Authors: Loretta Nyhan
To Sybil and Stevie and all the witchy women .Â .Â .
Just outside Portland, Oregon
he sun stumbled and fell, and the moon rose in its place. All life in the forest quieted, as if honoring the girl lying still and bloodless on a marble bier, her golden hair hanging off the edge like the wisteria in my mother's garden. Greta. My new friend.
I breathed the pine-scented air, inhaling and exhaling to steady the beat of my heart. It had been racing earlier, wild emotions kicking at it over and over until I felt bruised. But nature brought calm. It always did.
“Are you ready, Breeda?” asked Gavin, our coven leader, his heavy hand resting on my shoulder. He passed me the Staff of Isis, which I had never been allowed to hold before. But circumstances had changed. I was the oldest girl left, the closest to getting my magic. It was my job to cut a circle into the rich, loamy soil. I drove the staff into the earth, moving as steadily as possible with my shaking hands. When I finished, Gavin nodded his approval, then grasped the clear quartz stone at the base of his neck. One by one, the candles surrounding Greta flared with light. They marked the four pathsâWest, South, East, North. Counterclockwise.
For the dead, time no longer ran forward.
The coven huddled in the circle, grasping hands, lifting hearts. I knew every face as well as my own. I knew every soul as well as my own.
Voices began to rise. I heard my father's rich baritone. I heard my mother's, clear and musical. I heard my own, trying to meet the strength of theirs, and failing.
The Wheel Turns
For our Dear Friend
The Goddess smiles upon her.
Her body returned to whence it came,
But her Essence will remind us,
Our paths will cross another time,
With the Sun and Moon to guide us.
With one quick glance toward me, my mother touched the turquoise talisman nestled at the base of her throat. The earth opened, a fissure just large enough to swallow a teenage girl.
We wrapped Greta's body ceremoniously in white linen.
And then we dropped her into the darkness.
hen riding in a speeding car, chances are you're either heading toward something new or running away from something old.
We were definitely running away.
My mom, fidgety in the front passenger seat, jabbed at the tuner on the radio. “Aren't there any good stations anymore? I want real Chicago music. I want the
.” She turned to grab a CD, giving me a closer look at how much our journey had affected her. Mom's skin, usually tan and glowing, had gone sallow. Her wavy black hair hung limp, and the creases around her eyes cut deep lines into the sides of her face.
“We're almost there,” my dad said, flexing his fingers. He'd been white-knuckling the steering wheel since we hit the cheery sign welcoming us to Illinois. He changed lanes, glanced in the mirror, and then changed lanes again. I turned around and spotted the reason why through the rain-dotted rear window. The white sedan behind us had the square, clunky look of an undercover cop car. I didn't know the specifics of the reasons behind my father's fear, but its presence in the car was practically another passenger. It slowed my heart, stilling the blood in my veins.
How much trouble were we in?
I held my breath as the sedan passed our car, the grim-faced man behind the wheel tossing us a dirty look. My dad tugged nervously on the leather cords tying back his russet-colored hair. “False alarm,” he said, trying to sound lighthearted. “We crossed into the city limits a couple of miles back. The last thing I need is a ticket.”
The excuse didn't make me feel any better. I knew we were in trouble; I just couldn't figure out why. I'd stopped pleading with my parents to tell meâtheir drawn faces and jumpy movements said enough. The panic I felt at the beginning of our journey, intense and unfocused, had quieted to a steady hum of fearful anticipation.
What came next?
If I'd learned anything over the past few days, it was that worry led only to more worry. I forced myself to ignore the uncomfortable atmosphere in the car and focus on the city unfolding out my window.
This was Chicago?
I watched the office buildings fly by, one after another, the line broken only by the occasional strip mall or stretch of sober-looking brick bungalows. I waited for one of these images to pluck a memory from my brain, and came up blank. I'd spent the first seven years of my life in this city, and I didn't recognize a thing.
Dad exited one highway, climbed the entrance ramp to another, and cursed. “I forgot how bad the traffic can be here. The Kennedy was always such a parking lot.”
“Some things don't change,” Mom said. “I'll take care of it.”
“Lupe, I don't knowâ”
She lowered her head and touched the turquoise talisman lying just below her collarbone, calling her magic. Now, when my dad attempted to merge into a new lane, the other cars changed lanes, pulled over to the shoulder, or headed for the exit rampâanything to clear the way for our tiny Fiesta.
Mom settled back in her seat, satisfied.
I waited for the residual effects of her magic to buzz through my veins, like a shot of espresso. I could always feel when she used her magic. It started in my toes, a low hum of pure energy.
But this time was different.
The magic pounded through my system like a bully. It curled around my lungs and squeezed, cruelly forcing my breath. I lunged toward the window, desperate for fresh air.
“Breeda?” Mom unclicked her belt and bent awkwardly into the backseat. “Honey, pretend you're breathing through a tiny straw,” she said, gently rubbing the side of my face. “The air will come, but you've got to take it slow, okay?”
I pushed my head out the window, the first drops of a spring rain whipping against my forehead.
Let it in
, I thought, and a thin ribbon of oxygen filled my flattened lungs. I took a few more labored breaths, and then sank back in my seat.
My mom clutched at my father's arm. “I think it's beginning,” she said, her breathing uneven. “Please hurry.”
Was the magic attacking me? I wanted to question her, but I couldn't find the energy to form the words. I closed my eyes and saw my forest home, my mind mercifully transporting me to the safest place I knew.
“I almost can't believe it.” Brandon lowered himself onto the cold, wet grass. He looked pale and dazed, the skin beneath his eyes stained the purplish blue of a fresh bruise.
“You haven't been feeling well,” I said while unfolding our blanket. “At least sit on this. You'll catch a chill.”
Brandon stared at me while I tucked the flannel underneath him. “You're welcome,” I said. “I shouldn't be so nice. I should be mad at you. You're getting your magic and you'll get to hang with Sonya while I'm stuck here by myself.”
“Not for long,” he said, a spark of life returning to his light blue eyes. “You're up next.” Brandon wrapped his arm around my shoulders and leaned back until the earth seemed to catch us. I tugged his jacket around me and sighed.
“How does it feel?” I had so many questions I wanted to ask, so many things I needed to know. “Sonya said she felt this rush, like her toes had set off a string of bombs exploding up her body. She nearly had an asthma attack.”
“It was sort of like that,” Brandon said, his mouth at my temple.
His kiss, light and warm, usually distracted me, but my curiosity won out. “Did you get your dad's gift? Can you manipulate light?”
“I'm not sure yet.” He sighed.
I couldn't ask about his mother because he wouldn't be able to answer. I didn't want him to dwell on her absence, however long she'd been gone.
Brandon shifted, resting his weight on his forearm. His head, framed by the trees above us, hung over mine. Their leafless branches formed a lace canopy, filtering the stream of the late winter sun onto his golden hair. The gentle wind brought color back to his cheeks, fading the signs of exhaustion under his eyes.
“You won't be right next door,” I said quietly, reaching up to touch the smooth line of his jaw. “We've never been apart.”
“The training center isn't that far.”
He drew me against his chest, his heart beating steady and strong next to mine. I could have stayed there forever, basking in the unseasonable heat of the sun. But then its rays shifted, setting only his face alight, and I knew nature had saved all its warmth for this magical boy.
I jolted, and my forehead bounced against the car window. How long had I been out? Long enough to dream? But it was a memory, not a dream. It happened, word for word, gesture for gesture, barely two months ago. I'd never had a dream like that. I could still feel the ghost of Brandon's kiss at my temple. I could still smell the forest.
“We're almost there,” she said, her voice low and soothing.
“I need to know what's going on,” I said. “I can handle whatever it is.”
“Soon,” my mother replied. “I promise.”
My mother had never broken a promise. Not once. But the rules were changing, as quickly as we had left our life in Oregon behind. I looked out at the Chicago skyline, its tall buildings cutting sharply into the bellies of the clouds. It curled around the city like an unwelcoming fence of iron and steel.
We'd been in this car too long. I'd been quiet for too long.
And we were so, so far from home.
e got off the highway at an exit inexplicably called California. Traffic clogged both lanes, but my mother sat very still, hands folded in her lap. I wanted her to turn around, to touch my face again, but she stared out the window, her mind elsewhere.
On street corners bodegas blasted strange Euro dance music from doors held open with bricks. Polish delis and windowless taverns competed for space with currency exchanges and nail salons. At another streetâSacramentoâwe took a left, only to find ourselves in front of a Gothic church, complete with a tower and a spire and ornately arched doors. I wanted to stick my head out the window again, but this time only to gape. Witches tended to stay away from churches, and I'd never seen one up close.
“That's St. Sylvester's,” Mom said, slowly nodding her head at the church. “Remember? Our place is just down the block.”
Dad turned up the radio and leaned toward my mother. “Evie knows?”
“Ryan,” Mom said. She knew the car was too small. I could hear everything.
“Sorry,” my dad whispered. “I just want to make sure the apartment is ours. I don't want any more trouble.”
Mom rested her head on my dad's shoulder, bringing her mouth close to his ear. “It's all set. No need to discuss it now.”
Suddenly, I felt sick again. Evie was my mother's sisterâbut she died in a car accident when I was a toddler. At least, that's what I was always told.
If what I'd been told was always true, then talking to Evie meant my mother was communicating with the dead. Even witches as talented as my mother couldn't do that. My uneasiness kicked up to a notch below panic.
Why would they lie?