child was born. The townspeople eagerly waited outside the town clinic for the couple to emerge.
“A spring baby!” one woman giddily whispered to her friend. “Must be a sign of a new, beautiful year waiting for us!”
The door of the clinic creaked open. Out stepped the doctor, a solemn expression on his face. It was enough to quell the excitement and mutterings of the crowd, and no one dared to speak for one agonizing moment.
“It’s a healthy baby girl,” the doctor said, before lowering his head. “But her mother, sadly, has passed on while bringing the child to us.”
The news struck everyone like shards of glass. The townspeople spent the next few days in inconsolable despair. None felt it more than the wizard, who barricaded himself in the couple’s once happy home. His daughter was left in the care of an elderly nurse, a woman hardened by the loss of her own child decades ago, and thus, was able to step up while the rest of the town was burdened with grief.
Months passed, and while the rest of the town slowly but steadily returned to their everyday lives, the wizard remained locked up in his study. No one in town knew what he did all day, but none were brave enough to knock on the door to find out. The only one who saw the wizard was the elderly nurse, who would bring his daughter over for visits.
The nurse often gathered around in a sewing circle with her friends and shook her head. “His house stinks of whiskey. There are books and papers lying all over the place, and I always find him at his desk. Nowhere else in the house, always his desk!”
One of her friends piped in, “And what about the girl? Is he kind to her?”
The nurse sighed. “He talks to her. Tries to play with her, but he always ends up tired and goes to bed early. Even when she cries and begs him to stay awake longer, he won’t have it. Poor girl was slapped once when she threw a fit.”
Years of the visits followed, and even as the daughter grew older and learned more words for conversation with her father, each visit was the same. At age seven, the girl asked her father to come outside and fly a kite with her. He told her he was tired. At age ten, the girl asked her father to read to her. He told her he was tired. At age thirteen, the girl asked her father to hug her after a classmate made her cry. He told her he was tired.
“I hate him!” the girl shouted one day as she walked home with the nurse. “Selfish old ass! Can we please stop coming here?”
The nurse narrowed her eyes at her. “Bite your tongue, young lady. Your father has been hurting since your mother died. Can’t you try to understand and lighten his pain?”
One week later, the girl once again went to visit her father. She asked the nurse if she could go alone this time. The nurse, seeing this as a sign of growth in the girl, happily obliged and sent her off. The girl arrived at the wizard’s home, finding him once again at his desk. She walked over with a request.
“Father, I want to learn magic,” she said.
The wizard replied, “Magic is dangerous. You’re much too young and will only use it for selfish reasons.”
That was the end of the discussion for the day. As always, the wizard found himself too tired and went to bed early. However, instead of leaving as she did every other visit, the girl snuck into the wizard’s study and found his book of spells. After a flip through the pages and a wave of her hands, the girl cast a spell on herself.
Morning came, and the wizard woke up to find his daughter still in his house. He became angry and was close to hitting her until she spoke to him.
“Father, I want to be sad with you, but I can’t because you’re sad over someone I never knew. So please, give me all of your feelings about Mother. Cry every tear, shout every curse at me and soon, I’ll be able to understand you.”
And so, the wizard did. He fell to the floor and let out loud sobs, fat tears streaming down his face. He shouted at his daughter for her disobedience, shouted out towards the window at the nosy town, and shouted at death itself for taking away his wife. Soon, the girl’s magic began to take hold. The wizard’s tears hit the floor, transforming into blue clouds of mist. His shouts took the form of red smoke leaking from his mouth. The girl held out her hand, letting the blue clouds and red smoke be absorbed into her skin.
With this, the wizard stopped his crying and shouting. He stood up, feeling lighter than ever. Though, he watched in confusion as his daughter screamed and cried out for her mother. She threw items around the house. Finally, it all culminated with his daughter collapsing onto the floor in tears. The wizard could only observe. Not knowing what else to do, the wizard brought her to the couch and sat with her until she was done.
The wizard gently patted his daughter’s head. He whispered to her in a soft voice.
“There, there, dear. No need to cry.”
After that day, the wizard began leaving his house. He greeted his neighbors for the first time in years. He went out to gatherings, chatted with old friends in the marketplace, and winked at a group of women admiring him from afar every day. When the time came for his daughter to visit him, he would be waiting outside the house for her. He cooked up a meal for her, and the two would talk. He listened to her worries and frustrations about school. He laughed at her jokes, and he asked her about her magic.
“Tell me, dear,” the wizard said, “what is that spell of yours?”
The girl answered, “It lets me take the feelings of people. So, I can feel what they feel.”
He didn’t think much of it, instead praising her for accomplishing such a feat at her young age.
“I really miss Mother,” the girl then said. “Now I understand why you missed her for so long. You loved her dearly, didn’t you, Father?”
The wizard stirred in his seat. The answer felt obvious, and yet, for some reason, it didn’t feel true anymore. He tried to picture his wife, her eyes and smile, that voice he’d longed to hear again for years. The image was clear in his mind.
But he felt nothing at all.
“Yes dear,” the wizard said in a flat voice. “I loved her very much.”
The wizard wasn’t the only one to witness his daughter’s spell. As the years went by, the people of the town caught on to the girl’s magic.
When she was sixteen, the girl would walk with her classmate, another girl around her age, every morning to school. Her classmate vented to her about her strict, controlling mother trying to shape every aspect of her life. The girl nodded, and let her classmate’s anger leak out as scarlet steam flowed into her.
That evening, the classmate went home and, with no hostility, did everything her mother asked of her.
When she was twenty, the girl broke up with a young man she’d been dating for a few weeks. The young man cried at her feet, begging her to take him back. His tears evaporated into light blue mist that flowed into the girl.
From that day on, the young man went from girl to girl, breaking hearts without shedding a single tear.
When she was twenty-three, the girl had gotten a job at the local general store. She came into work one day to find her boss, a middle-aged man, trembling with fear on the floor of the ransacked store. Apparently, a burglar broke in the night before and stole most of the store’s stock. The girl gently patted his shoulder, letting his fear turn into puffs of violet smoke before she absorbed them.
The next day, the middle-aged man tracked down the burglar, and without even flinching, challenged him to a fistfight. The store owner was thrown to the ground, but he got up again and again, challenging the burglar to another fight. Even after being beaten to the point where he could no longer stand, the middle-aged man shouted at the burglar through bloody teeth:
“Fight me, fight me, you coward!”
On her twenty-fifth birthday, the girl was led to the town square by her father. When they arrived, she was met with a surprise party thrown by the townspeople. They gathered around her, showering her with gifts and compliments. The girl smiled. She opened her mouth to thank them, to express how happy she was.
But she couldn’t. Because that was a lie.
She felt angry. She felt sad. She felt jealous. She felt afraid. She felt bitter. She felt lonely. She felt disgusted. She felt everything at once. She felt clogged, like her body would burst. All of these feelings filling her up, and her own happiness, her own joy, was buried beneath the feelings of others.
“Dear, what’s wrong?” asked her father.
The girl fell to her knees and let out a deafening screech. Tears formed in her eyes, but not ones of salty water. Instead, her tears came out as a thick, bubbling goop of every color imaginable. Reds, blues, greens, violets, whites, blacks, magentas, it was as if she were crying out a rainbow. She hunched over, letting the colorful tears fall to the ground.
As each drop and each color hit the ground, one by one, the townspeople felt something they hadn’t felt in a long time. The girl’s former classmate felt a raging heat within her. She turned towards her mother standing next to her and screamed angrily, rattling off a list of years’ worth of pent-up aggressions. The young man thought of every girl whose heart he’d toyed with, and he began to sob uncontrollably. The middle-aged man caught a glimpse of the burglar in the crowd, and he felt his own breath caught in his throat. Then he took off running to safety.
Finally, the wizard felt tears form in his own eyes for he thought of his wife. He thought of her smile, her voice, her arms, and he missed her all over again. Yet with this returned sadness, he could feel certain again, for the first time in years, that he truly, dearly loved his wife.
But another feeling, a crawling, gripping feeling, rose in the wizard. Guilt.
As the rest of the townspeople began to cry, scream, and laugh all around him, the wizard, his body heavy with this new feeling, made his way towards his daughter, who still sat on the ground. The last of the goopy, colorful tears had fallen down her eyes.
The wizard, with trembling arms, pulled his daughter into a hug and wept, “My girl! My dear! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!”
But the girl felt nothing at all.
Emily Keenley is a fourth-year English writings major with a concentration in composition. firstname.lastname@example.org