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All Hollows Eve

All Hollows Eve

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All Hollows Eve

Longitud:
427 página
6 horas
Publicado:
Oct 19, 2016
ISBN:
9781370715190
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

A new witch has come to Spring Hollow, just in time for Halloween.

Halloween is Brenna Guin’s favorite time of year. With her new friends, Faye Woods and Lupe Garcia, plus her new abilities--like being able to see in the dark--this year should be the best Halloween ever. If only her mother would stop ruining it for her.

Two nights before Halloween, sneaking out after dark--alone, because even Norv, her pet rat, refuses to cooperate--Brenna encounters Eve Coronelle, the neighborhood’s newest addition.

Brenna has never met Eve, but she has heard about “that Eve Coronelle” all month from her mother. Ever since Eve moved into the quaint gray brick house on Gingerbread Row, her mother has had nothing nice to say about the woman. Her mother had called Eve a witch more than once.

Turns out, her mother was right ...

Publicado:
Oct 19, 2016
ISBN:
9781370715190
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Most days, David Michael is a software developer and a writer. Some days, he’s a writer and a software developer. Other days, he’s an amateur photographer. Because, really, who is the same person every day?David is the designer and developer of The Journal, personal journaling software for Windows. He has also designed and developed video games, and has written two nonfiction books and numerous articles about video game development.David lives with his wife and kids in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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All Hollows Eve - David R. Michael

The Girls of Spring Hollow

All Hollows Eve

David R. Michael

Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2016 by David R. Michael.

Published by Four Crows Landing.

All Hollows Eve. Copyright © 2016 by David R. Michael. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information contact Four Crows Landing: contact@fourcrowslanding.com

Designed by David R. Michael.

Cover artwork and layout by Don Michael, Jr.

Published by Four Crows Landing.

1.00-2016-10-18

This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. Most of the locations are made up too.

for Serene

Part I

After Hours

Chapter 1

Brenna

Snaking Out After Dark

Brenna Guin did not shout. She did not stomp on the polished, hardwood steps of the stairs. She did not slam her ornate bedroom door. She only pulled on the heavy door’s brass knob with as much strength as she could, then stepped out of the way. The door slammed itself.

The sharp, gunshot-like thunderclap of door and doorframe coming together was always satisfying to Brenna. Early twentieth-century craftsmanship, well maintained, allowing an angry twenty-first-century eleven-year-old to loudly, nonverbally, and perfectly express her opinion to her stubborn, ungrateful mother.

Both door and doorframe were of the same heavy, dark-stained exotic wood, like mahogany or teak or ebony–Brenna’s mother would know, of course, which made Brenna more determined not to remember–that had been used throughout the one-hundred-year-old house called Spring Beach. Brenna had lived in Spring Beach her entire life. She and her bedroom door had applied this punctuation mark to conversations with her mother many, many times.

The impact rattled her window, caused the closet doors to shudder, and made Norv, Brenna’s pet brown rat, jump awake in a spray of cedar shavings in his cage on the desk next to the window. Cedar shavings flew a second time as he dug his way back under cover.

Come back out here, you scaredy rat, Brenna said. She left the lights off as she stepped away from the door and threw herself across her bed. Since the beginning of summer she had been able to see in the dark almost as well as she could see with the lights on, though colors could be hard to distinguish.

With her chin propped on her hands, her elbows digging into the rumpled black satin comforter on her unmade bed, her face was level with Norv’s cage. Norv was no longer visible. Only a rat-shaped hill of ceder shavings could be seen on the far side, closest to the window.

"I’m not mad at you."

Norv didn’t answer.

Fine. I can be mad at you too.

Brenna rolled over on her back so she was looking up at the ceiling fan. She hadn’t flipped the switch by the door, so the long wooden blades of the fan weren’t moving. She sighed. She had been hoping for a breeze. No one and nothing was cooperating with her tonight. She pushed her long, dark hair off her face and pulled it into a single plait on her right side. She sighed again when her fingers caught in her hair.

She stopped herself before she could agree with her mother that her hair was getting too long. Still, as she extricated her fingers, she could almost feel her split ends getting splittier and endier. Time for a trim, at least, but not before Halloween, which was only two days away–and inconveniently arriving on a Monday this year.

She had been planning to be a witch for Halloween, anyway, so her hair was perfect. She wasn’t going to be some metropolitan, cosmopolitan, manicured-and-pedicured, coiffed-and-conditioned, blown-dry-at-the-blowout-bar White Magic Wiccan. No, she was planning to go full-on fairy-tale stereotype evil witch, with extreme clichés. Pointy hat, ratty hair, long nose–with wart–and the oldest, most worn-out straw broom she could find. For the irony, of course, but mostly because she knew her costume would horrify her mother with its lack of political correctness, its affront to modern sensibilities, and its sheer tackiness.

Brenna had been feeling witchy–or something similar–since her mother had told her back at the beginning of October that the Great Sleepover Ban was still in effect. Brenna would most emphatically not be hosting a Halloween sleepover party, nor any other sleepovers this year. Not after what happened on the 4th of July. Not after what had been done to the kitchen, and the living room, and the backyard.

Her mother had considered Brenna’s protest but the ghosts did it a particularly tasteless and unimaginative excuse, despite the obvious truth of the matter. Her mother had refused to listen to Brenna and chosen to ignore the many others in the Spring Hollow neighborhood who also saw ghosts that night. That Brenna had also found a secret room in Spring Beach that added five-hundred square feet of livable space to the house didn’t sway her mother’s opinion in the slightest. In fact, the last time Brenna had tried to use the new library as a bargaining chip, her mother had threatened to seal off the new library and turn it into a panic room–and extend the Great Sleepover Ban into the following year, which would have nixed Brenna’s birthday slumber party.

So it was probably a good thing her mother had never learned the full details of what happened during the 4th of July sleepover. Or what had happened in August, just before school started, at the Red Moon Faire. Tigers, and chains, and whips, oh my. Her mother would have nailed the windows in Brenna’s room shut, added an outside lock to her bedroom door, and extended the Great Sleepover Ban until Brenna’s twenty-first birthday. Or further. Fortunately, however, her mother didn’t know any of those details, so Brenna’s twelfth birthday slumber party was still on for February–tentatively, pending future incidents or discovery of current misdeeds–and her bedroom window remained unnailed.

But Halloween was still ruined. Or as good as.

Brenna kicked off her shoes so they fell as loudly as possible on the hardwood floors–clearly audible in her parents’ bedroom on the first floor beneath her–then waited in the darkness until she was sure her parents had gone to bed. Which took longer than normal, because it was a Saturday.

When she was sure, she got up as quietly as she could, tiptoed to her door and locked it. Then, just as quietly, she changed into a pair of her heavier jeans and a long sleeve tee-shirt. She pulled on her chrome-studded black boots again last, because they had a tendency to clomp when she was emotional.

Stepping–carefully, clomplessly–around her bed, she went to her desk and picked up her black cloak from where it lay draped over her desk chair. She looked at the mound where Norv hid as she wrapped the cloak around her. She left the hood off so he could see her face. If he chose to poke his head out and look.

Are you coming, Mr. Scaredy Rat?

Brenna reached across the desk and opened her window. The old-fashioned counterweighted–and recently lubricated–wooden window frame slid up soundlessly. The cool, damp air of October in Oklahoma flowed into her room, bringing with it the scents of the pansies and snapdragons planted along the south side of the house.

Still concealed beneath his pile of cedar shavings, Norv squeaked, No. No, no, no. Snakes. Two to too many snakes.

Brenna stepped on her chair, then on top of her desk. She squatted next to the cage. I didn’t see any snakes last night. And you didn’t either. She paused. Are you telling me you counted these snakes you didn’t see?

The pile of cedar shavings shuddered. "Two is too many snakes to count. I don’t want to see any snakes. No snakes. Any night."

She placed her hands on the screen. Last chance.

The pile of cedar shavings emitted a squeaky fake snore and whistle.

Fine. Be that way.

The hinges holding the old-fashioned screen at the top of the window frame had also been recently lubricated so they made no sound as Brenna pushed the screen open. Then she unfolded the long wooden prop attached to the frame of the screen that had previously been used only once a year when Jimmy the Handy Man came around to clean the windows. Over the last couple months, that feature of her screen had been used much more frequently.

She dangled her legs over the sill, flipped the hood of her cloak over her head, and, after taking a deep breath, she pushed off. She fell only a few feet before she spread her arms and the magic of her black cloak caught her and stopped her.

She floated beneath her window, an out of place shadow of a girl cast against the dark red bricks of Spring Beach, and looked across the expanse of her backyard. The thin crescent of the waxing Moon had already set, so the night was as dark as it was going to get. The green grass and flowers below her were shades of gray to her eyes, and Spring Pond beyond the back fence was a black mirror reflecting the silver stars.

She smiled, and started to laugh from the beauty of what she could see and the joy of floating in the night air, but realized she had been holding her breath since she jumped. The breath came out in a combination gasp-cough-giggle-guffaw that sounded incredibly loud in the still night. She stifled another giggle, and forced herself to take slow, even breaths as she waited to see if her parents had heard her. When, after a slow count to ten, no lights had come on downstairs–or in her room behind and above her–she twisted her hands to spin in place. Still floating, she folded the wooden prop, and lowered the screen quietly back into place. Since she wasn’t standing on anything, the whole procedure was harder than it sounded. Fortunately, she had practiced a lot lately.

She started to lower herself to the grass just beyond the flower bed, then remembered that Norv wasn’t with her. That opened up other possibilities than simply walking on what had become her regular, after-hours walk around the neighborhood.

She brought her arms in closer to her body, and looked up at the night sky. This time she made no effort to suppress the laughter–and very nearly, but not quite, forgot she was still mad at her mother–as she shot straight up and over the slate-tiled roof of Spring Beach and into the darkness beyond.

At a giddy height well above what Norv would have approved, Brenna stopped her upward flight and hovered, spinning slowly to take in the night that surrounded her.

She didn’t know if the magic of flying was in the black cloak Mrs. Lipscomb had given her, or in Spring Hollow, or maybe even in her, like the way she could see in the dark with or without the cloak. She didn’t care, so long as the combination allowed her to soar through the cool night air and see the lights of the world spread below her and the stars glittering above her.

She had never tried to fly during the day. At least, not with her body. She more than suspected she couldn’t fly during the day, because she was a creature of the night, and the Sun would insist on keeping her feet on the ground, but she hadn’t tried.

She had also never tried to fly beyond the limits of the Spring Hollow neighborhood. Spring Hollow might have enough magic to let her fly, but she was less sure about the rest of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fortunately, the two highways that crossed on the west side of the neighborhood, I-44 and US-51, clearly marked the northwest and southwest boundaries, and Memorial Drive, which had nearly as much traffic as either highway, marked the eastern border. Even at this time of night, they were like three crisscrossing rivers of red-and-white lights.

Spring Hollow nestled in the rough triangle formed by these three glittering rivers, separated from the rest of Tulsa as thoroughly as if the neighborhood really were an island. Only a single street led into the neighborhood, past the service stations and strip malls that lined Memorial Drive.

Brenna had no way to know how high she was, but she guessed she was at least several hundred feet in the air. High enough there was a constant breeze, but low enough she could smell the lingering smoke of early fires burned in fireplaces and the odors of late season grilling. There was also the scent of fall leaves just beginning to decay. An airplane roared overhead, startling her, and prompting her to notice the smells of car exhausts and spent jet fuel, as well.

Yellow light from the decorative, wrought-iron streetlights traced the concentric streets of Outer Circle Drive and Inner Circle Drive below her, with Spring Pond at their center, and the north-south streets of the North Tract Addition and Gingerbread Row. Few houses had lights in their backyards, so only the fronts were visible. No cars drove on the narrow streets of the neighborhood, and only a few lights shone from the windows.

One of those windows, she noticed, belonged to Hawkbriar, the house where her friend Faye Woods lived. The illuminated window was, in fact, Faye’s second-floor, bedroom window. She glanced north, toward Lupe Garcia’s house, but Lupe’s house was completely dark. So was The Parsonage, across the street from Faye’s house, where Mrs. Lipscomb lived.

Suddenly in the mood for company, Brenna wondered if Faye was still up, like her, or if the girl had fallen asleep with the light on. Either way, whether Faye was still awake or if Brenna was about to startle her friend awake with a surprise late-night visit, Brenna would be able to talk to someone besides her mother about how her mother was ruining her life.

She started to fly toward Hawkbriar, but stopped when orange and purple lights lit up one of the houses on Gingerbread Row. Only a minute before, the house had been completely dark. Now the house glowed in brilliant, vivid color from the strings of lights that traced its outlines from foundation to peak, and from the quantity of illuminated gravestones, cauldrons and electric-light jack-o-lanterns that carpeted its front lawn. And not just the house. Next door to the house, the once-empty lot that had been decorated with hay bales had what looked to be a small bonfire burning in the center.

As if the fire noticed her noticing it, the orange and yellow flames flared larger. For an instant the flames seemed to reaching up for her, then they relaxed back to what they had been before. Brenna thought she saw the shadow of a woman sitting by the fire.

Brenna had been hearing about that house, and its new owner, daily–and nightly–the entire month.

Faye could wait. And wasn’t even expecting her anyway.

Brenna bent at the waist, swept her arms back, and flew over and down, toward the empty lot. Or what had been an empty lot until a couple weeks ago. The lot had once been the southernmost house of Gingerbread Row, but that house that had burned down decades before Brenna had been born.

Every night for the past three weeks, since the load of rectangular hay bales had been delivered, she had walked past the lot on her nightly, after-hours walks with Norv. So she had seen the slow creation of either the shortest, simplest hay bale maze ever, or some kind of outdoor arena. Hay bales stacked two high enclosed a rectangular area that covered nearly half the lot, possibly tracing the foundation of the house that had once stood there.

The west side of the straw structure, what had been the front of the house, had two narrow entrances and one exit. The left entrance matched up with the cracked remains of the sidewalk that used to lead to the absent house’s front porch, the other entrance and the exit both opened onto the grass of the front yard. Within the bigger part of the hay bale rectangle, single bales had been arranged like seats at a theater facing a clear area. In the clear area was a nook, also built of hay bales, that looked large enough for a person to hide in, except there was no door. Near the nook an arch had been constructed, or a short tunnel, that led to a straight corridor that extended down the side of the maze to the exit.

The bonfire burned in the center of the clear area, near the nook. The shadowy shape of the woman still appeared to be seated on one of the bales, facing the fire. The woman’s features were impossible to make out from this distance, but Brenna was sure it could only been one person.

Since she had only walked by the lot at night, late, she had never seen the notorious Eve Coronelle, the woman whose name was never spoken so much as gritted out by Brenna’s mother, usually with some unspoken epithet. That, her mother would start, then close her mouth tightly and not say whatever it was she wanted to say. Followed by, Eve Coronelle.

Brenna’s mother had been pleased, at first, when the enigmatic Eve Coronelle bought the tiny gray brick house in Gingerbread Row, the one next to the empty lot. The sale had closed on the first of October, and Eve Coronelle had moved in immediately.

Before that, the house had sat empty for months. Long enough that her mother had become worried about property values in the rest of the neighborhood. Once the Sold! sign went up, her mother had more than once expressed how happy she was that a young family was helping rejuvenate Spring Hollow, and especially Gingerbread Row, which, her mother would say, has become a bit like a retirement village. The honeymoon had been brief, though, as that … Eve Coronelle turned out to be a single, thirty-something professional instead of part of a picturesque family of one-and-a-half children. Then the woman had started decorating her newly purchased house for Halloween.

That’s not ‘decorating for Halloween’, Brenna’s mother had protested to her father, her salad fork raised in a manner that suggested culinary violence if he disagreed. It’s more like a Halloween store exploded all over her front yard and the front of her house. Have you seen it?

Her father had not.

It’s– Her mother had struggled to find the proper words for the garish spectacle the quaint-looking gingerbread house had become. Tacky.

Then, less than a week later, the flatbed truck had delivered the hay bales.

That … Eve Coronelle, her mother had reported to her father. "Can you believe the … the … presumption of that woman. Just because the lot next to hers is empty does not mean she can use it as her own private garden."

Then the reason for the hay bales had become evident.

That … Eve Coronelle, her mother had fumed. "Spring Hollow already has a Halloween festival. What makes her think she can just … mince in here and replace years of tradition with some kind of hayseed carnival?"

Did you cancel the Spook Fest? Brenna’s father had been foolish enough to ask. Then, after hearing how emphatically the Spring Hollow Spook Fest had not been canceled, he had more foolishly commented, Then what’s the problem? I’m sure the kids will love to go to both–

Her mother had called the police and the Mayor’s Action Hotline to complain about an unauthorized hay bale maze. To her mother’s immense satisfaction, the police had come. To the detriment of the general mood of the Guin household, though, the police had done nothing. Ms. Coronelle had obtained both the permission of the current owner of the empty lot and a permit from the city.

Her mother had convened a meeting of the Spring Hollow Pond Houses and the Spring Hollow Inner Circle Homeowners Association, seeking to invoke some kind of injunction. To force the association or the city’s historical society or the police or somebody to do something. Anything.

If this is what Halloween is going to be like, her mother had said to the assembled couples, can you imagine what kind of … of … insanity this woman will unleash on Christmas? We will be stumbling through forests of peppermint candy canes and choking on the fumes of cinnamon potpourri!

Unfortunately, no definitive, legal action could be taken. Certainly nothing could be done before Halloween. Her father must have warned the other adults at the meeting, because none of them had foolishly suggested that the kids of the neighborhood might actually like having another pile of candy to loot as trick-or-treaters. Due to his quick thinking, there had been no deaths by conniption.

If they won’t join you, Brenna had heard her mother say more than once after the failed meeting, "beat them."

Her mother had doubled down on the Spring Beach contribution to the annual Spring Hollow Spook Fest. Which had forced the other Pond Houses to increase their contributions, as well. Which meant more work for Brenna.

Brenna was supposed to get up early tomorrow morning–on a Sunday–and help. Since her mother had hired a small acting troupe and a caterer, and who knew who else, Brenna knew her assistance was going to be far more menial than meaningful. Either way, with her mother’s continued attitude toward that … Eve Coronelle, Brenna doubted the experience would be pleasant, even if Faye and Lupe were going to be there too. Brenna had been planning to be elsewhere, hiding, but Faye had ignored both hers and Lupe’s warnings and volunteered when Brenna’s mother asked. So they were all stuck now. But that was tomorrow’s problem. Tonight, she had a mystery.

The flicker of the small fire in the center of the hay bales continued as Brenna flew closer. She stayed high, above the level of the taller houses and the few streetlights, but she made no other attempt to be unseen. She knew her cloak made her almost impossible to see against the night sky.

The fire burned in a small metal fire pit that hadn’t been there before. The flickering glow of the flames illuminated only a short distance, but Brenna didn’t need the light from the fire to see the woman sitting close to the fire. She had never met the woman, but she had no doubt the woman was Eve Coronelle.

Eve Coronelle sat on the hay bale as if it were a seat at the high table of a formal dinner. Her back straight, her gloved hands folded together in her lap, her legs crossed primly in front of her, her eyes slightly downcast as she stared at the fire. She was also dressed for that formal dinner, or at least cocktails somewhere downtown. She wore a black-and-white houndstooth pencil skirt and matching jacket with a black scarf tied around her blonde hair, the ends of the scarf draped around her neck. Brenna was sure the woman was wearing black pumps, as well. On anyone else, the ensemble would have looked, at best, retro. On Eve Coronelle, the clothes looked more than just relevant, they looked nuveau.

As Brenna watched, the woman tilted her head up, and she looked back at Brenna.

There you are, little sister, the woman said in a soft accent that sounded vaguely Southern. Her voice was low and silky and nowhere near loud enough that Brenna should have been able to hear her speak. It was almost like the woman was whispering her ear. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming tonight.

Surprised, Brenna stopped still and hovered as she stared back at the woman. She adjusted the cloak around her shoulders, to make sure it was covering her. She lifted her feet, just in case her hiking boots were visible below the hem.

The woman leaned her head to the right and smiled up at Brenna, then lifted one hand to wave. The smile and gesture were shy, and made the woman appear years younger, but there was a twinkle in the woman’s blue eyes that was neither shy nor young. Brenna thought she saw something just a bit dangerous, maybe even predatory, in the way the woman’s eyes gleamed from the fire. But at this distance, she couldn’t be sure. She was still having a hard time believing the woman could see her. Even Lupe with her cat eyes had a hard time seeing Brenna with the cloak on.

I’m not going to bite you, the woman said, with a low laugh. But I do want to meet you. The woman patted the hay bale beside her with her right hand. Come on down, little sister. I’ve been looking forward to talking to you since I realized you were here.

Brenna used her hands to direct her flight, to land on the opposite side of the fire from the woman. She removed the hood as her feet touched the ground. How can that be true? Brenna asked. I only just got here.

The woman smiled. And I’ve been wanting to talk to you the entire time. The tip of her tongue touched her upper lip for an instant, then she said, My, my, my. You are a pretty little witch, aren’t you?

Brenna felt herself flush at the compliment. At least the first part. I’m not a witch, she said.

The woman’s smile stretched to become a grin, showing small, straight teeth that flashed in the firelight. Well then, little sister, we will have to do something about that, won’t we? But first, I believe introductions are in order. She uncrossed her legs and rose to her feet in a single, smooth movement. Since there is no one here to make the introductions for us, I shall begin. She stepped around the fire pit and extended her right hand. I am Eve Coronelle.

For an instant, as the light of the fire touched it, the black scarf around Eve’s neck and head seemed to shift and move, more like a black snake than black silk, but the instant passed, and the white gloved hand waited patiently.

Brenna extended her right hand past the end of the long sleeve of the cloak. Eve’s gloved hand felt cool in her grip. Brenna, she said. My name is Brenna Guin.

As Eve held Brenna’s hand, her eyes, dark from the shadows on this side of the fire, peered into Brenna’s. A raven? Of course. Before Brenna could ask what she meant, Eve released Brenna’s hand and continued. Guin? Then you must be the daughter of–

Yes, Brenna said, glancing away and letting her hand disappear beneath the cloak sleeve again. You’ve met my mother.

Eve smiled in spite of the interruption. A formidable woman, your mother. I have enjoyed sparring with her.

Brenna looked back at Eve. It was her turn to peer into Eve’s eyes as she tried to see if the woman was joking. Eve’s eyes showed no sign of mockery.

Brenna said, I guess it’s more fun if you get to win sometimes.

Eve’s smile somehow managed to notch one step smilier. I try to win every time, Miss Guin.

Must be nice. And please, just Brenna.

Eve reached her hand out again, this time for Brenna’s left. Come, Brenna, you must sit with me and tell me about yourself.

Brenna kept her hand to herself. There was a lot she liked about Eve Coronelle right away. Her fashion sense, for one. And her intriguing ability to see Brenna even when cloaked. And how she kept winning head-to-head battles against Brenna’s mother. Finally, something about Eve reminded Brenna of what she had always imagined it might be like to have an older sister. She couldn’t quite define it, but it felt right when Eve called her little sister. Still, Brenna had learned some lessons over the summer. It’s late, she said. And I don’t know anything about you.

Eve’s laughter bubbled out of her. She hunched her shoulders as she laughed, and wrinkled her nose, the effect making her looking almost as young as Brenna. Behind her, the fire in the fire pit leaped and seemed to be laughing with her.

I live in a gingerbread house near a magical pond, little sister, and I talk to the ravens that visit me after the Moon has set. I should think that tells you everything you need to know about me, Miss Brenna Guin. Her tongue touched her upper lip again as she smiled at Brenna. She held her right hand out to Brenna.

Brenna found she was smiling along with Eve, and she wasn’t entirely sure why. And what should all of that be telling me, Ms. Eve Coronelle? In spite of herself, Brenna reached out with her left hand.

Eve’s gloved hand closed around her fingers. I think you already know, little sister, Eve said as she led Brenna around the fire pit. I think you’ve known all along. She grinned at Brenna. Her small, straight teeth flashed. I’m a witch.

Brenna started to pull her hand back in surprise, but Eve’s gripped tightened just enough to stop her.

Oh, come on, Miss Guin, Eve said, still smiling. We witches can’t be all bad, can we? After all, little sister, she added, leaning forward as if to share a secret with Brenna, I’m not the only witch standing here, am I?

What? I’m not a– Brenna stopped. Am I?

Eve led Brenna back around the fire pit. Let me think, Eve said. She extended the index finger of her left hand. Miss Brenna Guin flies around at night in a magical black cloak. She extended two fingers, waving them as she spoke. Miss Brenna Guin has a magical black cloak. Three fingers. Miss Brenna Guin has a pet rat that she talks to.

How do you know about Norv?

Eve held up four fingers. Miss Brenna Guin is my little sister.

We’re not really sisters, Brenna said, but she smiled as she said it, and still let Eve guide her.

Eve wrinkled her nose again as she laughed. No, but don’t you wish we were? She spread her hand to show all five fingers. "I am a witch. And because I am a witch, I am eminently qualified to tell you, Miss Brenna Guin, that you are also a witch. As she said the last four words, she folded the fingers of her hand together, except the index finger, which she used to point at Brenna, underscoring each word with a friendly jab. It’s all perfectly logical," she added, and sat on the hay bale where she had been when Brenna arrived.

Eve still held her hand, so Brenna sat beside her.

I don’t think I’m a witch, Brenna said. And how do you know about Norv?

I’ve seen the two of you on your nightly walks, Eve said. At first I thought you were just a nosy urchin, maybe spying for your mother. That made you interesting, but only just. But then I saw you were a nosy urchin who had a pet rat. Which made you somewhat more interesting. And then I saw you were a nosy urchin who could talk to her pet rat. Which made you much more interesting indeed. Interesting enough that I decided to meet you. And then tonight you weren’t just walking, you were flying. Well, Miss Brenna Guin, let me say that made you are the most interesting nosy urchin I’ve met in a long, long time.

How could you see us? Or me?

Eve leaned closer. I did say I was a witch. The tip of her tongue touched her lip as she smiled. Then she winked at Brenna and sat up straight again. She touched the sleeve of Brenna’s cloak. "Granted, you are a well-camouflaged

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