Authors: Patricia D. Eddy
“Okay. You’re right. You’re not dead—” Jen slapped her hand over her mouth.
Mara chuckled and flashed a bright smile at her best friend. “No. I’m not. For the time being, I’m very much alive and I want to feel that way. Now can you go get me some form of caffeinated beverage? If we’re going out tonight, I need to front-load some coffee.”
Mara practically floated into Doctor Pendergast’s office later that day. A double almond milk cappuccino and a pint of blood full of life-sustaining healthy red blood cells made her feel terrific. Her cheeks glowed with color and the dark circles that surrounded her eyes were gone. She’d even managed some makeup after her swim. She flopped down in the chair across from the doctor’s desk and crossed her legs. Long fingers combed through her straight red hair. It always felt softer and smoother after a transfusion. “All right, Doctor. Whatever you have to say, say it quickly. I’ve got to finish my shift and then I’m going out tonight.”
“Feeling better then?” The doctor’s pale blue eyes crinkled at the edges, but his smile was sad.
“I feel great. I always do after a transfusion. I get at least three or four days of feeling
. I plan on taking full advantage of them.”
“Mara, your last transfusion was only eleven days ago. The analysis of your blood taken this morning showed the most marked decrease in red blood cells yet. We’ll keep transfusing you, but pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to keep up.” His words hung heavy in the air. “If we can’t figure out how to stop the degradation . . .”
“I’m going to die.” All of Mara’s elation evaporated. The world seemed to slow and then stop. Her fingers trembled, as they always did when stress hit her. But today her hands became clammy. A hum gave birth to a clear series of tones that quickly crescendoed in her ears, drowning out everything else around her. Doctor Pendergast’s lined face hovered in front of her. His lips moved, but she didn’t hear anything but those confounded notes. It wasn’t a melody she’d heard before, no. It was a symphony of barely audible tones, a song that begged her to surrender to the music. A tear burned at the corner of her eye. What was happening? Was she losing her mind? As if dying wasn’t bad enough. The air took on a damp scent, her entire body strained against her own skin.
She held up her hand. Swallowing hard and shaking her head to rid herself of whatever was going on with her hearing, she looked the doctor in the eyes. “How long?”
“Four months. Maybe five if we’re lucky. We’re not giving up, but you should . . . make arrangements. If you’ve ever wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, go skydiving, or take a cruise, now would be a good time.” Doctor Pendergast closed the folder with Mara’s test results. “I’m sorry.”
Mara didn’t cry. She’d known. She saw death all the time in the neonatal ward. Babies born prematurely, birth defects. They all had a way about them—as if their tiny souls knew they weren’t long for the world. Mara could sense it. She and her coworkers always knew when a baby was about to die. She hadn’t voiced it to anyone, but late at night when she was alone in her bed, her soul hurt. Death hovered outside her door, waiting for her to succumb to the inevitable. “Will the transfusions keep me functional for most of that time?” she asked quietly.
“Yes. At least through Christmas I’d say. After that . . . I can promise you that the end will be quick. When we can’t keep up with the degradation, it’ll be a day or two at the most. And it’ll be relatively painless. You’ll be too tired to get out of bed. Then too tired to stay awake. Then . . . it’ll be over.” Doctor Pendergast stood and came around to the other side of his desk. He knelt next to Mara’s chair and took her hand. “And I’ll promise you one other thing.”
“You’ll spend the least amount of time possible in the hospital. We’re either going to solve this or we’re not. There’s no in-between. I won’t prolong your life unnecessarily unless you want me to.”
“Okay. Thank you. I’ll update my living will. Make it easy on everyone. But right now, I should go. I’ve got four hours left on my shift and then I’m going to go out drinking. I’ve barely touched alcohol in the past few months and Zig Zag has one of the best scotch selections in the city.”
Doctor Pendergast smiled. “That’s good. Get out and live. I want you back here in nine days this time. Agreed?”
Mara squeezed the doctor’s hand. “Agreed.”
Katerina paced the living room of the small house on Orcas Island. Autumn was fading into what promised to be a dreary and cold winter. The first few weeks of November had been nothing but rain, wind, and fog. It dampened her natural flame and weakened her. She missed Phoenix where her element burned bright and hot. Jeremy kept the fire in the bedroom stoked twenty-four hours a day and the sauna in the basement was well over one-twenty. It was the only way she could survive.
She played with the pendant that hung between her breasts. It had been her mother’s—the only memento she had of Kylie. For the first twelve years of her life she’d been happy. They weren’t rich, but they’d had a nice apartment, food on the table every night, and love. Her father played the guitar in the evenings, her mother sang her to sleep when she was frightened, and her baby sister, Mara, was Katerina’s whole world. After Mara’s birth, the four of them had six perfect months together. Their father, Phil, was building Mara a new crib. Kylie worked as a glassblower and made beautiful sculptures aided by her fire element.
Katerina had watched Caldwell Bowman kill her mother. Kylie had brought her into the desert that night to introduce her to her element. Katerina remembered the thrill of the elemental song filling her ears. A low-pitched melody, it had become a part of her that night and she’d spent the next few years desperately trying to recapture it. Without a mother to teach her, she’d struggled, and hadn’t worked her first successful charm until her twenty-first birthday.
Now, she was one of the most powerful fire elementals in the southwest—perhaps one of the strongest anywhere. She led a coven of twelve. Eight fire, three earth, and one air. Bella, who’d helped her and Jeremy capture Cade, was running Katerina’s occult shop, Flaming Objects, while Katerina was in the Pacific Northwest. The timid air elemental had been close to death when Katerina had found her in Mexico several years ago. Someone had done a number on the girl—beaten her within an inch of her life. Katerina didn’t know what it was about Bella that intrigued her, but she’d taken the young woman under her wing and helped her heal. Katerina never would have been able to leave Phoenix for so long without Bella’s help.
There were some things that even Bella couldn’t do. Ease Katerina’s homesickness. Replenish her elemental powers. Stop this fucking endless rain. It was time to kill the wolf and go home. She’d thought to torture him for a year, to make up for the twelve long months she’d spent enduring nearly weekly beatings, wearing rags, and fighting with the other eight to ten children in temporary care of her foster “mother.” Care. Like her foster mother cared about anything other than the checks she got for each of them. But a year was too long to stay away from Phoenix, from her coven, her chosen family. In Katerina’s vision months ago, she’d seen the wolf much as he was now—emaciated, feral, and weak. The new moon was coming up in two weeks. She’d do it then. He’d feel the most pain if she set his heart ablaze on the day he was the weakest.
The phone rang downstairs. Jeremy’s footsteps thudded up the stairs and he pushed into the bedroom with the phone in his outstretched hand. “It’s Bella.”
“What is it, sister?” Katerina asked. In the years she’d known Bella, the two had grown close. A deep sadness had taken hold of the air elemental, but she never talked about her past and Katerina rarely pushed.
“It’s Flaming Objects. The IRS is here and wants to talk to you. Two agents. They had warrants. I had to give them all of the books. They want to shut us down. I don’t know what to do. Please. You have to come back to Phoenix. For a day or two. Talk to them. There has to be some mistake.”
“Dammit. I don’t have time for this right now.” When Bella covered the phone and yelled at the agents in the store, Katerina took a deep breath. “Sorry. It’s not your fault. I’ve been away too long. I wanted him to suffer for a year, but I can’t do it. I have to end this soon. The new moon is in two weeks. I’ll do it then.”
“We can’t wait two weeks. Come back now. They’re going to confiscate all of our inventory if you can’t show evidence of good faith. Jeremy can take care of your . . . business there for a couple of days. And we need you. I need you. It’s too hard for me alone. I’m scared.”
Two days. She could fly home tomorrow and be back here on Saturday. That should give her enough time to deal with the agents and lead a coven meeting. She joined online most weeks, but it wasn’t the same as being there in person. She missed her family.
“I’ll be there tomorrow. Don’t worry, dear. I’ll fix it. Stay out of the agents’ way and let the coven know that I will lead the meeting in person on Friday.”
“Thank the Goddess. Everyone will be so happy to see you.”
When Katerina hung up the phone, Jeremy was at her side in an instant. His eyes were bright. “We’re going home?”
“No,” she said with a grimace. “I’m going home. You’re staying here and watching the wolf. Killing him isn’t something I can do right now. It has to wait until the new moon.”
“Why? He’s half-dead already. Let’s leave him here. Let him starve to death. I’m tired of all this rain. I miss the sun. Sinking into ankle-deep mud every time I need to feel the earth isn’t my idea of a good time.” Jeremy was whining now. It was a terrible nasally sound that grated on Katerina’s nerves. She cared deeply for the boy, but sometimes she couldn’t stand him.
“The Goddess’s power is greatest during the new moon.” Katerina whirled around. She drew strength from the fire burning in the hearth behind her, calling the low, deep notes of her element and weaving them into a song in her mind. Her hands glowed. She advanced on Jeremy. He was growing stronger under her tutelage, but he was still nothing compared to her. “You will feed him every three days. If this Goddess-forsaken rain happens to stop, you will blast him with the hose. He will not die under your watch. You will keep the charms active. Do you understand me?”
Jeremy looked down at his feet. “Yes, Katerina.”
“Good, baby. I’m sorry I yelled. I couldn’t do this without you. Now come help me pack.”
The rains pelted the wolf’s fur, soaking down to his skin. A constant assault of pebbles and leaves whipped around him with the wind, but he’d stopped caring. He panted weakly on the concrete pad that had become his home. His strength waned. It had been days since the evil woman had tossed a half-rotten steak to him. Great stabbing pains shot through his stomach. A rat ran onto the scorching earth yesterday and he’d pounced on it, gulping down the carcass in a single swallow. He didn’t pace his days away any longer. He spent most of his time curled up on the edge of the concrete. It was winter now, or close to it. The outside of his body was cold all the time, even as his blood boiled. Laying at the edge of the concrete kept his body warm. Or warmer, anyway. He dreamed of a bed, a proper meal, walking on two legs, and seeing his pack again. But no, his pack was dead and gone.