“Diana Jean Morgan!”
Diana felt the weight of sixteen years of being in trouble whenever her mother invoked the Middle Name. She shifted her feet, feeling claustrophobic behind the driver's seat. Her dad always needed more leg room. So why hadn't Bobby let her sit behind mom? Because he's a turd. That was the only possible explanation. She sighed and stared at the back of her mother's head, hoping her frustration didn't conjure an insect in her mother's hair. In what world did the Middle Name get invoked for blowing a straw wrapper at your snot-nosed thirteen-year-old brother?
Her mother turned in the seat up front and looked Diana in the eyes. “I would like you on your best behavior for the rest of the trip.”
Bobby stuck out his tongue, feeling validated as he tossed the straw rapper back at his sister.
Diana looked between him and their mother, the wrapper dangling in stark contrast to her curtain of dark hair. A bump in the road made it move like a crumpled streamer. “You're not gonna yell at Bobby for that?”
“We're on this little getaway because of you, young lady. If you hadn't put a toad in that girl Chelsea's locker...”
Diana brushed the straw wrapper out of her hair and sat back, sighing to calm herself. Rise above it. “It was a frog, mom.”
Her brother laughed from the other side of the back seat.
Don't conjure anything.
Diana looked at her phone, going over her text messages from her friends at the school. They hadn't been close before the frog incident, but that was true of the other dozen girls that were now flooding her phone with messages. She looked at the last four again.
Tanya: omg u totally punk'd Chels. ur like a hero now!
Tanya: party at my place! =)
Erin: Thanks again! I talked 2 my dad. He was gonna pull me out of school, but i told him id b OK. Heard there might be a party? :)
Heather: i think ur a witch like me. Come 2 my house 2nite & my aunt can tell 4sure. Stay calm. Don't conjure anything else.
Diana stared at the last message. Don't conjure anything else. If not for this trip, she felt sure she'd be at the center of some witch ceremony right now. She slurped her drink and watched the landscape fly past as they drove up the highway to Napa Valley. She finished her cheeseburger and adjusted the headphones for her iPod so she could rest her eyes. She hated long trips in the car.
Diana woke to the sound of gravel under the tires and jostling as the car came to a stop.
“We're here!” Mom called.
Diana grumbled and got out, watching her perky parents unload the luggage from the Mercedes. The Bed & Breakfast consisted of a quaint Victorian farmhouse with a separate two-story building that might have been a converted barn. The small compound sat nestled at the edge of a vineyard, with row after row of grapevines stretching across a small valley. The sun cast a warm glow as it tucked itself in on the horizon. The vineyard drew her like a magnet, and she strolled past the wraparound porch.
Bobby settled in to a chair with his Nintendo, and the parents were busy checking in, so Diana headed down to the vines.
She walked among the leaves, feeling better almost immediately. She always felt something magical when she was around living things; a soothing, regenerative energy. She felt refreshed the more she caressed the leaves. Their soft green textures bounced under her fingers, dancing on the breeze.
“Diana! It's getting dark! Come back here!”
Ah, the dulcet tones of mother's loving voice, she thought. That's what dad always said. “Coming Mom!”
She made her way back, and took the key her mother offered.
“Your room is upstairs. Bobby's is next to yours. Ours is here on the bottom floor. Set your alarm for seven, so we can make it to the workshop for troubled teens on time.”
Diana glared. “Mom, can you say that a little louder? I don't think everyone here heard you.”
“Go on. We'll see you in the morning, bright and early.”
Diana grabbed her suitcase and walked to the stairs, ignoring her little brother's smirk. When she got to her door, she turned back and saw a flicker of fear cross his eyes. She wondered if he was still afraid of the dark. Before she'd moved to the school, she would find him asleep on the floor in her room. Feelings warred inside her; but love won out. “You gonna be okay, little bro?”
He held up his chin and stood straight. “Who, me? Ha! I'm fine.”
She nodded and tried not to smile at the thanks she saw in his eyes before he trudged next door to his room.
She opened the door to her room, a space large enough for a queen-sized bed, a small table with chairs, a vanity, an entertainment center, and a vintage claw-foot cast iron bathtub, with room to spare between them. A folding divider blocked off what she guessed was the toilet. She closed the door and walked over to the tub to start the water running. A bath before bed sounded perfect. There was even a bottle of bubble bath soap! She poured some into the running water.
She groaned as she set the bedside alarm for seven AM, hoping it would miraculously never come, and tossed her dirty clothes in a pile. She sank into the hot water and rested her head on a folded towel, fanning her hair off the back of the tub. She closed her eyes for a few minutes of rest.
The alarm was going off.
Diana stretched the kink out of her neck, and opened her eyes. She felt cold, tired, waterlogged, and her back was sore. Something was poking her in the spine. She looked at her hands, and did a double-take.
Her fingernails were like inch-long claws, and her skin was pale.
Claws? She scrambled out of the tub, feeling like she was dragging something on her back, and saw claws on her feet as she stepped on the bath mat. Sunlight was streaming in under the curtains to the room, and the alarm was blaring.
Claws? A ringing in her ears drowned out the sound of the alarm, and she thought for sure her heart was going to jump out of her chest.
She stepped over to the mirror next to the tub, her toe-claws clacking on the hardwood floor, and stared in horror.
Where her hair was normally dark and straight, it was now a light reddish-brown and wavy. Long, pointed ears jutted out like slender shark fins from either side of her head. Her face looked angular, and her eyes were cat-like around a sharp nose that wasn't hers. Her teeth looked like they all came to sharp points... and the pain in her back stretched out toward the most beautiful set of butterfly-like wings she'd ever seen.
Diana swallowed her scream.
(Go to Chapter 3)
(Go to Chapter 3)