On the day of her birth, Brandy McCoy had been named by her father, and given the title of Chosen One by her dead mother. According to her, a woman who had been giving prophecies her whole life and surely knew what she was talking about, Brandy was destined to save the city of Willow Lake where she had just been born, and where her parents had lived their whole lives. It was so important that she’d said it with her final breath, holding Brandy tightly against the cold that would separate them forever.
This was Brandy’s destiny, the purpose of her life. But Brandy had gone her whole life without knowing the specifics of her birth, or the words that her mother had spoken over her. Not until she was thirteen years old, and her father, whom she called Pop because it annoyed him, made a mistake.
The mistake was bringing a friend over for a couple of beers and a talk about raising teenage daughters, maybe some fishing on the pond later, once the fish were out.
“How do you deal with it?” his friend had asked as they sat side by side in fading plastic lawn chairs, a beer in one hairy man’s hand and a whiskey in the other’s. They were watching the pond, the ducks as they cut through the gray water that reflected the gray sky. “Knowing for all her life?”
“I deal with it the only way I can,” Pop said. “To protect her as long as possible. To keep her from harm. She didn’t choose this.”
“But it’s the prophecy,” the other man replied, casting a glance at Pop as he spoke. “You can’t keep her from her destiny.”
“My destiny is to keep my kid safe.” The tone in Pop’s voice had ended that conversation, and maybe it would have been the end of it all together, if Brandy had not been sitting in her window, one story up, looking out over the gray pond, eavesdropping as she always did when Pop brought friends over.
Destiny. She liked the way it floated around her mouth, even before she said it. She liked the way Pop’s friend had spoken the word, as if it were sacred. You can’t keep her from her destiny.
Brandy crept into Pop’s office. It was always cold in here, a cold tile floor and a huge cold metal work desk that was always cluttered and a small cold metal office desk and an old computer that took eternities to boot up. Her heart and her head and her fingers raced.
It was in that cold office that Pop heard the wind ruffling grid paper to the floor, the lights off, the computer on, the window open, and Brandy gone.
Things would be different now. Brandy thought of a world in which she was a Chosen One, her imagination laced with rage at her father for keeping it from her all these years. She wouldn’t have been alone if people knew. She wouldn’t have spent the seventh grade wishing someone, anyone would talk to her.
People would have tripped over themselves to talk to a Chosen One. Brandy knew this, because they had one witch in her class, and everyone was her friend. She wasn’t even that good at magic.
According to what she’d discovered online, there was a girl born on Brandy’s birthday in Brandy’s town with Brandy’s copper-colored eyes that would climb Willow Peak and ward off the disasters that would befall the city. She would be a sacrifice to appease the spirits that have been angry with the people of Willow Lake for stealing their land and abusing their kindness. She would have a place in the world that wasn’t just a desk at school with her name taped to it. Useless. Replaceable.
She was not useless. She was special. Her name would be in everyone’s mouths.
Willow Peak was the tallest point on mountain range that curved around the valley. Brandy had never been there before, no matter how she’d begged Pop to let her. Field trips, tours, hiking adventures—Pop had said no to them all. We’ll go to a different peak, a better one, a safer one, he’d said.
Brandy now knew why. Pop had been keeping her from her destiny since the day she was born.
The night was long and tiring, and Brandy wished that she’d packed some food or water or her backpack before she’d climbed out the window and begun her journey.
What kind of great adventure was this? She was getting cold, and when the sidewalks ended and the wild brush began, the dew clung to her, making her shiver.
She was so cold and tired and disheartened, that by the time a set of mysterious square lights appeared before her, glowing warm in the blue pre-dawn darkness, she marched straight for them, puffing loudly with each step.
The lights evolved into a small cabin, set back from the side of the dirt road on which she now traveled. There was a gate which hung open, and a small garden, and a cat on the roof who watched Brandy wearily climb the steps and raise her fist to knock on the door.
Before her knuckles touched the wood, the door flew open, revealing Dawn, the witch from her class, her finger to her lips.
“Shhh.” Dawn pushed Brandy back out onto the narrow porch. “My Gramma’s inside, she’ll call your dad if she wakes up.”
“How did you know I was here?” Brandy demanded, though she kept her voice low. She’d gone too far already to be sent home—and who knew what kind of jailer Pop would become, knowing Brandy was the type of girl to crawl out of windows in the night.
Dawn looked at her, blinking. “It’s my destiny,” she said simply. A canvas bag was gripped tightly in her hands, heavy, and damp in some places.
Brandy’s journey continued, with another by her side, now. She drank deeply from the bottle Dawn had given her, and ate the bizarre snacks she’d brought along—some tomatoes, some cucumbers, a bell pepper, some torn pieces of a loaf of hard bread.
“Where did you get these?” Brandy asked, trying not to sound ungrateful. After all, she felt as if she probably would have died from malnourishment if she hadn’t discovered Dawn when she did.
“My Gramma’s garden,” she replied with a shrug. “I baked this bread myself, though. She’s teaching me how.”
“Is she a witch, too?”
Dawn nodded. “She’s teaching me everything she knows, so someday I can be a town witch like her. The town needs witches, and she’s the last one. Well, plus me.” She shrugged again. Dawn shrugged a lot.
“How do you get to school every day?” Brandy hadn’t seen a car or even a driveway to the cabin.
“I walk. It’s better than being homeschooled. Gramma means well but she wouldn’t know the difference between geology and geometry if she was looking at them.” Dawn laughed. “If it’s not witchcraft or homekeeping, she leaves it to the school to teach me.”
As the girls zigzagged up the mountain, Brandy had to admit that it was easy to befriend Dawn. That her bitterness towards her was a fragile mask for the insecurity she had for herself. And that perhaps Dawn had a lot of friends because she was kind and funny and baked bread, and not because she was special.
“I’m going to save the city,” Brandy said at one point, after the sun had risen and they were resting on the edge of a boulder overlooking Willow Lake. “People will like me more after that, I think.”
“I like you now,” Dawn said.
They kept walking. Up and up and up, as the sun rose higher and higher. They ate cucumbers and chewed on bread and drank the last of the water.
Finally, finally, panting and damp with sweat and aching all over, Brandy and Dawn hauled themselves up onto the tallest point of Willow Peak. It felt as if they were among the clouds, but really they’d have a ways to go for that.
They lay on their backs, eyes up to the sky, side-by-side.
“What do we do now?” Dawn asked. “I mean how do you save the city?”
“I don’t really know,” she admitted. “I couldn’t read the whole prophecy because it was in Spanish. I don’t know a lot of Spanish.”
Dawn laughed. Brandy laughed, too. They laughed until a sound echoed over the rocks that startled them to silence. A voice.
“Brandy?” the voice said. And Brandy knew it was Pop. Of course he’d come to find her. To ruin her adventure and keep her from her destiny, as he’d been doing all these years.
Brandy shot up and grabbed Dawn’s hand, pulling her under the shelter of the rocks, shushing her, this time.
“Who’s that?” Dawn whispered.
“My dad,” she whispered back. “He doesn’t want me to be a Chosen One.”
Brandy shook her head. “I dunno, he probably doesn’t think I can do it because I’m useless.”
Pebbles rolled past them, and then another shouting voice: “They’re over here!”
Brandy ran from their hiding spot and collided into Pop’s arms, which encircled her tightly.
“Oh gods,” Pop said, his voice more fragile than she’d ever heard it. “Oh Brandy, baby, what are you doing?”
“I have to save the city!” she shouted, and she sounded more like a child than she’d wanted to. It must have been Pop, stealing her courage. “Let me go! I’m a Chosen One!”
Pop loosened his grip but didn’t release her. Instead, he knelt to face her.
“Brandy,” he said. “You are a child. It’s not your job to protect us. It’s our job to protect you.”
“I’m a Chosen One, Pop, I have to do it, or the city will be destroyed.” Didn’t he know? Hadn’t he heard the prophecy for himself? Brandy knew for a fact that Pop knew a lot of Spanish.
“Then let it,” he said firmly. “I don’t care if the world was at stake. You are my daughter, my baby, and I will protect you no matter what. If we can’t appease the spirits another way, then we’ll all leave the valley and find new homes somewhere else.”
Brandy’s eyes spilled over with tears of frustration. “I don’t want everyone to hate me. If the valley is destroyed everyone will hate me.”
“There’s a reason I kept this from you, my love,” he said. “A prophecy doesn’t know age, doesn’t know innocence or responsibility. It simply is spoken into existence. But the only thing in this world that can mold your destiny is you, and I want you to live long enough to be able to decide with all of the resources in the world what you want that destiny to be.”
“Pop, I want to do this.”
“We will figure it out. We’ve been working on it since you were born, Brandy, don’t you see? You’ve already saved the city by being alive, by warning us thirteen years ago that we needed to change our ways or else. You don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love, or recognition, and when people look up to you, don’t you want it to be for something you’ve created, something you’re proud of?”
Brandy fell silent. She looked at Dawn. At her friend, wrapped in the arms of another person who had been out looking for Brandy, a woman she didn’t even recognize. She was holding a new water bottle and looking at Brandy with her huge eyes.
“What do I do then?” Brandy asked in a small voice. “What do I do without a destiny?”
“You go home,” Pop said. “You go to school and you make friends. You grow up, and you learn to make your own destiny.”
“We can still be friends,” Dawn said. “I can teach you how to grow tomatoes.”
Brandy looked back at Pop. She was sniffling and tired, and she discovered that all she really wanted to do was go home.
“Pop? Can we have a garden?”
Pop sighed, and held onto Brandy like a life raft. “Yeah, honey. Let’s go home, have some lunch, and your friend can help us grow a garden.”
My friend, Brandy thought. She liked the way the words felt in her mouth, even before she said them.