Authors: Jen McConnel
Tags: #teen, #young adult, #magic, #curses, #paranormal, #fantasy, #witch, #witches, #spells, #science fiction
The kitchen was silent for a moment, and I forced myself to swallow another mouthful. Finally, Mom spoke without looking at me. “Don’t tell me. Don’t say anything. Just be careful.”
I took the stairs two at a time. Acting on impulse, I grabbed the athame, a box of matches, and the stub of a red candle in one quick sweep, and then I picked up the tattered old atlas my grandfather had given me. I was in my closet with the door shut in an instant, but my breathing was ragged. If I hadn’t moved fast enough, it didn’t matter how warded my closet was; if Hecate was watching, she would stop me. I had no illusions that the Queen of Witches wanted me to use my new powers to avert chaos, and I only hoped I had moved fast enough not to catch her attention.
Closing my eyes, I drew in a long breath through my nose. I held it for a moment, then slowly exhaled, feeling the fear slip to the back of my mind as I grounded and centered.
Kneeling on the floor, I picked up the athame in my right hand. Slowly, whispering a prayer to the elements of air, fire, water, and earth, I traced a wide circle in the air with the knife. I opened the atlas to the map of North America and set it down before me. Gently, I laid the blade on top of it. Then I struck a match. The smell of sulfur flared up for a moment and was replaced by the comforting smell of burning wood. I lit the red candle as I slipped closer toward my trance state. Even if Red magic was new to me, spells and rituals were as ingrained in me as breathing.
Without questioning myself, I called upon the goddess who I suspected was willing to help me, based on the clues she’d left in my book. “Aphrodite, protect me. I do what I do out of love.” If I was wrong, I hoped it wouldn’t matter, but I was more and more certain that she was the goddess who had reached out to me. I placed the glowing candle at the top of the map and leaned forward and studied the page. Placing my open palms against the map with my right hand covering the Caribbean and my left hand covering the Atlantic coast, I began to hum. Tunelessly, I buzzed like a bee, pausing only to draw breath. I filled my mind with images of clear skies, and I imagined the warm caress of a gentle breeze against my face. As I hummed, I felt my hands pulsing with energy, and I concentrated hard to direct it out and into the map. Red sparks raced up my arms, but I didn’t stop. When I felt like I was about to burst with energy, I stopped humming and lifted my hands.
I whispered a prayer of thanks and snuffed out the candle. Then I sat in the darkness of my closet for a moment, concentrating on my breathing. When I was steady, I stood up. I couldn’t hide in my closet all day: I needed to be where I could listen to the weather. I hoped I wouldn’t have to wait too long to know if I had accomplished anything.
I convinced my mom to let me go see Justin that afternoon, but I felt a little guilty. I made her think that I was pining for him, which was sort of true, although I wouldn’t readily admit that under normal circumstances. I knew Mom had always been fond of Justin, but I hadn’t realized how much she liked us as a couple until I asked to go over there. Despite Dad’s warnings, she let me leave the house with a smile and a wink.
I took the back way to his house and texted him while I walked. He was waiting for me at the gate in his backyard, and for once I didn’t hop his fence. I was surprised when he leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine, and I froze, my skin tingling from his kiss.
“In case anyone is watching,” he murmured in my ear, and I nodded. Of course he was right. The lie I had told my mother just might convince Hecate, as well. Swallowing, I leaned forward and kissed him gently, trying to ignore the way my heart was throbbing between my ears. A slow heat began to climb through my feet and into my legs, and I broke away before I could make a total fool of myself. Justin draped his arm casually across my shoulders and nuzzled my ear as if he didn’t notice.
“Wait ’til we’re inside.” His voice was so low I had to strain to hear it, but I faked a laugh and reached up to hold his hand. As I glanced over my shoulder, I made eye contact with a sleepy-looking owl sitting on a branch in the next yard. It blinked its golden eyes at me twice, and I shivered. Justin had been right to be careful; we were being watched. There was only one other creature with eyes like that, and I didn’t doubt that the owl would report directly to Hecate if Justin or I said or did anything out of the ordinary. Hopefully, I thought, the goddess hadn’t been watching me for long, or she’d realize that kissing Justin was way out of the ordinary for me lately. I tried not to worry as we headed inside.
Once we were safe in Justin’s bedroom, I stepped away from him quickly. It wouldn’t do either of us any good if I let him see the way he still stirred me up. I had to get my feelings under control. Justin didn’t mention the kiss. Instead, he sat down on the edge of his desk and looked at me.
“So what did you do?” His question was laced with excitement; despite the danger, Justin was enjoying himself.
His energy was infectious, and I smiled as I told him about the hurricane. “I don’t know if it worked, but I threw everything I had at it.”
Justin immediately crossed to his computer and pulled up a news site. He clicked around for a minute, but then shook his head. “Nothing on here so far. But we should know soon if it was supposed to make landfall in the islands today or tomorrow.” He glanced up at me, and he suddenly seemed nervous. “Did you want to stay here while we wait? We could play a game or something.” With his brown eyes and unruly hair, he was a strange combination of sexy and sweet, and my heart lurched. I didn’t want to be alone, and if there was any way I could pretend to be a normal teenager one last time, I wanted it. Besides, I’d give anything to spend a few hours alone with Justin.
“Do you still have that old Nintendo in the basement?” He nodded, and I grinned.
“Bet I can still kick your ass!” I waited for him to open the door, and he smiled at me. I almost melted.
“We’ll just see, won’t we?”
After spending four blissful hours beating Justin at the old video games of our childhood, I was almost able to forget the spell I had attempted that morning. Almost.
I remembered everything when we took a break from the games to scavenge for some food in the kitchen. The small black and white TV on the counter was turned on and playing quietly to the empty kitchen when we emerged from the basement, and I immediately heard the words
freak weather pattern
. I rushed across the room and fixed my eyes on the screen, with Justin following close behind me. He reached over my shoulder to turn up the volume.
The reporter looked confused as he said, “For those of you just joining us, I’m pleased to announce that a freak weather pattern has caused Tropical Storm Helene to dissipate just hours before it was predicted to make landfall in the Bahamas.” A satellite image flashed on the screen, first showing the swirling mass of the storm before switching to a blank map.
Justin squeezed my hand, but I kept my eyes on the reporter. “Meteorologists are stumped by this turn of events and warn citizens of the islands and the eastern United States to take precautions as if the storm were still coming. In case the storm re-forms, people are advised to seek shelter in high, inland areas.”
My mouth hung open as Justin hugged me.
“You did it!”
I hugged him back for an instant, overwhelmed by the heady sensation of power coursing through me. I’d never tried to do anything so important with magic before.
After a moment, I pushed him away as shock replaced my initial euphoria.
He looked at me, confused, and I forced myself to take a step back.
“Right. I did it. I defied Hecate.” As my words sank in, his jubilant smile faded, and I saw a flicker of fear in his eyes. Just then, a rumble of thunder shook the house. I glanced outside at the cloudless blue sky and looked back at Justin. “Get it? I’m in trouble.” I turned away from him, my mind whirring frantically. I couldn’t let Hecate come after me here; something might happen to Justin, and then I’d never forgive myself.
“Where are you going?” Justin rushed to block the door, and I groaned in exasperation.
“Don’t you see? Okay, great, we figured out what I can do. But Hecate told me not to try anything like this. I have to get home.”
His eyes were filled with concern. “It’s not safe for you to leave. This house is warded.”
“It’s not safe if I stay! Justin, I can’t let Hecate hurt you because I’m with you, but it’s even more important that I get home. If I’m there, maybe she won’t hurt my parents. I don’t think anyone else has pissed off this goddess and lived.”
Justin frowned, thinking about what I had said. Lightning flashed outside, and I jumped.
“I’m going with you.” His voice shook, but his jaw was set. He grabbed his keys and propelled me out the door before I could argue or think.
The house was dark and the shutters were drawn, even though the sun had barely set by the time we arrived.
“Shit,” I hissed under my breath. Justin looked at me, startled. “Hecate was here recently.”
“How can you tell?”
I paused, wondering at my certainty. “I’m not sure. But I guess she’s been around so much lately that I can sense her,” I finished lamely. Why on earth would an untrained Witch like me be able to tune in to the presence of the Queen of Witches? Unless, of course, she wanted me to know she was there. That thought made my heart race, but I tried to smile reassuringly at Justin. “I can handle this, if you want to go home.”
He shook his head wordlessly, and I sighed. I was glad that he wanted to help, but I didn’t want to have to protect him if things went badly with Hecate. Still, it was nice to have him there.
I put my key in the lock and looked over my shoulder at Justin. “Fine, but don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.”
“I can handle whatever is coming.”
I doubted that. I wasn’t even sure I was ready to face Hecate’s wrath, but I had no choice. I needed to make sure she hadn’t done anything to my parents.
I pushed the door open and stepped across the threshold, Justin close behind me. The air smelled crisp, like burnt plants. Everything was still except for my wildly pounding heart.
“Hello?” I called, feeling foolish. “Mom? Dad? I, uh, brought Justin over for dinner.”
My dad emerged from the hallway, looking dazed. “Justin.” He flicked his eyes toward me. “Tonight’s not really a good night for company.” He paused. “We have a family matter to discuss.”
Justin was too well-mannered to argue with my dad, and even though I had just been pleading with him to stay out of this, I felt desperately empty when he squeezed my hand and said, “Okay, Mr. Agara. I just wanted to walk Lena home.” As he turned to leave, he whispered to me, “Text me later, so I know, okay?” I nodded, and he closed the door behind him.
Dad waited a beat before he lit into me. “Darlena, how could you defy a goddess? What is wrong with you? I told your mother you were out of control with this Red stuff, but she wouldn’t listen to me.”
His words struck me a mile a minute, and I couldn’t even form a response before he was onto the next painful statement.
“You can’t stay here anymore.”
My heart turned to ice. “What do you mean?”
Dad rubbed his eyes tiredly, and all at once his shoulders slumped. “She was here. Again. I can’t handle any more visits from her.”
“So, what, you’re just sending me away? How is that fair?”
He shook his head. “We aren’t sending you away. Hecate is taking you.”
“Excuse me?” My mouth hung open.
“She wants to supervise your training personally. There’s not much your mother and I can do for you, really.” He shrugged. “Maybe it will be better for everybody.”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Dad, do you honestly think that I’ll be safe with Hecate? She wants me to cause chaos, and when she finds out that I don’t want to—”
“Lena, you can’t ignore what you are. You’re a Red, and your mother and I can’t help you. Hecate might be your only choice.”
I didn’t answer, but I knew my expression told him I thought it was all ridiculous.