Tom peers into my face. “She's alright. Her energy is just depleted.” He reaches into a sack he carries draped over his shoulders and pulls out a small cookie that he presses to my lips. “Eat this. It will help to bring back your senses.”
I open my mouth to accept it and the flavor of nuts and other wild things flare on my tongue as I chew the dense offering and swallow it down. A moment later my head stops spinning. I pull myself to my knees amazed to find that my body no longer aches and I am able to stand. A deep sense of calm settles over me, stilling my crashing emotions, and when I look around… I can see, truly see.
Tom is a shining man, tall and gangly with eyes that glow a forest green. The men around him aren't men at all but trolls large and toothy. My eyes fall on Jared still held hostage between them and I find that he is something else as well, something that glows with a beautiful white inner light. As I watch, the troll holding Jared shifts him roughly. I look to Tom. “You're not going to hurt him, are you?”
Tom turns to me. “You're still worried about him, after what he put you through?”
In truth I am furious with Jared but even fuelled with anger I can't wish him any harm. Parts of our earlier conversation drift back to me and I press my hand to my eyes and will my thoughts into an understandable order. “You don’t understand. He didn't want to do it…Before he took me, he told me… he didn’t want to do it but he had no choice.”
Tom's eyes narrow as he mulls over my words. A moment passes before he crosses the space to Jared and rips the shirt from his back. Jared falls to the ground on his knees, arms bound behind his back and all of us see the ugly scars that mar his shoulders.
The trolls take a step backward.
“Wait!” Tom commands. “He may be stripped but he is not one of the fallen.” Though Tom's words seem to calm them, I can tell the trolls are still wary. The smallest of the trio rocks back and forth on his feet as if he going to bolt at any moment.
Tom turns to Jared who is still on his knees. “I give you this single chance to speak.” When he bends down, his knife flashes in the light and I gasp as I watch the blade strike to slice the rag closing Jared's mouth. A small cut opens on Jared's cheek, but though blood beads along the edges of the wound, he ignores it. Then I blink hard when I see the skin quickly knit itself back together. As if by magic it disappears, his cheek is smooth again, completion flawless, like the cut was never there.
Jared moves his chin back and forth working the gag until it falls from his lips. He gazes mournfully at me. “It is true…I had no choice.” The instant the words leave his mouth, it is as if a bolt of electricity hits him and he falls to the ground to writhe in pain.
“What enchantment is this?” creaks the grasshopperman.
Tom does not waver. “We all have choices.”
Jared's torment comes to an end. He lies gasping before he looks up, face ashen, eyes glisten with tears. “The choice I made kept me alive...”
Tom is silent for a moment. “And this choice was forced upon you by the one who ripped your wings from your back?”
“Stole…” The single word brings a world of pain and I am forced again to watch as Jared’s whole body flexes and contorts.
“And it is he who wants Rachel?”
Jared answers with a scream.
I push by Tom to kneel beside Jared watching horrified as his whole body twitches and spasms. “Stop it! It’s killing him!” I plead. “Can’t you stop it?”
Tom frowns. “It is not my spell.”
“Spell? This is a spell?”
“Isn't it obvious?”
I turn to cast him an incredulous look. “Well, can you break it then?”
He shakes his head. “I don't know. He obviously can't tell us anything without experiencing some discomfort.”
I glance back to see Jared gasping, watching us, eyes large and terrified. His skin is slick with sweat. His hair is plastered to his head. Tom lets out a noisy exhalation. He casts me a disapproving look before he turns to his men to have a quiet conversation. He pauses to brush his eyes over me and Jared before he turns back to the trolls. After a moment they circle us. Tom’s face is grave. “Is there a way to break what binds you?”
Jared doesn’t move but only slumps, eyes to the ground. He merely offers a defeated shrug. Tom gets down on one knee and Jared lifts his chin to meet his eyes. “I offer you my help in this matter but first you must tell us what he wants with Rachel.”
Jared gulps. He gives a small nod before he takes a deep breath to steady himself. Then he croaks, “Her wings.” Instantly he falls to the ground like someone has just thrown a switch to send a stream of electricity coursing through his body and I can't tear my eyes from the gruesome sight. His eyes roll back and frothy spit leaks from between his clinch teeth as each and every muscle in his body seems to involuntarily flex and contort. Tom reaches out to place his hand on Jared's forehead intent on putting him to sleep like he had Sean, but the instant he makes contact with Jared’s skin, he jerks his hand back as if he too has suffered a shock. I grow ill helpless but to watch as Jared thrashes on the ground still seizing and convulsing. I shift my eyes back to Tom but his frown silences me as he too watches, all the while rubbing his hand.
As soon as Jared stops twitching Tom reaches down and pulls him to his feet. He thrusts him at the largest of the trolls, an especially frightening guy with a tufted ridge of hair that stands up on his large head baring ears, big and pointed. Our eyes meet and the troll crinkles his wide nose as his upper lip draws back in a frightening smile that exposes two sharp lower tusks.
“Rachel.” Tom’s voice breaks my stare and I shift my eyes to take in his stern features. “As for you, young lady, don't think that this is over just yet.”
Surprise knifes through me and I bristle as the trolls shoot each other glances. “What's that supposed to mean?”
“To begin with it means you need to invite Verl back into your garden.” At the sound of his name the grasshopperman peeks out from the crease in Tom's hat.
My eyes freeze on the little antennaed man’s pointed face. “Verl?”
He leaps from the hat’s rim into the air to hover just above my nose and the sound his wings make as they whirling through the air are just like the hummingbirds when they hovers at my feeder. Though his voice is a series of creaks I have no problem understanding the words, “Yes, Rachel?”
Suddenly it all becomes strange. My mouth falls open as the moment morphs, the oddness of the night flexing in my brain until it is more than it can hold and I am rendered helpless but to stand there looking at the tiny whirling grasshopper man as all of my emotions begin to surge. Then Tom makes a quick movement that I almost don’t catch even though it is directed right at me. He raps my forehead, a single knock with his outstretched forefinger as his gentle voice anchors me back in the moment, “Rachel.” The sound of my name frees me to draw a breath and blink and I can respond when he adds, “Go ahead.”
“Go ahead and what?”
“Say that he is invited back into your garden.” Tom’s voice holds a magick that clears my thoughts so I can start to make sense of the moment again.
I repeat his words, “I invite you back into my garden.”
“Thank you, Rachel. Does your invitation extend to my family?”
I look to Tom and when he offers a nod I add, “I guess.”
Tom reaches into his pack and pulls out a dented tin mug. He passes it to me and commands, “Spit in it.” I don’t waste energy with questions but instead accept the cup from his outstretched hand as I draw as much spittle into my mouth as I can. Then I dip my head and spit. He takes the cup back and I can’t pull my eyes from watching as he mixes in some herbs. He adds something from a thermos before he leans down to offer it to Sean. His voice is full of power when he commands, “Drink.”
Sean takes the small cup and takes a sip. When Tom frowns he lifts it higher and drinks it down. Tom gives him an approving nod and takes the cup when Sean holds it out. Before I can consider the weirdness of the exchange, Tom is issuing another command this time his glare is fixed on me. “Now apologize.” I follow his finger to Sean. Then someone giggles and I turn to see Michael, eyes twinkling, amazement glowing on his face as he watches everything with keen interest and I know that he must also be able to truly see.
Guilt settles sickly in my belly as I drop down on my knees beside Sean. “Sean I’m sorry.” He doesn’t say anything but only glowers as he sits on the ground with his back to the shadows. “Sean.” His head is bent. He won't even look my direction, which doesn't help the guilt that suddenly flooding through me. “Sean.” I reach out to touch his knee. “Please, please forgive me.”
He looks up then and I falter as his dark eyes fix on mine. “What does any of this fucked up night have to do with you?”
Suddenly I can't look him in the eye. “Uh, well….it’s sort of all my fault—”
He reaches out to lift my chin and his eyes glisten when they find mine. “What are you talking about?”
The look in his eyes steals my voice until it is only a croak, “—you wouldn’t even be here if not for me.” He gives a soft snort and lets his hand drop but the confession has me in its grip. “I guess I sort of put a spell on you…” He shakes his head and turns away. “I did, Sean. That’s why you’re here. I worked a spell so that you might notice.” He glances back up and the hurt in his eyes brings tears to mine. “I didn’t mean for you to become obsessed.” I drop my eyes. My contrition is genuine, my heart is breaking. “I am so, so sorry.”
His voice is rough when he asks, “What did you say?”
The stormy look that crosses his face turns my voice to a whisper. “I put a spell on you…To make you notice me, um, to desire me—”
He grows completely still before he puts his face in his hands. “Wait a minute. Let me get this straight.” He drops his hands to reveal an expression of hurt and disbelief. “So you are telling me that I'm sitting here covered in my own blood because you put a spell on me?” His voice goes higher then it starts to shatter into pieces. “You?” A single tear slides from his eye to break my heart. “Ever since I first met you, I had this little fantasy worked out about a romance between a bad boy and a nice girl….Now you're saying that because you worked a little magick I was granted the week from Hell?”
Guilt floods me because I know he has the right to be angry. I had no right mess with him. “I'm so so sorry Sean. I didn't mean you any harm.” Will's voice echoes in my head as I look at the hurt and the anger turning Sean's expression, “But you did mean to, you meant it very much in fact.” I drop my head as guilt crashes over me. “I just wanted you to notice me.”
“Oh, I noticed you alright.” Sean rubs his hand over his face. “So all of this was because you worked some kind of magick?” I glance up to see him give me a frightening smile. “You know, if I hadn't lived through this night to witness all this fucked up shit, I wouldn't even be listening to you now, believing you…” His anger crackles, “But now, of course! It makes perfect sense! Maybe I've been hurting so bad because you worked a little magick!”
I reach out to him but he pulls away. Then his voice turns to a hiss. “How dare you! Who do you think you are? Do you have any idea what this past week has been like for me?”
“Oh, Sean. I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”
“Forgive you?” Then his anger flares with his voice. “Forgive You!”
Michael leans down to put a hand on Sean's shoulder, “Easy there. She said she didn't mean it.”
Sean narrows his eyes and slaps Michael's hand away before he turns from us. The sound of squealing tires announces Anna's arrival as she corners too fast sending gravel flying.
Tom turns to me. “Go to her, and tell her about the boy and the spell but hide the truth of the rest of what happened here this night.”
I get to my feet. “She knows about Jared.”
He presses his lips together before he answers. “Then explain what you must but the less she knows the safer she is for there is peril in the knowing.”
I give him a nod and walk away toward Anna who is now out of the car and calling my name. “In two hours time, meet me at my house,” he calls behind me.
Seriously? I sigh and shake my head before I reply, “Fine.”
When Anna sees me, she runs to me and pulls me into a hug. “Oh god, Rachel. Are you alright?” I try to answer but my throat chokes up on me as I try to fight back tears that are already coursing down my face.
“I was drugged.” Despite the night's activities, I feel surprisingly okay as I sit at the kitchen table, trying to tell Anna what happened over a cup of skullcap tea. “It was freaking crazy, so crazy I'm not sure what parts really happened what parts were in my mind…”
We both start when someone knocks on the door. I slide out to answer it and I am surprised to find Michael standing in the shadows of the porch.
“Uh, I was hoping you were still up.” He gives me a shy glance.
“Oh, yeah, we're up. You might as well come in.” I open the door and step out of the way so he can come through. Anna looks at him and without a word, pours another cup of tea before she begins rummaging through the fridge.
I slide into a seat at the table and motion for Michael to do the same.
He pulls back a chair and sits down. “They took him away you know?”
He looks at me with steady eyes. “And Sean too.”
“Is he going to be alright?”
Michael shrugs. “Tom gave him something to help. He said it would gray out some of the night so that it would be like waking from a dream. But he will probably still be kind of pissed for awhile.”
I drop my head. Of course he’ll be mad…I would be mad too. I think about Michael’s news as Anna opens the cabinet and takes out a loaf of bread. “So what is Tom going to do with Jared?” Michael shrugs and she adds, “What a creep!”
Michael and I share a long glance as he replies, “Well, it’s not like Jared wanted to hurt Rachel.”
I hold his glance as I slowly shake my head. But Anna’s already at my defense, “What do you mean? He drugged her. He had every intention of –”
“Stop! I don’t want to hear anymore!” I’m talking to both of them but Michael starts to add something. Then Anna reaches out to muss his hair and he puts his hands up protectively and his mood turns playful. When she persists, he catches her arms and she reacts by grappling with him. I ignore their play as a memory strikes me fresh of Jared beside me at the café as he tells me that he'd been forced to make a choice that had kept him alive...that someone had stolen something and now that same someone now wanted… My mind fills with the image of Jared writhing on the ground just before he'd says, “Her wings.” I squeeze my eyes closed and wonder what it means.
Anna does not notice my reaction. As she breaks away from Michael, her voice is full of mirth, “So what does Tom what with her?”
I reach for my mug and take a long drink of tea just as Michael replies, “I don't know. What does any guy want with any girl?” I choke and begin to sputter. Anna raises her hand again to muss his hair again but Michael is already slouching, hands held up protectively.
After a moment I am able to croak, “That isn't even mildly funny.”
Anna goes back to making sandwiches. Her voice is soft when she says, “Rachel's version of tonight is a little shake. Why don't you tell us what happened.”
Michael goes quiet.
“You know she was drugged…”
Michael lifts his eyes from the table. “Hey I'd like to tell you. I really would, but right now I'm not really all that sure myself…”
Anna switches tactics. She gives him a smile. “That's fine. Just tell us what you think happened.”
Michael takes a long breath before he begins, “I was at home when I got a call from Sean. He seemed real upset but he wouldn't say why… only that he wanted to talk.” He lifts his eyes to Anna and she nods. “When he picked me up, he was so upset that he wasn't making much sense. Then he saw Rachel standing on the corner and it was like there was no distracting him. He said he had to talk to her so he whipped the car around and pulled into the park. We got out but there was no sign of Rachel anywhere, and since I hadn't seen her in the first place, I was beginning to think the whole thing was in Sean's mind…Then the weirdest thing happened…”
Anna nods again, her expression imploring him to continue.
“We hear these shouts, like a fight, you know. Then Rachel comes tearing across the grass like she's running for her life. At this point I am so surprised to see her that I don't even move when Sean knocks her down.”
Anna's eyes slide to me.
“Then everything got strange…”
My thoughts go back to Jared's friend morphing into a toad and I wonder if Michael's view of it was the same so I add, “That's when the little guy showed up.” I watch as Michael’s eyes go round. “The one that hurt Sean. He knocked Sean down. Then your neighbor was there with some guys—”
“Tom?” Anna’s eyes fix on me. “He was out front when I got home. He said he'd help me find out what happened to you.”
“He saved us,” I tell her.
Michael looks at me. “Did you really put a spell of Sean to make him act all crazy?”
Guilt washes through me and I feel the weight of Anna's eyes when I nod.
“So what's going to happen with Jared?” Anna asks as she slides a plate in front of Michael.
Michael sits up straighter. “Tom is dealing with him for now.”
The answer soothes my fears allowing me to feel other things and when I stretch my hand out to take one of the sandwiches from the plate, Anna shakes her head. “You don't want any of those.” I take my hand back and Michael freezes, hand holding a sandwich midway to his mouth, questions shining in his eyes. Anna just grabs a sandwich from the plate and takes a zestful bite. “She's a veggie.” She grins and passes a smaller plate to me.