Looking up from her low vantage point, she could barely make out the numbers on the wooden doors of each room she passed. The moans and screams and jazz music echoing through the maze of halls were the loudest that she had ever heard them before. She was close. The door of the room in front of her was slightly ajar. Curiosity winning out over fear, she pushed it open a little more to have peek inside. A man was standing over a large, antique metal tub. He had his back to her, so she could see part of the pinstriped suit that he had on beneath the rubber apron and rubber gloves he wore on top. His hands were moving erratically, holding objects that gleamed in the dim light. Knives. Her eyes widened when the dark liquid on the apron rolled down and dropped to the floor to form a bright read stain. The screams had stopped. So had the man’s movements. Her grip tightened on the door as he turned to look at her. Just when she was about to see his face, the trumpet from the song blared loudly next to her ear, morphing into an obnoxious beeping sound.
The little girl, now a teenager, groaned groggily as she opened her eyes and found herself safe in her bed. She blinked and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She had tossed and turned so much during the night that most of her sheets were on the floor. She glared at the noisy alarm clock on her nightstand and felt around for its off button.
“Girl, you best shut that thing off before I throw it at the wall!” her roommate grumbled moodily, equally annoyed with the rude awakening. It was a huge relief when the damn thing finally shut up.
“Whoa, you have a nightmare, Melanie?” Queenie asked when she saw what a mess her normally neat bed was.
“Something like that,” Melanie replied cryptically as she rolled out of bed. She quickly made her way to her desk and started writing about the incident in her journal using invisible ink, while Queenie caught a few more minutes of shuteye. She often recorded her dreams in this way. She couldn’t remember anything about the first three years of her life. They were a complete blank apart from flashes of the color red, the hazy image of a beautiful woman, and the smell of a perfume that was either Hypnotic Poison by Dior or something very similar. And these dreams about a strange hotel filled with darkness and death. Every counselor and shrink that she had talked to in her long history of therapy seemed to think these dreams were her mind’s way of coping with whatever had happened to her in those missing years and her subsequent abandonment. She admitted that most of her dreams had a sort of surreal feeling about them, but she couldn’t help but feel that they were more than that. She’d had them ever since she woke up in the hospital where she was being treated for some mysterious wounds that she had no recollection of receiving. When no one showed up to claim her, she was entered into foster care. That was the real nightmare.
There was a soft knock at the door before she heard the voice of Cordelia, the woman who had taken care of her ever since she was twelve. Her home for the last five years was an all girls’ finishing school with free room and board. At least, that’s what it appeared to be as far as the rest of the world was concerned. In reality, it was an academy for witches backed by an ancient coven whose origins reached as far back as the Salem Witch Trials. While the authorities of the time had been busy burning the falsely accused, the real witches got the heck out of dodge and eventually set up shop here in New Orleans. “Wake up, girls! It’s breakfast time,” their teacher called.
“Coming!” Melanie answered as Queenie sat up and threw off her covers to get ready for the day. Melanie put her journal away so she could get dressed, too.
For years, it had just been Melanie and Cordelia, but now there were currently two other students at the school beside herself and Queenie. One of them, Nan, was already at the kitchen table tucking into a plate of pancakes and fresh fruit. The three of them watched the news with Cordelia while they ate. It must be a slow day, because they were running the story about Misty Day again. The perpetrators still hadn’t been caught. The last student, Madison Montgomery—a drama queen and a constant pain in the ass, finally showed up about halfway through. Just in time to hear Cordelia warn everyone that they had to be careful, because she happened to hear from a very reliable source that it had been confirmed that Misty Day had been a witch, too. Madison rolled her eyes and made a smartass comment that they all chose to ignore. Given her track record, Melanie doubted Madison’s time there would last much longer. She wouldn’t be at all surprised if Madison got sick of them and left before the year was up.
Melanie was ready to leave the table and head for the greenhouse to practice, but Cordelia wasn’t done. “And last, but not least, I have a very important announcement to make, girls,” she said patiently. “A new student will be arriving today, so please make her feel welcome when she gets here.”
Madison smirked. She knew exactly how she wanted to ‘welcome’ the new girl. She finally looked at her the plate in front of her and groaned in annoyance. “Don’t you have anything less fattening?” Madison asked, turning her nose up at the wholesome breakfast that Spalding had served her.
“This is New Orleans. We eat real food here.” Melanie quipped, stuffing the last piece of her blueberry pancake in her mouth.
“Damn straight,” Queenie agreed. She didn’t know what the skinny bitch’s problem was. The food here was great, and that girl could use a little more meat on her bones.
“You should eat more,” Nan said in agreement.
“Whatever, bitches,” Madison said, eating a piece of fruit. “You think you can look this hot without making sacrifices? I bet Urkel here throws it all up afterwards.” How else could someone like Melanie eat so much and stay so skinny. Of course Melanie did no such thing. She would never disrespect her food like that.
“She doesn’t,” Nan said.
“Whatever!” Madison huffed, annoyed. That just made her hate Melanie even more. She couldn’t wait till the new girl got there. Maybe then she could finally have some fun in this fricking mausoleum.
Later, while Cordelia was away on the weekly trip to the grocery store, she decided to recruit the others for her plan. “Hey, what do you say we give the new girl a scare?”
Queenie glanced at Nan and Melanie, who had her nose buried in a book the moment she came back from the greenhouse. “I’m in. It’s not like there’s anything better to do around here.” It was a slow day without any lessons to attend. And she had just finished polishing off the last bag of chips.
“Okay,” Nan agreed brightly. Like Queenie already said, there was nothing else to do, and she was bored.
“Not interested.” Melanie said without even bothering to look up from her book. She was rereading the first book in the Game of Thrones series. Madison rolled her eyes. She should have known.
“Fine. Just don’t get in our way,” the Hollywood brat sneered.
“Fine. Just don’t break anything,” Melanie retorted coolly, turning to the next page in her book. She didn’t really care what they did as long as it didn’t cause trouble for Cordelia.
Melanie had continued reading in her room and had just reached the part where Ned Stark was about to die, when she heard the screams. It sounded like bloody murder downstairs. Deciding she should probably make sure Madison hadn’t maimed anyone, she sighed and shut the book. She could hear their voices as she came down the stairs. It sounded like they were in the main room where they kept the gallery of previous Supremes’ portraits.
Madison was talking. “O dark father, we offer this flesh up to you, blood, life, and all.” Melanie rolled her eyes internally as she approached the room and saw how she was standing over the girl that they had thrown onto the table with a dagger in her hand. What a drama queen. She even had the others dress up with her in black cloaks and masks with long, curved noses.
“Get the hell off me!” the new girl screamed, sending out a burst of magic in her fear that made the candles flare up and soot and sparks shoot out of the fireplace. Madison dropped the knife in her hand as she and the others quickly moved back to a safer distance.
“Jesus, Sabrina, relax,” Madison said, removing her mask and hood. She smirked as she flipped her golden blonde hair over her shoulder. “We’re just messing with you.”
The new girl’s eyes were wide with surprise. She looked stunned. “Holy shit. Are you…?”
“Madison Montgomery, movie star,” Madison finished coolly, eating up the attention. She loved it when people recognized her.
“Shit,” Queenie said, removing her mask, too. “When’s the last time you made a movie, girl?”
“I’m Nan. Hi.” Nan said, flashing the new girl a smile once her mask was off.
“Zoe,” the new girl introduced herself. She was very pretty with long, straight, light brown hair, large almond-shaped brown eyes, and a flawless peaches and cream complexion. She was wearing a long black dress, a thin, long-sleeved black sweater, and black ankle boots.
“Queenie,” Queenie said.
“Melanie,” Melanie said, alerting them to her presence. Zoe whipped her head around to look at her, shocked to see another person standing there the whole time. Though, this one seemed normal compared to the others since she was just wearing a black vintage rolling stones t-shirt, red shorts, and a pair of white converses. Her braided hair was a gorgeous shade of platinum blonde that looked like strands of moonlight. Her pale skin had a healthy glow, and her green eyes shined with intelligence. It was a shame she had such an unfriendly expression on her face.
“So bored now,” Madison sighed, wondering why Melanie was only bitchy towards her. It never occurred to her that Melanie was just paying her back in kind for the way she treated everyone else.
“So, is this all of you?” Zoe asked.
“At the moment,” Cordelia said as she stepped into the room to join them. She must have just returned. “Cordelia Foxx, headmistress,” she introduced herself to Zoe before turning her eyes on Melanie and the others. Looking at them, she could pretty much guess what must have happened while she was gone. “Alright, girls. There’s a van full of groceries in the driveway that needs unloading. I’ll show Zoe to her room, then we meet for Midday Gathering. Let’s go.” She added pointedly when only Melanie started leaving to do as she was told. Madison, Queenie, and Nan tossed their masks on the table and finally moved to follow their classmate out. Cordelia gave Zoe a kind smile and began showing her around the house.
While they unloaded the car and brought the groceries inside, Melanie knew Cordelia was giving Zoe the same speech about the school’s history that she had given her when she was first brought here. The same one she gave Nan, then Queenie, and Madison. Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies was established as a premiere girls’ finishing school in 1790. During the Civil War, it was converted into a military hospital. Afterwards, it came under new management. Our management. In 1868, Marianne Wharton, a prominent East Coast society matron, early suffragette, author of several popular children’s books—and, as it happened, the reigning Supreme of that time—purchased this facility, retaining the name as a cover, establishing a safe haven where young witches could gather to learn. In it’s heyday, the academy was home to as many as sixty girls.
Melanie, Queenie, Nan, and Madison plopped themselves down on the chairs and couches in the sitting room for the Midday Gathering when they finished with the groceries. Spalding set out tea and cookies on the coffee table. Melanie knew from the smell that it was Earl Grey. She poured herself a cup, dropped in a sugar cube, and finished adding a slice of lemon just when Cordelia and Zoe came over to join them, still talking. Cordelia had just reached the part about how our, the witches’, numbers have been dwindling.
“Why?” Zoe asked as they sat down.
“We’re a dying breed, Zoe,” Cordelia answered. “Many of the families who knew they carried the bloodline made a choice not to reproduce.” Melanie sometimes wondered if that was why her parents had abandoned her; if they hadn’t wanted her because they knew she was a witch.
“So, what’s a Supreme?” Zoe asked.
“An average witch is born with a few natural gifts. But in each generation there is one woman who embodies countless gifts. Some say… all of them,” Cordelia explained. “She is the Supreme.”
“Are you the Supreme?” Zoe asked.
Queenie and Madison chuckled and snorted at that as though she’d said something funny. Melanie narrowed her eyes slightly and shot them a look over the top of her teacup, while Nan just quietly stirred her tea. Melanie knew this was a sensitive topic for the older witch.
“No,” Cordelia said with a weak smile and faltering voice. “I’m like you. Just a witch. And a teacher. I’m here to help you identify your gifts and teach you how to control them.”
“She means to suppress them,” Queen said.
“Not suppression. Control,” Cordelia corrected her.
“She thinks it’s still the 1600s,” Madison said sassily.
“It’s worse,” Melanie spoke up. “Nowadays you can’t even sneeze without it ending up on the internet. Imagine what would happen if someone caught you doing magic and recorded it with their phone.” Queenie furrowed her brow slightly in concern, while Madison scoffed and rolled her eyes in disbelief.
“No, Melanie’s right. Back then, our kind understood the dangers. Today, so many families know nothing of their ancestry. Too many girls aren’t lucky enough to have found us or weren’t identified in time for us to have found them. Like that poor Cajun girl just outside Lafayette a few months back,” Cordelia said. She knew she was probably beating a horse to death by revisiting the subject so many times, but she felt that she could not stress enough the grave importance of the danger that the incident represented to their kind. She was worried that Melanie appeared to be the only one taking it seriously. “Misty Day. She wasn’t much older than any of you. And she had a gift, the power of resurgence. Misty could reach into that place between life and death and draw a soul back from the precipice, back to this side, back to life. To some, this appeared to be the God-touched power of resurrection. To others, necromancy.”
“So what happened to her?” asked Zoe.
“The same thing that’s happened to women like us throughout the centuries,” Cordelia replied. Zoe just stared at her, waiting for further explanation.
“They burned her at the stake.” Melanie said. Zoe was properly horrified by this revelation. They burned someone alive? In this day in age?
“We are under siege, ladies,” Cordelia continued. “Our lives, our very existence, is always at risk. Know this, or face extinction.”
The rest of the afternoon was just as uneventful as the morning had been. Melanie made sure that Nox, their black cat, who lived in the greenhouse, had plenty of food and water in his bowls and returned to her book. She assumed Zoe spent the time settling into her new room, which she would be sharing with Madison. No one envied her. She wasn’t sure how the others occupied their time, but it wasn’t until supper that things started to heat up again.
Spalding was serving the soup when Madison said, “Hey, Jeeves. Can I get some iceberg lettuce with a side of blue cheese?” Melanie didn’t understand why she always had to insist on being difficult. Or her penchant for wearing fur in hot and humid Louisiana. It wasn’t even winter yet.
“Girl, be nice to Spalding,” Queenie scolded her. “Poor bastard ain’t got no tongue.”
“Is that true, Jeeves? Did you use your tongue for something wicked?” Madison taunted the silent butler. “Or maybe you just suck at going down.” Spalding was obviously upset by her teasing, because he set Zoe’s bowl down in front of her with a little more force than necessary. “Oh, come on, Jeeves!” Madison called after him as he turned on his heel and left, pushing the serving cart back to the kitchen. “Show us your stub! Maybe we can put it to use!” Queenie gave her a look of disgust and disappointment. Melanie just shook her head while breaking off a piece from the loaf of bread so she could slather it with butter. “So, new girl…” Madison said, ignoring them, as she turned to Zoe, “… what are you in for?”
“Her boyfriend,” Nan said. Zoe tried to hide the pain she felt at the mere mention of it, but it was still fairly obvious.
“Nan, shut up before you get your ass in trouble,” Queenie told her.
“Did you kill him?” Madison asked.
“No. It was an accident.” Zoe replied quietly. But the truth was she still blamed herself.
“It was an accident, Zoe,” Nan reassured her. “And you will find love again. A strange and unexpected… love.”
Queenie slammed her spoon on the table. “Girl, are you deaf or just stupid?” The new girl obviously wasn’t comfortable with the subject.
“Tell us about this accident,” Madison said, picking up her glass to have a sip of water. “And don’t spare all the gory details.”
“So, why are you here?” Zoe asked, turning the conversation back on her. That was a good move. Madison loved talking about herself.
Madison set her glass back down on the table. “My agent staged an intervention. Ever since my drunk and disorderly, I get blamed for all kinds of shit that I didn’t do.”
“But you did it. You killed the man,” Nan said seriously.
“I get it, bitch, you’re clairvoyant,” Madison snapped, pissed that she called her out. She let out a sigh of annoyance and turned back to Zoe. “Do you want to know what happened?” Without waiting for an answer, she went on to explain how she had been rehearsing for an onstage production. She was annoyed because the director kept getting on her case about not hitting her mark, saying the light couldn’t hit her if she wasn’t on it. She then responded by loosening the part that kept the stage light fastened to the rigging above the stage so that it fell and crashed into the top of his skull as he stepped up to show her how it was done. It was an instant K.O. “The light hit him just fine,” she concluded without a shred of remorse.
“All he said was ‘hit your mark,’” Queenie said, disgusted.
“Hn,” Madison laughed. “Hey, I’m not the only killer here. A little birdy told me your roomie killed her last foster father. Set him on fire just by looking at him.” she said with a smirk. She had caught a glimpse of Melanie’s file when she and her agent were having a word with Cordelia in her office. Cordelia, who had been adding additional notes on the young witch’s progress, had closed it quickly once they entered the room, but not quickly enough. Melanie’s grip on her knife tightened ever so slightly and the candles’ flames grew bigger and brighter at the mention of the man. Zoe glanced between the two blondes she was seated in the middle of, wondering if she should be worried for her safety. Melanie wasn’t denying it.
"He actually deserved it,” Nan said in her defense. Melanie didn’t talk about it. Ever. But Nan could hear what had happened in her mind. Steven Pritchard was a bad man. “Don’t worry, Melanie’s nicer than she looks,” Nan reassured Zoe. Despite her outwardly cold attitude, she really did care. She just suffered from resting bitch face.
Queenie glared at Madison. “Why don’t you just do the world a favor and take an acting class, you D-list, Botox bimbo.” Zoe smiled slightly at the epic burn the star had just received. Madison wasn’t so amused. She retaliated by using her powers to flip Queenie’s bowl of soup into her lap. Outraged, Queenie immediately threw her bowl back on the table, grabbed a fork, and stabbed herself in the hand.
“Ow!” Madison screamed, crying out in pain as Queenie twisted the fork, using her magic to redirect the damage to her. Zoe gasped in shock as she stared at the line of little puncture wounds that had suddenly appeared on Madison’s now bleeding hand. “Stop it, you bitch!”
“Stop what? I don’t feel nothin’. I’m a human voodoo doll. You like this?” Queenie asked with a smirk, wiggling the fork around some more as she applied more pressure to deepen the wound.
“Stop!” Nan cried, grabbing her hand. “You’re… you’re gonna get in trouble. Queenie, stop!” She managed to wrestle the fork away, but Queenie had had enough of Madison’s bullshit. She grabbed the long knife by the bread and held it to her throat.
“I’ll do it,” Queenie said, daring Madison to give her a reason.
“Queenie,” Melanie said firmly, finally speaking up. “No murder at the dinner table.” It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate how she felt, but blood was hard to clean up, and she didn’t feel like having to hide a body tonight. Not to mention, grievously harming another witch would mean being burned at the stake. Queenie just stared at her in disbelief.
“Come on. Let’s go for a walk,” Nan said, trying to help calm her down.
“A walk?” Queenie asked incredulously. She glanced one more time between Nan’s worried face and the cool expression on Melanie’s before finally throwing the knife back on the table. “Fine. I’m not hungry anyway.”
Madison exhaled a sigh of relief, massaging her sore hand as Queenie left with Nan to go cool off. “Like anyone believes that,” Madison said grudgingly, referring to the large witch’s claim that she had lost her appetite.
“Shut up,” Melanie said sternly, shooting her glare so harsh that it made Zoe shudder.
Being an actress, Madison was able to cover her own fear a little better. “Well, that was disturbing,” she said, pretending she hadn’t heard her. “Given the choices around here, it looks like you’re my new best friend,” she told Zoe while Melanie continued to eat her soup. Madison picked up her phone and glanced at the screen when it vibrated. “Do you own any clothes that don’t come from the gap?” she asked her new “friend.”
“Not really,” Zoe answered dryly. “Why?”
Madison sighed as she looked at her. They were about the same size. “You can borrow something of mine. Frat party tonight. Just got the tweet.” Zoe didn’t exactly look thrilled.
“Feel free to say ‘no.’” Melanie told her.
“What about you, Human Torch? Wanna party?” Madison asked her. It was always nice to show up with an entourage, especially one made of attractive girls who were hot, but not too hot. And three was a nice, round number. It helped her stand out and appear more desirable, not that she really needed help with that.
“I’d rather stay home and read,” Melanie replied without an ounce of hesitation.
“What’s the matter?” Madison asked. “Afraid you’ll lose control?”
Melanie carefully set her spoon down and looked at her. “The last time I lost control someone died. So, unless you’re volunteering, I think I’ll pass,” she retorted smartly.
Meanwhile, Cordelia was in the greenhouse, working on a new potion. She was so focused on her work, that she didn’t realize someone was sneaking up on her from behind until she felt a hand stroke her ponytail. She gasped, so startled that she dropped the vial she was holding.
“Ooh!” The intruder said as the glass shattered on the stone floor. “You dropped your cocktail,” her mother, Fiona Goode, teased with a laugh.
“I thought you were in Switzerland,” Cordelia said, surprised to see her there. She wished she could say it was a pleasant one.
“LA,” Fiona corrected her. “It’s tragic. The glamour’s gone. They put a shopping mall on Sunset and Vine.”
Cordelia stared at the mess on the floor with irritation. “I don’t have a broom.”
Fiona laughed. “That’s ironic.”
“Los Angeles,” Cordelia said, returning to the topic of her mother’s travels. “Why do you look so jet-lagged?”
“I happen to look wonderful,” Fiona said defensively.
“Let me make you something,” Cordelia said, using a rag to pick up and move the shards of broken glass to the waste basket. “I’ve been working on a restorative that I’ve been experimenting with. This will fix you right up.”
“Delia, with her potions and powders,” Fiona said, watching as her daughter mixed the ingredients together. “You know, one of my greatest disappointments in life is that you never fully realized the extent of your power.”
“I’ve done pretty well,” Cordelia said. She was proud of her work at the school, especially when it came to Melanie. She still remembered the first day she arrived at the school. She had been so small, so guarded. So afraid to let anyone get too close. That poor girl had come a long way after everything she’d been through.
“You are the only child of the Supreme. You have royal blood running in your veins,” Fiona reminded her. “You could be ruling the world.”
“I like my little kingdom here, thank you,” Cordelia said, holding out a small beaker for her mother filled with the finished potion.
“Yeah, well, your little kingdom is a mess,” Fiona said, taking the sizzling concoction. She gave it a sniff before drinking and grimaced. She decided to dump the offending potion in the cat’s food dish.
“No! Oh…” Cordelia exclaimed, rushing to pick it up before Nox had a chance to eat it. Melanie would be heartbroken if anything happened to him. “You bitch. It wouldn’t have killed you.”
“Just put me in a coma for a couple of days?” Fiona asked.
“Or weeks. Look, why don’t you just go away?” Cordelia asked her. “I don’t want you here. How else do you want me to say it?”
“You’re still angry,” Fiona said, lighting up a cigarette. “I can tell.”
“My God, you are the Supreme,” Cordelia retorted sarcastically, stuffing moss into an empty bottle.
Fiona took a drag on her cigarette and exhaled the smoke. “I was just on this wonderful retreat with Shirley MacLaine in Sedona. It was all about forgiveness.”
“You dumped me here,” Cordelia reminded her. She practically abandoned her.
“You were sent to an elite boarding school. Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo,” Fiona said, completely unapologetic. “You know, I’ve often thought that my big mistake with you was waiting so long before sending you away.”
“Enough,” Cordelia said, cutting her off before she could say another hurtful word. “Show yourself out.”
“No. I’m not going,” Fiona said stubbornly. “I’m staying. I’m here to help you. Do you know that not fifty miles from here a young woman was burned at the stake? It’s Salem all over again. There is a storm coming. And you,” Cordelia looked up at that, “are leaving these poor girls under your charge completely unprepared for it.”
“I am aware of what’s happening,” Cordelia said, annoyed. “My entire teaching philosophy—”
“Has been an abject failure,” Fiona interjected. “You teach them to cower. And to hide in the shadows. Well, there are no shadows, not anymore. Do you really think with Twitter and Facebook that a witch does anything at all she won’t be videotaped and turned into some… viral freak show like a dog who says ‘I love you’?”
“No, no, no,” Cordelia said quickly, shaking her head. “This is my life. You can’t come in here and piss all over it. I will call the council.”
“Do. Call the council,” Fiona said with a laugh. “And then you can explain to them why you think it’s a bad idea for the Supreme to teach them.”
“When are you gonna die and stop ruining my life?”
Coming from her daughter, those words hurt Fiona more than she would ever admit out loud. She sighed. “I’m here. I’m staying. So why don’t we make the best of it?”
“I thought you weren’t coming,” Madison said as she drove to the party with Zoe in the passenger seat and Melanie in the back with her stupid book.
“I changed my mind,” Melanie said with a shrug. After dinner, she had an odd feeling about the party, so she did a reading. She often did one whenever Madison snuck out, just to be on the safe side. While shuffling her deck of tarot cards, three fell out, indicating they were related to something that needed her attention right away. The cards were Death, The Devil, and The Lovers. Despite the ominous name, Death usually represented change rather than actual physical death. The Lovers was probably related to Nan’s prediction that Zoe would find a ‘strange and unexpected love’. The card that really worried her was The Devil. That card was never good. Something bad always happened whenever it turned up in her readings. And her readings had an accuracy rate of about 98%. They were so accurate that one of her foster mothers, an over zealous religious fanatic, used to hit her and lock her in the closet for playing with the tarot deck, and even went so far as to ask a priest for an exorcism. Fortunately, the priest was a reasonable man who reported the woman to child services when he saw the bruises and other signs of abuse. After that, Melanie had been promptly removed from that home and placed in another. Anyway, she had a nagging feeling that some kind of disaster or tragedy might occur, but she couldn’t be certain whether it would be aimed at Madison or Zoe. It may even be both. She knew that nothing she said would ever convince Madison not to go the party, so Melanie figured she’d better go with her and Zoe to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t get into trouble.
“Whatever,” Madison said, deciding she didn’t really care why. At least she was wearing something decent that didn’t clash with her dress. She didn’t even know Melanie owned party clothes, but apparently she did. Tonight the antisocial introvert was wearing a burgundy 90s style mini dress with spaghetti straps and with a pair of strappy nude heels and a matching wallet purse slung over her shoulders.
The moment they were through the doors, Madison paused to strike a pose that she thought would highlight her assets and flipped her hair over her shoulder, enjoying the effect it had on the masses that had already started to party. While Madison was basking in the glow of all the attention she was getting, Melanie took a moment to look around and immediately regretted it.
Crap, she thought when she accidentally made eye contact with a boy who wasn’t much older than them. Not wanting to get involved, she quickly looked away, but she could still feel his eyes on her.
“What’s a girl gotta do to get a drink around here?” Madison asked. The response was immediate.
“Come with me,” a preppy-looking girl with a pink sweater wrapped around her shoulders said, grabbing the star’s hand to lead her away to fulfill her request. The moment Melanie and Zoe moved to follow, the other two girls seemed to be swallowed up by the crowd, and they lost sight of them completely.
“And she’s gone,” Melanie said, irritated that they had been separated so easily.
“Now what?” Zoe asked as they were approached by the boy Melanie had mistakenly made eye contact with. Apparently ignoring him hadn’t been a big enough hint that she wasn’t interested.
“Hi. I’m Michael. Want a drink?” He asked above the throbbing music, offering to show her to one of the refreshment tables. He had a charming smile, dark eyes, and dark, curly hair. Zoe smiled slightly and decided to give them some space. Melanie tried to stop her, but it was too late. She grimaced slightly in annoyance. That traitor! How dare she leave her alone in such an awkward situation? And what was with this crowd? Why did it have to keep producing people she wanted to avoid and swallowing up the people she didn’t?
Michael cleared his throat as a reminder that he was still there. “Uh, no thanks,” She said, turning to leave. Just being in the room with all these people was enough social interaction as far as she was concerned. She was surprised when he suddenly grabbed her wrist. “Hey—”
“You don’t remember me, do you?” He asked seriously, eyes darkening. Melanie blinked and stared at him in confusion. “I know it’s been seven years, but I’d recognize that hair and those eyes anywhere. Don’t tell me you forgot about the time you spent with the Rousseaus?”
Melanie could feel the blood drain from her face as the connection between this college boy named Michael and the twelve-year-old named Michael that she had known years ago suddenly clicked into place. She could see it now, the resemblance. It was him. The Rousseaus had taken in several foster children in addition to herself. The oldest of the children, Michael, was a bully who loved to push the other kids around. Something wasn’t right about him. Melanie had sensed that right away, and her suspicions were confirmed when she noticed that he had a habit of digging in the back yard just before and after one of the neighborhood pets went missing. The adults thought it was a stray coyote. But Melanie knew better. So when she found a stray kitten, she hid it in the crawlspace under the house with a cardboard box for a bed and was very careful when she brought it scraps from her dinner. But not careful enough. After seven weeks, she crawled under the house and was horrified by what she found. The poor thing had been killed, and all of its fur had been skinned clean off. She knew at once who was responsible. That kitten had been her only friend in that house, and Michael had murdered it.
With ice in her eyes and fire in her veins, Melanie ripped her arm free from his grip and disappeared into the crowd, ignoring his calls for her to wait. She didn’t want anything to do with that psychopath. Why was the creep even in Louisiana in the first place? Why leave California to attend college here?
“Melanie! Melanie! Shit!” Michael cursed as he pushed through the crowd, trying to find her again. He still remembered the day she found the cat. It’d been burned into his memory like hot brand. The day that quiet girl, who always kept her head down and never did anything to stick out, suddenly flew at him in a rage like some kind of wild thing—scratching and clawing and biting—calling him a ‘murderer’. That was the first time he had ever seen his own blood. Their foster parents had her moved to another home right away. He hated them for that. He’d been searching for her ever since. It was as if she had suddenly dropped off the face of the earth. But here she was, hanging around some random frat party. He wasn’t about to let her get away again.
Melanie searched everywhere for the other girls. She spotted Zoe talking to a boy with curly blonde hair near the stairs, but she couldn’t find Madison anywhere. She decided to head for Zoe first. Maybe she knew where Madison was. Drawing closer, she could hear some of their conversation. “Kyle, I like you,” Zoe said. “But it’s not gonna work out. Have you seen Madison?”
That worried Melanie. “You don’t know where she is, either?” she asked, hoping the card reading wasn’t about to come true. The boy was surprised when she suddenly popped up next to him. Melanie was surprised, too. He looked like a blonde version of Michael, which was rather disturbing. Fortunately, his brown eyes didn’t seem to hold the same darkness as her childhood tormentor.
“Uh, hello?” He said with an awkward smile that was actually kind of cute as he glanced between the two girls.
“Hi.” Melanie answered with a straight face.
“This is Melanie, she’s a friend,” Zoe explained. “She’s not with you?”
“No, I was hoping you’d found her,” Melanie said with a frown. “Zoe, we need to find her before she gets into trouble.”
“Alright, let’s split up. We can cover more ground that way,” Zoe suggested.
“No. We have to stick together,” Melanie said, taking a firm hold of her hand as they walked off to look for Madison. “It’s not safe.” Zoe wondered why she would say something like that, but Melanie looked so serious that she didn’t question it. In fact, she said it with such conviction, that Zoe was sure something bad would happen if she let go. She cast a worried glance back at Kyle, hoping he would be all right.
Despite all their searching they couldn’t find her, and they ended up right back with Kyle. “Hey, we can’t find her anywhere,” Zoe said, starting to get worried, too.
“What, you think she ditched you?” Kyle asked. Both girls scoffed at that. They wouldn’t be surprised. But Melanie had a gut feeling that this was something worse than that. Seeing how concerned the two girls looked, Kyle said, “I’ll look around upstairs. Hang on.”
Upstairs… the word seemed to echo in Melanie’s mind as they watched him go. It rang true somehow, like she had found the answer she was looking for. Madison was upstairs. “Come on,” she said, grabbing Zoe’s hand again as they followed after him. They could hear raised voices coming from one of the rooms.
One of them was Kyle’s. “Are you out of your mind!?” he shouted angrily. Zoe and Melanie had to press up against the wall to get out of the way as several frat boys wearing the same polo shirt as him came barreling down the stairs one after the other. Kyle ran straight past them, chasing after the others boys while shouting at them to stop. The girls shared a confused glance and moved cautiously into the room. It was empty apart from the bed, where Madison lay curled up in ball, crying and moaning in pain.
“Madison?” Zoe asked, making sure she wasn’t seeing things. Madison whimpered in response.
“Shit!” Melanie cursed. She and Zoe rushed over to her side to check on her.
“Madison, hey,” Zoe said, placing a hand on her shoulder to help her roll over. “Hey, did they give you something? Melanie, what…?” she trailed off when she saw the look of pure rage on the other girl’s face as she stared down at Madison, taking in every detail of the damage that had been done.
Melanie had clenched her fists so hard at her side, her nails were about to break the skin and draw blood. “They raped her.” With that one sentence, she was off like a shot, hurling herself out the room and down the stairs after the boys. Zoe stared after her, eyes wide with horror. No, no. She wished Melanie was wrong, but deep down a part of Zoe had already known. Melanie was right.
“It hurts,” Madison whimpered, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. Zoe grabbed a blanket and put it over her so she wouldn’t feel so exposed.
“Okay, look, stay here, okay? We’re not—We’re not gonna let ’em get away with this,” she promised, taking off to join Melanie in hunting down Madison’s rapists.
Melanie sprinted after them as best as she could in her heels, but they had a good lead on her. She could hear the argument between Kyle and his frat brothers after they boarded the bus through the open doors. She was almost there when the bus driver came tumbling out and the doors shut behind him.
“No!” she screamed, banging on the side of the bus as it started rolling. “Stop! Stop, you bastards!” She started running again as it picked up speed and began to pull ahead. “Stop!”
“Stop!” Zoe started screaming too as she joined the futile chase.
“I said stop!” Melanie roared angrily, her eyes stinging with unshed tears, while Zoe began panting and crying. Melanie clenched her fists and glared at the back wheel on the passenger side of the bus until it burst into flames, taking care to keep the fire contained and under her control. The metal rim screeched against pavement as the tire blew, but it wasn’t enough to stop them. The bus kept rolling. Melanie got ready to blow another one, when Madison suddenly walked past them from behind. She stopped and stood in front of them, sniffing as tears streamed down her face while she glared at the bus. She raised her hand, and the next thing they knew, the entire bus had flipped end over end. Several people who were outside the house screamed as the bus continued to tumble. There was an explosion, and the undercarriage burst into flames. For a moment, the three witches just stood there. Then Madison turned and started walking back the way they had come, heading for the car. Zoe was too shocked to move. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the burning bus. Kyle had been on it.
“Zoe,” Melanie said, turning her away from the wreck. “Zoe. We have to go now.” She started herding her fellow witch to the car. She spared a glance back at the house, where she could make out the glowing screens of phones being pulled out one after the other. One of them would call for help. Right now, they had to get as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. She hoped the boy who had tried to help them survived.
Michael stood out on the lawn, staring in awe at the destruction. He had caught sight of Melanie weaving her way through the crowd and followed her. He had seen the whole thing from start to finish. His face twisted into a smile and his eyes gleamed with excitement. If Melanie thought she could escape from him, she was sorely mistaken. He knew how to find her now. Because she was a witch. And he was a hunter.