Authors: Michelle Madow
Alistair’s shop was in an offshoot from the main section of the mall, away from the food court and department stores, so you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it.
I remembered the first time I went to Alistair’s in October, when I showed him the sketch I’d done of the mask I envisioned wearing to the Halloween dance. He was friendly, and not only did he make the mask for me, but he gave me a great deal on the white dress I ended up wearing to the dance, and a necklace for free. A few weeks later he gave me one of the best presents I’ve ever received—the original three book printing of
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen. They were on display in my bookshelves now. I’m afraid to read from them, since they’re antiques and I don’t want to mess them up, so whenever I feel like reading a section of
Pride and Prejudice
, I use the paperback I keep on my nightstand. I’ve only had the book for a few months, but it’s already well-worn, or as I prefer to think of it, very loved.
At first I wondered why Alistair was being so generous—giving me items for free or reducing the price to far below the original value. After realizing the truth about my past life, he was the first person I visited. I suspected he knew something—I couldn’t figure out any other reason why he would have given me those things—and I was right.
It turned out that Alistair is a Memory Guide. He had already been through the reincarnation process—his first life was in medieval England. He was given a second chance by being reincarnated into the Civil War era, and he corrected what he’d messed up the first time around, which was saving his own life in battle instead of risking death to save his brother Tristan, who had been badly wounded. After he died in his second life, he was given a choice: to enter Nirvana, which is similar to Heaven, or to return to Earth one last time as a Memory Guide and help someone who’d been reincarnated remember their past life. He chose the second option, and was assigned to me. That’s why I was drawn to his shop, and why he provided me with the items I needed to help me remember the past.
Of course, he couldn’t tell me all that until I figured out on my own that I’d been reincarnated.
I suppose that meant after I died in this life, I would have to make a similar choice between Nirvana or becoming a Memory Guide. I planned on choosing Memory Guide. I would love the opportunity to help someone like Alistair did for me.
But hopefully that wouldn’t be a decision I would have to make for a long time.
Right now I had something more important to worry about—why bad things were following me everywhere I went, and why I couldn’t shake the feeling of doom surrounding me.
I felt at home the moment I entered the shop. It was dark inside, the only light coming from the antique lamps scattered throughout the store. The shop was packed with various trinkets from all over the world. I recognized one I’d admired the first time I visited—a horse pulling a golden carriage with crystals inside. It looked romantic, but after the terrifying flashback I had a few days ago of when I died in a carriage accident in my past life, I had no desire to go in one myself.
“Back so soon?” Alistair asked from behind his big wooden desk. He reached for his cane and stood, motioning for me to walk to him. He wore a tweed suit, which made him look like a wise old professor, and his eyeglasses were tucked into his front pocket. His grey hair shined under the low light, and his eyes had a familiar twinkle to them, like he knew something others didn’t.
I grabbed Drew’s hand and led him through the maze of tables. “Hi, Alistair,” I said once I reached him. I was sure he was wondering why I was here, since my last visit to the store was Saturday afternoon.
I couldn’t believe only two days had passed since he sat down with me and told me about his history. It felt like so much had happened since then.
“Who is this with you?” Alistair asked with a knowing smile.
“I’m Drew,” Drew said, holding out his hand to shake Alistair’s.
“Drew Carmichael?” Alistair asked.
“Yup,” Drew replied. “Lizzie’s told me a lot about you and how helpful you’ve been to her in the past few weeks. I’m glad we’re finally getting to meet.”
“Me too, me too,” Alistair said. “Let’s not stand, though. Come sit down.” He motioned with his cane to a round table, and the three of us each took a seat. Once he got situated, he said, “Now, tell me what’s on your minds.”
My eyes met Drew’s, silently asking who should start. He nodded for me to begin.
“We have a question, and you were the first person we thought to come to for answers,” I started. Alistair nodded, and I continued, “We did everything we were supposed to do with stopping my death in the past from happening again. But now strange things are happening, and I don’t think any of it is normal.”
Alistair sat up straighter. “What kind of ‘strange things?’”
“Birds have been … threatening me,” I said, not sure how else to word it. “The first one was at Drew’s house. We were in his living room making s’mores, and then a bird—a crow—fell down the fireplace. It burned to death.” The image of the feathers catching flame and the sad look in the crow’s eyes as it gave up fighting for its life entered my mind again. I shivered at the memory.
“What else?” Alistair prodded me to continue.
I told him about the other two incidents—the birds crashing into my car last night, and the mob of them pecking at Drew’s windows when we left school. It sounded like I was stuck in an old-time horror movie. The kind I refused to watch because they spooked me out to the extreme.
Hopefully Alistair would have answers.
“Before I tell you what I think this means, I want you to try recalling anything else out of the ordinary that’s happened to you in the past few days,” Alistair said. “I need as much information as possible before I can come to a conclusion.”
I ran through recent events in my mind. Two things—disregarding the birds—stuck out. “My watch stopped,” I said, motioning to the silver watch with the round face that Jeremy got me for my birthday last year. “I’m not sure if that counts as out of the ordinary, but I changed the battery last month, so it shouldn’t have died so quickly. And then there were the pictures last night …”
“The pictures?” Alistair raised a bushy eyebrow.
“Two framed pictures of me fell off the wall,” I told him. “It didn’t strike me as strange when it happened to the first one, except for how the nail wasn’t broken. But when the second one fell after I put the first one back up … I thought maybe it was a ghost.”
“Not a ghost.” Alistair sounded sure of what this meant. “It’s something else.”
“Do you want to elaborate?” Drew asked.
“I will, but you’re not going to like what I’m about to say.”
“I can handle it.” My voice sounded steadier than I felt.
“I sensed something dark surrounding you when you walked into the store today,” Alistair began. “And what you’ve told me confirms that my suspicions are correct. Someone has cast a curse on you.”
I blinked a few times, unsure if I heard him right. “Come again?” I said. No way could he have said what I thought he did. Because reincarnation—I accepted that now. Soul mates, I’ve always believed in, so I accepted the truth there. But
? That was extreme. There had to be a place where the line was drawn between fiction and reality, and a curse sounded way more on the fiction side of the spectrum.
“This isn’t any old curse, either,” Alistair continued. “It’s been cast by someone with true magic in their blood, or someone who’s received the rare gift of borrowing true magic.”
“You need to back up.” I raised my hands in a “stop” motion. Alistair sounded sure of this, but I didn’t want to believe it was possible. “Why do you think I’ve been cursed?”
“What you’ve explained are dark omens.” Alistair’s voice was deeper now, more intense. He leaned forward, his eyes wild. “Omens of death. The crows, the watch, and the pictures … it’s quite clear. Someone has cast a strong curse on you; it surrounds your entire being. If you don’t find out who’s responsible and fix it …” He looked away from us, as if he didn’t want to say more.
Drew’s fingers curled into a fist, so tight they turned white. “If we don’t find out who’s responsible and fix it, then what?” he asked, his voice tense.
“Then Lizzie will die,” Alistair said simply.
I stared at the table, my chest empty. It hurt to breathe. I didn’t want to believe this was possible. Hadn’t I been through this already? Hadn’t I already been doomed to die a violent death? And hadn’t I stopped it so I could be a normal teenager from now on?
But something wasn’t right, and Alistair had always been truthful with me.
“Why?” I asked, my voice cracking. “Why is this happening again?”
“This darkness wasn’t around you when you visited on Saturday afternoon, so my guess is that between then and now, someone with magic who is very angry at you decided to retaliate.”
“But I don’t know anyone who has … magic,” I said, the word sounding ridiculous. “I’m not even sure if magic exists!”
“Oh, it does exist,” Alistair said. “And I only know one person who has it. Or at least one who lives here.”
“And who is that?” Drew asked, tapping his foot on the wooden floor. I could tell it was hard for him to be patient, but he seemed more accepting of this explanation than I was.
Then again, how else could I explain the crows, and the dark feeling I couldn’t shake? Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to go along with this and see what happened.
“Genevieve.” Alistair’s eyes darkened when he said her name.
“Who’s Genevieve?” I asked. The name sounded old-fashioned. It was one I would remember if I’d met her before.
“Genevieve has been connected to me and my brother Tristan for all our lives,” Alistair said. “She’s shown up in each of our incarnations. She loves Tristan, and she blames me for his death.”
“So you think Genevieve did this?” Drew’s eyes blazed with anger.
“I believe Genevieve hates me enough to want to get back at me and make me fail as a Guide.” Alistair raised his index finger to his lips, as though he were deep in thought. “But this curse … it’s very dark. And very strong. It’s the kind of curse that can only be successful if the person casting it is emotionally close to their intended victim. Perhaps, in your case, someone who was close to you in your past life as well.”
“Meaning it can’t be Genevieve,” I concluded.
“Correct,” Alistair said. “It would have to be someone close to you who felt vulnerable enough, and angry enough, to be enticed by Genevieve to do her bidding.”
Chelsea and Jeremy popped into my mind, although I suspected one more than the other. “I know some people who that could be,” I said, although I didn’t think either of them hated me enough to want me
. They were hurt and upset by what I’d done to them—and rightly so—but to be so angry that they didn’t want me to live? I’d known both of them for years, and neither of them could want that. It was too extreme. Too violent. Too … evil.
I shuddered to think that either of them could do such a thing.
“Chelsea or Jeremy,” Drew said in disgust.
I nodded. “But I don’t know how to bring it up to either of them. Do I just walk up and say, ‘Hey, did you cast a curse on me on Saturday or Sunday?’” I ran my fingers through my hair, feeling defeated. “And if they did do it—which I find hard to believe they hate me enough to do—why would they admit it? Wouldn’t it be easier to let the curse work, to wait until …”
Until I’m dead
, I thought, unable to say the words aloud.
“No.” Drew’s voice was steady. “We’re not going to allow that to happen. We’ll get one of them to admit it, and then we’ll make them reverse it.”
“About that.” Alistair cleared his throat, balancing one hand on his cane. I could tell I wasn’t going to like what he was about to say. “Once a curse is cast, it’s irreversible.”
Any inkling of hope I’d felt before was sucked out of me.
I was doomed.
“But there are other ways to fix this,” Alistair said before Drew or I could panic more than we already had. “Once we find out who did this, and exactly what they did, there will be a way—some way—to fix it. We’ll just have to think outside the box.”
“For sure?” I asked, my voice sounding small. “Or are you just saying that?”
“There are ways to do these things.” His wrinkly grey eyes met mine, and I could tell he meant it. “Magic works in cycles, so the darkness won’t have complete hold over you until the next full moon. Since last night was a full moon, that gives us a month to figure this out.”
“What do you mean, it doesn’t have complete hold of me?” I asked cautiously.
“Magic takes time to work,” he explained. “It works in tune with the cycles of the moon. Right now it’s simmering. Surrounding you, learning about you, scaring you. Gathering strength as it feeds off your fear. It won’t be able to do what it was called on for until it’s at its full power. We just have to figure out how to stop it before the next full moon. Which is, I believe, on Christmas day.”