Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas Sale

My book Witch Wishes is in this anthology. For only .99 cents, it's a sweet deal. GET YOURS HERE

It’s the beginning of the holiday break, but Evie Marston isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. And Birdie, Evie's grandmother and self-proclaimed witch, thinks she knows why. After Evie confronted the Creature of the Chasm something happened to magic and without it Christmas just isn't the same. Decorations have been replaced by store advertisements, and everyone has started referring to Christmas as Shopping Day.
Evie doesn’t know why or how that happened, but she does know that somehow, someway she must summon and restore the magic the earth and all her people have lost.

Rainbows, silent stars and musical winds
Let peace settle your soul for the magic begins.

I sat on the split rail fence that separated the Henderson’s property from Uncle Mitch’s, Josh stood directly in front of me, his torso inches from my knees. Despite the snow covered field, the icicles dripping from the trees and eaves, and the sharp wind cutting through my fur-lined cape, I was warm and flushed by Josh’s nearness.
His excitement made him look young, and just for a brief second, I saw him as a kid, about the age he’d been when I’d moved to Uncle Mitch’s house after my parents’ divorce. He’d been older than me, of course, his three years my senior launching him into a stratosphere where my Barbies and I could never venture, not even in my imagination. And so now, after 8 years, it seemed impossible he could stand in front of me, his eyes gleaming with an emotion I didn’t know how to interpret, and say, “I bought you something.”
“For Christmas?” I asked.
“What?” Confusion clouded his expression.
And just like that, the happiness I’d felt, the excitement of our first kiss faded. I touched his hand, and he intertwined his fingers with mine. He felt warm and solid, and his touch sent tingles up my arm, even though a dozen alarm bells jangled in my head. A skin-pricking sensation told me we weren’t alone.
I glanced around at the deserted fields stretching in all directions. The dark woods loomed in the distance. A pair of goldfinches flitted through the gray sky, their brightly colored feathers a sharp contrasting with the snowy landscape. Still, despite the quiet surrounding us, I couldn’t shake the being-watched-feeling.
“Christmas,” I repeated. “It’s a major holiday.”
Stepping closer, he drew my hand to his mouth and ran his lips over my knuckles. The prickles spread like fire, warming me from the top of my head, and down. He acted as if I hadn’t spoken.
“Do you want to see what I got you?” he asked, flipping his dark hair off his forehead.
I nodded, because when he looked at me with his big blue eyes, the only answer I could ever offer would be yes.
Cupping my cheek in his hand, he leaned forward and kissed me. With his lips warm against mine, I found it hard to think of anything, or anyone but him and the tingles running up, down, and over my skin.
“Is that it?” I asked. “Because that’s what I got you, too.”
“Good gift,” he said, placing his forehead against mine so our eyes were just inches apart. “But no, I got you something else.”
“They’re not mutually exclusive, right? If I accept your gift, can I still kiss you?”
“Anytime,” he said.
“Mmm, but probably not in front of your family.”
He pulled away and lifted his eyebrows. “Yeah, that’s going to be awkward.”
“I have to tell Bree.”
“I’m sure she already knows,” he said.
“What about your mom?”
“She probably knows, too. She has serious mom-dar.”
I nodded, agreeing. Mrs. Henderson really did seem to have a heaping helping of intuition when it came to her kids. She could spot lie-loaded conversations before a word was ever uttered, and she probably knew about a crush long before her child even attempted to flirt. This surely came in handy for her, but it caused a lot of havoc and frustration for her kids…and girls-next-door who happened to have a thing for her son. If Mrs. Henderson could read her children, she could also sniff out a girl crushing on Josh.
“Let’s not worry about anyone else right now.” Josh planted a quick kiss on my lips, leaving me hungry for more. “I want to show you your present.” Taking my hand, he pulled me off the fence. “You okay? Are you going to be warm enough?”
I nodded. My head still felt a smidge fuzzy, but I wasn’t sure if that was because of my recent accident and head injury, or because kissing Josh made me dizzy.
Something in my expression must have concerned him, because he stopped, stepped in front of me and turned his back. “Get on,” he said.
And in a flash, I was little again, climbing on for a piggy-back ride, something I must have done a hundred times in the years before there ever was an Evie-and-Josh, back when I was just his little sister’s best friend. I wanted to ask him when he started thinking of me differently, as someone other than the sidekick of one of his life’s biggest annoyances, but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to answer, just like I knew I couldn’t say when I’d first decided I’d rather kiss Josh than breathe. Wrapping my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist, I decided the exact beginning of the relationship didn’t matter. It wasn’t a race with a starting line. What mattered was if we ever got close to the finishing line, we’d find a way to stay on the course.
Josh tromped across the field, holding me as easily as if I was Gabby, his baby sister. I guessed we were headed for the barn, but I also noticed we stayed close to the woods, on the distant side of the shed, far away from the windows, and the spying eyes of his siblings inside his house. As the trees stretched their branches toward us and the goldfinches swooped in the air, the skin-crawling feeling of being watched returned. I tightened my hold on Josh.
Inside the dimly lit barn, Josh loosened his grip, and I slid off. A fiberglass boat stood on its stern, propped up against the wall beside a collection of fishing poles, nets, and waders. Mr. Henderson used the opposite side of the barn as a wood shop. Countless tools lined his workbench, and a large fluorescent lamp hung from the ceiling.
Josh went to the boat, reached behind it, and pulled out a package about the size of a bread box. “It’s not a big deal,” he said, flushing. It was wrapped in brightly colored paper covered with pictures of balloons, which seemed wrong, but glancing at his happy, hopeful expression, also right.
“I’ll love it whatever it is,” I told him.
“Open it,” he urged.
“You don’t want me to wait for Christmas?”
“Why do you keep mentioning that word?” Annoyance flashed across his face. “I want you to open it now.”
Smiling, I tore it open. Ice skates, black with red racing stripes, built for speed.
“I bought them at a used sporting goods store.”
“They’re perfect,” I said, hoping I wasn’t lying. I’d never tried ice-skating before, at least, not on real skates. I’d slipped my way across frozen Peter’s Pond hundreds of times, but not with anything sharp or pointy attached to my feet. I ran my finger across the blade.
“They should fit,” Josh continued. “You let Bree borrow your shoes and I took one with me to the shop. Not that it matters. Clayton Carlson works there, and he told me I could return them if they don’t work out.”
I imagined inching around the perimeter of the lake, clasping onto Josh with a death grip. I slid him a glance, wondering if he’d foreseen that, too. “Want to try them out?” I asked.
His face brightened and the apprehension in his eyes disappeared. “Yeah!” He leaned behind the boat and pulled out his own, well-worn skates. “I thought you might say that. But…are you sure you’re up to it?”
“I feel fine, and I’m tired of being babied.”
My dad, stepmother, uncle, and even normally cranky Mrs. Mateo, our housekeeper, had been fussing over me ever since my accident a week ago. Sick of being treated like a princess on a pillow, I’d escaped with Josh. Occasionally, my ribs would twinge with a complaint, and my head would throb, I got tired easily, and I’d been really bored, which meant I slept a lot, which made my head fuzzy…it all seemed like a vicious circle, and besides all the physical trauma, there were also all the unanswered questions. My memories didn’t line up with what anyone else could tell me about the night I fell at The Creature of the Chasm State Park.
Except for Birdie.
Josh startled me out of my thoughts. I smiled up at him and took his hand. “Do you want to walk?”
“Let’s take the bike,” he said. “As long as you think you’ll be warm enough.”
I shot a glance at Josh’s dirt bike propped between the boat and a stack of boxes. “I’m good,” I said, tying the laces of the skates together and looping them around my neck.
“Yeah, you are,” Josh said, leaning in to kiss me again and plop a helmet on my head.
I settled on the back of the bike behind Josh while he gunned the engine. The bike sputtered a few times before it roared to life. Moments later, we were cruising down the road, bypassing downtown and avoiding the busier streets. I caught a glimpse of the town green.
It looked different somehow, bleaker, although I couldn’t say why. In the distance, a gazebo stood on a small hill beside St. Mark’s stone chapel, the oldest building in Woodinville. Something nagged in the back of my mind, like a song wanting to be repeated, but the only lyrics I could recall were la, la, la. I tightened my grip on Josh and leaned against him. The skates pinched me, and I had to ease away.
Black and barren trees stood like sentinels along The King’s Highway. Silver ice clung to the bushes edging the road. I had forgotten we’d have to pass Birdie’s house to get to Peter’s Pond.
I bit my lip as we roared past her driveway. Birdie’s house was as lean and bare as the meat on her bones—long stretches of hardwood floors, soaring windows, and a circular staircase that twirled toward heaven. I guessed the house was old, given the stately mansions in the neighborhood, but I couldn’t have pinpointed an era by the exterior architecture. I loved it, and I loved the fact that one day it would be mine. My feelings for Birdie were a lot more difficult to define. I loved her honesty, her ability to speak her mind without worrying what anyone else would think of her. Her tiny body radiated energy. She seemed much more alive than anyone else I knew. And yet, despite her frankness, I didn’t completely trust her.
A small wooden sign marked the entrance to Peter’s Pond Park. If not for a wide swatch of dirt cutting through the forest, it would be easily missed. The park contained two picnic tables, a trash can, and a few fallen trees strategically placed to serve as benches in a small clearing.
Josh cut the engine, rolled the bike to a nearby tree, and climbed off. I followed him to a picnic table and sat down. My gaze wandered back to Birdie’s house, barely visible through the thick woods.
Go and talk to her, a voice inside me urged.
I told the voice to shut up. Besides, everything I needed to say couldn’t be said in front of Josh. If I started talking about The Creature of the Chasm and disappearing magic he’d think I’d hit my head too hard. He’d probably tell my Uncle Mitch, who would tell my dad, who would make me go to a doctor at the least, and a therapist at the worst. And my dad would tell uber-religious Maria, my stepmother, and she’d make me talk to her priest…maybe even an exorcist…
I looked up, surprised to see Josh had already put on his skates while mine still sat on my lap.
“Do you need help?” Josh asked, dropping to his knees beside me, acting like a shoes salesman.
“No, don’t be silly.” I bent over to pull off my boots.
Josh loosened the laces on one skate and then the other. He handed them to me one at a time, squatting beside me as if ready to jump in and help if I couldn’t do it on my own. I tightened the laces, placed my boots on the table next to Josh’s shoes, and took his hand. Together, we hobbled to the pond’s edge.
The ice looked black, thick and streaked with countless cuts from previous skaters. The woods ringing the pond provided a screen from the road. Here Josh could kiss me for hours and no one would know. But…even though we had the pond to ourselves, I couldn’t shake the eyes-on-my-back feeling. Hearing a rustling in the trees, I turned and caught sight of a deer. He stared at me with large black eyes.
Holding onto Josh’s arm, I placed one skate on the ice and then the other. My ankles wobbled, my feet went in different directions, and I tightened my hold on Josh.
He pulled away from me, left me standing on my own, despite my complaints, and came up behind me, placing his hands on my waist. “Just let me push you,” he said. “Don’t try and move your feet, yet. I’ll go slow.”
With Josh behind me holding me upright, we skirted the edge of the pond at a snail’s pace. At first, I held my breath and concentrated on keeping my legs ramrod straight. After our second loop around, Josh pushed me away from him.
“Hey!” I twirled my arms and fought to retain my balance.
Behind me, Josh laughed. He skated up beside me, spun around me, and stopped with a scrape of his skates at my side. “You’re doing great,” he said, taking both my hands. “Ready to move your feet?” Skating backward, he towed me toward the center of the pond. “Relax,” he said. “I won’t let you fall.”
Ignoring the deer in the woods, and anyone else who may have been watching, I kept my eyes locked on his. In my mind he was ten years old again, and I was seven.
He spun me, before catching me in his arms. Breathless, he gazed down at me and I knew—hoped—he was going to kiss me again.
“Yeah! Josh! Evie!” a voice called to us.
Annoyance flashed across Josh’s face and he dropped my hands. “What are they doing here?” he asked through tight lips.
I peeked over his shoulder at the small congregation gathering at the pond’s edge. “Skating. Although, I have to warn you, it looks like Lincoln is making snowballs.”
Josh muttered something beneath his breath. “How many of them are there?”
I quickly counted. “Nine. Ten if you count the dog.”
“Nine? There’s only seven of us. And we have three dogs, not one.”
“It looks like Bree brought Marcus and the twins brought friends.”
“Marcus? Your stepbrother?”
I nodded.
Josh spun around to watch his six siblings, one of mine, and Leopold, a giant Great Dane skittering our way. “Any chance they’ll break the ice?” he asked in a half-joking half-frustrated tone.
“You don’t really want that.”
“I guess you’re right,” he said.
“Why didn’t you bring us with you?” Lincoln demanded, sliding our way in his red Converse sneakers. He was only seven, but he looked a lot younger in his hand-me down jacket. He did a great impression of Barbara Walters or Harvey Levin, asking all the questions no one wants to answer.
Josh put his arms around me, shielding me from the oncoming Lincoln. “Maybe we wanted to be alone.”
“Why?” He batted his white blond eyelashes at us.
“Hey!” Bree called. She waved with the hand that wasn’t holding onto Marcus, my gorgeous, Argentine step-brother. She wore a parka almost as bright as her red curly hair. “Your dad sent me to look for you. Maria was cursing you in Spanish.”
Marcus sent Bree a reproachful look, but he didn’t drop her hand. “They are just worried,” he said. “Your accident really shook them up.”
“I’m fine.”
Marcus slid closer, pulling Bree with him. “They’re not so sure. I think they feel guilty you are living with your Uncle Mitch and not with us.”
I started to roll my eyes but caught sight of Leopold plowing through the woods and taking Gabby with him.
“Help!” Gabby shrieked, clutching the leash and trying to keep up with the dog. “Leopold! Stop!”
“Drop the leash, Gabs!” Bree called.
Josh gave Bree a nasty look, before skating after his baby sister.
“So, what should I tell your dad?” Bree asked me, grinning. When I didn’t answer, she continued, “Were you seriously kissing my brother?”
I flashed a look at her hand clasped in Marcus’s. “You’re holding hands with mine.”
“This is just for stability,” Bree said. “He’d totally fall if not for me.”
Marcus turned a handsome red and looked away.
“Why is Leopold here?” I asked.
“Mrs. Cleary is paying the twins to walk him,” Bree said.
“But the twins aren’t walking him.” I glanced over at the twelve-year-old boys trying to knock each other off their feet. “They’re going to break something.”
“Won’t be the first time,” Bree said.
“As long as it’s not the ice, it’s okay with me,” Marcus said.
I watched Josh confront Gabby, take possession of the leash, and rein in Leopold.
“I’m going to see if Josh needs help,” I told Bree and Marcus, without thinking about my skates. Seconds later, I was on my back, looking up at the gray sky.
Bree, Marcus, Lincoln, the twins, and two kids I didn’t know came to stare at me.
“You okay?” Bree asked.
“You belong in Washington,” Marcus said.
Bree slugged his arm. “She totally could have fallen just as easily in Washington as here!”
“Are you moving to Washington, Evie?” Lincoln asked. “Like with the president?”
Josh pushed his way through. “Back off,” he growled. Reaching down, he pulled me up and steadied me on my feet. “You all right?”
I nodded and touched my forehead.
Josh steered me to the pond’s bank, helped me up onto the solid, non-slippery ground, and held my hand as we wobbled to the picnic bench where we’d left our shoes.
Leopold, tied to a tree, watched us, his big brown eyes pleading for freedom.
“You sure you’re okay?” Josh asked.
I nodded, lying, but not wanting to worry him.
“Want to return Leopold to Mrs. Cleary?” Josh asked. “We’ll have to walk.”
“Did they really drive here with nine people and that huge dog in the van?” I stifled a giggle as I pulled off my skates and slipped on my boots.
Josh rolled his eyes. “My mom must have left Bree in charge.”
“I know why Bree came,” I said. “She probably thought it would be more fun to pile everyone into the van than to stay at home and play referee, but how did she get Marcus to come?” I tied the skates together and strung them around my neck.
“I bet he went over to our house looking for you.” Josh finished tying his shoes, stood, and went to get Leopold.
I fondled the dog’s ears, and he looked up at me with a loving gaze as if he knew and understood I had recently saved his life. I closed my eyes against the rush of memories. The Creature of the Chasm, the lies, the monster crashing the Winter Formal dance…
“Evie? You ready?” Josh asked.
I shook my head as if I could clear it of the unhappy memories…but were they memories? Delusions? A dream? A psychotic break?
“It’s kind of far, isn’t it?” I asked, taking Josh’s hand.
“I know a short-cut.” His steps slowed. “Unless…”
“Well, maybe you don’t want to go that way.”
“Why not?”
“We have to go through the Chasm State Park.”
“Oh.” A tremor shook through me. “That’s okay.” It was, right? I should be able to walk through The Creature of the Chasm State the daylight…with Josh, not to mention Leopold. Nothing, no one, could hurt me…again. I held Josh’s hand a smidge tighter.
Under the canopy of trees, a light dusting of snow lay on the ground. As we moved deeper into the woods, the sound of the cars on the highway, or the buzz of civilization, faded into stillness, amplifying the crunch of our shoes on fallen leaves and twigs. The last time I’d been here it’d been close to midnight. I remembered the dark night, the stillness, but little else.
As we walked, Josh talked about his hopes for a scholarship and the colleges he wanted to attend. I listened with a sick heart, knowing I should be excited for him, but the thought of being left behind, again, hurt.
“I’d love to go to California,” he said.
“Mmm,” I replied.
“I mean, I haven’t ever been further west than Chicago. You’ve been to India!”
“I’m not sure if they have football in India. I don’t think there’s room.”
He grinned and elbowed me.
I tried to smile. “I’m serious. How many players are allowed on a football field at a time?”
“Eleven for each team, or twenty-two.”
“And how big is a football field?”
“A hundred and ten yards.”
“And there’s about a zillion people in India. You do the math.”
Josh laughed.
“I’m serious. You do not want to go to India.”
He cut me a sideways glance. “Do you want to go to Washington with your dad?” he asked.
“That’s not going to happen.”
Josh dropped my hand and draped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me close. I inhaled his warm scent. Then I froze.
“What’s the matter?” Josh asked.
We’d come to the main entrance of the park. A large wooden sign stood by the guard gate, reading, Welcome to the Chasm State Park.
 “It’s The Creature of the Chasm State Park,” I whispered.
“What?” Josh asked. He tried to nudge me forward, but my feet stayed planted as if I’d taken root.
“It’s The Creature of the Chasm State Park,” I repeated, my voice more resolute. “Or at least, it used to be.”
Josh shook his head. “No, Evie. Technically, I’ve lived here longer than you and it’s always been just the Chasm State Park.”
“No, Josh!” Panic tinged my voice. “It was The Creature of the Chasm State Park! When I came here last week, it was definitely The Creature of the Chasm State Park!”
Josh looked as if he didn’t know what to do with me. Even Leopold sat back on his haunches and cocked his head as if he was trying to read me, but couldn’t.
I spotted Mrs. Cleary’s cottage and hurried toward it. My steps faltered as I drew near. Where were the Christmas lights Josh had hung just last week? Where was the wreath on the door? Where was the Christmas tree?
I ran, conscious of Josh and Leopold tagging after me. Bolting up the steps, I pounded on Mrs. Cleary’s door. Maybe she could answer some questions. After all, she was the one who had first told me the story of The Creature of the Chasm.
Relief zipped through me when old Mrs. Cleary opened the door. She was tiny, frail, with skin nearly as gray as her hair. I sagged into her arms.
“Goodness, child.” Mrs. Cleary patted my back. “What’s the matter?”
I took a step away, but Mrs. Cleary waved us inside. With the curtains drawn and the fireplace roaring, her living room with its 1970s furniture felt like a furnace.
Josh fumbled with Leopold’s leash while questions poured from me.
“Where’s your Christmas tree?” I demanded. “And the lights? When did they change the name of the state park?”
Mrs. Cleary laughed and held up her hands like she was a lion tamer and I was a wild animal at a circus. “Now, sweetie, hold on…one thing at a time.” Taking my arm, she steered me to her sofa. I sank on to it. My breath came out in ragged huffs, making my ribs hurt.
“The last time I was here, you told me a story about The Creature of the Chasm,” I said.
Mrs. Cleary studied me through her thick glasses. “Well, now…I don’t rightly remember that.” She gave Josh a quick look.
“You did!” I launched into the story, hoping to jog her memory. “There were Haddish and Amelia, and Haddish loved Amelia so much he carried her down into the chasm. But Agatha, Amelia’s mom, was a really powerful witch…”
“Evie,” Josh sat down beside me, “we should go.”
“No, Josh! You don’t get it.”
He cast a worried glance at Mrs. Cleary. She looked upset and confused.
“Maybe she’d like some cookies and some warm milk,” Mrs. Cleary said, as if I wasn’t sitting right in front of her.
“I don’t think that will help,” Josh said, probably remembering her rock hard cookies as well as I did.
I twisted so I faced Josh and laced my voice with determination. “The last time I was here she told me—”
“I’m s-s-o ss-sorry,” Mrs. Cleary stuttered over her words. “I’ve gotten so forgetful.” She laughed, but it sounded more brittle than happy. “I wouldn’t be able to find my dog if he wasn’t so huge.”
“Let’s go, Evie,” Josh said, standing, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet.
“But Josh!”
Josh shook his head and propelled me out the door. “Happy Shopping Day,” he said to Mrs. Cleary over his shoulder.
“Thank you for walking Leopold,” Mrs. Cleary called after us. “Come back again. I still have those cookies!”
I refused to be budged off the porch. “What is Shopping Day?”
“What is your problem?” Josh asked. “You were upsetting Mrs. Cleary.” He glanced in her window, took my arm and practically carried me off the porch. “She’s a little old lady, recently widowed. Geez, Evie.”
I stumbled after him, remorseful about upsetting Mrs. Cleary, but also feeling my own upsetting ramping up and up. “What’s Shopping Day?”
“What’s Shopping Day? Are you serious?”
I swallowed. “What’s today?”
“It’s December 23rd.”
“December 23rd,” I repeated. “Two days until Christmas. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.”
Josh didn’t say anything but continued gripping my arm and marching me down the street. We turned into the state park.
“Tomorrow night, will you go with me to St. Mark’s?” I asked.
“St. who?”
“St. Mark’s, you know, it’s the oldest building in town.”
He still looked blank.
“It’s the chapel next to the town green.”
Relief showed on his face. “Why do you want to go there?”
“For Midnight Mass.” I blinked back tears, but managed to hold my voice steady. “Your family goes there every year.”
“Midnight Mass?”
“Yes, there’s candles, and a choir, and…” I broke down in tears.
“Evie, don’t,” Josh said, turning and taking me in his arms. “Please don’t cry.”
“Josh, what’s going on?” I mumbled into his shirt.
“I don’t know.” He held me, letting me cry. “I should take you home.” He pulled away and wiped my tears with his thumb. “Listen, you have to pull it together. If your dad sees you like this…”
I nodded, following his train of thought. “He’ll make me live with him and Maria.” I swallowed audibly. “Uncle Mitch is my legal guardian.”
“Yeah, but we both know that only happened so he could sign school release forms. If your dad thought you needed to come and live with him, Mitch would be sad, but he wouldn’t fight it. Not if he thought it was best for you.”
I nodded and blinked through my tears at Josh.
He cradled my face in his hands and kissed my forehead. “You gonna be okay?”

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