SNW Ch. 20

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Chapter 20: I hit rock bottom

Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby

I’m sitting in Honoria’s parlor in the parsonage, drinking herbal tea, and wondering why I just told her everything. (Well, not quite everything. I figured the bit about me being beloved by nature was a bit pagan. And no way am I telling Honoria that Cindy’s having sex with a dragon on another plane of reality. How do they manage it? The different planes, I mean. The anatomical details I got from Cindy. Sigh.) Honoria is sitting opposite me wearing casual clothes. They make her look young. The seriously attentive look on her face does not. She’s been that way the whole time, apart from getting tea for us. Every time I asked her if she believes in what I’m saying, she just said, “Keep talking. I’m listening.”

So now I’m at the end, and I am not going to be denied. “That’s all, Honoria. How much of this do you believe? You going to recommend some nice psychiatric therapy for me? Or maybe an exorcism?”

Honoria frowns, looks down into her lap, and then looks back up at me. “Why have you been sitting hunched forward all this time?”

This is out of the blue. Have I? Oh, yeah. “I usually wear a bra. But my breasts were feeling tender, and I don’t think they fit anymore. I’m going to have to go up a cup size.”


No thanks for asking, Honoria. “A.”

Honoria smiles nervously. “A rite of passage, then.”

“Along with my first period and having a death spell put on me.” I don’t conceal my annoyance. “You’re not answering my question.”

Honoria fidgets before replying. “Sorry. I’m just having a hard time admitting to myself how much I’ve failed.”

I raise an eyebrow to that one. What does Honoria mean?

Honoria fidgets some more, gets up, walks over to a window, looks out, and then turns to face me. “Yes, failed. Your soul is my responsibility. I’m the one who told you to go talk to Miranda. I figured you were new and couldn’t possibly be involved in anything dangerous. Well, I was half right, the wrong half, as it turns out. And I didn’t pay enough attention or catch all the signs until you and the Van Schacht girl disappeared.”

This isn’t what I expected or am looking for. I don’t really know what to say to it. So I return to pushing my point. “So you believe me?”

She looks uncertain, comes back, sits down facing me, and shakes her head. “Not entirely. By your own account, there are people and entities tampering with your memories. It’s possible you imagined some of the things you think you experienced, or have been made to believe some things happened. But I know well enough that some of what you say is true.” Honoria switches to a worried look. “What do you plan to do about all this?”

So Honoria is taking me seriously, in a cautious way. Somehow that’s the one thing I wasn’t expecting. Why did I do this again? What was I expecting? I know this will sound lame, but I tell her, “I don’t know.” Which is putting it mildly. Honoria is still listening, so I add, “I have not the slightest idea of how to fight people who can command dragons, make me do things against my will, and put death curses on people.” I let out a sigh of frustration. “You seemed to have some idea of what was going on. At least you implied as much yesterday. Maybe I’ve been stupid, but I was hoping you could suggest something.”

Honoria has been nodding the whole time I’ve been speaking. She stands up again, and tells me, “Wait a moment. I need to change.” And she leaves the room.

I am tempted to ask her before she leaves the room what she needs to change into, but decided sarcasm ill behooves me at the moment. So I wait, not for long. Honoria returns, wearing a white gown, similar to the black one she wears in the pulpit. “Come with me,” she says, and we go out of the parsonage and into the church. She unlocks a small room marked “Minister’s Office,” goes in with me trailing behind, and then unlocks a safe. She pulls out a book and hands it to me. There’s a seven-pointed star on the cover.

I ask Honoria, “What’s this?”

She favors me with an odd look, as if she’s of mixed mind about what she’s about to say. “I’ve met the ghost of Asenath Shattuck, Jane. That’s one of the reasons I believe much of what you’ve said.”

All I can say to that is, “Oh.” Honoria does know something, after all.

Honoria continues, “She told you to rely on knowledge and bravery, and Asenath knows whereof she speaks. So here is knowledge. According to legend, this book either belonged to Rebecca Grimes Farnsworth, one of Netherfield’s witches, as you know, or to Israel Farnsworth, the man who vanquished her. Either way, it contains information about magic that should help you.”

Nice try, Honoria. I appreciate it. “But I have no magical powers. Asenath said so.”

Honoria shakes her head. “No. Everyone has magical powers. Most of us don’t have much, not enough to do most magic. That’s you, that’s me. But there are some things we can do. Know why Miranda never attends my church?”

“Because she’s not a Congregationalist?” I ask.

“Because I’ve guarded the grounds of the church, the parsonage, and the graveyard against her. I did it using that book. And Jane, note that even if you find nothing you can use on your own in that book, it will give you a better idea of how people like Miranda work, and that may prove useful in dealing with them.”

I look at the book again. And I look at Honoria’s earnest face. I have a doubt, and I debate whether to give voice to it. I decide I had better. “This is a weird coincidence, me telling you what’s been going on, and you having something that can help me.”

Honoria doesn’t flinch at my words. I can taste the irony in her words as she says, “Just like it’s a coincidence your newest aunt whose husband’s help brought your family here is an enemy of Miranda’s.”


The smell of burnt dog wakes me up. I open my eyes, see Pluto standing by the bed. So I sit up. “Hi, Pluto,” I say. Burning basset hounds are now a normal part of my life.

Pluto’s voice sounds worried as he asks, “What’s that under your bed?”

I know where this is going, but I ask, “What do you mean?”

Pluto growls very softly. “There’s something magical under your bed.”

I reach under the bed and pull out my strongbox. Over to my desk for the key in the drawer, back to the bed, I open up the box, and pull out the book Honoria gave me. “You mean this?” I hold it up so Pluto can see it clearly.

Pluto backs away, growling again. “Yeah, that. That’s serious juju you got there. Know what you’re doing with it?”

“Defense,” I reply.

Pluto shakes his head. “You have no idea, girl. People will kill for that book. You need a way to keep that safe.”

“Strongbox,” I point out.

“Which I could open in seconds,” Pluto replies.

“How?” I ask. And then I realize how stupid the question is. “Never mind. You have any suggestions on what to do?”

Pluto considers. “Get down on the floor, put the book back in, and lock it up. Just do it, don’t argue.”

Okay. So I do so. And as I’m turning the key in the lock, it’s as if I’m being electrocuted for maybe ten seconds. I have to take deep breaths for a minute just to recover. I look over at Pluto.

He says to me, “You, your key, and the box are now spelled together. So even if someone kills you, that won’t help them get into the strongbox.”

“Gee, thanks.” I try not to be too sarcastic.

My sarcasm is lost on Pluto. Too subtle for once, I guess. He says, “Oh, and I had it out with Genevieve. Almost fed her to Hector. She’s been under a spell for quite a while to go after you and Miranda. It’s gone now, kaput. She doesn’t even remember who you are anymore.”

Good, but . . . “Who’s Hector?”

“The killer panther that lives in a cave north of town.” Pluto gets as close to a grin as he can. “Hector likes fish.”


Monday, June 12

Dear Diary,

I sometimes get the feeling that life is set so that anytime you think things are improving, something goes wrong to balance things out.

[The next several lines are heavily crossed out to make them illegible.]

I’m too ashamed. I can’t tell anyone. I can’t even write it here. And I can’t believe it of myself.


I blow off Cindy Tuesday afternoon, and take a circuitous route to Miranda’s place. I don’t bother to knock, but just march in. Well, so far. There’s clearly a light on in the session room, and the door is locked. At that point my determination fails, and I settle down in the hallway.

Not for long. Miranda comes out with an elderly man, sees me, and ignores me while talking the old man out of her place. He doesn’t see me at all. Once he’s out the door, she turns to me, pointing. “DVD case, right?”

I glare. “That’s part of it. Do you know how much trouble you caused me?”

She nods, walks back past me to what turns out to be her office. I follow her in. She sits down, grabs the case off the top of her desk, and holds it out to me. I reach for it, only to suddenly have her pull it back.

Annoyed, I ask, “There a problem with giving this back to me?”

Miranda clucks her tongue. “Yeah. I had Honoria Blood come by yesterday to dress me down for half an hour. Seems there’s damned little you didn’t tell her. Want to explain why?”

I start to retort, and then hold my tongue for once. Seconds stretch by while I think how to phrase this. In a very quiet voice, I tell her, “No, Miranda, I don’t want to explain why, because I think you can figure it out on your own. Now give me the case before I take it from you.”

To my surprise, that causes Miranda to smile. She tosses me the DVD case, leans back in her chair. Her smile becomes broader. “Nice to see you’ve got some backbone, Jane. I was afraid your confession to Honoria meant you’d crumbled.”

“I’m fourteen, Miranda. Sometimes I need advice. Like now.”

Miranda cocks an eyebrow. “And I’m getting this instead of Honoria?”

“Because you can’t talk about this to my parents.”

Both eyebrows go up. They stay up. “And?”

I hold up the DVD case. “This.”

Miranda’s eyebrows drop back behind her glasses. “I can’t say you’re clarifying matters.”

I wish you did understand, because I don’t want to say it. “What did you say about Stan?”

Miranda frowns and shakes her head. “He’s cute, can always get a girl, likes porn . . . I’d probably have bedded him back a few centuries . . . oh, wait.” She looks at me, shakes her head again, and breaks out laughing. “I get it. You’ve got a crush on your stepfather.”

End of chapter twenty


(All I can say is, “Ewwwww!”)

(Well, no, wait a second; I do have more to say. You took this to Miranda, Jane? What were you thinking? What were you thinking? Do you know what she’s going to do to you in the next chapter? Well, yeah, I know you do: you’re writing them. What I meant was . . . oh, forget about it. I’ll just wait ’til next week. It’s your funeral, kid.)


5 Responses to SNW Ch. 20

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    Hmm…now that the evidence can no longer be ignored that there are panthers in New England (again), would the locals call them panthers, cougars, mountain lions, pumas, or what? I think the columnist in the Greenfield paper would call them cougars. I think calling them “panthers” is a southern thing (the Florida population which never got entirely extirpated). Anyway, it looks like cougars aren’t as big fans of fish as bears are, and usually eat deer.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      1. There’s also a mythological panther, which seems to be an obligatory carnivore, just like its natural namesake. I have to admit that this panther’s love of fish is unusual. On the other hand, how often do cougars ever try to eat fish?

      2. “Ewwwwwww.” If this is in reference to the closing line of the chapter proper (or improper, considering), then perhaps it deserves a negative emoticon. But I can’t think of one sufficiently negative.

  2. crimsonprose says:

    Um. Confused. Have you slipped in a couple of Honoria’s where there ought to be Miranda’s? But good to see the Farnsworths are back in, if only (as yet?) in passing.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Indeed, I slipped up precisely twice. Thank you; those have been corrected. You can reread from “I start to retort . . .” and it will come out right now.

      I’m curious myself as how the church happens to be holding a grimoire said to belong to the Farnsworths, one which must have some genuine magic, to judge from what both Honoria and Pluto say. (Yes, we now take the word of a burning dog credibly.)

      • crimsonprose says:

        Perhaps it’s there for safe-keeping (the church, the saints and its angels)? Or maybe Honoria isn’t all that she claims? Or . . . I’ll leave you to figure it, then enjoy reading it.

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