READ CHAPTER TWO
Gray Witch, Good Witch: The Craft of Vengeance (Manberry Witches Book 3)
I jolt to my feet, spinning in a circle as I struggle to remember where I am. The guns. The escape. My hands shake as the rush of memories and emotions hit me. I must have fallen asleep by the banked fire.
Coughs come from inside the trailer, which must be what woke me, and I stumble back inside to check on Hattie.
Even though the nights are still warm, she lies curled in a ball, shivering. Her forehead is warm to the touch, and I berate myself for not finding fresh herbs to make the medicine.
“I’ll take care of it,” I tell her as I cover her up with the quilt I find folded at the end of the bed.
Once Hattie’s tucked in, my hand dips to the keys in my pocket.
She needs fresh herbs, like what we grow in the garden back at the house. But is it safe to return there so soon after escaping? Has it been long enough for the dark witches to have taken what they came for and left? Did my mom’s spell work to bring down the house? Maybe everyone who attacked my family is dead, just like the guy I killed in the library.
Hattie coughs again, firming my resolve. If I’m careful, it will be okay. I’ll run at the first sign of danger.
The sun peaks over the top the mountain, heralding in the new day with soft pink skies. Nature doesn’t care for the horrors of the night as birds sing to welcome the dawn.
Please let me find someone alive. I know I’ve not been the best witch or daughter, but if someone is alive, I’ll spend every waking moment being the best witch ever.
My vow falls on deaf ears as I climb back into the truck. The old motor makes a loud grinding sound but, eventually, turns over.
The path down to the road isn’t any easier to traverse in the daylight. When I reach the main road, I stop, put the truck in park, and climb out to tie my string around a tree branch. I’ll need the reminder of where to turn when I come back. Otherwise, I could drive for miles without realizing I’ve missed it.
Instead of driving directly onto the property, I decide to use the path I used when Donovan dropped me off. My heart breaks a little, knowing I won’t ever get to see him again. My new purpose in life is to dedicate myself to my craft, or my *new* craft, since I hope Hattie teaches me something not in the study guides we used in class.
Driving becomes easier the longer I do it. What felt like hours last night feels like only a few minutes. My hands don’t hurt as bad from gripping the steering wheel as I become more confident the truck won’t decide to drive itself.
I turn the truck into the housing development on the opposite side of the woods from my family’s land. Driving through the neighborhood, I find a house with a for sale sign out front and park at the curb between this house’s driveway and the one that neighbors it.
Climbing out of the truck, I slip the key into my pocket, lock the door, then shut it tight. It’s unlikely anyone will want to steal this old thing, but I don’t want to risk it. It’s my only means of transportation back to Hattie.
The trek to the house takes me about an hour. The forest feels different, empty, like all the life was pulled from it. Which, I guess, it was. That life was transferred to me during the fight—no *slaughter* at my home. I swear I’ll bring life back to this place. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to bring back a coven like my family held for centuries, but I’ll do what I can to make my mom proud.
As I near the house, I slow and second guess my decision. What if the dark witches are still here? What if they’ve put up traps to catch me? My magic isn’t strong enough to detect anything until it’s too late.
With the house getting closer, I sneak along the perimeter, trying to catch glimpses of people or cars. So far, it’s eerily quiet, the calls of birds and the chitter of the small animals missing. Even the air is stale, with no wind disturbing the tall trees.
Heart pounding, I rush across the main drive and make my way to the far path where my hideout is. I don’t keep anything there, but it will offer me a place to take a short break.
Slipping through the fallen branches, I find the fireweed garland Henry hung for me still in place. Fresh realization of what I lost slams into me, and my knees buckle with a fresh wash of grief. Sinking to the ground, I bury my face in my hands.
“This shouldn’t have happened to you.” My cries fill the space, and I have to push my face harder into my hands to muffle the sound.
Uncontrollable shakes fill my body as I drop all the way to the ground, and I curl into a ball as memories of my little brother fill my mind. Henry’s sweet face and mischievous smile haunt me. His laughter tickles my mind as I remember him running through Grandma’s flower beds. My mom would scold him if she saw him, but my grandmother just laughed. She and Henry were so much alike, free spirits that loved to laugh and play.
That was, until Henry had a serious moment, like when he knocked over the fresh milk when he climbed on the counter to fetch a glass. He went to find me immediately to help with his plan to clean up the milk and get more from one of the cows we kept in the old barn. He made such a mess while trying to wipe up the milk that Mom found dried milk in random places for weeks after the incident.
Despite my heartbreak, I can’t help but smile for my little brother. Even when he got into mischief, he brought joy to my life, some of the only happiness I felt most days.
I let the tears flow down across my nose and down my cheeks, just to fall to the hard, dirt ground. My mind plays all the moments on a loop, and I force myself to watch each one, committing them to memory since that’s all I have left.
Eventually, I shake myself out of the despair and sit up. With as much as I miss my family, Hattie is still alive and needs my help. About to stand, something white catches my attention. The note Henry wrote when he hung the flowers. My hand shakes as I pick it up, but I can’t bring myself to read it right now. I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish my mission here if I do more than pick it up.
Standing, I start to put the folded note in my pocket but stop. The magenta flowers of the fireweed garland hang a few inches over my head. I pick a few of them, then press them into the folded letter. Although the dried flowers can still be used for medicine, these will always be a special reminder of what I lost, and the path I must now walk.
Calmer now, I slip back through the fallen branches, then come up short at the sight of a little, white kitten sitting sentinel by the entrance.
Her soft mewls call to me, and my heart breaks again as I bend to scoop up the small creature, snuggling her to me. Unlike when Henry and I found her trapped in the brambles, where she fought both of us from being held, she allows me to cuddle her to my chest.
“You’re coming with me,” I tell her. “I’m going to call you Magenta, after the fireweed flowers, or maybe just Maggie.” With one hand under her haunches and one between her front legs, I hold her in front of me to talk to her. “What do you think?”
I may be going crazy, but I swear the kitten understands as she tries to snuggle back against me. I place her on my shoulder, where she hunches down, her tiny, needle claws digging into my sweater. After making sure she won’t fall, I make my way toward the house. The kitten is a good sign that things may not go as badly as they normally do for me.
Sticking to the wooded area, I make my way around the yard. The house is still standing, and light still shines from the windows. I pause, still hidden in the tress, and watch the house for signs of life, good or bad. No cars sit in the drive, which has to be a good sign because that’s how the invaders came here. Unless they were expecting people to escape, then return, they wouldn’t hide.
When I creep into the garden, my eyes skitter away from the last place I saw Henry. My chest constricts, more tears welling up, but I push forward as I focus on helping Hattie. The fresh herb beds lay crushed, and the smell of banked fire fills my nose. They had destroyed even this part of my home.
When I reach the tree that grows outside my bedroom window, I swiftly climb the branches, muscle memory kicking in. Maggie clings to my shoulder, her tiny claws digging into my shirt, but the pain keeps my grounded.
The long branch that keeps me up at night when it scrapes across my window provides a strong bridge to the house. I slip my fingers down the side of the window until I reach the bottom, then inch the window open. Before this week, I never felt threatened in my home, so I always left my windows unlocked.
With a deep breath, I crawl through the window. My room looks the same as it did yesterday, but like the property, the house and this room feel lifeless. I never noticed the warmth the house held until it was stripped away.
From under my bed, I pull out two old backpacks as well as a duffle bag. Dumping my old dolls onto the floor, I kick them back under the bed in case someone investigates later. Rushing to my dresser, I pull out a variety of warm and cold clothes and underwear. I shove my shower bag into the duffle with the clothes, then snatch my tennis shoes, work boots, and old tennis shoes from my shoe rack.
After taking my meager savings from my desk drawer, I move to my bedroom door. Adrenaline pumps through my veins, and I lean against the wall and take a few deep breaths. My hand shakes as I crack the door open and peer into the sunlit hallway. No one waits for me, so I strain to hear any sounds, which may indicate people are still in the house.
Once I’m confident that no one is around, I tiptoe down the hall, peeking into the other rooms and whispering words of encouragement for people to come out of hiding. Some rooms have dried blood on the beds and floors, and I quickly shut those doors, moving on to the next room. In the top two levels of the house, no survivors appear.
When I reach my mom’s room, I confidently step inside. She was downstairs when the attackers arrived, so I know it should be empty. I’m not prepared for the mess, though. Clothes, books, shoes, drawers, and linens haphazardly lay on the floor, and the bed lays stripped and cut open, bleeding out foam and springs. Someone ransacked the place. Without knowing what they searched for, though, I have no way to know if they found it.
My grandmother’s room looks similar to Mom’s, so I skip it and move to Hattie’s room. I’ve only been in the room once since she moved in because she liked to keep to herself. The door is locked, which surprises me. Why would they search the other rooms, but leave hers untouched?
A firm twist on the knob and a little magic opens the door smoothly.
The room looks like it did when I was in here last, with everything neatly stacked on shelves and her bed made with the blanket tucked tightly under the mattress. I walk to her dresser and dump clothes and underwear into the duffle that already holds my clothes, then grab two pairs of boots for her. Objects of different shapes and sizes line the shelves, but I don’t know what she might want or need, or even if they hold any significance for her. The bag is getting full, though, so I leave the trinkets where they are and walk out of the room, closing and locking the door behind me.
At the top of stairs to the main level, I stop and listen. Again, silence greets me. It doesn’t mean there isn’t someone down there, but they aren’t doing anything that would alert me to their presence. I really wish I learned more magic. I should be able to detect these things by now.
I slowly take the steps down, sticking to the edge of the worn, wooden stairs, avoiding the creaks that come with old houses. At the bottom, I check both ways and find my path clear. No one, not even the dead bodies, seems to be around.
My mom’s office is the first room I come to, and my gut clenches when I see that the door has been ripped off its hinges. Scorch marks mar the walls, and everything from her desk and shelves are either missing or in pieces on the floor.
In random spots, the shelves have been ripped away from the walls, leaving gouges in the drywall behind it. They were probably looking for the grimoires, which are kept in the vault in the library.
Before leaving my mom’s office, I push her desk chair aside and magically unlock the secret panel on the inside of her desk. There, I take the money she refuses to put into a bank as well as some of the other paperwork. I don’t know what it all is, but I can look through it later. The money should help Hattie and me with anything we need that we can’t grow or collect ourselves.
Knowing I need to hurry, I rush toward the library.
More scorch marks color the walls, but as Hattie reminded me, the house would protect itself. Is it burn proof? I’ll have to ask Hattie when I get back.
The library looks much like my mom’s office did. Someone threw all the books onto the ground and took the time to rip off the shelves in hopes of finding the vault. I know exactly where to go to access it. I’ve been here too many time, trying to hide the dark grimoire that stalks me.
The vault is accessed through the floor. I slip my finger under one of the bookshelves and unlock the panel. Others have to perform a magic ritual to open the door, but it works for me without any additional magic needed. Once the panel opens, I take the steps down to the cellar-like room. All of my family grimoires and artifacts are stored here.
Setting the full duffle on the ground and placing Maggie on top of it, I pull out the first of the backpacks and fill it, then move to the second one and do the same. Both packs are incredibly heavy, but the burden is worth it to know these are safe.
I slide one backpack on the right way, then I put the other one on backward, so it rests over my stomach. Once those are secured, I put the strap of the duffle over my neck and let it hang down my left side. The added weight on top of the backpacks almost knocks me over, but I manage to stay upright.
Last, I place Maggie back on my shoulder, then make the much more difficult climb back up through the library, peeking into the room before fully climbing out. This would be the time someone would want to kill me because I’m able to retrieve what they couldn’t.
But the house remains silent.
With the coast clear, I head for my original main goal, the kitchen. I need to collect the fresh herbs there to help Hattie.
When I slip through the door into the kitchen, my mouth drops open. Knives stick out of the white cabinet doors, and the pots that hung from the ceiling lay in piles around the room. The industrial refrigerator lies on the ground with the doors pinned to the oak floors. It looks like a tornado hit it.
Making my way through the debris, I go to the pantry.
Inside, only bare shelves remain. The herbs I need most are missing.
Disheartened, I return to the kitchen to grab a few odds and ends. The tiny trailer may have everything we need, but it can’t hurt to bring back more. Although, I can’t take much since I’m already weighed down.
Just as I shove the last of the knives I pulled out of the cabinet into the duffle, I hear the sound of car engines coming from outside.
Running to the window, I see two cars rolling up to the front of the house.
Without another thought, I grab Maggie, tuck her into the side of the front backpack’s pocket, and rush to the back door, fleeing into the early morning light.
I don’t stop to look behind me until I’m safely back in the woods.
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