April’s Gift by Lesley Lawrence

Late Spring of the year 2004, on my 16th birthday, I became custodian of the Gift. My name is April Morgon and nine ordinary years ticked by since that “Sweet Sixteen”. Tomorrow April 19th, I turn 25 and begin a full year of trials and temptations by the infamous (at least to the women in my family) incubus demon, Chaniel. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I, April Morgon have lived many lives in many different periods and places; at least this is what I have come to believe as my truth.

In my current incarnation, I work as a wine broker for the vineyard owners of both the township of Gorth, population 1,806, and the greater wine growing area of Prince Edward County. I also teach chemistry part-time at Gorth High School and my students seem to like me, even if some of the other teachers don’t approve of my unorthodox teaching style.

Anyway, back on that fateful day in 2004, I was a bubbly, naïve farm girl hungering for more of everything life had to offer and blissfully unaware of what the Fates and Grandma Lily were primed to plunk in my lap. How does that time honored saying go? – “Be careful what you wish for”….Oh yeah baby it’s true!

That long ago Saturday morning I rolled over in bed after a restless and dreamless night, very unusual for me – the dreamless part, not the restless part – to find my bedside alarm clock showing 3:00 a.m. – no it wasn’t a digital display, just a simple analog clock, kind of old-fashioned and reliable just like my Grandma. My excitement and fitful sleep were due to the gossip of girls at school that an ex-New York runway model had just opened a beauty salon in Gorth. The best part… said ex-model was offering make-up consultations and limited enrollment modelling classes for teenage girls. All night I’d wrestled, writhed, pondered and plotted with how I was going to get Grandma Lily to sponsor me for those modelling classes. Mom couldn’t do it, she’d left us kids in Grandma and Grandpa’s care, fled the farm, and traipsed after her current boyfriend/lover to Salem, Massachusetts. Dad couldn’t do it. None of us kids knew who our ‘Dad’ was – only Pearl knew, and she wasn’t telling.

To say that good ole Mom was promiscuous isn’t exactly a lie, but don’t ever say that to Grandma Lily. On no!…even though my older brothers, Connor, Patrick and I all have different fathers, none of us ever questioned Mom or Grandma. When the subject came up (and in this small town it came up often when we were growing up… and still does), Grandma would pull her diminutive five foot, two inch frame into a shoulders back, chest out posture, look the mud-slinger straight in the eye, give them a scowl, and reply through pursed lips that her Pearl is one of the Almighty’s free-spirits, end of discussion! If the person was wise, they shut-up, walked away and took their gossip elsewhere. Word of advice – don’t pick a fight with a Morgon woman. We have a demon and an archangel at our call.

You may have noted that women in our family have first names that either represent flowers, months of the year, or gem stones. This is not a coincidence, but a time-honored practice going back generations in unbroken tradition. There’s an explanation for this ritualistic naming practice that I learned about, not from my kin but from Chaniel. Come to think of it, we Morgon women have a lot of rituals and many of them relate to Chaniel. Caution – don’t you say his name out loud or think about him too often. After all, you’re not a Morgon woman, and he just might show up in your dreams to check you out, and then you’re in for it! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Generally, I’m a light sleeper, but that morning I didn’t hear grandma’s fairy-light footfalls which I usually would have, as she passed along the century-old farmhouse’s second floor hallway. But, the second most upper step of our circular oak stairway squeaked at her passing and she mumbled, “Must get Connor to fix that”, and I awoke. Both farmhouse and stairway are throwbacks to times when the farm and its vineyards were prosperous – oh say, like in the time of great, great, great Grandma Garnet. The squeaky stair was my cue to action. I threw off the crisp white sheets (Grandma always line-dried them, flat-ironed them and sprayed them with lavender water – heavenly!), the hand made, red and white star quilt slid from the foot of my brass bed to hit the pine floorboards.  I grabbed my fluffy pink polka dot robe and shoved on the matching comfy slippers. As an afterthought, I swiped the bottle of hot pink nail polish off my bedside table. It would serve as my prop and give me something to do with my hands when I cornered Grandma for this discussion I just had to win!

Welcomed warmth from the kitchen’s venerable wood stove sped serpent-swift through my slipper clad feet serving to relax and encourage me toward my goal. The gleam of a copper kettle on the stove’s back burner lured me to linger long enough to fix up a beaker of orange pekoe – lots o’ sugar, please. Meanwhile, I glanced at the decorative hammered tin kitchen ceiling (another relic from Grandma Garnet’s era) and I glimpsed Lily’s reflection. She sat burrowed deep in the red black MacLeod tartan cushions of her Adirondack rocker on the screened-in verandah. She was a MacLeod on her paternal side and proud of it. You see, all  Morgon women retain their maternal family name, no matter what, and Chaniel insures we do. Some of us find out our father’s identity and some of us never do.

Judging by the pink angora yarn in grandma’s lap and the steady clacking of her wooden knitting needles, it was a safe wager some new Gorth baby girl’s birth was assuredly in the works. Grandma Lily never knit for herself. When asked why she didn’t knit for profit and sell her sweaters down in Gorth’s Gift Shoppe, her reply was always the same, “I knit for love, not for money… end of discussion!” Grandma Lily always had a future shawl, scarf, sweater, vest, or afghan on the go. She always knew when any woman in the Gorth community was with child and she could predict the child’s gender better than any ultrasound. Gossips of Gorth called my Grandma Lily a witch – they were partly right.

I set my tea and nail polish on the glass table and sank into the rocker opposite my feisty forbearer.

“Hey Grana, tell me who’s having a girl baby?”

She stopped rocking, marked her last stitch and put the needlework in her lap.

“Good mornin Sunshine, sleep well did ya? No bad dreams my lass?”

I fidgeted with the nail polish cap, lowered my gaze and attention to my prop, and said, “Nope, no bad dreams Grana.

“Well, well,” she exhaled slowly and continued…  “I reckoned you’d be all abuzz concern’in the new beauty parlor.”

How did she know?

I snapped up my head at her words and belatedly realized I’d make a terrible poker player. My nail polish stroke left a two inch swath of hot pink on the rocker’s armrest. Grana pretended not to notice and continued with,

“This here baby blanket is for that Sondra Sykes fashion model up from New York. She’s here to hitch up with Angus MacPherson’s oldest lad. Word is old Angus is dead set against the union. Angus claims the Sykes woman is a gold digging witch, whose only aim is to get her hook into the heir to Black Prince Winery, — his son Mick.”

She leaned into the backrest of her rocker. A slow, easy smile lit Grana’s face.

“I’d say a baby girl is a damn fine hook, providin the lad owns up to his responsibility. Anything that ruffles old Angus’s feathers is fine by me … I’m just sayin.”

Mama Pearl didn’t bear a fool for a daughter, here was my opening.

“Did you know the Sykes lady offers modelling classes to teenagers Grana?”

“I surely did my girl. Is that why you’ve those dark circles under your pretty green eyes, lying awake tryin to puzzle out how to ask my permission? I may be old April, but my Mama Ruby didn’t bear a fool for a daughter either.”

“Did she just read my mind?”

“Oh my girl, you’ll be takin lessons of Sondra Sykes….soon to be MacPherson, but they’ll be classes in The Craft and the Wiccan Way and should a little modelling and make-up knowledge get imparted along the way – well, so mote it be!”

“But how Grana … how will you arrange it? Those classes are expensive. Can you and Grandpa Joe afford it, what with the farm and the vineyards fallin on hard times and all?”

“Oh Lass, we won’t be payin a cent and there’s the beauty of it all,” she said as she gave a mirth filled giggle. Sondra Sykes is Sondra Sykes Sapphire Morgon. She’s your third cousin from your Auntie May Morgon’s side of the family. She’s part of the Morgon clan of Salem.”

I sat speechless and beaming, very unlike me – the speechless part anyway, not the beaming part cause everyone says I have a sunny disposition , hence my nickname ‘Sunshine’– yet, I couldn’t quite believe how easily I’d achieved my win.

“Maybe it had been a tad too easy, but what did I care, I was going to get a shot at my dream of being a famous fashion model and leave small town Gorth and this Chaniel business behind.”

While I’d been spinning moonbeam dreams and glamorous getaway scenes, Grandma Lily had been busy scrounging about in the pocket of her well-worn apron.  I watched her as she withdrew a sky blue velvet jewelry box and held it out to me with trembling hands.

“Here April honey, it’s your turn now. I daren’t delay putting you in charge of its safe keeping. Your dear Ma, my precious Pearl, left it with me to give to you. You’ll be sixteen on Monday. Go ahead, take it girl and open it,” her voice quavered with heartfelt emotion.

I reached out and my fingertips first grazed, and then clasped the luscious deep velvet pile of the jewelry box. The box emitted warmth, and what I can only describe as an otherworldly feeling of peace, protection, and love. By now my hands trembled. The clasp on the box was solid silver. There were squiggle lines drawn on the clasp.  Later, I came to know them as seraph symbols representing the Archangel Michael, but back then they looked to me like kindergarten scribbles – sorry Michael, but that’s a fact!

Grandma’s black cat, Nickodemus sprang into my lap and nearly made me drop the box. He’s not usually so bold. I don’t know what possessed him – but, I’m pretty sure I can guess — not what, but whom. I shooed Nick down, opened the clasp and beheld a glowing silver heart shaped locket with the engraved face of a female angel who bore a locket of her own around her neck. The locket itself measured about two inches and it was attached to a small silver collar piece. It was exquisite! “Exquisite” is one of the words that Sondra taught me when we worked on elocution lessons. At the time, I probably just thought the locket was beautiful – and it was… disarmingly so!

It was Grandma’s turn to speak, and in a voice heavy with unshed tears, she began.

“This is your heritage, your privilege to defend our clan’s women, by submitting to, and enduring the trials and temptations of the incubus demon Chaniel in your 25th year. Chaniel, former Gregori angel known as Sariel stands accused by the Archangel Michael of lust and fornication with a particular daughter of Eve. Chaniel claims his innocence and the right to trial test all Morgon women who either decend from, or more importantly, reincarnate from the soul of the first woman he was accused of seducing. Archangel Michael gifts you, my child, with this sacred locket. It is a talisman for your protection during your year of demon trials. Guard it well. Do you accept this challenge of your own free will, April Morgon?”

“What if I refuse?” I asked in a quiet whisper.

“Then Chaniel will bed you and from that moment forward you become a free-spirit giving your body freely to all human men who can’t help but lust after you, but never truly love you for yourself for the rest of this lifetime until you die and your soul is re-born, and then the challenge and the cycle repeat.” she replied.

“And if I resist him and win Grana?”

“You gain true love from a mortal man and great earthly riches for your family. The last Morgon woman to succeed and best Chaniel at his game was Garnet Morgon. The last Morgon woman to fail was my Pearl,” she said.

A vision of my beautiful Mama bending over my sleeping form, crying and kissing me goodbye on my forehead those ten years past filled my thoughts. Clenching and unclenching my fists and digging my fingernails into the palms of my hands, I finally pulled the locket out of its box, put it around my neck and turned my back to Grandma Lily.

“Please put it on me Grana. I accept Chaniel’s challenge of my own free will.”  Then false pride caused me to take that one little step too far as I added, “Let Chaniel’s games begin, he doesn’t scare me.”

Grana’s hand covered my mouth. “Hush child, hush I tell you. You don’t want to invoke his presence until you’ve learned some protection spells from Sapphire. You hear me April and obey girl. I can’t bear to lose you too.” She pleaded.

******

Time sped by like a Kentucky Derby throughbred on speed, as Grandma Lily talked the day away relating family lore about Chaniel. We downed countless cups of Earl Grey. Daylight waned to dusk, and still we talked. Eventually we shifted our discussion from the veranda to the kitchen. No one disturbed us, as Grandpa Joe, Patrick and Connor were attending an estate sale of winery equipment in the next county and would only return the next day.

At midnight, Grandma Lily finally stood to stretch.  She smoothed the creased folds of her blue satin nightgown and exclaimed, “Will you look at us, still in our pyjamas and it’s midnight already, how decadent of us!”

“Well my girl, there’ll be time-a-plenty to arm you with as much knowledge as we can before you turn twenty-five. Get to bed now, mornin comes early….and mind April, now you’ve put the locket on – keep it on girl – always.”

She kissed me on the forehead with a feather soft brush of her lips and we went upstairs to bed.

A deep sleep consumed me and a glorious dream starring an older, more glamorous version of me as a Paris fashion model blossomed. Chaniel burst bodily into my Parisian modelling debut dream. Dressed in an Armani black tuxedo and radiating male swagger, he presented the impression of being my runway escort. I froze. He twined his arm through my elbow and his arrowed thought waves of fierce possession pierced my consciousness. His claiming touch melted my surprise and sent liquid lust coursing through my veins. Survival instinct sent my free hand grasping for the locket at my neck.

A starburst flash of golden light erupted around us. Paris dissolved, my bedroom materialized. I sat rigid in bed clutching the locket like a rush-hour New York City subway traveller clutches the hand strap. The magnificent Chaniel, still garbed in his tuxedo, stood erect, chest thrust out, his hands on his hips. He stared at me unblinking with his mesmerizing silver-grey eyes. If I hadn’t just spent the previous day learning about his adverse effect on Morgon women, I might have succumbed right there and then – Thank you Grana Lily.

“You summoned me Evespawn?”

“No, absolutely not demon.”

His eyes clouded over with icy dark shadows.

“How cruel of you, to deny your attraction to me. At time’s beginning, I was your guardian angel.”

“I thought angels played harps, where’s yours?”

“Some angels do play harps, alas; I’m an angel no longer thanks to you Morgon women.”

Chaniel’s hands shifted from his hips to the brass bedstead. Tingling, seductive warmth flowed through my mattress to languorously caress my calves, thighs, inner thighs…I grasped the locket hard. The caress ceased. His melodious voice resumed the caress via sound waves as he spoke,

“You remind me of her, my first charge, even down to your long auburn hair and your freckles. What name do you bear this reincarnation, Sweetling. Are you a month, flower, or gemstone?”

“I’m April Morgon – and you stay back.”

“Excellent, Morgons named after months provide me great entertainment. Flowers rarely interest me, except as broodmares for the next generation. Gemstones either excite me or bore me. The last good gemstone was Garnet. She led me on an amusing chase.”

I exhaled heavily and said, “Look Chaniel, what are you doing here, now?”

“Why April, love, you called me with your thoughts and by putting on the locket. We’ll be getting to know each other intimately. We’ll be …. how do you mortals phrase it? …. ‘going steady’ for your 25th  year. I thought perhaps you were eager to let me bed you now and grant you your wish of fame as a fashion model. That is within my powers. Besides, virginity is highly over rated, don’t you agree?”

“No way in Hell is that happening! Now leave, depart, vanish.”

He smiled. “Fine Sweetling, I’ve a date with Sapphire now, but I’ll be back for you. Sweet dreams April and his essence dissolved.

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