I rub my bandaged hands against my arms to smooth down my goosebumps as we pull into the gravel driveway. I have a bad feeling about this place. I don’t like it. If this were one of my books, this would be the antagonists house. I can see it now.
Inside awaits my abusive husband who just found out that I have been cheating on him with the sexy and mysterious Judas who I met in the grocery store last week. My imaginary abusive husband is sitting in his recliner in the dark, silent living room, a half empty glass of whiskey in his hand. The glass clinks as I walk through the door and he clicks on the table lamp, glowering at me. He’s found me out! Oh no! Judas! I have to warn him before…
I snap out of my imagination when Toby opens his door. The gravel crunches under his feet. I shiver again.
“You two stay here. Me and Hazel will go talk to her,” Toby says.
“Why don’t I get to come with?” Jude whines. Neither Jude or me are in the best shape to be walking into an unfamiliar place.
Toby just give him a look and he doesn’t say anything else. I don’t mind. This means I get to be alone with Jude. All alone. I shiver again, but for a different reason this time. I nearly blush again when I think about him brushing my cheek earlier.
Hazel looks at me and turns up her nose. What the heck is her problem? I scrunch up my face and stick out my tongue at her as she walks away. She can’t suddenly decide that she likes Jude. She’s had every chance in the world, and now that she knows I like him, suddenly she’s interested? Whatever. Bitch. Okay, I feel bad for thinking that. She’s a sweetheart. Plus, I really would never date Jude. I don’t mess around with players. I had enough of those in high school.
“What are you two fighting about?” Jude asks casually.
“Nothing,” I say too quickly. I glance at him. “You look terrible.”
“I didn’t… mean it like that…” I mentally slap myself. Nice. Tell the hot guy that he looks terrible. Smooth.
“I know what you meant. I’m pretty sure none of us look very good right now,” he says with a laugh. “With the exception of Hazel, who has yet to be injured in any way.”
“Don’t jinx it!” I frantically search around for something wooden to knock on. Don’t make fun of me. I am a very superstitious person. Jude watches me in amusement, and then suddenly he looks concerned. I stop searching. “What?”
“It’s nothing…” He’s watching something out the window. “Don’t get out of the van.” I stay quiet as he watches whatever it is that only he can see. His concern turns to confusion. “What the hell?” he murmurs. He quickly unbuckles and starts getting out.
“Wait, where are you going? Can I get out now?”
“Whatever you want, I don’t care.” He slams the door shut and starts toward the house. I hurry and get out and run to catch up with his long strides.
“What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure, but I don’t like it.”
We reach the faded door and Jude pounds on it impatiently. After a few seconds, it flies open. A young woman stands with her hands on her hips, lips pursed.
“Seriously?” she snaps. “How many of you are there?” I’m assuming that this is not Amy. Amy would be in her 60’s. This woman looks no older than 35. I instantly go into cop mode.
“Amy Long?” I ask in an official tone.
The woman’s lip twitches just slightly. “No. Amy was my mother.”
“I wasn’t aware that she had any children,” I say, crossing my arms. Her profile didn’t say she had children and she was also unmarried.
The woman sighs. “Look, I already explained everything to your friends in there. Do I really have to go over it again?” I stand there, waiting. “Fine. Come in. I guess I’ll do my introduction again.” She steps aside and lets us in. Hazel and Toby are sitting at a small kitchen table, where we join them. I shiver again.
“As I was explaining to your friends here, who are much more polite than you two, my mother only recently found out about me. She passed away last week and left all of her stuff to me in her will, since I’m her only living relative.”
Jude nods, but I can tell he doesn’t believe her. “I’m sorry about our rudeness. I’m Jude, by the way.” He reaches his hand across the table, but she just stares at it.
“Sorry, I have a phobia of germs.”
“Oh, you must have had this house deep cleaned before moving in, then.”
“What are you implying?”
“What are you hiding?”
Everyone holds their breath as the woman and Jude stare at each other intently. Jude’s hand is still in the middle of the table.
Finally, the woman smirks. “I like you. Your honest. Stupid, but honest.” She shakes his hand, and Jude immediately jumps up from his chair.
“You’re a witch!” he spits, disgust plain on his face.
“Sit down!” Jude falls heavily into his chair. He tries to get up, but he’s stuck. I try to stand up, but I feel like something is holding me to the chair. Based on Hazel and Toby’s reactions, so are they.
“I’m not going to hurt you, so calm down, kiddies.” She stands up and stretches casually. “Sheesh, you psychics always freak out when you find out what I am. Not all witches are bad.” She looks at Jude. “I do understand your aversion to them, though.” She makes a tsking noise. “It was unfortunate, being born to that woman.”
I try to talk, but my voice is gone, along with my ability to remove myself from this damned chair.
The woman moves around behind Jude, who struggles, trying to get away. She places her hands on his shoulders and he freezes, terrified. “Don’t be so scared,” she says, gently this time. “Keeping you restrained is for my own protection. At least give me a chance to explain things before you start jumping to conclusions.” She places her hand over the gash on Jude’s neck and closes her eyes. She whispers something incomprehensible under her breath and then removes his bandages.
My mouth drops open in amazement. His wound is healed, not even a scar left. Next, she moves on to Toby, placing her hands on his face. When she removes them, his bruises and scrapes are gone, replaced with fresh, new skin. Finally, she holds my hands lightly. I feel a tingling sensation, and the throbbing pain diminishes.
After her little healing show, she looks closer to being in her 60’s. “Now that you’re all feeling better, I’ll allow you to speak.”
“You motherfu…” Jude is cut off almost immediately.
“You just lost your speaking privileges until further notice. Next!”
“If you aren’t bad, then why are you not letting us move?” Hazel accuses.
The woman looks at her thoughtfully. “You’re right. Jude is the only one who wants to kill me, so I’ll keep him restrained. The rest of you are free to stand as long as you don’t try anything foolish.”
I move my legs and breath out a sigh of relief. “I’m guessing you really are Amy Long?”
Amy bows. “At your service. And I’m guessing you’re here to ask me about the Colton house? Just kidding, that’s not a guess. I read your minds.” She looks at Jude. “Oh, stop it. You do it, too. You just can’t do it from a distance. I’m like a new laptop with Wi-Fi, and you are like an old desktop with an Ethernet port.”
This witchy whore is messing with my bae. I don’t like her. Even if she did heal all of us. Including Jude. Wait. I’m so confused… do I hate her or thank her?
“I’ll make my explanation quick. I lived near the Colton’s. They were being targeted by some… undesirable people. I offered my services to them. I placed wards around their house to keep out any uninvited guests. Somehow, someone or something got around my wards, and killed the whole family. I’m sure you know the rest of that story. Anyways, long story short, I failed, so I moved away because I felt bad. See? Good witch. I tried to help someone. I’ve never hurt anyone. Any questions?”
“Yes. Was there another girl beside Olivia that was murdered? Maybe a friend?” I ask.
Amy looks puzzled. “Another girl? No. Olivia didn’t have very many friends. I knew the family very well. If there had been another girl there, I would have known about it.” Amy looks at Jude again. “Oh, you’re ready to talk now?”
“Do you have wards up around your property?” Jude asks almost breathlessly. He must have been waiting forever to ask.
“Of course. I’m not an idiot.” Jude nods, looking relieved. “If I let you go, are you going to behave?”
“I’m pretty sure you don’t have a choice. You can’t hold me for much longer with that little bit of power you have stored up,” Jude smirks. “But fine. I’ll play nice.”
“For how much you hate witches, you sure seem to know a lot about them,” Amy says thoughtfully. “Did your mom teach you that?”
“Tell you what, don’t bring up that bitch, and I won’t kill you. Deal?”
“Someone has mommy issues.” Jude starts to stand up, but I grab his arm. I stare at my hand, still in awe at the fact that it’s completely healed.
“She’s just trying to make you mad. Ignore her,” I hiss. Louder, I say, “Well, it sounds like you don’t know anything. I guess we’ll be on our way.”
“Going so soon? I’m disappointed. It’s not often that I get company. Stay for dinner!” She really does look disappointed, even though the welcome wasn’t very warm. “I can teach you some wards to keep away those pesky ghosts. I have charms to keep you from being possessed. I even have charms to temporarily keep you from harm.”
“We don’t want any of your witchcraft,” Jude says. At the same time, Hazel says, “I would love to learn a few tricks.” They glare at each other.
“Uh oh, trouble in paradise? Young lovers quarrel?” Amy purrs. She sounds like she’s enjoying this whole situation.
“We aren’t lovers!” they both shout.
“My mistake, my mistake. Look, I’m harmless, really. But I know that you know that there are things out there that aren’t harmless. I’m offering you protection. Just take it.”
Jude stands up and walks out, slamming the door behind him, leaving a gaping silence.
“I think the rest of us are perfectly willing to accept your help,” Hazel finally says diplomatically.
I cringe. Jude won’t be happy. “I don’t think we should. Jude seems to know a lot about this kind of stuff…”
“So do I,” Hazel snaps. I clamp my mouth shut. If she wants to get into it with Jude, so be it.
“You know, I think I’ll pass,” I say, shoving my chair back from the table and stalking toward the door. Toby follows suit.
“Sorry, I don’t trust witches,” Toby says before closing the door behind him. Once we are out of earshot, he lets out a breath. “Normally, I’d totally be on her side, but… a witch? You don’t mess around with witches. She should know that by now.”
“What did Amy mean when she kept mentioning Jude’s mom?”
Toby looks at the sky thoughtfully and doesn’t answer for a moment. “I think that’s something he should tell you in his own time.” I cross my arms and stick out my lip, trying for a pouty look. It doesn’t work. Toby rolls his eyes and walks away. When we reach the van, Jude is digging around in the back and cursing.
“What uh… whatchya doin, guy?” Toby asks. I have a feeling he already knows, based on his tone.
“You know what I’m looking for, asshole, don’t pretend that you don’t,” Jude growls.
“Oh, you mean these?” Toby pulls a bottle of pills out of his pocket and shakes them. “You steal these from the hospital?” Jude glares. “You can’t just start popping pills every time things start getting stressful.”
“You have no idea what I go through every day.”
“No, you’re right. I don’t. Maybe instead of trying to get high and dull the pain, you could try talking to me about it. It might actually help. If you don’t want to talk to me, talk to Hazel or Maria.” Jude lunges for the pills, but Toby yelps and takes off running. There’s a shallow, swampy pond in the middle of the yard. I’m guessing his plan is to dump them.
I yelp and grab at Jude when he takes off after him, but he shakes me off easily. When I was still a police officer, I could have taken him down, but I am way out of practice. It must be quite the scene, me chasing Jude, and Jude chasing Toby. Toby makes it to the pond just as Jude reaches him and tackles him into the pond. I’m not even close to the pond yet. Darn my short legs. They struggle for a few seconds before Toby finally gets the bottle open and pours it into the pond.
Jude makes a frustrated noise and shoves Toby into the grass. Toby lays on the grass and raises the empty bottle in victory. Jude drags himself out of the pond and flops down next to him, breathing heavily. Both of them are completely soaked.
“I hate you,” Jude says breathlessly.
“You’re welcome,” Toby replies, just as breathless.
I stand over them and look down at their faces. Jude’s hair is plastered to his face, and Toby’s usual spiky hair is flattened. “Feel better now?” I ask Jude.
“I feel like I’m covered in disgusting pond water.” Toby laughs, and after a few seconds Jude grins. I move around in front of them and offer my hands to help them both up.
“You know,” I say as I pull them to their feet, “This kind of reminds me of when I met you three. Except that it was you helping me up.”
“When you threatened to arrest me and Jude for public intoxication? And you were just as drunk as we were?” Toby snorts. “I’m surprised you remember any of it.”
“Aaaaaaand that’s why we have the rule of no drinking on the job.”
“You weren’t even working,” Jude scoffs. “You just happened to get lost on your way home from the bar and thought we were breaking into someone’s house.”
“Technically, you were,” I point out.
Hazel was inside the client’s house, working, while Jude and Toby went to the bar. They thought they lost the key to the house and were trying to climb in through one of the windows. Hazel was inside the entire time, so she could have let them in. They also had the key the entire time, but they were so drunk that they couldn’t find it. It was in Jude’s pocket.
I was walking home, not nearly as drunk as they were, mind you. I saw them trying to climb through the window and decided to intervene. “Hey!” I said. “What are you guys doing? Is this your house?”
Jude was hanging from the windowsill by his fingertips, while Toby held his foot clumsily. Toby let go as soon as he saw me, making Jude slip and fall. “Um… I mean… not really,” Toby replied nervously. “We just work here.”
“And you need to climb through the window? Don’t you have a key or something? Are you window washers or something?” I asked sarcastically.
Jude stumbled to his feet. “I lost the key,” he said, ashamed.
“A likely story from a couple of burglars. Put your hands in the air,” I said as I walked/fell toward them. Okay, so I was a little more drunk than I originally thought.
“What are you, a cop?” Jude snickered.
“As a matter of fact, I am,” I said, straightening my shoulders proudly.
“Cops are allowed to drink while on duty now? Man, I wanna be a cop,” Jude joked.
“Hey!” I pointed my finger at him unsteadily. “I am not a man.”
“Clearly.” Jude pointedly stared at my breasts.
I covered my chest, blushing. “Pig!” I spat. Jude just grinned and shrugged. “Don’t smile! I am arresting you! You shouldn’t be smiling! You should be very upset and… and… scared!”
“I actually don’t believe that you are a cop. Unless cops patrol while completely plastered,” Toby said.
“I can prove it!” I searched my pocket for my badge, before remembering that the reason I was out drinking was because I, in fact, was no longer was a cop. The realization was so sudden that I started sobbing uncontrollably.
“Wow,” Jude said, walking toward me slowly. “Hey, we were just joking around. It’s okay. Please stop crying. It’s very awkward.”
Through sobs, I screamed, “You have no idea how to comfort a girl! You’re just like that asshole!”
The front door to the house opened, and Hazel stood in the doorway. “What did you two idiots do?” she said, placing her hands on her hips.
“What?!” Toby squeaked. “We didn’t do anything! She just started crying!” I continued sobbing and fell down in the damp grass. I’m sure I looked pitiful. Toby and Hazel argued, but I couldn’t hear them over my sobs.
I sensed someone near me and lifted my head up. Jude was staring at me, sadly, and lifted my chin up with his finger. “He didn’t deserve you. Don’t let any guy ever treat you like that again.” I was so surprised that I stopped sobbing, and sniffed, staring into his extraordinarily blue eyes. “You have a beautiful smile,” Jude said with a sloppy grin.
My breath caught in my throat. “I didn’t smile,” I whispered.
“I know,” he said with a quiet laugh. He offered me his hand to help me up.
The door to Amy’s house opens with a creek, pulling me out of my memories. Hazel walks out with a small bag full of who knows what kind of freaky witchcraft items. Jude looks pissed. Toby just looks nervous.
Hazel walks up to us, looking at Jude. “Jude, just hear me out…” That’s as far as she gets before Jude turns briskly and stomps off to the van. She looks to me, but I look away uncomfortably. Our job is to get rid of things like this. Hauntings in houses aren’t always caused by spirits. Sometimes, they are cursed objects, usually placed there by an angry witch or an angry person who got the object from a witch.
Hazel looks like she is about to cry, but she doesn’t. “What? You’re all going to stop talking to me now? Fine. I’m just trying to keep us safe, but go ahead. Hate me for caring.” She sniffs and rolls her shoulders back, before walking stiffly to the van.
“This should be a fun drive,” Toby mutters.