Animals have two basic reactions to confrontation: flee or fight. Humans, on the other, with all of their imagined superiority, have three: flee, fight, or talk a good amount of bullcrap in the hopes that the other person will get bored and walk away. While alive, I fell firmly into the third camp. Being newly deceased, however, I had changed my perspective on a few things.
I ran away, at full speed, slowing down only to make sure I wouldn’t fall through the ground as I went.
Anyone who could see me outside of Sami was super-sensitive, a powerful spellcaster, or a Hunter, one of those officials who chased my adopted kind to the ends of the Earth and beyond, promising pain and torture until we gave them all of our secrets. I did not want to spend the rest of my unlife being forced to solidify and crying for my mother, which was a special kind of punishment all by itself. I ran faster, trying to perish the thought. Up to this point, I’d imagined Hunters to be bedtime stories, told to keep bad spellcrafters from toeing the line between good and catastrophic. Now, I wasn’t so sure. Nothing in the literature prepared me for being this frightened by a mere child.
“I can see still you, you know,” ze’s voice called to me from somewhere uncomfortably close. I sped up, not risking a look back, lest I trip and fall and discover that even in this form, I could break a leg.
That would suck.
I zig-zagged through the the neighborhood, doubling back, making random turns –all the things I learned in my training, way back in a past I didn’t want to remember. The youth’s pounding footfalls fell away, but I kept going. I didn’t need some wannabe whatever finding my lair and setting up a trap for me. Confident that my route was safe, I ceased with all of the misdirection and went home.
My house was a modernized, hundred year old building, both drafty and creaky. Built in the earlyish part of the twentieth century with gold-colored bricks, a slate roof, and a concrete front porch, it looked nothing like the popular misconception of a witch’s lair. There were bats, no cobwebs, no boiling cauldrons. There was, however, a spare key hidden in the herb garden, and judging by the dirt-filled footprints leading to the front door, Sami had already arrived.
I crept around to the wooden deck attached to the back of my house, pondering my options. I still wasn’t completely sure how this ghost thing worked, whether I could walk through walls or if someone needed to open doors for me. I could always blow out a window, I supposed, but would I be able to access my bank account to replace it was the real question. In any case, what I needed right now was to get in my house, debrief Sami, and figure out how to keep my life in order in light of my untimely, tragic demise. I eyed the windows, several of which were cracked open and covered with mesh screens. Vanilla incense wafted out, along with Sami’s voice. I sneaked closer to hear better.
“Of course I’m sure,” she was saying, I assumed, into her phone. I squinted and moved right up to the window to peek in. “I dropped her off of a building and then set her corpse on fire! Now tell me what I’m supposed to do!” she snapped. “I don’t want to be haunted.”
Well. I didn’t want to be dead, and that was kind of the same thing, right?
“It wasn’t on purpose, Atlantia, I swear!”
Atlantia? I only knew one Atlantia. I quivered. She didn’t. She wouldn’t! “You called my mother?” I shrieked into the window.
Sami whirled around, spotted me, and screamed, her phone clattering to the floor. I suppose I deserved that reaction, given that my hands were cupped around my face and pressed against the screen. I could feel the pressure of a barrier, which answered my question about walking through walls. At least for the moment. From the floor, I heard my mother’s smoke-ravaged voice squawking and demanding to speak to my shade.
She did it. She totally did it. Sami picked up the phone, dialed the forbidden digits, and called Atlantia, Head Mistress of The Blue Sea Circle. She called my mother, and now I had to try not to kill her, because ending Sami’s life would end mine for the second time.
“First, you kill me,” I snarled at my trembling student, “then, you set me on fire, and then, then, just to add bloody insult to grievous injury, you call my mother?!” I covered my face, partly in disbelief, but mostly in frustration and the attempt to control my power. “Samilla, do you despise me that much? Have I been such a terrible teacher to you?”
“No, Master!” she chirped. “I did warn you that I was a bit clumsy and-”
“Stop,” I hissed. “Just. Stop. Open the screen before I blow it out of the frame. I need to get in there and deal with that,” I said, tipping my head in the direction of her fallen phone. “Then, you and I will have a nice chat about this disrespect and desecration of my flesh.”
Sami eyes my suspiciously. “You can’t just reach over and slide it open?” A calculating expression flittered across her face. “And what happens if I say no?”
“I snatch your soul out of your body and pilot your bones like a machine,” I growled at her. She gulped and rushed to the window, fumbling with the release buttons. The screen popped out of the frame with a soft pop and tumbled to the deck. I grabbed the edges of the window and heaved myself inside. I was going to need time to figure out how to maneuver in this state of in-betweenness, but that would have to wait just a tad bit longer.
My Queen beckoned.
I motioned for Sami to pick up the phone. She scrambled for it, pressed the buttons for “speaker” and “video”, and held it up to my face.
“Mother,” I spoke into the flat device, proud that my voice didn’t crack or tremble.
“Kiera, my blooded whelp,” Atlantia rasped. “I knew something disastrous had befallen you. My scrying mirror was cloudy when I thought to check up on you.”
I ground my teeth together to stop the words I wanted to say from spilling out. “Thank you, Mother. As you can see, I’m fine.”
The deceptively young-looking woman on the screen raised a fantastically arched eyebrow at me. I knew she was taking in the see-through quality of my complexion, and I fought to resist the urge to smooth my short, twisted hair. A long, curved, blue-painted nail tapped her lips as she regarded me. The phone shook, betraying Sami’s nervousness, or perhaps fatigue; I needed to cut this electronic visitation short.
“As you can see, Mother, I’m fine,” I repeated. “This,” I waved a hand at my figure, “is just a..change..of..domicile, so to speak.”
“You’ve cursed yourself, and that child with you,” The Head Mistress proclaimed. “The Blue Sea Circle cannot let this matter rest. Because you are a child of my blood, I shall provide you with a warning.” Her face softened into the features of the woman I spent most of my life trying to love and win the love of. “A Hunter will be called to break the curse. You don’t have much time. Undo this dark thing, and go in peace, until the next life claims you.”
“You know I can’t,” I whispered, matching her solemn tone. “And I haven’t cursed Sami; I’m paying the price for us both.”
Sami gasped. “You can’t!”
“Kiera, please undo it,” my mother begged. I gaped. The Head Mistress, Queen of the Blues, begging me?
I wanted to tell her yes, that I would go off and die peacefully, and await my next life, but I couldn’t. I still had work to do on this plane. Sami wasn’t fully trained yet, and I had to figure out why the thread snapped on that roof and exactly where the spell we were working on went wrong. Yes, Sami dropped me, but it couldn’t have been completely her fault; had the spell gone correctly, I should have floated to the ground, not kissed the concrete.
I lowered my gaze. “I’m sorry, Mistress,” I said, and bowed. When I looked back up, her face had hardened back into the mask she wore when she was presiding over Circle affairs.
Her tone grated my nerves and stood my hair on end, although that was probably memory and experience than an actual thing, because, you know, dead. “Kiera Octavia Blue, you have been warned, and you have refused. You are banished from the Circle, and are hereby sentenced to be Hunted. Your soul will never rest in peace.” The screen blipped and went dark; a “call ended” message lit it up again as it flashed.
I grimaced at Sami. “That went well.”
Sami collapsed into a heap on the floor, clasping her phone loosely in her hand. Slowly, she shook her head from side to side, as if denying the events that had transpired. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I thought she could help.” Her free hand closed into a fist. “This is all my fault, isn’t it? I must have done something wrong on the roof. And then, to just drop you…”
I sighed. “Look, kid-”
She looked up at me, eyes imploring me from behind the lenses of her crooked glasses. “Give me the price! Make me pay! I’ll carry it all!”
“Well, isn’t this a touching scene,” said a disturbingly familiar voice from outside of my open window. “I’m kind of disappointed, though. I didn’t think it would be this easy to catch up with you.”
I spun to glare at the youth from the alley.
“Me,” ze agreed.
“What are you, that you’re able to see me, to sense me, to follow me?”
Ze tilted hir head. “That depends on you. I can either be your best friend…or your worst enemy.” I felt Sami clamber to her feet and ease up behind me. Her heartbeat was so rapid that it made my chest hurt, and that was saying a lot.
“Tell me who, or what, you are!” I demanded.
“If I pass this test,” ze said, “I will be a Hunter.”