Once Cursed, Twice Shy
You know you’re an unhappy camper when you’ve been serenaded by a yowling cat for more than fourteen hours. I glared at the Siamese in the passenger seat. She had been singing, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for what felt like forever.
Personally, I could have done with a good rendition of “99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall”, but I knew there was no point in complaining. Mildred wouldn’t care, despite the fact her caterwauling was tempting me to drive the camper van right off the road.
I could put us both out of our misery. Except that wouldn’t happen. Ever.
My mother-in-law, Mildred Bloodworth, was a witch. A real witch. And she’d managed to curse us both while trying to take something from me. I’m still not sure what that something was, but I’m determined to find out. It’s bad enough that I’m haunted by her, in the form of the damn cat, but that’s not the worst of it.
If I don’t fix the things that she did wrong in her life, I’ll be haunted by her for eternity.
So unfortunately, I can’t afford to die.
It was all the white rabbit’s fault.
One minute, I was driving along a winding road, past the beautiful sprawling pastures of the horse farms of Georgia, and the next moment, I was slamming on the brakes as a flash of white fur sped across my path.
Wheels squealed, there was a scream of terror punctuated by a loud pop, and Princess groaned as she shuddered to a stop.
I stared at the rabbit, perfectly unscathed and sitting just in front of the recreational vehicle I’d barely managed to stop without killing anyone as though he didn’t have a care in the world. “Watch where you’re going!” I yelled, pounding on the steering wheel for emphasis.
He looked back at me and twitched his pink nose, and it almost felt like an apology.
One that cost him.
A large woven net flew through the air, casting a momentary shadow over him. He bolted, but it was too late. His struggles only entangled him more.
I could have driven away, then. I should have, but something didn’t feel right.
Who traps a rabbit with a net in the middle of a road? For that matter, what were the chances of encountering a white rabbit anywhere besides at a little kid’s magic show?
My right eye began to twitch.
That’s never a good sign.
Two men and a woman quickly gathered up the netting. The shorter man tossed the trapped rabbit over his shoulder and they turned to cross back in front of my vehicle.
I don’t have much understanding of the whole witchcraft/magic thing, but if I’ve learned anything in the last year or so, it’s that I can see a shimmer.
Most people, normal people, don’t see them, but I can. It’s kind of like a holograph, but instead of being projected on a surface, the shimmer is hidden deep inside someone.
The shimmers of these three were a light blue. That meant they were magical.
Magic. I hate magic. Nothing good ever came from magic…at least where I was concerned.
“Uhhh, Conroy?” I murmured to my favorite owl. “I could use a little help.”
Don’t ask me how I’ve come to be in possession of an owl pendant that can talk. It’s one of the many things about my life I don’t understand. Waking up in a hospital with amnesia can do that to a person. My husband, Mildred’s son, hadn’t been great at filling in the blanks for me and I’d been confused and floundering for a while now.
At least I had the necklace to talk to…even if that was beyond weird.
“This rabbit nonsense is none of your business,” the cat beside me hissed.
I removed the silver bracelet I wore, the one Mildred had said I needed to fill with magical charms in order to free myself of her, and picked up the spray bottle of water I carried in the cup holder. I could endure fourteen hours of her yowling, but I wouldn’t put up with her interference.
She narrowed her blue eyes at me, much like she had when she was still alive and in human form. Back then, she’d scared me, but not anymore.
She flattened her ears. “Don’t you dare, you lit—”
I interrupted her insult by dousing her with a generous squirt.
Instinctively, she lashed out, scratching the back of my hand hard enough to draw blood. She let out a pained yelp and dashed for the back of the vehicle.
“Don’t get blood anywhere, Mildred,” I warned with a chuckle.
I might be cursed with Mildred Bloodworth’s presence, but she was equally trapped. Every time she physically harms me, she suffers a mirror injury, so now the back of her paw was bleeding. I’m pretty sure the boomerang aspect of the curse is the only reason she hasn’t ripped my throat out as I sleep.
“I remain unable to visualize through material,” Conroy complained. He delivered the equivalent of “I can’t see” in the pedantic style of someone who had attended a private North Eastern prep school and rubbed well-to-do shoulders with the Kennedys.
“Sorry.” I pulled the owl pendant that I wore around my neck out from under my shirt so that he could see what I was looking at.
“Filchers,” he muttered with disgust.
As though she’d heard the accusation, the woman in the group glanced up at me, her eyes locking on mine. She sneered and turned away.
“Filchers,” Conroy continued. “Thieves of magic. Hoarders of light. Remind you of anyone you knew?”
“Orville?” I guessed as I was swamped by a wave of outrage and disgust.
“Scum of magickind,” Conroy confirmed.
Behind us, the cat hissed. She probably wasn’t a fan of us talking ill of her beloved son—who also happened to be my rotten dead husband.
I rubbed my itchy palms together as the threesome disappeared into the woods at the side of the road. I saw a flash of white fur as the rabbit continued to struggle, and then they were gone.
I fished my lucky penny out of my pocket and asked, “Whatchya think, Link? Do I help the rabbit?”
I tossed the coin into the air and watched the copper disc rotate as it fell. Hand flat, I caught it in my palm.
It landed heads up.
“Okay,” I muttered, unhooking my seatbelt. “Save the bunny, save the world.”
Leaving the penny on the dashboard, I tucked the spray bottle under my arm, grabbed a taser out of the center console of the RV, and snatched a kitchen broom off the rack on the wall before jumping out.
“Do you smell that?” I wrinkled my nose against the scent of wood smoke.
“I possess no olfactory senses,” Conroy replied haughtily.
“Any special way to deal with filchers?” I asked, stepping into the woods.
“They normally run when confronted,” the owl told me. “They’re thieves, not warriors.”
Emboldened, I picked up my pace and soon caught up with the three.
The trapped animal was still struggling to get loose. Even from a distance, I could hear his heavy breathing.
“Now what?” the man carrying the rabbit asked.
“Now we burn him,” the other man replied.
“Alive,” the woman added.
I lost the element of surprise when I stepped on a stick. Its echoing snap alerted them to my arrival, and the three turned to face me.
“Order them to unhand the bunny,” Conroy suggested haughtily.
The woman looked at me like I was something she’d wipe off her shoes. “What do you want?”
Having tucked the taser and spray bottle into the waist of my jeans, I tightened my grip on the broom. “Let the rabbit go.”
“Make us,” the taller man taunted, walking toward me.
“He’s headed in the wrong direction,” I muttered under my breath to the owl pendant.
“They must find courage in numbers,” Conroy said. “Dispense with this one and the others will most certainly crumble like the proverbial cookie.”
Figuring he knew more about filchers than I did, I dropped the broom to the ground, pretending to surrender.
The approaching man laughed and looked over his shoulder at his comrades in crime. “I think I scared her.”
With his attention elsewhere, I reached behind me, whipped out the taser, and was pulling the trigger before he turned back. The electric shock from the weapon made his body quiver uncontrollably. He let out a pained shriek and collapsed to the ground. Something ricocheted in the flow of power and I got a shock that made me drop the weapon.
“Unhand the bunny!” Conroy yelled.
Instead of dropping the trapped animal and taking off, the woman snatched the net out of the other man’s hand. “End her,” she ordered.
While the short man advanced on me, pulling a long hunting knife out of a holster on his leg, the woman ran deeper into the woods with the furry white fluffball.
As I picked up the broom, I felt compelled to point out to Conroy, “There’s no crumbling going on.”
The man lunged at me with the blade. I took a half step back, and then hit him with three well-placed blows. The strike to his arm knocked the knife from his grip. The blow to his groin doubled him over in pain. I finished him off with a swipe to the back of his head that broke the broom handle and knocked him out cold.
“Bravo!” Conroy cheered.
I didn’t have time to feel proud of my accomplishment because the wind changed, and smoke stung my eyes. “Fire,” I murmured, tossing away the broken handle.
Hoping I wouldn’t be too late to save the bunny from a crispy death, I ran headfirst into the smoke.