Authors: Harper Lin
he next two
days were spent preparing for the full moon as if we were all cramming for finals. This was difficult as we’d reopened the Brew-Ha-Ha already. The whole town had missed us, and we were busier than ever. We took on more staff to handle the customers. We would’ve rejoiced in our grand reopening if it weren’t for all of this Unfamiliar trouble.
Every night after closing down the Brew-Ha-Ha, we gathered in the cellar, and while sipping herb tea, we dog-eared pages, underlined passages, made notes into the wee hours of the morning.
“Well, from everything we’ve read, it’s pretty obvious the Parks will be the next target. They’re the only family Topher has left, even if they don’t acknowledge each other as such,” Bea said. “Everything in these books regarding raising the dead confirms a familial tie is the strongest way raise the dead. No wonder it’s never practiced. How morbid.”
“Is anyone hungry?” I asked a little sheepishly.
“Really? You’re thinking of food now?” Bea looked at me while Aunt Astrid chuckled in the corner.
“Come on. We have to open the Brew-Ha-Ha in what?” I looked at my watch. “Holy moly. Forty-five minutes. I don’t know about you two, but I want something a little stronger than tea to drink and something with sugar to eat.”
“I think Cath is right,” Astrid said. “We’ll need our strength tonight. We need to eat and get some rest.”
We made our way up from the cellar. The bright morning light cascaded in through the big front windows, and coffee was quickly brewed. Every morning, Daisy’s Garden, the local flower shop, left a fresh delivery of flowers by the front door. I scooped them up and deeply inhaled the wonderful smell of rosebuds with sprigs of baby’s breath. After breaking up the bouquet, I filled the tiny bud vases that graced the counter and the couple of mismatched tables we’d acquired during the last village-wide garage sale.
A bit of movement out of my peripheral vision caught my attention. It was Treacle. He slinked in, setting off the tinkling bells over the door. He looked at me. I looked at him. I couldn’t hear a thing.
Nearly bursting into tears, I scooped him up in my arms, stroking his black fur. “I’m sorry, buddy. I can’t talk right now. Not until this whole mess is over with.”
I rubbed his head and felt his purring motor. I don’t know if he understood me since we usually communicated telepathically. I hoped he did. I inspected his scratches from the other night. They appeared to be getting better, and for that, I was thankful. I set him on the counter, where he batted the baby’s breath for a second then looked at me.
Aunt Astrid came up to the counter and skirted around it to sit at the nearest table. “Well, look who came to visit.” She ran her hand over Treacle’s back, making him arch his body happily.
“I can’t hear him. I don’t think there has ever been a time I didn’t hear him talk to me.”
Tilting her head to the left, Aunt Astrid smiled. “It won’t last too much longer, honey. I promise. But it’s better safe than sorry. You can explain to Treacle once this whole mess is over.”
I nodded, my eyes still stinging as I tried to keep from crying like a baby. Then someone set off the bells over the door with a fierce push. It was Jake and Blake. Wiping my eyes, I straightened up and squared my shoulders.
“Good morning, boys. Coffee?” I said, sniffling as I smiled.
Blake looked at me as if I had turned green. He stepped a little closer and was about to say something when Jake made his announcement.
“No, Cath. We’ve got a problem.”
Bea came up front from the kitchen. “Hi, honey.” She leaned over the counter to greet Jake, who met her halfway for a kiss. “Something wrong?”
“Topher’s gone missing. Have you seen him?”
Bea, Aunt Astrid, and I looked at each other, and even Treacle stood up and nudged me with his head.
“No. We haven’t.” I said. “Are you sure? He’s been known to roam around the woods and sometimes stake out a place to sit and think or meditate or whatever it is that he does by himself.”
“No, he’s missing. Cody has been taking care of him since Old Murray is recovering, and he said he never came back after their altercation and he hasn’t touched his blood pressure today or yesterday.”
“Oh no. Poor Topher,” Aunt Astrid said.
“That’s not the only problem,” Jake added. “Have any of you seen Mr. Lei Park recently?”
My heart sank down to my stomach. “I saw him the day before yesterday.”
Blake gave me a once-over. The look he gave me made me think he might be worried that I had been crying about something related to his case, but that quickly went away as he shifted into facts-just-the-facts mode. He pulled out his little notebook and pen.
“Where did you see him?” he asked, his voice hard and all business.
“I… was… at their house.”
“What time was that?”
I rolled my eyes. “It was in the morning.”
“What did you go there for? Did you have something to do with the argument he had with his wife?”
My heart that had sunk to my stomach tightened up and pounded in my ears. I knew I looked guilty of something. “Why?”
“Mrs. Park said you were there when they were having a fight. Do you know what it was about?”
I knew Blake was studying my body language, my eye movement, my tone, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. I couldn’t tell him about Alice Thompson. Not only would the Parks never forgive me, but I’d never forgive myself. “I did kind of arrive as something was heating up, but I was looking for Min. I only stayed for about fifteen minutes, maybe half an hour tops, then I left.” It wasn’t a complete lie. It was just maybe half the truth.
Blake nodded as he scribbled his notes. Then he looked at Jake as if to say he didn’t think I was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
When the two detectives left, they didn’t have much more than they had started with. Jake gave Bea a wink as if to let her know he might pick her brain a little later when no one else was around. The truth was none of us knew where Topher or Mr. Park could be. Even Treacle was on edge as he nudged me and forced his head underneath my hand. He must have sensed something was wrong and wanted a little extra attention.
“Where do you think they could be?” Bea asked, looking from me to Aunt Astrid.
I shrugged, but Aunt Astrid had a very calm expression. Her chin was raised, and she looked off as if she were staring out the windows.
“They may not be there now, but they will be there later,” she said. “Where everything started. In the cemetery.”
“Are you sure?” Bea asked, a shiver visibly running up her spine.
“Tonight is the full moon. If the Unfamiliar is going to take another shot at raising a corpse with Mr. Park’s life force as the trade, he’ll try to do that tonight.”
“But we’re ready for it, right?” I asked.
For some reason, I felt as if I might be the weakest link in this chain, and I had never felt that way before. Some of this unrest was my fault. If I hadn’t interfered with Mr. Park’s personal business, he might still be home or at the shop, without any idea Topher was harboring in his head a fugitive from another dimension that was encouraging acts of violence.
When Aunt Astrid didn’t reply immediately, I shook where I stood.
“So how prepared are we?” Bea asked, placing her hand gently over mine.
“We need to unite our strength,” Aunt Astrid said. “This is no ordinary Unfamiliar. In fact, it is a little too familiar for my liking.”
“What does that mean?” Bea’s eyes bounced back and forth between Aunt Astrid and me, and it was obvious that she had been left out of something. “You can’t keep a secret from me. Not now. Not when so much is going on.”
“The Unfamiliar knows about my mom,” I said. “It knows about the monster under my bed, and it seemed to be kind of happy about the whole situation.”
Bea gasped and slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh, Cath, what are we going to do? Maybe you shouldn’t come tonight. Mom, does she have to come? Can we do this ourselves?”
“That’s what I was thinking. Cath, you may have to sit this one out. Maybe you could continue a vigil to help keep the spell of protection over us. You could perform a cleansing ritual for the house to make sure nothing tries to sneak in the back door. You could—”
“Oh, no. I’m not sitting this out on the sidelines. You’re both off your rockers if you think I’ll do that. Even if you insisted I stay home, I’d just follow you without you noticing.” I put my hands on my hips. “I’ve got to come. You can’t shut me out. I feel like this one is partially my fault.”
I understood where they were coming from, I really did, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe they were right. But like the idea of letting the Parks know they were in danger, I just had it set in my head that I had to go with them. I had to help shut this door and get Topher some peace while making sure he wasn’t charged for the murder of Lei Park. The idea that I might be the cause of someone else losing their life was too much to ignore. It was bad enough my own parents had died trying to protect me. It was all my fault, my fault, my fault.
Wait. Where had that thought come from? I’d never felt like that before. Something was going on inside my head, and the only way I would get to the bottom of it was to go to the cemetery tonight.
“Please,” I begged. “I think… I think something is wrong with me. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can feel it. Aunt Astrid, I think something is trying to break through your protection spell. I can’t tell you how or why. It’s just a hunch. But I’m afraid it will stay around, picking at my brain, if I don’t go with you tonight. Please don’t leave me behind.”
“Protection spell? Why do you have a protection spell?” Bea looked at me as if I had just informed her I had a slight case of the plague.
I shrugged and smiled awkwardly.
“The Unfamiliar. It’s stronger than you thought. Could it be trying to wear Cath down?” Bea asked Aunt Astrid.
The older woman nodded.
We discussed what we were going to do, and the staff relieved us in the afternoon so we could get some rest. When it was finally eight o’clock, we closed the coffee shop for the night. Aunt Astrid and Bea had decided to meet at the cemetery entrance at eleven thirty. Neither of them had given me a solid affirmative that I was to go with them, so I was left alone at my apartment with instructions to start a vigil and wait for their phone call. Darkness was coming. And it knew my face.
to stay home when my “sisters” were going out to fight a battle on a spiritual level made me feel like I had gotten stood up for prom. I tried to keep the vigil. I had lit the candles in the order Aunt Astrid had instructed. I knew the words to say and at what time to say them. But my heart wasn’t in it. Why couldn’t I just recite them at the graveyard? Why couldn’t I be there?
The minutes seemed to tick by five at a time, and before I knew it, it was already ten thirty. If I left now, I could make it to the meeting place just in time to meet Aunt Astrid and Bea. They wouldn’t have any choice but to let me tag along. I decided to leave. Sure, my judgment hadn’t been the best for the past two days, but unlike my experience with the Parks, I didn’t feel this was the wrong thing to do. I felt it was exactly what I needed to do.
If I left right then and there, I’d make it to the cemetery just in time. Without another thought, I blew out the candles, stepped into my shoes, threw a shawl around my shoulders, and left.
The street was quiet, amazingly quiet, as if it were in a bubble. No one in Wonder Falls was outside at that hour. Usually there were some kids strolling around past curfew or couples walking hand-in-hand along the dark streets, giggling and stealing kisses when the shadows made a quick pocket of discretion. But there was no one out tonight.
A couple of homes were illuminated by the flicker of their television sets. Others had quiet music coming through open windows. It was as if they all had been told, on a subconscious level, to stay inside. So for all intents and purposes, I was alone on the street.
Or maybe I wasn’t.
As I neared the cemetery entrance, the streetlights flickered. Sometimes they surged as I passed; other times they winked out completely until I had made it a couple yards away, then they’d pop back on.
The shadows appeared to be taking on life of their own. Even my own shadow, which stretched out long and lean from my feet each time I passed under a lamp, seemed to have turned on me, pulling other shadows to it and getting darker and darker. I felt that if I stared at it, I might just fall into that darkness. But I kept moving. I recited the words Aunt Astrid had told me to. I couldn’t tell if they were doing any good, but I didn’t want to stop chanting them for fear things might just get worse if I did. For a second, I wondered what other girls did on their Thursday nights. How many enjoyed a stroll down ever-darkening sidewalks with shadows creeping up on them? Did they welcome the occasional demon expulsion, or was it just routine to them? My internal attempts at humor weren’t working.
I felt my footsteps become quicker and clap softly along the pavement with each step. Finally, I was within view of the cemetery entrance, and I saw Bea and Aunt Astrid there. They were talking, probably making a plan before they went in. As I broke into a run, I tripped and tumbled over myself, scraping my knee.
“What in the world?” I mumbled, turning around to see nothing on the ground except shadows.
At least, I thought they were shadows. But they began to writhe around my ankle like snakes. When I tried to push myself up, I felt them tighten like rubber bands, digging into my skin. Something didn’t want me getting to the cemetery.
Everything inside me jumped into panic mode. All I wanted was to scream for my family and see them come running. But I couldn’t yell for help without the risk of drawing attention to us. How would we explain traipsing through the cemetery at this hour? The shadows were writhing and pulling me back into a bigger pool of darkness. My knees and hands were getting terribly scratched up. I thought of my mother. This wasn’t much different from the way she got dragged under my bed, except I had seen the hands, or should I say claws, that held her.
Like a bolt of lightning, the words she had been saying that day shot out of my mouth. “
Plestipacidus cum leviora
In an instant, the shadowy snakes recoiled, wriggling and thrashing all over themselves until they became plain, flat shadows on the pavement again.
Needless to say, I was sort of struck dumb. I hadn’t thought of those words in years. The memory of my mother’s voice was like an old music box wrapped up in sheets of tissue paper and stuffed into a hope chest. It was a treasure that I couldn’t bear to listen to. But as I pushed myself up off the sidewalk and hurried toward my family, I felt renewed.
Everything around me appeared to become sharper and more focused, but one nagging thought remained. Why hadn’t the Unfamiliar pounced on me when it had the chance at the orphanage? Aunt Astrid had already slid out of the window when it appeared at the door, yet it made no attempt to enter. It would have gotten to me before I could shimmy out the window, but it didn’t even try.
And when it was speaking through Topher at the animal shelter, it had a perfect opportunity to take me out or at least give me a jolt so strong, I’d be afraid to set foot outside my home for years. Instead, it just threw out a couple of insults and low blows and scurried away. Was it weak? Had it drained its strength? Was it just waiting for the full moon?
There was an answer there. The clarity I had felt was slipping away again. Cotton was filling my head, making it hard to think. This wasn’t Aunt Astrid’s protection spell. Something was trying to break through it.
I gritted my teeth and ran as fast as I could to the cemetery entrance just as Bea and Aunt Astrid disappeared among the trees and tombstones.
Normally the stone structures with names and dates of loved ones from Wonder Falls never caused me any apprehension. But as I slipped between them, trying to see in what direction the other two Greenstones had gone, I felt as if I was getting lost. Things started to swim and tilt a little around me. My legs felt as if they were weighted with cement blocks, and I just wanted to sit down and rest. The headstones became large and menacing and seemed to muscle me in the opposite direction of my family. When I opened my mouth to call out to them, nothing happened.
Before I fell to the ground, I stopped and tried to steady myself. I saw a small black shadow slinking up to me. It had brilliant green eyes that looked as if they were lit from behind. I recognized those eyes.