“I hate magic,” I muttered as I made my way back to Princess. I hated the pink camper van too, but not as much as I hated magic.
“So you’ve said, many, many times,” Conroy sighed. “Have you never heard the saying, ‘What you resist, persists?’ Or do you think it doesn’t apply to you?”
“You think that if I stop hating magic, it’ll disappear?” I paused when I reached the campsite, preferring to have this conversation without Mildred listening in.
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Well what are you saying?” Exasperated I took off the necklace and held it out in front of me so that I could look the owl in the eye.
“You’re always looking for simple answers,” he accused.
“I’m always looking for the right answer,” I countered. “A clean, unencumbered by ambiguity answer. Is that too much to ask for?”
I shook the pendant. “See? That’s a clear, precise answer. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“You’re never going to get what you’re hoping for.”
I squinted at him. “What does that mean?”
He remained silent.
“Does that mean I’ll never get rid of Mildred, or I’ll never figure out my past, or I’ll never be rid of magic?”
The owl stared at me impassively. If your eyes are made out of stone that’s pretty easy to do.
Realizing he would reveal no more, I let myself into the RV, stripped off my clothes and took a much-needed shower.
“I hate this shower,” I muttered. The space was cramped and the water pressure practically non-existent. I longed for a real shower where I could stand up straight and thoroughly rinse my hair, but that wasn’t to be found.
Wrapping a towel around myself, I stepped out and poured myself another cup of coffee.
“You didn’t feed me last night. You didn’t feed me this morning,” Mildred meowed. “You should be charged with animal cruelty.”
I reached for the spray bottle, ready to show her what animal cruelty really looked like, but then thought better of it. With a heavy sigh I opened some cat food and put the can on the floor.
“Lovely presentation” she complained.
Ignoring her, I lay down on the bed. Everything hurt. I was stiff from sleeping on the floor of the office and sore from falling so many times. I gratefully sank into the soft mattress and took a couple of slow deep breaths. I glanced over at Conroy who I’d tossed onto the pillow before taking what passed for a shower in van life. “What does a step away mean?”
Conroy remained stubbornly silent. I wasn’t certain if that was because he didn’t want to discuss it in front of Mildred, or if he simply didn’t want to answer me.
I turned my attention to the cat as she finished eating. “You have to tell me what you want with Garret and what you did to Tess.”
“I did nothing to Tess.” She began to clean her paws while giving me the side-eye.
Considering how the campground owner had spoken of Mildred Bloodworth with undisguised hatred, I found that difficult to believe. But Mildred always had been one to create her own version of the truth…reality be damned.
“What about Garret?”
The cat laid down and flicked her tail. “Now him,” she purred with evident satisfaction. “I did do something to him.”
I frowned wondering why she’d taken such pleasure in harming an animal. “What did you do?”
For a long, uncomfortable moment she stared at me with those blue feline eyes that were the same exact shade as they’d been when she was in human form. I wanted to look away, but I knew she’d perceive my retreat as weakness, so I forced myself to hold her gaze. “What did you do?” I repeated.
“I turned him into a squirrel.”
I blinked then, more out of surprise than because of a need to escape. “You what?”
“I turned Garret into a squirrel.”
“What was he before?”
I sat up; the comfort of the bed forgotten. “You turned a human being into a squirrel?”
I’d known a dog that had been possessed by the spirit of an evil woman and Mildred was in the cat, but a human turned into a squirrel was something else entirely.
“I am a very powerful witch,” Mildred purred.
“Trapped in a Siamese, so don’t be too full of yourself,” I snapped.
“Silence!” she hissed, flexing her claws.
I braced myself for her attack, but she thought better of it. “Why did you turn him into a squirrel?’
“Because he was a beast!”
I grit my teeth waiting for her to elaborate. At least Garret’s lousy attitude and hostility made sense now. I’d be pretty pissed if I had to live as a squirrel too.
“How long ago did you do this?” I asked when the cat didn’t offer up any other information.
“Thirty years ago.”
I’m not a zoologist, but I was pretty sure that meant Garret was the oldest living squirrel.
“He was mean to Buddy,” Mildred finally explained.
I rolled my eyes. Mildred had doted on her son, Buddy. When I’d known him, the man could do no wrong even though he was a mean lazy jerk. I didn’t doubt the assessment of him as a bratty child that Tess had made. “What did Garret do to him?”
“He accused Buddy of theft.” She leapt to her feet and arched her back aggressively.
“He wasa thief.” The accusation rolled easily off my tongue born of personal experience.
Buddy Bloodworth would steal anything he could get his grubby hands on.
I reflexively covered one of my palms with the other.
“She accused him at the bonfire.” Her ears were flattened back and the hair along Mildred’s back was standing on end, indicating her level of agitation.
“Once a week this awful place holds a “community bonfire.” The kids roast marshmallows, the adults get toasted and they all laugh and tell ghost stories.”
“Why were you here?” I asked.
Mildred Bloodworth lived a silver spoon, or should I say silver broomstick, life with only the best of everything. Camping in the woods didn’t seem her style, even if she’d been glamping in all of the puke-worthy pinkness of Princess.
“Elton loved it.” The mention of her former husband, a man I’d never met, deflated her. She lay back down on the floor, turning her head away from me.
“So Garret accused Buddy of theft at the bonfire,” I said, trying to keep the conversation on track.
“The gall,” Mildred meowed. “Humiliating my boy like that.”
I wondered if it was Buddy that had been humiliated or Mildred herself.
“So you turned him into a squirrel?” I asked.
“But that doesn’t explain–,” I began.
The echo of a nearby explosion shook the camper. Mildred dove for cover, while I fumbled to cover myself with the towel. I jumped to my feet and pushed the curtain aside searching for the source of the percussive force.
I saw a cloud of black smoke rising in the distance.
Pulling Link out of the pocket of the jeans I’d discarded I asked, “Should I go check that out?”
I tossed the penny into the air. Caught it in one hand and slapped it onto the back of my hand. “Heads, yes.” I muttered.
I pulled on clean clothes, snatched Conroy off the pillow, and hurried outside. Realizing the smoke was coming from the general area of the camp office, I began jogging down the road in that direction.
A second explosion startled me, but I kept running.
But I came to a dead stop when I saw what was rising in the air.
Smoke formed the shape of a scythe.
“I hate magic,” I muttered.