Tuesday, 08 March 2022 01:00

Birds of a Feather (Jordan Winters 3)

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Jordan Winters 3

Birds of a Feather

By Bek D Corbin
Edited by Steve Zink

 

"Mister Winters, what is that lock doing on your locker?"  Miz Sorensen pointed at the extra-large padlock that I'd put there.

"Uhm, why does anybody put a lock on anything?  To keep it safe."

She gave me the cold fish-eye.  Since Mom had stopped using that stupid perfume at the School Board meetings, things had settled down considerably, but Miz Sorensen still makes it a point of pride not to be 'intimidated' by the son of one of her superiors.  Which means that while she ain't after my scalp anymore, she still doesn't take any guff offa me.  "Oh, is there something in your locker that you think is in danger of being stolen?"

"No, not really.  But I'm really tired of asking the custodian to cut off locks that I didn't put there.  If I put this lock here first, nobody can slap one of their own on it.  This saves a lot of time and effort for everyone."

"Open it up."

"Why?"

"I have information that you have illegal substances in your locker."

Now, I don't do drugs, and I'm pretty sure that my lock scuppered any plans to plant any bags of oregano, but I do have my girlie-outfit for after school in there.  And that could be even worse for me than finding a phial of crack.  "I hope you have a search warrant."

"I don't need one.  The school is public property, and so is this locker.  Indeed, according to the Safe Schools policy, you have to get prior written permission to put on this lock, which you don't have.  Now, are you going to open it, Mister Winters, or do I get the custodian to cut it off?"

Actually, the 'Safe Schools' policy only counts in Michigan, not Massachusetts (hey, when you're the kid of a School Board member, you pick up on  these things), but I knew that arguing the point would only give Sorensen ammunition to use against Mom.  If anything, by letting her search, I set up a counter-arguement of unreasonable search and harrassment.  I opened up, and handed her my backpack.  As she took it, I did a really quick Glamour on it, giving her the impression that my girlie-stuff was only gym clothes - and kinda funky smelling gym clothes at that.  Man, doing a Glamour on the fly like that is tiring!  Double tuna salad sandwiches for me at lunch!

She dug around in my locker for a while, and found nothing.  Not wanting to go to all this trouble for nothing, she grabbed a bunch of comic books in my locker.  "I'm confiscating these."

"Why?  You specifically said that you were searching for - quote - Illegal Substances - unquote.  Since when are comic books 'illegal substances'?"

"Comic books are not allowed in class."

"This ISN'T Class!  It's my locker!  Those are personal private property!"

"You can get them back at the end of the year."

"It's gonna take you that long to read 'em?"

She sniffed imperiously and held out a hand.  "Hand over the lock.  If combinations are good enough for everyone else, they'll have to be good enough for you."  She blithely ignored the fact that there were at least five locks on that bank of lockers alone.

I felt a Sorcery cord connected with this.  Now, Sorcery isn't my big thing, but even I can't screw up something as simple as following it back to its source.  The source was Julia 'thinks-her-shit-don't-stink' Dunaway, the school's Bitch-Queen in training.  As I came down the hall, she and her 'court' of ass-kissers started giggling among themselves.  The bitch must pay.

But, Julia Dunaway is one of those charmed people who seem to just skip merrily along through life unaffected by anything so crass as consequences.  Somehow, she never leaves herself open for her long-overdue payback, either in a mundane or magical way.  Believe me, if she had, she woulda been road kill long ago.

I got my lock back - and swiped back my comic books - during Third Period.  I had to get the custodian to cut off the lock that somebody had put on my locker, keeping me away from my books.

One thing about being the 'Designated Victim', you learn to keep improvising.  Cole Pesloe and his buddies felt that they weren't getting to pound on me enough, so they'd started staying after school in hopes of getting the jump on me.  I placed a minor Glamour on a member of the Girl's Soccer team so that Cole and his buddies would get the impression that they were following me.  As I peddaled off on my bike, I heard loud screams coming from the Girl's locker room, and saw the Girl's Coach hurry to save the Pesloe swarm from being kicked to death.

Another thing about being the 'Designated Victim' - you don't have any real friends.  I mean, you sort of still have the old friends that you used to have, but if you're a real friend, you keep your distance for their sake.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself.  So, I've come to really depend on Griff and his pack for company, even if I have to spell myself up as a girl when I hang with them.  Or is that another perk?  Of course, that assumes that you can find them when you want them.  I wasn't having much luck that afternoon.  Maybe they got detention for something.  There was no sign of 'Buck' Washburne or his buddies, either, Thank You, Lord and Lady.  Maybe Griff and Buck got in a fight or something?  Or maybe they just decided to go to one of their houses and play video games.  No way to tell.

But Hey!  I'm out from under the Fool's Cap for a few hours, and I'm out as a pretty girl on a beautiful spring day!  It's still good.  I strolled down the streets of Old Town, checking out the shops and trying to get that lighter-than-air feeling that I'd had that first day.  When I got around to the comic book store, I decided to check it out, even though the new comics wouldn't be in for a few weeks.

On a whim, I checked out one of the independent black & white comics.  <Ick!> I can understand wanting to break out of the limitations of the mainstream comics, but really!  Laying on the angst with a trowel doesn't make up for skimpy plotting, stilted dialogue or choppy art!  I skipped through to the end of the book.  The 'hero' stands in the wreckage of what had been a city, surrounded by the dead and dying - mostly through his actions, and he makes a long-winded self-pitying speech that the original Star Trek would have dumped as preachy.  I carefully put the comic back on the shelf; I didn't want to damage it, 'cause Louie the store owner has a 'you break it, you bought it' policy.  And I don't wanna waste my money on that!

Suddenly, I became aware of a black girl, about my age, standing at my elbow.  She looked at the comic book and nodded toward it.  "Any good?"

I curled my lip and went into my nastiest 'Rex Reed, Critic' impression.  I ended with a Gene Siskel thumbs down.

"Eyeewww!  That bad?"

"Somebody once said that 'Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public'.  I hope these yoyos prove that guy wrong."

"Maybe.  But this is Issue #7."

"We can only hope that it never sees Issue #10."

Her curiosity peaked, she reached over and picked up the comic.  She leafed through it, screwed up her face at what she read, and carefully put it back on the shelf.  "I didn't believe it, but you were right - that sucked!"

We did a little 'Siskel & Ebert' ragging on the comic, and drifted over the other titles.  We paused briefly at the Archie series comics.  We looked at each other.  "Guilty pleasure?"

She nodded, and we each picked up a handful of them, hoping that no one would notice.  As we walked out of the comics store, we started chattering away.  I've always wanted to do that, just talking away full speed, going everywhere and nowhere.  I mean, Griff and I chat, but it's a whole different trip with a guy.  Her name was Jasmine, and she was new in town.  I immediately shortened her name to Jazz, which I think she liked.  She really liked AEGISLady Lightning, and Tigress, but thought that Power Woman badly needed a new writer - and artist - and inker - and a new central character wouldn't hurt. either.  I was wondering if she liked Role Playing Games - hey, a girl can dream, can't she? - and trying to figure out how to ask, when we came to the Soda Fountainbleu.  Suddenly, I heard a frilly parfait thingie calling me, so I dragged Jazz in.  Apparently, she'd never had one of the Fountainbleu's frilly parfait thingies.

"You'd better start with the Strawberry Frappe Fantasy."

"Why?  What about this Chocolate Decadence Overload thing?"

"No, no, Glath-hoppah, you must begin simply, and climb the ladder of scrumdilliciousness to the Chocolate Decadence Overload.  If you start with the Overload, then you are merely working down to the simplicity of the Frappe Fantasy."  Jazz aahhed, and bowed before my Zen wisdom.

As we dug in, I got a chance to check her out more completely.  She was about my height, and I'd bet good money that we were in the same year, though obviously not the same school.  Oh, God, this could cause some real problems, if she was going to enroll soon at Morris Hann!  I carefully avoided asking which school she was going to.  She was about an inch or so taller than I was, and she wore her hair straightened down and swept down her back to the nape of her neck.  She had one of those diamond shaped faces, with those great cheekbones that only black chicks can get away with, and a pointy chin.  Her skin was the color of bittersweet chocolate and absolutely flawless.  She had a long straight nose and a broad mouth that telegraphed every nuance of what she was feeling.  She had a nice enough figure for a fifteen-year-old - wait another year for the boob thing to kick in, and she was gonna be a knockout!

In this town, a black chick who looks like she does ain't gonna stay 'single' very long.  I just had to get her together with JayDee.  JayDee's an absolute sweetheart, A-One boyfriend material, and besides, he could use a break in the girlfriend department.  I mean, how much fifth-wheel, odd-man-out can a guy stand?

We chattered on for a while - I forget what we talked about; the topic wasn't important, it was the sharing.  Then, Griff, Lex and Stew walked in.  I waved them over, and we shuffled around a bit, so that Griff was sitting next to me, and Jazz was between Lex and Stew on the other side of the booth.  "Hey, guys, this is Jazz.  She's new in town, and I was hoping to see to it that she didn't start mixing with riff-raff.  So leave."  But I ended with a grin, so there were no hard feelings.  I introduced the guys, and snuggled up next to Griff, to reinforce the suggestion that he was mine, so don't poach on my man, girl!  Jazz didn't mind - she was getting all the focused guy appreciation that she needed, what with Lex on one side of her, and Stew on the other.

I looked around.  "So, where's JayDee?"

Lex shrugged.  "Dunno.  He said that he was gonna be working on a project for a while, and that he might not be around that much for a coupla weeks."

Damn.  "_Oh_.  Did he say what kind of project is was?"

"He said that it was some kind of 'family heritage' project or sumthin'.  Lookin' up old Family Trees or like that."

Double Damn!

Then Paris and Della showed up, and the party moved from the booth to a table with more room.  Oh well, at least in the process, I managed to get Lex to spring for frilly parfait thingies for all the girls.  The conversation then went in all different directions, so I stopped trying to lay any groundwork for JayDee and Jazz getting together, and just got lost in the babble.  As I finished my Butterscotch Highland Fling, Paris announced that she was going to the 'Powder Room', and dragooned me into going with her.

Once in the powder room, we got down to brass tacks, chick-style.  Again, I will spare you the 'subtitles'.  Paris wasn't happy that I'd more or less brought another girl into the circle, let alone a black girl who might be competition for her with Lex.  I responded that I'd just met Jazz, and was in the process of getting to know her when the guys showed up.  Then I let on that I had a match between JayDee and Jazz in mind.  Paris softened up a lot with that thought.  Not only was the awkward problem of a white girl coming between a black guy and girl taken care of, but the less awkward, ongoing problem of JayDee tagging along was dealt with.  Jazz would be Lex's friend's girl; it would be tacky for her to hit on Lex.  Or vice-versa.

Paris nodded approvingly, and I was back in her good graces.  She went to the door, and gestured to Della and Jazz to come into the 'powder room'.  When we were all together, Paris casually let drop that her father was letting her have a slumber party.

Jazz raised an eyebrow.  "Slumber Party?  Is this gonna be a 'hang out in our 'jammies and make S'mores' kinda slumber party, or a 'hang out in our nightgowns and rip the guys apart' kind of slumber party?  'Cause, if it's the kind where you bring your stuffed giraffe, I think that I'm washing my hair that night."

Paris shook her head.  "Not to worry.  I'll even lock up my stuffed animal collection.  Strictly for us grown ups.  And, my mother has promised me that she'll keep my father out at a restaraunt until at least 11."

Hmmm...  Slumber party.  This could pose a few problems.  "What night is it gonna be, Paris?"

"Friday."

Okay, a possiblity, but I'd best hedge my bets.  "Nnnggg...  I dunno.  My parents are keeping me on a pretty short leash these days.  The Vice Principal hates me.  I'm not sure if I can make a stay-all-night party."

Paris got a worried look.  "Please, Jordan.  I really, really want you to come."  Hunh?  I didn't think that Paris was that fond of me!  "Y'see, this girl from the far side of town kinda invited herself and her bud, I'm gonna want a kinda posse of my own at my back while she's there."

I looked at Della, who nodded eagerly.  "Damn Right!  This bitch is a real barracuda!  And you showed that you got guts at that last party!"

Now, how can I refuse that?  <pfew!> "Hokay, but I may not be able to stay all night.  My Mom will probably want me home by - oh - 10:30 or sum'thin'."

Paris gnawed on her lower lip a bit.  "Okay, we'll make sure everybody knows that you're just dropping by.  How about you, Jazz?"

Jazz raised her eyebrows.  "You want me to come to your PeeJay party?  You barely know me!"

"Hey, you know a better way to get to know somebody, than to do their toenails?"  Besides, the more girls at this shindig who weren't on this other girl's side, the more there would be more or less on Paris' side.  It also struck me that Paris might think that if Jazz got to know her as a friend, that she wouldn't be so quick to snaffle her boyfriend.  Yes indeed, our girl Paris definitely plays the social game for keeps.

Della nudged Paris.  "We'd better get back, before the guys start chewing on the table!"

No, they weren't gnawing on the furniture when we got back, though I swear that there were a few teethmarks on the napkin dispenser.  We goofed around for another hour or so, and then I had to get back to help with dinner.

Griff walked me to the streetcar, as usual.  "So, Griff - what do you think of Jazz?"

"Cute.  Definitely cute."

"Cuter'n Me?"

"Hell, yeah!"  I swatted him with a fist.  He reached around and pulled me next to him.  I leaned against him and felt all gooshy.

"Y'think that JayDee might like her?"

"Yeah, sure I don't see why - Oh.  Oh, no.  You're not thinking about playing matchmaker, are you?"

"Oh, Please!  You make it sound like I'm setting him up for a Murder rap!  I was just thinking that JayDee always looks so lonely, sitting there by himself.  I mean, Lex has Paris, Stew seems to get along pretty well with Della, You - well, let's not get into that - and then there's poor JayDee, tagging along like somebody's kid brother.  Like I don't get enough of that with my own kid brothers!  So, along comes Jazz - how perfect is That?  What, does GOD have to reach down and push these two together?"

Griff shrugged his shoulders.  "Maybe.  At least, it wouldn't hurt to get them together and see what happens.  But no 'I Love Lucy' hare-brained schemes, y'unnerstand?"

"Oh, Rickieeee!  Waaaahhhh!"

Griff was doing a truly lamentable 'Rickie Ricardo' impression when we got to the streetcar stop.  I could hear the streetcar bell around the corner.  I looked up at him, eager for my good-bye kiss.  He didn't disappoint me.  It wasn't that first kiss, but it's getting to that point where it's getting better with practice.

Y'know, it is getting to be a real drag (no pun intended), changing back into my guy mode to go back home.  If nothing else, I keep expecting that idiot Reese Aubrey to do something sneaky that wouldn't technically fall under the trigger conditions for the hex I put on him.  As a matter of fact, Reese hasn't tried anything in the way of figuring out how to unhex himself.  And that worries me.

As I was peddaling back home, I ran into the Dad driving his county pick-up truck.  He stopped, I stashed my bike in the back, and we drove off.

"So, Dan, I hear from your mother that you're running around with a new crowd."

"Yeah.  Did Mom fill you in on the Fool's Cap?"

"Sorta.  Sounds like a hexed up version of what happens in every school that I've ever heard of."

"Mebbe.  But because of that stupid Fool's Cap, what friends I've still got at Horace Mann, haveta do it on the sly, or they'll catch a whole lotta sh- stuff for it."

"If they really were your friends, they'd stand by you no matter what."

"Yeah, but if I was really their friend, I wouldn't ask them to."

We drove on for a while then in silence.  "Dad?  Speaking of these new friends, I've been invited to a sleep-over this Friday."

"Sleepover?  Aren't you a little old to be going to be sleeping in a tent in somebody's backyard?"

"Maybe.  But still-"

"You want to fit in somewhere, right?"

"Kinda.  And leaving so's I'll be home in time for beddy-bye will look really dorky."

"Well, we can't have that!  I'll talk to your mother about it."

When we asked the Mom about it, she raised a skeptical eyebrow.  "There aren't going to be any girls at this sleepover, are there?  You're still way too young to be getting into that kind of nonsense."  For a 16th generation Witch, Mom can be pretty straight-laced.

"It is most definitely not a Coed party, Mom."  I assumed the Boy Scout Oath taking stance.  Technically, not a lie, either in the Word or the Spirit; just not in the same way for both.  The Mom said okay, and there was much rejoicing in the land.  Well, in my room at least, and that's what counts.

For once, rummaging around through Mom's stash of vintage clothes in the attic didn't turn up anything that I could use.  It was all either funky old maternity clothes with 'Bun in the Oven' written on it, or lacey scandalous stuff that would explain why she had so much maternity clothing.  So, I raided Dad's stuff and found an old New England Pats jersey that would do the trick.  I thought about taking along a teddy bear - for about a split second.  Since I don't have any sisters, all that I know about slumber parties is what I've seen on TV and Movies; and I am not stupid enough to take that seriously!  But at 15 and change, these girls are definitely going to at least try to be cool enough to leave Mr. Fuzzy at home!

When the Great Day rolled around, I pulled a sidestep on the Mom, leaving the front door with a duffel full of manly camping gear, and then doubling back to stash it in the cellar and pick up the overnight case full of girlygear.  I did my quick change, then bicycled into town and met Jazz in front of the record store.  Jazz was really psyched to be going; her mom must not let her out much.

Jazz unwittingly helped me get into character by chattering along at 100 mph all the way to Paris'.  By the time we got there, I was pretty much in giddy girl mode.  Paris' mother let us in and showed us up to Paris' room.  Mister Ashbroom was nowhere to be seen - I guess that he decided that a slumber party wasn’t dangerous enough to warrant his being there, but noisy enough to make being there a bad idea.  Missus Ashbroom was a trim woman in what I'd say was her early middle age, with short dark hair and delicate features.  They say that you can see a woman's future in her mother - I'd say that Paris doesn't have that much to worry about.  She opened the door to Paris' room and said in an announcer's voice, "Let's get ready to rumpus!"

Paris made like she was embarrassed, and we got down to the serious business of mature slumber partying.  Besides Jazz, Paris, Della and (of course) Me, there were three other girls there, named Mindy, Rebecca and Lindsay.  So far, it looked pretty good natured.  Jazz got settled in, and I pulled Paris off to the side.  "So, which one is the girl that you were so worried about?"

"She hasn't shown up yet.  I just thought-"

"Oh, mobbing up on her?  Is she that bad?"

"She's s'pozed to be some kind of barracuda with a chainsaw."

"So, what's she doing sniffing around here?"

"I'm not sure - I just get this feeling like a Great White Shark showed up in my swimming pool when she smiles at me."

The slumber party continued.  I won't elaborate; it was a slumber party, use your imagination.  No, no, leave the whips and chains and latex out of it!  It went on for about an hour, when we heard the doorbell.  Paris scampered down to the front door, and came back a few minutes later.  Behind her were Julia 'God-have-mercy-on-us-all' Dunaway and her two primary ass kissers, Gail Edgerton and Rita Hewett.  Paris had said that the Junior Achievement Bitch Queen had invited herself and a bud over - obviously, Julia was making a power play by hauling along another uninvited guest.  It was going to be one of those parties.

Mind you, it had been a nice, reasonably mindless slumber party up to that point.  But from then on, it had all the cozy friendliness of a session of Russ McLaughlin's Round Table.  Julia breezed in, and immediately started woofing at Paris.

Woofing?  Well, I don't know what they call it around where you come from.  The closest to it that I've heard on the toob would be 'trash talk'.  But it's more than that.  It's called 'woofing' 'cause this jerk comes up and starts making angry noises at you that don't make any sense when you stop and think about them.  It's like a dog barking; hence the name.  Facts, proportion, perspective, cause & effect, sequence, and sanity don't have anything to do with it - the point is that the aforementioned jerk is dumping a lot of angry vibes at you, and won't let you get a word in edgewise.  Even if you do manage to defend yourself, they just change the subject, or lie about what they just said, or do anything they can to derail the logic process.  Anything, as long as they keep you on the defensive and stay in control of the 'conversation' and they can say what's true and what's false.  It's very popular among Liberal activists, though Conservatives are really good at it, too.  Now, your classic 'woofing' is very straightforward in-your-face woofing; but, there is a very sneaky form of woofing, where the jerk calmly drops one outrageous lie after another in the course of a conversation, and tries to pass them off as gospel truth.  That was what Julia was trying to pull.

Now, the secret to dealing with being woofed at is to, first of all, realize that you're being woofed at and not play into their mind game.  Then you have to wait and sift through all the verbal diarrhea until the woofer drops one particularly outrageous lie and jump on it.  Then, don't let them change the topic, and work your way back through all the crappola that they've been spouting.  Get as many people who were party to the 'conversation' to back you up.  If you can keep control of that all important 'this is real and that's bogus' thing, the woofer will usually back off.

That is more or less what I did - I'll spare you the noxious details of Julia's bilge.  I managed to get the rest of the girls behind me, (well, not Gail or Rita, but that was to be expected) and completely derail Julia's woof-train.  Once Julia had effectively been muzzled, Paris managed to get control of her party back.

For the next few hours or so, the party went back to being a slumber party.  When it got seriously dark, and we were sure that Paris' parents were well and truely out of the house, the serious dishing started.  I made sure that the girls at the party said nice things about JayDee, for Jazz's sake.  Julia claimed that she and Griff had been a serious item once upon a time.  I doubt it.

And even if they were, a man's entitled to at least one mistake!

As ripping guys got old, the 'spooky stories' started.  Most of the 'spooky stories' were both pretty tame and pretty generic.  You know, 'the Phantom Hitchhiker', the 'Desperate phone call for help', and of course the 'Escaped Killer with the Claw'.  You've heard versions of them all.  And they're all pretty lame.  Among ourselves, the Wycke tell stories that would have these girls wetting their beds for a month.

Then Julia got in on the act.  She leaned forward, letting the single candle made her face all spooky, and said in a hushed voice, "You do know that a murder once happened in this very house, don't you?"  From there, she went on to tell a pretty generic murder-slash-ghost story, which ended with the 'heroine' being boarded up under one of the floors.  She wound up with, "And they say that on some nights, if you listen real hard, you can hear her scraping at the floorboards, trying to get out!"

Now that was just plain mean!  Paris has lived in this house for years and never heard a thing.  But now, sooner or later, she's gonna hear the wood in the frame or the joints squeaking, and and she'd have to be damn near superhuman not to imagine that idiot in the story scraping away.  And I know for a fact that there's never been a murder in this house - the stupid story presumed that this was the house of a rich family, and everyone knows that this was the old Durward estate groundskeepers' house.  It was just Julia 'Soul-of-a-Ferret' Dunaway, trying to get at Paris.

And the 'Master Storyteller' wasn't through, either.  "Why don't we do something to help the poor thing?"

"Like what?" Paris scoffed.  "Send money in her name to Amnesty International?  Even IF she ever existed - and I'm not saying that she did - she lived well over a hundred years ago.  What can we do to help?"

This was apparently just what Julia wanted to hear.  "We can help set her spirit Free!"  As if on cue, Gail and Rita produced some stuff from their backpacks - a red candle in the shape of a woman and a black candle in the shape of a man, a little faux Chinese incense burner, a rather wicked looking letter opener, some colored chalks, a small bag of dried herbs, and a well thumbed through paperback book of 'Witchcraft'.

As Julia started to swear up and down that the book was the real McCoy, and that she had done real witchcraft using it, I was having a hard time keeping quiet.  I was deeply torn between being mortally insulted and laughing hysterically.  So little Miss 'Bitch Queen' was trying to set herself up as a 'Witch Queen'.  Oh Wise Ones, Blessed and Bright, you all but wrapped her up for me with silvergilt paper and a big blue bow!  I mean, the rules regarding revenge state that they have to set themselves up, but please!  Turing this down would be an insult to the Gods!

As the 'three witches' set up their summoning - with lots of hasty references to the paperback - I took advantage of the darkness.  While the others were all riveted on Julia's ramshackle preparations, I quietly made my way over to Paris' dresser.  I rummaged around for a bit and found what I needed: a white gauzy scaft, a black ribbon, and a Barbie© doll.  Julia, Gail and Rita started chanting something over the smouldering incense burner.  I made sure that I was standing behind Lindsay, so no one could see what I was doing.  I wrapped Barbie up with the white scarf, and tied a hasty 'noose' around her neck with the black ribbon, to suggest Death.  Tapping into the Glamour that I store in my locket, I shaped a phantasm - a free-standing illusion - using the doll as a pattern.

As the 'ritual' headed to its climax, I sent the phantasm into the wisp of smoke coming out of the incense burner.  As Julia cried out melodramatically, "Come Forth!" I let the phantasm be seen.

One thing about Glamour - it isn't a very objective thing.  It kind of absorbs all the thoughts and feelings of everyone around it and shapes itself using those thoughts and feelings.  The phantasm started out as just a fuzzy image with only a suggestion of a female form.  Then all the fancies, fantasies and fears of all the girls there filled it, and it became sort of a blend of all their notions of what this poor trapped girl of so long ago would look like.  The room was so silent that all you could hear was our collective breathing - and even that was on hold.  Their attention was completely on the ghastly figure in the center of the ring we formed.

When I thought that Julia was sufficiently freaked, I turned the Barbie in her direction and willed the phantasm to 'reach' for her.  It did, but just as its skeletal fingers were about to ever-so-gently scrape her cheek, it turned and went straight for Paris.

Paris broke the silence by screaming.  I tried to redirect the phantasm, but it wasn't responding.  Paris backed into a corner, cringing.  The phantasm followed her.  I dropped the Barbie and kicked it under Paris' bed.  I grabbed the salt-shaker (for the popcorn that we'd popped earlier) and sent three sprays of salt at the phantasm, with a loud "Begone!  Begone!  Begone!"  With each spray of salt, I tried to disrupt the phantasm's integrity.  And, in accordance with the Rule of Three, the third attempt was the charm and it popped.

As the phantasm dissolved, Jazz hit the overhead light for the room.  Like she couldn't have done that a few seconds earlier, when it would have been some help?

Della ran over to a totally freaked Paris, hugging and holding her.  In an uncharacteristically small timid voice, Julia asked, "What just happened?"

This would not do, I thought.  I snapped at Julia, "Oh, very nice!  You come in here, pull this bullshit little prank, and now you're making like you're all innocent and like that!  Are you seriously asking us to believe that you didn't have this planned from the get-go?"

"Prank?"  The idea that she'd just been had snapped Paris out of her panic.  "You mean that was a goddam practical joke?"

Julia was caught completely flat-footed for once.  She tried to defend herself, but Paris wasn't having any of it.  Vicious practical jokes she could deal with.  The Walking Dead, no - nasty girls cracking foxy, yes.  With the rest of us backing her, she sent Julia and her crew packing into the night.  Once the three weirdo sisters were gone, we settled back into Slumber Party mode.  The next game on the schedule was, of course, figuring out how Julia had pulled that stunt.  I stayed carefully quiet.  Rebecca, God bless her, suggested a kind of Mass Hypnosis.  And why not?  It's the real reason behind most 'seances' and stuff like that.  And by the time that we bunked down for the night, the power of suggestion had most of the other girls absolutely convinced that they were the one that threw the salt, breaking the spell.  But I fell asleep trying to figure out what went wrong with that stupid phantasm.

One nice thing about being a witch - you don't need an alarm clock.  I made sure that I was the first one awake in the morning, and had the bathroom to myself.  Which I desperately needed, since the Girl-glamour dropped while I was asleep.  Man, talk about putting your face on, first thing in the morning!

Come Monday at school, I noticed something different about the Dunaway swarm.  The entire Bitch Pack was always huddled together, whispering.  None of the usual 'whispering, punctuated with snarky giggles' that meant that they were ripping somebody apart, either.

I found out what they were up to that afternoon, from a very unexpected source.  I was in the Boy's Room, taking care of business, when I felt a jog at my elbow.  I zipped up and turned to face Reese Aubrey, of all people.  More than a bit surprised, I checked the toilet.  Nobody was there, which was probably the only reason that he'd risk being seen talking to me.  I raised an eyebrow.  "You want?"

He gave me a measuring glance.  "I just found out what Julia Dunaway's crew has been up to all day.  They have a book of <snicker> 'Witchcraft."  Oh, Ho!  "They've been pouring over it all day, trying to figure out what to do next.  Through my <ahem> 'sources'-" Reese's nice word for using an eavesdropping spell, "-I picked up that Julia was at some kind of Slumber Party over at the Durward estate.  In your <ahem> 'After School activities', you hang out with that crowd these days.  So, aaaahhh, any idea as to what might have happened?"

I wanted to tell Reese to go fuck himself, but thought better of it.  Kicking someone when they can't fight back is poor form and bad karma.  Besides, he'd just keep digging around until he did find something, and probably kick up a lot of dust in the process.  "Well, Julia and her crew showed up and tried to play nasty little games with her hostess.  First, she told this totally bogus ghost story, and then they tried to 'whistle up' the supposed ghost.  Something did show up, and it scared the bejeezus out of everyone."

Reese gave me a pleased look.  "And did you have a hand in this 'something' that showed up?"

I scowled back at Reese.  "Whatever it was that did show up, it went for Paris Ashbroom and almost had her in hysterics.  I don't do that to my friends."  I finished with a cold fish eye at Reece, who's been known to pull crap like that on his closest buds.

Reese looked genuinely puzzled.  "So, what the fuck was it?"

I shrugged.  "I'll be Blessed if I know.  I've been trying to figure out what happened all weekend.  Nobody else from any of the Families was there."

He snickered, "Maybe they were in disguise.  It has been known to happen."

"Ha, Ha.  Very droll."

"Any chance that any of these mundanes might have the Talent?"

I made a dismissive noise.  "Please!  I've heard Boy Bands with more talent than was there that night!"  A thought crossed my mind.  "Reese, don't go asking any of the other kids from the Families.  Keep them out of this.  If the Bitch Pack wants to play at Witchcraft, let them.  Bad things happen to people who don't treat the Craft with respect."

Reese grinned.  "Oh, Yeeesss!  But why should you have all the fun?"

"First of all, I'm already involved in it.  Second, that Bitch Dunaway is the one who clapped this stupid Fool's Cap on my head with her own hands!  I claim First Right to vengence!  Or do you claim a better right?"  Reese shook his head.  Like almost everyone else in our grade, Reece had been on the recieving end of what passes for Julia's 'personality', but nothing like what she'd done to me.  But still, it might be best to throw him a bone.  "Still, there's no reason that I can't share the wealth a little.  Once I figure out my scam, there'll probably be room for you in it."  He grinned savagely.  "But Reese - when it does come down, I'm the one who's gonna be holding the axe."

Reese nodded, smiling viciously.  "Okay, fine by me - as long as she gets what's coming to her."  And why wouldn't it be fine by him?  Either he gets to help me prank Julia, or I screw myself over doing something stupid.  Either way, gets his jollies without a chance of catching any shit over it.

Reese told me how he was eavesdropping on Julia, so that I could do the same without crossing wires with him.  Then I left for my class.  So, Julia's playing with Witchcraft seriously now, is she?  This could be some classically sick, twisted fun.  Then the brick dropped.  The Fool's Cap.  Julia had been the one to put in on me, it was only right that she be the one to take it off.  Hell, being the target of all that teenage scorn and ridicule instead of the lead disher-out might actually be good for her.  Not to mention making my life a lot easier.  Now, I can't just take the Fool's Cap off and slam it on her.  The Rule of Intent says that trying to foist this off on her would only bring it back to me.  Heck, that's probably how it got stuck to me in the first place - with a lot of help from Julia.  BUT, if Julia is the one trying to rip me off with a magical spell, even a bogus magical spell, then I'm not the one in the wrong.  By grabbing whatever she thinks that it might be that I have, she'll grab the Fool's Cap, and be stuck with it.  Like most of the kids at Horace Mann, Julia thinks that the Fool's Cap is just an old superstition or an abstraction.  Boy, is she in for a surprise.

Of course, now I gotta figure out how to get Julia 'Queen of the Evil Witches' Dunaway to think that I have something that she wants and can take by magic.  Without actually lying.  I am too damn close to getting rid of this goddam Fool's Cap to screw it up with a lie.

I managed to pull off a minor coup in what remained of the school day - I managed to get my hands on that stupid paperback on 'witchcraft' of theirs.  I flipped through it, memorizing the numbers of those pages that they'd underlined.  I sketched a pentagram in lemon juice on the inside back cover of the paperback.  I figure that they'll have this book on hand when they make their 'witchy' plans, just in case they have to make double sure of something.  I got it back to them using the old 'did any of you drop this?' gag.  Not that they were grateful, or anything.

After school, I managed to shake the Pesloe swarm - you'd think that they'd have gotten the idea that I'm hard to catch by now, wouldn't you? - and bicycled into town.  One nice thing about living in a college town, there's no shortage of book stores.  It took a little digging, but I managed to dig up a copy.  'The Well-Nigh Stranger: Secrets of Appalachean Folk Witchcraft.  My Stars and Garters, the garbage that people will fall for!  Of course, Julia obviously hadn't believed any of this crap until I helped her along with that phantasm, so she's probably a little sharper than most of the Harry Potter wannabes who buy this kind of book.

I was sitting at the Soda Fountainbleu, all girled up, trying to remember exactly which passages that they'd underlined in that stupid book, when Paris and Della walked up.  "What's this?"  Paris pointed at the paperback with a strange look on her face.

"This?  Oh, after Friday night, I thought that knowing what kinds of dirty tricks that Julia bitch might have up her sleeve would be a good idea."

"You take this kind of thing seriously?"

I made an amused snort.  "Are you kidding?  I mean, it's okay for party tricks, but for anything real, forget it!"

"But what happened Friday...?" 

"Hey, you heard Rebecca - Mass Hypnosis and that kinda thing."

"Jordan - it wasn't Mass Hypnosis or anything like that."

"What are you talking about?"

"Jordan, ever since that thing came at me, things have been moving around."

"You mean that you've actually seen things move?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Then how do you know that it's not just your imagination?  I mean, this is exactly what that bitch Julia was trying to do to you, y'know."

Della piped up, "Honest, Jordan, she isn't making this up!  She was losing stuff all weekend, and all day today at school!  She'd put something down, look away and a minute later, it was hiding under a book or it had fallen to the floor or something."

I gave her a long look.  "Okay, but what do you want me to do about it?  This?"  I held up the paperback.  "This is strictly stuff for chumps.  If you want it, you can have it!"

Paris gave me a measuring glance.  "Jordan, you chased that thing away when it came at me."

"That?  Heck, that was nuthin'.  I knew that Julia was pulling sum'thin', so I just did the first thing that came into my head to snap everybody out of it.  No Biggie."

"Then how did you know to use salt against it?"

"That?  Oh, I saw something like in a movie - what was it?  Oh yeah, Hocus Pocus.  A Disney flick.  It had Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in it.  The heroine used salt to hold off three witches.  Like I said, it was the first thing that came into my head."

"Jordan, would you help me out?  Do a charm from out of that book or something, and get this thing off my back?  Daddy thinks that I'm 'acting out' or something like that.  If this keeps up, he's gonna send me to a Child Psychologist!"

A Kid Shrink? <Ick!>

Della reached out and touched my hand.  "Jordan, do it.  Even if it's all in our heads, maybe doing the right mumbo-jumbo will get it out of our system.  And if there's really something going on - well, you chased it off once before."

Oh well...  It couldn't hurt.  And you gotta stand by what friends you got.  Not really believing it, but just to be sure, I casually ran my Good Eye over Paris, and my jaw almost hit the table.  There, sitting on her right shoulder - invisible to the mundane eye - was squatting a small Bird of Ill Omen.  Or a ‘Jinx bird’, if you must. A rather nasty kind of goblin. The kind that waits until you aren't looking and screws things up for you.  To cover my look of surprise, I started flipping through the paperback, looking for some thing to use.  Finally, I found something that wouldn't do anything on its own, but would serve as a good cover for me getting rid of the damn thing.

An hour and a half later, we were at the cross of Fletcher's Lane and Shearer's Road, two footpaths between Millbridge and three nearby hamlets.  Paris was standing in a circle of salt, holding a candle and saying as much of the 22nd Psalm as she could remember.  At her feet was burning a small pile of Bay leaves.  While Paris and Della were busy with that, I basically looked the Bird of Ill Omen smack in the eye and told it to Scat!

It scatted, and Paris breathed a sigh of relief.  "Whew!  It feels like a huge weight has just been lifted from my shoulders!"  She gave me a big hug.  Then I had to split - it was getting late, and I still had to help with dinner.

The next day at school, the Bitch Pack was going around looking particularly pleased with themselves.  I shared a look with Reese, but he looked as confused as I was.  Julia must have pulled off something particularly nasty, but until I could sift through the ditherings that my Eavesdropping spell collected, I was in the dark.  At least it gave me a chance to think about how to return the 'gift' that Julia had so thoughtfully given me a couple of months ago.

The best solution would be for Julia to try and magically steal something from me; then the Rule of Intent would give her something other than what she was fishing for - the Fool's Cap.  But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to make her think that I had something that she really wanted, without either lying or letting drop the none-too-small matter of The Coven. 

The next best solution would be to lay a version of the same trap on Julia that I'd set for Reese.  The problem was that my hex had been slipped to Reese as part of a deal, a bargain entered into by both of us of our own free wills, and bound by powerful vows.  Again, that assumes that I have something that the Charmless sisters want.

Wednesday, I was biking into town, when Missus Cosgrove waylaid me.  Both Mrs. And Mr. Cosgrove are part of The Coven, and they're both from The Families.  And Mrs. Cosgrove is a pretty sharp hex-flinger in her own right.  "Dan!  Dan Winters!  I need to talk to you!"

I stopped, and she pulled me over to a clump of trees.  "Dan, I have to talk to you.  I've found something very disturbing."

I just barely managed to avoid breaking into a sweat.  I set my Spin Doctor Gauge to 'Think of something, Stupid!' and smiled blandly at her.  "Honestly, Mrs. Cosgrove, both of my brothers know better than to go picking Elderberries in your back lot."  No shit - she has the biggest dog in Millbridge, and it ain't no gentle giant.

She made a dismissive noise.  "It's not that.  I was out by Fletcher's Lane, and I spotted the remains of what looks like a crude ritual.  Now, Dan, you know how the mundanes get when they hear that young'uns have been fooling around with the 'black arts'.  <pfeh!> Have you heard of anything?"

I gave a fleeting thought to siccing her on Julia and her merry flock of harpies.  But if I'm gonna saddle her with the Fool's Cap, I need Julia to keep thinking that she's the Wicked Witch of Millbridge for a while longer.  And Missus Cosgrove's no one's fool.  "Well, none of the boys that I hang out with have been making any noises in that direction.  Well, at least none that ain't from The Families, and would know better than to leave their signs lying around."

She corrected my grammar, and bustled on her way.  Luckily for me, she accepted as a fact that girls my age don't drag their boyfriends into any 'occult' mumbo-jumbo.  They start doing that idiocy when they're well into High School or College.

I got to the library and changed.  I wandered around for a while, until I ran into Jazz, and we started window shopping.  We did the walk and talk thing, and got kinda silly.  It was fun, in a way that was completely different from the fun that I had with Griff.  Jazz has a mind that is ever so slightly kinked, and I like the way it kinks.  As we were ripping up the clothes on display, Paris and Della walked up and made it a foursome.

After we hung out for a while, Della managed to get Jazz off by herself.  Paris' good mood dropped like a mask.  "That bitch did it to me again!"

"Hunh?"

"Julia Dunaway!  She was the one that laid that jinx on me!  She did it again!"  Paris reached into her purse and pulled out a slip of paper.  She held up the slip; on it were written very crude runes, kinda like a kid who hasn't learned to read yet trying to copy a sign that she's seen from memory.  Almost reflexively, I ran my Good Eye over Paris' right shoulder.  The Bird of Ill Omen was back, and bigger and nastier than before.  It gave me a wintry glare and dared me to try to shoo it off again.

No way, Jose!  That thing was way too big for me to handle by myself!  I reached into my backpack and pulled out my book.  I flipped through it, like I was checking for a remedy.  As I put the book back, I palmed a dime in my left hand.  I laid both hands on Paris' shoulders and looked her straight in the eye.  "Okay, Paris, it's time to stop fooling around.  You have to go to the Big Boys.  First, you have to turn the hex back at the one who cast it-"

"What?"

"Didn't you ever see that movie, The Curse of the Demon, with Dana Andrews?  Julia stuck you with this hex by slipping you this piece of paper.  So, you gotta turn it back on her by slipping it back to her without her catching on until it's too late."

"How do I do that?"  Paris must be really rattled - normally she's a lot more in control than this.

"Why don't you get Lex to do it?  She'll probably be expecting you-"

"I can't do that!" she hissed, near panic.

"Why not?"

"Lex has a thing about witchcraft and voodoo and shit like that!  He thinks it's all tied up with the slavery thing.  And he has an uncle who's all superstitious, and embarrasses poor Lex to death!"

"Shit.  It has to be somebody that's really close to you."

"What about Della?"

"Well, she is your very best friend-" Paris nodded eagerly.  "So, after Della slips the paper back to this Julia bitch, go straight to Saint Anne's church on Highland and ask Father Conroy to give you Mass.  It will probably be too late for the regular Wednesday afternoon Mass, but he'll probably do it if he thinks that it will put your mind to rest."

"But I'm not Catholic!"

"It doesn't matter - the Roman Catholic Church is supposed to be the major league ass-kicker in matters like this.  As I understand it, part of the Mass is that it frees you from being under the power of any force other than God - or something like that; I only know this 'cause a Priest once showed up at the Unitarian church and talked about it.  But it should work."

Paris turned to get Della and hurry off to find Julia.  As she turned, the dime that I'd slipped onto her shoulder fell off.  It would have been better if the dime had been solid silver or cold iron, but you do the best with what you've got.  The dime was blackened from when it 'short-circuited' the link between the Bird of Ill Omen.  Birdy was still hovering over Paris, but without that link, it shouldn't be able to screw her over any.  And the Catholic Mass should get rid of it, just as I told Paris.  I kicked the dime down a sewer grating, and went back to hanging out with Jazz.

I finally got an idea of how I was gonna stick it to Julia.  I managed to corner Reece between classes.  "You still up for doing it to Julia Dunaway?"

"Am I?  I was gettin' worried that you were gonna wuss out on it!"

"Not to worry, my son.  I need for you to get that paperback book that they're always flipping through."

"Why?  I've seen more meaningful books that begin with 'See Spot Run'."

I smiled archly, reached into my backpack and pulled out my copy of Julia's book.  Reese raised his eyebrows in an 'Oh, Ho!' expression of understanding.  "I used the Rule of Similarity to spell it up so that it will have all the right notes, underlinings, folded corners and dog-earing.  With One Little addition."  I turned to the dedication page, and ran a little glamour though the lemon-juice runes that I'd written there.  "A variation on the hex that I laid on you.  My price for giving her this book will be that she makes a solemn promise not to use any harmful magic."

Reese grinned from ear to ear.  "Oh, that is classic!  Since Dunaway doesn't have the slightest clue as to how magic really works, she'll break her word - what'll you use, the Rivers or the Ones? - at the first opportunity.  Not only do you get rid of the Fool's Cap, and get back at Julia, but the Fool's Cap goes where it really belongs.  But - if everyone thinks that the Fool's Cap is still on your head-"

"I got that covered.  Missus Cosgrove is on the lookout for kids practicing 'black magic'.  Y'know, the old 'there's nothing weird going on in Millbridge' bit.  So, if Missus Cosgrove just happens to catch the Bitch Pack doing their 'bubble bubble, toil and trouble' schtick-"

"Ooohhh, can I do it, can I do it?"

"Sure!  Just make sure that Mrs Cosgrove doesn't stop them in time to keep them from breaking their word, and that everyone hears about it.  In gory detail.  If that doesn't weld the Fool's Cap to her noggin, nothing will!"

After Third Period, Reese brushed past me.  "Got it.  I put it in the Lost & Found."

"Good Man."  I went off in search of the Bitch Pack.  They were huddled around Gail Edgerton's locker, burrowing through it furiously.  I ahemed loudly.  "Ladies?  Are you looking for something?"  I held up the book and smiled nastily.

Julia glared daggers at me.  "That's Mine!  Give it here, Dork!"

"Really?  I don't see your name written on it anywhere."

"You stole it!  Give it back, or I'll-"

"You'll do what?  Cast a spell on me?"  I waggled the book, which they thought they needed to work magic, at them.  "Or call Miz Sorensen and ask her to get back your Book of Black Magic?  Sorensen confiscated my comic books!  What do you think she'd do if she knew that you were reading a book of the Dark Arts in class, hmmm?"  Her backup singers looked like they were on the ropes, but Julia still wasn't knuckling under.  In somebody who wasn't a complete bitch, I'd respect that.  "Oh, and if you're thinking of getting your boyfriend-of-the-week to get it back-"  I made like I was gonna rip it apart by the covers.

"No!  No.  Okay, Dan - you win.  Want do you want?"

I smiled, all gracious victory.  "Not much.  I understand that you've been very naughty little girls, casting spells at people.  All that I want in return for this book, is that you give me a solemn oath that you won't cast any more harmful spells, especially on me, my family or my friends."

Julia gave me a smile - the kind of phoney blonde smile that gives other blondes a bad name.  I could tell that I'd just dropped in her estimation from Dork to Complete Moron.  "Why, of course!  Why, we would never-"

"Let's make it a formal oath, Dunaway."  I flipped through the book, and seeming to read from it, guided her through The Rivers, binding her to never perform any ritual with a malign intent that would affect me, my family or any of my friends.  Julia went through the paces with a smile on her lips and treachery in her heart.  When she said the last bit, I handed her the book, and I felt the hex click into place.  As I walked off, I heard a giggle behind me, and a whispered, "Dork!"

Reese was waiting for me with a Cheshire Cat look on his face.  We did the fist salute thing, and I asked him, "Is your eavesdropping spell still up and running?"

He nodded with a smirk, and then he concentrated.  "Lessee, now.  Nasty comment, snide bitchery - oohh, I'll bet they don't know how close to the mark they were with that one! - Ah, Yes!  Julia just told her crew that they're gonna finish off Paris Ashbroom first, and then make your life really miserable!"

<pfeh!> "Talk about coals to Newcastle!  Any idea of when they're gonna do this?"

Reese concentrated again.  "T'night's no good - t'morrow, around Nine, out in Cooper's Wood by the spooky old Oak."  I snickered.  The place had absolutely no magic, but it looked eerie.  Exactly the kind of place where Julia would try to hold a witch's sabbath.

"So, Reese, you wanna sic Missuz Cosgrove on 'em?"

"You are too good to me."  With that, he split for his Fourth Period class.  He would be happy if this comes off.  Not only does he get his own back at Julia, but if she's wearing the Fool's Cap, then I have nothing to hold over him.  He could do almost anything that popped into his twisted little mind without fear of triggering the hex that I'd placed on him.  And he knew about my 'other life'.

Maybe I'll let him know that the hex that I just put on Julia was only an extention of the one that I'd put on him.  If he did anything to me, he'd whisk the Fool's Cap right off of her head and onto his.  Yeah, I'll let him know - after he sets Mrs Cosgrove on the Bitch Pack.

After school, I hooked up with Griff and his gang.  Paris was feeling great after her session with Father Conroy.  And for the first time in a freaking week, JayDee was there.  But, of course, Jazz was nowhere to be seen.  Damn!  Ain't that the way it always it?  By the time that I manage to get these two together in the same damn room, she'll probably be dating somebody else!

Though we were all talking, Paris made noises for silence.  "Guys, what are you all doing, Friday night?"  A lot of 'nuthin' much' noise rumbled around the pizzeria table.  "Okay, then show up at my place - my parents are busy that evening, and they said that I could have a few friends over."

"Another party?  Didn't you just have a party a few weeks ago?"

"No, not a party - just a few friends over.  Y'know, pop some popcorn, watch some videos - who wants to rent what? - and hang out.  You gotta be out by Ten."

It struck me that Mr. Ashbroom was playing his 'controlled liberty' games again.  With them out of the house, it was a near certainty that she'd call a few friends over.  By letting Paris have a small select group over, he could be reasonably sure that they wouldn't want to blow a good set-up by having it escalate into a big party.  I had a feeling that Mr. Ashbroom played this 'let them do what they're going to do anyway - on your terms' scam a lot.

I asked Paris if I could invite Jazz over.  With the barest flicker of her eyes, first at Lex and then JayDee, she said sure.

During the inevitable trip to the Powder Room, I asked Paris if she'd had any trouble with the Bitch Pack.  "Nah.  I ran into Rita Hewett, but I checked myself out completely afterwards.  She didn't manage to put anything on me."

Not that that really counted - Rita could have pulled the old 'get a couple of strands of hair' bit.  "I wouldn't worry about it.  According to that book that she's been using, you can only try to put a spell on the same person three times.  There was the time at the party, there was the time that we got rid of it with the circle of salt, and there was the time that she slipped you that piece of paper.  That's three.  Now, she'll have to find somebody else to pester."  Actually, that's not the way the Rule of Three works, but there was something to that effect in that stupid book.

And that was that.  Paris was more than happy to put her little encounter with the Supernatural behind her, and we got back to the crucial business of being a bunch of fifteen-year-olds hanging out.  I mean, it's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it!

Friday at school was full of these little undercurrents - Julia and her crew whispering and giggling at each other, Reese casting smirking glances at the Bitch Pack, and me just happy that it was all on automatic.  I was so busy that I didn't pay attention and ran smack into the Pesloe swarm.  Luckily for me, it was right between classes, so all they had time to do was stuff me in a locker.  And if I've learned to to anything this year, it's get out of a locker.

I managed to get my homework done in Study Hall, and beetled straight home after school to get my first chores of the weekend out of the way.  I cleared my late-night at Paris' with the Mom, and she made a few noises about being happy that my social life was doing so well.  Then she asked little brothers Trey and Brett if they wanted to go visit their little friends.  I think that she and Dad need a little alone time.

Once I had my chores done, I snagged a perky little black turtleneck-and-red-plaid-miniskirt number that I'd been saving for a special occasion and was out the door.  I cruised Old Town on my bike for a while, on the hopes of running into Jazz.  I did.  Those tire marks ought to come out with a little baking soda.  "Jazz!"

"Saint Peter, is that you?"

"Oh, get off of it, I missed you by a mile!"

"How much is SMERSH paying you to kill me?  I'll double it!"

"HAH!  You don't have enough money, bloated Capitalist Pig!  Nobody double-crosses SMERSH and lives to brag about it!"

"Howsabout an Orange-Razzberry-Mint Delirium, with crushed walnuts?"

"NOW yer talking, Yankee Imperialist Running Dog!  Lead on!"

As we dug in, I invited Jazz to Paris'.  She cocked an eye at me.  "So, is there anything special that you have planned?"

<sigh> "Okay, y'got me.  There's this really cute guy named JayDee who hangs out with us.  He's really nice, but he hasn't had any luck with girls - yet.  I thought that if I got you'n him together, it would be nice.  Not to mention smoothing Paris' feathers a lot - I think that she's worried about you making goo-goo eyes at Lex."

Jazz made a 'well of course!' noise at the last bit.  Then she gave me a measuring glance.  "So, ah, this DeeJay-"

"JayDee!"

"JayDee - Is he cute?"

"Hell, yeah!  A little on the quiet side, but playing the tag-along will do that to you!  I know - I've been there.  It's no damn fun."

"Sorry, girl, but I don't do mercy dates."

"It's not a Mercy Date!  Just give him a chance!"

She chewed it over for a while.  "Okay.  If he's there, I'll give him a chance.  But, if it doesn't work out, well, Paris doesn't have her name written on Lex or anything."

"Don't DO this to me, Jazz!  I really like you, and I don't wanna havta choose b'tween you'n Paris!  And Paris and Lex are good together!"

"Lighten UP, Blondie!  I didn't say that I was gonna steal Paris' boyfriend - I just said that if this JayDee guy and I don't click t'night, that, well, 'All's Fair', an' all that."

I gave out a long suffering sigh.  "Y'know, Jazz, messing around with a romance in progress is really bad Karma."

She snickered.  "Bad Karma?  What, were your parents at Woodstock or sumthin'?"

Actually, I'm not sure.

Jazz went to the payphone to call her parents to let them know that she'd be late, and then we went off to find Griff or Lex or Stew or JayDee, so that we'd have a boy's perspective when we rented something to watch.

Good Fucking Luck!  We found Griff and Stew, but while we wanted something romantically comedic that we could cuddle to, they actually wanted to rent Tomb Raider!  I mean Tomb Raider?  I mean, all it has is Angelina Jolie in a tight-fitting outfit with a padded front, jumping around and shooting guns and-

-and I think I just shot myself in the foot there. 

We split the difference, and got Kiss of the Dragon, which had guns and kung fu and explosions, but at least had Jet Li for us girls.

When we got to Paris’, Lex was there with a copy of Tomb Raider.  It's a fucking conspiracy.  Fortunately, Paris had a copy of Scary Movie, so we were able to hold off Angelina Jolie for a while.

I asked Lex, "Where's JayDee?  I thought that he said that he was gonna be here."

Lex shrugged.  "He called and cancelled.  Last minute 'family thing', he said."

Shit!

The arguing went on as we decided what we wanted on the pizza.  Oh well, at least Jazz had the class to not make a play for her hostess' boyfriend while we were watching her tube.

Then the pizza came.

I went to the door to pay for the pie.  As the pizza guy handed me the carton, I felt something blow past me in the doorway.  And it wasn't the wind.

With my witch-trained intuition, I felt it waft invisibly up the staircase.

I paid the pizza guy and took the carton into the living room.  "I'm gonna brew up some herbal tea.  Anyone want?"  I got a few - saner - orders for Cokes and went into the kitchen.

Why Tea?  Well, y'know that old Gypsy con-game with 'reading tea leaves'?  Well, it ain't entirely a scam.  Water is very sensitive to the fluctuations of the Glamour as it runs through the Earth, and the little bits of tea can show someone who knows how to read them little things like the presence of spirits in the area.  Lucky for me, Paris' mom is the type who prefers loose tea to the stuff in bags.  After delivering the Cokes, I boiled some water and soaked the leaves.

According to the leaves, the Bird of Ill Omen was back.  And this time, it was pissed.  Also, from the way that the water was slam-dancing around the cup, it was much more powerful than it had been before.  The first time, it had been so puny that I could just shoo it away.  The second time, it was too powerful for me to handle without a lot of embarrassing explainations, so I had to send Paris to Mass to get rid of it.  This time?  This time, it was so powerful that there was no way that a puny little witch in training like me could get rid of it.  I mean, a full-fledged witch like Mom might be able to handle it, no problem, but not someone like me?  Then it hit me that trying to be clever, I had screwed myself over again.  The Rule of Three states that in a sequence of three, each successive try is geometrically greater in power, and after the third attempt, becomes useless.  That stupid Bird of Ill Omen needed me to chase it away twice in order to become as powerful against Paris as it has.  Because of ME, that thing is powerful enough to kill Paris.  And I even let it in the house!

Okay, okay, calm down Winters.

You can't fight it, it's too fucking powerful.

So, don't fight it.  Send it somewhere else.

But then it will only come back, just as strong, 'cause it hasn't tried anything yet.

So, send it against someone who is powerful enough to fight it.

Who?  Man, I wish that I could sic it on Julia Dunaway and her sick little witch-wannabe buddies, like I am sending the Fool's Cap-

The Fool's Cap.  If I can find whatever the Bird of Ill Omen is homing in on, I can 'splice' myself into the link between the Bird and Paris.  It's pissed off enough at me that it might not care, even if it has enough of a mind to tell the difference.  And judging from the size it was when this all started, it can't be all that bright.  It will go after whoever is easier.

Lovely.  I can save Paris, but that goddamn bird will probably tear me apart.

No, it won't.  I looked at the clock.  It was just past Nine.  Julia and her 'coven' were probably starting up.  I used the Fool's Cap, and felt a tension there.  Yes.  They hadn't broken their word YET, but they were gearing up to.  Great!  Not only would Julia have the Fool's Cap to deal with, but she'd have the pants scared off of her by the Bird!  She'd probably think that she was cursed by the 'demon' that she'd clumsily conjured up!  Oh yes, the Bird and-

_Oh _SHIT_!

I can't send both the Cap and the Bird at the same time!  The parameters of my enchantment won't allow for it!  I could tie the link between Paris and the Bird into the Fool's Cap, but it would end up sending either the Cap _or_ the Bird!  If I sent the Cap, I'd still have to deal with the Bird!

Or, I could sit tight, foist the Cap off on Julia and let Paris handle a great big goblin bird by herself.

Like Hell.

Paris is my Friend.  I don't do things like that to my friends, especially when I'm to blame for so much of it all.

I picked up a salt shaker and an iron knife, and carefully went up the back stairs to Paris' room.  I slowly opened the door to Paris' room and switched on the light.  Paris has a pretty standard girl's bedroom with pastel colors, a row of stuffed animals, posters on the wall and a ruffled four-poster bed.  Normally, it's pretty cheery.  But even with the light on, now it was dark and dreadsome.

The primary reason for the drear was perched on the backboard of Paris' bed.  The first time I'd seen it, the Bird of Ill Omen was about the size of a finch.  The second time, it was the size of a large Raven.  Now, it was the size of a California Condor and would make your basic buzzard look downright cuddly.  It glared at me like I was trying to take away its food.  And why not?  I was.

Wait a minute!  What's this damn thing doing up here?  Why isn't it settling itself on Paris' shoulder?  Is there something here that connects this thing to Paris?  Come to think of it, I have no idea where this spook came from in the first place.  The thought occured to me that maybe Julia has more talent than she lets on.  Naahhh!  If Julia had the slightest trace of magical talent, then she'd never bother hiding it under a bushel, and The Coven would have mopped up the floor with her years ago.  Maybe Paris has some of the Talent, and she's doing this to herself without realizing.  Maybe its something about the bed-

No, if there were anything weird about the bed, Paris would have noticed.  Something under the bed?  I reached under the bed, and the Buzzard started to freak.  I hastily formed a circle of salt, and inscribed another circle with the steel knife three times.  Okay, the Buzzard doesn't want me messing around under the bed.  That's as good as an engraved invitation.  I reached out of my protective circle and got an umbrella that was hanging on the dresser.  Still safe in my circle of salt, I poked the umbrella under the bed, and found-

-that stupid doll.

The Barbie doll, wrapped up in a gauzy scarf with a black cord, that I'd used to whistle up that phantasm to scare Julia.  Somehow, that goddamn Jinx Bird latched onto the doll and has been using it to re-connect with Paris.

            Jesus!  I'm to blame for everything!

I used the umbrella to fish the doll out from under the bed, and the Buzzard went nuts.  I undid the cord and unwrapped the doll, releasing the energies that I'd put into it.  Which left the Bird of Ill Omen only one prey that it could get to.  Me.

It spread its 'wings' and swooped down at me.  It screamed and battered at the circle of salt , scraping away at the hurried protection that I'd made.  I felt the circle wear away under the Bird's onslaught.  It had its prey in it sight and it wasn't going to be shooed off this time.  I could feel it weaving its link into the Fool's Cap and using that to worm its way through the circle.  I felt it oozing toward me, grasping for my very soul.  I held the steel knife in front of me.  Maybe if I stabbed it right in the center, I might disrupt its flow of Glamour with the steel-

Then I felt something jerk at my head.  For an instant, a heavy weight that I'd almost gotten used to was lifted, and I was free.  Then the weight came down again, and the Jinx Bird was pulled out of the room like it was on some kind of rope.  I heard the front door (which the Bird had used to get in) open and close.  I heard Stew say, "What the fuck was that?"

Julia.  Julia 'God-help-us-all' Dunaway had saved my bacon.  She'd cast some stupid spell out of that ridiculous paperback book of hers and triggered the enchantment.  Instead of pulling the Fool's Cap off of my head, it had dragged off the Bird of Ill Omen and sicced it on Julia.

But I wasn't worried about Julia.  Knowing Reese, he had Mrs. Cosgrove there, and she was probably dealing with the boogey-bird right now.

My hands shaking a little, I put the Barbie back on the dresser where I'd first found it.  Then I used a clothes brush to sweep up the salt, and Paris would never know that I'd been up there.  I walked down the back stair, got my cooling cup of herbal tea, and rejoined the gang just as the Killer started doing something really silly in Scary Movie.  I scootched in between Griff and Stew, and nestled up against Griff.  I wanted somebody to be strong for me.  I watched the Killer making a complete mess out of trying to kill someone, and I couldn't help but shivver.

"Hey, Jordan, what's the matter?" Griff asked.  "Hey, you know that creepy shit like this never happens in real life!"

Monday at school, Reese came up to me.  "What the fuck happened Friday night, man?  What did you send at her?"

"It's kinda complicated.  Things got involved, and I hadda improvise.  Did Missus Cosgrove deal with it?"

"Yeah.  I didn't know that she knew those kinds of tricks.  Did you - y'know..."  He lifted two hands off his head like he was taking off a crown or maybe a Cap of some kind.

"Nope."

"Shit!"

Hell, he was just pissed that he still couldn't mess with me.  And me?  Well, I think that I've had my fill of payback for a while.  If I hadn't been so psyched about sticking it to Julia and her crew, I never would have put Paris - or myself - in that goblin bird's way.  Julia, Cole, Miz Sorensen, Coach Backus - it was all too much trouble to try and get back at them.  Besides, what good would it really do?  Guys like Cole Pesloe don't learn if you kick them in the ass - they just want to get you back, and there you are again. 

But, at least I had the satisfaction of watching Julia 'Queen of Darkness' Dunaway jump at shadows for a few weeks.

 

End
Read 1338 times Last modified on Monday, 07 March 2022 18:24

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