Friday, January 18, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 14

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)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 13

You know, this would be a lot easier,” Heather started, raising her voice to get Sharon's attention, “if I had a PHONE!”

Sharon wiped her ear, thinking that Heather might have left some spittle during her tirade. They'd gotten turned around in Heathrow Airport, looking for a gate to a connecting flight to Edinburgh. Sharon started walking through the crowded terminal, and tried to ignore the grumbling coming from Heather behind her.

They finally reached the gate almost an hour after landing, and Sharon closed her eyes. She concentrated on her hand and focused her magic, willing two flight vouchers into existence. The took a deep breath and let it out, opening her eyes.

Heather stared at her. “I felt magic. Did you do something?”

Sharon held up the flight vouchers, and walked forward to the airline counter.

After several minutes of checking computers, she and Heather held tickets on the next flight out, in another two hours.

Heather slumped in a seat in the waiting area and crossed her legs and arms. Her foot moved back and forth like a pendulum, a blatant sign she was upset. Sharon sat beside her and watched Heather's foot bounce.

I need to call my aunt and tell her I'm okay.”

You said she did a spell. She'll know you're okay.”

I need to have her smooth over our disappearance, remember?”

Sharon took a deep breath and huffed. “Fine, hand me your phone.”

Heather pulled the rock shaped like a phone out of her pack and handed it to Sharon.

Sharon reached into her backpack with the phone, and held it there as she concentrated. When she felt the smooth glass on the face, she took her hand back out of the bag. She looked at the picture of herself with a strand of drool and hit the delete button on the screen.

Hey!” Heather tried to grab the phone, but Sharon pushed her back and held the phone away. As the first picture disappeared, another one took its place. This one had softer light, apparently taken without flash. Sharon hit delete again, dodging Heather's frantic attempts to grab the phone.

They both stood, Heather wrestling for the phone until Sharon pointed a clawed finger into Heather's sternum and pushed the witch back. “If you want your phone back, you'll let me see the rest.”

Heather swallowed. “Fine.”

Sharon scrolled to the next picture, this one of her looking out of the window of the plane before the flight took off, earlier in the day. She didn't see anything wrong with that, and scrolled to the next: Sharon checking in at the gate in San Francisco. She was going back in time. Next was Sharon at the metal detectors, then Sharon as she left school. Next came Diana Jean Morgan at Lanebrook Preparatory Academy, talking to the rest of the Fierce Four; Diana at lunch with Erin, the girl she'd saved from Chelsea; Diana with her family at the workshop for troubled teens.

Have you been stalking me?”

Heather took a shaky breath and let it out. “It's not like that. It's... You don't know how big a deal you are in my world. The covens are going apeshit over you... I mean, it's like stories the elders talk about when the Beatles came to America. It's like those stories where a movie icon drops in on a small town-”

So... you're a paparazzi for the witches?”

Please don't hate me.”

Sharon rolled her eyes and tossed the phone to Heather, who caught it one-handed. They sat down again, Sharon crossing her arms and noticing a man sitting across from them who was gawking at her open-mouthed. His tweed suit seemed tired, as though he'd been travelling in it for days. She narrowed her eyes at the man. “What?”

He closed his mouth. “I couldn't help but overhear.” His British accent was divine to Sharon's ear. “The topic of witches, and what might interest them so, is quite intriguing.”

A slight smell of sulfur wafted toward the girls. Heather put her hand on Sharon's arm and leaned in to whisper. “He's a demon.”

Sharon felt her pulse catch up to Heather's, and she swallowed. She turned back to Heather. “What do we do?”

Use Glamour,” Heather whispered back. “Make him think he's gone blind or something.”

I don't know how,” Sharon whispered back. Then she got an idea. She could do a lot worse than make him think he was blind. A demon's eyes were just a thing, like a cell phone. She stood and approached the demon.

Looking wary, he stood to face her.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I wish you hadn't overheard that, demon.”

He raised an eyebrow, then his lip curled into a small grin. “A bold one, you are. Knowing and challenging? Not many are so naïve. You are not fallen, but you glimmer... like-”

Look, buddy. Take your gibberish someplace else, unless you want a permanent injury,” Sharon said, willing herself not to choke on her own fear. She wasn't sure what a demon could do to her, but Heather was scared; so her protective instincts went into overdrive. The lioness protecting her cub from a jackal. Her hands sprouted claws without her thinking, and she decided to let them show.

He leaned back, holding his chin in contemplation as his eyes snaking over her as though she stood naked in front of him. “Fascinating.”

Leave,” Sharon said, pointing a claw away from the gate. “Now.”

The demon shrugged, staring her down. “Or what?”

Sharon focused, blocking out the world and the people around them with Glamour. She focused on the being in front of her. For a flash, she saw him as reptilian, with a snake's head, a man's torso, a lizard's tail and legs that were half-man, half dinosaur. She concentrated, wanting him to be as harmless as possible. Believing. A moment later, a small white rabbit fell to the ground where the demon had been.

Um, I wouldn't have done that if I were you,” Heather gasped. “He's gonna be royally pissed when that wears off.”

She turned to Heather. “You need to be more careful what you say in public.”

Heather's mouth dropped open. “But it was you-”

You want me to let you tag along or not?”

Heather's mouth closed.

That's what I thought.” Sharon sat back down and picked up a magazine that hadn't been on the seat a second ago. She started thumbing through the pages, abusing them in her frustration before slapping the magazine back on the seat.

They watched the rabbit hop onto the seat where his coat and briefcase sat.

Heather cleared her throat. “I don't think I've ever heard of a demon being so...”

Cute?” Sharon asked, crossing her arms.

Heather laughed.

Sharon turned to stare at Heather. “You need to stop taking candid pictures of me. It creeps me out.”

Heather mumbled something under her breath.

Sharon glared at the witch, her teeth gritted. “Agreed?”

Heather nodded, punching up the contact for her aunt and dialing. Sharon could hear the phone ring and the click as the connection went through. The sounds of laughter and shushing came from the phone before a woman's voice greeted them.

I'm glad she gave you the phone back dear.”

Hi Aunt Jean. We landed safely, as if you didn't know already.”

We've been watching through the crystal ball, and scrying for anything on your next flight. There's nothing so far, just that demon bunny.” Laughter filled the background. “Oh, Esmerelda says 'hi'. She's making popcorn right now.”

Heather's jaw dropped.

Sharon heard more laughter in the background, and what sounded like a few girls chanting “stone rhymes with phone!”

I've gotta go,” Heather said, clicking the End button.

Who's Esmerelda?” Sharon asked.

Heather put her phone in her backpack and looked like she was busy searching for something. “She's a friend of the family.”

It sounded like they were having a party.”

Heather pulled out a rosary with a cross, and placed it carefully over her head. The bunny across from them jumped down and scampered away.

Sharon watched the rabbit, thinking that showing the stupid demon a rosary would have been so much easier than confronting him. Then she thought about the laughing and stuff she'd heard on the phone. “Why would they be having a party?”

Heather glared. “Probably enjoying a nice relaxing day without me around. Can we talk about what you plan to do when we get to Scotland?”

Sharon sighed and decided to let the question of what the witches were doing drop. “I was thinking we'd rent a car. I was going to ask around about where the tartan was from. But since you bragged about being able to use magic...”

Heather stared out the windows of the terminal. A burst of rain hit the glass, the patter of raindrops tapping like frenetic Morse code.

I could use your tartan as a kind of homing device,” Heather said, staring at the rain.

Sharon slumped and rested her head on the back of the seat, trying to relax and not think about the little details like not having a driver's license yet. She hadn't needed one until now. Her stomach churned, wondering what would happen when they finally found her human counterpart. In a few hours, they'd find the real Diana, and rescue her. She wasn't sure how they'd do it. She just knew that it had to be done.

The flight to Edinburgh took almost no time at all compared to the fight from California. Sharon and Heather stood at the exit of the terminal, watching the mid-morning airport traffic drive by through a light misting rain. A parking structure across from them displayed a large “Welcome to Edinburgh” sign. The air traffic control tower shaped like an hourglass seemed to say “don't stay too long.”

Sharon stared at the cars going by, the drivers on the right side of the vehicles. “I don't think I can drive here. I forgot they drive on the left. I barely passed Driver's Ed on the right side of the road.”

Heather watched the traffic for a minute, then turned to Sharon. “Okay, let me take care of this. Hand me the tartan.”

Sharon pulled the cloth from her backpack and handed it over to Heather.

Heather mumbled something over it, and put it in her pocket. She stood there with her eyes closed, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth, meditation-style.

Sharon watched, growing more impatient by the minute. She was about to say something when Heather's eyes popped open.

Come with me,” Heather said, straightening her backpack. “We have a bus to catch.”

An hour bus ride later, they found themselves at an outdoor bus stop in the town of Stirling. They waved goodbye to the kind old man from the bus who'd told them how to find the McDonald's up the street, and settled in with their bags of food to wait for Heather's spell to tell them what to do next.

The people here are really nice,” Heather said, opening her bag.

They heard thunder in the distance. The misty air hung heavy with the smell of diesel fumes from cars and buses.

How much longer?” Sharon asked before chomping down on her cheeseburger.

Heather shrugged and finished chewing. “It doesn't work that way. I just get a feeling for which way we're supposed to go. I have no idea how far away she is, just which direction.”

So which direction is she?”

Heather pointed.

There's no road that way.” Sharon started to worry about where they'd stay for the night. She hadn't thought this out at all. She tried not to let the butterflies in her stomach keep her from eating. She had a feeling she'd need all the energy she could get to deal with Diana and the Fae.

Heather jumped up as a bus rolled up, shoving her half-eaten burger in the bag. “This is our bus!”

Sharon got up and followed, wondering where this next bus would take them. She already felt hopelessly lost.

They took seats on the upper level of the double-decker bus, and settled in. The upper level only had a dozen other people, so it was practically deserted. Sharon and Heather finished their burgers and watched through the side windows as the bus navigated its way through narrow streets filled with cars parked parallel on the sidewalks.

The bus seemed to stop almost every minute, and each time Heather would stand and hover before shaking her head and sitting back down. Soon enough, the narrow old-world streets gave way to newer buildings and then country road.

The rain let up as they went through a roundabout at the end of the city. Rain and roundabouts seemed to be everywhere in Scotland. Sharon watched as they passed sign after sign with “A84” at the top. She guessed that meant they were on highway A84, and tried to keep that in mind for the trip back. Maybe she could grab a map when they got off the bus.

They passed a beautiful little church, and more country road before entering the small town of Doune to make more stops. Heather got up again at each one, hovering before sitting back down.

Heather looked out the window, scanning the buildings as the bus started moving again. “She was here recently.”

Sharon wanted to claw something. Her nerves felt frayed. The bus rolled through more miles of countryside, finally reaching the town of Callander after almost three dozen stops.

Heather stood, undecided for a second before rushing to get off the bus. Sharon was barely able to keep up as Heather ran to another bus which was a hundred yards away. When they reached it, Heather knocked on the door. The driver opened it and let them in, closing it behind them to keep the drizzle out.

Heather looked back at Sharon. “Do you have the tickets?”

Sharon put her hand in her pocket and focused, believing two tickets into existence. She handed them to the driver.

His eyebrows raised. “This is certainly the scenic route to Loch Ness,” the driver said. He had kind eyes and a gaunt figure that reminded Sharon of Abraham Lincoln.

Sharon shrugged. “We're just exploring.”

Americans?” he asked.

Sharon nodded. “I was born here though.”

The driver chatted with them for a while about the glory of returning to the highlands before Sharon was able to politely extricate herself and join Heather at the back of the bus.

As the bus started moving, Sharon turned to Heather. “Did you get a feeling there too?”

Heather nodded. “She was here just last week. We're close.”

(go to Chapter 14)