Authors: Drew VanDyke,David VanDyke
Nick came up from the basement and gave us the all-clear; forensically, that is. “I’ll take what I got to the lab and see what I can figure out.” Then he left.
Sister Lena said, “I hope you don’t mind, Ashlee, but when Adam called and said you needed a broom-sweep, Siegfried and I decided that this would make a good teaching opportunity for Amber’s training.”
“And the rest of you?” I looked at the others.
Oh, we’re just here for moral support,
Siegfried thought at us, and we all had to laugh.
“Well, this I gotta see,” I said. Hey, if my space was going to be invaded, I might as well be entertained.
“All right, Amber. You know what to do,” Sister Lena said and I watched as my sister lit a bundle of sage in a conch shell and proceeded to fan the fumes into every corner of my open studio layout. She then proceeded down into the basement and eventually even crawled her way up the tunnel to the duck blind.
I watched as she crouched low and returned, dirt smudges on her elbows and knees. I expected her to bitch and moan about how filthy I kept my escape hatch, but she didn’t say a word. When she got back to the main floor, she chanted for a moment, centered herself, and then held the dustpan in one hand and the swiffer in the other.
Within this keep
This house to sweep
Gather up the charms and bugs
Reveal the spies, the thieves and thugs
Show us spells they may have placed
Repeat the paths that they have traced
Sweep this place from top to bottom
Cleanse this space from all things rotten!
My twin tossed the cleaning tools into the air, and I kid you not, those things began to dance. Up across the cathedral ceiling that housed the kitchen and dining room they slid past walls and windows, over crossbeams and light fixtures, and even zipped down to the blades of the ceiling fan. Each place they went, the dustpan caught whatever the modern-day-broomy thing swept.
I was afraid that the pan would get weighed down by the leavings of my poor housekeeping skills. I think Amber worried too as she narrowed her eyes and pulled her shirt up over her nose and mouth against the dust.
But the dust kept disappearing and every now and then I saw something sparkle in the pan. When the swiffer found the basement stairs, we all followed, but it was a bit anticlimactic, just more of the same, until it finally stopped in the middle of the tile floor.
Amber picked up the broom and dustpan and we returned to the living room where Amber emptied the sparkling dust into a Tibetan singing bowl I’d gotten in India. Bet no one ever used it for this before. My eyes began to water and I had to escape outside for a momentary allergy attack.
When I returned, Amber had surrounded the singing bowl with crystals. She rubbed her hands together as if to generate heat, and then placed her hands over the opening.
Secrets and stories to tell
Make this bowl a wishing well
Show us now what’s trapped within
The face of he or she who sinned
And I swear, when she lifted her hands, the air above the bowl shimmered. It was like that hologram of Princess Leah, only this showed my basement and Colby the wolf locked in the cage.
The scene shifted and we saw a dark, hooded figure enter the pool house and slip down the stairs. Colby turned and became agitated at the presence of the stranger. The cloaked one pointed and the lock snapped open and fell off the cage. He sent a ball of light probing and it bounced off the trigger tile for the escape tunnel and opened the way out. Then he took both hands and, in a sweeping gesture, sent a cloud of sparkles that pushed Colby’s wolf out of the basement and up the tunnel to the duck blind.
He then took the scarf I’d given Sierra out of his pocket, shook it out and threw it into the cage.
it wasn’t Sierra,” I muttered.
The rest of the group shushed me.
What? I figured we’d seen all the pertinent details, unless we got a look at the guy. At least I assumed it was a guy from his build and the way he moved. As sneaky as he was being, we probably wouldn’t get a decent look at him before he left.
And then, wiping his hands like Pontius Pilate, the man doffed his hood and turned full frontal to our perspective. Don’t ask me how magic chooses its angle.
Amber and I gasped. It was Willoughby, the street preacher from the night we’d all gone cruising. And then the figure blazed and disappeared, but before it did, in the midst of the brightness, staring right at us, was an evil face with piercing eyes and a laughing sneer, a face I was sure I knew.
“Whoa, who was that?” Colby asked. “’Cause she is one scary –”
“– bitch!” Amber and I both spoke at once.
“Jeanetta Macdonald,” I followed up. “I thought you witches were supposed to be keeping her under control!”
Sister Lena shot me a look. “There’s only so much we can do. At least now we know. I don’t think we were supposed to see that last part. We were supposed to think it was that poor deluded man. You did a very good job, Amber. I’ve got to make a phone call.” She went outside, followed by Colby and Spanky.
I turned to Amber and snarled, “I should have killed her when I had the chance.”
Stop it Ashlee. You know you’re not a murderer.
I thought back at her.
I know some people,
Amber and I rounded on him and spoke as one. “No!”
He looked miffed, stuck his nose up into the air and exited to the backyard, there to do his business in the middle of the lawn.
And he says he’s not really a dog.
Sister Lena soon returned, followed by Elle, who had been outside sitting on the divan on the patio, watching baseball. Colby stood inside the threshold, leaning against the doorframe.
“Jeanetta’s been in a coma for a week now,” Lena pronounced.
“So, just before the Blood Moon,” Amber said.
“She must have done a ride-along spell,” I finished my sister’s thought. “It’s the only answer.”
“Or worse,” said Lena. “Full possession of a mortal.”
“You people can do that?” I spat. Okay, I was taking a swig from a bottle of water at the time, so that was my excuse.
, Ash?” my twin retorted. “Nice.”
“Sorry.” At least I had the decency to feel embarrassed. Life was easier when it was us and them.
“We need to find Willoughby.” Amber turned to Elle. “Can you?”
“I already know what happened to him.” Elle crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s dead. They found him in a dumpster behind the Boxcar.”
“I didn’t see that in the papers,” I said.
“Let’s just say his death had suspicious undertones,” Elle replied. “The mayor’s keeping the police investigation under wraps. Con’s looking into it, too.”
“Why weren’t we informed?” Sister Lena asked.
“He had a pentagram carved into his chest?” Amber cried. Through the twin bond, I caught her picking the image from Elle’s brain.
“Don’t do that,” Elle said.
“Sorry.” She didn’t sound sorry.
Upright or inverted? I froze the image in my mind and examined it. Two points upward, I decided. An inverted pentagram evoked the image of the goat, the horned one, the devil, and stood for bad juju no matter how you sliced it.
“We didn’t know who could be involved.” Elle said.
“Well, now we do,” I told her. “But why kill her ride-along?”
“The longer Jeanetta’s away from her body, the more power she needs to sustain the spell,” Sister Lena said. “She’s using blood magick. Another prisoner was murdered just before she fell into the coma.”
“So, what we can expect? More innocent bodies to pop up?” I said.
What’s a guilty body?
Siegfried sniped from across the lawn.
You know what I mean, silly daemon.
“How long can she possess someone before she needs to take another victim?” Elle asked, getting to the heart of the matter.
“The longest I’ve heard of someone doing a ride-along is a couple of weeks. If she’s doing a full possession, she can do a week tops before she has to kill again to power the spell. Otherwise the prime personality will kick her out.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you really don’t know,” Elle countered, disapproval showing on her face.
“Witchcraft is not an exact science,” Sister Lena huffed.
“So, how do we find her and nullify this threat, once and for all?” I asked.
“And how do we get this bitch out of our lives?” Amber and Elle said together. I know, right? Spooky.
“What if her body dies while she’s riding someone else?” Colby asked. Leave it to kids to think outside the box. Or outside the body, in this case.
“That’s not an option,” Sister Lena said, and swept regally out the door.
Not to you, maybe,
I thought. Guess I needed to have another chat with Con, and maybe Adam too. They wouldn’t have any problem taking care of business.
Oh hell, it looked like it was time for another come-to-Jesus-and-Satan meeting. Hope they don’t end up killing the messenger, AKA
“Ashlee, you need to be responsible about this. You have no idea what metaphysical door you’ve opened.”
aborting my pups,” I told her and slammed the twin bond closed for emphasis.
She looked down her nose at me and said, “Well, then at least do the next smartest thing and talk about this with Jackson and Will.”
“Jackson, maybe. Chances are I’m not going to get judgment from that sector for something I had no decision in anyway, but Will? Why should I tell him? It would probably send him over the edge. I mean, I know that I’m the gal that rips the band-aid off, but not everybody actually wants that.”
I’d been having this argument in my head since I’d found out, and surprisingly enough it felt good to get it out in the open.
Amber said, “Let’s plot this out like you were writing a piece, a story. What if you don’t tell him? Either of them? You have no idea what you’re going to actually give birth to. What happens if your wolf goes into labor and you need assistance with the birth? Who’s going to be around to save you if you run into trouble, much less a litter of puppies?”
“Oh.” I hadn’t thought of that. Hadn’t thought of anything past,
omigod, I’m gonna be a mommy-wolf!
“You seem incredibly calm considering the ramifications of your actions.”
“I don’t know, Amber. I guess I’m resigned to it, and my wolf, which is half of me anyway, is ecstatic. The actual experience of my wolf having puppies doesn’t worry me. I’m more freaked out about about how Will is going to look at me after I tell him. I have to believe that the Divine Eternal has a plan for all of this.”
“Pulling the spirituality card, eh?” she said.
“At the end of the day, when life gives you shit just for trying to be a decent person, trying to love your neighbor as yourself and all that, what else do we have?”
“We all must answer to our Maker,” she finished for me.
And as much as it pained me to do so, I knew I was going to have to tell both Jackson and Will the truth. What’s that saying? It takes a village?
I just hoped I wouldn’t turn into the village leper.
I heard what happened later, but I’ll tell it to you now as if I were watching:
My mate Will Stenfield stood at the glass counter in Knightsbridge Canyon Jewelry Exchange holding the small velvet box with his mom’s engagement ring. He’d had it refitted for Ashlee and he was planning to pop the question. He heard a commotion behind him and turned.
“Why Will Stenfield? What do you have there?” An unfamiliar face peered back at him.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
“Layolin Potter. Abbess Layolin, to my friends. I’m a friend of Amber’s. We’re working on the Street Witches Convention together. She showed me your picture.” The woman beamed, stuck out her hand to shake and pumped his free one enthusiastically. “You’re much handsomer in real life, I have to say.
“Thanks, I think,” he countered deadpan and rescued his hand from her impressive grip.
“It looks like I caught you deep in thought. Anything you’d like to share?” she asked, nodding pointedly to the jewelry box.
“No. I’m fine, really,” Will said, pocketing the item. “Just woolgathering. And if you know Ash, I’d appreciate you not mentioning that you saw me here, it being for a surprise and all, you understand.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Abbess Layolin teased. “Well, whatever it is you’ve got on your mind, I do hope you get the result you’re hoping for. Mum’s the word.” She brushed her hand down his arm, causing the hair on his skin to rise as if by static electricity.
He felt a jolt in his brain and grabbed her arm, small claws beginning to extend from his fingers. All manner of kindness vanished from the witch’s eyes and she glared at him with hatred like he’d never seen.
Through gritted teeth, she smiled, and said, “Take your hand off my arm unless you want to draw back a stump. Oh, and tell Ashlee I’m coming for her.”
He let her go and she fell to the floor, writhing like an epileptic having a seizure.
A sales clerk ran over. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Will replied, as he cradled the crazy witch’s head. He’d gotten his wolf back under control, but even touching this woman was giving him the heebie-jeebies. “Call 911.”
I found out about all of that the same night at a meeting called by Con up at the ranch house – minus the bit about the jewelry box, of course. And after what I had to tell him, who could blame Will for holding that little tidbit back. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?
Don’t answer that.