I want to thank all of you who supported me by liking this crazy, weird story and/or offering kind “rah rahs” when I needed them.
It’s done. I’m done in. I’m thinking of all the things I’m going to catch up on, which makes me feel a little energized. And, maybe since the latter part of this story jelled a bit, I may revisit it.
Total word count: 51,390
You can read previous sections here.
Scooters are not meant to be ridden in the snow or on icy roads. This is the first thing I learn as I start driving down Cooper Lane, the street where the Russells’ cabin is, toward downtown Rosemead. The front tire skids easily and my arms grow tired quickly from trying to figure out how to steer and keep the scooter upwards despite gravity. Fortunately, I don’t have far to fall, and I can’t get enough speed to do any real damage because I may be a whole lot of things but I’m not totally stupid. Although this mission would prove otherwise. Maybe I am stupid.
Even with a few items I borrowed from Michelle Russell’s closet, my face is stiffening in the cold and my arms, fingers, and legs feel like they might never thaw out. The wind is brutal. I bet Florida is nice this time of year. No ice. Warm sand. No weird witches or witch slayers threatening my family.
When I see the lights of Rosemead just ahead, I breathe a sigh of relief and pull into the convenience store. Marnie Malloy, a girl I used to go to school with, eyes me. In a town this size, it’s fair to say that you frequently run into people you went to school with. We were never really friends. She was always cooler than me with tattoos and piercings and cropped blue hair and the desire to be an artist, and I was that strange ginger girl with a fascination for Sookie Stackhouse novels and Harry Potter and oddly interested in making soup.
“Interesting outfit” is all she says as I hand her money for coffee. I stand at the front of the store looking out at the falling snow that normally I’d think was beautifully, if I were in my undestroyed home looking out of my undestroyed deck window.
“Did you run here?” Marnie asks, gesturing to the fact that my clothes are drenched and sticking to me.
“I thought I’d see what it was like to ride a scooter in a major snowfall.”
She doesn’t have to tell me I’m a nerd. Her expression says it all.
I finish the coffee, toss the cup in the bin and then smile back at her. She looks taken aback, but she raises her hand slightly just enough to be friendly but maintain her cool status.
Before I can open the shop door, my phone chimes.
Phoebe: Is it too late to say don’t do something crazy? Probably. Remember that spell I taught you that you laughed at? Use it.
I will. If it comes down to that, I will.
The town roads are clearer than the mountain stretches had been so I’m navigating slowly through slush, which can still play with the maneuverability of the scooter, but it’s better than icy snow. Mostly.
There are four cars parked near the town square, but no one is milling about. What did I think? That they’d be having a witch party in the middle of the square in the snow?
The first person I see is my mother. The amount of disappointment I experience nearly knocks me over. She has had a hand in this. She gets out of her black Suburban followed by Isla. From the next car, Uncle Rayburn emerges. I never did like him. Rose is sitting in the back seat of his sedan between two burly looking guys. She’s gagged, and her eyes are huge as if trying to warn me away. Way to go, Mom, gagging your own daughter?
I park several feet away from the car, put the kickstand in place and then shake my arms out, trying to get the blood flowing. Funny how I almost don’t notice the cold right now.
“Where’s the slayer?”
“Dead,” I say. “He didn’t make it out of my cabin.” I hope my lie is convincing. I hope they couldn’t tell that he had made it out alive.
Uncle Rayburn leans into his sedan and says something to the person in the front seat whom I can’t identify because that part of the car isn’t lit by the street lamp.
“If her slayer is dead, you don’t need to harm her,” Mom says.
“I don’t trust her. I don’t like her. I want her gone,” he says.
“Funny, I was just thinking the same thing. I could go to Florida and be out of your hair, what there is left of it.” I should probably have kept that part about him being nearly bald to myself.
“She’s got a mouth on her like you once did,” he says to Mom, and he seems almost affectionate.
I suddenly realize that I don’t know exactly who he is. We’ve always called him Uncle Rayburn, but I don’t know if he’s really a member of the family. His flirting with Mom would make me think he’s not or if he is, well, ew.
“Before you all do whatever it is you’re going to do to me, can you answer one question?”
He shrugs. “Perhaps. If I’m feeling generous.”
I roll my eyes. No use pretending now, not if he’s going to kill me regardless. “Why do you want me and the slayer dead? I thought you all wanted a Light Union.”
“Our daughter Isla is the chosen one,” Uncle Rayburn says.
My brain is trying to process this. His daughter? Does he mean that she is his daughter as part of a community? A daughter of the community? Or does he mean that Isla is his and Mom’s daughter? One glance at Mom tells me it’s the latter. She looks like she could hit him for divulging that little tidbit. Is it because Rose heard? My gaze wanders to Rose, who is frowning.
“Let’s get this done then. How are you going to have me die, Mom?”
Mom moves to Uncle Rayburn, her hands tug on his forearm. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but whatever it is, he keeps shaking his head in disagreement.
“Hey, guys, you’re forgetting one thing,” I say. “You’re supposed to be letting Rose go.”
“Be quiet. You’re as good as dead.”
“Let Rose go or else—”
He looks at me with so much contempt that it distorts his already angular features. “You’ll what? You have no real powers except for making completely average soup. Thanks to your mother’s efforts you never attained the power you could have had.”
Thank you, Aunt Lea, for sending me to my Eastern Shore family. I shrug. “You’re right because it’s not like there’s anything magical that could have enhanced my powers quickly, you know, to the power that they should be if my mother hadn’t bound me and my sisters.”
“What are you rambling on about? It’s time we finished this.” He raises his hand, but I hold my palm up.
“One more question. Why did you bind Isla if you wanted her to be part of the Light Union?”
Mom shakes her head, snowflakes drift outward from her movement. “Until I saw you with that blonde witch slayer, I didn’t think any of my girls could be part of the Union.”
I nod. I glance toward the sedan and see that Rose is emerging and walking toward me. Shaking my head at her, I want to wave her away.
“He’s going to cast a spell at me, Rose.”
“We’re both dead,” she says in a monotone.
“Not until we’re dead, dead. Get away from me,” I say, trying to get her to pay attention.
“This is a very public place for this, Uncle Rayburn. Aren’t you afraid someone might see? Wonder what’s going on?”
As if he’s had enough, he raises his hand, I push Rose hard so that she can’t gain purchase on the slippery grass, and then I cast the spell that Phoebe said to use. My last resort. Her foresight told her. She knew in advance that I’d need this spell and trained me on it until I wanted to cry. Thank you, Phoebe.
It’s like this huge invisible hand seizes Uncle Rayburn, disabling him. Mother shouts something, but she’s out of practice and tree roots rise from the ground to tangle around her arms and legs. Uncle Rayburn’s men lift guns and point them at me, and I know there’s no way I can stop them but then there’s the sound of three bullets firing and the men fall over. Who sent the cavalry?
Isla starts advancing toward me. Her hair is still frazzled, and her eyes are wild. No one has tried to curtail her lust for power. Did they not realize she could be self-destructing? Blue light sizzles from her fingertips like she’s a live electrical wire.
“Did the other aunties teach you things, Sophie? Do you really think you can stop me?”
Just the slightest gesture on my part has her sending me flying, I fall into the snow, the wind knocked out of me. I’m trying to refresh myself, shake my head to focus my eyes, but she stands on my left hand and begins grinding her boot into it. Blinding pain rips through me. Fireworks set off inside of my head. When I think I can handle no further amount of pain, she slumps to the ground. If I didn’t feel like puking my guts up because of the searing pain, I would have thought all of this anticlimactic.
From the corner of my eye, I see a hulking blond tower striding toward me, and then there’s just darkness.
My hand’s in a cast. My little sister tried to grind my hand to pieces. I’m surprised there’s any of it left. Rose and Anton are with me in the ER. Anton’s family is trying to explain away the strange things that occurred in the town square just hours ago.
Fingers rap against the glass of the examine room. Heath Lawrence. I suddenly recall the sound of gunfire. Maybe he was the first cavalry. The small woman who was in the SUV watching him on Halloween is with him.
“Hi,” he says. He’s still cute. No two ways about it.
“I know that this is probably a bad time, but we have to leave, and I need to talk to you before I do,” he says.
I nod to Anton and Rose that it’s okay.
Heath looks at Anton. “Your name’s not Yuri at all, is it?”
Anton glances from me back to Heath. He looks strangely reluctant to go. “No.”
Heath nods, smiling at the floor, lost for a moment in his musings.
“I have to confess that Mouse here and I have been watching you.”
I glance at the woman. Mouse? What an unfortunate nickname.
“Because I realized some strange things were going on here. And, well, I was right, wasn’t I?”
“I don’t know. Were you?”
“Just get to it, Tom…Heath…whoever you are today,” the woman named Mouse says.
“We want to hire you.”
“I make soups.”
“It would be on a definite part-time basis. I’ve seen what you can do.”
“So you’re not going to open my body up with scalpels and try to find out what makes me tick?”
“Hadn’t planned to.”
“But I make soups. I have a full-time job.”
“Listen, chickie, Tom’s group…Heath’s group, collects people with certain talents to make the world a safer place.”
I can’t help but study her. She’s diminutive, just like a Mouse, except for her mouth. I wonder what her asset is.
“We’d train you, and you could bring your talents to hopefully make some situations end without bloodshed.”
Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, if I could actually help and people might not die.
“Think it over,” he says. “I don’t have a card, but you got my number right?”
I nod. A strange day even stranger. I’m probably going to wake up soon, find that’s it’s August and I’m lying in the sand in North Carolina, the sun pounding down on me, the Atlantic surf crashing, while Isla plays Justin Bieber too loudly, and I wonder where she got her taste in music. I lie back against the pillows and close my eyes.
“Are you asleep?” Rose asks.
“Not really. I was kind of hoping this was all a dream.”
“I know what you mean. Anton told me you don’t have a home anymore.”
The invasion of reality.
“You can stay with me, if you want,” Rose says. “I know you like your solitude.”
“No, that’ll be great. We can have lots of girls nights…”
“Except I usually get up earlier than you to be at the shop…”
Rose tells me that she’s going to run home and get some things for me to wear.
I must have drifted off to sleep, because when I open my eyes, Anton is standing next to me studying me with what I could almost say is genuine liking. He raises an eyebrow.
“I’ve got to go. I have to start an investigation in Mexico.”
“Oh.” Funny, I didn’t think about him leaving, that he had his whole witch slayer life to get back to, that doesn’t include me.
His thumb brushes over my cheekbone before he lowers his lips to mine. “Think you can stay out of trouble for a while?”
I shrug. “I’ll see what I can do.”
These days trouble is finding me, and I have every reason to believe that trouble breeds trouble, prolifically.
As he starts to move toward the door, I reach out for his hand. “You know, I kind of like you and would appreciate it if you kept yourself safe for your next visit.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he says, mimicking me with a smile.
And maybe I’m still smiling idiotically when Rose comes in with an extra coat and hat. She takes note of my expression and then shakes her head. “You got it bad. Maybe he’ll come back sometime.”
“Maybe he will.”