I have no idea what Keely’s power is. But I’ve always been haunted by stories in which someone had something really good, then they did something stupid and lost it. This is one of those.
“You can tell me.”
The voice came from nowhere and everywhere all at once. Keely could feel it under her feet, at her fingertips, on her scalp. It breathed and tingled; it yearned and reached and caressed. Keely curled her legs into her chest and clasped them tightly with her long arms. She rested her cheek on her bare knees.
“Tell me,” it said again. “You can, you know.”
The breeze scattered the papery leaves along the mossy carpet stretched out in front of her. She watched them turn somersaults, only to be replaced by newcomers to pick up their movements. The voice hung on the edges of the current, exhaling into its momentum. “Tell me… tell me… tell me.” High above, needles rattled in the branches, ebbing and flowing with the voice.
Keely put her hands over her ears. “No,” she said. “This is not for you to know. This is not for anyone to know. I promised.”
“Ah,” the voice said, sighing into her ears. “But what, exactly, did you promise? You said you wouldn’t tell another living soul. Am I a living soul?”
“I don’t know,” Keely said, clamping her hands tighter. It didn’t make a difference; the voice was in her head. “It’s not important,” Keely said. “What’s important is the promise.”
“But what is a promise but words?” Leaves swirled around Keely’s slight form, dipping and diving like an invitation to dance. “And words have meaning, you know.”
“I know that,” Keely said. She put her face on her knees and wrapped her arms around her head. “Go away. I want you to go away.”
“But why, child? I’m only here to help.” The ends of Keely’s dark hair floated away from her head then drifted back to her shoulders. “This is too much for a young girl like you to keep to herself. Don’t you feel it? The heavy burden? Let me take some of it for you. I can help you carry it.”
Keely’s shoulders slumped as if someone had indeed balanced something heavy on them. But she still insisted, “No. It’s not too heavy. And it’s mine. Just mine. I promised.”
“Ah, but it’s so unfair,” the voice said. “Why would they give this to you? Someone so young. Someone so small. Someone so,” the voice chuckled, “forgive me—ordinary. What have you done to deserve this burden? This prison?”
Keely looked up. Her gray eyes flashed. “It’s not a prison,” she said, looking around for the origin of the voice.
“Isn’t it? You carrying this power within you, not being able to share it openly, never telling anyone. How will you lead a normal life, child? How will you marry? Raise a family?”
Keely’s eyes grew bright. “I don’t know,” she said.
“Of course you don’t,” the voice said. “How could you know? Those who gave you this power don’t care about you. You’re a vessel. A means to their ends. And those ends,” the chuckle came again, “have nothing to do with you, sweet girl. They don’t care about you.”
Keely’s brow furrowed. “That’s not true,” she said. “Mama and Papa—“
“—are gone, regrettably. And left these others in charge. They don’t love you, do they? No. They don’t. They can’t.”
A tear cut a line down Keely’s cheek. The breeze wiped it away. “No,” Keely said. “I don’t believe you.”
“Yes, you do. I hear it in your voice. You know what I’m saying is the truth. Let me help you, child. Let me share your burden. Tell me and you will live a normal life. Tell me and you will be loved. Tell me and you will be free.”
Keely opened her mouth to speak, but the words she’d meant to say didn’t form. “I can’t,” she said instead.
“I’ll help you,” the voice said. “They’re just sounds. You can whisper it, if you’d like. Then you can be certain that only I will hear.”
Keely’s mouth quivered.
“Whisper it,” the voice said. “Whisper it. Whisper it. Whisper it.”
The breeze became stronger, and the leaves whirled into a funnel around Keely. The wind and the leaves themselves were chanting, “whisper it whisper it whisper it whisper it.”
Keely closed her eyes. Her lips pressed together. Her tongue touched her teeth and the roof of her mouth. When the last syllable died away with an exhale, a gale rose up from the forest floor. Keely’s hair stood straight up from her head, and the fauna around her shot into the air. And then it was over; the forest was still and silent.
“You shouldn’t have told me, child,” the voice said. But I thank you. The power is mine now. You are free. You will soon wish you weren’t.”
Keely said nothing. Her face was pale, her eyes empty.
“I’m leaving you now. I’m sorry to say you won’t remember this day fondly. You broke a promise. A whisper is still made of words. And words,” the voice became faint, “have meaning.”