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Authors: Alex Bledsoe

Croaked

Croaked
Witch Tales [2]
Alex Bledsoe
The Story Vault (2012)

The heroine of The Firefly Witch, Dr. Tanna Tully, returns for more adventures into the dangerous, the absurd, and the deadly.

• Tanna receives a mysterious box that contains something alive, and possibly diabolical. Does Ry have the nerve to open it?

• When her research connects a long-vanished local lake with a global ecological crisis, Tanna and her husband Ry must find a way to cross dimensions into a strange other reality.

• A young boy vanishes inside an amusement park’s latest attraction, and his ghost begs Tanna for help. She and Ry must figure out what has happened to him, and then take a trip into the darkest place imaginable, if they dare, to try and free him.

• “Son” Emerson, obnoxious redneck country star, has a problem: the guitar once used by his late father, the legendary “Dad” Emerson, seems to be haunted. Can Tanna figure out who the ghost is, and what it wants?

 

 

The Firefly Witch:
Croaked

 

Alex Bledsoe

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

For more information, please direct your correspondence to:

The Story Vault
c/o Marketing Department
P.O. Box 770365
Naples, Florida 34107-0365
CROAKED: THE FIREFLY WITCH - BOOK 2
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by Alex Bledsoe
http://www.alexbledsoe.com
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

 

Also by Alex Bledsoe:

 

The Eddie Lacrosse Novels
:
The Sword-Edged Blonde
Burn Me Deadly
Dark Jenny
Wake of the Bloody Angel
The Memphis Vampires
:
Blood Groove
The Girls with Games of Blood
The Songs of the Tufa
:
The Hum and the Shiver
A Wisp of a Thing

The Firefly Witch Series:
The Firefly Witch
The Firefly Witch
#2
: Croaked

The Firefly Witch #3: Back Atcha

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

Marlene Stringer, Deborah Blake, Valette Piper-Bledsoe

 

~I~

THE TAPED DOWN BOX

 

I entered my wife’s office in West Tennessee University’s Psychology department. Like all of the best professors, the space was packed to the rafters with mementos of her career. But, since she specialized in parapsychology, her mementos were quite a bit stranger than most.

It was spring in Tennessee, so she dressed accordingly: a sleeveless, flowered dress that offset her wild, wavy red hair. I knew a lot of boys, and probably some girls, took her classes just because she looked more like a gorgeous grad student than a tenured professor. They were quickly surprised by how smart she was, and how unforgiving in the classroom. Most of them had no idea about her two most unique aspects: she was a third-degree Wiccan priestess, and although she was blind, when fireflies were around she could magically see.

Today she sat behind her desk, facing the door as if waiting for me. A shoebox closed with masking tape rested on the blotter in front of her.

“What’s in the box?” I asked. “No, wait.” In an anguished voice I repeated, “What’s in the box?”

After a moment she said, “Was that supposed to be Brad Pitt from
Seven
?”

“Yeah. Not bad. You got it on the first try.”

“Despite your best efforts.”

I moved books from one of the two guest chairs and sat down. “So, what
is
in the box?”

“A basilisk.”

It took a moment for the word to register. “Wait, isn’t that a kind of lizard? It can run across water, right?”

“No. There
is
a lizard called a basilisk, but this is different.” She tapped the lid. “This is a creature that turns you to stone if you see it. Like Medusa.”

“I see.”

“No, you don’t, or you’d be a piece of rock.”

“Well, I
did
get stoned on occasion in high school.”

“And I’ve known you to be very hard,” she shot back with a wink. “But here.” She pushed a book across to me, in the process dislodging a pile of student papers, which I surreptitiously caught and put back. “Look in the index, and you’ll find an entry.”

The book was
Mysterious and Deadly Creatures of Myth and Legend
, by Francis Colby. I found the entry on the Basilisk:

 

Known as the ‘king of serpents,’ this small creature can cause death with merely a glance, sending the unfortunate victim into a state of paralysis often called ‘turned to stone.’

 

He then quoted a passage from the Greek historian Pliny.

I looked up from the text. “So someone found a basilisk. In Tennessee. In the second decade of the twenty-first century.”

“No,” she said wearily, “someone
bought
it. At a Renaissance Faire.”

I knew who she meant. “I’d put five dollars on Michaela.”

“And you’d win.” Michaela Renault was a sophomore majoring in world history, who desperately wanted to learn the Craft from Tanna. It was the desperation, in fact, that kept Tanna from accepting her as a student. At the university she had to take whoever signed up for her classes, but as Lady Firefly she was extremely particular, since a student/teacher relationship in witchcraft was a bond that never really went away. Tanna was still very close with her own teacher, the imposing Lady Nighthawk. Michaela was obsessed with the accoutrements of witchcraft, to the point that she played a witch character in one of the LARPing games run around campus. That was such a red flag that even Tanna could see it, with no fireflies necessary.

This time I tapped the box. “So what is it, really?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see it, obviously. That’s why she brought it to me. I’m immune to its lethal effects.”

“Why would she buy it in the first place?”

Tanna sighed. “She was afraid someone else would buy it who wouldn’t know the danger.”

“How do you even know there’s anything in there?”

As if waiting for that cue, something in the box scratched at the taped-down lid. The sound startled me, and I jumped.

“I also don’t want to let whatever varmint that is get loose in my office,” Tanna said. A bell rang throughout the building signaling the end of a class period. “I have my Elements of Parapsychology class right now. Can you take care of this for me?” She came around her desk, kissed me and went out the door. She carried a collapsible white cane, but it was more to alert everyone else than to help her. She knew this building better than the janitors who cleaned it, and with her natural grace and psychic senses, never ran in to anyone.

I read some more about the basilisk until the second bell, announcing the beginning of classes, rang out, followed by relative silence as the classroom doors closed.

 

Basilisks arose from an unlik
ely series of events, namely a
rooster incubating and h
atching the egg of a snake. At
least, this is the lege
nd. Although there are several
notable histories of encounte
rs with the animal, no one has
seemingly ever witnessed their development.

 

That didn’t surprise me. But then again, in Tanna’s company I’d already encountered ghosts, giant frogs, and monsters literally from Hell itself. All of those had been in Tennessee as well. Should I really discount the idea that a basilisk might be found here, too?

I looked closely at the box. Masking tape crossed on the top, and a strip wrapped each side all the way under the bottom. Three air holes were punched close together. On one end someone had written,
Beware! Basilisk Inside!
and under that the price,
$9.99
. On the other end, a different handwriting said,
Do NOT Open! Seriously!

The animal inside again skitched against the cardboard. It did sound vaguely reptilian, in that it only moved in bursts, not steadily like a mammal. As a boy I’d caught plenty of lizards and often kept them in shoebox terrariums; their movements had been identical.

The book still lay open in front of me. I read:

 

Although most accounts pla
ce the basilisk’s power in its
gaze, some say it is instead its ‘air of corruption,’
or
deadly breath, that does the
damage. Frequently, condemned
criminals would be sent to dispatch the basilisk, often meeting their ends as pieces of statuary rather than victims of the hangman
’s rope. Certain graveyards in
Europe and the Near East con
tain these unfortunate bodies,
often mistaken for buried st
atues. Many of the doomed were
disbelievers, convinced that
the basilisk could do them no
harm.

 

The creature struck the side of the box hard enough to move it, which made me jump and let out a cry. The department secretary, Jane, called out, “Are you okay, Ry?”

“I’m fine,” I assured her.

I eased the door shut and sat back in the chair. Of course it was just an animal, a lizard or something. It couldn’t be a basilisk because basilisks didn’t exist, not now, not ever. I don’t care what this Francis Colby said, even if he was “the first man knighted for studying the paranormal,” as the blurb on the cover claimed.

I don’t know how long I sat there thinking, but at last I picked up the box. Whatever was inside slid from one end to the other, claws scraping for purchase. I picked at the masking tape until one end came loose.

My gaze again fell on the book. The drawing of a basilisk depicted it as a weird little reptile with multiple spikes on its head like a crown and a long, lolling forked tongue. It used its deadly vision on a man frozen in mid-scream. There were even little lines drawn from the creature’s eyes to those of the dying man. There was a certain pathos to the image, as if the long-ago woodcut artist had been determined to show just how truly horrible it was to be exposed to the basilisk.

The creature in the box shifted again and tapped hard against the lid. With only one piece of tape now holding it down, it opened slightly and a rank odor leaked out. It smelled like a whiff of corruption, all right; or, I suppose, lizard shit. I pressed it down tight.

Okay, what the hell was I worried about? It was a small animal, nothing more. Probably a lizard, but maybe something as innocuous as a mouse, or a hamster. It was definitely scared, and probably hungry. I put the box on the desk, held down the lid with one hand and started to peel away the remaining strip of tape. After all, I couldn’t feed it until I knew what it was.

“You still here?” Tanna said right behind me.

I jumped, and flung the box straight up out of my hands. I yelped, and so did Tanna. The box burst open when it hit the ceiling, and something small and dark fell out, tiny legs scrambling for purchase, right into Tanna’s wavy red hair. She shrieked and swiped at it. It landed on the floor and shot out into the department lobby, where Jane screamed as well. “What was that??” she demanded.
“What was that?”
The empty shoe box landed on the desk.

Tanna fell back against the wall laughing. I stared at her, my heart testing the tensile strength of my ribs. “Holy shit!” I choked out, my voice high as a ten-year-old’s.

Jane appeared in the door. “What was that?” she repeated. “It ran out into the hall!”

“I have no idea,” Tanna said between spasms of laughter. “Ask Ry.”

“I didn’t get a good look at it,” I told Jane. To Tanna I snapped, “And don’t
do
that! I hate it when you sneak up on me!”

“I’m sorry,” Tanna squeaked out between guffaws. “I didn’t expect you to still be here. I thought you’d have taken the thing out to Animal Control by now.”

“What?”

“You didn’t think I wanted you to
open
it, did you?” She began to laugh even harder.

“Okay, that’s not funny,” I said petulantly.

“That’s
hysterical,
” she said. “Oh, my God, I think I’m having an asthma attack.”

“You don’t have asthma,” I snapped.

“You may have given it to me.”

“You two,” Jane said, and shook her head. As she returned to her desk, she muttered, “College professors aren’t supposed to play practical jokes, you know...”

“So what
was
in the box, then?” I demanded.

“Oh, I have no idea, really.” She dropped into her chair, still shaking with laughter. “Good grief, Ry, you didn’t really think that was a basilisk, did you?”

I looked down at the book again. There was still something, some element of genuine horror, in the illustration. It could all be a figment of the artist’s imagination and skill, or it could be something from life, a moment of real terror as he realized he was about to die.

“No,” I said. “Of course not.” Just like I didn’t believe in giant frogs, roller coasters to hell and sad-faced girls made of mist.

And I suppose, now that I’ve mentioned these things, I should also tell you about them....

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