He pushed the door open slowly and the buzzing turned into television snow.“At least there’s no body,” I said half-jokingly as I surveyed the room. The walls were white and freshly painted. Fumes still hung thick in the air. There was no furniture except for a television/DVD combo on its stand. “What’s going on?”“It’s not the room,” Mike said as he followed us in. He walked in front of me to the snowy set and pressed ‘play.’ “It’s the message.”“A message?” All the hair on my arms rose in one pin-prickling leap. “For who?”He couldn’t even keep the fake smile on his face. “For you.”“Shit.” I willed my eyes away, but they stayed glued to the screen. I had no desire to see what Paul had left behind.“Yeah, those were my words exactly.” Mike sighed and stepped away.The picture shifted as the camera was adjusted. A pale bar of flesh surrounding a pair of dark blue eyes jumped across the screen with each amateur movement.The man leaned back from the lens and said, “Hello, Rhiannon.” The rest of his face was hidden in well-placed shadows across his cheekbones, mouth and forehead, leaving his eyes bared to the camera. His voice was deep, almost a bass, with a gravely rumble I couldn’t place.“If you ‘re watching this, congratulations. I honestly was uncertain about your power, didn’t know if you were strong enough to defeat my little pet. You’re a special little witch, but you’ve heard that enough from my colleagues lately. Visions can be tricky things. You understand that. What’s a coven of misfits to do when promised a messiah?” He laughed, the sound strained, like he’d heard the joke too many times.“Have you figured it out? Have you made the necessary connections between my victims?” He blinked slowly, deliberately. “Of course you have. With the resources of every police precinct in the area, surely you have discovered my modus operandi.“My work here is almost done, and my murderous rampage is nearing its end. In three days’ time, I will have taken my final victim. In three days, you will be faced with the most difficult decision you’ve ever faced in your young life. Who are you willing to sacrifice to catch me? Whose life is worth enough to play my game?”The tracking on the DVD skipped and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Nervous? Who, me?The picture cleared, and he continued his soliloquy. “Take care with those you most cherish, little witch. Protect them if you can. I have given you enough time to make suitable arrangements.“I regret that I couldn’t meet you today, but we will meet soon enough, you and I. It’s been prophesized. You will come to me. You will come, because you will have no other choice. But you already knew that.”His eyes changed, blurring from blue to wolf amber. “Come to me, Rhiannon, willingly, and I may let the last one live.” Paul leaned forward into the camera lens and out of the protective darkness.My breath caught tightly in my throat as a terrified shudder slithered over my skin. The visions hadn’t prepared me for what I was seeing.His nose was misshapen, like a sculptor had tried to carve a muzzle from the delicate cartilage in the middle of his face. Teeth like jagged shards peeked through his garish attempt at smiling. Great tufts of red-brown fur covered parts of his forehead and jaw line.“Three days,” he growled. “You are running out of time.”The screen went blank.
“Six minutes, beautiful.”I cleared my throat and clapped my hands. “All right, let’s get this thing done.” No chance in hell was I going to lose him now. I touched each strand, and the second and fourth ones caused the pulse to speed up. The third and fifth ones made it slow down. The first and sixth ones did.... Nothing? How odd.“Try a combination of the dead ones with the fast ones,” Jacob suggested.I frowned. “We’ve already lost a minute with my futzing.”“No one would make something so complex and have useless parts, Zo.”I blinked on my other vision and almost cried. The ‘dead’ lines were storing energy through itty-bitty capillaries from the other four. The siphon from the slow lines, though minimal, pumped steadily. From the fast lines, the deposits were larger but intermittent, sometimes every other pulse, sometimes every third. Maybe if I severed those feeds....I reached in and squeezed one off.It didn’t stop the others, but no more energy passed into the emptier chambers from that line. I skipped four lines and squeezed the fifth, then repeated the process on both ‘dead’ lines, and it significantly slowed the flow. “Can you do this from your end?”“I can try.” He knelt down and reached in with his free hand.“You see the tiny ones?” I asked, pointing them out.“Yep.” He squished one.“I’ve been doing every fifth one. Think it’s bought us a few more minutes.” Together we worked at this until we could reach no farther. Some of the squashed feeds turned black and crumbled into ash on my carpet. Some of them turned an ugly bruise of purple and hemorrhaged the spell’s magic in the space between lines, where it reinforced the exterior walls but wasn’t otherwise absorbed. We had bought time, already past Jacob’s original ten-minute assessment, but all our efforts were a bandage. Eventually, all this magick would explode.“Can we push it into the foundation of the house?” I asked. “I’ll take moving over being dead any day of the week.”Jacob grunted. “We could try, but probably not.”I pushed one of the slow lines down, but instead of sinking into the carpet, it clung to my finger and shocked me. “Son of a bitch!” I shook it off, but an imprint of it remained on my fingertip.“Well, shit.” I looked a Jacob. “I’m open to suggestions.”“Can you change?”I shook my head. “Not without the full moon.”He nodded. “I was just thinking about last year when you absorbed the coven’s power to fight against Paul. Could you absorb all this and change? Since it’s already connected to you?”Can I? Looking over the strands again, I considered the best course of action.In theory, it should work. All spells were energy, and the First Law of Thermodynamics stated that energy could not be created or destroyed, merely transformed. Absorbing the energy woven into the spell would transform it into the magick I needed to change into my wolf form.Nerdy witch for the win.That left the question of how to absorb it. In my head, I was all Pacman and pellets, but could I just eat it? Could I wrap it around me and take it that way? I looked at the markings on my finger, already fading like an old henna tattoo.That’s good. I wasn’t looking forward to a full body tattoo.“Babe.”I waved at him. “I think it’ll work. It’s a lot of energy to absorb in the time we have left, but we’re out of options.” I offered my best brave smile. “No time like the present?”“If this doesn’t work, I want you to know I love you, Zoë.”“If this doesn’t work, I’m going to haunt your ass. With love, of course.”He laughed, and while it came out a little strained, a little forced, if I could choose to hear one last sound before we rocketed to the Summerland, laughter beat the hell out of tears.I exhaled slowly and gave him a long look. “I do love you, Jacob, and when we get through this, we’re going on a long-ass vacation, okay? Just you and me.”He smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Sounds good.”“Okay, let me get to work.”“Dear Mother Goddess,” I whispered. “Protect me as I as try this crazy-ass experiment in hopes of coming out of this alive. Please protect us, and watch over Jacob, in case this kills me, which I really hope it doesn’t. I’ll survive being furry an extra time this month, if it saves us. If it is Your Will, so mote it be.”I snagged one of the threads and held it up to review the intricate little parts. It ran cool across my palm, like an electric strand of ice. The tiniest tendrils formed on the edges, tasting me, drawing their own lines against the whorls and grooves of my skin. The sensation felt like snowflakes melting against my skin.So strange.I pressed down, and the line flattened and spread. The depth of this spellcraft was mind-blowing. I wrapped it around my hand twice, and the energy pulsed faster all the way down the line and across to Jacob’s wand.Well, shit. I grimaced and closed my eyes, willing it inside me, and a sensation akin to breath across menthol moved over my hand.“It worked.” The spell left a glittery tattoo along my skin, and the energy sparkled inside me like a mind bauble, but with white-blue light and a firmer shell. The fill lines had not taken my absorption lightly and began to swell.Shit! We don’t have time for this insanity.I scooped up the ends of all six lines, wrapped them around both hands, and pulled.Jacob’s wand twitched, and he moved forward a good six inches.I closed my eyes and willed them to be a part of me.“Oh, gods!” Gone was the delicate sense of melting snow, replaced by a feeling of being electrified. My eyes popped open wide, and I couldn’t breathe, much less unfurl my fists. It hurt everywhere, no inch of me left unscathed.It worked. Not only did I feel the energy transfer inside me, the pulse in the remaining length had slowed. I could do this.“Zoë, are you okay?”I looked at Jacob and nodded. “Yeah. Hurt like a bitch, but I’ve got this.” I wrapped another two lengths around my hands and repeated the process. The electrical shock was stronger, and I bit my tongue. A warm rivulet of blood ran from my lips to my chin.“Zoë!”I shook my head and did it again. The sheer intensity of pain dropped me to the floor, and my wolf howled, tail hung low between her hind legs.Just a little longer.If I could swallow the last few feet, push through the agony, I could change. I could save us.I can do this!I yanked the rest of the spell onto me, and steeled myself against the impending pain. My entire body shook as blood poured from my mouth, and warm liquid raced from my eyes and ears.Somewhere in the distance, Jacob yelled for me. He tried to grab me in the haze, but so much electricity rode along my skin that his touch was brief, the energy throwing him back.I couldn’t breathe inside that storm, no bearings to be had, and the world spun.My wolf trotted up and nuzzled me, as if to ask if it was time. I managed a nod, and she leapt from me, taking a big chunk of the energy with her, and then we changed.Maybe I was already in a shit-ton of pain, but the transition from my shell to hers was almost smooth. Rearranging bones, thickening and lengthening inside me, pulled me out of the spell’s grasp and gave me a place to focus. I pushed energy into the change, and my musculature popped from the squishy humanoid frame to the tight, sculpted, large muscles of a dire wolf.I was hyperaware of every part of the change. Each hair extrusion caught my attention in an odd twist of pleasure and pain, as shiny black fur passed over my skin and absorbed the remnants of clothing still touching me. My hands morphed and expanded from little pudgy fingers to great black paws resting on thick nails, and my tail swished behind me, the long hairs brushing the ground.I stretched and shook the magickal remnants, which sparked like static charge along my overcoat. Tilting my muzzle upwards, I let loose a magnificent howl that shook every fiber of the house.Change was good.
Writing came to me naturally, and the dark clouds of childhood and adolescent angst gave birth to a myriad of story threads that reflected my inner struggle to find a place in this world. I haven’t quite discovered it yet, but I’ve fallen in love with the journey and all the stories unfolding in front of me. I’m a lover of many genres and a writer of a small handful, and rather content with that lot.