A Cozy Witch Mystery
Most of us have faced the fact that an owl will never come with our acceptance letter to Hogwarts. Find out what this teen does to take matters into her own hands.
Nerdy high school outcast, CLARISSA LAWRENCE, has always felt like she didn't belong in this world. More than anything, she wants magic to be real--and not just because she's obsessed with Harry Potter and tries to go to Narnia by reading fantasy novels in her wardrobe.
Yet, when she stumbles upon real magic, and fairy tales come true, she doesn't expect to be the evil villain in her own story.
Clarissa learns she's descended from an evil witch and is destined to kill her older sister. When she meets a cute boy who offers to train her in magic, she must make a choice. She can have a safe, normal life and no harm will come to anyone. Or she can choose magic and risk everything and everyone she loves in order to be what she's always known she was meant to be . . . a wicked witch.
This is the first book in the WOMBY'S SCHOOL FOR WAYWARD WITCHES Series, but the first three books can be read in any order. Other books in the series include:
Hexes and Exes
Reading, Writing and Necromancy
Budget Cuts for the Dark Arts and Crafts
Hex and the City
Spell it Out for Me
Tropes: Becoming a Monster, Book of Spells, Chosen One, Crazy Clairvoyants, Evolving Powers, Magical Disaster, Parallel Worlds, Portals, Training
Word Count: 80000
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Tropes: Becoming a Monster, Book of Spells, Chosen One, Crazy Clairvoyants, Evolving Powers, Magical Disaster, Parallel Worlds, Portals, Training
Word Count: 80000
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Oops, I Did It Again
“Magic is not real,” I said as I waited for my therapist to come in.
Magic wasn’t real—because if it was—that would mean I was a witch. And if I was a witch, it would mean I had killed two people using my magic. It was better to be normal. It was safer.
But after everything I had experienced in my sixteen years, it was hard to believe magic didn’t exist.
The antique clock on the wall ticked away, the rhythm slow and lethargic. Even through the haze of medications, my therapist’s tardiness made me uneasy.
I hugged a potted orchid in my hands, trying not to damage the white flowers. It grounded me to hold onto something. Another orchid my mom had given Dr. Bach rested on his desk, stretching toward the cheery sunshine beyond the misty veil of curtains.READ MORE
My mind dipped into the well of dark memories I wanted to forget. I pushed away unbidden thoughts of my older sister and what had happened to her and my first love, Derrick. I would not think about it. Dr. Bach said what had happened wasn’t my fault.
I remembered Derrick’s blue eyes, full of sunshine and optimism. The way he used to smile at me banished the cold cynicism of the world and reminded me anything was possible. I imagined his lips on mine, his arms pulling me into the sanctuary of his embrace. The old yearning returned, bittersweet and suffocating in its intensity. Tears filled my eyes.
The room grew eerily silent. The clock no longer ticked. The lamps in the corners flickered and hummed. Haltingly, the mechanisms of the clock started up again, but this time the beat ticked irregularly.
The second hand spun counterclockwise in spurts. The scents of potted plants and dusty chairs faded under the sharp tingle of ozone and metal. Electricity tingled under my skin.
“Oh no.” I flinched and looked around, ready for something to explode.
This was not happening again. It had to be one of my hallucinations. I didn’t want to be crazy, but the alternative was worse.
Beyond the window, the black silhouettes of birds cast ominous shadows over the interior of the room. Their wings slapped against the glass as if trying to break their way in. I squeezed my eyes closed, my apprehension growing. Those were just birds. They were not evil Fae, I told myself. No one was about to abduct me like they had with my sister.
“Magic is not real.”
I said it, but I was wrong.
If You Believe in Fairies, Clap Your Hands
“You’re a liar, ginger,” Karen Walker said as we walked home from school with her older brother and his friend.
“No, I’m not!” I said. No one managed to make my blood boil the way the neighbor kids did. Had it been anyone else, I could have ignored them. “And don’t call me that, squib.” I hoped I wasn’t going to get in trouble for saying that word. My older sister said it wasn’t a real swearword, but it felt like one.
“If you’re a witch, prove it.” A little smirk tugged Peter Walker’s mouth into a sneer. “Do something magical for us.” He nudged his buddy, Jordan Burke, like it was a joke. They were fifth graders, two years older than Karen and me.
“Maybe I will.” I held my head up high, imagining myself impervious to the sting of insults in my witch hat, black cape and Gryffindor scarf. Even so, a prickle of hurt wormed its way under my armor of striped socks.
If I was going to prove myself, I would have to hurry before my parents came home from work and stopped me.
Our two-story brick house was a lush oasis surrounded by green gardens and shady trees in a desert of boring cookie cutter homes with dead grass. Once we’d made it through the gate of the white picket fence, the four of us kids dragged the large trampoline over to the side of the house, under the lower part of the roof where it was only one story. I tried to direct them so they didn’t stomp through Mom’s artful arrangement of flowers planted along the perimeter of the patio, but they didn’t listen. Karen chewed on the end of her brown braid, listening as Jordan whispered to her. He usually didn’t deign to speak to third graders, but today he had walked home with Karen’s older brother, Peter.
They wouldn’t be sorry they’d come. I was going to show them magic.
Awkwardly, I held the broom while I climbed up the ladder my dad had left leaning against the roof to fix the satellite dish. My heart hammered in my chest as I shuffled along the angled edge of the roof. I placed the broom between my legs. This would be like all those times I’d successfully practiced flying onto the trampoline before. Only, those times had been from the top of the three-foot brick wall that separated the patio and fire pit from my mom’s garden.
I gazed down at my audience below. My witch cape billowed around my shoulders and my red hair danced into my eyes. This was the moment I would prove I was a witch. I would fly. Tomorrow they’d be nice to me and Karen would invite me to sit with her and the cool kids during lunch.
“Hurry up, Clarissa,” Karen said.
A niggling doubt worked its way into my mind. What if I wasn’t a witch? No, that was impossible. But if I wasn’t, the trampoline would surely break my fall.
“Chicken,” Peter taunted.
It occurred to me I might be wrong. I might be a fairy, not a witch. If that was the case, the broom wouldn’t work. I needed to ensure I would fly. I poured the bottle of pixie dust from the amulet around my neck. I just had to have light, happy thoughts like in Peter Pan. Or was that Mary Poppins?
I closed my eyes and edged closer to the gutter. I had to concentrate. Magic only worked in stories when a witch focused—and when she needed it most. A door slammed somewhere behind me. I tried to ignore the sound. It probably was my sister getting home from her after school club. She would go straight up to her room to do homework like she usually did.
Another door opened and thudded closed.
“What are you doing over here, Karen?” my older sister, Missy asked. “Where’s Clarissa?”
My accomplices chuckled.
“She’s going to fly.” Karen tee-heed.
“What are you talking about?” Missy came into view.
Her blonde hair was pulled up into a ponytail and she wore a blue and green dress that reminded me of water. She joined them out on the lawn, trampling through Mom’s petunias.
Great. My sister was about to ruin everything.
Missy followed their gazes. Her curiosity transformed into anger as she shouted at me. “Oh, no you don’t! You get down, this instant.”
“Okay,” I said. I inched forward, my toes over the gutter. My heart pounded in my ears.
“No! You go over to that ladder and get down. Right now.” Missy punched Karen in the arm. “You should be ashamed of yourself, encouraging her like that.”
“Ow!” Karen squealed.
Missy shoved Peter and rounded on Jordan. “You’re all a bunch of jerks.”
“It’s okay, Missy,” I called down. “I can fly. I’m going to prove it. Just watch.”
It didn’t count if no one watched. She had to be looking at me.
“I told you to climb down. You get off the roof before you break your neck. Now!” Missy pointed to the ladder.
I tried to explain why I needed to do this, but she talked over me. “Whatever these losers told you, ignore them. You don’t have to prove anything.”
“Missy, listen,” I said. “You don’t have to worry. I know I can do magic, and I’m going to show you all. I just need you to be quiet so I can concentrate.”
“If you do this, I’ll tell Mom and Dad.” She started up the ladder.
“Good,” I said. They would see it was true and stop telling me I lived in a fantasy world.
“No!” Missy said. “Do NOT do it. Stay where you are. I’ll get you down.”
“I don’t need your help. You, stay where you are. Don’t come any closer.” Why did she have to embarrass me in front of the neighbors?
This wasn’t going well. If she tried to stop me, I was going to have to leap off the roof before I was ready. My clammy hands gripped the wood of the broom.
She reached the top of the ladder. “If you don’t stop, I’ll make sure you get grounded. If you don’t stop I’ll—”
I inched away from her, slowly, not wanting to trip over the uneven shingles of the roof. “I don’t care.”
Only, I did. I didn’t want to get in trouble. But this was going to be worth it. No one would punish me once they understood I had powers.
“Stop being like this.” Missy inched toward me, arms out to balance herself on the incline. “If you do this, I’ll be mean to you. I won’t give you the toys in my Happy Meal. I’ll take back that dress I gave you yesterday.”
I chewed on my lip. Missy was never mean to me. We were friends.
My audience snickered below. I heard the words “gullible” and “moron.”
Missy threw down her trump card. “If you jump, I won’t be your friend anymore.”
My feet rooted to the shingles. She couldn’t!
She went on. “If you’re going to be my best friend, you can’t do something stupid like this. If you jump off the roof and die—”
“I’m not going to die.”
“Fine, if you fly off the roof and survive, I won’t ever speak to you again. I’ll hate you, and you won’t be my friend anymore. Is that what you want?”
I looked to the trio below and then to Missy. I shook my head.
She offered me a smile, holding her hand out to me. I trudged back to her and took her hand. She grabbed the broom from me and threw it at Peter. He jumped back. She guided me to the ladder and held it as I climbed down. Each rung brought me closer to my impending doom. Once I stood at the bottom, the three other kids whispered to each other.
Karen looked me over, her expression unimpressed. “I knew you weren’t going to do it.”
I hung my head with shame. Tomorrow it would be all over the school. People would have one more reason to make fun of me. Couldn’t Missy understand how she had just ruined my life? I would never have friends now.
Missy climbed down after me. She picked up the broom from where it lay in the tangles of thyme and rosemary, and swatted at Karen and then Jordan. They dodged back. Jordan kept laughing, even as she hit him. He stopped laughing when she smashed the wood of the broom against his nose.
He cried out and grabbed his face, blood spurting from between his fingers. I stared in wide-eyed shock.
“Get lost, all of you. If I ever hear about you egging her on like this again, I’ll make you regret it. Understand me?” Missy’s hair fell out of her ponytail and streamed around her shoulders in wild waves. She looked like she could have been a witch at that moment. She smacked Peter with the broom. “You’re a bunch of jerks and bullies. Someone could have gotten hurt today. I won’t let you pick on my sister.” Her voice turned hoarse as she shouted and chased them.
They ran around the side of the house and out the gate of our white picket fence. Missy stared after them, waiting until they’d ran across the street. The wooden gate swung on its hinges.
“Wow, that was great,” I said. My sister could be simultaneously terrifying and wonderful.
Missy stalked back toward me, dragging the broom in the dirt of the flower beds. Her cheeks were flushed. I smiled at her, grateful she’d told off those kids. Maybe they wouldn’t tease me tomorrow.
As I reached out to hug Missy, she slapped me across the face, hard enough to bring tears to my eyes.
I stumbled back. “What was that for?”
Missy burst into tears. “Don’t ever do anything stupid like that again. Promise me. I don’t want to lose you.” She grabbed me and clutched me to her.
I hugged her back and patted her shoulder.
“Do you know what Mom would have done to me if you had broken an arm when I was supposed to be watching you? Do you know what she would have done to you? She’s one step away from taking away your Narnia books as it is.”
“No! Not my books!” I said. “You won’t tell Mom and Dad, will you?”
She didn’t answer.
“Please?” I asked.
If she did, they would command me never to do it again. And then I wouldn’t be able to because it would be bad if I didn’t listen to them. I had to find a new way to prove I was a witch.
Missy sniffled and pulled away, wiping her face against her sleeve. “I won’t tell . . . if you can tell me why you aren’t going to do that again.”
I tried to figure out what she wanted to hear. “You don’t want me to get hurt. You think I can’t really fly.”
“I don’t think. I know, dorkbreath.”
“But I can! I did it before. I flew from the wall to the trampoline.”
She grimaced. “No, you jumped onto the trampoline. Anyone can do that. Repeat after me, ‘I cannot fly.’”
In my most petulant monotone I said, “Fine. I can’t fly. Will you promise not to tell?”
She gave me a playful shove. “You’re impossible.” Her smile told me everything would be all right.
I thought that was the end of it. I went back inside to do my homework. Mom came home an hour later and Dad shortly after that. I didn’t hear Missy tattle, so I thought I’d gotten off easy. It was after dinner as I was playing with my toys that I suspected something was wrong.
I was aware of the silence downstairs. The television wasn’t on. I lay across my Tinker Bell bedspread, listening. Missy was on the phone in her room. That meant she wasn’t squealing on me. I continued to play.
A procession of my Barbie dolls dressed in the gowns of a fairy court loomed over the My Little Pony pegasi and unicorns, dwarfing them. Footsteps creaked up the stairs. I lined up three storm troopers beside Darth Vader next to the model U.S.S. Enterprise I’d made with Dad. The two opposing forces faced off.
Dad leaned against the entry, the bulk of his frame taking up the majority of the doorway. His eyes raked over my tableaux. “Honey, come downstairs for a minute. Your mom and I want to talk to you.” He rubbed at his golden beard and mustache, not meeting my eyes.
Cold dread settled like ice in my gut as I clutched Midnight Rainbow, my favorite unicorn. I followed Dad down. He moved slowly, lumbering toward the living room like a pack animal burdened by the weight of too many bags.
Missy had told. I was going to get in trouble. They were going to take my books away. I would have to lie. I didn’t want to, but I would say Missy was fibbing. I didn’t know what else to do.
They sat on the couch side by side. They never sat on the couch with backs straight and rigid, looking like someone had died. Unless someone had died. Mom smiled, or looked like she was trying to. Maybe my books were safe.
“There’s something we need to tell you.” Dad leaned his elbows onto his knees and rubbed at his face.
“We’ve been talking. . . .” Mom said.
My nerves jittered with anticipation. Missy had told them. I was certain of it, now more than ever.
“I didn’t do it.” I hugged Midnight Rainbow. “Missy made it up.”
My parents looked at each other, confusion painting their faces.
“What?” Dad asked.
Mom’s eyes narrowed with shrewdness. “What didn’t you do?”
Immediately I could see my error. They hadn’t been about to ground me from reading fantasy novels for the rest of my life. Missy hadn’t told them. Only, I had blown it, and they were about to dig the truth out of me. That meant they were going to tell me some other terrible news.
I tried to cover my mistake. “Nothing. I mean, we were just playing earlier, and she got mad at me and. . . .” I tried to think of something, but all the imaginative tales stored up in my brain failed me.
Dad plunged on, unfazed, his eyes glued on the avocado-green carpet. “We’ve talked to you about some things in the past. Grownup things. We need to talk to you about something important.”
Neither spoke. Mom swallowed.
“Something important,” I repeated.
Wait a minute. . . . This was it! Finally, they were going to tell me I was special. I was a fairy or a witch or something magical.
I glanced over my shoulder. “Shouldn’t Missy be here for this?”
“Missy already knows about grownup things,” Mom said. She took my hands in hers, staring into my eyes. “Do you remember when we told you some things are for the imagination? Not everything magic is real.”
“I remember,” I said quickly. The anticipation was killing me. Surely they were about to tell me what was real—that I was a witch.
Dad pulled at a loose thread on the seam of the brown couch. “Do you remember last Easter when you found those white, powdery footprints leading from the living room out onto the lawn?”
“Yes. We looked it up in that book, and we identified it as the Leporidae Eastarus—the Easter Bunny.” Looking it up in one of Dad’s books had been his idea. “Those footprints led to the best eggs ever!” I didn’t know what the Easter Bunny had to do with anything important, though.
“That was me,” Dad said.
“No, it wasn’t. Those weren’t your footprints.”
Mom shoved a paper bag at him. He removed the talcum powder and bunny slippers.
I shook my head, refusing to believe him.
Mom nudged him. “Tell her about Christmas.”
“That was also my idea,” Dad said. “I ate the carrots you left out for the reindeer. And the cookies and milk.”
“But you couldn’t have. You’re lactose intolerant.”
Dad’s eyes crinkled up with pity. “I poured the milk back into the carton.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are stories,” Mom said. “They’re make-believe.”
The fragile world I had always loved shattered before my eyes. I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye and held my chin high. I was a big girl. I could handle the Easter Bunny and tooth fairy not being real. I’d already suspected as much from the gossip of third graders in my class. I was fine with that creepy guy at the mall who always waved at me and invited me to sit on his lap not being the “real” Saint Nick.
Everything would be fine if magic still existed in the world.
I drew in a shaky breath, afraid to ask. “But Hogwarts—that’s real, right?” It wasn’t like I was asking if Harry Potter was real. Even if he was fictional, it didn’t mean the place he went to school couldn’t be real. The place I would be going to school.
My parents’ nervous glance at each other said it all. Mom fidgeted with the frizzy tail of her long red braid. My heart plummeted to my stomach and settled like a pair of concrete shoes in a river.
“I’m sorry, Clarissa.” Dad sat me between the two of them. He kissed the top of my head. His beard tickled my face.
My mother muttered under her breath. “See, I told you those books were a bad idea.”
Those words were more powerful than Missy’s slap to my face earlier.
I covered my eyes and bawled. “What about Jesus? Is he a lie too?”
Mom said nothing.
“No, honey. God is real,” Dad said.
Yeah, right. See if I believed anything they said ever again.
I squirmed out from between them and threw my toy unicorn on the floor, about to run out of the room.
“Not so fast.” Mom grabbed the back of my shirt and tugged me onto the couch beside her. “It can be hard to tell the difference between what is real and what we want to be true. Sometimes there are strange things that happen in the world that we don’t understand. Don’t try to take care of these things by yourself. If you ever notice something isn’t right, come and tell Mommy.”
“Or if someone goads you into climbing on the roof with a broom,” Dad said. “Maybe you should ask a second opinion from an unbiased source. Like one of us. Or another adult.”
“Missy told?” I shrieked.
“No. Mrs. Mesker called me when I got home from work,” Mom said. I hadn’t counted on the elderly neighbor to be the one to tattle on me.
Despite my parents’ intervention, I couldn’t shake my belief in magic.
On my eleventh birthday, I sat at the window, waiting for my owl to come and tell me I had been accepted to a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry.
My older sister, Missy, bounded into the room, dressed in a cheerleading uniform from spring break camp. She waved a letter around. “Look! They want me to come to drill camp this summer and invited me to try out for the high school squad. They’ve chosen me!” She ran out of the room, oblivious to my misery.
I wanted someone to tell me I was the chosen one, that I was special too. Maybe it was because my older sister was so good at everything, and I wasn’t good at anything. Except drawing, and that didn’t count.
No owl came. No letter arrived. I was destined for an ordinary life of non-magic. Or so I thought.
The Day My Sister Was Abducted by a Witch
I had just celebrated my fourteenth birthday a few days before we went to Oregon Country Fair. Back in the early two thousands, it was considered the bohemian Mecca before Burning Man gained notoriety.
“It’s one part renaissance fair, one part music festival, and two parts hippieville,” Dad said as he parked the minivan. “There’s something for everyone at this event.”
Even before my family exited the van, I knew it was going to be a magical day. A lady wearing a medieval gown walked toward colorful banners above the entrance, followed by a troupe of teenagers in black and white striped costumes reminiscent of characters from a Tim Burton movie.
Something flitted past the window. The bright colors and rapid wing movement reminded me of a hummingbird. The shimmer was more like the iridescence of a dragonfly. It zipped around the van as my parents unloaded backpacks with water bottles, snacks, and ninety-nine other items my mom thought were essential. The little creature hovered above Dad’s bald spot, and that’s when I saw the body was shaped like a person’s.
“Look, a fairy,” I said in wonder. “A real fairy!”
Missy raised an eyebrow. “There’s no such thing as fairies. You know that, right, Clarissa?”
I pointed. Mom and Dad were busy talking and didn’t see. By the time Missy turned to look, the creature had flown off. I was certain this was a sign anything could happen today. Magic was real. Even if no one else thought so.
We passed a jillion cars in the field as we walked to the shady area where the entrance of the woodland fair was located. Dad made us stop in front of a dragon statue to snap a photo with his digital camera.
“Say cheese doodles,” Dad said, making a goofy face so we would smile.
He took another photo of Mom, Missy, and me in our matching tie-dyed shirts next to a wall of artwork. The blue and green of our shirts made the auburn of my mom’s hair shine more vividly in the summer sunlight. It even made the golden whiskers peppered through Dad’s beard appear redder. I could only imagine what it was doing to my own hair. Missy was so lucky to be born blonde. I would have traded my vintage Spock doll collection to get rid of my freckles and red hair.
“Your eyes were closed, Missy,” Dad said to my sister. He snapped another pic. “A real smile, this time, Clarissa. I want to see your seven-thousand-dollar smile.”
I sealed my lips together so my braces wouldn’t be visible. I hated it when he acted like my braces cost a fortune. He was my orthodontist. It didn’t cost him anything.
I thought Mr. Documentary was finished with his photo session, but no, not my parental unit. Dad flagged down a man dressed as a human-sized chess piece. White paint covered his face and arms to match his tunic.
“Nice costume.” Dad said. “Would you mind taking a photo of me with my family?”
“Sure, dude,” the man said.
Mom eyed the stranger warily. He smelled like a skunk, and I wondered if he had encountered wildlife at the woodland forest of the fair. A lady walked by, her bare breasts covered in glitter paint. My sister caught my eye, and we both giggled. This wasn’t like the county fair. Dad had warned us there wouldn’t be rides, cotton candy, or people showing off cows and pigs. This was the fair he used to go to when he’d been in college at University of Oregon.
Dad hugged us to his sides under a shady tree, looming over the three of us as the stranger snapped photos. We thanked the man and checked the photos in the digital camera’s screen. Dad’s head was cut off in the first photo. The second one wasn’t so bad, but it showed a woman in a bird costume, black plumage ruffled out like a collar as she photobombed behind us.
Mom stared at the photo, her brow furrowing. She glanced around. The woman was long gone.
Dad muttered under his breath about amateur photographers.
“You’re an amateur, Dad,” I said.
“I’m not just the president of the Amateur Club of Photographers, I’m also a client.” His barrel chest heaved up and down as he laughed at his own joke.
“Lame,” Missy mouthed.
“Let me get sunblock on you girls.” Mom fussed at us and slathered a gob of white goop over my face. “Now, what is the plan if you get lost?”
“Find a staff member who can escort us back to the main entrance,” Missy said in an unenthusiastic monotone.
“And if you get hurt?” Mom asked.
I held up the map, pointing at the first aid symbol. “White Bird’s Medical Station.”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Dad said. “We’re all going to stay together.”
A shadow blotted out the sun and chilled the air. I looked up. A flock of birds swarmed above us like bees, their silhouettes black and ominous. I’d never seen birds circle in a frenzy like that before.
“It isn’t too late to go home.” Mom bit her lip, looking at me and talking about me as if I wasn’t there. “Fourteen is too young for a place like this.”
“Resistance is futile. You will have a good time, hon,” Dad said, hugging Mom around the shoulders.
Mom made me hold her hand as we walked through the crowd, even though it was uber embarrassing. Missy held my other hand as Dad snapped photos of everything. I stared in wonder at the booths full of clothes that would have been perfect for a woodland fairy to wear. A rainbow of ribbons hung from a tree, wafting in the wind. The fair was unlike any other festival I’d been to. People wore funky costumes, and there were so many stages playing cool music. We stopped and watched a belly dance performance.
“Isn’t it absolutely magical?” I said to Missy. I felt like I’d walked into another dimension. These people were my people, and this place was home. I’d finally found somewhere I belonged.
“There you go again.” She nudged me. “Everything is always fairyland with you, isn’t it?”
I grinned. She knew me better than anyone else.
The festival stretched on for what seemed like miles. Sunlight sparkled off a booth of glass art. Missy held up a pink and white vase with a tube sticking out the side of it, giving it a quizzical look.
“Is that a musical instrument?” I asked. “It’s my favorite color!”
Dad took it from Missy and set it back down. “Heh, you don’t need one of those. That’s for college students.”
Mom groaned. “This is why I didn’t think we should take them to the Oregon Country Fair.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
Mom took my hand as we perused a long line of shops between us and Main Stage where we were headed. Dad and Missy progressed more quickly, the gap between us widening.
A few minutes later, Missy came skipping back, Dad right behind her. His mustache and beard almost hid his little smirk. He raised the camera again, poised to take a photo.
“I bought something for you with my allowance.” Missy was practically jumping up and down in her excitement. “Hold out your hand and close your eyes. I have something for you that’s a big surprise.”
“Okay,” I said. I closed my eyes, and held out my hand, smiling in anticipation of whatever it was.
“That isn’t the way it goes,” Dad said. A camera shutter clicked. “It’s open your mouth and close your eyes. I have something that’s a big surprise. And it’s supposed to be a worm you put in her mouth. That’s what your Uncle Trevor used to do to me when we were kids.”
Missy and I squealed. I covered my face with my hands, icked out. I didn’t peek, though.
“Gross!” Missy said.
“Yeah, Dad, gross!” I said.
“I wouldn’t ever do that to you,” Missy said. She pulled my hand away from my face. “No peeking.”
Something tickled against my wrist.
“Open your eyes,” Missy said.
It was a friendship bracelet decorated with pink and white stripes, my favorite colors. In the center of the knotwork were three pink beads threaded into the woven strands: BFF. Best friends forever.
“Whoa! Cool,” I said.
I threw my arms around my sister’s neck and hugged her. “Thank you! I love it!”
She lifted me off my feet with one of her big sister hugs. “I’m glad you like it.” She kissed the top of my head.
“I won’t ever take it off,” I promised. “I want to get a matching one for you.”
Our parents walked behind us as Missy showed me where the booth was. She picked out a bracelet with her school colors: red and white. My school colors come September. Just thinking about high school filled me with dread.
Dad went up to the artist to pay with me since he was the one holding my allowance.
“Free samples,” a creaky voice said behind me.
A hunched-over old woman held a basket of gingerbread men and women. She was dressed in a mixture of mismatched patterns. Her long nose and pointed chin reminded me of the illustrations of Baba Yaga from Mom’s fairytale book. She held a cookie out to Missy.
Mom swatted at Missy’s hand as if she was still six. I would have died if she’d done that to me.
“We don’t know what’s in those cookies,” Mom whispered, none too quietly. “They might have drugs in them.”
“Mom!” Missy said. “You’re being rude. It’s just a cookie.”
“If you’re hungry, we’ll get you girls real food.” Mom turned away from the woman. “Dessert after.”
Dad shook with silent laughter. At least someone was enjoying this.
The old woman grinned a toothless smile. “That’s right, dearie. Never accept food from strangers.” The hint of an accent flavored her creaky voice, though I couldn’t place it. “But we aren’t strangers, are we, Abigail?”
She knew my mom’s name? Mom tugged Missy around a flock of teens, joining Dad and me.
“Who was that?” Dad asked.
Mom’s spine was stiff, her tone brisk. “No one.”
“Abby, how’d she know your name?”
Mom made a motion with her hand that reminded me of sign language, only she did it behind her back like she didn’t want anyone to see. The air smelled green, like her herb garden. “Who’s hungry for lunch?”
Dad’s eyes became unfocused, and he stopped asking questions. “I’m hungry,” he said.
The question that had been on my own lips melted away. I couldn’t remember what I’d been thinking about a moment before. Mom looked tired. Missy pouted until I brought her the friendship bracelet and tied it on her wrist.
Missy leaned in conspiratorially. “The ’rental units are driving me crazy.”
I giggled. “Yeah, I know. Me too.”
We stopped at a food booth for lunch and ate Thai food. Mom bought us coconut ice cream for dessert. I sat next to Missy, and she shared a piece of mango in her ice cream with me. My sister was the best. This was the best day ever, and I got to share it with my best friend. I was so happy, I couldn’t imagine any moment in my life being better than this.
Missy and I held hands during the acrobatics show at the Daredevil Palace Vaudeville Stage, our bracelets next to each other on our arms.
“I don’t feel like I’m ready to go to high school.” I said.
“How can you not be ready?” Missy tore her gaze from the juggler riding the unicycle on the stage. “It’ll be great. We’ll be at the same school. We can eat lunch together.”
“What if I don’t fit in?”
She bumped my shoulder playfully with hers. “You can hang out with me, but you’re going to have to try to fit in. Watch some television shows high schoolers like. And don’t say you already do. No one watches Doctor Who or the X-Files or Buffy. Those shows are too old. And they’re kind of, well, people think they’re nerdy.”
I made a face at her. Dad and I liked to watch those shows together. Someone a few rows ahead of us lit up a stinky cigarette. I tried not to choke. Missy waved the smoke away. It finally clicked.
I nudged Missy. “Is this what marijuana smells like? I always thought that was skunk.”
“That’s because you believe everything Mom tells you.” She tore her gaze away from the juggling. “That smell on Beavercreek Road is skunk. In the city, it isn’t. I heard Dad tell Mom, out here in Eugene you can’t walk a block without getting a whiff of someone smoking pot.”
I’d had no idea. We lived in a nice neighborhood with half an acre of yard between us and our neighbors. People where we lived in Oregon City didn’t do this kind of thing. At least I didn’t think they did.
How could my parents have kept me in the dark about this? What would I do if I didn’t have Missy around to explain the world to me?
Missy went back to watching the juggling. It was silly and fun, and I wanted to enjoy it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about September and the start of school.
I swallowed, afraid to voice the depths of my fears. “What if there are bullies? What if Jonathan happens again?” I glanced at our parents. Dad was engrossed in the show. Mom watched a blackbird in one of the trees.
“What about that loser?” Missy flicked her long hair over her shoulder. “He moved away.”
Jonathan talked about a show called South Park that we weren’t allowed to watch. He said redheads didn’t have souls. Kids who normally didn’t talk to me suddenly wanted to “play with me” on National Kick a Ginger Day. He’d convinced five different kids in the seventh grade to kick me as I’d been waiting for the bus. Missy had punched him after school the next day and told him it was National Punch a Moron in the Face Day.
“This holiday is going to reoccur regularly if you ever do that to my sister again, poopbrain,” she’d threatened.
Missy was petite like me, but that was where the resemblance ended. She was quick and coordinated, an asset to the high school cheer team. More importantly, she wasn’t afraid to hit boys bigger than she was. I wished I could be as brave and tough as my sister.
Missy pulled out her phone from her back pocket. It showed there was no service, and she put it away. “If someone does that to you again and I’m not around, you’re going to have to tell a teacher. Or tell Mom or Dad.”
I nodded. The idea of confessing to a grownup that the other kids thought I didn’t have a soul was too humiliating.
Missy looked away from the acrobats on the stage and circled her arm protectively around my shoulder. “And if you can’t do that, tell me. I’ll take care of anyone who picks on you.” She looped a finger under my friendship bracelet and spun it on my wrist.
Warmth spread through my chest. My vision wavered as tears filled my eyes. I was lucky to have a sister who was so good to me.
With her close by, I felt safe and protected. She kept spinning the bracelet. The air smelled like waterfalls and fresh spring water, perfumes out of place in a dry wooded area. With each turn, I felt more of her words sink in, more of their meaning embracing me. She would never let anyone or anything hurt me. That bracelet felt like a promise—or something stronger.
It felt like magic.
“You’re my sister, and we’ll always be best friends,” Missy said.
For the briefest second, I thought I could see her words sparkle out of her mouth and spiral around my arm, tingling where the bracelet met my skin. I blinked and the vision melted away.
Halfway through the show, Dad stood to go use the restroom. “Anyone need to come with me for a potty break?”
“Dad? Do you have to talk to us like we’re five?” Missy asked.
“Pretty much,” he said.
Missy and Dad left together. Mom and I remained at the show. Mom kept glancing at the crows in the boughs of the trees. They watched us, heads cocked. I knew Mom didn’t like blackbirds. She erected a scarecrow every spring and threw rocks at the ravens if she found them pecking her tomatoes. She said she’d adopted our cat specifically to keep the birds away from the garden, but we weren’t at home right now. There was no reason to dislike these birds so much. Even so, she kept glancing at them nervously.
Twenty minutes later, the performance ended. Dad and Missy still hadn’t come back. Mom examined the map. The bathrooms weren’t that far away.
We walked down the dusty path and shuffled through the crowd until we found the row of Porta Potties.
Dad stood outside of one of the units, knocking on the door. “Missy?” From his concerned expression, I could tell something was wrong.
A lady in a tutu came out, scowling at him.
“Have you seen this girl?” Dad asked, holding up the camera to show the woman a photo.
Dad’s face was red, and he was sweating buckets. He knocked on the door of the portable toilet next to the first one. “Missy?” he shouted. He even used her real name. “Melissa?”
Mom rushed forward, tugging me with her. “What’s going on? Where’s Missy?”
“I saw her go in that one,” Dad pointed to the second door. “I went in the next bathroom that opened up. I was only in there for a minute. I was sure I’d be out before her.”
Mom turned around, scanning the crowd. A blackbird glided through the clear blue sky and landed on a leafy limb above us. On the ground next to the garbage can something caught the light. I stepped forward and picked it up. It was a cell phone.
“This is Missy’s,” I said. Why she would have thrown it away, I couldn’t imagine.
“That could be anyone’s phone,” Mom said, dismissing me with a glance and asking Dad more questions.
I pulled up the list of recent phone numbers. It included her friends and our home phone. I waved it in front of Mom’s face, but she ignored me. This was important. Missy didn’t go anywhere without her phone. Something terrible must have happened to her.
“She was supposed to wait for me.” Dad’s voice came out choked. “Do you think she went back to the stage? Could she have gotten lost?”
My heart thundered. My sister couldn’t be missing. This was my worst fear come true. I couldn’t have felt more lost if I’d been the one alone.
Mom shook out the map. “We told her to find someone who works here to walk her to the entrance if she got lost.”
That was right. Missy was smart. I didn’t understand how she’d gotten separated from Dad, but she wouldn’t panic.
“Yes!” Dad said. “That’s where she’ll go. We need to find a volunteer. They have walkie talkies.”
Since there was no cell service out here, that was the best bet.
Mom nodded. “Take Clarissa to the entrance. Don’t let her out of your sight.” She glanced at the blackbird in the tree, eyes narrowing. “Find someone who works here and report Missy as missing. I’ll go back to the stage and see if she’s there. I’ll find a volunteer in this area.”
“No, you take Clarissa,” Dad said. “I should stick around in case she comes back. I’m easier to see in a crowd.”
A lady in a black dress and a collar made of black feathers perched on one of the wooden fences on the path to the vaudeville stage. She balanced on the fence with accurate imitations of bird’s feet. Mom’s gaze locked on her.
She looked like that lady who had photobombed our snapshot earlier.
“Go. Now,” Mom said in a tone that left no room for argument.
Dad opened his mouth like he was about to object, but Mom stomped off. He took my hand. I glanced over my shoulder. Mom headed toward the lady sitting on the fence. A group of young men, all dressed in pink and playing drums, whooped and hollered, heading toward us. Dad tugged me to the side of the path so we could get past them. I kept watching my mom.
“What have you done with my daughter?” Mom demanded.
The woman’s voice was raspy, most of her words drowned out by the crowd, the pink marching band, and the music coming from a nearby stage. I focused on her lips, imagining my ear was next to her mouth. A foreign warmth tingled through me, and her words became clear.
“We haven’t done anything to anyone,” the woman said. “We aren’t allowed to collect lost souls until after dark.”
I tugged on Dad’s hand. “Who is Mom talking to? Look.”
Dad glanced over his shoulder and promptly collided with someone in front of him. He apologized to a man dressed as a robot, still not looking at Mom. He showed the man a photo of Missy on his camera, asking if he’d seen her.
The bird woman lifted one of her feet and pointed to me. Shivers ran down my spine. The lady was a real bird. Or some kind of were-bird.
Mom spoke to the bird woman. “She is not a lost soul. She’s in my care.”
Dad tugged me along the path, completely oblivious. “Hurry up, sport.”
“No, Dad, look!” I said, pointing.
“Clarissa, I don’t have time for this. I need you to hurry.”
Mom pointed accusingly at the woman, her words lost in the rising beat of drumming.
“Dad!” I ground my feet into the dirt and forced him to stop. “Look. Right now.”
He turned, but a parade of people, all dressed in pink, ran between us and Mom, singing and playing drums. They cut Mom off from view. When they passed, Mom was gone. So was the lady.
Dad hustled me toward the nearest first aid station. We found a staff member with a walkie talkie.
“My daughter is missing,” Dad explained, the panic returning to his voice. “Have you seen my daughter? Have any teenagers come here and reported themselves as missing?”
“No, I’m sorry, no one has.” The man wore a volunteer shirt. “Can you tell me what she looks like?”
“She’s sixteen and blonde. We’re wearing matching shirts.” Dad held up his camera. “I have photos of her. Do you want to take my camera? Will that help?”
The man scrolled through the photos and asked questions. He wrote down a description and reported her as missing on his walkie talkie.
A blackbird watched us from a tree, a gleam in its eyes. Soon another bird landed next to the first. It tilted its head to the side. A third one drifted down to the branch. All three followed us with their gaze as the volunteer walked us to a gate in the wooden fence along the path. I had a bad feeling about these birds and that bird woman my mom had been talking to. I kept watching them over my shoulder as Dad and I followed the volunteer to the other path.
“This area is only meant for performers and volunteers,” the man said. “You’ll be able to meet security at the main gate more quickly if you go this way.”
Fewer people traveled on this side of the fence. A moment later a man in a rickshaw rode up. He wore a hot pink fedora that matched his pink spandex pants.
He extended his hand to Dad. “Hi, I’m Bob. I’ll get you to the other side of the fair in a jiffy.”
Bob took Dad and me on a ride in a rickshaw along the path behind the wooden fence. It would have been fun racing down the path as some guy pulled us in a cart if I hadn’t been so worried.
The rickshaw driver got us to the entrance in twenty minutes. He called someone on his walkie talkie. Volunteers wearing security vests escorted us to a building shaped like a dragon’s head. We stood outside the mouth of the dragon as they asked us questions. I hugged one of the teeth that protruded from the counter. It grounded me to hold onto something.
“Has anyone seen her?” Dad asked a security guard.
“I’m sorry, sir. No one has found her yet,” said a tall lady in a cowboy hat and a badge that said Deputy. “We’ll keep looking.”
“She’s only sixteen,” Dad said.
“We have volunteers looking for her inside the fair and outside in the campgrounds. If she’s walking on foot from Main Stage, it’s going to take her an hour to get here with this crowd,” she said. “Unless she finds a staff member and asks someone to help her, she might not have a shortcut like you did.”
Missy would know to ask for help. Mom had made her recite the plan. Why wasn’t she here yet? I glanced at another blackbird and began to cry. One of the volunteers gave me a cherry popsicle, but my belly felt too queasy to eat it.
Dad made me stand beside him in the shade where people gave the attendants their tickets at the gate. He spoke with people exiting the fair and walking toward the bus loading zone and parking lot, trying to stop each person to ask them if they’d seen Missy. I held the stick of my popsicle, the sugary liquid melting in the heat. It dripped down my hand.
A crow swooped down and pecked at the red puddle. I screamed and jumped back into Dad. He sat me down at a bench in the shade. I couldn’t stop shaking.
He threw my stick away and wiped my hand on the side of his tie-dye shirt. “It will be okay, honey. We’ll find Missy.”
He returned to questioning people as they exited the fair. No one recognized Missy from the photo viewer on the camera. I scanned the crowd for my sister. Any moment she was going to walk along the path and wave to us. I kept hoping and praying, but she still didn’t appear.
“Have you seen this girl?” Dad asked a mother with her baby strapped to her back.
“I’ve seen your sister,” a raspy voice said close to my ear.
I jumped to my feet. A woman with black feathers for hair roosted on the bench. She was half bird, like the woman my Mom had spoken to earlier. This woman’s hair was shorter, but her feather dress was similar. Her eyes were solid black, like a bird’s.
I looked her up and down, afraid. “Where is she?”
Something brushed my arm and another bird woman walked up beside me. This one wore an Elizabethan collar made of black feathers. She gouged the dry earth with talon-tipped bird feet that poked from under her dress.
“Do you suppose either of them know what they are?” she asked the first bird.
“Their guardian keeps them in ignorance.” She nodded to Dad, his back turned away from me. “The Morty doesn’t know what they are either.”
“What do you mean? What are we?” I asked. “Who are you? You said you know where my sister is.”
They exchanged amused smiles.
“Your mother was right to tell your sister not to eat the gingerbread cookies the witch offered her.” The first bird woman smiled, her teeth pointed and sharp. “I can take you to her. For a price.” She glided off the bench, her bird-shaped body seamlessly transitioning into a woman’s.
“What do you mean by ‘a price?’”
She held out her hand. “Come with me.” The deep honey of her voice lured me closer.
I wanted to melt into the melody of her words. She waved me closer. Curved black talons grew from the ends of her fingers. I should have felt fear, but instead I felt calm.
“Come with me,” she cooed in a sing-song voice.
Something pinched at my wrist. My friendship bracelet caught the sunlight, sparkling pink and dazzling my eyes as though it were covered in glitter. I blinked.
I suddenly remembered my mom wouldn’t want me to go with this woman. I hadn’t understood what Mom had been talking about to the other bird woman, but I could tell Mom had been angry. She didn’t trust the blackbirds or the women dressed as crows, and neither would I. There was no way I was going with this stranger.
“Daaaad!” I yelled. “These women saw where Missy went.”
Immediately he was at my side. The women frowned. He held up the digital camera. “Have you seen my daughter? This is what she looks like.”
The women shrank back, their gazes riveted on the camera. One hissed.
“You don’t have to stay in character. I’m being serious. My daughter is missing.” Dad stepped toward one of them, holding up the back of the camera for her to see better.
She scrambled away. Her lips curled back into a sneer. “Get your human-crafted magic away from me.”
Human-crafted magic? Dad stared at her as she backed into the crowd. Her friend was already gone.
I was more worried about Missy than ever.
Dad hugged me, and bought me a bag of peanuts, but I wasn’t hungry. The sticky heat made me feel sick. I drank the water he gave me.
“This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have insisted we come,” Dad muttered.
An hour later, Missy still hadn’t arrived. Neither had Mom. Volunteers milled around, keeping us updated.
“Have you called the police?” Dad asked one of the volunteers. If his cell phone had reception, I was sure he would have called them himself.
“We don’t need to bother the police. This is a fair matter. We have security,” a man said with a strained smile.
“My daughter has been gone for hours now and you’re telling me we don’t need to call the police?” Dad yelled. “I want you to get on your phone. Call them now.”
My eyes went wide. I’d never seen my dad shout at anyone before. He was like the Bob Ross of orthodontists, but instead of painting happy little trees, he joked he worked with happy little brackets.
Twenty minutes later, a male and a female police officer pulled up to the bus loading area and walked to the entrance.
Officer McGathy, a man with beefy arms and the frame of a former football player, asked Dad questions. “Does your daughter have any friends at the fair? A boyfriend? Did you see her talking to anyone she might want to meet up with?”
“We live in Oregon City. That’s two hours away. We don’t know anyone here,” Dad said.
The entire time Officer McGathy spoke to Dad, the burly man remained calm, his tone reassuring. Dad looked as if he was going to cry. I’d never seen him so helpless. Mom was the worrywart, not Dad.
Officer Baker asked me the same questions. She was a middle-aged woman with silver in her hair. She smiled in a friendly way that made it easy to tell her about how I’d found Missy’s phone. She nodded and listened better than my parents had. I told her about the old woman who had offered Missy the cookie earlier and the bird women who had wanted to lure me away.
Her brow crinkled up in concern. “Can you give me a description of these women?”
I rubbed my forehead, trying to concentrate. “It’s hard to think. I can’t remember.” The best I could do was say that the first woman was old and had a long nose. The other women wore all black.
“Have you been getting enough to drink?” Officer Baker asked.
“I’m not thirsty,” I said. She brought me a bottled water anyway.
“We have some plainclothes police on site. They’re looking for suspicious activity and checking out the campgrounds,” Officer McGathy told us.
Another hour passed. Finally, the people on the walkie talkies gave us good news. An undercover cop had found Mom and Missy. One of the staff was giving them a ride back in a golf cart.
My sister had been missing for over five hours.
The moment I saw Missy I knew something wasn’t right. Her blue eyes were dazed and unfocused. Her usually tidy blonde hair was a mess. Mom helped her from the cart and Missy leaned against her.
I ran to Missy and opened my arms to hug her. The addled expression left her face as she focused on me. She twitched back. The horror reflected in her eyes stung worse than a bee sting. She lurched over to Dad and buried her face in his shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Are you okay? Missy?”
Dad placed a hand on Missy’s head. He looked to Mom.
“She’s been through a lot,” Mom said. “We can talk about it later.”
“Are you hurt?” Officer McGathy asked.
Missy turned her face away. She didn’t answer.
“Can you tell us what happened?” Officer Baker asked.
Missy remained silent.
“My daughter is dehydrated. She needs water,” Mom said.
I held out my bottled water. My sister ignored me. Volunteers brought us more water. Missy gulped down three bottles. She clutched a fourth to her chest but didn’t drink it.
Officer Baker crouched down, asking Missy questions. Missy didn’t answer. She just leaned her head against Dad’s shoulder and closed her eyes.
“Talk to them, honey,” Dad said. “Tell us what happened.”
“I’m tired,” Missy said.
“My daughter has suffered quite a shock,” Mom said. “She needs some rest.”
“She needs medical attention,” Dad said. “Can you direct us to the hospital?”
“We’ve called the paramedics. They’re on their way,” McGathy said.
Mom spoke quietly to Officer Baker, who nodded as she glanced at Missy. I wanted to know what Mom was saying, but Dad kept me at his side.
Within five minutes an ambulance arrived. The paramedics checked Missy for signs of dehydration and drugs. The police, my mom, and the EMTs crowded around my sister, asking her questions. I waited outside the circle, not wanting to be in the way. Missy still wouldn’t look at me.
Dad joined me. He hugged a sweaty arm around me. “How are you holding up?”
“What happened to Missy?” I asked.
“I don’t know, champ.”
The medics must have found something to be concerned about because they decided to take Missy to the hospital.
“We’ll provide your car with an escort,” Officer McGathy said to Dad.
At that, Dad lifted Missy into his arms like he used to do when we were little and carried her the short distance to the ambulance. She dropped the water bottle to the ground. It was empty. I hadn’t remembered her drinking it. I scooped it up. Mom climbed into the back of the ambulance with her.
The ambulance drove Missy and Mom to the hospital while Dad drove our van behind the police car. I sat in the passenger seat, watching traffic part for us. It took forty-five minutes to get to the nearest emergency room. Dad and I stood outside the exam room in a hallway. Officer Baker sat inside, talking to Missy and Mom.
“Your mom told us someone abducted you. Can you give us a description of that person?” Officer Baker asked.
“No one abducted me,” Missy said in a snotty voice I wasn’t used to hearing from her. “When I walked out of the Porta Potty, no one was there. The crowd was gone, and so was my dad.”
Missy didn’t make a lot of sense. How could no one have been outside the bathrooms? It had been crowded.
Missy went on. “Everything looked wrong. I followed the path, and it led to a gingerbread cottage. I saw the old woman from earlier. She gave me cookies and milk and told me she would take me back to my family if I wanted.
“But I didn’t want to go back after what she showed me.”
“What did she show you?” Officer Baker asked.
“My future. She told me she wouldn’t let anyone hurt me if I agreed to stay in the Unseen Realm with her. She said I would be hers, and she would raise me as her own daughter. She would train me, she said. She was nice to me.”
“What do you mean by Unseen Realm?” Officer Baker asked.
Missy huffed. “I don’t know. I didn’t get to be trained and learn from her. Obviously.”
I couldn’t figure out what she’d meant by “Unseen Realm” either.
“Can you tell us more about the woman who gave you cookies? What did she look like?”
“I don’t want to get her in trouble,” Missy said more quietly. “She was trying to help me.”
“She won’t get in trouble. We just want to ask her some questions.”
Dad made me take a walk with him. I tried not to cry, but I was so sad and scared for my sister. She was suffering from more than dehydration. I couldn’t stop thinking about the were-birds and the little old lady with the cookies. It was all so creepy.
The doctor did a blood test and couldn’t find any drugs in her system. All he said was that she was dehydrated. Missy drank Gatorade, and he prescribed something to calm her nerves. I think he would have been smarter giving the rest of us sedatives instead.
Missy was calm as the police asked questions. The only sign she wasn’t her usual self was her terse answers and crabbiness.
“Look, my daughter was dehydrated and confused,” Mom said. “A sixteen-year-old can’t spot a con artist. That’s all that lady was. No crimes were committed. Let us take her home.”
We didn’t leave the hospital until after dark. It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive home. No one spoke. Mom sat in the back with Missy, stroking her hair and trying to hold her hand when Missy wasn’t hugging herself. I snuck glances at my sister. She didn’t look at me. She stared out the window, her shoulders rounded over herself protectively. This small, broken girl was not the big sister I knew.
She wouldn’t get out of the car when we made it home. “I’m not going in there. It isn’t safe.”
Mom motioned for Dad to take me inside. She remained beside Missy.
“Why did you have to take me away? The witch would have protected me.” Missy’s voice rose in terror.
“No, honey,” Mom said. “That woman was a liar.”
Dad placed a hand on my back, guiding me toward the front of the house. Our lawn was a brilliant green compared to the brown and yellow of our neighbors’ grass. Mom stroked Missy’s hair.
Missy pulled away. “I know what I saw. She showed me my future. She showed me what would happen to me.”
Mom closed the car door. Her voice was muffled. “She put something in those cookies. You hallucinated. She was preying on your fears.”
“The doctors told you there weren’t any drugs.”
“It wasn’t drugs she put in those cookies,” Mom said.
I wondered what else she could have put in the cookies.
“Come on.” Dad unlocked the front door. “Let your mom talk to your sister alone.”
I lingered in the doorway, not wanting to go in. I wanted to run to my sister and hug her and make her feel better. Mom said something quietly I couldn’t hear.
“I can’t go in there!” Missy screamed. “She’ll kill me. I saw it.”
“No one is going to hurt you,” Mom said.
“The witch showed me. She said I have to learn to protect myself. If I don’t, Clarissa will kill me before my eighteenth birthday.”