A woman looking exactly like the memory of my mother strutted into the room, wearing a black cap sleeve fitted dress that came to her knees, complemented by a tall pair of black stilettos. Her chestnut hair was perfectly coiffed and fell in waves halfway down her back. Bright red lipstick adorned her face and she had a smokey eye that ended in a winged tip eyeliner. She might have just come off the Zara business runway.
Diana had stopped her crying and was now holding my hand with equal fierceness. I murmured out to her, not taking my eyes off the woman as she walked over to Arawn, held him by the shoulders, and kissed him lovingly on the cheek.
From the cot, she shakily replied.
“I see her.”
I released her hand and came to my feet.
“Whoever you are, you can let this facade go. Everyone knows Jolene Jones died long ago.”
The embracing couple looked over to me and gave a brief, pitying smile. Ignoring my demand, they turned to each other again, Arawn asking.
“When did you fly in, darling? I would have come to pick you up.”
She stepped back and brushed some lint off his shoulders in an affectionate gesture.
“Don’t be silly, you had a lot to get done here...” She now looked over to me with a wide small that showed her back molars.
“...and more important people to take care of.”
A chill shook my body, this was no impostor in glamour. That smile. It had only come out for special occasions. Never family pictures, or everyday situations. Reserved for only the moments that surprised her and she was unconscious that she was even smiling.
She turned her head back to Arawn and started to push him towards the door.
“Anyway, why don’t you go and make sure the last meal is taken care of and the men are all squared away. And, could you make sure he is standing outside in about ten minutes.”
He nodded and gave her a final kiss on the cheek before walking through the open door, shutting it behind. Silence filled the room and I couldn’t utter a word nor move a muscle. I didn’t want to, in this moment, my mother was alive, beautiful, healthy, and staring at me warmly. From her position on the bed, Diana broke the silence.
Making a few strides closer to the bed, she looked down,
Reality hit me when she used Diana’s childhood name, my mother was alive.
Her eyes browsed my face and followed it with a sad expression.
On the cot, Diana whimpered, clearly trying to keep her pain hidden from in this reunion. My attention was torn from the woman and back to my cousin's wound. A stream of blood had now made a course down into Diana’s pubic region. Shit, she was going to bleed out. Remembering her words as she walked in, I asked,
“You said you could help her?”
“No, I said you could help her.”
I ran my hands through my hair nervously, I hadn’t studied anything medicinal yet, nor anything about the body. Trying anything to help her would probably have the opposite effect.
“No, I can’t. I literally don’t know anything. Gran hasn’t taught me anything like that yet.”
Jolene’s eyebrow perked and her bright red lips pursed. She looked unamused and walked over to stand next to me by Diana head. She examined her wound and muttered,
“What a ratchet job.” She leaned down and wiped the sweat from Diana’s forehead. My cousin definitely had an infection that was now causing a sudden fever. In an almost crooning voice, she spoke softly.
“Deedee, it’s going to be okay. Can you just take a little nap for me?”
Eyes wide with fear, Diana nodded her head slowly, glancing at me as I mirrored her and gave an encouraging nod. Jolene ran her hand again through Diana’s hair and slowly her eyes closed and the whimpering stopped.
Straightening back up, she smoothed her dress down and then motioned to the wound, looking at it like it was another thing to cross off her to-do list.
“Right then dear, go and lay your hands on the wound.” My eyes glanced between her and Diana’s body. She gave me a gentle push forward and I obediently kneeled down and put both my hands on Diana, feeling the slickness of her life warm beneath my fingers. Jolene moved behind me and started to speak low on my ear.
“Now, picture a healthy, vibrant Diana. Feel beneath your palms, use that Wardwell sense. What does she now feel like?”
I squinched my forehead in thought and feeling. Diana, Diana, Diana. What was happening under my fingers, inside her body? Could I feel that? Sensing things like air and wood were easy. There were no moving parts, it was one element, but Diana’s body was many. Flesh, water, blood, all different, and they all felt thick and dense. I couldn’t distinguish one thing from another. I couldn’t pick apart her components, but there was something moving fast, or rather moving through something it felt like it shouldn’t be. It felt wrong.
Eyes closed, I answered.
“There is something out of place. Something is moving through something that it shouldn’t be.”
Almost sagely, she answered.
“Correct, blood is flowing through places it shouldn’t, gaps have been left open, a tear was made. What you need to do is seal those gaps, stop that flow.”
I snapped my head back to her. Was she crazy? This was clearly surgeon level stuff. Witches might be helpful at helping the body along, but we couldn’t frigging sew people back to life. Maybe I could give her some of my own energy if I even knew where to push it, but sealing something? Laughing at my contorted face, she knelt down next to me, disregarding the dirty floor on her flawless dress.
“Kelly, think of it like knitting two ends of a blanket together, the material is the same, but you just need to mesh it together.”
My mouth gaped in anxiety. This wasn’t like fucking sewing, my cousin’s inside wouldn’t just ‘mesh’ together and I certainly wasn’t a doctor that knew enough about what ‘ends’ I should be stitching. Worry must have been tattooed on me, cause she grabbed the top of my hand, and calmly said,
“What if I help, huh?”
I nodded forcefully, and she positioned herself closer to me. Her hand now grasping mine, it felt unnaturally smooth, like it had been sandpapered down to a polish and I glanced at it. It was shiny, like it had a veneer on it or something similar that gave it an unnatural feel.
“Now, close your eyes and picture the man you killed in the alley.”
I choked on the breath in my lungs and looked at her. What the hell did that have to do with healing my cousin? Shaking my head in protest and confusion, she brought her smooth hand to my hair and brushed it away from my forehead.
“Shhhh, I know, it’s okay. But you have to do it, for Diana. I’ll do the rest.” As if on cue, Diana moaned in her sleep and another spurt of warm blood pooled under my hand. Nodding to Jolene, she gently twisted my body back around.
“Now, remember him and the last moments of his life.” My memory unwillingly reeled and I was back in that alley. Smells from the garbage dumpster to my left filled my nose, Jess was screaming my name behind me, the van’s wheels screeching away, and the man on the ground, twitching his last breaths out.
Beneath my hands, here in the room, something was tingling. Power surging. Akin to what I felt from my Gran’s flowers, but if that was a distant bass thrumming, this was my hand around the lead guitar’s neck. Fuck, my fingers almost felt numb from the power of it, the dead man’s image behind my eyelids slowly faded as I opened my eyes to watch something happening underneath, inside Diana body. Slowly, the skin at her incision started to blend together. My own skin tingled and heart accelerated. After a moment, Diana’s skin had seamed itself back together, and while some redness remained, the bubbling, inflamed quality had left.
I exhaled a relieved laugh, full of nervous energy, and wiped the blood away from her stomach to ensure that I wasn’t imagining it. Adrenaline was racing through my own veins in excitement. The wound was totally gone, a faint red line I wouldn’t have even called a scar now in its place. Laughing more, I looked between Diana’s now peaceful face and Jolene’s. Standing, I felt shaky, fuck, that thrumming power, that was a rush. And saving my cousin? That was the most rewarding thing I have ever seen magic accomplish. I had never heard of any of the coven Witches making something remotely like that happen.
Wiping Diana’s blood from my hands onto the back of my jeans I laughed again, directed towards Jolene, who was now covering Diana with a thin blanket from the end of the bed.
“Did I do that?”
She smiled, and spread her hands wide,
“You supplied the juice and intent, and I added a little skill.” I strode over to her and grasped her in a deep hug. It was there, on her neck, the vanilla oil perfume I had stolen from her dresser when I was ten. It was the one thing I kept of hers, the one thing that I used to acknowledge that she was my mother, even after years of thinking poorly of her, of hating her, I always kept her smell. The reality then hit me, this was my mom, back from the dead. I pulled back from her, to look and inspect her face to make sure.
She knew what I was asking and she pulled me in again to rest my head on her shoulder. I had grown since our last hug and was now taller than her, but she was always slighter and more fragile.
“It’s me, I promise.”
Tears started to fall uninhibited down my cheeks. What a goddamn miracle. She didn’t die in the fire, she survived. She looked wonderful, alive, and sexy. She was...married. Just as the reality of her survival hit me, so did all the other events I had witnessed. I pulled out of her embrace, my face now startled.
“You’re the Witch working for the Hunters.”
Her face squinted, as if trying to find a nice way to break bad news.
“Well, dear, technically, they work for me.”
Breath left my body and I stepped away. She was calm and assured with what she was saying like she didn’t have any reason to hide it or be ashamed. This didn’t make one iota of sense to my overwhelmed brain.
“You...you killed our family. You killed Franny?”
Jolene had the confidence to look me in the eye, strongly pronouncing,
I choked on a sob and felt like I was going to vomit, there was too much going on inside my body after the surge of power of healing Diana. Paired with the news that my mother killed our coven members, her family, I started to dry heave and leaned over my knees to ride it out. She let me be, not trying to touch me as I got myself back under control.
Standing back up, feelings I couldn’t process were littered through my voice.
“Why? Why would you do that to ...us?”
In juxtaposition, her face now held no emotion, like this was old news that she had regurgitated a million times before. It was almost as if she was now indifferent to the manner in which Franny died, that she was even gone.
“Why does anyone do anything? Revenge.”
My face perked in surprise at the word she used said in such a cold manner. Revenge? How common the act seemed these days. But revenge against whom? The coven? Seeing my shock, she paused in thought for a few moments before continuing,
“Margaret Wardwell killed my husband, your father. The coven knew, the elders, they all knew.”
Hearing her accusation, I sat on the second cot in a daze. Margaret Wardwell, not ‘mom’, ‘mother’, or even ‘Gran’. It was Margaret Wardwell. Like she had no relation anymore to the woman. I pushed my palms up to my eyes, trying to ease the pain behind them.
“Mom, that is crazy. Gran is...well, Gran. We are a family, the commune hasn’t had any drama, ever. It is what we are known for. You must have something wrong. Anyway, they wouldn’t be able to keep something like that a secret, not that big.”
Her heels clicked over to me on the cot and I felt her hand stroke my hair as if I was back to being a child and she was comforting me from a harsh reality.
“I’m afraid not sweetheart. She was standing outside our burning house, watching it, controlling it. I came back early from dropping you off at your aunts and saw her. I ran in and tried to find your father, but he was already gone and I… well, I lost my own control.”
I pulled back from my lean to look at her. Her eyes now tearful and glazed over, remembering the scene fourteen years ago. It was a sobering moment, hearing a first hand account of the event that changed my life.
“I...just remember feeling the pain and anger and sorrow of seeing him burn, then one of the electrical outlets burst and connected with me, I guess.” She paused and looked down at her hand, squeezing it open and closed. God, she had been hit by electricity, the same that I had experienced on the night of the treaty signing. Except my mother didn’t have Were genes to protect her, to strengthen her muscles, to protect her. I asked because I understood the situation, but not the outcome.
“How did you... survive?”
Looking up from her hand, she wiped a lone tear from her cheek.
“I didn’t, not really. After the outlet fried out, I found half of my body burned beyond feeling and I was still inside a flaming house. Luckily, the floor underneath me in the bathroom gave way and I was then under the house. From there, it was easy to crawl away, more or less but... I left the old Jolene Jones in that burning house. It was my death pyre.”
I looked down to her hand, the one that felt smooth.
“But, they said they found...limbs, your arm…”
Holding it up for me, I saw the veneer I spied earlier, her hand and arm had an opalescent quality to it. Unnatural.
“They did. Like I said, it was so burned I couldn’t feel it, so I...you know,” she made a chopping motion at her shoulder and gave a grin. I swallowed bile. My mom had to somehow amputate her arm to escape her own burning house.
She ignored my reaction and started to pace the room, checking Diana’s breathing she now spoke to the wall above her.
“...From there, it was easy to magic a husk of a burned corpse to last a few days for anyone who wanted to check I was still there, and I crawled out of the back and down to the river.” She swiveled on her stiletto heel and turned back to me, lifting her alien arm. “And this one, well, it costs me a few chickens every month, but it works as well as the original.”
Resting my head in my hands again, I blew in and out, this was too much, and I had to close my eyes against the revulsion of Gran actually murdering my father. Remembering what Will had said about my father physically not being able to be drunk and not escape, it seemed to fit. So murder was reprehensible and okay, maybe Gran had retribution coming, but what about the rest of it? Anger started to rise in my throat. I had been nearly kidnapped, murdered and a dozen other offenses. What the fuck did I do? What did the sweet, unsuspecting members of the coven do?
“And what about the rest of it? Jolene?”
From across the room, her head snapped up at the use of her name.
I pulled my shirt off my neck to expose my now bandage wound.
“What did I do to deserve this? To deserve any of the attacks or kidnappings?”
Her eyes softened, as if I was a toddler having a tantrum. Rubbing her hands together, she came and sat next to me, clutching the side of the bed.
“Sweetheart, that was for your own good. Gran would have killed the boy, just like she did my husband. It was better to end it like this, instead of...well, the only other way it would have ended.”
I scoffed at her.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Will is the chief of our allies. She might not have liked him, but she wouldn’t…”
“She would have, and in a way that would have seemed like an accident. Didn’t she ever harp on your ‘potential’, how you weren’t being all you can be? Trust me, its better this way for his safety. You don’t know her, Kelly.”
I thought about what she was saying, about the times Gran and Will had clashed, about all the little quips she had aimed at our relationship. Wanted it to end? Yes. Kill him for it? I would never know now. She wasn’t here to defend herself, but still that didn’t mean my mother was in the right, she had still too much to answer.
“And the way you did it?” Motioning to my shoulder sharply, “letting those fucking savages torture me into submission, chokehold and act like they were going to rape me? What about that, Jolene? Where does that fit in your ‘best for me’ scenario?”
Her eyes narrowed on me and I instinctively shrank back. She shot up and her body was rigid with fury. She was angry, real angry. Storming over to the door she yanked it opened a hand’s width and said with force to someone outside.
“Tell Carlyle to get in here, now!”
She turned around, still angry, but not directed at me.
“I’m sorry, Kelly, I didn’t know about that. But let me ask you, what would you do if you saw him again?”
I furrowed my brows. What would I do? Calling the cops would be out of the picture. An apology just wasn’t going to cut it, the Southerner who choked me wasn’t just doing his job, he had made it goddamn personal. Groped me while holding me down, making me feel terrified not only for my body but for my life. Fuck, my blood was rising by the second just thinking of the injustice of it, of the repugnant men that took their advantage. Jolene snapped into my thoughts.
“What would you do, Jones?!”
“I would want justice!” I almost shouted back. “He violated me, then made sure I suffered for it.”
Jolene looked grim, but satisfied with my answer and nodded her ascent for whatever I wanted to do. I heard steps coming down the hall, the tread of heavy boots. My eyes flicked between the door and Jolene, the boss of these people. Was she going to let me take my sudden wrath on this man? What the hell could I even do? He had easily overpowered me before. But I was frantic and focused on Diana the first time, now I was angry and focused on him.
The door pushed open and in he walked, seemingly bigger than a few hours before. He came into the room to find his boss standing next to the door and me in the back, pacing like a wild animal trapped in a cage. His eyes traveled up and down my body assessing me and remembering the places he touched me, before sending a little smirk my way.
This mother fucking pig. Jolene turned to him, wrathful.
“Did you take your duties too far and actually hurt this girl, Carlyle?”
For a moment, Carlyle looked confused, eyes glancing between his superior and me, trying to pace out the fire now spreading in my chest.
“Yes, but ma’am, you said…”
“And when she passed out, did you touch her? Don’t lie.”
My eyes and nostrils flared and I stopped dead in my tracks, squaring up on this breathing piece of trash. I hadn’t even thought of that, my shirt had been ridden up when I woke up. I was positive I hadn’t been raped, but I wouldn’t know about wandering hands. I felt slimy and filthy, ashamed, but most of all, livid.
He replied slowly, carefully choosing his words.
“No, I did not.”
Jesus, the other prick rubbing himself while watching me slowly die. I felt like I wanted to throw up and throw punches at the same time. Jolene’s face sneered as she realized what he implied.
“Of course Brent would, wouldn’t he? He has done it before, why would this be any different?”
I turned to the wall and pressed my hands on the dirt underneath, pointing my face to the floor and trying to control my breaths. A serial assaulter, he had done it to girls before me, he had done it to me while I was passed out, he would do it to other girls in the future.
“Unfortunately for you, Carlyle, my daughter here seems quite angry about the whole situation, and wants some retribution.”
Facing the pair again, I saw him give Jolene a smile and shrugged, now turning into the room to face me.
“If the little Witch wants to give a few of her love bites, I won’t mind. Come on darling, I’ll take a few swings to even things up.”
He walked into the room, his hands spread wide, like he wanted me to take some shots, give him my best right hook. This asshole thought he knew me? Fire and fury. That’s what I felt the more I looked at his face.
I strode the paces remaining to the center of the room and before he could talk I whispered furiously, focusing on his sole body like we were alone, the only people on earth.
“Prohibere tempus hic et nunc”
He suddenly froze in his cocky stance. I breathed hard and blinked. It worked, his body was stuck in time and if the book was correct, his mind was still working and watching everything. Unfortunately for him, his face still held that dirty smirk. I wanted to burn it clean off like I was clearing a slate.
I circled him, poised like a douchebag, the others in the room, forgotten. This guy screamed serial, whether it was killer, rapist, abuser, it was something that meant he was welcomed with open arms into an organization that kills things and people. Hell, that’s probably how they recruited him, found him in the dregs. I would bet my last dollar he had never experienced half of the fear he had made me feel, nor the remorse for doing so.
Squaring off in front of his face, I reached up to touch the neckline of his shirt. It was some kind of polyester blend.
“You know what I felt most when you were slowly killing me, Carlyle? Burning.” I leaned into his ear,
“It felt like my lungs were burning. They were on fire.”
Taking a step back, out of his open, embracing arms, I looked him up and down, dressed all in the polyester shit meant to wick sweat off of his firm body.
“I wonder if yours will feel the same?”
I directed another small part of my focus to his neckline, frictioning the material together until it caught light. Flames quickly spread across the shirt that was held wide and I looked him in the eyes, staring into them. He never made a sound, never flinched, he couldn’t. I took another step back, out of the heat of his flames, my own brow glistening with sweat from concentration.
I didn’t want him to move, to be able to avoid the judgment of fire. It had no mercy. The material he was swathed in was fire’s old friend, it welcomed it in fast. Flames caught his pants and I took stock of him. Without the frantic movements, you might never guess that this was a man on fire. He still had that god damn taunting smirk, even while the fire burned through his clothes and was now making its way onto his skin. I looked at him with disgust, tears in my eyes. Was this justice? Yes, it felt just and good.
Rubbing my nose to brush away the new emerging smell of blistering skin, I broke our one way eye contact and could see his clothes had burned away and the melting remnants were now latching onto his flesh. Deciding second degree burns would ease my desire for justice, I turned to Jolene, leaning patiently in the corner, hands folded in front of her chest. Shit, she looked so bored she might have been watching her nails dry. She saw my resolve to end it and nodded slightly in agreement.
From in front of me however, a sound came from him and I leaned in closer, trying to catch it. A deep, ugly rumble from his throat. Laughter? This human compost was laughing at me, laughing at my attempt to make him pay? Forgetting that his body was frozen and he couldn’t have possibly laughed, I felt a new surge of madness. In a craze of anger, I lifted my hand in a cocked gun, focused pushing electrons, and pulled the trigger, aiming at the center of his forehead.
Hard breaths flowed in and out of my own body. I let go of the stance and dropped my arm in wonderment of what I had just done.
Nothing happened, the flames continued to lick his skin and it was at the point now where muscle underneath was starting to show through. I felt a rush of adrenaline, and something else I had never experienced or could even name, surge through me and I had to bend over double onto my knees for support. Exhaling and mentally letting go of the frozen time, the dead Carlyle collapsed to the floor in a heap like a burning rag doll. Jolene calmly walked over to him on the floor, watching the smolder on his back continue. Bringing her hands together, she wiped one over the other, like she was wiping away dust, and the flames disappeared, leaving the dead man alone in the dirt. My own heavy breathing was now the only sound in the cell.
I stared down at him and his blank eyes stared back at me. Guilt started to swell in my chest. I had done it again, but this time it wasn’t instinct or to save my life. It was purposeful, and in a fit of anger, I had killed him. I was probably no better than him. Looking up to Jolene, expecting her reproach, she saw my face and lifted her arms around me for a hug. The comfort she gave was so similar to what Franny would do, it was overwhelming and my voice broke with emotion.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened. I just...I heard him laughing and I...I don’t know.”
Keeping our bodies close, she rubbed my arms up and down, trying to shake the jitters out of me.
“Feel better though?”
I looked at her quizzically, blinking away the wetness in my eyes.
“You’re not angry? I just killed a man, your man. Don’t you want to say something about how doing bad things is bad for me, or something similar? Something about the devil, maybe?”
Jolene’s face turned soft, understanding shining through her heart shaped face.
“Sweetheart, he did something terrible to you, wanting justice and closure is perfectly normal.” She now grabbed me by my shoulders. “No one should ever shame you for your feelings, or wanting to do right by yourself. Now, how do you feel?”
I straightened up and looked down at the smoking pile of flesh, and heaved a breath of relief.
“Righteous. Strong….and tired.”
She nodded, feigning no surprise. Taking my arm, she led me over to the cot and I was suddenly so tired I didn’t resist. I briefly looked at Diana over on the opposite far wall. Still peacefully sleeping, her breaths now even and calm, totally unaware that I had now done what she was so afraid of for a second time. And this time, I relished it.
Sitting me down, my mother stood above me and I looked up. Who was this woman? She still had so much to answer for and I should be angry about. The coven, Will’s pack, Diana, Diana’s baby, but all I could seem to think of was that my mother was alive. She ran her hand through my hair, curling a lock between her fingers and I felt sleep wash over me, my head abruptly hitting the pillow.
I startled awake, something outside had woken me but I missed it. Through sleepy eyes I looked around the room, taking a second to remember. Still in the damn dirt cell. Sitting up and stretching out the creaks, I noticed something unusual. I felt good, really good. Like I had a week of full sleep, meals, and exercise. Across the room, Diana was still sleeping in the same prostrate position. There was no concept of time in a windowless room, and I was without a watch or a phone. But from my stiff limbs I guessed several hours had passed since I had murdered my attacker.
I looked at the patch of ground where he had fallen, now bare except for a few marks of dirty ash. Someone had dragged him out of here and only the faint wisp of burnt flesh still lingered in the room. My mother was also long gone, instead, there was a tray of simple foods, some steak, potatoes and a bread roll placed by the doorway. I walked over to it and picked up the bread roll and took a long drink of the orange juice, noticing that it must have been sitting out for a long time as it was tangy.
My mother had mentioned something about the men having dinner, hadn’t she? This looked like a stock standard affair for a mass dinner. I went over to Diana, picking at the roll and felt her forehead, no fever, but she was still sleeping like she was in pain. I gave her a small shake to see if she would rouse, but it had no effect and I decided not to push it if she was still recovering.
I sighed, of course she was, no matter how she had been healed, she still had just had a reluctant C-section. And the baby. Shit, in my fury filled haze and concern for her, I had forgotten all about her baby. I was happy she was alive, but what the hell was my mother’s plan in taking Diana’s baby? I swung around to the door, wondering if the man with the machete was still outside and would force me back in. My hand was on the doorknob when I heard it, the unmistakable howl of something angry and unforgiving.
The wolves had finally come and they were pissed.