Chapter 22: Planning is important, but luck is essential
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Tuesday and dear Aunt Tara are only three days away. With Miranda lined up, I’ve got only one more person to bring into the plan: Cindy.
We get together in the afternoon at the coffee shop. It’s busy, hey, it’s Saturday. I can’t see everyone who’s here, so I play it safe and have an Italian soda. Can’t get myself grounded for drinking coffee, not right now. That would spoil everything.
Cindy’s looking at me as if she’s trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Can you read minds, too, Cindy? Do you know how? Or would you leave mine alone anyhow? I’d like to think the latter.
That’s the biggest problem in my plan. I figured it out, and then tested it on Miranda. Sure, these witches can read my mind. But they have to know what to look for. (Or else maybe have a ton of time.) So if what I’m doing is subtle or complex, reading my mind won’t necessarily help them. I was almost tempted to try to set things up so that if they read my mind, they’d get simple parts that would mislead them even more, but gave that up as too complicated and creating too much uncertainty.
So we sit down, Cindy with a latte (grrrr), and she leads off, “Why have you been blowing me off since school ended?”
Obvious question. So why don’t I have an obvious answer ready? I should have. So, instead, I change the topic. “I was just remembering when I saw you for the first time. I didn’t know who you were. You were just sitting here in the same uniform that double of yours was wearing in the Mall of Lost Souls and . . .”
Cindy is shaking her head vigorously. “Nope. Not me. I’ve never worn a uniform like that in my life.”
“You sure?” Incredulous me, stupid me.
Cindy gives me the “you have brain cancer” look. “That uniform was godawful ugly, Jane.”
I don’t know what to say. I know it was her. But why would she lie?
Cindy reaches over and taps my hand. “Hey, let’s get back to the subject. Have I done something wrong or something that you’re avoiding me?”
I lower my voice. “I’ve been busy trying to figure out how to get out of this death curse. Been doing some reading.”
“I’ve a few ideas. I might need your help.”
That makes Cindy smile. “You know you’ve got it, Jane. And I’ve been talking to the dragon about it, too. You know, in between, ah, um, really great sex.”
Cindy’s smiling so broadly I want to hit her out of jealousy and frustration. She gets a dragon, while I have a crush on Stan. Couldn’t we reverse this? Although I’m not sure I’m up for dragon sex, I can see Cindy and Stan . . . no, wait, I really don’t want to imagine that, either. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! I try to contain myself and ask, “And what have you come up with?”
“The dragon thinks the only way to remove it cleanly is to track down whoever put the spell on you, and use magic on them to get the spell removed. He says it could be done by brute force, too, but you might get killed in the process. We ruled that one out.”
That almost gets me to laugh. “Thanks.” Cindy smiles again, so I keep going. “I’m working on a plan, Cindy. I’ve been talking to Miranda.”
Cindy frowns. “You talk to her instead of me?” The hurt in her voice pains me, not just because I understand it, but because I’m going to have to mislead her.
I tell her, “Well, let’s just say I need to have her involved, but I don’t necessarily trust her. That’s where you come in, Cindy.”
That makes Cindy happy again. “I’m all ears.”
My plan is set, it’s Tuesday, Uncle Jeff’s SUV, still looking pretty new, is just coming into the driveway, and I am shaking like a leaf. It’s just hitting me. This is real. I’m trying to match wits with a woman who put a death curse on me and can read my mind if she wants. And I could very easily end up dead, if I’ve got it wrong. Aunt Tara, if I live through this, you are going to suffer, I promise you.
I put on my “oh, my wonderful relatives are here” face, and greet Uncle Jeff and Aunt Tara as they come in the door. Fortunately for me, Uncle Jeff notices me first. He comes over and gives me a hug. “So how’s my co-equal favorite niece today?” he asks.
“Withholding her divine wrath from her uncle because he has placated her savage temper,” I tell him as I hug him back. “Want to go on a walk with me tomorrow? I’m going across the lake to the site of an extinct village in the woods. Should be all sorts of cellar holes to fall into.”
Uncle Jeff pulls back, holds me at arm’s length, and shakes his head. “You know I’ve disliked falling into cellar holes ever since I was imprisoned by a troll.” And then he laughs. “But what the heck? Let’s do it.”
I had been betting that Uncle Jeff’s enthusiasm for taking a walk to explore history would carry Aunt Tara with him. But Aunt Tara is also lazy and averse to exercise, except to keep her body toned. So she’s begged off so far. It’s after dinner and everyone’s just lounging around talking. Aunt Tara gets up to get Uncle Jeff and herself another beer. Time to make my move.
I scurry over to my bedroom, get what I need, and head back for the kitchen. I needn’t have rushed. Tara’s already got the beers, but she’s studying her face in a compact mirror. She sees me enter, puts it away, and gives me one of her pretend smiles. “There you are, Jane.”
I plunk the DVD case for Virgin Victim: Hell’s Harlot down on the counter beside the beers, turn to Aunt Tara, and say, “Miranda Milan gave this to me. I don’t think she’s your friend, Aunt Tara.”
Aunt Tara pokes the case with a long fingernail as if in idle curiosity. Quietly she says, “No, I suppose not.” She looks up at me. “We should talk about this.”
“Why don’t you join us on the walk tomorrow?” I suggest.
Aunt Tara looks uncertain. “Hmmmm . . . yes, probably sooner would be better. Your Uncle Jeff will probably go off looking at something and we can talk.” More sharply, she asks, “Who else knows about this?”
“That is one of the things we need to talk about. I don’t want my mother in a fight with Uncle Jeff.”
Aunt Tara nods, as if she now understands why I’m bringing this up to her. “Okay. We’ll talk tomorrow. And Jane?”
I grit my teeth. “You’re welcome.”
I’ve underestimated Aunt Tara. I wanted Uncle Jeff along so she couldn’t get me alone to do something to me. But she comes out of the guest room this morning, catching me at my breakfast, to tell me Uncle Jeff isn’t feeling well and can’t come. So she suggests we head out right now on the hike. As she puts it, that way we can get back by midday and join everyone else for some family fun. I don’t like it, but can’t think of a plausible reason to refuse, not without tipping my hand. So we set out together, and I can’t help feeling I’ve screwed up badly.
And then something else unexpected happens. We’re walking by the parsonage when Honoria emerges, sees me, and gives me a wave. We hold up while she comes up the walk to greet us. With her usual smile, Honoria gives me a hug. “Hi, Jane. And this must be your Aunt Tara who you mentioned was coming yesterday. I’m Rev. Honoria Blood,” she says as she turns and holds out her hand.
Aunt Tara barely touches Honoria’s hand. “Charmed.”
“I was just going out for my morning walk,” Honoria says. “May I join you two?”
Aunt Tara looks dubiously at me, “Well . . .”
I chime in, “We are going down to the dam and across to the woods on the other side of the lake. It’s a bit of a hike, Honoria.”
Honoria’s smile grows broader. “Splendid. I haven’t taken a hike that long in a while. Do me good. Shall we go?” And she starts walking in the direction we’re going.
Aunt Tara lets slip a look of annoyance for a moment, but then resumes her usual vacant smile, and we all head off together. I’m wondering what’s going on. This is a little too coincidental. And yet Honoria’s no witch, she can’t do magic. What’s her game?
If she has one, Honoria gives no clue as to what her game is as we walk. Instead, she talks. And talks. And talks. She talks to me about summer in Netherfield. She talks about everything we’re passing. She relates story after story to entertain Aunt Tara, as if Honoria is some sort of tour guide.
Although I’m puzzled by Honoria’s presence, I’m thankful. Aunt Tara doesn’t try anything on me with her magic. In fact, Honoria is keeping her preoccupied most of the time, politely pretending to listen to what Honoria says. I’m not too worried about Aunt Tara reading my thoughts, not under these conditions.
And once we get across the dam and plunge into the woods, my heart is singing. Why? Because my plan is succeeding. Asenath Shattuck told me to use my intelligence. It’s the only way I can overcome my disadvantage at magic. And so I have. We’re heading to Asenath’s domain, the fields of her old farm. Asenath told me she can’t be defeated on her own lands. And so that’s where we’re going. That’s where I’ll make my stand.
We’re only maybe twenty feet from the ruinous stone wall bounding Asenath’s land when Aunt Tara turns to me. “Jane?”
I turn and look at her. I know she’s glamorous, but right here and now she looks even more glamorous than ever. Her eyes are so beautiful. Her voice sounds so musical as she asks me, “What sort of trap have you set for me, Jane?”
So I tell her. “Just beyond the stone wall is the domain of the ghost of . . .”
A voice yells, “Get away from her!” It’s Honoria’s. And the next thing I know, Aunt Tara is yanked back as Honoria grabs her and spins her around.
I don’t really understand what’s going on. I hear Aunt Tara say to Honoria, “Look into my eyes, Honoria Blood, I command it!” It sounds like a good idea.
Honoria has a fierce look on her face. “Try again, witch,” she says, before using some sort of martial arts move to strike Aunt Tara in her abdomen, causing her to double over. And then she brings her leg up, smashing her foot into Aunt Tara’s head, causing Aunt Tara to flip backwards onto the ground.
Honoria looks over at me. “You OK, Jane?”
I think I’m finally figuring out what happened. Aunt Tara took me over with a look. But I seem to be free of it now. I nod to Honoria.
We both hear Tara stirring, and turn to her. She’s sitting up, looking daggers at Honoria. In a vicious voice, she says, “Let’s see if your little amulet protects you against this, priest.” And then she says something in a foreign language and makes a gesture. Honoria abruptly goes flying backward, crashing into the stone wall, and crumples to the ground. Her right leg is sticking out at an unnatural angle and she seems to be unconscious. At least I hope it’s just unconsciousness. Aunt Tara gives a mirthless laugh. “Guess your amulet wasn’t good for much. That’ll teach you to kick me in the head.”
Honoria’s out of it, I can’t resist Aunt Tara if she looks at me, and she’s not in Asenath’s domain the way she was supposed to be. I think my plan is in ruins, and I may have gotten Honoria killed as well. Time to forget about the plan. I turn and run as fast as I can. If I can clear the stone wall and land in Asenath’s farm before Aunt Tara gets her claws into me again, I’ll be safe.
End of chapter twenty-two
(Looks like Honoria takes “fighting for the Lord” literally. Wonder how that went over in seminary. But it seems she’s out of her league. As for Jane, well . . . guess we’ll just have to watch the unfolding, or more accurately the unraveling of her plan in the next chapter.)