by Liselle Sambury (@LiselleSambury)
Editor: Sione Aeschliman (@writelearndream)
Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Best described as Labyrinth Lost with This Mortal Coil’s genetic hacking, VOYA CALLING is an 99,000-word young adult #ownvoices urban fantasy that follows a family of black witches living in Toronto, 2099.
Surviving suffocation on her family’s dining room table is not what sixteen-year-old Voya Thomas expected her Calling—a trial each witch must pass to come into her powers—to be like. And no one in her family lineage has ever failed...until her. When she gets a second chance to avoid ending magic for every Thomas born after her, she agrees to complete the new task the spirit of her ancestor gives—kill her first love before the eve of the Caribana festival.
For Voya to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy. She catches a break when the NuGene company, famed for their advances in genetic therapy, offers a beta matchmaking program. The plan is to become a participant, fall in love, and complete her task—all before the deadline. What she didn’t count on was the NuGene CEO’s obsession with her family’s genome or being paired with her uninterested and anti-social match, Luc.
Magic is not a party trick—it’s a culture that’s shaped and protected her family for generations. And this time around, failure means every living Thomas witch, not just future ones, will be stripped of their magic. With mounting pressure from her family, Voya’s caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood and intention are everything.
I am an Ontario-based writer and was previously published in a short story and poetry anthology titled Lake Effect 6.
First Five Pages
There’s something about lounging in a bath of blood that makes me want to stay until all my fingers shrivel enough to show the outlines of my bones.
My toes peek out of thick ruby ripples. Slick drops slide off my fingers and splash with an echo in the tub. It reminds me of spicy pumpkin pone batter dripping off a mixing spoon. Like I’m in the kitchen whipping up dessert instead of sitting in the bath.
“Sorry to stop you waxing poetic, but you need to get out of the tub.” My cousin Keis slouches against the doorframe of our capsule-sized shared bathroom. The toilet is so close to the bathtub that you have to prop your feet on the ledge when you do your business.
She blows a breath out of her nose and crosses her arms. The powder blue robe she’s wearing doesn’t fit her—it’s straining against her breasts and grazes her legs an inch above mid-thigh. Probably because it’s mine. The little stitched V for Voya Priya added when she gave it to me last Christmas makes that clear.
I don’t know why Keis isn’t wearing her robe embroidered with a K for Keisha. We’re not the sharing-clothes type of best friends.
She tucks the silky fabric into place. “Don’t call me Keisha, even in your head.”
Keis pulls her headscarf off and kinky curly ringlets bounce out of its hold. The roots are a black 1B, and the ends blonde 14/88A. I remember because I bought the sew-in wig online for her birthday. Yolanda, it’s called. It looks real for fake.
Keis opens her mouth.
Not fake, sorry. It’s real hair, but it’s not yours.
I reach over and press the little round button on the bath keypad. It’s embedded, crooked (thanks, Uncle Cathius) in the white subway tiles lining the tub. The steam icon lights up neon green, and the installed jets feed heat into the blood bath. I shiver as the warmth hits me.
Every minute I spend here is another I don’t have to pass downstairs. It’s not fair. I should be enjoying this moment, not spending it dreading what comes next.
Keis’s lip curls. “Don’t tell me you turned the heat on.”
Okay, I won’t. I hug my legs to my chest. “Why do I need to get out right now? Can’t I stay here for a bit?”
Keis sags against the door. “We’ve been waiting forever to eat, and Granny won’t let us touch anything until you come down. It’s a special dinner to celebrate your Bleeding, after all.”
The more she pushes, the more I want to stay in the tub and never leave. Once I step out, the rest of my Coming-of-Age will start. I need more time. “I’m naked,” I say finally.
“Wow! I didn’t notice.”
Keis is kind of mean. No, not kind of. She is mean. The closer you are to her, the meaner she gets. And since we’re cousins by birth and have been best friends for almost as long, I get an equal amount of love and vitriol from her. Which seems unfair because shouldn’t you be nicer to people you love? I’m sure it’s because Uncle Vacu did her birth, and he’s got a strong negative energy. Not because of the Mod-H addiction. He’s just an asshole. Some people are. It’s a miracle someone like him could have a daughter as awesome as our cousin Alex.
“Is she still in the tub?” Mom screeches from down the hall.
I sink deeper into the bath so you can only see my eyes—two dark, almost black irises peeking out. The blood slides smoothly against my lips like our Thomas brand lip butter.
Mom rips the door open and barrels past Keis into the room. She’s got her hair cornrowed and tucked away under a wig cap. The braids peek through the skin-color nylon. Not the deep ebony of our skin. The light, almost-pink beige of people who aren’t wearing wigs as often as we are.
I don’t get any privacy here. According to Granny, our ancestors are always listening. My family has a long history of being nosy, apparently.
Still, I don’t think Mama Orimo, who died sneaking fellow slaves into the underground railroad from the scorching sugar cane fields of Louisiana to chilled freedom in southern Ontario, would be much interested in spending her afterlife watching us.
Mom tightens the drawstring on her pastel yellow nightgown and stares down at me with a weary smile. “Congratulations on your Bleeding. This is a beautiful moment. Now, you transition from a girl into a woman. But I’ll be damned if I let you spend the entire night soaking in your menstrual blood.”
I would easily stay in this bath all night if I could. The Bleeding is the only part of my Coming-of-Age I can celebrate. That I can’t fail. It’s hacked that I can’t at least try and enjoy it in peace. When other girls my age were swapping period cups and chatting about cramps when we were thirteen, I was counting down the days for a moment I knew wouldn’t come until I was sixteen. The Bleeding doesn’t just mean I’m transitioning to adulthood, it means I’m ready for magic. I used to be so excited about it. I should be happy right now.
Except I’m not.
Because once I leave the bathroom, the clock will start. Tomorrow I’ll have to complete my Calling, which will bring me to The Pass, when I’ll get my gift and complete my Coming-of-Age. The Calling is always a choice between two tasks. One path leads you to magic and another to ruin.
That’s how I know I’m going to fry my shot. I won’t make the right choice.
All I want is to forget about the Calling until it’s happening.
Mom narrows her eyes. “Get out of the tub.” She doesn’t raise her voice, but she does use a mini utility blade to slice her thumb. The blood I’m sitting in turns ice cold as hers drips from the cut, activating the spell. My bath thickens and clumps in a way that makes the fries I had at lunch come rushing up my throat.
She points at the tub and swirls her index finger. In response to her power, the bath swishes, clots the size of tennis balls sliding against my legs. I slap my hands over my mouth as pre-vomit swirls in my stomach.
She throws her whole arm forward and all the blood and clots get sucked down the drain in one massive wave. The aftereffects of her magic pull against the hair on my body like static cling.
What’s left is me sitting naked in an empty bathtub and feeling so dried up inside that I’m sure I’ll never have another period again.
Keis lets out a sigh. “Don’t be dramatic.” She grabs my towel from the chrome rack on the back of the door and throws it at me. Not that there’s any point in using it since Mom’s spell cleaned all the blood off my body.
Mom stabs a finger at me as I stand and wrap the towel around my body. “You need to get out of your head. This isn’t just a celebration of your menses! It’s the first part of your Coming-of-Age. Your Amplifying ceremony to bring on your Calling is tomorrow night!”
She’s ignoring the fact that I won’t finish my Coming-of-Age if I don’t pass my Calling.
I wish I could shrink back into the bath water.
“Bath blood. Just because it’s in your head, doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to get things right,” Keis says.
I said she was mean. Didn’t I say that? I grab a jar of coconut oil out from under the sink and scoop up the white cream. It melts from the warmth of my body heat as I rub my hands together and massage it into my scalp. That’s where my new hair will grow out.
When I wash my hair there’s a routine of pre-conditioners, leave-in conditioners, Thomas Curling Custard, and heatless curling rods, but I’ve already spent too much time in the bath to do any of it. Everyone else can do their hair four times as fast with magic. Eden and I are the only ones who can’t. Not until after passing our Calling.
The mirror flickers a bit when I step in front of it before coming on fully—it’s an older model Mom got on sale. My dark skin looks ashy it’s so dry, but I still look cute. There’s all these light freckles spread like sprinkles over my face, and no one knows where they come from. And my eyes are as black as charcoal, which adds mystery.
Mom prods Keis in the side. “What’s going on in her head?”
“She’s bragging about her face, and I’m sure she’ll get to her body soon. Won’t mention those tiny tits though.”
The mirror connects to my chip and lifts the top stories from my feed to flash across the reflective surface. Fluorescent blue type shows the twenty degree Celsius weather outside, the 02 July date, the newest restaurant opening (Sharam at the corner of Yonge and College), new followers who I don’t recognize, and suggestions for my makeup.
Mom comes over to the sink and bats my hands away so she can fix my hair herself. She digs her fingers into my scalp and works the oil in. She pauses to scoop more from the jar and add it on. The mirror offers to show her feed, and she dismisses the message with a flick of her finger.
I squirm. “You’re going to make it greasy.” I have dense curls—they need a lot of moisture, but she’s going overboard.
“You believe that?” NuGene markets this modded oil as ‘non-greasy,’ but I don’t trust them.
“When I was younger we only had a handful of modded stuff, and I got by without greasy hair. You’ll make it through. Half of this is going to evaporate in the night.”
I grit my teeth and leave it alone. Chances are she’s right, but I won’t be the one to say so. I examine my fingernails while Mom finishes up with my hair.
“Get dressed,” she says. “I pulled the dinner you made out of the oven. You’re welcome.”
“Thank you, Mommy,” I say in my best ‘don’t be mad at me, aren’t I sweet?’ voice.
“Mmm hmm.” She walks towards the door, turns back, and points at Keis. “Make sure she gets in a white dress. Cathius loves that virginal trash, and he’ll be difficult about participating in the Amplifying ceremony if he doesn’t feel catered to.”
Keis quirks a smile. “Yes, Auntie.”