As they passed a lake that seemed to go on forever, Sharon started feeling homesick, combined with an eerie sense of déjà vu. She felt music in her soul, resonating from the ground they were passing over in the bus. As the lake disappeared and the forest-covered Highlands loomed, her stomach churned.
The clouds parted, and the sun cast rays like a scene of divine majesty toward the road ahead. A rainbow arched in front of them for a few moments before fading away.
As they passed a small campground and a sign that said “Welcome to Strathyre”, Sharon's heart started to race. She gripped the seat in front of her, whispering to Heather so as not to break the spell of whatever was happening. “I feel something. Could I feel something if we were close?”
Heather shook her head. “I don't know, but I feel the spell working. We're close for sure.”
As the bus pulled into the tiny town, Heather and Sharon stood and ran to the front. The bus had barely stopped when they jumped out and looked around.
The bus idled in front of little building called “The Village Shop”, which also appeared to be the Post Office. A middle-aged couple sat at the tables outside, smoking and chatting in brogue.
The door to the bus closed and it pulled away, revealing a tiny two story Victorian hotel across the street with tables out in front. The town seemed to consist of about two dozen buildings, with a tiny monument by the side of the main road marking roughly the center. Roads led into the woods on each side of the main road, and smoke curled into the sky from chimneys hidden behind the trees.
Sharon sighed, happy that the rain had stopped so she wouldn't have to conjure umbrellas. “So where to now, Sacagawea?”
Heather squinted at Sharon. “What'd you call me?”
“Sacagawea. You know. The woman who guided Lewis and Clark across the frontier? She's on a dollar coin?”
Heather wiped her face in frustration. “I'm one sixty-fourth Native American. Don't give me crap about my ancestors or I'll scalp your ass.”
“I thought they scalped heads.”
Heather made a face like a grimace, but it looked a lot like she was fighting not to laugh. “You're a lot less funny after sixteen hours of no sleep. Just follow me, Fairy Princess.”
Heather closed her eyes for a minute and aimed herself, then led them down the main road a short way before taking a side road to the left. The road narrowed before an old stone bridge spanning a small river. Heather paused every minute or so, turning in a small circle.
Sharon got bored of the circle turning and stopped at the center of the stone bridge to listen to the water burbling. She stared at the water and found strange joy in the languid motion of the river as it caressed the rocky bottom. She could see fish hugging the shores on either side, moving in a slow dance to music she could almost hear.
A car honked, and she looked up to see that an old luxury car only a few feet from her. Somehow she hadn't heard the tires on the pavement as the car approached. She turned and ran the rest of the way across the bridge to catch up to Heather, taking shelter on the small sidewalk as the car zoomed by.
The road was barely wider than a car, the sidewalk ended as the road took a bend deeper into the woods. Sharon watched over her shoulder, worried that they might get run over. She found herself playing Heather's words back. You can't die in a plane crash. You'd wake up next to the smoldering debris field wondering what happened.
So I'm essentially indestructible? She sighed and thought to herself that something made of iron could probably squash her, and cars had lots of iron, so it'd be just her luck that she'd become a hood ornament on a Range Rover.
As they passed a pair of circular signs with a black diagonal line on each, Sharon stopped. “What do those signs mean? Are we going the wrong way?”
Heather looked up. “Oh. Those just mean there's no speed limit any more.”
Sharon stared at the strip of pavement ahead of them, curving deeper into the woods, and the amount of grass on the shoulder on each side. “I'm going to die out here. I just know it.”
Heather shrugged her backpack higher. “Want me to help you search your backpack?”
Sharon squinted at Heather. “What for?”
“Your big girl panties.”
Sharon opened her mouth to reply, but Heather was already laughing and running away. Something about the way she said it made Sharon forget all her worries. She thought about Heather being out here in the damp, cold air, helping her. For what? It's not like she had begged Heather to help. Heather would not be denied. Heather was suffering through all this because she cared. Maybe she was a true friend after all.
“I'm so getting you for that!” Sharon yelled, running after Heather. She completely forgot about becoming a traffic statistic as they laughed and chased each other.
A half an hour later, after turning onto an unmarked trail, they found themselves surrounded by trees in every direction. The place seemed to hum with life, not just the buzzing of insects and chirping of birds; but it seemed to vibrate with a kind of soft resonance that Sharon could feel in her bones.
“Something's here. I can feel it.”
Heather nodded, handing the tartan back to Sharon. “You're home, but I guess it's obscured by Fae magic. Maybe a Glamour.”
Sharon looked around, trying to pinpoint some shimmer or hint that magic was obscuring their sight. The place seemed to be nothing but trees. She looked back to Heather. “Why can't I see through it?”
Heather shrugged. “I know I look like an expert on all things Fae, but everything I know is based on stories passed down from my Grandmother's Grandmother or a cousin's friend who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy... if you know what I mean. Nobody I know has actually met a Fae.”
Sharon stared at Heather for a minute.
“Yeah,” Heather said, staring back. “Like I said, you're kind of a big deal.”
Sharon crossed her arms. “Can't you use a spell or something?”
“If we have a week to spare. Or if you know some local witches.”
Sharon unhooked her arms and rubbed her temples in frustration. “What use are you?”
“I brought cookies. Chocolate chip.”
Sharon laughed, then made a come hither motion with her hand. “Break 'em out. I could use some chocolate about now.”
They sat on a boulder, taking off their backpacks to relax. Heather opened her pack and pulled out a bag with a fancy gold foil label with stars and scripted writing:
*** Seven Sisters Bakery. ***
World's Best Cookies.
“I've never heard of these before,” Sharon said, taking one from the bag and passing it back. She took one bite and moaned. “Oh. These are good.”
“Esmerelda's coven makes them. A little magic in every bite!”
They sat and enjoyed their cookies. Sharon felt more relaxed and calm with each bite. The cookies seemed to be exactly what she needed.
After her cookie was gone, Sharon stared at the road. In another life, it could have been the road home. As she looked at it, she realized that the way home was back the way they had come; and that she desperately missed her life with the Morgan family already. Even with her mother nagging, her parents working all the time, and Bobby annoying her, she would miss them.
She stared at the road, thinking about how her life had changed since the night when she fell asleep in the cast iron bathtub. Hadn't she been content? She tried to recall what had upset her, and somehow everything before that night in the tub seemed insignificant now.
“You seem like you're a million miles away.”
Sharon blinked and turned to Heather. “I was just thinking about how much my life has changed.”
“Since the picnic, when I used the spell on you?”
Sharon shook her head. “The night before that, I fell asleep in a cast iron tub. I woke up with wings and claws.”
Heather nodded, kicking a leaf as she seemed lost in thought. “A cast iron-”
Sharon could almost feel the click in their minds at the same time, as they both looked at each other. “Cast iron!” They said at once, grabbing their things and running toward the road. They searched the roadside, walking back toward town. A remnant of an old fence post stood in the dirt to the side of the road. Steel cables wrapped around it held a piece of broken pipe.
Heather unwound a scrap of wire holding a metal pipe against a wooden post, and Sharon yanked the pipe free from the ground where it had rusted apart.
Sharon could feel the her magic fighting the insidious force of the iron, and handed the pipe to Heather. “You better hold that. It kinda stings.”
They walked the hundred yards or so back to the spot where they had felt magic in the air. They clasped hands, and Heather led them forward, holding the pipe in front of her.
The world seemed to shift on its axis, and the air pressed against Sharon like a thick gelatinous mass. The trees blurred, and for a minute Sharon felt like she was being ripped apart. Pain. Pressure. Her ears rang, and her mouth felt dry. Her skin crawled, and she fought to hold herself up. Just when she was sure she was going to die, the pressure stopped and the world righted itself.
They both fell to the ground.
Sharon looked to Heather first. The witch was shaking her head and breathing hard. Heather looked looked back and then around at their surroundings.
Sharon followed Heather's gaze to an old-style cottage in front of them. It reminded Sharon of a Thomas Kinkade painting. A weathered cobblestone driveway led up to it. An old Jaguar sedan sat parked in a porte-cochère between the cottage and what might have been a barn or workshop. Smoke curled up from a chimney in the back of the house, and the windows on the front of the cottage glowed with a warm inviting light.
A girl with brown hair was on her knees in a small garden off to the side of the house, her back to them. She stood, holding a handful of fresh herbs. She turned and stared, confused for a moment at Sharon and Heather.
Sharon's heart stopped. She stared at the girl she'd been for sixteen years. Diana Jean Morgan, flesh and blood human girl, stood not thirty feet away. She opened her mouth to say something, but her mind went blank. She turned to Heather, and found Heather staring slack-jawed in wonder at the magical Fae cottage in front of them.
Diana approached, rubbing the dirt off her hands onto her apron, looking for all the world like a medieval peasant. Her first words would live in Sharon's memory forever.
“Can I help you?”
(go to Chapter 15)
(go to Chapter 15)