Authors: Jen McConnel
Tags: #teen, #young adult, #magic, #curses, #paranormal, #fantasy, #witch, #witches, #spells, #science fiction
She smiled smugly. “Darlena , did you really think you were the only one who could fool around with weather?”
I felt a chill creeping across my neck. “What did you do?”
“Why, I did what you did! I used a map as a focus, but unlike you, I didn’t try to fight the forces of nature. I helped them along.”
Was this all a big joke? I stared at her, confused. “Rochelle, why would you do that? My mom says this storm is going to be dangerous.”
Her laugh was harsh. “I told you, Darlena, you shouldn’t waste your power. Other Witches would love to have control over chaos.”
A terrible suspicion formed in my mind, but I tried to ignore it. “But Rochelle, you’re a Black, not a Red.”
“But I have friends, Darlena. Friends you ignored. And they seem to think that I would be a better Red Witch.”
Her eyes were fiery, and I took a step back without realizing it. She snarled, and I realized then that I wasn’t hallucinating; Rochelle had betrayed me.
“Too late to be afraid, Darlena. Once this storm hits, there will be nothing left of your house to hide behind. And there will be nothing left of you, either.”
I said the only thing I could think of. “But we’re best friends!”
“But we’re best friends!” she mocked, her voice bitter. “What did you ever do for me? You took power, you could have mastered the world, and did you ever once think to teach me any of it?”
“Red magic is dangerous. There aren’t supposed to be more than three Red Witches at a time. I couldn’t have told you anything!” I kept backing away from her, frantically trying to think of a way to get out of this situation without harming Rochelle. No matter what, she was still my best friend.
“If you had cared enough, you would have. How do you think it feels”—her voice broke, but even her sob sounded frenzied—“to have a friend with so much power?”
I reached out to hug her, but she crossed her arms. I tried reasoning with her. “But Rochelle, you’re a strong Witch, too.”
“I’m just a Dreamer! My parents are Nons. I’m nothing! But you—you’re a Blood Witch, and Hecate singled you out. It’s not fair!” she shrieked, and I realized that while we had stood there talking, the wind had risen. I had to shout to be heard.
“I still don’t understand. Why would you create a hurricane just to destroy me?”
She laughed. “You won’t be the only corpse! And she promised me that if I made enough offerings, I could take up your vow instead.”
My heart turned to ice. “Who promised you?” I thought I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to believe it.
“Who do you think? Hecate!” Rochelle laughed wildly. “You should never have defied her, you know. But I’m glad you did. She didn’t want me until you swore to Aphrodite.” She shook her finger at me. “That wasn’t very smart, you know. It’s a bad idea to piss off a goddess like her.”
I stared at her, openmouthed.
“But your bad luck was good for me. Because once you’re gone, I’ll be the next Red Witch!”
Lightning ripped across the sky, and Rochelle laughed, raising her arms. “The storm is almost here! And what a tragic accident. You got caught out in it. No one could have predicted that lightning would hit that tree, or that it would fall to the earth, crushing you beneath it.”
My thoughts raced. Rochelle had betrayed me to Hecate. She wanted to kill me. My best friend wanted to kill me.
“You brainwashed my parents, didn’t you?”
She laughed. “It wasn’t hard to do. They wanted to believe that you were still their perfect little girl.” She sighed. “For some reason, Justin didn’t want to believe any fantasy. His mind clung firmly to the fact that you were a Red. I had to use other methods to convince him to desert you.”
“It was you, wasn’t it? You burned the coffee shop.”
“I had to! You were getting stronger. If you lost Justin, I thought you’d lose your own power. You were pathetic when you guys broke up before; I figured you’d crumple again like the weak little girl you are.”
I edged away from her, trying to scoot around the side of the house. Rochelle laughed.
“It’s too late, Darlena. You’re not going to live through this storm. And then I’ll be the one with all the power.”
I paused, tense and waiting for my chance. Rochelle turned to look up at the sky, and I moved quickly.
I threw the garden hose toward her and felt the tingle of Red magic course up and down my arms. The hose sailed through the air like a boomerang and wrapped around Rochelle. She stumbled back, stunned, but I could see her lips moving to form a curse. I still didn’t want to hurt her if I didn’t have to, so I turned and sprinted toward the front of the house, aware that she wasn’t far behind.
I raced up the porch and tried the door, but to my surprise it was locked. “Come on, come on!” I jiggled the handle, pounding on the door. Why didn’t Mom hear me?
“She’s not there. Poor Darlena, nobody here to save you.” Rochelle spoke from behind me and I tensed, flexing my palms and trying to ready myself for whatever she had planned.
Suddenly, my stomach clenched. “What did you do to her?” If Rochelle had harmed my mom, I’d make her pay. Wild rage filled me, and I struggled to keep the Red magic from erupting uncontrollably. I didn’t turn around, but I could see Rochelle’s blurry reflection in the glass of the door. She grinned wickedly.
“Why do you think I would do anything to your mother?” Her voice dripped with venom, and she took a step closer to me. “Your sweet mother, who never liked me, who wished you would find a new friend. Now why in the world would I want to harm her?”
I took a deep breath. My palms were tingling, but I knew that when I turned I would have to act fast. Once Rochelle could see my eyes, she would know what I was planning. “My mom was worried that you’d be a bad influence on me. But she never did anything to you. You wouldn’t harm her!” I tried to speak with more confidence than I felt, but my nerves pulsed, waiting for Rochelle to confirm or deny my fears.
“Wouldn’t I?” Her voice was soft, and her reflection loomed closer.
“What about the threefold law, Rochelle? Are you really prepared to get three times as much pain as you’ve dished out?”
She laughed. “I haven’t dished out any pain—yet. Your mother isn’t here. That doesn’t mean she’s dead. She just had the sudden urge to run to the grocery store for some milk. Like just about everyone else on this street. What a shame,” she laughed, “that the lines will be so long! What a shame she won’t get home in time to help you.”
Thank gods Mom was okay. I let my anger cool for an instant, and then I whirled to face Rochelle, raising my hands above my head as I spun. I had the satisfaction of seeing the shocked look on her face in the instant before she was blasted backward twenty feet. While she was on the ground, I quickly bound her with air, tying her hands first before sealing her mouth with the same spell Aphrodite had used on me. Part of me wanted to slice her throat and watch her bleed on the lawn, but I fought the impulse. I had sworn I wouldn’t use Red magic to be destructive, and I certainly didn’t want the guilt of my best friend’s death on my hands. Still, I couldn’t resist sending a little zap of energy at her, giving her a tiny magical shock.
“This isn’t over, Rochelle. I’m still alive. You haven’t finished your work.” I tied off my spell, using a burst of magic that left me staggering and seeing double. Rochelle glared at me from the ground as I passed her.
I took off down the street at a run. The sky above me had turned inky black, and the wind was whipping through the neighborhood, bending trees in half. I hoped Mom stayed put at the grocery store. If she tried to drive in this wind, I didn’t think she’d be able to keep the car on the road.
I was out of breath by the time I reached Justin’s house. I pounded on his door, but no one answered. Where was he? Didn’t he realize how much I needed him? Desperate, I turned back to the street.
“Aphrodite!” I screamed into the wind. “Goddess, hear me! Please! I need your help.”
The only sound was the screeching wind, and the only response to my plea was the pelting rain that began to fall. I started back toward my house, moving in a daze. I barely noticed that Rochelle was nowhere to be seen as I raced up the driveway. The sliding door in the back was open, and I slipped inside. My mind was a mess, and thoughts kept slipping in and out of it like fish. There was something important I needed to remember, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. It was maddening.
The sounds of the storm were only slightly muffled once I was inside the house, and I stood there, dripping on the kitchen floor for a minute, trying to get my bearings. Xerxes came around the corner but stopped when he saw me. His fur stood on end and his eyes looked wild.
“Xerxes, buddy, it’s just me.” I took a step toward him, and he took off like he’d been shot out of a gun. I could hear his claws scrabbling up the stairs. Cautiously, I started to follow him. I didn’t want to give the cat a panic attack, but I needed to get to my room. I didn’t know why, but I had the overwhelming sense that I would be safe there.
Upstairs, I didn’t see any sign of the crazed cat, and I was grateful. Poor old guy had already been freaked out enough, and I didn’t want to scare him anymore. The Red sparks had faded, but I could practically smell the magic pulsing off my hands; that was probably what had scared the cat. When I opened my door, I jumped back, startled by the electric shock that bit my fingertips as I touched the door handle.
My room was pitch black, and nothing happened when I flicked the light switch. The wind must have knocked the power lines loose. In the dark, I felt my way across the room to my desk. I groped around for a moment, and then felt a sharp pain as my hand closed around the unsheathed blade of my knife.
“Shit.” I quickly sucked the blood off my finger. My tongue began to tingle and go numb, but I was distracted by the squishy shapes I felt under my left hand. The pomegranate seeds.
Time slowed down. I couldn’t hear the wind outside anymore. I couldn’t even hear the frantic beating of my heart. Everything was quiet and still, as if the world were waiting for me to decide.
Without thinking, I put the first seed in my mouth and felt the sharp sweetness explode on my tongue. I had never tasted anything so bitter and sweet; it was better than lemonade on a humid summer day. Quickly, I popped the second seed in my mouth, swallowing greedily. My hand slowed when I reached for the third seed, and the enormity of what I had done washed over me. Actually, I still didn’t know what I’d done, but I knew that my actions had just changed everything irrevocably. Persephone had made that much clear when she gave me the seeds. I gulped and stared into the darkness, but nothing happened.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” I muttered, smiling slightly at the memory of my grandmother those words evoked. Deliberately, I picked up the last seed and plopped it on my tongue, savoring the flavors that were gone too quickly. When a bolt of lightning struck close to the house, I shivered.
what’s done is done
. But the trouble was, I didn’t know what I had done. Had I reversed the events since I declared to Red magic? Was I still bound to Aphrodite? Was Rochelle still waiting somewhere outside to attack me? The door to my bedroom creaked, and I turned in time to see it swing open.
The darkness in the hall made it impossible to discern any features on the shadowy figure that stood before me. I reached toward the desk and grabbed the athame, holding it point-up toward the door. I felt a twinge of guilt—ritual knives weren’t weapons—but I pushed my guilt to one side. I didn’t want to face whatever it was unarmed, and I didn’t think I’d be able to use magic for a while; the fight with Rochelle had drained my strength.
“Darlena?” Justin’s voice was laced with worry, and I sighed raggedly as soon as I recognized his voice.
“Justin! What are you doing here?” Hurriedly, I set the blade down.
“What do you mean? You called my house and left a crazy message on the machine.” He took a step forward, glancing around nervously. I reached for a candle and matches on the top of my desk.
“I didn’t call you. I can’t find my phone.” The smell of burning sulfur filled the room as I lit the stub of candle that I had grabbed. I held it cautiously in my hand, watching Justin’s face sway in the candlelight.
“But what’s going on?” Justin sniffed the air cautiously. “It smells like Black magic in here.”
I took a whiff, but all I could smell was the lingering scent from the match. “I don’t know.”
He looked at me strangely. “I had a weird dream,” he finally began, “about us.”
“Oh?” I shifted my weight, not wanting to let my guard down, but suddenly desperate to sit down.
He took a step closer, shadows bouncing off his face. “I dreamed we got back together.”
I exhaled loudly and looked away. “Was it a good dream?”
He shook his head, and his words were sharp. “You used magic. I felt helpless.” The light from the candle made his head look like a grinning skull, and I swallowed.
“Would that be so bad?” I ventured, setting the candle down on the desk.
“Are you kidding?” He exploded. “Darlena, come on! Who wants to be forced into something against their will?” He clenched his fists. “It was just a dream, wasn’t it?”
I looked down, passing my hand over the candle in a nervous motion.
“Darlena.” I had never heard Justin sound so serious, and I looked up. I didn’t say anything, but he held my eyes for a moment before he began to shout.
“Is that who you’ve become? Someone who would use magic to manipulate another person?” I couldn’t answer, but he wasn’t waiting for my response. “That’s disgusting, Darlena! The fact that you would use me like that—” He spun toward the door.
My heart felt like it was imploding. “Justin!” I finally snapped out of my daze and took a couple of steps toward him. He stopped, but didn’t turn around. I drew a deep breath. “What if I told you I only did it because I had nothing left? My parents couldn’t help me, and you had stopped wanting to.” My rushed words sounded pathetic, and I realized that he wasn’t going to forgive me. My heart sank to the floor like a stone, and I reached for him, desperate.