Authors: Cate Tiernan
People were starting to teach me things that Iâ€™d never wanted to know: the names of the stars, patterns of the sunâ€™s movements, names of trees and plants and birds and animals. How to gather herbs and hang them to dry. How to focus your attention on a candle flame. Yoga. Meditation, which I hated. But every time my inner spirit rebelled, which was, like, eighty times a day, I was always struck by the fact that I couldnâ€™t bear the thought of doing anything else, being anywhere else. So I just sucked it up and kept doing whatever needed doing, until I could find a reason to leave. Until it didnâ€™t feel scary to leave.
One morning my job was to gather eggs from the henhouse. River kept about thirty hens. They ran free in the yard, pecking up insects and being annoying. At night they roosted in their boxes, locked in to protect them from weasels, foxes, hawks, stray dogs, and so on. Our own dogs held them in contempt, naturally, but never attacked them.
Anyway, every morning some poor sap (today, me) had to muck through the low henhouse, always warm, humid, and smelling of feathers and straw and chicken poop. Not even I could stand up in it, and by the time Iâ€™d stuck my hand into every nest, sometimes under a determined hen who wouldnâ€™t leave her roost, my back was killing me.
hat? Get aâ€¦ job? An actual job? Why?â€
hat evening at dinner I was able to report triumphantly that I had a real minimum-wage job. Nell laughed, then quickly swallowed it at Asherâ€™s glance. River gave me a knowing smile, and Solis looked appeased. I had a silly burst of pride that Iâ€™d actually done something right. For once.
â€œYo, sweetie, load me up,â€
donâ€™t know if Old MacIntyre was surprised to see me the next morning, on time, but I myself was shocked as hell. It took him about twenty minutes to explain shelf stocking to me, another five minutes to go over the intricacies of the old-but-not-in-a-charming-way cash register, and then another forty-five minutes to put the fear of God into me if I should ever happen to steal anything. He kept the back section, where all the prescriptions were filled, locked, so essentially he was warning me off smuggling Tampax, baby formula, and live bait home in my purse. Whatever.
I rolled up the sleeves of my sexy and provocative plaid flannel shirt, cut open a carton of Garnier Nutrisse hair dye, and starting stocking my little heart out. Focusing intently on this mind-numbing work meant I couldnâ€™t think about anything else. I was determined not to think about anything else for as long as I could. Iâ€™d gulped down my herb tea last night and had slept surprisingly wellâ€”no nightmares, no memories. But that was as far as I was going to go with the whole eight-houses thing. I mean, how could I come to terms with that? There was so much I didnâ€™t know about my own past, my own heritage. Iâ€™d never wanted to know. Was afraid of knowing. Look at everything I hadnâ€™t known about my amulet. Now that I knew, it gave me a whole new level of paranoia. Fun!
After about an eon of mindless drudgery, it suddenly struck me, the whole point of this, what Solis was hoping I would get out of it: He was hoping that this boredom and pointlessness would so overwhelm me that I would suffer a complete psychotic break, run screaming down the street, and disappear out of his life forever. That
to be the thought behind this.
And, oh, baby, I was close. So close. But something in me forced myself to keep going, and all I could grasp was the humiliating, confusing certainty that my life wouldnâ€™t be any better if I were anywhere else, doing anything else. Also, as hugely as this suckedâ€”and believe me, it sucked bigâ€”this was about as much of a disguise as I could possibly manage.
No one I knew would ever believe me capable of being here, doing this. I felt camouflaged, and that nameless fear hanging over me still felt that being camouflaged was important. Why? I didnâ€™t know. I was one big mystery, even to myself.
Someone was near me, had been lingering near me for some time, I suddenly realized. As Meriwether had said, the town in general didnâ€™t have a lot going on, and MacIntyreâ€™s in particular seemed to be on life supportâ€”hardly any customers to speak of. Now I realized that there was someone else here. I felt them, felt their energy, though I hadnâ€™t heard the doorbell jangle.
I gathered up some empty cartons and headed toward the back, glancing down each aisle. It was the punk/goth girl, the one Iâ€™d seen twice before, the one I kept running into because this podunk town was so tiny you couldnâ€™t help running into the same people over and over again.
She glanced at me, trademark defiant look on her face, and I acted as if I didnâ€™t recognize her. But I watched her in the round mirror at the end of the aisle and saw her slip some nail polish into her pocket. I sighed and tossed the boxes out back by the trash can.
When I came back in, she was waiting impatiently at the checkout counter. Mr. MacIntyre was helping an older woman in back who was getting a prescription, so I muttered a quick prayer that I would remember how to work the stupid cash register and headed over.
Old Mac had given me some tips on customer service,
but since he was one of the most hateful men Iâ€™d ever met, Iâ€™d ignored them.
Now I took the stuff the girl had put on the counter and started punching register buttons, hoping I was doing it right. There was no nail polish.
I dropped the other items into a plastic bag, then said, â€œOkay, the polish.â€
ouâ€™re coming, then?â€
ended up going to bed that night, lying awake for a long time, shivering under my blankets. I couldnâ€™t stop thinking about Reyn, and the northern raider, and the fact that my door had no lock on it. I wanted to feel my amulet again, to hold it, but somehow I didnâ€™t dare take it from its hiding place.
River tried to question me, gently, but I just wasnâ€™t going to discuss it. My excuses were so lame and transparent that, in the end, sheâ€™d left me alone. I mean, logically, it couldnâ€™t have really been Reyn, right? It looked like him, and it would explain his ephemeral familiarity, but it totally
contradicted my attraction to him. And he wasnâ€™t old enough.
I gulped down my herb tea, and River did a small spell to help me sleep, tracing runes on my forehead with her cool fingers. I fell back on my bed, already half asleep, my fingers nervously pressed against my scarf.
The next morning my eyes flew open a minute before my alarm went off. I did a quick scan of my room, as if I expected to see the northern raider there, from four hundred years ago and four thousand miles away.
Iâ€™d suppressed all this stuff for so long. Now it was all escaping through the crack in my shell, like lava. Ugh. I crawled out of bed, noticing that dawn was coming later every day. It was cold in my roomâ€”the radiator was just starting to hiss and pop. I threw on jeans, a camisole, a T-shirt, and a flannel shirt over that, put on my sturdy shoes, and headed downstairs warily, afraid that if I saw Reyn I would shriek like a little girl.
o letâ€™s see: my previous life of designer clothes; fabulous parties; guys climbing all over me; gorgeous, exciting, fun friends; traveling on a whim; fun fun funâ€”or my current life of jeans, flannel shirts, and work boots; my menial job at a tiny, run-down drugstore; getting up at dawn; falling into bed at, like,
. There was no reason why this life should feel better, but it did.
Here, for the first time in decades, possibly centuries, my stomach feltâ€”not bad. Iâ€™ve always had a place inside that felt like Iâ€™d swallowed a throwing star or a sparkler. A place deep in my gut that was sharp, jangled, painful, tight, tense.
Sometimes if I drank enough or whatever, it would fade a little, then come back with a vengeance. It didnâ€™t even really bother meâ€”I just noticed it, is all. I lived with it. Sometimes it was worse than others, but mostly I was barely aware of it, this knot of irritation and raw burning, deep inside.
This morning Iâ€™d realized that I could hardly feel it. And I hadnâ€™t self-medicated in weeksâ€”since Iâ€™d come here to Riverâ€™s House of Rehab. It was shocking to realize that Iâ€™d been at Riverâ€™s Edge for five weeks. It felt both brand-new and like Iâ€™d been here for months or years.
Everything was different.
I was taking more real classes now. With Anne, sometimes Asher, Solis, or River herself, I was being taught meditation, astronomy, botany, geologyâ€”you name it. If it was dry and incomprehensible, they were throwing it at me. I was learning about plants, and not just the farm plants. There were so many plants and herbs and flowers that had specific properties, either physical or magickal, and these could be used in spells. There are different forms of magick that use plants, or metals, or gems and crystals, or oils, or candles. Different people resonated with different types of magick; like, that kind of magick flowed best with who they were as a person, so their spells would be especially successful using it. I still didnâ€™t know what I resonated with. I was learning that basically everything around me, everything in the world, was connected to magick somehow. And therefore connected to me. Theyâ€™d
touched more on the whole eight-houses concept, and Iâ€™d tried not to flinch or pass out when they talked about Iceland, about the House of Ãšlfur.
I was seeing change. Even to my own eyes, I looked less ill. Of course, my natural allure was completely obscured by the calluses on my hands, dust and straw in my hair, butch clothes, and perpetual eau de chicken coop that lingered on me, but my skin and eyes did look healthier.
I was sleeping. Instead of four or five restless hours, I now conked out early and slept like a drugged rock until I had to get up. I was stronger physically; I could easily lift crates and cartons at MacIntyreâ€™s, push cows into milking gates, and lift the biggest, heaviest pots in the kitchen. My dreams were not bad. I often couldnâ€™t remember them, but I wasnâ€™t having constant nightmares and wasnâ€™t waking up sick and exhausted.
And yet all this healthy living was starting to feel like it was gonna kill me. Ha ha ha. And even though I was seeing change, I was seeing
; I didnâ€™t think I was seeing
One Sunday I was in a class with River, working with different metals. Everything (not just my amulet), whether natural or manmade, has an energy, a vibration, kind of. I knowâ€”oooh, how New Age-y, how touchy-feely. Hey, Iâ€™m just reporting how it is, people. I was learning to become more aware of the vibrations and energy, and how to align mine with them. It was part of the whole TÃ¤hti experienceâ€”
to create power and magick out of working
things, rather than just sucking their power out till they die.
Itâ€™s much easier to just suck the power out of other things and channel it than to actually craft a white spell and work within all the limitations you have to set upâ€”the limitations that we dark immortals never bother with, if we do magick at all. So I was sitting at a table in one of the classrooms, fondling chunks of iron and copper and silver and barely picking up on anything at all, and of course the others, Jess, Daisuke, and Rachel, were all, like, glowing with the rapture of being so in tune with their magick that the metals were practically singing to them, and suddenly it was all too much.
he next morning my nerves still felt jangled and anxious. And to further unbalance my mental state, I was forced to catch a ride to work with the grim Viking. I wanted to protest and just take my own car, but something in Riverâ€™s eyes made me close my mouth and simply climb into the truck. Where I sat as close to my own door as possible, holding on to the handle.
As we drove away, I saw Nell watching us from the front parlor window, and I groaned to myself. Great. She already thought I was horning in on her, and frankly she was
starting to seem a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Now I would be self-conscious and paranoid about her all day.
And the sad thing? Despite
â€”my memory, Reynâ€™s disdain for me, our obvious incompatibility, Nellâ€™s increasingly threatening interestâ€”I still thought that he was hot, physically, and I actually appreciated his responsibleness. I mean, right now I didnâ€™t trust anyone except River and the other teachers, but letâ€™s face it,
would have trusted Boz or Incy with their tractor or their truck or theirâ€¦ student. And Iâ€™m someone for whom responsibility has never been a selling point. I myself have never been responsible or reliable in any way. Incy, before he apparently went insane, had been amusing, excitingâ€”but reliable? No. If one of my friends said theyâ€™d pick me up at four, maybe they would, and maybe they wouldnâ€™t. And maybe Iâ€™d be there when they got there, and maybe I wouldnâ€™t. Everything was much more free flow. But if Reyn said heâ€™d be back to pick me up at four, by gosh, he would be tapping his foot impatiently on the curb outside at exactly four. Weirdly, these days I found that appealing rather than annoying. I found the fact that he wasnâ€™t shrieking and spray-painting
on the walls attractive. My world seemed so topsy-turvy now, my emotions so heightened, that it was like, northern raider, schmorthern raider! He said heâ€™s only 267! Whatever!
But I still held on to my door handle all the way to town, ready to leap from the moving truck if Reyn suddenly
pulled out a longsword or something. In front of MacIntyreâ€™s I quickly opened the door and jumped out, tucking my scarf tighter around my neck. â€œThanks for the ride,â€