There are some that say there is a natural beacon that speaks to us, a divine source in the sky. Others believe that talent can only be artificially wrought by a set series of equations or events that happen in an exact place at an exact time.
For one little girl, this talent—neither naturally taught, and with no chance of being supernaturally given—would test the boundaries of what she, her parents, and everyone around her thought.
Anna Marqes, a seven-year-old who attended the local primary school, could make origami swans. The sad and mysterious fact was, no one had taught her this peculiar talent, nor had it been directly effected by any influence at home. The family owned no books, not a single television set, nor a radio for which instructions could be heard. The local school—though as prestigious and well-thought-of as could be—did not teach the children how to make such things. Anna’s teacher had said so herself, right after she’d called to ask her mother where Anna had learned origami.
In the end, the Marqes had but one explanation—that despite their disdain for anything supernatural, and despite their nonbelief in things or forces higher than them, God had given the little girl her talent.
They would soon learn that folding a piece of paper wasn’t all that Anna could do.
Over the next few years, the Marqes began to notice that not all of Anna’s creations would remain in the places they put them. Oftentimes her mother would set a freshly-made swan on the china cabinet only to find the creation gone the next time she turned around. At first, she thought nothing of it, believing it to only be Anna taking back the creations that rightfully belonged to her. But, soon enough, she began to realize that the little girl made too many swans for them to simply be hidden.
Anna’s mother began to wonder whether or not her daughter’s swans meant more than met the eye.
At sixteen, Anna entered puberty, a bizarre and painful period for any teenage girl, especially for a late bloomer such as animal. First came the breasts, then came the blood. Hit with both in rapid succession, Anna’s body wreaked havoc on every bit of her. At times her eyes would dilate as though a rabbit had been caught in the headlights of a car and her limbs would seize up in violent struggles, as though a demon inhabited her body. She would go into fits of rage, screaming at the top of her lungs and hurling things across the room with seemingly-supernatural strength. The violent, painful outbreaks eventually got to the point where Sincere, fearful for her daughter’s life, rushed her to the hospital and into the emergency room.
Each and every time, they told her the same thing—Anna, a normal teenage girl, had entered puberty, and that the violent muscle spasms in her arms were caused by nothing more than stress.
They sent Sincere home with a bottle of muscle relaxers and bid her a good day.
Sincere knew better than to believe such things.
Her daughter may have entered puberty, but not the kind she herself had gone through.
At home, three days after Anna’s seventeenth birthday, Sincere looked up to find her daughter reading a book at the kitchen table. On its white, sweat-stained pages, a woman stood in full nudity, the inside of her body charted out with red, white, and purple. Anna’s eyes darted over the diagram, engaging each and every part of it with full attention.
“Anna,” Sincere said, taking a step forward. “Would you like something to eat?”
Surprised, the girl looked up and tilted her book away from her mother’s eyes.
“Yes Mom,” she whispered.
Nothing above a whisper had come out of Anna’s mouth since her sixteenth birthday, and, Sincere suspected, nothing ever would.
Watching her daughter with somewhat-calm eyes, Sincere turned and walked to the fridge, where she opened the bulbous contraption and pulled out butter and jam. She pulled a piece of bread from the drawer, slathered it in butter, then pulled another and smoothed a copious amount of jam over the surface. Once finished, she set the sandwich on a plate and spun to face her daughter.
Anna was nowhere to be seen.
“Anna?” she asked. “Where are you?”
When no response came, Sincere stepped forward, set the sandwich on the table, and made her way into the living room.
She found nothing but a single swan inside, sitting on the middle of the glass coffee table.
“Hmm,” she mused, plucking the creature from its resting place.
She’d found that, once in a great while, Anna would leave a room without saying a word and disappear to make swans in some random part of the house. Whether she was in her bedroom, the basement, or the attic, Sincere did not know. The place changed each and every time.
“Anna!” she called. “Where are—”
A flicker of movement crossed her wrist.
Instinctively, she jerked the appendage back.
The swan soared, then came to land on the carpet below her.
“What in the world?” she breathed, looking for any trace of the insect that had just crossed her hand.
Frowning, Sincere crouched, picked up the swan, and set it back on the table.
For a moment, she simply stood there, perturbed at what had just happened.
She turned, looked at the swan, and felt a presence touch her body.
She found Anna in the garden, accompanied by a rabbit, a turtle, and an arrangement of teacups set on a small rock.
“There you are,” Sincere smiled. “I was looking for you.”
Anna turned her head up, surprise lighting the surface of her green eyes.
“I was,” she nodded. “I’ve made you a sandwich, if you’re ready for it.”
“Maybe in a minute,” the girl said. “We’re having tea.”
Not sure what to say, Sincere returned her eyes to the rock Anna’s origami creations sat on. The rabbit, the turtle, and the cups from which they imaginarily drank out of had all been folded and birthed in green paper, the special kind Anna’s grandmother bought at the craft store. Sincere still couldn’t imagine where her daughter had ever learned to make the things. The turtle and the rabbit were understandable. A simple textbook—which Anna could have easily procured at school—would have taught her how to make them. The cups, though… something about their size bothered her. Anna’s fingers, while not large, could not possibly have made them.
“Well, you’ve done a great job,” Sincere smiled, setting a hand on her daughter’s back. “Come inside when you’re ready, honey.”
“I will. Just wait until tea’s done.”
“I will,” Sincere said, at a loss of what to say to her daughter. “Don’t worry, honey—I will.”
At noon, after tea ended and Anna ate her sandwich, Sincere began her daily chores. Cleaning the counters, wiping the sinks, sweeping the floor and vacuuming the living room floor—all part of her day, all part of the routine she set into after she married her husband. He didn’t ask for much, other than a clean house and a good dinner at night.
Because he doesn’t want any more than that.
She stopped caring about sex around last year, when he stopped asking for it. At first she got suspicious, then stopped caring. Who was she to question a man’s virility? Jacob was almost fifty, after all.
You shouldn’t have married him, her mother had told her. He’s too old for you, Sincere. He’s old enough to be your father.
“I know,” she whispered. “I know.”
The front door opened. Startled, Sincere brought the broom to her chest to find her husband standing in the doorway, graying hair windblown and glasses askew.
“The wind’s blowing like hell out there,” Jacob laughed, sliding his arms out of his coat. “It won’t be long before it starts raining.”
“So soon?” she frowned.
“Anna was just outside, she—”
A clap of thunder exploded overheard. The lights dimmed and lightning flashed a moment later.
“It doesn’t take long for them to blow in once they get started,” Jacob said, brushing up against her as he made his way into the living room. He paused in midstride, sliding an arm across her chest and setting his hand on her opposite shoulder. “Has she been well?”
“Anna? She’s been fine. Why are you—”
“Did she have tea today?”
“Jacob, I don’t think that really matt—”
Jacob walked into the living room before she could finish.
Sighing, Sincere closed her eyes and went back to sweeping.
If anything, she wanted him to leave her daughter alone, to her strange, childish habit that caused no harm.
She woke in the midst of a storm. Harsh, cruel, forcing the old tree to scratch the window with its long, jagged branch, it shook the windows in their panes and made the ceiling crackle with each patter upon the roof. Amazing, how such an old house could withstand such a violent storm, and frightening, how something she couldn’t control could destroy them in a moment’s house.
It’s a strong house, she thought, drawing the blankets around her.
Jacob shifted, settling his back against hers. He mumbled something in his sleep, but didn’t wake or turn over.
“It’s all right,” she whispered. “It’s just the storm.”
Across the room, on the vanity mirror, an origami swam crafted from blue paper winked at her as lightning lit up the outside world.
Where did that come from?
Rising, she pushed her legs over the bed and crept toward the vanity mirror, extending her arm to take the swan in her hand.
Before she could get there, a crack of thunder knocked her off her feet.
Out of the corner of her eye, the swan went flying.
She thought she saw its wings flapping before she ran and threw herself into the bed.
No. There’s nothing wrong Anna. There isn’t. She’s just a normal, teenage girl, just a normal—
She jumped. Jacob laughed and set a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m fine,” she said, taking a deep breath. “You scared me.”
“Sorry. I was just going to say, I woke Anna up. She’ll be down in a minute.”
“You don’t have to work today?”
“Company holiday. Something about the boss giving the employees the day off.”
Sincere shrugged. She cracked an egg on the side of the pan, grimacing as it hissed and sizzled.
“Is something wrong?” Jacob asked, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“You seem a little slow this morning.”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“The storm keep you up?”
No, she thought, but nodded anyway.
What kept her up wasn’t the storm, but the swan that got away just as thunder struck. It couldn’t have flown, it just couldn’t. She had to have been seeing things. Paper swans didn’t fly, especially not when you tried to catch them.
She did as asked.
Jacob flipped the egg just before it could burn.
“Let me make breakfast,” he said, glancing up from the morning’s meal. “Go sit down. Read a book, watch TV—let yourself wake up.”
Sincere jumped out of her skin for the second time that morning.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Is something wrong?” Anna asked.
“No,” Sincere said. “Nothing’s wrong, honey.”
She started for the living room, but stopped, reaching out to touch her daughter’s shoulder.
When she couldn’t, she knew something really was wrong.
While Anna went to school and Jacob tapped away at the keyboard in the upstairs office, Sincere walked into her daughter’s room and faced down an origami army. Swans, frogs, bunny rabbits and unicorns adorned each and every object in the room. Over Anna’s bed, on her TV, resting atop spare books that she hadn’t and probably would never read—anywhere something could sit, an origami creation did.
Taking a deep breath, Sincere reached out to touch what looked like an elephant extending its trunk in friendly greeting.
What are you? she thought, touching the top of its head. Can you move?
No. Origami animals couldn’t move. Not like the swan did in her bedroom last night, and especially not like a normal, breathing thing.
Get a hold of yourself! There’s nothing wrong with Anna!
What about puberty though? What about the muscle spasms that threatened to send Anna into an epileptic fit? Where had those come from? And how, of all things, had she learned origami?
Something she saw on TV, in a book—something!
A little girl didn’t just see something and make it out of paper, did she?
No. Little girls couldn’t make swans out of origami, not unless someone showed them how.
Something flickered in the background.
She turned just in time to find that every single piece of origami had turned to face her.
“No,” she whispered, backing toward the door. “It can’t—”
She couldn’t finish.
Something caught her foot and sent her to the floor.
“Sincere… Sincere… Honey? Are you all right?”
“Jah…Jacob?” she asked. “Is that you?”
“Yes, honey. Open your eyes.”
Slowly, and with all the strength she could manage, she opened her eyes, then closed them almost immediately when the overhead lights blinded her. After a moment, she forced them open again and waited for them to adjust before focusing on her husband.
“What… what happened?”
“You tripped over this,” Jacob said. He lifted a swan almost as big as his head.
“Where did that come from?”
“I don’t know, but quite frankly, I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, it can all go the moment she walks through the door.”
“Don’t Jacob me, Sincere. These stupid pieces of paper could’ve killed you!”
“But how did I trip over it? It’s just a piece of paper.”
“Just a piece of paper?” Jacob laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s as big as my head.”
“How did she make it though? We don’t have paper that—”
“Again, I don’t care. It’s going the moment she gets home.”
Preferring not to argue, Sincere lifted a hand and accepted Jacob’s grasp. Once on her feet, she reached back, felt the back of her head, and sighed when she found nothing but a small bump.
“You feel all right?” her husband frowned.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Don’t worry—it’s just a bump.”
“All right. Go lay on the couch. If you need anything, I’ll be in the kitchen, working on some papers.”
Jacob didn’t wait for her to start for the living room. He ushered her himself.
She heard them fighting over the sound of her throbbing head. Words like, They have to go and, No, Daddy flew back and forth. Eventually, the fight escalated to a screaming pitch. A door slammed, a voice echoed, and a screech sent Sincere to her feet.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, hurling herself toward Jacob. “Jacob, what’d you—”
“She wouldn’t throw them away,” he said. “So I did.”
Crushed and torn inside a garbage bin were the remains of Anna’s creations. Elephants, squirrels, rabbits, unicorns, crabs, donkeys, horses, elephants—all seemed to cry out at her. Sincere thought she seen some moving—a wing fluttering here, a trunk moving there—but took it as a result of her head.
I hit it too hard, she thought, paper animals moving across her vision. I had to have hit the wall, or fallen into something. I couldn’t have—
Anna stood in the threshold.
Wild, beautiful, eyes raging and mouth in a snarl, she balled a hand into a fist and reached behind her back.
“Go to your room,” Jacob growled. “I’m done with you for the day.”
“YOU CAN’T THROW THEM AWAY!”
“We’ve already had this discussion, Anna. It’s one thing to have them strewn across the house, but another when people start tripping over them. Now, I’m going to ask you nicely one more time—go to your room and stay in your room. If you don’t, you’re going to wish you never started making these stupid little—”
Jacob didn’t finish.
A swan flew out of Anna’s extended hand.
Living, breathing, flying, it flew toward Jacob’s face and struck him in the eye. Screaming, he threw the garbage bin into the wall, shattering a collection of family photographs in a spray of glass. Remnants of other animals crawled or limped toward Anna, animated by strings laid forth by a magical puppeteer.
Jacob screamed as blood gushed from his eye.
“NO!” Sincere screamed, hurling herself toward her daughter.
A unicorn, as large and stocky as a normal barnyard animal, walked out of the hall. A silver knife gleamed from its forehead.
“Go away Mother,” Anna said, raising a hand. A group of seven swans flew from the debris of Jacob’s rampage, all in various states of destruction. “I won’t hurt you if you leave me alone.”
“Call them off him, Anna! You can’t do this!”
“He hurt them,” she whispered, looking up at her unicorn. “And now… now… I’m going to hurt you.”
“Nuh-No, Anna. Don’t do this. Please! I didn’t hurt them!”
“Yes you did. You hurt Charlie.”
The swan, the one she’d tripped over, the one that Jacob tore from piece to piece.
“Anna,” she whispered. “Please.”
A unicorn barreled toward her.
Its horn pierced Sincere’s heart.
There are some that believe magic exists.
For others, it’s more than just a belief.