Ethan parked near one of the abandoned houses that blocked the other side of Charlotte St, went over to a stump, and broke each of the rings with a hammer from the toolkit in his trunk. Each hit exploded in a vibrant, bright light of their respective color. He hoped that would be the end of it but he had a lingering feeling he would meet those girls again someday.
After that, he decided to go to bed early and went home.
He placed his hammer back in his box and shut his trunk when he saw Lucy’s dark red 2005 Lexus come rolling toward him from up the street somewhere. She had gone out of the church grounds but for whatever reason had turned around and was waiting up there. He supposed she saw him leave the church.
Lucy stepped out with her friends minus that slutty looking girl and Lana. “Lana is in trouble, Ethan,” she told him.
“I think something bad happened to her.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“I’m not kidding!”
“I’m not either,” he replied at last and then shrugged. “If you ever grow past the mental age of five you’ll be thankful she’s gone. She’s not your friend.” He hesitated. “What did she do?”
Lucy crossed her arms and the Hispanic girl and Trish looked around nervously.
“Look, I just want to get a quick meal, go home, and drop off. I’ll need my sleep because tomorrow I think I might go with Darcy to volunteer with the flood relief effort thing she’s a part of.”
“Exactly what makes you think I give a shit about that?” asked Lucy. Ethan frowned at her, startled by her oddly aggressive nature. She was often mean, usually just throwing out a sideways comment here and there, but he had never seen her nearly that openly vicious. “Ethan,” she said carefully as she walked up to him, “We got a text saying she was in the Engelstad.”
“I wish I could say it was nice knowing her.”
“Just look at the fucking text, asshole,” she said and she showed Ethan her cellphone.
* * *
They took me in
Engelstad and going
To kill me get ethan
* * *
“She’s probably out in a meadow somewhere naked and hoping to seduce me,” he replied.
“I seriously doubt that,” said Lucy.
“Well, if only I cared—” she grabbed him by his shirt and yanked him close, her eyes overflowing with rage “—this is a side I haven’t seen of you, Lucy. It’s not intimidating at all but it is kind of interesting.”
“What did she do?” cried Ethan and she jerked back. “It was her, wasn’t it?”
“I’m not sure,” Lucy replied. She pulled a dyed blond hair back over her ear. “All I know is that Lana put something in the back of the church—what does that face mean?” She shrugged it off and pushed him away. “Look, some weirdoes dressed as vampires in jock jackets appeared and I think they kidnapped her.”
Ethan looked over at her with a very cold expression. “What was it exactly?”
“What was what?”
“What the fuck did she put in the back of the church?” He grabbed her hair, making everyone jump, and pulled her close. “I’m not going to ask you twice, you fucking cunt!”
“Calm down!” said Lucy softly.
Ethan let go of her hair. “Do you have any idea what the three rings in those boxes almost did?”
As if on cue, several vehicles drove out of the church grounds behind her. They sped up Charlotte St and vanished into the night.
“Was it bad?”
“It was fucking monstrous!” he snarled.
“And why should I care?” She reached up to touch his face as if she was consoling a child and he slapped her hand away, becoming even angrier. “Let me explain to you what is going to happen.”
“Oh, I can do that too,” he replied. “I’m going to take a deep intake of breath—” he did “—and then I’m going to tell you to fuck off.”
Lucy grabbed his face when he turned away and turned it back so he was looking at her. “Look, Ethan, you’re nothing but a guest in our house and so is your cute little birdie. You like him around? You don’t do what I want, and when I want, I’ll make sure he suffers for it.”
“You seem rather upset considering Lana thinks of you even less than you think of me.” Lucy’s eyes darkened and he pulled his chin away. “You use Lana too, don’t you? She gets you places you want to go like clubs or parties but is such a bitch, no one ever blames you.” Lucy’s eyes grew even darker. “I bet her lawyer mother is helpful as well.”
She then looked at him with such an incredible amount of loathing that it actually changed his opinion of her. She was nothing like he had originally taken her for.
“Are you going to pay me or something?”
“You ungrateful prick! I’ll pay you with the kindness of not having your ass ejected all the way back to California and your bird not cooked as Wednesday chicken!”
“Do you honestly believe I think it’s an honor to be living with a bunch of cunts like you?”
Lucy grabbed his face again. “Ethan,” she said, “If you don’t do this for me, I will make sure your little friend ends up as our Thanksgiving dinner.” She sounded very much like she meant it.
“You would really eat a talking being?” he asked.
“I never said I’d eat him. I just said he’d end up as dinner. Maybe a homeless man is hungry for hawk.” She then let go of his face and adjusted his shirt a bit. “And let’s not forget all the other things I can do to you. Money is very important to my family and you’ve been staying here for free for how long now? Oh and what did you do to those poor boys back in August? The past has a way of haunting people out here in Bartlett Bay.”
Ethan laughed and, smiling, said, “You have no idea!”
“Are you going to go or not?”
His smile left his face. “I think you’re bluffing,” he said.
Her eyes were like two daggers. “Try me,” she said. “I know you’re pretty damn fearless and I know we could cut you out of all this and you’d walk. Margaret doesn’t think you or anyone else would ever abandon such wealth but I think you would. The one thing you do care about, however, is your bird and as long as he’s around, I own your California ass.”
Ethan swallowed and lowered his eyes. He really, really wanted to hurt her if for no better reason than to wipe that look of perceived invincibility off her smug face.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Just go,” said the Hispanic girl unhappily.
Ethan took a deep breath, holding back his rage, and said, “Alright,” he said. “I’ll take a look but I guarantee nothing—”
“Fine!” she hissed. “I suppose that will have to do!”
“—but If you touch my bird I will make you wish you were never born,” he told her.
“Lucy,” said Ethan, “This may surprise you but I’m not a very nice guy and what you are doing is really pissing me off.” He wanted to break her nose for just threatening him and if he got the opportunity to do so in the future, he probably would take it. “Do not ever threaten my friend again.”
“I’m shaking,” she said again and then smiled. “Now, since Mickey isn’t going to be a Thanksgiving turkey, I suppose you need to know where she is.”
“Just tell me where the bitch is already.”
“You got your things?”
“Yes.” He got a Connecticut monster hunter’s license and could legally keep everything in his trunk. Too bad very little of it would be of any use in that church. It wasn’t as if he could kill those three bitches.
Trisha pulled back the hood of her dog suit and said, “They put her in a black car but we know where she is being taken.” Everyone became very tense all of a sudden. “Just follow the road.”
There was something funny about Trisha. Her face, which was acne-ridden, looked clearer but there was something else that he couldn’t identify. I am going insane, he wondered.
“Good boy,” said Lucy.
He sighed. He had kind of liked Lucy before, having taken her for almost honest, but her real personality was much more antagonistic than he wanted to live with. He wondered if it would be better if he just took his bird and just kept on driving west.
“Fuck this night,” he said as he walked over to his car, got in, and drove off.
* * *
Ethan went back to Gagne, went west, and then south down Wicker St. He didn’t see the car along the street so he took a right and went west down Charlotte St. He saw nothing there either and then crossed the Orange River and went north up Kurtwood Rd. This road was barely a road, which he had crossed before on his way to the hag’s house, and nothing caught his eye there either.
He turned around on Kurtwood, went back to Charlotte, turned right, and then turned left down Worthington.
He passed the empty diner and spared a glance down toward Alberta St at the Merrick Hotel. It was squat, sturdy, and nicknamed the Cathedral due to the gothic look that permeated all five floors of a widely spread building. Much of its appearance was very uninviting but it was generally successful for some reason and was, of course, easily high enough to remain unharmed by the flood.
Ethan’s quick glance showed him the black silhouette of a large man walking across the windows of the top floor, Owen Merrick himself judging by the size, holding an electric lantern and skulking through the darkness.
“God, what a weirdo,” said Ethan as he turned away. The more he thought about Owen Merrick the more convinced he became of two things: he was too damn quiet and that Christine Taylor, a sweet and outgoing girl, was just about the single worst match imaginable for him in matrimony.
He had forgotten the power was out despite the fact that everything was dark and the Duchess restaurant he wanted food from was obviously closed. He parked in the parking lot, leaned back, and sighed.
“Why the fuck am I out here?” he cried. He turned his car to drive. “Threaten my fucking bird!”
He rode back up to Charlotte, turned right, and looked at the forest line again. Nothing was there so he went back up Wicker St, suspecting he would find nothing and have to head along the freeway to look at the north side when he saw an opening in the fence that he had missed. He didn’t notice it because a jet-black car was blocking it and, looking from the north, it hid the break almost perfectly in the darkness.
He parked his car across the street and made sure to drive it off the road a bit where it would be better hidden among the trees. It wouldn’t easily hide it from anyone aggressively for it but it was better than nothing.
He stepped outside, pulled his blades off the passenger seat and equipped them at his sides. Then, he walked across the street toward the car and whistled with admiration as he approached it.
It was a pristine, black, 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a cherry red interior. It stood there with its engine on and its lights off, purring like a kitten and sounded so smoothly quiet it was as if it was built yesterday.
As he approached, he cast his Torch spell on the inside and saw it was empty. He shrugged, uncast his spell and walked around the back toward the opening someone cut in the fence.
The car suddenly jerked backward and leaped forward on instinct. He pressed himself against the fence and it shot past him, the side mirror almost cutting him across the back. He spun around, looked at the car, and saw the driver.
The ghost of a woman sat in the driver’s seat, transparent, wearing a white headband pulling back straight, long dark hair and dressed in the upper half of a white sweater dress that had short sleeves that ended at her elbows and ended at the base of her neck. Her model-gorgeous face was almost exploding in rage and she jerked the car forward.
Ethan jerked into the hole so fast that his foot caught on something sent him down. He then turned and watched the car fly by, ride out into the street, and then turn north up Wicker St. He rushed out after it, raised his pistol, and then watched the car zigzag suddenly to avoid him as it could sense that he was aiming at it.
He fired several times, either missing or barely hitting the car, and then watched as it went under the freeway and then disappeared into the streets past the railyard.
At no point did the Plymouth Barracuda turn on its lights or make any loud sound.
“God, when will this night fucking end!” he cried as he put his gun away.
He turned around, stepped slipped through the hole in the chain-link fence and stepped into the trees and darkness of the Engelstad once again.
There was a trail just past the tree line and as Ethan walked down it, he saw something had fallen. He saw a cheap white high-heeled shoe, a silver bracelet, a bright green glove, a half-torn jacket and a bright red woman’s wallet.
Ethan picked the wallet up, looked it over, and saw it was empty and tossed it away. He sensed what it was easily enough: a trail of things left by people dragged down a path no one dared follow.
Ethan casually turned around and punched a figure in the face hard enough to send him backward. The figure laughed as he did, clutching his nose, and looking at him with a bemused expression from an extremely pale face. He was a boyish-looking kid with a 1950s gelled back hairstyle wearing a white t-shirt and jeans with the bottoms rolled up over his sneakers and a purple letterman jacket.
“A little jumpy, aren’t you, Slugger?” asked the boy.
“Nice costume, Edward Cullen,” said Ethan. Even in the darkness of those woods, the boy’s face was visibly so pale that he looked like a corpse. When the boy lowered his hands, Ethan could see that his nose was completely broken, which the boy did not seem remotely affected by it. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
“Who exactly are you and why exactly are you here?” asked the boy as if he had not heard.
“Who cares,” Ethan replied.
“Not exactly the answer I expected.”
“Yeah, that’s nice.”
“You must be Ethan, Slugger. Lana mentioned your name. Thinks you can kill us.”
“I can,” he replied earnestly. “I can but I’m not Ethan.”
“Yes you are,” he said and then he smiled again. “You are not related to James or Julian Bartlett by any chance, are you? You look a lot like James.”
“Do I look rich to you?”
He smiled wider and said, “They call me Slick, Slugger. Do you want to see your girlfriend? She’s right down the road.”
“She is not my girlfriend and sure, why not?” Slick grinned and walked around him casually down the trail. Ethan walked behind him, finding Slick oddly unafraid of him despite the fact that Zane was armed with two forms of blades and two firearms. “Like your costume, by the way. What is it this year? 1950s star baseball player virgin with no date to prom?”
Slick stopped, turned around and faced him with a very hard expression. “You take that back,” he said.
The boy took a deep breath, his hands turning into hard fists for a moment he was so enraged, but then he calmed and smiled in a way that didn’t touch his eyes. “I like you, Slugger, but I wouldn’t try my patience too much tonight. It’s been a rather strange evening.”
“Couldn’t be stranger than mine,” Ethan replied.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” he told him with a smile and then he turned back.
Slick smiled as he turned back and led Ethan down the path. It came to a three-forked intersection and he turned left without a thought as if he had walked that path every day of his life. He turned left again at another path and suddenly there she was.
Lana Creed was standing in front of a huge bonfire, one that burned high enough to almost reach her head, and was surrounded by seven other boys wearing lettermen jackets. He noticed two girls, both dressed flawlessly in 1950s era outfits who wore feminine lettermen jackets. One of the boys held a fireman’s axe.
Lana was extremely disturbed, her hands shaking, and looking at each of them in stark raving terror. Ethan did not know why but for some reason it took him several moments to recognize her.
“Look!” she cried miserably in a voice that sounded more of a rural sort than he recalled, “I-I don’t kn-kn-I don’t know anything! McCaffrey took me with him and I did not know until now anything ever came of it!” She was breathing quicker, her breasts seeming to grow every time she inhaled.
“I don’t believe you,” said a blond man with a pompadour standing right in front of her. Slick ignored Ethan and walked up toward the blond man.
Lana was crying and said, “McCaffrey went out into the woods with some of my friends and they vanished! That’s all I know!”
“How could you all kill that girl?” whimpered Lana. She tried to move away from the clearing where the bonfire was, hit some kind of purple-colored magical wall, and then stepped back. “How could you?”
Ethan noticed one was holding something blocked by the boys near him. He was a creepy, slender boy with short, slick dark hair combed almost straight back, wearing jeans and a white polo shirt under his letterman jacket. When he moved to show Lana what he was doing, Ethan saw it clearly to be the body of that slutty friend of Lana’s, her shapely sexy body unmistakable. His fingers were jammed up between her legs and his fire lit profile showed he was grinning joyfully at Lana’s expression.
Lana’s friends’ head been removed and was nowhere to be seen.
“The time for kindness is over!” cried the one called Vinnie. “The women coming out of that church have—” he jerked toward Slick as he tapped him on his shoulder “—what the fuck do you want?”
“Fellas,” said Slick with a shrug, “We have ourselves a visitor—” he looked back with his arm extended in a grand gesture and frowned “—somewhere.” Ethan had slipped among the trees a moment before. “Slugger?”
Seven of them turned around but the one holding the headless body stayed exactly where he was. “So tight,” he told Lana. “Want to share?” She burst into horrified tears.
Ethan had been startled to see that some of those boys were covered in vicious, possibly even fatal wounds. One of them had a disgusting mess where his left eye should be, along with a disturbing and obviously mortal cut in his neck and the one with the axe looked like someone had hit him with it several times and yet, somehow, both of them were still standing. Ethan could see the gaping wound into his body and even by firelight, he could tell it wasn’t faked.
“Time to die, Slugger,” said Slick as he picked up a baseball bat from the ground nearby and then casually moved toward the trees where Ethan was hiding. He pretended to look left in the wrong direction then jerked toward the right where Ethan was. “Gotch—” Ethan stabbed him in the stomach with his dagger, twisted it violently, and then gutted him “—Jesus please-us, you are a fucking, fucking, bastard!”
Slick then dropped his bat and stumbled back a bit before he lost his balance and fell over. It clearly was not in pain because he began pulling his guts back into his body the moment after as casually as if it was something as annoying as cleaning up a paint spill.
Ethan sheathed his dagger, the blood slipping off magically before it touched the sheath and then pulled out his left gun. “Slugger, you’re not that cold—” Ethan fired into his forehead and he dropped back down to the ground. Then he turned and fired once at the one with the axe who was creeping toward him holding the weapon in both hands.
The bullet went through his forehead too and sent his brains out of the back of his head, causing Lana to let out a loud, long shriek of terror, but he didn’t even slow down. “You’ll have to do better than that, Champ,” he said with a smile.
Ethan holstered his gun, pulled out his sword and started forward. A hand grabbed his leg and then, practically without looking, chopped off Slick’s head. The hand was still holding on when he yanked his leg free.
“Well this one is pretty goddamn mean,” said the one with the axe.
“Listen, greasers—” Ethan’s face fell as his mind clicked with what Haley said. All of them except one, an average-looking boy with a proper 1950s haircut, smiled a bit, and the one who had been holding the corpse dropped it and stood up.
“My reputation precedes me,” the boy with the axe said with a wide smile and then made a mock bow. “Buzz Bentley Jr. at your service,” he said.
“You’re ghouls.” They all glanced at each other and then back at him with a blank expression. “How exactly did you all become ghouls? I didn’t think you even existed.”
“We only tell stories to people we like,” said Vinnie and Ethan sensed something and looked back to see Slick’s head had reattached itself at the bone.
“Oh don’t be angry, Slick,” said Ethan when he saw his glare. “It’s not like I took off something you use.”
“You can’t kill us, Errol!” Buzz told him with a smile. Ethan swallowed as he could easily see through the tunnel his bullet made through his head. As he looked, it very slowly started to close up.
“I can still cut you to pieces and incinerate them individually.” Vinnie’s face shifted to one of worry. “Any of you assholes want to see if I can’t you come right at me.” They hesitated. “You’re not the first monster whose only way to die is—” he shot a lightning bolt into Slick’s face as had clambered up when he thought he wasn’t looking “—unconventional.” Slick felt his charred face for a moment and then frowned at him.
Buzz looked at him for a moment, seemed to weigh the odds in his mind, then shrugged and charged.
He was like an animal, almost insane, swinging crazily fast but with a great deal of untrained competency. Ethan knocked his axe aside, shouldered him onto the ground, and then sliced Slick across the chest as he rushed at him. He would have started chopping them both to pieces but several of them charged as Slick fell over.
Ethan charged right back.
They weren’t particularly talented but they weren’t afraid either and they were athletic enough to avoid being cut to pieces in combat. He sliced hug gashes through them as they came, nearly cutting the blond one’s face in half, but nothing was brutal enough to stop or even slow them down.
The largest one there, a huge, bulking boy, raised his shovel and Ethan’s blade got caught onto his ribs. He was about to bring the shovel down when a black feathered thing suddenly was in his face and scratching.
“My eyes!” he cried out as he dropped his shovel. Ethan ripped out his blade hard and then ducked as one of the boys swung his bat and it hit that boy in the chest.
“Not so fucking funny now, is it, asshole?” hacking the one with the missing eye and fatal throat wound and he then threw his knife at Ethan. He missed, the knife flying into the bushes, and Ethan rushed up to him. He jumped back just in time and Ethan only sliced him slightly deeper through his original wound instead of cutting his head off.
He gasped and charged away from him.
“Got your back!” cried Mickey as he flew up into the air.
Ethan rushed away from them, stumbled a bit from the pain of being nicked at various places with bats, but was then back up. He saw the runes that created the barrier around Lana, slashed through them, and felt the stinging sparks of magic shoot off as he did.
“James?” asked Lana softly.
“Who the hell is James?”
“James Bartlett,” she told him. “You look like you could be his brother.”
“I thought you looked familiar,” said Vinnie as he felt a huge cut across his femininely beautiful face. Facing the bonfire Ethan could see his eyes had the glazed look of a corpse. “Another one of those goddamn wheels running this goddamn city into the goddamn ground and playing up like they’re goddamn kings.”
“Well goddamn that,” Ethan replied. The others were looking at him with various wounds, all of them having gone at him at one point or another except that average-looking one with an ugly wound on his stomach who seemed more worried about Lana than him. They did not approach him and simply stared.
“Alan,” said Lana and the average one looked at her. “Call them off. We’ll get the police, I will vouch for you and you won’t get a very bad sentence if you help us. I’ll tell them how you didn’t hurt me or this girl and I’ll drop the kidnapping charges on you.”
“You might want to offer your mother’s services if you’re going to try to give them a bullshit deal,” Ethan told her.
“What could my mother do?” asked Lana earnestly.
“I’m sorry but it’s far, far too late for that,” Alan told her sadly.
Slick tried to speak but no sounds came out of his mouth.
“Pigs!” cried Vinnie. “Just tell us what we want to know and we will let you go!”
“I—don’t—know!” she shrieked.
There was a moment’s pause, no one speaking.
“What do you think, Bartlett?” asked one of the girls. She was a stunningly attractive girl, slender, tall, and petite with dark hair tied back in a ponytail, dark eyes and skin that would have been pale anyone. She wore a black sweater under her jacket with a matching black skirt and saddle shoes on her feet.
“I don’t know what I’m looking at, honestly,” he said. “I’m just here to grab Lana Creed and go home.”
She grinned with all her teeth. “That’s going to be tougher than it looks.”
“Stay out of this, Mary,” said Vinnie.
“Why should we?” asked the other girl. She was a redhead with an incredible figure, her hair tied up behind her head and wearing a white sweater under her jacket with a purple skirt. “You boys get to have all the fun.”
“Because I said so.”
The redhead walked up to Ethan and smiled at him radiantly. “Sally Anderson.”
“Nice to meet you,” Ethan replied and looked all around them. “Who the hell are all of you exactly?”
“They’re just a bunch of punks from Bay City High,” said Lana. “They call themselves the Black Cats and think that because they’re part of a good baseball team they’re special. Those two are tramp cheerleaders.”
“Bitch,” said Mary coldly.
Ethan looked down at the headless body of that pretty, slutty friend and looked up at the boy who had been playing with her. He smelt his fingers and gave him a wide smile.
“You look kind of tired, Ethan,” said Buzz as he approached with his axe resting on his shoulder. “You think you can keep this fight up all night?”
“Care to find out?” asked Ethan as he faced him.
Two of them started toward him carefully. One was the creepy one that had been playing with the corpse and the other a tall, gangly boy with curly light brown hair and bright blue eyes. He stood there wearing a blue polo shirt, khaki pants, and nice shoes with a huge gash through his neck where Ethan had tried to cut his head off.
He looked incredibly prim and proper but his eyes showed he was somewhat less so.
“I’m going to kill you, Ethan,” the curly-haired boy told him. “And, I’d like to add, I’m going to do it really, really slow.” He reached behind his back under his letterman jacket and with each hand pulled out a decent-sized meat cleaver. “You spoke of dismemberment. I’ll show how it’s done.”
“I always knew you were sick, Sanford,” said Lana softly.
He smiled but it didn’t touch his eyes. “I’ll have some left for you, Pigs,” he told her.
“You’re still pining over Maggie—”
“You shut your goddamn mouth!” he snarled. “You ice that shit and you ice it now! Maggie Schroeder is long—” He raised his weapons to block when Ethan rushed him, almost stumbling into the fire when tripped him and sent him toward it.
Sanford sliced at him but Ethan parried the blade easily, knocking it out of his hand. He swung with his right hand, screaming in rage, and over swung. The instant he was off-balance, Ethan kicked him back first into the fire.
The creepy one rushed forward and swung a bat at Ethan as hard as he could. Ethan blocked the swung but he didn’t get it quite right and the bat hit him across the shoulder with enough momentum to almost break what it hit.
Ethan grunted, knocked the bat aside, stabbed the ghoul through the front of his chest and pushed the blade out through his back. Then he ripped out his blade violently enough to drop the ghoul to his knees.
There was a loud, long pain-filled shriek from Sanford as he was incinerated. Whatever they were, ghouls or not, they were highly flammable and he burned for only a few moments before his cries stopped and then only a few more moments more passed before his body was gone without a trace of remains.
Ethan thought he saw his spirit slip out of the fire for a split second but there was no way for him to be sure.
“Oh dear God!” squeaked Lana.
“God has nothing to do with it,” Ethan replied.
“You killed Steve!” cried the one with one eye.
“I think,” Ethan replied as he felt the pain of his shoulder stretching all over his torso, “That with time and therapy, I might just recover.”
The ghoul on his knees screamed, threw himself to his feet and swung his bat as hard and violently as he could. Ethan ducked his bat and, in the quick window that followed a swing that was too wide, he sliced the ghoul’s head off.
It came off bloodlessly into the air but even before it landed, Ethan grabbed the body that was still on its feet with his left hand, and then casually shoved it in the fire.
Ethan then turned and faced the others coldly, both hands holding tightly onto the blade, the fire behind him turning him into a black silhouette.
Unsurprisingly, they did not approach.
“Who are you?” asked Vinnie softly.
“I’m what comes when all the heroes are dead and gone,” he told him and that was when he heard a strange squish-crunch sound. Everyone paused for a moment and then looked down in unison.
Sally had caught the head and was now pressing it onto the neck of Lana’s dead friend. The squish-crunch sound was the sound of it attaching itself to her body.
“What the fuck?” cried Ethan with a stupefied look of horror on his face.
The neck was a nasty mess on all sides but he, now she, was almost instant moving the body up and scrambling to its feet. She was screaming silently in horror, no more vocal than Slick had been, but there was a difference and all of them were stunned by the sound of it.
The ghoul began to change, the head being squeezed down violently in a movie-like special effect to transform into a slender, woman’s head that matched the body below wasn’t. It was the same head. The ghoul’s hair pushed out of her head growing luxurious but not too long and then curled a bit in an elegant 1950s short style that somehow reminded Ethan of Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause.
The skin of the body smoothed out from top to bottom, became that dead white pale and perfectly flawless, and then both breasts lifted up and became perkier, which should not have been a problem considering the girl was just a teenager. The muscle on her body tightened as the fat faded from her, becoming lean and athletic, and then the clothes shifted as well: another letterman jacket, a tight black shirt covering her neck and reaching to her waist where there was a black skirt that clung to her hips and reached down past her knees. Her feet became covered in cute little saddle shoes.
Sally burst out laughing but everyone else just stared in stupefied horror. “Well, that was unexpected,” said Ethan eventually.
“You son of a bitch!” mouthed the ghoul holding her neck together with her hands, managing to wheeze out a very little bit of air. She was very attractive, trapped between the genetics of the boy she had been and the girl whose body she stole, and close enough to the very center to be taken for a female member of either family. “I will murder you for what you have done to me!”
“How? By beating me to death with your purse?” Several of her friends burst out laughing, Sally falling over in the process.
“You evil bastard!”
“You act like it’s my fault you ran at me with a baseball bat!” Ethan retorted and then he looked her over with a growing sense of horror. It was like the power that he experienced around that tower on his first day. The power that altered reality itself. “What the fuck have you dumbasses got yourself into?”
“I like your new breasts, Louie!” said the big one in a slow oafish way, his left eye barely uninjured under the multitude of pecks and scratches.
“Shut up!” cried Louie weakly with her new female voice.
“Who are you?” asked Vinnie again.
“Death,” Ethan replied. He stuck his sword into the fire and all of them looked at him nervously.
“Please just leave us alone!” whimpered Lana.
“You used us!” Louie said with a little more voice. “You used us to come back!”
“No she didn’t,” said the one she called Alan. “She has no idea what’s happening. For her, it was like it was just yesterday.”
“What are you boys yapping about?” cried Lana. “I don’t know anything!”
“This was stupid!” cried Alan. “We should never have taken her in the first place—”
“She’s lying!” cried Vinnie. “She knows!”
“I’m just a girl from Connecticut!” cried Lana.
“So is she,” said Sally with a laugh.
“I told you to shut your fucking mouth!” cried Louie.
“Ooh, catfight!” said Mary and she made a scratching gesture in the air with a playful roar sound.
Ethan looked around, frowned, and looked back. “Where’s the asshole with the axe gone to?”
“Buzz?” asked Lana and then she looked around too.
Suddenly, there heavy thuds coming toward them from the south.
“Oh shit!” cried Ethan as a huge lumbering shape suddenly erupted out from the darkness, too big to be anything but a troll, aiming straight toward them. Buzz was behind it and pointing at Ethan with his axe. The giant man-like thing wore just a pair of raggedy pants, carried nothing, and, like all trolls, looked very, very hungry.
Ethan whipped out his sword from the fire and sliced at the nearest ghoul, Vinnie, and then grabbed Lana by the arm. The blade sliced across Vinnie’s arm and he screamed and fell over but the others trying to put out the fire with dirt while Ethan rushed with Lana across the meadow to the trees away from the troll.
The troll was aiming for them and gaining fast because of its enormous strides and Ethan knew he could not hope to defeat it and the ghouls at the same time. He turned when it very quickly got within thirty feet and fired an ice shard from his left hand between two trees right into its left knee where it stuck like a sticker from a plant. It instantly shattered as the troll completely ignored it and continued to charge. He then fired his pistol, unloaded half a clip at its body and around its hard, but it didn’t notice.
“Fuck!” Ethan cried and sheathed both weapons and grabbed Lana’s hand again. He moved through the thick trees as the troll was impeded by its size as it tried to get through them. It could have gone around but it wasn’t that smart.
The sound of the greasers behind them as they got to a nearby trail. He sprinted with Lana in a straight line down it.
“Stop!” cried Lana as she tried to pull him off the trail. “It’ll be able to follow—” She shrieked when the troll half burst out onto the trail after knocking over two trees that got in its way. It was stuck in the middle of it but it wouldn’t be for long.
Ethan turned and fired a lightning bolt from his right hand into the troll’s face as it towered above them. It screamed, clutched its eyes, and while it was distracted Ethan and Lana sprinted away.
The trail suddenly turned north toward a small clearing where Ethan and Lana almost ran into three more trolls who were all sitting around a large unlit fire pit not far from the bottom of a thirty-foot tall cliff face. They saw the two humans instantly and all stood up, all three wearing the same kind of ragged pants as the first troll but two of them had sleeveless vests as well and one had sandals. All of their fabric was made of some kind of leather that could very well have been from human beings.
He looked back to see the other troll’s giant shape lumbering down the path toward them clutching its eyes. Ethan quickly grabbed Lana and threw her toward a nearby branchy tree. “Up!” he cried softly.
The trolls began to argue among themselves who would eat who and the first troll, distracted by having its eyes attacked and the other trolls talking, forgot to look for them and walked right past.
Lana looked at Ethan worriedly as he quickly drank down a healing potion. “I’m too fat to climb!” she whispered.
Ethan blinked, utterly confused by that statement, and then put his hands around Lana’s slender waist and lifted her up to the nearby branch. She caught onto it, climbed up gracefully, and, despite her fear, smiled down at him in pleasant surprise. There was something very different about that smile, something genuinely sweet, but before it made sense to him, she turned and continued to climb up easily. Ethan moved up after and soon they were both high up into a series of branches twenty and thirty feet in the air.
The trolls looked around for them about then, not looking up at all, utterly confused at their disappearance. Ethan and Lana moved carefully through the trees away from the trolls toward the cliff. It wasn’t hard to move from tree to tree across their intertwined branches and Ethan quickly saw that one of the branches reached almost to the top of the cliff and he felt certain they could climb up over it to safety.
Mickey landed on a nearby branch, looking at him worriedly. Ethan put his finger to his lips and pointed at the trolls. Mickey then tilted his head and gave him a “no shit, Einstein,” look in response.
Lana suddenly let out a shriek as both feet slipped off the branch she was on. Her hands shot out onto random branches and tightened instantly into death grips while her legs flailed about below her wildly at the space of thirty feet down. Ethan quickly grabbed one of her hands and yanked her up and she looked into his face in a way that was unexpectedly bizarre.
Ethan genuinely didn’t recognize her for a moment. She was like a completely different person.
Then he looked back down and below and saw all four trolls looked up at them hungrily.
“Fuck!” He pointed to the next tree. “Go!”
Lana moved across the branches with Ethan tried to propel her forward. The trolls threw themselves into the tree the humans were on the moment after they had stepped off and it shook violently enough to have thrown him off had they still been on there.
“There!” cried Mickey. “In the wall!”
Ethan looked forward through the trees and saw across the stream of light from the nearly full moon was a little cave nearly at the top of the cliff face near the trees. It looked like a niche at best that they could barely fit into but it was a much straighter and quicker move versus trying to climb to the top of the branches of a tree while trolls were knocking it down.
“I can’t fit in there—” cried Lana as she carefully moved through the branches.
“You want to fucking die!” Ethan replied as he moved after, pushing her along even faster. The tree shook violently as the trolls got on either side of it, pushing it from one troll to another, trying to rip or break it loose. Lana screamed, moving to the next tree, and Ethan followed just as that tree broke and went falling over.
“Daaaammn!” cried a troll in a loud, booming voice.
“I can’t fit!” screamed Lana as she reached it.
“The hell you can’t!” cried Ethan. “Get the fuck in there!”
Lana slipped into the niche cave, which was deeper than it looked, her legs quickly disappearing after, and Ethan followed after. Almost the very moment his feet left the tree, the trolls threw themselves in sheer berserk rage at it and knocked it, roots and all, right out of the ground. He felt it go down behind him, his legs dangling out behind him.
Lana grabbed him and helped him into a small rounded cave where he turned around, got up and looked back down out of the hole at the trolls. It was the first good look he had gotten of them and the first he had ever seen with his own eyes.
They were big, around fifteen tall or so, as fat as they were strong, with huge, pointed noses that were several feet long it and seemed to pull their faces with them, and long hair that reached down to their waists. They reminded Ethan of a creature from Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock known as a Gorg. They weren’t cute like the king, queen and prince of whatever in the world the Gorgs came from, though. Those trolls would tear him to pieces and eat him raw if they caught him.
He saw one pick up a rock as the others were still staring down at the tree. Ethan quickly ducked into the hole just as the rock went flying at the cave where it missed the entrance by a few feet and shattered into a thousand pieces.
Ethan cast his Torch spell into the center of the cave and looked around to see he was in a round eight-foot stone cave that had only that small entrance. Lana was in the far corner, her arms wrapped around herself, shivering and scared. “What now?” she asked.
“We wait,” he replied. “We wait till—” Another rock hit the cave wall above their entrance and sighed. “We wait till daylight.” He slipped down, took off his sword and dagger, and rested it on his lap. “Hey Lana, I’m curious. Why do you think you were fat all of a sudden?”
“Because I am fat. Why do you keep calling me Lana?”
Ethan turned his head toward hers and then with his left hand, made a gesture that moved the bauble of light away from the entrance and closer to her. “And exactly just what should I call you?” he asked.
“Judy,” she replied. “My name is Judy Aberdeen.”
Ethan frowned, gripped his blades by their sheaths and crawled up to her. She tightened up when he approached, scared, but was surprised when he grabbed her hands and looked at them. “No ring,” he said and there was another explosion of rock above them. Ethan uncast his Torch spell hoping the trolls might think they were gone and let go of the girls’ hands. “Where’s Lana?”
“I don’t know any Lana. They wanted me to—” there was another hit and outside Ethan could hear the trolls arguing “—to help them with their monster.”
“I don’t know what it’s called, or where it comes from, or even have the most remote idea of what it is,” she replied. “All I know is that it lives underground and has purple eyes.” Ethan swallowed and felt a heavy lump go down his throat. “Sometimes I dream about it,” she added in a distant, disturbed voice. “Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and I think that it’s watching me.” He sensed her eyes trying to find him in the dark. “It’s silly. It can’t really exist even if I believe it so in my heart.”
Ethan was caught between a shrug and a nod, which turned into a laugh, and then leaned up against the wall beside her. “Fuck me,” he said with a laugh and placed his blades down beside him.
“You think I’m crazy.”
“Not really,” he replied and then he asked, “So how exactly how did you end up in front of that bonfire?”
“Those horrible little cretins jumped me while I was grocery shopping and kidnapped me. I don’t—” she paused possibly to shake or head or something “—I just remember getting dumped into the back of my mother’s car and then waking up in front of that fire a few minutes before you came.” She tried to find him again, her arms moving about in the darkness reaching for him. “Why do you keep calling me Lana?”
He recast his Torch spell but at a much lower light level above her. “Look down at your chest.” She did and then squeaked the instant she saw her breasts. “Surprised?”
“What in God’s name am I wearing?” She put her hands on her breasts and then moved it down over her stomach. “I’m—I’m—I’m skinny!” Her voice came out in a squeak. “How did I lose all that weight in like a day?”
“You didn’t. Lana was just never fat.” Judy just looked at him for several moments blankly. “You’re wearing her body.” She swallowed, uncomfortable, and looked away. Ethan uncast his spell and said, “They wanted something from you, Judy. What was it?”
“They wanted a book of ritual spells—” Ethan felt his eagerness rise and she sensed it somehow by the way he leaned closer in the darkness “—which I don’t have. The one I do have, I can’t give it you. It’s not mine to give.” She shook her head, her eyes filling up with tears. “Old Man McCaffrey had the book they want and he was fond of me. Those boys seemed to think that I knew where it is but I don’t. McCaffrey is gone and he never told me anything. He disappeared and now those boys want to hurt me.”
“I can’t be in someone else’s body!” she cried and she stood up, banged her head on the ceiling, and went back down with a whimper. “I need the light!” she whimpered and he gave it to her. She held out her left arm out, looked at her bicep and then began to cry. “My scar is gone!” She looked up at him. “Where is my scar?”
“It’s wherever your body is,” he replied and she began to cry harder. He sighed and uncast the spell again. “Look, Judy, did they mention something about three rings or three girls?”
“Yes,” she said. “They said they had three enemies who were girls who were going to steal their monster away. They need that book to defeat them, control the monster or something big when those girls come looking for revenge.” She began to breathe quickly. “I’m scared, Ethan!”
“I know,” he told her.
“They killed that poor girl! Why would they do that?”
“To scare you into cooperation,” Ethan replied. “Is Lana inside of you somewhere? Do you feel a voice in your head or something?”
“I don’t feel any different!” she replied and then she oddly calmed down. “I—actually feel kind of good.”
“Look, Judy, I—” he stopped as a rock hit the entrance, shattered, and sent various rocks into the room. Ethan cast his Speak With Familiar spell to reveal Mickey sitting casually on a branch in an orange light that filled the little cave.
“Grand,” said Judy in awe.
“I need you to do something for me,” said Ethan.
“Sure,” Mickey replied. “What is it?”
* * *
Mickey felt rather unimpressed with Ethan’s plan.
“You’re totally screwing with me,” he told the orange image of Ethan sitting on the ground beside that human female. “That will never work.”
“Trolls are pretty fucking stupid,” he replied.
“Please don’t curse,” said the girl beside him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” cried Ethan.
“Alright, alright, just turn this shit off.” Ethan did and the image soon faded away. Mickey stared at the trolls for a moment, shrugged, and then flew down onto one of their shoulders. Ethan was right and it didn’t seem even remotely aware that he was there.
He called out to the other troll, “Hey ugly! You throw that rock like a pussy!” He then walked around behind the first troll’s hair to hide from the other troll, which the first also did not notice.
“What you say to me?” snarled another troll to him.
“I said nothing!” said the troll Mickey was on.
“I called you a pussy, pussy!” cried Mickey.
“Why you dirty no-good shit eater!” cried the other troll.
“How dare you!” cried the troll Mickey was on.
Then the two of them suddenly rushed forward and slammed their fists into each other as hard as they possibly could. Mickey flapped away quickly, utterly stunned by the success of that trick, and landed behind another troll on a branch very close to his head.
“Hey sissies!” cried Mickey. “Maybe you ought to try fighting a real troll for a change!”
The two trolls stopped in mid-punch, turned slowly to look at the other troll for a minute, and then charged at him. Mickey flew off the tree just in time to avoid being caught in the branches as the tree was instantly knocked over by the three trolls slamming into it. As it went down, the trolls went with it, their legs all flying up into the air at the same time.
Mickey landed on the shoulder of the only one still standing who was concentrating so deeply on the hole Ethan had gone into he didn’t seem to notice anything happening behind it. The moment Mickey landed, he turned and saw two female trolls shoot rush out of a cave down near the end of a cliff’s wall, one wearing something like a tube top dress and the other nothing, charging into the fray.
“Oh shit!” cried Mickey and he quickly flew up into the air to safety.
The female with the dress jumped the distracted troll and the one naked troll took a flying leap out onto the others slamming onto them like a boulder. Suddenly, all five trolls were engaged in an ugly, violent fistfight and the humans seemed utterly forgotten.
Mickey landed on a branch of a still-standing tree and looked over at the hole to see Ethan leaning onto its rim like it was a counter with a big grin on his face. Mickey sighed and said, “There will be no living with him from now on.” He then looked around very carefully, the woods deeply bothering him for reasons he could not discern clearly, and then settled down for a long wait.
Whenever it looked like the trolls were stopping their fight, he went off and did the same trick again and found himself utterly baffled that it worked so well.
Unfortunately, it didn’t distract them well enough for Ethan and the girl to escape. As soon as one was done fighting for even a minute, it would turn and start to mess with that hole again. If one saw Ethan, which happened once, the troll would say something and then they all forgot they were fighting each other and became consumed with hunger.
* * *
After a while, it seemed like the trolls were starting to get angrier. In the moments they were not fighting each other, they threw rocks, branches, and bushes at the hole. One of those bushes scraped Judy across the arm badly enough that he gave her a Heal potion.
Once, one of them even stuck their hand in but Ethan stabbed him in the palm with his dagger until he pulled back out with a startled cry. It would have reached back in harder but Mickey convinced another troll that he called him a “goblin sucker” and, looking through Mickey’s eyes, he saw more crazed fighting over that outside.
Somewhere early the next morning the trolls took their fighting a little bit into the distance and it became quiet enough to talk casually.
“I really am in someone else’s body,” said Judy and Ethan looked back from his spot on the hole while looking out. It was getting brighter but it was not bright, the sun not yet up. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” she said with tears running down both sides of her face. “You have to know that.”
“I know,” he replied.
She straightened her back and ran her hands over Lana’s stomach. “I’m so skinny,” she whispered. “Am I pretty too?”
“Yeah,” he said and when he knelt down to say more she threw her arms around him and wept into his shoulder for several minutes. “It’s okay, Judy,” he told her and he gently put his arms around her. He did not really think it was “okay” exactly but he felt certain she had little or no control over what had happened to her.
“I feel disgusting,” she whispered. “I also feel—like myself. I don’t know what to do, Mr. Bartlett—”
“My name is Ethan.”
“Ethan, I feel extremely guilty!” she whimpered. “I didn’t ask for this and I don’t want it! I just—” she started to breathe quickly, her breasts rising up and down sensually each time “—I always wanted to be pretty! I’m guessing by this outfit I am!”
“Pretty damn good looking, yes,” said Ethan and he unwrapped her arms and went back to looking out of the hole. The trolls were fighting about fifty feet away amid the ruins a dozen trees and countless bushes.
“Ethan, I feel like I made a wish and my wish came true at the price of this girl’s life!” He looked back and saw her face was overflowing with guilt. “I don’t know what to do!”
That, Ethan felt, was an emotion Lana Creed couldn’t emulate well.
Ethan looked back at the trolls and saw one of them slam another across the face with one giant, bloody fist and when that troll went down, the puncher raised its arms up in victory. “I win! I—” one of the females kicked him in the groin and he crumpled over “—Mamaaaaa!”
Ethan laughed, slipped back down into the cave, and moved back up beside her. “So who were those greaser assholes?” he asked her.
“Some jerks I went to school with. I think I mentioned that they call themselves the Black Cats and are supposedly into ‘black magic.’ Can you make another light in here?” He cast his Torch Spell and when Ethan looked at her face, he was again amazed at how different she looked from Lana. She was like a sweet twin sister, her lovely face filled with compassion and sweet insecurity. “I’m a little older so I’ve already graduated. They’re still in school.”
Ethan blinked a few times. “They’re still what?”
“In school,” she replied and she held out her arms up at the light. “It’s not getting any warmer.”
Ethan was surprised it took her that long for her to bring it up. He took off his jacket, wrapped it around her, and she looked up at him gratefully. “You went to school with them, you say? Like, recently?”
“Uh—yeah?” She looked around nervously and snuggled into his jacket for warmth.
“Okay, uh—” Ethan laughed “—oh fuck me.”
“Please don’t curse. It’s unbecoming.”
Ethan laughed again, looked up at the brighter sky for a moment through the hole they crawled in and then asked, “What were these boys like, Judy?”
“Oh they all acted like they were just such big wheels,” she told him. “Every single one of them walked around like they ruled that school, especially Vincent Edwards. They were rumored to do awful things but they were all baseball stars with future scholarships so they got away with everything. One girl actually accused Louie Lawrence of rape but since she was kind of a school bicycle, no one really believed her.”
Ethan took a deep breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his left hand. “What year did you graduate exactly?”
“Last year,” she replied.
Ethan took another deep breath and continued to rub his nose. “And what year was that?”
“1957, silly,” she said cutely. “Are you alright?”
Ethan nodded. “It’s just that was a little while ago.”
“It couldn’t have been that long ago. They all look exactly the same.”
Ethan felt extremely sorry for her and he put his arm around her, pulling her close. She smiled and seemed both surprised and touched by his action. “I would take you to breakfast after we get out of here so we could have a long talk about this but Hurricane Sandy kind of closed down everything around here.”
“That sounds nice except for the hurricane part,” she told him and she leaned her head against his shoulder. “Maybe we could go see a movie soon sometime. I know the Melody Theatre was playing Prince and the Showgirl and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral last month.”
“There was a Melody Theatre in Thousand Oaks, California once,” he said with a shrug.
“I worked there as a summer job,” she told him. “We called the owner Mr. Melody and he owned the theatre since 1917 before the talkies came.” She kissed him lovingly on the cheek. “Thank you for helping me, Ethan.”
Ethan looked at her. “Judy—”
She lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said instantly. “I shouldn’t have. This is somehow a prank with magic. I’m—I’m not really very pretty am I?”
Ethan laughed, stretched fully up against the wall, and said, “Judy, I can assure you this is no prank and the Melody Theatre isn’t playing the Prince and the Showgirl or Gunfight at the O.K. Corral anymore.”
“They just came out,” said Judy. “Also, Mr. Melody keeps the popular ones there forever. He still has a copy of Gone with the Wind.”
“Judy,” said Ethan, “It’s been a little longer than I implied.”
“How long? Those jerks really do look the same so it couldn’t have been that long.”
“They’re not alive and thus they don’t age. Why they’re still dressed the same I can’t say but they are not the same.”
“They did seem a little colder.” She swallowed and looked worried. “Is it 1960 yet?” she asked.
Ethan took out his cellphone and turned it on. The sound of it turning on made Judy’s eyes widen and when he turned off his Torch spell, she scooted up even closer against him in a snuggle-like manner. “Oh grand,” she said softly when looked at all the boxes floating on the screen lighting up the cave.
“Nice, eh? Look at the date.”
“2012?” She looked up at him. “You think I’m going to believe it’s been over fifty years? Aren’t we supposed to be on the moon and have flying cars by now?”
Ethan laughed. “You’re in someone else’s body, we’re caught in a cave blocked by murderous trolls, there is an undead 1950s all-star baseball team hunting us and the time is the part you don’t believe?”
The two of them smiled at each other. She bit her lower lip, smiled up at him for a moment, and then looked down. “So this is a twenty-first-century watch?”
“Not really,” he replied. He pulled up his app of the Ms. Pac-Man game and when he showed Judy how to play, she was almost instantly addicted. She slipped over into a corner and became enthralled and instantly calm. “Nice,” he said.
Then the phone rang and she shrieked, accidentally tossing the phone into the air. Ethan caught it, saw the name “Least Hated Cousin” had appeared, mentally reminded himself to change that, and then put the phone up to his ear. “What’s up, bitch,” he said. Judy’s eyes bulged when she heard Lucy’s voice respond out of the phone.
“So, asshole, where’s Lana already?”
“She’s, uh—” he looked at Judy who looked worriedly back at him “—lost her memory. She doesn’t remember anything personal but does have lots of general knowledge still. She knows what a car is but not what her car is, get it?”
“You think I’m a complete idiot, don’t you?”
“Yeah, that, and a bitch and a whore.”
“Listen, you fucking asshole!” cried Lucy. “I want you to stop fucking around and find my fucking friend! You got that?” Judy’s hand had gone to her mouth in surprise.
“I really did find her but I’m trapped in a cave surrounded by trolls right now. I’m using my familiar to get them to fight with each other so they don’t kill us.”
“You are such a fucking retard,” she replied.
“Fine, don’t believe me.” Ethan handed the phone to Judy. “Talk to her,” he said.
Judy swallowed and put it up to her ear. “Uh—hello?”
“Lana? You sound funny.”
“I, uh—” Judy took a deep breath “—look, I don’t know what is going on. Who are you?”
“You’re not Lana! Who the fuck are you, bitch? Some cunt whore spreading her legs for my asshole cousin for the price of a quarter?”
Judy squeaked in shock and quickly handed Ethan the phone. “That wasn’t nice, Lucy,” he said.
“That sounds like Lana but she doesn’t sound all sweet and cutesy or pretend she’s not a whore.”
“I’m a whore?” Judy gasped. “Like, I make my money off selling my body to men, whore?”
“More of a slut, really,” Ethan replied.
“Ethan,” said Lucy in a hard voice, “Just find Lana and tell her I need to speak to her about her mother. Seriously, is it really too much to ask for you to do your fucking job?”
“My mother?” Lana wrapped her arms around herself. “Oh my God, I have a new mother.”
“Whatever,” said Lucy. “Ethan, you best fix this. That’s all I can tell you. You better fix this problem and you better do it like yesterday or I swear to fucking God I’ll make you wish you were never born.”
“Goodbye Lucy,” he said as he turned off the phone and leaned back. “Welcome to your new life, Judy.”
“I don’t have my virginity anymore,” she whispered softly. “I’m not dreaming.” She looked at him and tears filled her eyes again. “I’m really someone else now.” She swallowed. “Oh God, what do I look like?”
Ethan cast his Torch spell, took a picture of her with his camera, uncast his spell and showed the picture on his cellphone to her. “That’s you.”
Judy looked at it for a long time, her eyes wide, and then looked into his face miserably. “I’m gorgeous.” Tears ran down her face. “I didn’t ask for this, Ethan! You have to know that!”
“I know that.”
“You’re not upset? Why aren’t you angry or worried or calling me names?”
“It’s not my style,” he replied. “Besides, you clearly don’t know enough about magic to pull off a body switch. Neither do I, for that matter.”
“I’m so worthless!” she whimpered and she curled herself up into a ball in the deepest corner of the cave. “Everyone says so!” She began to cry. “All I ever do is screw up and hurt people! I’m just stupid, ugly Pigs Aberdeen whose own father couldn’t even love her!”
Judy was starting to depress the hell of Ethan. “Look, Judy, you really—”
Suddenly a giant gray hand flew into the cave and Ethan instantly starting stabbing upward at it as hard as he could with his dagger. The hand remained in there for no less than ten stabs, almost as dense as a tree trunk, but the cry of rage came long before the owner of the hand came to realize the pain it was feeling came from its location.
“It stiiiiings!” cried the troll as it pulled its hand out.
“It’s because you’re a big fat pussy!” cried Mickey in his high-pitched voice imitating the troll accent badly.
“Why you no good son of a bitch!” cried the troll and the cave shook as a troll was suddenly shoved into the rock wall. Judy grabbed onto Ethan like a life preserver in the ocean as he casually looked up to see the sky was now yet a brighter, lighter blue.
He smiled, unwrapped her arms and then calmly stood up and leaned out. Almost all of the trolls were fighting again even as the sun was starting to rise. “Good God, they’re stupid,” he said aloud.
They threw themselves at each other, hit like rocks, and then rolled onto the ground.
“Wow,” said Ethan. “Just wow.”
By that time, almost nothing was left standing in the area, every tree and bush either knocked down or crushed, and every troll was battered, bruised and bloody, having picked up rocks or tree branches and then swung them around at each other like they clubs.
“I’ll kill you!” cried one of them. “I will fucking—” a female kicked him in the groin again and he fell over “—Mamaaaaa!”
Ethan and Mickey burst out laughing.
The fight continued on and Ethan looked out of the cave again. “Fun,” he told Judy. “It’s like we’re in The Hobbit.”
Judy appeared up beside him with a wide smile. “I love that story!” she told him. “I love the Lord of the Rings too!” She looked down and watched them batter each other. “Are trolls really this silly?”
“If they weren’t stupid, they would rule the world by now,” Ethan replied and he fired a lightning bolt at one of them, hit him right in the head, and when he turned he assumed the troll behind him was someone responsible and punched him in the head. “Still, we’re lucky for Mickey and this hole. Otherwise, we’d be very dead.”
The trolls continued to fight for another minute or two before one of them sensed it. He saw it out of the corner of his eyes, screamed out the word “sun” and the others turned and looked into the east.
“You did this!” cried one.
“No!” cried another. “You did this!”
“You both did this!” cried a female.
The sky turned brighter and the sun fired through the distant trees creating long beams of sunlight across the cliff wall. They each let out long, loud, simultaneous shrieks of horror that distantly resembled the word “no” as those beams touched their bodies.
Their bodies made crack sounds that sounded like stone breaking while someone was trying to bend them. Their skin and their hair began to turn an unpleasant whitish-gray color as they froze in their positions and over the span of less than a minute, they were frozen in their horrified final positions.
“Oh yeah,” said Ethan. He casually put back on his blades and climbed casually up the cliff face onto the cliff’s top. He found little difficulty in climbing up and looked around a flat rising slope to the north. The forest beyond looked like it led on forever. “You coming?” he asked her when he looked back down at her.
“Uh—” Judy looked down at the wrecked trees down below and then up at him “—it’s a bit—uh, well—”
Ethan went down onto his belly, reached down and took her hand. She nervously clambered up out and then, after using him partially as a ladder, managed to climb up. Once there, she clambered to her feet, looked around the woods as she stretched out her arms and took a deep relieved breath.
“This place is so beautiful,” she said and then when her eyes caught onto a mountain in the distance and they became filled with horror. “Oh God, we’re in the Engelstad!”
Mickey casually landed on Ethan’s shoulder as he stood up and then yawned. “I didn’t want to upset you,” Ethan told Judy. “This is my familiar and pal Mickey by the way.”
“Hello Mickey,” said Judy happily.
“Sup,” he said with a smile and then turned to Ethan. “I’m tired and hungry. I demand food.”
“All in good time,” said Ethan and then he started down the slope southeast back down toward the ground.
“Where are we going?” asked Judy as she followed him down.
“To get some booty,” said Ethan as he made his way down into the wrecked field of trees where the troll statues were. He pulled out his sword and casually sliced off their clothing as he walked by their stone bodies. Then he went looking through their clothes carefully.
“Are they dead?” asked Judy.
“No, just helpless until nightfall when they turn back. I’d break them if I had a sledgehammer, energy and all day long.”
“Those clothes are really gross,” said Mickey from one of their arms.
“How do they even make clothes when they’re so stupid?” asked Judy.
“No one knows,” Ethan replied as he finished one set of pants. “Their intellect is probably not equally balanced. They’re as smart as us in some ways and much stupider in others and in many ways they are far sneakier than any normal human which may make them even smarter than us in some ways.” He reached into the female’s clothes and found something. “Jackpot.”
“What did you find?” asked Judy, who covered up her chest with his jacket as tightly as she could, even more uncomfortable with her breasts being shown off in daylight.
Ethan turned around and held up an old and large brass key. “How Tolkien is this?”
“There is no way they made that key,” said Judy.
“No, this is just something they stole. Trolls steal everything.” Ethan looked down at the very old, medieval-looking key fit to a human’s hands and wondered what its story was. It had some kind of crest on the back of it signifying some medieval sigil or family crest but that was so rubbed clean and unrecognizable.
Ethan turned and walked along the wall to the west and found a few their cave a few hundred feet down. It had some kind of makeshift manor house door slammed into place covering only a small portion of the cave entrance still lying wide open and from within was a powerfully disgusting smell of mixed feces, urine and rotting meat
Judy grimaced and stepped back the instant she came near and Mickey casually flew onto her shoulder. “I think I’ll just wait out here with the girl.”
“Fine,” Ethan replied. “I’ll see you when I get out, traitor.” He pulled out his sword, shot his Torch spell down into the cave and disappeared within.
It was a large, simple round cave with a disturbing level of filth to match its smell. The sleeping corner was filled with trash, cans, beer bottles and that took up seventy percent of the cave. The right half had a pile of feces standing literally ten feet high and a near spa-sized pool of nasty black urine beside it. It was the nastiest thing Ethan had seen in a while and up close, the smell was so powerful he could semi-taste it in his mouth.
“That’s a big pile of shit too, Mr. Goldblum,” he said in agony, the back of his hand over his mouth as he tried to force back his gag reflex. He turned to the prize, the corner where the things the trolls thought valuable were placed in a rather large unorganized pile which, because of their unpredictable nature of a troll, anything could be buried there. Once it was clear the cave was empty, he sheathed his sword and approached the pile.
Pretty, but useless, things were what saw first. Flashlights that looked silver, various parts of cars, mostly hubcaps and hood ornaments, lava rocks, which they must have thought were valuable because they were shiny, and endless amounts of camper equipment. “Who the hell is dumb enough to camp in these woods?” he asked aloud as he moved things around to find a large old wooden chest buried in the pile. It had a symbol like the key, which was also scratched to the point of being unrecognizable beyond its similarity. Ethan quickly put the key in its lock where it fit perfectly and turned easily, a distinct and loud clack sound coming from within as the chest unlocked.
He then lifted it up and looked down inside.
Ethan sighed unhappily as he saw even more useless stuff. Shinier camper equipment mostly, all filled to the brim. “Crap,” he said as he tossed each thing out. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap—” he stopped near the bottom, eyes wide, and reached down. “Well fuck me in the ass with a chainsaw!” he cried.
“I beg your pardon!” cried Judy from outside.
“I’m just really excited about today because it just got a whole lot better.” He was looking at a gold bar, one of three in the box, the front of which was stamped:
* * *
* * *
Ethan stared down at it stupidly for several minutes, eyes wide, and a voice from the past crept into his mind. It was on the tip of his memory to recall who it was who had spoken to him but it didn’t come.
I intercepted a Confederation treasury, Thomas, said the voice excitedly. I want to unload it quietly and I know you can do it.
Just do it right and pay back what you owe, he had replied.
I don’t owe anyone anything, Thomas, the voice replied. I’m not giving one cent of my treasure to those trash bankers.
Technically it’s the South’s treasure but if that’s your plan you best hide it and for a long time. I know you own money to the Gurneys and the Kurtwoods and either would kill you if they find out you’re hoarding what you owe but aren’t paying up.
I am not sharing this treasure with anyone, Thomas! said the voice and then it started to fade. Ethan shook away the fleeting near-memory, put the Confederate bars of gold into the bottom of his satchel, and then found something else directly below.
He quickly grabbed the book with both hands, flipped it open to find real and genuine magic, and let out a loud, long laugh of happiness.
“What’s so funny?” asked Mickey. “Did you just see your dick?”
“No, you evil bastard! I found a magic book!” It was an old black book with gold trimming, probably not real but may well have been what gave the trolls the idea that it was valuable, or it could have possibly just been sitting in the chest when they stole it. At the very bottom of the chest, it was utterly untouched by the grime of the cave and had probably been hidden in there for decades. It was called Goodwin’s Magical Enchantments and it was incredibly valuable.
Ethan knew the name Arthur Goodwin historically as he was a major proponent of magic, one of John Dee’s apprentices in late 16th century England, but unlike John Dee, his interest was purely in enchantment. He made very successful strides in that industry.
Unfortunately, all of his known books were said to have been confiscated by the Umm which was bad enough and, as history had shown, no magical knowledge that went into the Umm ever came out again.
Ethan checked the book again quickly, certifying it was real then checked the rest of the chest but found nothing else of interest and then walked out carrying his prize in his left hand.
“A magic book,” said Judy when he came out.
“Hey, don’t stop petting me,” said Mickey.
“Seven enchantments I don’t know,” he said. “The apprentice of John Dee has left his mark.” As he started walking in the direction he thought they had originally come, Judy moved up beside him.
“What happens now?” asked Judy.
“I learn some new enchantments and feel better about the really shitty night I just had.”
“I meant me,” she replied. “I’m in someone else’s body. What do I do?”
“Is that why you had such a complete personality change?” asked Mickey.
“Yes,” she replied unhappily.
Ethan had checked her magically at least dozen times over the night when she wasn’t looking and he did it again in daylight while they walked. He even gave her a Remove Curse potion. There was nothing magical about her so whatever happened to her was permanent. Her mind was not altered and she was not shape-changed into anything: she was Judy in Lana’s body as if she was born with it.
The thought that she might be Lana screwing with him crossed his mind but he doubted it. She didn’t have a high enough degree of control for that.
“You don’t remember anything,” he told her simply. “I’ll take you home and you can tell your new parents your memory was erased by some thugs and I couldn’t fix it.”
“I’m so sorry,” she told him miserably. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“I believe you,” said Ethan and then he sent Mickey up into the air to look through his eyes to get a good look around him. “Did you see anything?”
“I found Lana having some kind of seizure but then she was Judy and they spent an hour questioning her. They killed that girl at some point when she wasn’t giving them the answers they wanted. I saw some kind of star in circle thing underneath the bonfire.”
“All rituals basically look like that.”
It took him about an hour to get back out of the forest. They passed the bonfire, which was out, and saw no sign of the ghouls. As they reached the end and slipped through the fence, Judy let out a sigh of relief.
“Are you related to James Bartlett?” asked Judy. Ethan didn’t answer her as he led her across Wicker St. “You are too, right? You really are one of those Bartletts?”
“James was my grandfather but I wasn’t raised here,” he told her as he slipped among the trees and checked his car. “He was kicked out for standing up for a little girl his brother Julian raped and—”
Judy grabbed his arm and turned him toward her, her face genuinely angry for the first time. “Wait a minute!” she hissed. “Are you going to stand here and tell me Johnson Benedict Bartlett sided with Julian over James?”
Judy let go of his arm. “I hope he rots in Hell,” she hissed. “Julian Bartlett is a sick, inhuman little monster.”
“Good!” she said in a voice filled with bitterness. “I hope he died slow!”
Ethan opened his trunk, dumped his things back into it, and then shut the trunk.
“Wicker Street hasn’t changed much,” she said.
“Everything else has and he unlocked her door, opened it for her, and then walked around and entered his seat.
“Grand!” said Judy. “This is just grand! Is this really a car from 2000 something?”
“1969 Corvette,” he told her.
“Grand,” she said again and she buckled herself in. She smiled at him pleasantly and looked around the car with a curious, sweet smile.
“They had seatbelts in 1957?”
“I babysit for a wealthy man who had a Nash with them,” she replied happily.
“I’m going to see if I can catch some grub,” said Mickey after internally debating it for a moment. “I’ll meet you at home.” Ethan opened the door and Mickey flew off without another word. He then shut the door, turned the vehicle, and backed out to the road.
He drove down Wicker St past Charlotte St to Colm Rd where he turned left and went east to the lower bottom left of Edwards Grove just above Chelsea Lake. He drove back to Lana’s house easily by memory.
“I live in Edwards Grove!” cried Judy happily the very moment they went past the lovely stone arches into the beautiful neighborhood filled with Victorian homes. “Am I rich?”
“Pretty damn close to, yeah,” he replied and he smiled a bit at her happy, child-like expression.
Her eyes went wide at the cars and the people around her. “Everything is so—wild and different. Look at that car. Does it fly?”
“No, cars do not fly,” he told her. “The world is not the world of The Jetsons.”
“What are The Jetsons?”
“It’s a cartoon show about a future from your time’s perspective. It has flying cars, jetpacks, huge cities on poles and stuff like that.” He glanced out of the window at the pretty neighborhood and realized just how incredibly tired he felt. He honestly thought he should have passed out on his feet by then.
Judy bit her lip a bit then looked over at him. “You’re kind of a flutter bum,” she told him with a strange smile. “Did you come to my rescue because we’re dating?”
Ethan shook his head. “My cousin threatened to kill Mickey if I didn’t go find you.”
“But Mickey is so sweet.”
“Bartlett Bay is just filled with assholes,” he told her, “and is he really?”
“This city has always been a bad place,” she replied and looked away sadly.
Ethan parked his car at the curb in front of Lana’s house located in the northeast area of the city, not from the Hamilton House and saw Lana’s father outside putting down new garden gnomes with that perpetually sad expression on his face. He was wearing a dark green polo shirt, khaki pants, and a beige vest and looked to Ethan to be very humble for a man of his means. “That poor, poor man,” said Ethan.
“He seems really sweet,” said Judy. “Is he my gardener?”
“Actually, he’s your father.”
“Lana’s father,” whispered Judy and she looked at him through the window with a sad expression. “He looks so kind.”
Ethan realized that he genuinely liked Judy Aberdeen a great deal. He didn’t know what to do about her, or if anything could be done at all, but it was clear that she was innocent in everything. He had a hard time imagining her hurting anyone. Even a bad person.
Her new father looked over at them, saw Ethan, and looked nervous. “That poor, poor man,” Ethan said again.
“When I was seven my father had enough and left,” Judy told him sadly. “He said he was embarrassed to have a fat, ugly cow for a daughter. I know now it was just an excuse to be free of us but it deeply hurt me and still does. I ate well but I could never lose weight because I was just one of those girls who were built that way. They still acted like I did something wrong.”
“Your father sounds like a real cocksucker.”
“My mother became a drunk and blamed me for her ruined life. She was a great beauty when she was young.” Judy looked over at him. “Do Lana’s parents hate her?”
“Lana—” Ethan shrugged “— was an extremely violent sociopath who liked to hurt people. I don’t really know what they think of her.”
“Oh.” She looked at the father who was still staring at them nervously. “He’s not coming toward me. Should he care that his pretty daughter has been out all night with a handsome young man?”
Ethan laughed at that for several moments. “Lana’s a maneater,” he told her and he opened the door and stepped out. “He should be more worried for the young man than her.” Judy came out a moment after, took off his jacket, and wrapped her arms around herself in an extremely self-conscious gesture. Ethan casually rested his arms on top of his car and called out, “Mr. Creed.”
Mr. Creed put down his garden gnomes and approached carefully. To Ethan, he looked like a nice version of the 1950s husband trapped with a nightmare version of a 1970s feminist. He truly pitied that man who appeared completely and utterly unequipped to deal with the women in his life.
“Mr. Bartlett,” he said gently. “H-how may I help you?”
“I found your daughter by the Engelstad—” his eyes went wide “—she’s lost her memory.” He looked at her and Judy bit her lower lip. That caused confusion in him and he looked back at Ethan with a worried expression. “Yeah, it’s true. She remembers things like a car is a car but not what her car is, get it?” He nodded slowly. “I got to go. If you have any questions—”
The father shook his head slowly. “I’ll have to—talk to my wife about it.”
“You poor, poor man,” Ethan told him and then he took out a small piece of paper and pen from his satchel, wrote his name and number on it, and handed it to Judy. “Call me if you need me, okay?”
Judy nodded and held the paper tightly against her chest.
Ethan smiled at her and turned to Lana’s father. “You take care of her, okay?”
“Take care of her?” The thought of taking care of Lana seemed completely preposterous to him.
Ethan looked sadly at him for a moment. He knew no one could be close to Lana but he heard from Darcy that even though Mr. Creed was a respected gentleman, all the men in his life considered him to be incredibly whipped by his wife and eldest daughter, each imagining somehow in his place they would have come out infinitely better. He was also, according to Darcy, a very, sweet man and she believed him to be a genuinely good person.
They, in turn, saw him as an incredible pushover and had no respect for him whatsoever. Darcy even saw them abusing him in subtle, emasculating ways in front of others, and that made Ethan very sad.
“Is she—is she okay?” asked Mr. Creed.
Ethan nodded slowly. “I think she’s better than she’s ever been.” He smiled sadly. “Take care of her, Mr. Creed,” he said again and he got into his car, checked and made sure his magic book was still in the back, and then took another glance back over at her. She was looking up at her father almost as nervously as he looked back down at her. “Well this is a less than perfect illusion,” he told himself and then drove off.
* * *
Judy Aberdeen had not lied once to Ethan but she suspected he didn’t believe her. Considering how completely insane her story was, who possibly would?
She could easily remember the last day she was herself.
All her life she had wanted to be a nurse and the day after she had been accepted by a suitable school, she was jumped by those eight boys while grocery shopping for her mother and herself. She could still feel the concrete at her back, still see the fruit and vegetables spilling out of her bags, and vividly recall the pain of the punch to her stomach to silence her screams. They had then dragged her into the back of one of their cars and gagged her. Her mother wasn’t with her because she didn’t like to shop and was on a drunken bender again.
The boys drove her to the woods and she was alone. She had no father, brother, or boyfriend there to protect her. She didn’t even have someone to mourn her when she was raped and dead. Her mother, who blamed her for all her problems, was unlikely to care.
They dragged her out to an opening somewhere past that evil chain link fence and then beat her with baseball bats. They didn’t say anything at first, didn’t respond to her questions, and when Alan tried to stop them Sanford hit him across the back with a baseball bat hard enough to almost break his spine.
Then they asked those questions, about the book, about McCaffrey, over and over again. Alan was the only one who didn’t participate and, just as she began to beg him for help, she saw Louie bring the bat down on her head.
And then they were asking those questions again although the day had turned to night and she was unknowingly in another girl’s body. The girls had appeared, Mary Matthews and Sally Anderson, and everyone was pale and Buzz had an axe, but to her, it was as if she had blinked and nothing but the day had passed.
There was some kind of spell there that prevented her from leaving the circle, the bonfire frighteningly hot, and Buzz killed that girl when she failed to answer him one too many times. It terrified her but it didn’t make answers she didn’t have magically appear.
Judy knew what they wanted before they had asked. They knew enough to know she was involved but not enough to know she had wanted no part in it. She had left long before she could end up burdened by the knowledge they sought. She was eternally grateful for Ethan because, shortly into their conversation she began to feel, with a large degree of growing certainty, that they didn’t believe her and would soon be going to ask her a lot less politely.
Now that the night was over, she was standing in the body of a different girl, one who was skinny, beautiful, rich and probably everything else she had never been on the outside. That, in combination with Lana’s apparent internal personality and the near sixty years of missing time, Judy felt completely and utterly incapable of pretending to be Lana Creed.
Judy walked up to Mr. Creed and instinctively expected him to sense what was wrong.
However, he clearly did not, and he was looking at her with some degree of nervousness. That was odd. He was her father, at least he believed he was, and he should have been fearless of her. He was a man after all, and what man was scared of his own daughter?
Also, she was dressed like a tramp and that should definitely not have pleased him.
“Are you mad at me?” Judy asked him.
Mr. Creed blinked as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever said to him. He even smiled a little and touched her shoulder gently. “No,” he said softly. “I’m-I’m not mad at you at all.”
Judy smiled and he smiled back and that filled her with such surprising warmth she hugged him tightly. This surprised him even more, so much so that he was stunned into not moving for a second. When she was done, she kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Daddy.”
“You really don’t remember anything,” he said as he looked at her in a way that seemed relieved beyond measure and he touched her face in a kind, loving way that made her so happy she hugged him again.
“Where is my—my room?” she asked as she and he walked up toward the door.
He smiled as led her inside the door looking for words. “I—it’s—” he turned to her and smiled in a tired way “—upstairs. That door right there.” He pointed to a white door up at the top of the stairs.
Judy looked around the house, utterly flabbergasted at how rich and beautiful it was, and then kissed him in the cheek again. “Thank you, Daddy,” she said again and she slowly went upstairs looking at everything. She turned back halfway up and asked, “Is it alright if I sleep for the rest of the day? Do I have chores or something?”
Mr. Creed smiled in that same odd way. “No, it’s fine, Lenny.”
Judy liked that name. It felt like it was hers even though the name “Lana” wasn’t, suspecting somehow that he never called Lana Lenny before. “Thank you, Daddy,” she said again and went up into Lana’s room. Her jaw dropped at the sight of it.
The room was insane.
Judy had her own private bathroom, a television, which was giant, almost flat, and crazily science fiction looking with its sleek black casing and lack of all knobs, a king’s sized bed, a full-length mirror, and a closet, which was open and overflowing with clothes. She looked through them, her eyes wide at all the dresses, which she suspected were expensive designer brands. “Grand,” she whispered to herself, thinking about the ugly one-story shack she had shared with her mother.
She heard the sound of something in her room’s personal bathroom, looked over at it for a moment, and then slipped inside. It appeared empty at a glance but after babysitting long enough to be considered professional, she knew all the sounds and tricks any small child might make.
She pulled open the drapes of the shower to see a very pretty, young girl around the age of seven with dark hair and bright blue eyes wearing badly placed makeup looking up at her with eyes filled with absolute terror.
“I’m sorry!” she squeaked. Judy smiled kindly and helped her up and she looked even more terrified by that. “Please don’t hurt me!” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean to play with your makeup! I just—you never come home this early after staying out—” tears ran down her face without control, smearing the badly placed makeup“—don’t cut my face, please!”
Judy was startled by that fear and absolutely horrified by what she said. All her life she loved children and wanted some of her own back before she thought it impossible to find a good husband, which she suddenly realized right at that moment had changed considerably since she had become Lana. She had and still wanted to be a pediatric nurse, to help hurt children, and to see a little girl scared she would slash her face disturbed her to her core.
She picked her up and held her tightly “I’m not going to hurt you,” she told her softly and she felt the girl calm down and she ran her hand through her pretty hair. “I will never hurt you,” she told her and pressed her cheek against her head.
The girl pulled away and looked up at her. “You’re not Lana,” she said simply.
Judy looked at her sadly, feeling guilty in a strange way that didn’t connect with personal responsibility. “Lana lost her memory,” Judy told her. “La—that is-uh-I don’t remember anything—”
“You’re not Lana,” said the girl again. “You’re too nice to be Lana. Lana told me she would slice my face apart if I ever tried to become prettier than her or played with her makeup or clothes. She would make it look like an accident to fool our mother but she would do it. She’s done worse to others.”
“I’m sure I didn’t mean to—”
“She broke my arm and then stuck a knife between my legs inside of me and said she would make me a whore if I ever pissed her off again.”
“You’re a child!” Judy gasped and felt a limp sink down her throat when she swallowed. She couldn’t breathe for several moments as questions went through her mind. Who was this Lana Creed? Who could hurt a sweet little girl who just wanted to wear makeup and be like her big sister? Judy suddenly felt sick and dirty being in Lana’s skin and felt tears run down her face.
“What is your name?” asked the girl.
“Judy,” she told her sadly. “Judy Aberdeen.”
The girl smiled in a way that was incredibly cute but also dark. “I won’t tell anyone—” she kissed her on the cheek “—Lana.”
Judy nodded and, despite everything, suddenly felt really good. At the very least, if she was there instead of Lana Creed, that girl would be unharmed. She had also always wanted a little sister but her mother had never found another man who could stand her long enough to ever get married to her.
The girl smiled up at her lovingly and Judy felt that relief of at least something good coming out of what happened grew stronger.
“What’s your name?” Judy asked.
“I’m Sarah Creed,” she told her and she wrapped her arms around her neck tightly in a deep hug. Judy smiled sadly, hugged her back, and then led her up to the chair in front of the mirror. Judy’s new reflection, that of a gorgeous blond girl with the same vibrant blue eyes as the girl, looked back at her through the mirror and her jaw dropped for a moment. The little girl sat on the chair and looked up at her dumbstruck expression in the mirror with amusement. “You’ve never seen her face before, have you?”
“I saw a photograph of it on Ethan Bartlett’s phone-watch thing.” She put her hand over her heart, over the tops of her scandalously uncovered, sexy breasts, and felt it was beating very quickly. She could justify getting thin, a coma could do that pretty well, and she could delude herself into thinking she had a pretty body by becoming thin, but she knew no amount of weight loss would reform her face to one pretty enough to compete with Grace Kelly.
Sarah kissed her on the cheek when she saw her worried expression. “It’s okay, Judy. Also, they call Ethan’s thing a cellphone.”
“It’s real,” she told her and stared into her reflection. She put her hands on her face and looked at her model-like face with sensual narrow sapphire eyes that had replaced what once had been piggish and brown. “I’m really wearing the body of an eighteen-year-old girl in 2012.”
“Sixteen?” She looked down at her breasts and looked back up. “I’m still in high school and I have this body?”
Sarah hugged her and Judy looked at her sadly. “I like you better,” she told her. “You’re pretty on the inside.” She swallowed nervously. “Am I pretty? Lana said I’m ugly and fat.”
Judy felt tears slip down her cheeks. “You’re very pretty and you’re not fat. You might actually be prettier than Lana, or I am, or—whatever. I don’t really know yet but I—” Judy felt incredibly uncomfortable “—I really don’t know.”
Sarah touched her tears and looked incredibly relieved. “I was worried you were tricking me but Lana can’t make herself cry.”
Judy suddenly felt that if she delved any deeper into Lana Creed’s personality she would go insane. “Would you like me to braid your hair or teach you how to put on makeup? I mean I might be a little rusty in this time period but—”
“Yes!” Sarah hugged her tightly. “I really, really would!”
Judy hugged her back and for the first time since becoming Lana she felt emotionally good. She was extremely tired but she didn’t want to make her new sister sad or angry so she began braiding her hair intricately.
When her new father saw that later that morning before she went to bed, the expression on his face was one of being almost brought to tears due to happiness.
* * *
Ethan found Nora waiting for him at the gates to the Bartlett Mansion.
She was pacing in front of the gates wearing a long black jacket wrapped around herself and her chest.
“You busy?” she asked with an unreadable expression in her beautiful, dark almond eyes.
“Uh—” he looked into her face “—sure.” He reached over, unlocked the door, and she slipped inside. He drove back down Edmonton St and parked his car to the west in Edmonton Park not far from the Orange River and Nathaniel Bridge that went over it.
She didn’t say anything as he drove, breathing quickly, and looking disturbed. Once parked, she opened the door and walked out into it and he went out to his trunk, grabbed his satchel and walked after her.
Hurricane Sandy didn’t destroy too much of Edmonton Park but the trashcans had been full and all of them, along with a few smaller trees, had been knocked over. Everywhere they walked, trash had been strewn across the ground.
Nora turned back to face him, opened her jacket, and showed off her body to him. “What the hell am I going to tell my mother?” She looked down. “I mean, just look at these!”
“Okay,” he said.
“Will this ever go away?” she asked softly. “Am I going to be a flat, ugly little girl again?”
“Oh my God, you like it!” he cried and she instantly looked away. “Hey, don’t get me wrong, you’re fucking hot but, well, women, even lesbians, don’t generally see breasts and asses the way guys do. Flat-chested chicks are the only ones who can become athletes because breasts like those weigh a ton—”
“I just want to know what the hell I could possibly say to my mother!” she replied angrily.
“How the hell would I know? ‘Hey, Mom, check out how awesome my rack is?’” Nora stared at him dumbstruck for several moments and then laughed.
In mid-laugh, she grabbed Ethan’s face and kissed him deeply, surprising him for the quick second it happened, and then pulled back. “Oh, I’ve always wanted a body like this, Ethan. I wanted to be sexy like those hot busty women like Christina Hendrix and Salma Hayek and that Italian woman from The Matrix, uhhh—”
“Matrix Reloaded. Monica Belluci.”
“Yes! Her! Bodies like that are what American men want and what American women, white women usually, use to get away with everything. For every super talented Lucy Lui there are dozens of talentless busty white counterparts cruising on their tits and ass.”
“Salma Hayek is not white or talentless.”
“You know what I mean! Is this—temporary?”
“I don’t think so. It’s part of this—reality-altering—things I’ve been saying lately.” Ethan had no idea what to say about that. He cast his Sense Magic spell and found no magic in her. She was permanently changed. “You and that—girl wanted this. You have the same mentality about physical beauty.”
“You both wanted the same type of body and both of you got it. Those ghost girls were incredibly satisfied with what you all turned into and I suspect so were the three of you. I think you were connected by a sense of—insecurity about physical beauty. I mean, lots of girls there were flat but you were the ones that were chosen.”
He supposed it could have been a coincidence but all three of them seemed unlikely. Ethan didn’t believe most women wanted to look like what men wanted them to look like. An Asian girl, and two white girls, from different time periods would easily have three vastly different opinions of what physical beauty from the three ghost girls.
“I was beautiful before,” she told him, “but not like this. I’m like a dream now.” She laughed and put her hands on her hips and straightened her back. “It was totally worth whatever happened.”
“You wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t been there.”
“I know. I really should find a way to thank you.” Her smile turned mischievous. “So, as a man, do you think I’m sexy?”
“I’m afraid so,” he replied. “You know I’d like to say we men are deep, thought-filled individuals who look far into the soul of our mates for a true companion but we’re really just a bunch of dirty pigs sniffing around for the best looking girl we can find.”
“And we girls are lying, scheming, untrustworthy little bitches who will use that to our advantage every single time.” She looked into his eyes, took a deep breath, and then smiled widely. “So do you think this is permanent? I know my mother won’t be happy if it is. She doesn’t like me being sexier than she is.”
“I’m pretty sure it is permanent. If not, this will fix it.” He took out a Remove Curse potion from his satchel and she looked at it, hesitated, and then took it and drank deep. When it didn’t work, she looked relieved.
“This makes me very happy,” she told him and she took his hand, pulled him to a restroom, and then pulled him into the bathroom. “My body is more than just shapely. I’ve become an athlete. A fitness queen.” She grabbed him and kissed him and Ethan could feel her body against him more than he could see as the room was dark and with no power, it remained lit only by small square windows above them. “You saved my life, Ethan Bartlett,” she told him. “I would like to thank you for it.”
“And I’d like to thank you for not being a small child like almost every other girl I’ve saved.”
She grabbed at his clothing and pushed him up against the wall. “Everything that happened to me tonight was totally worth it,” he told her as she stepped back and dropped her costume.
* * *
“Any particular reason you have such a smug self-satisfied look on your face?” Margaret Bartlett asked the moment Ethan stepped in the doorway, his new magic book in his left hand, the Bartlett family sword in his right, the blade of which rested on one shoulder and Mickey, who had been waiting outside when Justin returned, sitting casually half-asleep on the other.
“Why didn’t everyone just bang a smoking hot Chinese girl this morning?” Margaret’s eyes went wide. “Relax, I did it for a good cause.” He grinned. “Fun.” He laughed at her darkening frown. “Guess who just got a girlfriend by the way.”
Margaret shook her head, dumbstruck and horrified. “You disgust me.”
“You’re love is so utterly overwhelming.”
“Are you not ashamed of this behavior?”
“Why? Because, unlike some Bartletts, I choose girls over ten years of age?”
Margaret’s eyes filled with unfathomable shock and then rage. “How dare you say that to me?” she nearly shrieked.
“How dare he do it!” snarled Ethan aggressively enough to silence Margaret for a moment. “You know damn well what Julian has done and I don’t particularly enjoy being held up to a standard that he and none of your children or your grandchildren are ever held up to.”
“You do not know my family.”
“I know that when someone says they act like a Bartlett it’s because they’re caught molesting children or hurting and or crippling the people they don’t like.”
She looked him straight in the eyes and with a straight face and voice said, “You are completely ignorant, Ethan Bartlett.”
“Are you delusional or are you just retarded?”
Margaret’s eyes darkened for a moment but then softened and she changed the subject. “I thought we agreed on no guns,” she said.
“I like living far too much to follow that,” he replied. “Just pretend you’re telling Peter he can’t have a gun in my exact position, a position that will almost certainly equal death without one, so that the ludicrousness of your stupid comment manages to get through your incredibly thick skull.”
“You seem upset,” she replied. “Tell me what exactly happened last night, Ethan?”
“Well Margaret,” he said. “It has been quite a night. Really shitty till this morning actually.” He put his book under his arm and held up a folded up piece of paper. “I got a girl’s digits and gave some out too.”
“I’m too tired to explain it all,” he said as took his book back into his left hand. “Let’s just say it was seriously screwed from the moment I left Darcy Hamilton’s house until the moment I left the Engelstad.” Then he grinned. “Technically after too.”
“Half the town is yelling about how you all had a party at the Old Charlotte Street Church. They say someone drugged everyone at the party and that supposedly three girls went crazy and you would not believe what they say about the Tan girl specifically.”
“That she now has double Ds? Yeah, I know.” He grinned with all his teeth.
“What happened exactly, Ethan?”
“It was just an awful set of events. Firstly, that Claire Winters turned out to be a bitch—”
“Enough with the language!” she hissed and then added, “But good. I don’t want you around those southerners.”
“Yeah, it was awful, but now I’m back to being me.”
“Well?” She looked at him for a blank moment. “Continue?”
“It’s hard to say without sounding ludicrous,” he replied. “Three girls got possessed by magic rings, believe it or not, and I fought with them in a big ass magic fight with Johnny Le Sueur after I was thrown down three floors into a dark and evil basement where I saw two giant purple eyes and the corpse of John Bartlett—”
Margaret slapped him so suddenly and so hard that if she had hit him where his teeth were she very well might have knocked several of them loose. The impact sent him stumbling aside and Mickey flapping up into the air in quick awkward movements from being awakened suddenly.
“What the fuck was that for?” cried Ethan.
“Don’t you ever joke about him! He was my son, Ethan!”
“I fucking avenged him, you goddamn hag! Where did you think I found this?” He held up the family sword and her hands covered her mouth in startled horror. “Fuck you, Margaret!” His teeth were red from blood that he could taste in his mouth. “Fuck you and fuck your family!”
“It was part of his costume,” she gasped. “He went as his ancestor, Walter Kent. Then he disappeared.”
“And oh how Viscount Emingforde would love that.”
“Ethan—” she reached for him, tears in her eyes, but he stepped back “—Ethan, where did you find him?”
“Where the fuck do you think?” he cried. “He was under the church with a half dozen other people no one gives a fuck about. Here’s your goddamn heirloom back.” He tossed it down and as he started across the foyer, Mickey flew back onto his shoulder.
Margaret’s knee-jerk violence strongly reminded him of his father and infuriated him to the point that it required all the will he had in him to resist slapping her back. When he reached the stairs, he looked back and saw her pick up the sword and, cradling it close, began to weep. The sight of it made his insides twist.
Even though he had been alive, his own had mother never loved him. He knew that because she told him so regularly and that his twin sister, who had died in childbirth, was the one she truly loved. When he was young, she also told him he strangled his twin with his umbilical cord and called him a murderer but his maternal grandmother had actually gone so far as to get the medical documents to prove that wrong. His fraternal twin had no cause for being stillborn that the doctor could point at but, even so, his mother would almost daily look him straight in the eyes and tell him he should have been the one to die.
Lucy caught Ethan on the stairwell as he was walking up. “So what happened with Lana?” She looked at his face and smiled. “Grandma hit you, I see?”
“Just get the fuck out of my way,” he said as he brushed her aside.
Lucy frowned up at him as he walked by. “You’re an asshole,” she said.
“How astute of you,” he replied as he went toward the loft.
“You just left her there, didn’t you?”
“If I had just left her there, I would have come home and fallen asleep.”
“You’re out of this fucking place!” said Lucy. “I’ll have you on Fisher Street begging for change and blowing perverts for quarters!”
“God, what an incredible bitch,” said Mickey when he reached the door to his loft.
“Agreed,” he replied and, finding the door unlocked, he pushed it open. Then, after pointlessly locking it behind himself, he stepped up the stairs to his room and looked around. He let out a long and incredibly tired groan.
The family, or probably just Lucy, had gone through the loft and utterly demolished everything. His television, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had all been broken by some kind of hammer and all of his games and DVDs were snapped in half and lying in a heap. The little room he used for enchantment was equally destroyed, all the basic ingredients he dared to keep out were spilled everywhere with broken containers and the little wooden table with his enchanting runes had huge cuts into it. His bed was almost entirely covered in jam, chilly and various other sloppy food ingredients.
“They broke my Blu-ray of The Owls of Gahoole!” cried Mickey.
“You know,” Ethan said as he unbuckled his sword and dagger from his belt. “Things aren’t supposed to suck this much when you’re a hero.” Ethan lied down across a small couch, which due to having belonged to the family had been left untouched, and stretched out his legs and tried to sleep. Mickey immediately flew onto his face. “I will buy another copy of The Owls of Gahoole on Blu-Ray when Best Buy reopens.”
“Thanks,” he said and he flew off.
Ethan groaned, placed his blades on the ground and slept with everything else he had on. He had been dreaming of 19th century New Orleans in a romantic manner very regularly since he met Claire Winters but after that last meeting at the Charlotte Street Church, he was pretty sure that he would never again.
That sleep there felt like his first good night’s sleep since he had arrived. Not just because of his release from Claire but also because he decided that it was time to leave the Bartlett House for good and it was the right decision.