Once A Witch Part 24

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"Hang on, Ro," I cry, but I don't think she can hear me. Her eyes roll back in her head and I realize that my sister is about to faint. Lying flat on my stomach, Ireach down, clamp my hands under her elbows, and pull. But her weight pulls me forward and in horror I realize I am sliding slowly but inexorably across the slick marble floor. Then Gabriel is crouching by my side, his face still dripping blood. He locks his hands around my sister's arms and with one hard tug we pull her up and over the edge and then free of the chasm altogether. With a thunderclap the clock door slams shut. I close my eyes in the silence, my ears ringing with the sudden absence of all sound. Just when I think this could go on and on forever, I both hear and feel a steady ticking right above my heart.

Prying open my eyes, I stare at the unbroken blue domed ceiling above me, the constellations whole and shining bright. I jackknife up, glance around. The floor is smooth and unmarred, the marble glinting. Lastly I turn my head and look at the clock. It has shrunk back to its normal size. Next to me Gabriel groans, pulling himself into a sitting position. The blood has dried on his face and one eye is swollen shut, but he reaches for my hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze. I swallow, turn to my sister, and touch her face gently. Her eyelids flutter once, and then she is looking at me.

"Tamsin," she whispers. Her arm is badly burned and her disheveled hair is matted with dust and plaster and rain. Her face is still pale and long scratches mar one side of her neck and shoulder, but her eyes are suddenly focused and clear. I don't think she's ever looked more beautiful.

"Ro? Are you ... are you you?" One pale eyebrow flexes upward in a look so effortless and elegant, a look that I used to practice for hours before a mirror when I was younger. I still can't do it the way she can.

"Who else would I be?" she asks. Then she tries to sit up, grimaces, and seems to think better of it.

"What happened?" she asks. A familiar trace of impatience is entering her tone, and I know her what happened is about three seconds away from turning into what have you done?Good question. And as if in response, the ticking above my heart grows still louder until it is echoing in perfect time with my heartbeat.

Fumbling at the collar of my shirt, I tug on the chain of the locket and press the tiny catch. Two things become apparent with a dash of ice-cold clarity. My docket is now working. And I have become the Keeper.

"Hi, Mom," I say as we step through the kitchen door. My mother drops the teakettle she has presumably just filled and screams. The kettle smashes to the floor, the lid spinning off. Water sprays and arcs at our feet. I kind of wish I had prepared her.

"Rowena," she gasps.

"Tamsin. Oh, girls, you're home" And then Rowena and I are smashed together as my mothertries to wrap her arms around us both, all the while still shrieking our names. Half blinded by my mother's hair, I turn my head to see my father, Lydia, and James burst through the door. My father moves toward me, Rowena manages to struggle free only to fling herself into James's arms, and Lydia approaches Gabriel with a smile that begins to lighten all the tired shadows under her eyes.

"How did you do it?" my mother keeps crying, and I hear Rowena murmuring to James, "Yes, it's really me. It's really, really me" Everyone keeps talking over one another.

Lydia is dabbing Gabriel's head with a damp dishcloth, her fingers tenderly combing through his hair. My mother keeps grabbing first me and then Rowena, and my father grips my shoulder tightly while blotting his sleeve against his eyes.

And then Silda and Jerom and Gwyneth pile through the kitchen door and the tumult only grows louder. Finally, I manage to free myself from my mother's embrace long enough to ask, "Is Grandmother ..." My mother gives a firm shake of her head, pushes her hair away from her face.

"Still... sleeping" She glances at Rowena.

"I can't-"

"What?" Rowena asks sharply. She glances at James as if for an answer, and then when he bites his lip, she asks, "What's wrong with Grandmother?" One hand goes to her throat. But before anyone can speak, the kitchen door swings open for a third time and Aunt Beatrice totters uncertainly into the center of the room, followed by my grandmother.

"Look who's awake," Aunt Beatrice crows and then skids on the spilled water from the teakettle, wobbles, and rights herself. My mother finally lets go of me and, stepping forward, says, "Mother? What happened? How ... ?" She stares in bewilderment at Aunt Beatrice, then holds out her hands to my grandmother as if to check that she's really there.

"I unfroze her!" Aunt Beatrice says happily, looking from face to shocked face.

"Apparently," my grandmother begins, her voice deep and smooth although she has been sleeping for a week, "Beatrice froze me" She gives Aunt Beatrice a look of half-irritated amusement.

"But we all thought you weren't able to use your power anymore," my mother cries, staring at Aunt Beatrice.

"I never said that! Did I?" Aunt Beatrice muses, scratching her chin.

"I thought I lost it," she murmurs, gazing intently at the window, her eyes unfocused.

"I haven't ... used it for so long."

"Why did you-?" Silda begins and then gives a little shriek as Uncle Morris pops into view, holding aloft a glass of red wine. With his free hand, he pats Silda's shoulder briskly. "Sorry, my dear. Can't always see where I'm headed. Well, that's not going to come out," he mutters, staring at the spreading crimson stain on her sleeve.

"Why did you freeze her?" Rowena asks.

"Well," Beatrice says indignantly, turning her head with a whip like motion, "that's a fine question for you to ask, Miss Rowena. If you had made her drink any more of that potion, you would have killed her. I couldn't stop you, but I could stop her" Beatrice takes a few steps forward, her bracelets clacking merrily.

"Oh, you were so angry with me!" She gives a gleeful hoot even as Rowena lowers her head onto James's shoulder.

"But before you could say anything, make me do anything, I ran away and hid. I hid all afternoon in my closet!" Before anyone can react to her words, Aunt Beatrice cocks her wispy white head.

"Hmm ... if I could have frozen you while I was at it, why didn't I try that?" A small frown pushes the corners of her mouth in.

"I suppose I lost it again," she murmurs, her steps slowing to a shuffle.

"Oh, well!" she adds, all gaiety returning as she spies the glass of wine in Uncle Morris's hand. And she claps her hands together, executes a little twirl. The hem of her long skirt trails through the water that is still spreading across the floor from the overturned teakettle. I put a steadying hand on her arm and she peers at me.

"Oh! I know you. I remember what you can do!" she says. "Sorry about that," I murmur.

"What is going on here?" my mother demands, and across the room Gabriel looks at me with his good eye and winks. I turn back to my grandmother and take one step forward. She touches my face with her gnarled fingers. Then she smiles, and for one second I can see the teenage girl that she was in 1939.

"I told everyone you would be a beacon," she whispers.


A GHOST-WHITE MOON sails through the clear sky and thousands of stars wink and glitter upon the loose circle we have formed. The altar is heaped with apples, their skins the color of wine, and the last of the white and purple asters.

Firelight flickers across everyone's face as the smoke from the bonfire twists up through the cold autumn air.

"Greetings," my grandmother calls, her voice ringing out.

"Well met tonight as on all nights."

"Well met," I chorus back along with the rest of my family.

"Tonight is Samhain, the most magical night of the year," she continues.

"Tonight we guide two members of our family through the Initiation Rites." She stops, gathers her breath, and smiles.

"Tamsin and Gabriel, tonight we ask you to light the four candles." Next to me Rowena disengages her hand from mine and gives me a little push, as my legs seem to have stopped working. I take a step across the grass, then another, asGabriel moves from the opposite side of the circle toward me. We meet at the altar and my mother walks forward, handing me the taper that she's lit from the bonfire. But my hand is trembling so much that I can't seem to connect the taper with the first of the eight beeswax candles that represent the four directions and the four elements. And then Gabriel wraps his fingers around mine and I look up into his face, at the new crescent-shaped scar half hidden by his hairline.

"Hey," he whispers.

"Hey back" And together we touch the taper to each of the wicks. I gaze at the tiny flames that have bloomed on the candles, aware that Gabriel is still holding my hand.

"We made it," I say.

"I know" He takes a step closer.

"So, does this mean you'll finally go out to dinner with me? Or are you still worried that a date would be anticlimactic?" I smile at him as the lit taper flickers wildly between us.

"No." He raises one eyebrow at me, waits a second.

"Are you planning on telling me which question you just answered?" Suddenly, I'm intensely aware of my family locked in a circle all around us.

"Can we talk about this later?" I whisper.

"Oh, definitely," he says with a grin. I give him the sweep-down-of-my-lashes look before stepping back to my place beside Rowena. After the ceremony I pause for a moment at the edgeof the garden, watching everyone move in and out of the firelight. Uncle Chester is playing a slow song on his violin while Aunt Rennie accompanies him on a slender silver flute. The music unfurls across the garden like a breeze. My mother is smiling up at my father and glancing now and then toward Rowena, who is dancing with James. My sister lifts her hands to James's shoulders. For just an instant she flashes the pale underside of her arms, but her scars are all but invisible in this soft light. I watch Uncle Morris pop in and out of sight while Silda swats at the empty spaces he just occupied.

A small group of children has gathered around Aunt Beatrice, and one by one they lean forward and let her tap their foreheads. They freeze into statues until she taps their foreheads again and, laughing, they're released. Nearby Gwyneth and Lydia are watching this game as if deciding when the best time is to end it.

Finally, my eyes land on Gabriel. He's standing on the far side of the garden, next to Jerom, nodding at whatever Jerom is saying. A deck of cards parachutes from one hand to the other. Just then he looks up and sees me watching him. Pressing the cards into Jerom's hand, he walks toward me. I take a deep breath, resist running a hand over my hair. I know it's a wild, curly mass anyway.

"There you are," he says, coming to stand before me.

"Happy birthday."

"Thanks. You know normally I hate my birthday, but this one's not so bad." Our breath clouds out before us as we regard each other in silence. I study the blue moon tattoo on the side of his neck and experience an overwhelming urge to trace it with my finger. Just then Uncle Chester begins to play a wild tune, his bow looping on the strings. Aunt Rennie's flute pipes up in response and the music skirls outward, wraps around us. Gabriel seizes my hand.

"Come dance with me" Before I can answer he's tugging me forward as all around us people begin to pair off.

"This isn't a waltz," I mutter. He propels me into the firelight, looks down at me with his quick grin.

"Oh, really? Does that mean you won't be stepping all over my feet, then?" I laugh, take his other hand, and let him whirl me into the dance. The music spirals faster and Gabriel spins me around in a circle until I am breathless, until our hands locked together feels like the only tangible thing keeping me on earth.

Later, when the festivities have reached a fever pitch, I slip away back to the house. My head is ringing even though I haven't touched a drop of Uncle Chester's homemade wine this time, ringing with all of the congratulations untilI thought my smile might crack right off my face. The only comfort was exchanging glances with Gabriel across the garden every so often. I massage my temples and think about calling Agatha just to hear her tell me about the Halloween party that I'm missing back at school. I squeeze my eyes shut, blink, then blink again. There is a light on in the library. Cautiously, I walk forward, press my ear to the solid oak door, then tap it once.

"Come in," my grandmother says, and pushing open the door I find her seated behind the massive desk, looking smaller and more tired than ever.

"Why aren't you outside enjoying-"

"I could ask you the same thing," she says dryly. We regard each other for a moment and then I look away.

"I guess I'm not used to all of this," I answer finally.

"Ah," she says softly and glances back down at the desk. With a chill, I realize she is reading the book that my mother showed me. I worry my top lip between my teeth for a minute, then ask, "What do you see?" At first I think she won't answer me and I feel a sudden flash of anger that I still won't be allowed to know things. But then she looks up and rubs at the bridge of her nose with splayed and shaking fingers.

"Nothing," she says quietly.

"Well, that's good, right? Nothing's going on, all quiet on the western front and all that-" I jump a little as Hector flows through the open window and pauses on the edge of the sill, his tail twitching into a question mark. A tiny brown mouse is clamped between his jaws. Wending his way across a bookshelf, Hector steps onto the desk and deposits the mouse near my grandmother's hand. Then he sits back and watches her with slanted golden eyes. My grandmother scoops up the mouse with one hand and sets it free on the other side of the desk, seeming not to notice when Hector leaps down to the floor to stalk his prey again.

Instead, she looks directly at me and says, "I can see nothing for our future. Nothing, as in we will no longer exist." It feels as if my lungs have suddenly stopped working.

"The pages are empty in a way that they never have been before. So," my grandmother continues, "I went back. To our past history, just before the Domani was created." Her fingers skim over the page and I move closer. As usual the words are rearranging themselves into an incomprehensible language and scurrying off the page, but then my grandmother speaks one word of command and the letters line up clearly at last. In 1887, in the dying days of October, just before Samhain, a stranger arrived in New York City claiming to know more than he possibly could.

He was seen calling upon La Spider, the matriarch of the Knight family.

"Alistair," I whisper. I touch the locket around my neck, taking comfort in its steady ticking.

"He hasn't succeeded yet," I say insistently.

"No, he hasn't," my grandmother confirms.

"And he may never succeed. You certainly crippled his hopes when you prevented him from taking your sister. She would have been an extremely powerful weapon." Then she sighs, closing the book with a quiet thunk.

"The power of the Domani has been breached. Badly. The Knight family is not what they once were, true. But the events of last month in Grand Central will have sent out a call, a reverberation, that they will try to answer.

"In the corner of the room, a sudden scuffle and a tiny squeaking confirm the mouse's recapture. My grandmother and I lock eyes.

"How much time do I have?" I whisper. She smiles, pushes back her chair, and stands. Reaching out, she clasps my hand and leads me to the window.

"You have a little time. Time enough to ... enjoy this." Together we stare out at the brightly burning bonfire, at everyone dancing around it. Just then a log bursts and hundreds of sparks fly upward, then blaze like shooting stars across the night sky.


Once A Witch Part 24

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Once A Witch Part 24 summary

You're reading Once A Witch Part 24. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Carolyn Maccullough already has 80 views.

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