A subdued Gwen sat on the bench, waiting to substitute into the game. Her head was not in the game. All she could think of was the long talk she had had with her mother on the phone last night, and how it had ended.
“But Mom! Mom! I had nothing to do with that, and neither did Aiko!” When adults were unreasonable, it was always best to show solidarity with your girls. “Well, Jean-Claude believed the house was haunted too!”
She knew her parting shot had been cruel, and she hated fighting with her mother – only not as much as the injustice of being falsely accused. Lately, the bond of trust between mother and daughter was wearing thin, and Gwen knew it was largely her fault. Okay, totally her fault. All those nights sneaking out with Crystal and Aiko, all the secrets she could no longer share with her mother. April wouldn’t understand, nor would she ever approve.
Most of what they were planning would get them excommunicated from the Choir – one did not get expelled or kicked out of the Choir. One was excommunicated, and in extreme cases, declared anathema. The Wiccan Covens were another matter altogether. They would set a penance that would keep Gwen on her knees until she was eighty, scrubbing floors and toilets until the balance was paid in full. And her mother would ground Crystal and her beyond death – somehow, April would find a way to make it possible.
None of which solved their problem at the house. This morning, someone had replaced the sugar on her cereal with salt, and while four of them saw her spoon it out of the same bowl they had all used, only hers tasted salty. Even Miss Sweider could not explain how Aiko could have done it. Mystical Japanese Vampyre sleight of hand did not cut it with Gwen. Nor did Wiccan wiles explain how she was supposed to have wedged Aiko’s running shoe halfway up the chimney flue. It was less than six inches in diameter, for Gaia’s sake. Maybe trained ninja spiders – invisible trained ninja spiders! But not human girls.
The rotation subbed her into the game. Her mind still troubled, Gwen flubbed her first bump, bouncing the ball off Aiko’s back, where it ricocheted off Jade’s chin and out-of-bounds on the far side of the net. Her teammates were still laughing when the other team served the ball, watching helplessly as it landed in the middle of the court. Miss Sweider yelled encouragement from the sidelines, knowing that with everything else going on, this would not be their tournament.
They dropped the first game, won the middle game convincingly before losing the set in a squeaker – 22 to 20. A disappointing showing against the bottom seeded team in the tournament. There was a four-hour break between sets, and Miss Sweider was tempted to spend it in a gruelling practice. But her girls were tired, and the tournament hosts had organized a bus tour to Springbank Park and something called Storybook Gardens. How dangerous could that be? ῾I mean,᾿ Miss Sweider thought hopelessly, ῾who ever heard of a possessed Mother Goose character?᾿
How dangerous? More so than she could ever imagine. The trip started out pleasant enough – the park was a place of sunshine and shaded walks, full of cyclists and skaters and women with babies and toddlers. And one rather large gang of skinheads. Morgana and her Goth street clothes initially attracted their attention, but it was Gwen who ended up in the altercation with them.
“Hey, fag hag! Can we see your tramp stamp?” A bald, rough youth called out, grabbing his crotch.
“When you grow a set,” Morgana taunted.
“Woooot!” Four or five others ribbed, pushing and shoving the first.
“Come over here, and I’ll show you something your faggot boyfriend never will!” He retorted, rolling to his feet and thrusting his hips at her.
“Leave off, dirtbag!” Gwen snapped, leaving the main group to catch her girl’s back. She really was spending too much time with the Goths.
“Oh, don’t worry, baby,” he crowed, “there’s plenty here for both of you.”
“You better watch it!” Gwen warned.
“Or what?” He demanded menacingly.
“Or I will hurt you in ways you’ve never imagined.”
It was so on. Gwen had been secretly training with Aiko for months now – some of those spiders were big and vicious. When the skinhead grabbed for her hair, she threw him over her shoulder and into a tree. That brought all the others to their feet and rushing in to catch his back. Dike bitches! Gwen caught the first with a flying kick that surprised even her. A second caught her foot and threw her. Gwen fell the way Aiko had taught her and rolled to her feet in time to take a kick to the head.
By this time, the other girls noticed their two friends were missing and turned back to witness the opening moments of the ensuing mêlée. Red-eyed with their inner demons, Crystal and Kristen arrived in a flash. Kristen released a pheromone storm that cut across the skinheads’ anger. Distracted, the thugs who surrounded her were easy meat when Ember came flying in with fist and feet.
Gwen was everywhere behaving in a very un-Wiccan manner. She had fractured one of the boy’s arms, and broken several noses. The eye poke came in very handy. By the time the police arrived, she had blinded several of her attackers and castrated others with well-placed kicks. Sometimes old-school methods worked best. There was no doubt that Gwen had started it – sort of – but this group were known troublemakers. And although they had come off second best, the police frowned on grown boys brawling with girls and took several of the skinheads away in cuffs. The girls they let return to their volleyball tournament with a warning.
Miss Sweider stood at the head of the change room, studying the girls. Several of them sported black eyes, and they were all covered in scrapes and bruised. All except Aiko, who was sulking because she had missed the brawl. They were boisterous, over-excited and full of hot air and bullshit. She thought about the lecture she had composed on the bus ride back to the Labatt’s Centre, wondering if it was worth the waste of breath. In the end, she sighed her surrender and forgot about it. Academy girls would be Academy girls no matter what.
The Ghosts were still pumped when they hit the court. The top-seeded team never saw what hit them. The Ghosts won the first and third games without conceding a point, and the second in a convincing fashion. Crystal, Aiko and Kristen – they were all over the court. They owned the ball in a way only someone with their inner demon on could. Perhaps a little too much. Several national scouts may have noticed, a reporter from the local paper had, but they were too pumped to be reined in. God, let this day be over.
Back at the house, Miss Sweider retired to her room with a headache, leaving Cantara to deal with supper and the girls. If anyone or anything disturbed her tonight – flesh and blood Ghost or poltergeist – someone was going to suffer. If they thought they had run wind sprints in the past, push her tonight, and they would see how many it took to make them puke.
A subdued group gathered in the kitchen for a quiet meal of chilli and toast. It really wasn’t their fault, Gwen tried to explain to Cantara. Those skinheads were very rude to Morgana. They were the ones who were itching for trouble, and besides, she had hardly done anything to that first boy. It was the tree that should have been upset. Cantara, sorting out the confused babble that followed, suggested a quiet night in their rooms might be in order. Besides, after a brawl sandwiched between six volleyball games, she was surrounded by a sea of very sleepy girls.
After dark, the house lay quiet and still. Aiko had discovered narrow stairs that led up to a room in the attic, where she could spend some time alone practicing her katas. She was disappointed in herself for feeling hurt because she had missed the brawl. They were only mortals, not even Goth demon hunters. She could have broken them all without raising a sweat. No challenge there, nothing to stretch her skills as a fighter. So why was she so disappointed? It puzzled her.
She worked with her swords tonight. Their blades whirled in steely arcs, visible to her eyes even in the darkness, but too few others in the house. She pressed harder, faster and faster, feet and hands a dance of speed and grace. She was sweating now. Still, she wove her confusion into the motion of her blades. The katas had always brought her comfort and peace, a calmness that centred her thoughts. But not tonight.
Cantara, in the basement in response to another power outage, had only now reached the breaker panel. She and Aiko felt his presence at the same moment. There was no mistaking the cold stillness that followed a vampyre, nor that stench of blood and the grave. Both moved to intercept, Cantara pulling knives from her sleeve, Aiko still bearing her swords. They met in the front hall, nearly colliding outside the door to a small, front office. Their quarry heard them, and the sound of breaking glass marked his leap out the window.
Aiko sprinted out the front door; Cantara gave chase through the office, following the vampyre out the window. As they pursued their quarry, others in the house awoke to the sound of breaking glass and gathered, first at the head of the stairs, and then down in the front hall.
Discovering the power was out, Crystal sent Kristen off to fix the breaker. The electrician had found nothing wrong with the wiring and had suggested they watch how many appliances they were plugging in, but it was getting really old fast. In the office, she studied the room, still able to see in the darkness. The broken window drew her eye. The room was too small for a bed, more a glorified closet than anything else. It’s only furnishing was a small secretary desk and an antique coat rack. She really could not see anything anyone could want in here, and the intruder had definitely been looking for something.
Miss Sweider joined her when the lights came back on, pointing to the window. “Who is responsible for that, and don’t tell me a ghost?”
“Vampyre, not ghost,” Cantara replied as she climbed back in through the window. “Aiko’s still chasing him. Kids fast, but not as fast as what we were chasing.”
Crystal had searched the room, ignoring their by-play. As her eyes adjusted to the lights, she spotted a loose section of floorboards. An old-style oak floor of one-inch slats, four or five of the boards were split and pried up.
“He was after something under here,” Crystal commented. “Morgana, help me lift these.”
Morgana crossed the floor, dropping down beside Crystal. The slats were tight together, and in some places, the cracks between them too narrow even for fingernails kept as long as claws. Managing to pry up one of the narrow boards, they could see that there was something underneath. Frustrated, Morgana took out her knife and used it to pry at a second board. Excited by their discovery, the other girls crowded around, making their work in these cramped quarters even more awkward.
“Okay, girls,” Miss Sweider announced, “you’ll all see it soon enough. Gwen and Jade, go find some brooms and sweep up this glass. Cantara, I thought I saw a board on the back porch – do you think there’s such a thing as a hammer and nails in this place?”
As the other girls moved off to the chores, real and imagined, the last two continued working on the floorboards. The remaining pieces were stubborn, jammed together so tightly they were lifting the other pieces around them. And then Crystal was able to reach in with her long, slender fingers and pulled out a small leather-bound book more or less in one piece.
“What is it?” Morgana asked anxiously.
“Some kind of diary,” Crystal replied, puzzled. As she looked at the spidery writing inside, she felt like she had back in the hospital when Gwen had first given her the English novel. “Why do you think a vampyre would want this?”
“Who knows?” Morgana replied, teasing. “You could read it, or maybe you can ask him.”
“You’re a peach,” Crystal groaned. “With friends like you, who needs enemies.”
The broken window cleaned up, the girls gathered in the living room to study the book. Once Crystal understood the difference between cursive script and printing, she had no problem reading it. Or almost no problem. The language was stilted – old-fashioned and from an earlier day. Some of the references made no sense to any of them, and the names were all strangers, long dead and hopefully still in their graves.
“It’s a journal,” Gwen commented. “And I think that name there is Donnelly.”
“You sure?” Crystal questioned. “It looks like Dooley.”
And so all the girls had to give it a look, some agreeing with Gwen, some with Crystal, and others adding Dooney, Dougley and Doodles to the mix. One by one, they took up the diary, flipping through random pages and reading a passage out loud. Aiko, who barely read English, stumbled through a passage that caught everyone’s attention. They made her read it over several times.
“We could hear their voices – angry and sharp – long before their torches became visible. ῾Black Donnellys᾿ they called my husband and my sons, and tonight they were baying for his blood.
Helpless we were before their numbers, that great angry beast of a mob we once called neighbours. No more than women and children, we could do nothing as my sweet James was dragged from our home and beaten, his hands handcuffed behind his back.
Who will give my James justice? My husband was an honest man, a man who ran a stagecoach line that benefited these same neighbours who murdered us all. If only he had never brought the black book home.
“Read it again,” Gwen teased the flustered vampyre.
“How about I beat you with it instead?” Aiko hissed.
Jacob was surprised when Lord Delph had returned with the girl. Was this what he meant when he had asked the Loogaroo how far he would go to prevent their extinction? Whatever had been done to her in the demon’s lair, there was something strange and creepy about her now. She would sit staring blankly for hours and not even his wife could rouse her from her stupor. At others, she would follow his wife around, capable of performing simple tasks, but oblivious to her surroundings. And the moment anyone chose to have a private word, she would turn up underfoot.
Take care of her, the young lordling had commanded. Easier said than done when Sky was incapable of feeding herself and yet had a disconcerting habit of disappearing the moment your back was turned.
“Sire, come quickly!’ Jasper, his youngest son, burst in, panting from the exertion of a hard run.
“What is it, my child?”
“The girl is in with the chickens,” the boy wheezed. “Please, come quickly!”
When Jacob reached the barn and its chicken coop, Sky had caught a hen. He watched, repulsed as she bit the bird, injecting it with her venom. She set it down, watching fascinated as it took one step and flopped to the ground. Its body contorted cruelly as it withered in pain. Around her nine other carcasses, some still convulsing, littered the hen yard.
“Go into the house, son,” Jacob instructed. “And say nothing to the others. I will take care of our guest.”
His son nodded dutifully and ran off. When his son was gone, Jacob turned back, shuddering as another bird died. Yes, something was very wrong here.