Authors: Drew VanDyke,David VanDyke
“Hey!” he exclaimed. Noticing the rage in my eyes, he said, “Hey. Ashlee, it’s me. Just me. Nobody else here.”
I began taking deep cleansing breaths to prevent a panic attack. Intellectually I knew what was going on, but my emotions weren’t quite as savvy. “I need a clove,” I said and grabbed one off the rustic coffee table along with my lighter and stepped out into the backyard clad only in my Scarlet Witch PJs. Hey it’s my house too! Okay, it isn’t, technically, but I live here.
At least I wasn’t naked.
Spanky followed me as I moved to the right of the pool where I had a temporary weather-resistant patio set as a placeholder for when I could afford a real one. Amber had been bugging me to replace it, but I just didn’t have the money. Priorities.
I sat on the forest-green plastic and lit up, pulling the ashtray toward me on the table. Spanky went to sniff out the competition, and soon he and Siegfried were frolicking in the yard. That was quick. I wouldn’t have pegged those two as instant doggie BFFs.
Will followed me out and dangled the donuts and a carton of whole milk in my face. “So, what was that all about?”
I answered him in punctuated words. “Flashback. Tickling. Whelan.” I took a drag on my clove and stared off into space, then shut my eyes as the bright sun made my eyes water.
He waited for me to gather my thoughts. I heard donut-munching sounds.
“When we were younger,” I began, “eight or nine, I think. Pre-puberty, before the change and Amber’s psychic powers started manifesting. One of the things that Whelan and Adam would do to torment us as kids was to tickle us until we cried ‘uncle.’ At first, we thought it was good clean fun. Amber would fold before I did, and when we did Adam would stop. But Whelan, he would go too far. As time went on, it took a sadistic turn. I eventually realized it wasn’t about making us laugh anymore, if it ever was. It became about power. You know what it’s like when somebody tickles you until you can’t even breathe? Well, Whelan would do that. Adam even tried to stop him, but he was too little. Amber blacked out once.”
Will held space for me as I decompressed the traumatic memory.
“So, one time I bit him.”
Will looked appalled.
“Like I said, it was pre-turn and I didn’t draw any blood, but Whelan slapped me in the face. This was when he was, like, fifteen and I was nine. Anyway, when the General found out he ordered Whelan to the garage and took his belt to him. We could hear him screaming bloody murder all through the house. I guess that’s when we realized we were sleeping with the enemy under our own roof. Maybe more than one enemy. Dad put Whelan in the spare room off of the garage and though he never touched me again, Amber wasn’t so lucky.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“I should’ve known,” I told him.
“How could you?”
“At the time I assumed whatever Amber knew, I would too because of the twin bond, but I guess she repressed that. I guess I can’t help but think if things had gone different…if Whelan hadn’t been so messed up, if Dad hadn’t been such a dictator with his ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ mentality, if he’d gotten him some professional help, maybe Whelan wouldn’t be dead by now.”
“Well, I for one am glad that the pervert is toast,” Will said and bit into his donut.
I stared at him.
“What?” he asked, crumbs falling from his mouth.
“I’m not changing.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“Oh yeah? How?”
“I don’t know. You’re more aggressive. Less compassionate. More matter-of-fact.”
“More like a wolf?”
“A year ago you wouldn’t have wanted Whelan dead, no matter what he’d done.”
“A year ago you hadn’t come home and we weren’t in love with each other again, but I think I’d want anyone dead who hurt you.” He reached out to cup my face. “Just because I’m not mourning the loss of your deadbeat brother who tried to kill you doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my humanity.”
That sounded so reasonable, but my internal fur stood up on end anyway, and it must have showed. He tried to take the clove out of my mouth, but I wrenched it away. “Get your own damn cigarette,” I growled.
“Fine,” he said, standing up to take off toward the side of the house, doing a running vault over the back fence. Thank God we don’t have any neighbors on that side, just an open field between us and the woods. Damn, what was I going to do with that boy? He used to be able to put up with as much of my shit as I would dish out, but now he was getting so touchy.
“Ashlee!” came my sister’s voice from the kitchen where she stood watching.
“I know, I know. Next time I’ll tell him to use the friggin’ gate.” If there was even going to be a next time. His lack of empathy scared me and to be honest, I was afraid that sometimes my own lack of empathy was a slippery slope. But into what? I put out my clove and went back into the pool house where I sat cross-legged on the floor, trying to drown out Elle’s mower with singer Deva Premal, meditating until the bad feelings went away.
Poodle shifter…now that was a problem, but not for now.
And speaking of problems, later on I caught Amber swirling her finger in a big jug of sun tea she was leaving out on the porch and mumbling something over and over, which was totally confusing, since her OCD about hygiene issues wouldn’t normally allow her to even consider using anything but a fresh wooden spoon. When I listened more closely realized she was practicing a spell. Or maybe casting it?
With this batch of unsweet tea
Steeped in solar harmony
Herbs from underneath the ground
Make my logic pure and sound
Water from the freshest spring
Air to bind the other three
Spirit brings tranquility
Namaste and Blessed Be
So, it wouldn’t bring any awards in the lyrics category, but what I was more curious about was what it was intended to accomplish.
“It isn’t meant to accomplish anything specific,” Amber responded to my unasked question. “I just have to talk to Elle later and need a little fortification.”
It was okay, she’d tell me soon enough. I just had to keep attacking her from different angles. “Where is she, anyway?”
I laughed. “I thought it was Homie Depot.”
“Manuel Labor, any time.”
I had a flash of insight. “You’re telling her about learning witchcraft.”
“It’s not really witchcraft, at least not in the Hollywood sense of the word. It’s more wish-craft. A spell, like a prayer, is an offering, an invocation to the elements and to the Spirit behind it, from whom all blessings flow.”
“I don’t think your church would see it that way, considering they don’t have much room for a feminine representation of God and have mostly ignored the presence of Wisdom Sophia in the Bible. At least the Catholics have Mary.”
An idolatrous idea to most fundamentalists,
Siegfried spoke into my mind.
Damn you, dog!
I thought back at him.
Looks can be deceiving. I am not a dog.
He lay down on the floor and let Spanky play leapfrog across his back.
“I only go to church because friends do,” Amber said.
“I half-believe that, because you still half-believe.”
She ignored me and plowed on. “As with any organization, you have to take the bad with the good sometimes. Doesn’t mean I agree with everything.”
“Well, unlike the Evangelicals and the Catholics, at least the dogs get along.”
I am not about to tell Amber she has another shifter in the house,
I thought, and then slammed the twin bond shut.
She winced and narrowed her eyes at me. But hey, she was picking up my thoughts way too easily lately, and I needed to have some privacy in my internal monologue, er, dialogue, whatever, didn’t I?
“Well, just be careful,” I said.
“I know, I know. Power corrupts. I’m not stupid,” she said.
And though I questioned this assertion, I let her have her justification as she went back into the house…for now.
The poodle caught my eye.
I’m not a shifter.
“Then what are you?” I asked in a low whisper.
He whined as if the answer wasn’t easy to explain.
I crossed my arms, pursed my lips and gave him my best Amber-style “I’m waiting” toe tap.
Siegfried sat on his haunches, and then hunkered down, laying his head over his front paws and looked up at me with puppy-dog eyes.
I’m a demon,
he said and my mouth dropped open even as my blood pressure hit the roof.
But, I’m a very bad demon, er, or at least not a very good one.
“Wait, so you’re telling me you’re like a demon-possessed dog?”
“All witches’ familiars are demons.” Amber poked her head out the window. “Or daemons to be exact, as in d-a-e-m-o-n-s.”
“You knew about this?” I looked at her incredulously.
“I suspected as much,” she said as she came back out onto the patio with two glasses of iced tea that I eyed warily.
“And you’re okay with this?” I asked.
“I have to be, though how I’m ever gonna break it to Elle that her dog is a daemon, I’ll never know. The witch thing is going to be hard enough.”
“Must be difficult for her, being the only muggle in the family. Can’t you just take him back to wherever you got him?”
Siegfried looked at me wide-eyed and fearful.
“It doesn’t work that way, Ashlee. A familiar finds the witch. A witch doesn’t find the familiar.”
“What, like when the student is ready, the teacher appears?” Or vice versa?
Now I eyed my sister, the dog, and the iced tea with growing consternation.
“Something like that.” She purposefully picked up her iced tea and drank it down, but I still wasn’t going to take the Nestea plunge until she drank out of my glass as well and handed it back to me. “Besides, Elle’s half in love with him already.”
Siegfried gave me a tongue-lolling sloppy grin.
“Can you hear him like I can?” I asked her, taking a sip of the tea, and I swear I could feel the anxiety wash out of me.
“Not like you can,” she sighed, “but when you’ve got the twin bond open, I catch echoes of his voice in your head and no, it doesn’t work with Mom or I’d have let you off the hook by now.”
She has to find and cast the spell,
It’s one of the first assignments for an apprentice witch. No shortcuts allowed.
“I caught that,” Amber said, and went inside to get her laptop.
“What spell?” I asked the dog.
Familiar communication spell,
“Isn’t that, like, cheating? You just gave her a huge hint.”
I’m using what I have,
he said and placed his head on my leg.
Besides, having you for a sister, I’m thinking we need to fastrack, the b-, I mean, witch.
I played with Siegfried’s white curly mop that pouffed like Princess Leia’s buns and scratched behind his ears until he started to lick my hand. I grabbed his muzzle and held it shut until he whined and when I let him go, he took my hand in his puppy sharp teeth, showing his unhappiness but not breaking the skin.
“Siegfried, no,” Elle admonished him, coming out onto the porch with her own glass of iced tea and the sports section tucked under her arm. “Don’t bite.” She put the beverage down and gave him a whack on the nose with the paper.
his voice resounded in my head as he turned his attention to his “owner.”
I was just marking you.
How about I hold you down while I pee on you? Now that’s marking.
“Refill?” Elle asked somewhere in the midst of this hard-to-follow three-way conversation.
It’s not that kind of marking. You know, you’re pretty snarky for a girl human.
“Refill?” Elle asked again and I shut Siegfried out so I could concentrate. And to be honest, I was feeling so good, I didn’t want to say no, so I pushed my glass forward. “Shouldn’t you be getting out of your PJs by now?” It didn’t sound like a suggestion. This was the downside of an in-law old enough to be my mother. Well, if she’d had me at thirteen.
“Probably,” I said, but that’s as far as it got. My twin sister was a witch. Hope Dad never found out.
“You’re what?” The sound of Elle’s voice echoed through the main house from the garage where Elle and Amber had their workout equipment and held their “family” conversations.
I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I didn’t have anything in my refrigerator and well, the grocery store was four blocks away, and I didn’t have a car and I was raiding Amber’s fridge for…well, for something I didn’t have.
Yeah, right. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“Are they at it again?” John Robert poked his head out of his bedroom.
“Hey sport. Yeah, but don’t worry, I’m sure it’s nothing.” Hey, he had to live with my sister. I didn’t. Poor kid. “Want a snack?”
“Lucky Charms,” he said, bouncing onto the comfy davenport and turning on the television to drown out his parents while I made us snacks in the kitchen.
I could still hear them, though. Go lupines! Sometimes the hearing was a curse.
“You’re the one who told me about the witches in the first place,” my sister’s voice echoed in my twitching ear.
“Yes, but I didn’t expect you to become one!” Elle’s voice resounded in the other one.
“And you’re the one who wanted me to work the Street Witches Convention for the department over Halloween,” Amber continued.
“That’s because I think you’re a shoe-in to take over Convention Services. If you want it.”
“Of course I want it, eventually. Maybe when JR’s a bit older.”
“Why do you want to learn witchcraft, anyway?” Elle asked. “I thought we were doing fine with Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer.”
“I don’t know, Elle. I guess it’s because I need more than the power of positive thinking, something different from just a bearded old man in the sky who doles out miracles capriciously that tells me if things don’t go my way there’s something wrong with me.”
“That’s not how it really is and you know it.”