I gulped nervously. “What do you mean, what’s coming next?”
Mildred jumped up on the table and swatted the piece of cheese I was holding onto the floor. “What’s happening next is you’re trapping the squirrel,” the cat meowed testily, “the ritual will be performed, lovers will be reunited and all that malarkey, and we’re getting the hell out of here! You have a bracelet to fill and misdeeds to right.”
She leapt down, grabbed the fallen cheese, scurried away and proceeded to eat it on the bed.
Sol changed his grip on the paring knife.
Afraid he was going to throw it at her, I grabbed his arm. “Don’t.”
“Because she’ll haunt me for eternity,” I blurted out.
He glared at the cat. “Is that what you told her? That she’ll be stuck with you forever if she doesn’t do your bidding?”
The Siamese flexed her claws. “The truth hurts.”
Shaking his head, Sol turned his attention to me. “You can get rid of her.”
He sounded so confident, that I felt a surge of hope. “Really?” I picked up a slice of apple and happily began to eat it.
“They’re conjoined,” Conroy piped up.
Sol blinked. “How?”
“A divestion spell gone wrong,” the owl told him solemnly.
“Hang on,” I interrupted, “you’ve got to add explanations for those in the room that don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s only you,” Mildred sniggered.
“Conjoined?” I prompted Sol.
“Your energies are….mingled,” he said carefully. “You’d have to get unmingled.” He glared at my necklace. “How did you let this happen?”
“Don’t blame this on me,” Conroy replied huffily. “You have no idea what I’ve been through. It’s not my job to protect her from these kinds of things you know. I’m a guide. A source of information. I am a phantasmic. I have no active powers beyond knowledge and encouragement.”
Sol surrendered the point by holding up both hands. “Fine, not your fault. But I assume she was already like,” he waved his hands to envelope me, “like this before the conjoining.”
“But she’s,” Sol sputtered. “I mean look at her. Do you know what she is?”
“I do,” Conroy said quietly. “But she doesn’t.”
I swallowed the last of my apple. “What am I?”
“How do you not know?” Sol rubbed his forehead like the conversation was giving him a headache.
“Amnesia,” Conroy replied. “Total amnesia. Doesn’t remember her name. Didn’t remember her husband. Can’t remember a thing since—”
“Husband?” Sol scrambled out of his seat, hitting his head as he stood up. “Ow. What husband? Where is he? What does he think of all this?”
I frowned at him wondering why the mention of a spouse had made him so nervous. Then I pointed at the cat who was watching him with narrowed eyes. “She’s my mother-in-law.”
“Former mother-in-law,” Conroy corrected.
Sol blinked as though he was having trouble figuring out what was being revealed. “You were married to Orville Bloodworth?”
I never knew so much disgust could be loaded into a single syllable. A wave of hot shame crashed over me as Sol regarded me with newfound revulsion.
“Why?” he repeated clenching his fists.
I shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t—” He turned his back toward me.
“Easy, Sol,” his magician’s hat, Erich, warned. “You don’t want to blow your top.”
Sol held out his hand and the hat flew through the air and landed in his palm. Without a word, he unlocked the camper door and climbed out.
I let him go.
I couldn’t blame him for being disgusted. Orville had been a detestable man and I understood Sol’s view that I was tainted because of my association.
I had no idea how I could have ended up with someone so repulsive. Every time Orville had tried to touch me, I’d shuddered violently and felt sick to my stomach. Not knowing how I’d ended up married to him was one of the curses of my amnesia.
“Focus,” Mildred hissed. “We’ve got to trap the squirrel and perform the ritual.”
I gave myself a whole-body shake, like I was a wet dog, trying to rid myself of the lingering effects of thinking about Orville. “We do, and Garrett and Tess get back together?”
“Yes,” she meowed.
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do.” This task was exponentially complicated both by Welmont and the Cullers, but I would try.
I tossed the cat the last piece of cheese and left the camper. It was quiet in the vicinity of the Raven’s Nest office. No one appeared to be around.
“There’s something I don’t understand,” I said to Conroy.
“The sheer volume of what you don’t understand could be stretched across the universe and written on a single grain of sand,” he replied.
“That makes no sense,” I snapped.
“Most of life makes no sense,” he countered calmly. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to create order out of the chaos.”
I considered that for a long moment.
“You were saying there’s something you don’t understand,” Conroy prompted.
“Yeah, it’s about the quicksand,” I said. “If this is cursed land, how could it be here? I mean assuming it was caused by magic.”
I could practically hear Conroy preening. Rolling my eyes, I began walking toward the area where the ground had almost swallowed Richie and me.
“You’re starting to accept magic,” the owl continued.
“I accept it,” I told him firmly. “But I hate it.”
“Even after you used it?”
“I didn’t use it,” I replied quickly.
“Of course, you did,” he corrected. “You used the benevolent boost.”
I picked up the stick I’d extended to Richie. No sand clung to it. “No, I didn’t. It wasn’t me.”
“But…” Conroy trailed off.
“So how’d it get here?” I asked. “The killer dirt.”
“The Cullers could not have done it,” Conroy said slowly. “And Sol was otherwise occupied. There must be someone else magical around.”
I shook my head. “Everyone else has an orange shimmer. No magic.”
“Unless,” Conroy murmured thoughtfully.
“A hod could do it.”
“Like Erich, the hat?”
“They have protective qualities,” Conroy explained. “If one felt threatened, it’s conceivable it could surround itself with treacherous grit as a shield of sorts.”
“So Erich did it?”
“It seems unlikely that a hod would act in such defiance of its owner and I can’t see Sol harming the child. I guess it’s possible. I mean if the need for self-preservation was high. But I don’t see how that was the case since…”
While he prattled on, I focused on a lump where the center of the quicksand had been. It was out of place against the ground, dark and unnatural looking. I hurried toward it, eager to investigate. As I drew closer, I realized what it was.
“Ummm…” I said nervously, interrupting Conroy’s musings. “I think we may have found it.”
“Found what?” the owl asked.
“The missing pot.” I pointed to the lump. Now that we were nearer, it was clear that the lump wasn’t a rock or a stump, it was blackened metal.
Remembering the painful jolt I’d gotten when I’d reached for Sol’s magical hat, I circled the pot cautiously. “How do we know if it’s a hod?” I whispered.
“You could try asking it,” Conroy suggested. “Just keep your distance.”
I glanced around to see if anyone was watching before clearing my throat and calling out tentatively, “Hello, Mr. Hod? I don’t mean you any offense, sir. I was just wondering if in fact you are a hod.”
The pot did not respond.
I waited for a few long moments, feeling like an absolute fool for being afraid to pick up a pot.
“Sometimes a pot is just a pot,” I said, creeping closer.
“And sometimes an idiot is just an idiot.”
I jumped back, startled by the voice of a petulant teenage girl coming from the kitchenware.
“What kind of idiot assumes a hod is male?” she continued, outraged. “Are you one of those Power to the Patriarchy witches? Or do you belong to one of those The Wisdom of Warlocks sects?”
“No,” I assured her. “I don’t even know what those things are. I’m just an idiot.”
“Just an idiot,” she repeated.
I could hear the sneer in her voice.
“I’ve only ever met one other hod,” I tried to explain. “And he’s male…at least as male as an object can be…I guess…” I trailed off, getting even more confused as I spoke.
“If he identifies as male, he’s male,” she snapped at me. “Don’t you know anything?”
“I don’t,” I admitted. “I really don’t know much at all. I mean, I thought I knew a little, but the more I learn, the less I know. I mean I’m trying, but everything is just so confusing.”
“You’re starting to babble,” Conroy warned. “Just apologize.”
Knowing he was right, I wrapped up with a breathless. “I’m sorry I made an incorrect assumption about you.”
“Yeah,” she sniped, “well don’t do it again.”
“I’ll try,” I told her. “But I tend to make the same mistakes again and again. I’m not a quick learner.”
“Humans never are,” she muttered.
I stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do or say next. I didn’t want to inadvertently do something else wrong and be attacked again.
Thankfully I had Conroy to help.
“What’s your name?” the pendant asked the pot.
“You know that Keith was killed?” Conroy asked gently
She didn’t sound broken up about the death of her owner. I wondered if anyone had liked the man I’d smooshed.
“Why did you endanger the child?” the owl pressed.
The ground around me trembled gently, much like it had when we had been in the rabbit hole.
“I didn’t mean to,” Glory replied defensively. “He pulled the shadow off and I didn’t know what was happening. I just sort of lashed out.”
I really wanted to ask what a shadow was, but I didn’t want to further prove her hypothesis that I was an idiot.
“I didn’t mean it,” she continued in a soft, vulnerable tone. “It’s just that I’m scared. Everyone’s in so much danger.”