Authors: Sean Cummings
This one is for Sophie
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 18
Ho, ho, ho.
Mom is grumpy and it has to do with my newfound romantic life. Ugh.
I'm not sure what's supposed to happen when you're dating someone you've known since you were little. I mean, I'd actually seen Marcus Guffman in his Spider-Man underpants when he was eight â that was the same year he gave me chickenpox. Mom used some basic witchcraft and cleared the disgusting scabs up with a balm comprised of blessed oils and no shortage of vile smelling ointments, so I wasn't horribly traumatized by those two events. And on the subject of trauma, Marcus doesn't seem to be shell-shocked by much these days given that he came within a whisker of dying just a few short weeks ago.
He'd witnessed a supernatural attack that ripped Mom's soul right out of her body in the bathroom at school and he shielded me from poltergeist-fueled debris that was smashing into me during an assassination attempt on the C-Train. He even ploughed his skinny frame into Marla Lavik, my former girlfriend who has thankfully transferred out of Crescent Ridge High School. She should never have summoned the spirit of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General from the 1600s, because he took over her body and her mind. We battled it out in a life-or-death duel at the Calgary Rugby Stadium, and Marcus bore the brunt of a death curse that was aimed squarely at me.
I wonder if he still wears Spider-Man underpants and if so, do they make a person brave enough to want to hang out with a chick that attracts supernatural craziness like a bucket of chum attracts a great white shark? If they do, I am
getting a dresser drawer full of them â maybe they'll give me an edge.
Julie Richardson â
I wonder if I should get business cards?
Dad was a Shadowcull and someone had him killed; only it was a setup. I'm glad to be reconnecting with him seeing as how I basically don't know the guy. I'll take hanging with his ghost over not having him at all but I'm still in the dark about being this mysterious dispenser of coven justice. He's showing me the ropes and I'm going to find his killer. That's a promise I've made to Dad and to me.
Mom is even more overprotective than she was before I took my dad's place. There's an air of tension in the house these days that's so thick you need a welder's torch to cut through it. This is not helped, by the way, when you've got a Great Dane clumping around the house.
That it's a talking dog took a bit of getting used to, but that enormous mutt is host to a spirit named Betty and she's my protector as well as my familiar.
I've decided that my entire existence is somewhere between a freak show and a 3D movie with explosions, the living dead and the very real prospect of my getting killed. Still, I've got a boyfriend who thinks the sun rises and sets on me so that has to account for something. My life is pretty good right now but that can change in a heartbeat. After what happened to Mom, every day is an “anything can happen” day.
Let's see what this day bringsâ¦
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and carefully applied a light coat of mascara to my eyelashes. I'm not a huge fan of make-up and, unlike most of the girls at Crescent Ridge High School, I think that less is more when it comes to cosmetics. I had precisely thirty minutes to meet Marcus at the Southland C-Train platform because tonight being a Saturday meant that it was date night and we were going to see a movie. Yeah, no wheels yet. We have graduated licensing where I live and even if we didn't, Marcus would ride a bike because he's all about stopping climate change. Me? I'd be happy if he owned a clunker, but I'm not going to tell him that.
I'd just finished my left eye when Mom's head appeared in the doorway.
“We need to talk,” she said flatly.
I slipped the applicator back into the tube and tried not to grind my teeth together, because I already knew the topic
“Talk away,” I said casually. “But make it fast, because I gotta jet.”
Mom leaned against the doorframe and folded her arms across her chest. She hadn't pinned her hair back into a bun like she normally does and it hung heavily down to her waist. “Alright,” she said in an unusually measured tone of voice. “Betty and Iâ¦”
“What did I do wrong now?” I groaned. “I finished my calculus homework and the exercises you gave meâ¦ did I blow one or something?”
I'd barely finished my sentence when I heard the Great Dane limping down the hallway. Betty's host hadn't been well since the day the enormous dog arrived on my doorstep and I wondered just how much physical cost there was to having your body snatched by an immortal entity. In seconds the giant dog's head appeared in the doorway next to my mother. “You have done nothing wrong,” Betty the dog rumbled. “But there are some factors about your new life that you need to consider, young lady.”
I spun around on my heels and hopped onto the counter. “Just so we're clear, I've totally anticipated what you're both going to say and the answer is no.”
Mom's eyes narrowed. “Julie, you don't know how lucky you are to have such a great friend in Marcusâ¦”
“Boyfriend,” I interrupted. “Marcus and I are seeing each other.”
“And that's why you need to think closely about the danger he faces by being your boyfriend,” said Betty. “The boy very nearly died during your duel with the Witchfinder General. You're a Shadowcull now. This is about something bigger than your personal desires.”
Personal desires? Jeez, Marcus was the first boyfriend I'd ever had. We'd only been going together for a matter of weeks!
I flashed a fiery glare at both of them. Marcus had been at my side from the moment a poltergeist manifested in Mrs Gilbert's house; he'd stood by me when I met the ghost of my dead father and he'd helped me fight a Matthew Hopkins-possessed Marla Lavik. He knew the risks and it wasn't like I hadn't asked him to head back to the safety of home. What Mom and Betty weren't seeing was that Marcus had insisted that he remain by my side throughout.
And didn't I deserve to have a freaking love life? I'm fifteen for crying out loud! Teenagers date, it's what we do. I eyeballed my mother closely, half-expecting her look of parental concern to morph into her, “I am the master and you're the apprentice” face. Instead she gave me a sympathetic half-smile.
“Here's what's not making an ounce of sense,” I said, as I pushed between the pair and stomped down the hallway to my bedroom. “This is all about the whole Shadowcull thing, I get that. But how come you got to have someone in your life that you loved and I don't? That's totally unfair, Mom, and you freaking know it!”
I felt a flurry of magical energy and then my bedroom door slammed shut less than an inch from my face. Supernatural force tingled in the air as I turned to face my mother. Her eyes narrowed sharply and she said, “I lost him, remember?
lost him. And I never said I was against you dating, but you need to consider the best way to keep him safe, Julie.”
What I said next was bitter and unforgivable and one of those vile things that you probably spend the rest of your life wishing you could take back.
didn't do enough to keep Dad safe,” I said coldly. “That's a mistake I'll
make with Marcus.”
I actually cringed the moment the words flew out of my mouth, half-expecting to wind up on the receiving end of either a slap in the face or worse, a fiery outburst that included the word “grounded”. Instead, Mom shifted her gaze to the floor and she seemed to shrink a little. Betty emitted a loud sniff and then limped back down the stairs.
“Damn itâ¦ Look, Mom, I didn't mean that,” I said realizing that I'd stepped over the line. Scratch that. I'd pole-vaulted over it.
“Yes, you did, Julie,” she replied. “When you get older, you're going to realize that sometimes the things you say can be just as devastating as the worst kind of magical attack. You're right, though. I couldn't protect your father and not a day goes by when I don't blame myself for what happened. That's why it's so important for you to think about whether this is even the best time for you to be seeing someone, particularly someone who isn't a witch.”
I walked over to Mom and put my arms around her. It was one of the few times she'd opened up about how Dad's death had impacted her life, and I felt like the biggest shit in human history for what I'd said.
“I'm so sorry, Mom. I didn't think aboutâ”
“It's alright,” she interrupted. “But you need to understand that I'm not just concerned about Marcus; I'm also worried about you if something happens to him. You're too young to carry that kind of pain inside your heart. It changes you, Julie. Itâ¦ it changed me.”
“I know, but in a way Dad never left you. I mean, sure, he's a spirit and he could easily cross over if he wanted to, but he's waiting for you, Mom. He told me that.”
She hugged me back and said, “This is a really weird conversation, sweetheart. I should be glad you have a boyfriend and that you're dating, but we're not the same as everyone else. The rules are different for our kind.”
I blinked. “So, what are you sayingâ¦ That I should be matched with another witch or something? I'm totally not down with any kind of arranged marriage stuff. We don't do thatâ¦ Do we?”
She shook her head. “No, but it's generally understood that a witch will pair up with another witch at some point. And besides, you're not getting married any time soon, so it really doesn't matter. But you need to understand that there could be serious consequences if you continue to see Marcus. This isn't the same thing as the two of you going off on a magical adventure. I'm only trying to tell you this because you truly don't know what kinds of dangers are out there when you're a Shadowcull.
â protect the child, remember that? I've spent my life training you for when you'd take your father's place. I've kept out of the covens to spare you from becoming someone else entirely. That's what happens when you're another witch's adept.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “I know that's the reason for everything you've ever done, Mom. But now I've got you and Dad to guide me, not to mention Betty's help.”
She took my hand and gave it a firm squeeze. “Julie, I can't stop you from seeing Marcus because you'll go ahead and see him regardless of what I tell you. If you truly love him as you say then you'll do the right thing and at least take steps to minimize the risk. And maybe there's something I can do too.”
“Such as?” I asked.
Mom brushed past me and headed down the stairs. “Extra steps to keep you safe, protective spellsâ¦ And a family meeting. We'll head up to the cemetery one evening this week and talk to your father about it.”
Perfect. It's bad enough when one of your parents isn't crazy about your having a boyfriend, but it's another thing entirely when the other parent is dead. I decided that it would be interesting to hear my father's take on the topic of Marcus.
I could only hope that he'd side with me.
It was pretty clear that Mom had been stewing over my relationship with Marcus ever since she got out of the hospital. But she'd known from the day I was born that I would one day take my father's place. It sure explained why she'd adopted a siege mentality when it came to protecting me. But it would have been really freaking nice if she'd told me about all this Shadowcull stuff before I nearly got killed.
But hey, I'm not bitter.
At least not as bitter as the cold front that had swept into town over the past few days. I trudged through ankle-deep snow for five blocks as I made my way to the C-Train station. A chill wind was blowing hard into my face causing my eyes to water and I hoped like hell I wasn't going to look like a racoon by the time I met up with Marcus. After about fifteen minutes of ploughing through small snowdrifts on the sidewalks I made it to Southland Station, so I kicked the snow off my boots and pushed my way in through the main doors. I glanced up at the clock as I slipped some change into the ticket dispenser and the machine spat out my ticket, then I grabbed it and headed down the slush-covered escalator that led to the train platform. Waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator was Marcus and his eyes lit up the moment he saw me.
“We're still going to see robot-uprising-movie, number thirty-five, right?” he said as he draped lanky arms around me and gave me a soft kiss. His lips were cold so he must have just come inside from the platform.
I kissed him back. “You bet. You're the only guy I know who keeps a numerical record of robot uprising movies he's seen, and besides: I'm not really into flicks about emo high school girls and their vampire stalkers. Give me explosions and the sound of grinding metal any day.”