Pity is sympathy toward another for their misfortune. Self-pity, on the other hand, is what happens when you throw a party of extreme, often irrational, sadness for a guest list of one. To cry in one’s beer, for instance, with the sound of wailing violins enhancing the mood and setting the tone for that is which is come.
“Stop your belly-aching this instant!”
I couldn’t even pout in peace.
“Kiera? Are you okay? What happened? Do you need help? Should I get my tools?” Sami fired off question after question, drying my leaking eyes instantly. Between Book and Sami, I didn’t have time to snivel and moan. And who knew what awaited me once Kenzie arrived in the afternoon? I needed to pull myself together, and quickly.
But first, I needed to extract myself from the stairs before Sami saw me. Something, possibly a little Book, told me that she didn’t need to know what I had figured out thus far. My solidification was to be my trump card, my ace in the hole, my fixed dice, my-
“Enough. Your mind is a terrible place to reside!”
“Nobody told you to live there,” I groused aloud. I took a deep, unnecessary breath, and focused. I could hear Sami approaching the door, so I knew that I would only have one chance to get this right. I mentally tapped Book on the shoulder, ignoring the surreal sensation that I was imagining and treating Book as a person rather than a collection of spells and definitions. Book harumphed in my direction and, with apparent annoyance, directed me to the proper incantation.
Fire exploded in my gut, and burned its way up my throat. My arms flailed, dipping in and out of the wooden staircase, itching to claw at the source of the flame. I choked, and opened my mouth to protest the pain, to beg Book to stop, but as my lips parted, I vomited a string of guttural syllables in a language I’d never heard in my woefully short life. Light rose up and pulsed around me, dragging me inch by inch upward and free of my prison. My feet settled on the bottommost stair and I stood shakily upright, panting slightly as the intense heat faded away.
“Kiera!” Sami called, poking her head past the open basement door. “Are you alright?”
I stared at her shape, the moisture sliding around in my eyes not allowing me to see her clearly. “Great!” I nodded stiffly. “Absolutely wonderful.”
Sami frowned, but it was gone so quickly that I considered I’d imagined it. She chirped, “I’m making some coffee. I know you can’t drink it…can you?…but I thought the smell would at least cheer you up. I can put out a bowl for you, like an offering.” This time she did frown at me, head cocked to the side, studying me over the top of her glasses. “Are you sure you’re alright? You look…strange.”
I gritted my teeth and probed the next step with my toes without removing my gaze from her face. It felt solid enough, so I rose to it, testing my weight. I didn’t slip through it, so I tried the next one, as well. so far, so good. “I’d love a bowl, Sami,” I said warmly, cursing myself for using a tone of voice that I’d never used with her before. She eyed me, suspicion settling firmly on her face. “Oh, hurry it up! We don’t have all morning,” I snapped. Her eyes flashed with poorly concealed indignation and hurt feelings, and I sighed inwardly. This was ground that I was sure of.
“Yes, Master,” she spat nastily, and removed her head. The door swung, as if she considered slamming it shut and trapping me in the basement, and I started, alarmed. I held my breath-
– and followed her progress through the kitchen by the sound of thumping footsteps, squeaking cabinets and the clatter of glass and ceramic on wood. I continued cautiously up the stairs, reaching the top without further mishaps.
“What now?” I murmured to Book.
“Now,” pronounced Book, “we have some coffee.”
The heady smells of caramel, vanilla, and fresh instant espresso wafted toward me from the kitchen. I slipped through the barely me-sized gap between the door and the frame, careful not to bump it or attempt to pass through it, lest I got stuck and showed my hand before the game was called. My luck ran out as I bumped a chair. I quickly coughed as loudly as I could to cover the sound. Sami whirled to face me, her eyebrow lifting dangerously close to her hairline.
“Must be my allergies?” I cleared my throat to cover the lilt at the end of that sentence that turned my clever explanation into a question. Tight-lipped, Sami turned slowly back to the counter, where the greatest invention that ever graced my house rested.
The coffee pot blurped and gurgled, sending sweet, fragrant, caffeine-laden goodness into the waiting mouth of the glass carafe. I salivated –or would have, had I functioning glands– and bounced on the balls of my feet, awaiting the moment when Sami slid the industrial-sized mug of nectar into my waiting hands.
Crestfallen, I plopped into a chair and sighed noisily. I needed to get a grip on my current abilities –and the lack thereof– before I worried about such mundane things as coffee.
I almost believed myself.
My eyes followed Sami’s hands longingly, watching every pour, sprinkle, and stir. I licked my lips and swallowed hard, my breath coming in pants. You’d think I’d been without my daily fix for more than… I’d only been dead a day? A cold lump settled somewhere around my stomach area, snapping me out of delicious, caffeine-laden dreams. I felt the chair vibrate, ever so subtly, underneath me. Playtime was over.
Sami sloshed a black bowl of coffee onto the table in front me so hard that liquid sloshed over the sides and spattered the placemat. I inhaled deeply, then drilled my most baleful gaze right into her skull. She flinched as she sat down; her cup froze halfway to her lips. Slowly, she lowered the hand lettered, “Witches Do It Better” mug. Unable to meet my gaze, she stared into the steaming, murky liquid.
“So, tell me, Samilla,” I said, leaning forward, propping my elbows on the table and lacing my fingers together, “read any good books lately?”
Her eyelids pressed together as she lowered her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, come on!” I snapped, kissing my teeth and making a rude sound. “You told me yourself yesterday that you’d been studying up on the transmogrification of souls. Care to tell me what that was about?”
I watched Sami clench her jaw tightly, grinding her teeth together. Sweat beaded on her upper lip, and her head sank lower; her nose was almost bathing in her beverage, and the steam covered her glasses in fog. She mumbled something so low, that I didn’t catch it at first. Between Book and my regularly scrambled brain waves, it took a full minute for her words to sink in. When the light dawned, I stood, energy crackling around me. In my haste, I knocked my chair backward, and it crashed to floor, jerking Sami’s head up toward me.
“What?” I said, my voice rising and shaking. “What?! That…that can’t be right.” I shook my head in denial. “That can’t be right!”
“Hmm. Indeed, this news changes things.”
I pointed a blazing finger at Sami. “You’re lying.”
She shook her head sadly and slowly from side to side. “I’m running out of time,” she said.
“I don’t want to hear this,” I snarled. “I won’t hear this!”
Sami continued, speaking quickly and loudly to drown out my protests. “Kenzie was right, you know! I did cast a curse. I am cursed! I really didn’t mean to kill you, though, Kiera, you must believe me!”
“Shut up!” I growled.
“But I need to trap your soul to free myself or I’ll die! I’m being Hunted,” she finished in a whisper. “I’m a Hunter who can’t Hunt.”