Morning at the King Street residence arrived in the early afternoon when fifteen nervous girls streamed downstairs to the kitchen in search of breakfast. They met the forgotten disaster from last night and Miss Sweider’s clipboard and its list of chores. Groaning, the girls set to work sorting, washing and putting away dishes. Fortunately, the glasses and plates were plastic – several had landed as far away as the dining room. Some of the pots had not fared so well. One, the largest, had been crushed and now looked like a distorted eight.
“Maybe we could use it as a doorstop,” Gwen suggested.
“Or a bra,” Jade teased, holding it up and wiggling it at Morgana. “It almost looks like that ridiculous thing you were wearing last summer.”
“Don’t be silly, Jade,” Morgan retorted. “It’s much too small.”
“Too many girls standing around flapping their gums,” Miss Sweider warned. “Aiko and Morgana, why don’t you two find some brooms and sweep up that pile of leaves in the living room.”
The house fell into a quiet broken only by the sounds of their chores. Sent on an errand upstairs, where someone had left the faucets in the sink and shower running, Crystal tripped halfway up the stairs. Frowning at her banged knee, she looked down and caught a glimpse of something shiny jammed into a crack in the stairs. Stopping, she worked at it with one of her fingernails. Where the faceplate met the step, the old wood had broken, leaving an eight-inch slot starting from the banister.
Her fingernails were too short. With the point of the crucifix on her rosary, something she now wore beneath her shirt at all times, she was able to push it towards the banister. Here the slot widened, and she was able to pick it up.
“Crystal!” Cantara called, “can you turn off that water, it’s leaking through the ceiling.”
Without looking at her friend, Crystal sprang to her feet, yelling, “I’m on it!”
Crystal rejoined her teammates in the kitchen. Breakfast was frying on the stove, and four of the girls were setting the table. As Miss Sweider called each girl, she noticed Aiko was missing.
“Has anyone seen Aiko? Morgana, wasn’t she helping you in the living room?”
“Last I saw of her, she went off to find a broom,” Morgana replied, mimicking, “housework is for food.”
Her words began a search. The fourteen girls ran through the house, calling Aiko’s name. With no response, they began to look in unlikely places – under beds, down the dumbwaiter and laundry chute, and out in the backyard. And that led to a search of the closets. In the broom closet in the front hall, Crystal pried open its stubborn door and found a very angry vampyre glaring back at her.
“Housework is for animal eaters and food,” she spat.
“Oh, Little Cousin,” Crystal laughed. “What happened?”
“I stepped into this closet to fetch a broom, and the door slammed shut.” Aiko eyed the others as they ran up. “If this was someone’s idea of a joke, I will bleed them without feeding.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” Gwen commiserated, throwing her into an unwanted hug. “We were so worried. Imagine, you could have suffocated. Are there any spiders in there?”
Aiko looked across Gwen’s shoulder and hissed at Crystal. This was all her fault.
As they retired to the dining room to eat breakfast, Crystal felt something in her pocket and remembered the thing she had found on the stairs. Taking her seat at the table, she paused to pull it out. It was a gold ring – an old piece of costume jewellery she thought until she saw the diamond. She did not know carets from carrots, but this stone looked big. Too expensive for any of the girls to own.
“Uhm,” she asked, “Miss Sweider, did you or Cantara lose any jewellery since we came to the house?”
“I don’t wear jewellery, sweetheart,” Miss Sweider replied. “Do you Cantara?”
“None that I brought with me on this trip,” the djinn replied. “Why?”
“I found this on the stairs this morning.”
Crystal held out the diamond ring in the palm of her hand. Even from the far side of the table, the large diamond stood out.
“If that’s real,” Morgana breathed, “it would be worth a fortune. It’s not mine, but I wish Drake had given it to me.”
“Oooh, can I see it?” Jade asked.
The ring began making its rounds of the table. Aiko squinted at it and grudgingly said it might be real, and Cantara agreed with her.
“Ouch!” Gwen cried when the ring was passed to her, dropping it into her orange juice. “It’s bloody hot.”
Miss Sweider took a bowl and dumped the orange juice into it, fishing out the ring. “That’s not what they mean by a hot ring, dear. It feels fine to me.”
Gwen tried holding it again and snatched her hand back with a squeak. “It may not be stolen, but it’s scalding my fingers.”
“Let me try,” Gem asked. It was sometimes hard to tell the twins apart, but Gem was more sensitive to psychic phenomena than her sister. “Gwen’s right, it is warm. We should do a reading on it.”
And then all the Wiccans in the group had to try the ring again. They would have trooped off into the living room right there and then to do a reading if Miss Sweider hadn’t insisted that they finish their breakfast and do the dishes first. Gwen and Aiko, who were sitting across the table from each other, glared daggers. And breakfast came to a thundering close with a pair of bruised shins.
“Hey, girlfriend!” Gwen accused. “You kicked me!”
“You are mistaken,” Aiko hissed, “if I had kicked you, you would be incapable of walking.”
“Ugh!” Gwen snapped, “you’re always pretending to be such a badass!”
“I assure you,” Aiko replied levelly. “I am a badass.”
“If you kick me again,” Gwen threatened, “I’ll hex you! I’ll! I’ll put boils on your bum!”
“Gwen!” Crystal scolded through a laugh. “There is no way Aiko could have kicked you. Look under the table.”
Gwen ducked her head below the level of the tabletop and frowned. Down the centre of the table, running end to end about four inches from the floor, a board blocked all but a few feet at the head or foot of the table. They were sitting to the left of the centre.
“Well, someone kicked me,” Gwen wailed, standing to show the bruises forming on either shin.
“Enough!” Miss Sweider threw up her hands in defeat. “I don’t want any more Shenanigans for the rest of the day. Clear up the dishes, and then you can have an hour to play with the ring before the team meeting.”
In the living room, the household reassembled to watch the Wiccan girls read the ring. Despite herself, Miss Sweider was curious. Although the only ghosts she believed in were the girls on her team, and she had grown up believing séances were the games of baby Wiccans, she had seen the older covens do some amazing things. And if it could keep the girls out of trouble, at least for an hour, she would thank any and every spirit.
Gwen sat in the middle of the living room floor. She would lead the ceremony with Jade and Gem. They sat with their hands linked, the ring placed on a black silk cloth in the centre of the circle they formed. They placed their crystals at three of the four cardinal points, the south – the cardinal point associated with Uriel, Guardian Angel of Death – left open.
“Okay,” Gwen licked her lips nervously. “Everyone has to be very still. I have only ever done this once, and it can be dangerous.”
“Gwen,” Miss Sweider warned.
“It’s okay,” Jade piped up. “Gwen is the strongest in our whole school.”
Their coach nodded warily, and the three girls took up their positions again. It was only Wiccan child’s play, right? Not like a real Wiccan ceremony. For an achingly long time, Gwen sat still, eyes closed and head bent over the ring. Was it her imagination? Were the three crystals actually glowing? There was no mistaking – the crystal’s had moved, changing alignment to point directly at the ring.
The power went out.
“Blood!” Gwen shouted. “Blood everywhere! On the walls! On the ceiling. Crying! The pain! Oh, God, the pain!”
She fell silent, breaking the spell.
“Who shut out the lights?” Gwen asked, mystified.
“They went out again,” Cantara complained. “I’ll go check the breaker. You should have an electrician look at the wiring on Monday, Crystal.”
“Never mind that,” Crystal wailed plaintively. “What about the ring? What did you see?”
“Yes,” Morgana urged. “Was it a vampyre attack?”
“I don’t know,” Gwen replied hesitantly. “Something tragic and bloody is connected with this ring.”
“Maybe that’s why all those weird things are happening,” Jade offered.
“Oh, come on, girls,” Miss Sweider remonstrated. “Everything that has happened has a logical explanation. You have enough to worry about with vampyres and demons and angels. Don’t go borrowing trouble.”
“What about the dishes?” Morgana countered. Ever since that séance on Crystal’s birthday, she believed in ghosts with every fibre of her being.
“Nothing that a good carpenter couldn’t fix,” Miss Sweider replied reasonably. “Have you taken a good look at those shelves? All warped and split and wobbly. It was an accident waiting to happen.”
“And the water coming on by itself in the bathroom - .”
“One forgetful teenage girl had nothing to do with that? And doors in these old houses often close on their own, mostly due to the old hinges and drafts,” Miss Sweider ticked off, concluding, “and the wiring is probably faulty.”
“But what about my bum and shins?” Gwen wailed, and the girls laughed.
After the team meeting, Miss Sweider thought things in the house had finally settled down. For two hours, they had gone over scouting reports on the other teams and discussed overall strategy. A practice would have been nice. And given everything that had happened this morning, she felt that burning off some of that excess energy on the court would prevent further mischief.
A long and careful examination of recent events revealed that Gwen and Aiko were the targets of these pranks, and suspecting she had uncovered the culprits, Miss Sweider set that pair to organizing the team’s equipment. One grumbling, the other in sullen silence, they trundled in the equipment from the van. A bag of balls, two nets, miscellaneous knee pads, water bottles and shirts slowly littered the living room floor. One must make a mess before one could tidy up.
“Hey!” Gwen shouted.
Aiko turned to find Gwen draped and tangled in one of the nets. Standing impassive before her anger, Aiko thought the girl clumsy and uncoordinated. Only a gaijin could lose a battle against string and rope.
“This isn’t funny, Aiko. Why did you throw the net over me?” Gwen demanded.
“I did nothing.”
“Well,” Gwen sighed, exasperated. “Don’t just stand there, help me. I don’t know why you hate me so much? What did I ever do to you?”
Choosing not to remember another net and her own ineptness, Aiko scolded, “I do not hate you. You are too clumsy. You bring shame to your house, blaming another for your own shortcomings.”
“I did not throw this net on myself,” Gwen shot back. “It was across the room where you were working. Did it suddenly decide to jump my bones?”
Aiko frowned, looking down at her feet. Of its own volition, the net seemed to have wrapped itself around her legs. Still frowning, she fell, dragging Gwen down with her.
“Smooth move Ex-Lax,” Gwen scolded.
When Gwen attempted to climb to her knees, the net pulled her on top of Aiko.
“And this is helping?” Aiko retorted.
“Good idea,” Gwen replied, realizing they were hopelessly tangled. “Help! Someone help!”
A dozen sets of feet from an equal number of directions came pounding into the living room. Finding the two wrapped up like a Christmas package, the net bound in dozens of places, and their arms pinned to their sides….. Well, you had to laugh, right?
“Can’t I leave you two alone for five minutes?” Miss Sweider complained as she came to investigate the commotion.
“The net attacked us,” Gwen pouted. “Honestly.”
“Let’s help them out of there,” she sighed. “And then I want the two of you to spend the afternoon in your rooms thinking about how disruptive these childish pranks are.”
By dinner time, Miss Sweider was ready to concede defeat. She was considering calling April for some advice. When the equipment in the living room was cleared away, they found every volleyball deflated – punctured by what looked suspiciously like fangs. Aiko, with her submissive Japanese manners, made an unlikely suspect. Unless one remembered that she was a cold-blooded assassin and the only one of the two with fangs. Where had Gwen gotten the slime she had dumped into Aiko’s shoes? Even if poltergeists existed, Miss Sweider refused to believe they slimed things. It was too – too Ghost Busters.
The bra in the toilet was the last straw. She made the two girls clean up the flooded bathroom and called April!