Four sisters, one fate. In C. L. Gaber's The Claires, quadruplets are cursed to die on their 17th birthday—all of them together, just after the cake but before the presents. Each of the girls shares a name, Claire, and a fraction of her mother's power.
Claire V inherited her clairvoyance, or the ability to see visions of the future. Claire S got the clairsentience, or the ability to feel another's pain. Claire A received her mother's clairaudience, or the ability to hear the spirit world. Perhaps most dangerous of all, Claire C received claircognizance, which makes her nearly all-knowing.
Together, these gifts make the girls too powerful to live for long, but they can't stay dead for long, either. Each time they are reborn, quadruplets, only to be slain again at 17. For a century this cycle continues as the girls strain against their curse and the mundane life of high-school geometry. Can they finally break the chain (or at least crash their prom)?
There's only one way to find out. Try the excerpt below and get hooked like we did on the story of the four Claires.
The four Claires, as they would come to be known, should never have been known at all. Nonidentical quadruples, they were often singularly described by a word that rhymes with witch. Clearly, there were hexing strands in their DNA, but what made them noteworthy—verging on extraordinary—was the fact that each was born with a distinct and separate clair force or power. This caused underground governments, not to mention world powers, to act with great haste. Human rules always dictate that what can’t be understood must be destroyed.
Before they were born, the girls were given an expiration date.
The Allotment of Life certificate confirmed that all Claire children will be put to a most wretched and painful death (just to be sure) on their seventeenth birthday.
After the cake.
But before the presents. Which made sound and wise sense. One should not carry needless “things” into the afterlife. Baggage was baggage—alive or dead.
The time limit on this proclamation was most curious and read as follows: Granted by the Patriarch of Paranormal, sequestered in the nethermost bowels of London’s underground tunnels, this covenant will hold until The Extinction of All Living Things.
But there was fine print, too, which was where the story always lurks. It declared: This agreement extends to each and every Claire lifetime in the unfortunate case(s) that they die and are refreshed and refurbished for another seventeen rather pointless and painful years.
Reincarnation wasn’t just a theory with them, it was a promise as sure as their dreamy smiles, bloodless, porcelain skin, and iced- ocean-blue eyes marred by the shadows of secrets that were buried in the centuries.
Their almost-never-spoken-about lineage could be traced to an unsavory grandmother, the cobalt-blue-eyed Penny Louise Pitcher. A woman of formidable witching, she spent “the tender years” from ages twelve to seventeen at a place known as The Clink. In 1890, it was the most notorious medieval prison in London and a hellhole where dirt-poor inmates who were lacking friends, family or funds were given cells that overlooked the rutted cobblestone streets. The detainees would do their daily bidding by begging those who passed by for scraps of food and by dangling rusted tin cups from the bars as they pleaded for fresh water.
“Please sir, I beg of ye,” Penny cajoled as she turned the brilliance of day into the gloom of night when a passerby left the cup dry.
“You’re a witch! You would rather eat us!” children would taunt. They slowly and deliberately chewed their biscuits and sipped their tea inches from a pale face pressed to iron.
“By chance, I am empowered. Not by choice,” Penny said in a raspy voice laced with illness and regret. And then she made it rain cold pellets on those juicy little brats while she explained in her stern, British tone, “I don’t wish to dwell in darkness. Darkness, however, wishes to dwell in me.”
Penny, with her long black hair, thin face, and extremely pointed nose, was what they called a “loaded” one. She was dressed in rags and laden with heavy irons, which made walking, standing up, or lying down most excruciating, though not as absolutely horrendous as burning at the stake, disembowelment, or beheading—which were the other unmistakable menu options of the day.
But let’s leave politics and fine dining out of it for a moment.
Penny was there for reasons that had absolutely everything to do with her murky reputation and even cloudier DNA. Was she a child witch? Or the devil’s daughter? Or something else not even the Patriarch could pinpoint. Penny could predict the future, read thoughts and, most disturbingly, communicate with spirits and souls long since passed.
Yes, she was also born with a few “parlor tricks,” like manipulating weather and bestowing an occasional tail, but those were only the incidentals.
Her burning had been on the dockets for years, but every soul in charge of her was . . . one-thousand percent chicken-shit when it came to drawing the first flame.
As Penny waited to barbecue, she found the perfect pastime in tormenting the prison guards with promises of their own heinous futures, threatening immediate lunacy conjured from her spells. To that end, she would swirl damp tea leaves in an almost-empty porcelain cup. Occasionally, they gave her the brew, plus the fancy china in order to hear their own fates. One squinty-eyed glance from Penny combined with the pursing of chapped lips and these men knew it wasn’t good news and cowered in drafty prison corners.
Turns out, there weren’t enough guards or unoccupied edges in the Old World. But there was another reason she didn’t get the torch. That would have been a sin of the highest order given the fact that two—mother and child—would have perished. Therefore, Penny was given a one-way ticket, no return passage on the Mauretania, a ship that boasted the first steam-turbine engines on a passenger liner and was built for speed. She was on her way with great haste to the New World because she carried a gift waiting to draw first breath.
Incidentally, there were whispers. Weren’t there always? But the father-to-be in this case wasn’t an abusive prison guard checking a box to hell by making a nightly call. Her visitors included seekers of futures, including the prime minister and another dark-haired, lanky fellow named Jack who never had a formal last name. He would historically and infamously add this surname: the Ripper. And, yes, Penny knew full well that he was Queen Victoria’s “troubled,” yet devastatingly handsome grandson.
Alas, she had a thing for bad boys.
Moving along . . . .
Young Lula Fair Pitcher, her daughter, was born in a mild hurricane on that wildly rocking boat to America. She was a precious child with beautiful black hair and eyes that were golden- yellow and seemed to collect the glints from the sun and keep them. Of course, there were conditions concerning their dual relocation because there always were (and still are) in matters of life and enchantment.
Lula, who would grow to be a lively, smart, and spiritually gifted one, would be allowed to live her childhood in one of the newly established boroughs of New York, where she would meld into a sea of immigrants and new arrivals, Catholics and Jews, Italians and Poles and peoples from Ireland, Britain, and Germany looking to better their lives and grow their families.
Lula’s American dream came with an exhausting list of rules.
She would be allowed to live with her mother, only if Penny immediately married, as nothing was to appear improper. To that end, Penny chose to sink her claws (literally) into a meek, skinny Italian shoemaker who came to the New World alone at the elder age of 22—and had no shot of resisting the love potion she dipped her hands into before bewitching him into matrimony. Sadly, he perished during the first hard winter because a woman needed only so many shoes.
There was one last law sent from England for Lula’s “future.” Drawing breath would be allowed, if and only if, Penny agreed to put her beloved child to death on the day the girl turned seventeen.
Since the beginning of time, no child in this universe was allowed to possess three distinct clair powers in one mortal body and Lula was born a quadruple threat—clairvoyant, clairaudient, clairsentient and claircognizant.
She could predict the future, sense human feelings and emotional states and possessed the telepathy to hear voices of both the living and dead. Most horrific for those born without such “extras” was the last trait because it signified that she was all- knowing, and no mortal needed to be all-anything.
She was quite simply and forever, a Claire.
NEW YORK 1907 (Or 17 Years Later)
The Order, as they called themselves in the New World, assembled on a frosted fall night by a whispered oral invitation given at dawn. Slanderers, nags, or gossips who dared speak in audible tones about such a gathering would be given the cruelest punishment of all called the Scold’s Helm. It was your basic heavy iron cage that covered the gossip’s head, combined with a spiked tongue of silver metal that was thrust into the mouth. Ironic that this was when the term “tongues wagging” was coined.
But enough trivia.
The formal name in America for this underground group was the New World Order, which meant that they governed all magic, mystery, and mayhem of an otherworldly variety on the shores of the colonies.
Few knew that one-third of the colonists possessed something “extra,” which is why England and other countries expelled them in the first place.
Young Lula was about to turn seventeen, and hushed words naturally revolved around her imminent demise. This pleased Henry Handen, the leader of the Order, who had a perpetually running nose, hooded brown eyes and was six feet three, bone thin and all business, which is why he hounded the maternal source to discuss the arrangements.
Little did any of them know that this was the last thing Penny would ever arrange for herself or any others. In mere days, she would be found face down in a pickle barrel, drowned. Her last days of life were feisty ones and she used her wolf hounds to run Henry off the small front yard that was located in what someday would be called the Flatlands section of Brooklyn. On this day, however, it was nothing more than a row of cheap, makeshift, two- story red bricked farm houses plopped into free dirt.
“Madam, if you please, may I speak with you a moment,” Henry fumed from behind a white-picket fence that she had painted black.
“Keep yer bone box shut!” Penny shouted from an upstairs window. “Ye may not speak—nor I.”
Modern translation: Zip it.
He could only stare at the securely bricked house she shared with her daughter on Barberry Lane and shout back, “Trot!” Colonially speaking, it could have been worse. He was simply referring to her as a decrepit woman.
Henry was sick and tired of women in general. Five times now he had demanded details concerning this cursed daughter’s scheduled death and had provided a laundry list of reasonable options to accomplish the task on the day Lula turned seventeen. Why, there were so many choices, including, but not limited to the following: bloodletting, gallows, hanging, or the good, old- fashioned Ordeal by Water.
As for the latter, the guilty would have their left hand or thumb tied to her right foot and her right hand tied to her left foot. At this point, the human was put in the deepest water of the closest lake. If said human sank, they were considered innocent while floating indicated secret admittance into the devil’s service.
Either way, it was an ordeal that had only one outcome and it didn’t involve breathing.
In the midnight hour that September night in Old New York, under the smallest glimmer of moon in a lonely sky, The Order convened under a hollow oak tree in the untamed woods, far from the prying eyes of the local witch hunters looking to earn their monthly stipend. The Order was far more important than some self-governed vigilante task force and remained consumed with far bigger paranormal threats. Their task was making sure that the new country of America wasn’t overrun by insanely gifted mystical types who willy-nilly could plot to take over the colonies for their own fantastical reasons.
“I wish you a good evening, Madam,” Henry lied to the woman in his presence now, who added up to only one, because it was the job of men, men thought, to rule the world, new or otherwise.
“Sir, I am your most obedient servant. I am heartily glad to see you,” Penny lied back because she never trusted a man. Sadly, here she stood in the woods conversing with one of that breed.
“Miss Pitcher,” Henry cut right to the chase, “there will be no further stalling. Lula Fair Pitcher’s death date was determined and must be accomplished before her seventeenth birthday on 24 December. So, it was written, so it must be done.”
Penny was a clever mind reader, so she already knew what he was going to say before the words formed. She cut to the proverbial chase knowing why her daughter’s demise was required. “I do greatly admire your wisdom, sir,” she interrupted. “But, one must heed a new life plan that I, as her mother, have formed. Here is my offering: My daughter will never flirt with a boy. Never marry. Never have a child. She will do absolutely no larking. Ever.”
The latter was a lascivious thing that needed no explanation. Penny came armed with what they wanted to hear, knowing if she promised her child would never have a child then, and only then, there might be life preservation. There could be a life lived.
“We cannot risk her joining with a man who might have any of the last four clair traits such as clairtangency, or clear touching, clairalience, or clear psychic smelling, clairgustance, or clear tasting, or clairempathy, which is plain old being a sap for any cause or person needing a lift. A child born from that union of potency would be . . . we don’t know what it could be,” said Declan B. Jones, a miserable type with big bones, wide farmer’s hands and a mass of reddish hair. He considered himself the second in command. Jones with all his know-it-all bluster was a teacher of his own brand of new-fangled religion, which is why he was clear with his explanations of such moral treachery.
He was the one who secretly summoned the second woman to show up at tonight’s gathering. It would be none other than soon- to-be-dead Lula herself. He incurred her teenage wrath when he woke her from her early evening sleep that night by tossing small pebbles against the glass of her bedroom window and informing her that her mother was in distress. The bonny, headstrong Lula with her blue-black hair and ivory skin cast a defiant attitude on him, preferring to run into the woods instead of ride on horseback.
Once she saw that Penny was alive and well, Lula decided to mess with prevailing wisdoms. Her face said, “Suck it.” Her will said, “Make me.” She defined teenage attitude by at first refusing to dance around the fire the Order had built to temporarily cleanse any wicked sections of her soul. Intense heat, it was believed, melted ill intentions.
“I don’t dance,” Lula said in a bored voice. “I don’t go out at night. And I don’t participate in pagan rituals either.”
She wasn’t finished.
“So, if you want to kill me, do it now,” she said in a most defiant voice. “I’d rather be dead than bored.”
In the end, her mother Penny provided one more stalling tactic in the form of a sealed letter that she produced from the ankle- length, A-line, black woolen skirt that was washed monthly. With great flourish, she waved the almost translucent parchment paper in a stray moonbeam, so the others could see the return address: The Patriarch of Paranormal, Beneath London. No street number was needed. None was given.
“The Order shall bless a fruitlessness potion sent from foreign shores,” Penny read aloud, insisting the handwriting came from the Patriarch himself. “The potion is guaranteed to render the young lady sterile in the womanly arts. Lula Fair Pitcher has thus been granted a continuation of life if, and only if, she never bears a child.”
Members of The Order couldn’t hide their disappointment. There was nothing they loved more than a good town cleansing, but the sirs and madams were forced to accept the pronouncement and even blessed the small satchel Penny brought forth containing the elixir of herbs and roots sent from the Old World per the Patriarch’s sterility recipe. The group respected authority, wantonly (by the removal of hats) sanctified the hottest blue fire from the dry dust below and then danced around it to serve as a blessing.
So, it was written. So, it was danced. So, it was decided.
On the walk home, Penny’s practical side, along with her utter distrust of the English, created a worry spot in her heart. “What if the potion was actually a poison?” she fretted, wondering if she was actually about to kill her only child. It would be just like the ruthless Patriarch to take matters into his own hands and wield his power from across the great pond.
Had the little brown goat not stumbled away from its mother none of this would have happened the way that it did. But that foolish little, smelly beast came upon them at the exact right time and fate took an extremely hard twist.
The hungry goat ate the satchel in one satisfied bite, cotton and all. Tragically, he dropped in only two minutes and suffered the twitching, moaning, extremely painful death that had been scheduled for a certain local clair hellion.
Penny buried him, worried that some unsuspecting colonist— maybe even one or two that she could stand—would have a hankering that week for a hearty goat stew. Put simply, they didn’t have enough people in the New World for needless and heinous demises.
A few days later, in a little red brick house by the Hudson River, the gifted Lula Fair Pitcher, discovered her mother floating upside down in the wooden pickle barrel that sat on their front porch. She buried the only one who had ever loved her in the blood field out back, a place for all things that had passed and blessed by the Cayuga Indian tribes that used to occupy these lands before they were “escorted” away.
NEW YORK 1911
Lula observed the traditional period of Old-World mourning where she did not leave her home for exactly four years of moaning and memories. When she finally emerged in spring of 1911 to go to market, she was three times her usual size, which was unusual in a place where food wasn’t plentiful. Nine months later, with no known father on record now or ever, she gave birth, with the help of a midwife girlfriend, to four beautiful, non-identical daughters.
En masse, she bestowed upon them the name the Claires, giving each a middle initial that would later signify their most sacred trait. There was no need for the Patriarch to worry. There was not one child who possessed all the sacred gifts this time. The Claire traits had splintered amongst the next generation producing four genetically powerful specimens. Redheaded and clairvoyant Claire V could see the future.
Blonde clairsentient Claire S felt the emotional state of others.
Dark-haired and clairaudient Claire A heard the voices from here and beyond.
And finally, the pixie of the group, curly, golden-haired Claire C was claircognizant, and the most dangerous or potent. The beautiful imp could see right through anyone as if she was looking through tissue paper. She was the one who knew much too much.
But didn’t that describe every damn Claire who ever lived?
A VOYANT’S STORY: V
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
MARCH, 25 2013
Fourth period. English class.
Kill me now.
I was giving Johnny the look that could only be described as resting witch face. I knew it would leave him feeling unsettled and a bit perturbed, but that was no shocker since I was born knowing, though they never put that on your birth certificate. Imagine it: Seven pounds, three ounces, red hair, blue eyes AND clairvoyant . . . . as in she has her unknown father’s eyes and her mother’s spiritual juju.
Good luck with that one, kid . . . now, go out there and act normal. Don’t spill the tea, i.e., talk up the family tree or future events or even how you live under an ancient curse, one that dictates your seventeenth birthday will also serve as your death day. For those who enjoy mathematics, it was our 16th year and we had nine months or approximately 270 days and counting.
And I, the one they called V, was stuck in high school. Perhaps that was the cruelest fate twist of all.