I am so excited! Today we are trying something a little different. Author Maria E. Schneider has made available a free short story that we can download directly to our Kindles. I hope you all enjoy “Under Witch Ghost” a Moon Shadow Short story.
Under Witch Ghost
Maria E. Schneider
A Moon Shadow Short Story
Despite all the magic we had embedded into White Feather’s house when we rebuilt it, the perimeter of his property—now our property—was sadly lacking in earth wards. Transplanting desert sage and sweet grasses in specific spots would not only keep us safer, it would be a ready supply of ingredients for many a spell. Old Granny had also offered to provide us with some kick-ass spiders.
Thinking of the spiders sent a creepy chill down my back, but I wasn’t about to turn down her offer. They wouldn’t be delivered until after I had finished my share of the protection magic anyway. I remained knee deep in sand and sage, working in the dimming evening light. As I lowered the largest sage into the hole, a voice from behind me hissed, “Adriel.”
The unexpected interruption sent the desert herb sailing behind me as I twisted to meet the threat. Still on my knees, I spun around, fell backwards into the hole I had just dug, and raised my silver. My fingers were wrapped around a lame hand shovel, which was no protection at all.
My heart sputtered and a disgruntled sigh puffed out as I realized the threat was Lynx. “Must you sneak up on me?” Even though Mother Earth communicated with me almost as well as the breezes did with White Feather, Lynx was a special cat. He was more an extension of earth magic than a foreign entity. Mother Earth felt no need to mention when he was skulking about.
“How was I to know you weren’t paying attention to things around you? I came over to tell you that Roberto needs a meet.” He offered me a hand up.
Since my bottom was squarely planted in the hole, I had no choice but to accept his help. He was strong enough to nearly lift me to my feet with just one skinny arm. I’d known Lynx since he was a hungry alley cat scrounging food from garbage cans. All muscles and sinew then, he was even stronger now that he was better fed and about to leave his teen years behind him. While he might look like a piece of scrap blown in with the tumbleweeds, his eyes flashed intelligence and his lithe movements were faster and smoother than those of a normal human.
“Roberto, the deaf kid, wants a meet?” I stuffed strands of my long dark hair into the ponytail that had failed to contain it all.
Lynx handed me the sage that had missed him completely when I threw it in defense. “You know any other Roberto?”
This was Santa Fe, New Mexico. I could think of four without trying. “Not that are deaf.”
“He’s not deaf when he’s in a graveyard, which is why he needs a meet. He has a message from Martin.”
The evening just got better and better. “Martin? Martin isn’t in a graveyard!”
Lynx shrugged. “He’s dead so it’s the same thing. I mentioned Martin to Roberto after our little visit to Fairview cemetery a few weeks ago. Some of the dudes hanging at that place are flakes. The kid could use better company, you know?”
My eyes bulged. If Lynx thought Martin was better company than the ghosts Roberto had been communicating with in Fairview Cemetery, the kid was in more trouble than I could help with. Of course, Roberto talked to dead people, so how much assistance could I possibly be on my best day? His ears were deaf to the sounds of this world, but not to those communicating from the other side. He spent a lot of time in cemeteries, which was where I had met him. “Little visit to the cemetery?” I repeated, my eyes narrowing. Leave it to Lynx to act like almost being swallowed out of existence without the benefit of dying was nothing more than a bit of social happenstance.
“Tonight, midnight. Tent Rock,” he said.
“What is it with you and night meets! Martin can talk to me during the day. We’d be insane to hike around those rocks at night.”
And I’d been avoiding Tent Rock because I knew Martin was haunting the place. Sure, the magic was strong there. But who wanted to have Martin loitering about when practicing a spell or gathering magic? He’d been a drunk, flirtatious, covered-in-dirt old man in life. He hadn’t bothered to leave most of his bad habits behind when he died.
“Martin’s in some kind of trouble. Roberto says he can only appear at night and even that is getting harder for him.”
My mouth gaped open, and I stared at Lynx in disbelief.
He shrugged. “I know, but who else was he gonna ask?”
* * *
Earth witches do not have any power over the dead, for the dead or even talking to the dead, not that I knew of. There was no earthly reason that I should have ever seen a ghost, but it had happened more than once. The first one hadn’t really communicated with me; she’d either been in too much pain or too far gone.
Martin had been an earth witch in life, and I’d always assumed that the reason he’d been able to give me a ghostly message once before was because we shared a level of common magic. That was more than I had wanted to share with Martin. My feelings on the matter hadn’t changed much just because he was dead.
If Lynx thought I was leaving White Feather behind on this insane adventure, he had another think coming.
“I wonder what Martin wants to talk to me about,” I muttered at White Feather as we climbed the beginning of the trail into Tent Rock. I wasn’t sure whether to be happy about the full moon or not. The moon would call more magic into any situation, but it also lent more light. With ghosts, it could be a help, a hindrance or not matter a whit. “Couldn’t Martin have just asked Roberto to ask me whatever he needed to know?”
“Apparently not. And since you’ve been avoiding Tent Rock, Martin had to get an intermediary to reach you.”
“Hmph.” White Feather was probably correct about that part.
I knew where Martin would appear because I’d had more than my fair share of trouble in the bowl-shaped formation halfway up the trail. The magic was so strong there, a normal could have felt it. It wasn’t any problem for someone like Lynx to sense it, and it was a natural spot for Roberto to have found Martin.
I heard them talking as we ducked under the overhanging rock and rounded the bend. As I edged slowly around the walled canyon into the side clearing, it took me a second to realize I was hearing Roberto clearly as he asked Martin a question. Roberto, being deaf, never enunciated perfectly because he’d never heard the words spoken. Martin had never slurred his words, even when drunk, but tonight, it was Martin’s voice that sounded as though he were talking under water.
I stopped so suddenly that White Feather nearly knocked me down.
Roberto was a dark shadow four feet off the side of the trail. Lynx stood more in the open, but he’d promised to be in plain sight if the meet was on and safe. The glowing wisp of fog between the two of them was not shaped like a human.
This meet didn’t look safe to me. When I had seen Martin before, his features were clearly defined, albeit transparent.
If Roberto hadn’t been talking to the wisp of fog and it answering, I’d not have believed it was Martin at all.
“He’s in trouble.” Lynx kept his attention on the ghost as he addressed us.
“Roberto or Martin?” I asked.
Lynx cut his eyes to me. The only reason I could tell was because his pupils glowed yellow. He had changed to cat eyes either because he was nervous or so he could see better in the dark.
“Martin, not me,” Roberto answered my question. “He can’t cross here properly anymore. It’s been getting worse over the last week.” His hands flew as he signed what he was saying.
Lynx started to repeat what Roberto had just said, but I cut him off. “Got it.”
White Feather touched my arm. “I didn’t.”
Well, now, that was…disturbing. Since White Feather wasn’t a threat, I kept my gaze on Martin. He was talking again or trying to.
“Stooorms. Bloocks.” The rest of what he said was too garbled for me, but Roberto had been at this longer, and it was his gift.
“There are energy storms,” he translated. “Some of them block the natural energy that allowed him to visit. Mostly though, he says he has to stay away because there’s another thing crossing. He doesn’t want to be destroyed by it, and it’s the only thing that seems able to force its way back and forth now. It brings energy from—” He stopped and rubbed his forehead. “I can’t get that part. He’s tried to tell me before, but I don’t know what he’s saying. Something about the dark where magic doesn’t exist.” His hands went up in the universal shrug.
The mist swirled closer to me. I held my ground, but only because White Feather was at my back. As it was, I leaned against him, trying to stay out of reach of the unearthly glowing strands of fog.
Martin’s eyes were not really recognizable; they were pits of emotion. There was no pupil, no face around them, just sparks that somehow translated to panic. “Soooleessheeell.”
“Shoeless?” Being without shoes hadn’t bothered Martin when he was alive. At this point, he didn’t even have feet! From a barely discernible waist on down, there was nothing but gray mist.
Then I got it. “Soulless. Hell. Okay, Martin, but what do you want me to do about it? I’m not dying just to pull your ass out of the fire!”
For a second, I think the eyes laughed at me. The spark went from lightning white to a swirl of fog.
Roberto watched me as he talked rapidly and signed at the same time. Lynx followed his hands, but I had no trouble with his words. “Martin says he is safe, but the girl is trapped there in-between with him, and she doesn’t belong there. He thought he could help her back over, but with the energy wrong, he’s worried she will get stuck there.”
“What girl?” I struggled to stay focused on the problem rather than screech at Martin for dragging me into a mess, one that I didn’t understand and might not even be able to fix. “Does she have a soul?” I was not about to bring anyone back here without a soul. Wouldn’t that be like rescuing a vampire? Or was that like creating one? No…
Thankfully Martin interrupted before my mind walked off any deeper into crazy. Roberto translated Martin’s blur of words. “Soul, yes, she has one. She’s still alive. She can see the—” Roberto shrugged again. “She can see something that comes through. But she needs to get back through to this side.”
There were a million questions, but from the way the wisps were starting to separate, I didn’t need to be told we were out of time. “Martin, we can look for the girl and maybe we can help, but why did you call me here?”
“The bloodstone.” It was Roberto who answered since Martin was now nothing more than an arm attached to a fast-fading light that might have been his chest. “He thinks he can use it to help her.”
I didn’t generally carry the green and red stone around, but the last time I had talked to Martin, he had felt me using the bloodstone here. In short, I wasn’t likely to ever come to Tent Rock without it.
Bloodstone, or heliotrope, carried natural powers for healing, especially of blood or circulation, but it also aligned and healed a person’s energy. Its lesser known use included an ability to call storms and hold the power of the wind. Wind magic had the power to carry messages into the past or future because wind had been there before and could go anywhere without the check of time. Maybe heliotrope had some power in the realm of the dead.
The particular stone Martin asked for was one he had harvested from Mother Earth when he was still living. It held Martin’s magic, my magic, White Feather’s magic and my best friend’s water witching magic.
Only a fool would give up an object of such power, but it was out of my backpack and on my palm without hesitation. Martin may have been an obnoxious drunk while alive and a pest after he died, but he had given me the stone without strings attached, and later he had given his life to save us.
“I give this without restraint, freely—”
His shriek split my oath. I nearly dropped the stone to cover my ears. White Feather shifted the breeze in an instinctive reaction to save us from danger even though the peril seemed to be limited to a caterwauling meant to serenade a banshee. My ears rang in protest.
Roberto said, “He says I can give him the stone because I can reach across. But it needs your earth magic to push through the connection.”
“Since I have no idea how to give it to him, I’m glad you do.” I turned over the stone. White Feather moved from behind to beside me, barely restraining himself from elbowing me protectively out of the way. I saw his mouth move, but couldn’t hear the words.
Maybe my sudden deafness was due to the ringing in my ears, but that made no sense because I had no trouble hearing Roberto when he yelled, “Hey, wait!”
Martin yelled back. They both had a hand on the stone. The energy that was feeding Martin might be weak, but it wasn’t dead yet. Where he touched the stone, his hand was gray and nearly solid.
“Leggo!” Roberto screamed. His fingers turned an odd gray color, drained of blood.
Martin wailed in response, a horrific sound that not only echoed, it knocked rocks loose.
Roberto bellowed back, jerking his hand.
Lynx grabbed Roberto’s free arm and pulled, but the mist snaked up Roberto’s other arm like a giant glow worm intent on devouring dinner. Inch by inch, it sucked Roberto into Martin’s world. He was turning into a corpse before our eyes.
Eyes rolled across the fog. “Eneergy…feed earth.”
“Unless you want someone else who doesn’t belong there, let him go,” I shouted.
White Feather sent a stiff breeze into the fog that was Martin, but the wind just crossed through him as though he weren’t there.
I reached for the stone, anchoring myself to Mother Earth. White Feather knew the second I grounded, and he grabbed me around the waist. If he yelled instructions, I couldn’t hear them. In this strange place, warped with the magic that Roberto used, I could hear and see Martin better than my living friends.
As soon as my magic touched the stone, I could see Martin clearly. He was gray. Everything was gray except the pulsing green and red of the bloodstone. His dead fingers were wrapped around it, but Roberto’s hand still stuck to part of it instead of sliding off.
“Let it go,” I said.
“I can’t,” Martin replied. His eyes were no longer sparks. They were just transparent gray that held a human panic and a sadness that hadn’t been there when I saw him last.
My magic pulsed against the bloodstone. No way would I physically touch it. I could feel White Feather, his strong arms holding onto me. Could I call the bloodstone back? Martin had called it across. His earth magic was stronger than mine…well, it might have been in life. Mine would be the stronger now.
There were no tools to use here. I could feel the magic, but Martin was right. This place pulled at the stone, at me, at Roberto. It pulled at Life.
It could have the stone and what it held, freely given, but it couldn’t have Roberto. He didn’t belong here and neither did I.
I had learned to manipulate pieces of Mother Earth, but I wasn’t very good at it and had only practiced with silver. “Bloodstone.” I called the stone anyway. Blood was the tie to human life. There was no need for blood in this colorless place, especially Roberto’s.
The red specks answered, responding to my pull, shifting forward, like to like. The drops of bright red swelled under Roberto’s fingers. I reached out and touched his shoulder, a part of him that hadn’t yet turned gray.
With a sucking, popping crack, the red separated from the green. I pulled harder, trying to draw them to us, to Roberto, to earth.
A gray blob rose from behind Martin, a bump I had thought was a rock or just another shade of gray. As I pulled, Martin came forward too, half in his world and half in mine. With the draw of magic, his arm glowed and that light drifted ever closer to Roberto’s shoulder and my hand.
The gray shape darted forward. My grunt of warning was too late.
The shape hit Martin. As it touched his shoulder, it turned into a hand. The blob resolved itself into a woman. She was as colorless as he was, but there was an odd shimmer about her. If gray could be iridescent, she was it. A snippet of energy occasionally burst across parts of her, keeping her from unrelenting gray.
When she touched Martin, he stepped back towards her and yanked harder on the stone.
The force of his pull would have forced me forward if not for White Feather’s grasp. With a muffled plea, I reached my free hand to White Feather’s arm across my waist. Our rings touched and sparked. I clung to him and kept my grounding to earth, dragging at Roberto and the bloodstone with everything I had in me.
The woman’s eyes burned straight through me, a flash of blue, just before a maelstrom of colors burst across the dead landscape, blinding me. I lost my hold on Roberto and flew backwards so fast, there was no time to brace myself for the impact.
I didn’t know if I’d been sucked in or pushed out until White Feather groaned underneath me.
“What the hell was that?” he muttered, spitting sand.
I blinked, wondering just how hard I’d hit my head. Everything around me was a mix of dark shapes looming, waiting to attack.
No, wait. Like fools we were running around Tent Rock at midnight. I tried rubbing my eyes, but other than grinding sand into my skin, it didn’t help.
“Dead witches are the worst,” Lynx said, right before dropping a whimpering Roberto next to us.
“Do you have a light?” I demanded.
“Lynx, not everyone can see as well as you do.”
“Light will just draw attention to this mess.”
White Feather turned on his flashlight. Roberto shook like a leaf and stared at me as though the situation were all my fault.
“You okay?” I sat up and felt for my own head. Sand coated me from head to foot. Being washed in desert must be part of the requirement of the magic here.
Roberto stared down at his hand. I turned it to face the light. He said something, but the magic had shut down, whatever kind it was he wielded. I could no longer make out his words.
Lynx tilted his head, and asked, “What happened to the rest of the stone?”
I picked up the piece of rock from Roberto’s palm. “Martin has it. Only the red part crossed back with us.” There wasn’t a hint of green in the piece.
Roberto nodded. He found the strength to stand and began signing frantically at Lynx.
White Feather said to me, “Can you hear me at all?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Martin’s gone. I couldn’t hear you while Roberto was holding open the link. He included me somehow.”
“That must be why you ignored my suggestion that you not go after the bloodstone.”
“Probably,” I hedged.
“And the reason you ignored me when I told you to stop pulling on the stone.”
“How did you know I was pulling on it?” We both stood and brushed uselessly at the sand.
He grunted. “I could push wind into it, but not pull it back. I could feel you there as if I were pushing wind at you. You weren’t listening to me.”
I leaned over and picked up my backpack. “Thanks for holding on to me.”
He reeled me in close. His lips against mine, he said, “Always.”
Lynx said, “Roberto wants to know if you can find the girl.”
White Feather sighed.
“Good question,” I replied. “I don’t think it will be tonight.” Since I hadn’t recognized her washed-out features, and had no idea how to bring her back across if we found her, I had a bad premonition that locating her was only going to be the start of our problems. “Maybe now that Martin has the stone, she’ll be fine.”
Roberto signed something.
Lynx said, “He says we’ll need to find her to be certain.” Then he shook his head. “Roberto has the same problem you do. It’s like you both think you can make Pandora’s box safe if you sneak up on it and dismantle it one spell at a time.”
Completely unfair comparison. Either way, we had solved a large enough problem for the night. It was time to go home. I might just sleep with the lights on.
For more adventures with Adriel and crew, check out the novels:
Visit Maria at her blog: www.BearMountainBooks.com.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any to any person, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Cover Art: Copyright of individual shots: various artists via depositphotos.com