They say you can wish bad things away...but that only makes them come faster.
On their way to settle the latest score, Maeve and her darksider friends collide with the Unseen, setting them on a path they never expected. Routine spellcasting just isn't enough. In this work of mythopoeia, maintaining balance between the Unseen and the Forbidden becomes an obligation with no room for excuses. Along the way, Maeve and her friends unearth secret truths about what the ancients knew--an
Three weeks into her senior year was an irksome time to be facing expulsion, but that’s precisely where Maeve was.
“We’re well aware of your history here, Maeve, and that will be considered in our decision,” droned a deep, depressing voice from the opposite end of a long conference room table. Maeve stole a glimpse out the open window of the rolling New Hampshire horizon beyond the school. A dismal gray cloud layer, engorged with the weight of gathering moisture, shrank the ceiling of the sky to just above the ridgeline. Maeve watched dark wisps of cloud skirt along under the belly of the smooth gray mother-cloud, suggesting rain was imminent.
The town of Ashland: Small, remote, conservative. Population just over two thousand. A place where secrets were kept and confrontation avoided. It was also a place where Maeve was entombed until she was eighteen. That, or she had to justify wasting energy dodging pursuit. She was undecided. Maybe she could hold out for another nine months. Maeve traced the tufts of individual treetops along a ridge with her eyes. The thought of being free and alone among those non-judgmental trees sent a rush of saliva into her mouth.
Maeve sat by herself at the end of the table, hands folded neatly on her lap, feeling the stiflingly humid air blow across her shoulders every few seconds as the oscillating floor fan behind her made its passes. Her head bent forward to let her electric blue highlights veil half of her face. She smoothed the cumbrous black kilt she borrowed from Patrick and tried to avoid banging the sole of her scuffed burgundy Mary Jane platforms against the table leg. It wasn’t that she was afraid of being expelled—she just hadn’t had time to make a plan to get out of it.
She was ordinarily fidgety, but for this meeting, she made every effort to seem inert and innocent. She sampled the stingy air, which smelled partly of old building, partly of freshly sharpened pencils. Her polite demeanor and respectful posture thinly masked very different feelings that the school’s disciplinary committee—all two of them—did not seem to fully appreciate. How could they? They didn’t know who she was. Not really, anyway. To them, she was just a bellicose goth kid with a sorry following of difficult students. She preferred it that way—keeping ordinaries out of the know.
“I wish I could be more helpful,” Maeve rasped. Her sarcasm broke through appropriate subtlety, revenge already brewing in her mind. Her cascading piercings, thick eye shadow, heavy eyeliner, and deep purple lipstick didn’t exactly endear her to the panel as a serial conformist.
The man thrummed on. “Your mother needs to be here before we discuss this. We called her several times and had to leave messages for her.”
“Work's been busy for her lately. Can’t carry a phone in the asylum.”
Silence hung between Maeve and the suits. The man across the table wiped beads of sweat from his forehead with the palm of his hand.
“My word against hers, right?”
A twenty-something brunette wearing a business suit, pursed lips, too much make-up, and a too-tight bun that prevented her eyelids from meeting when she blinked, answered her. “Your teacher didn’t see what happened, so...”
Maeve cut her short, eyes leveled. “He only sees what he wants to see. Ignores the rest. Especially when it doesn’t fit with his narrow ideas of what people should be. Personally, if you ask me—which you’re not, but let’s suppose you are—he finds me threatening. Not my fault.” Maeve sat forward in her seat, attention focused on the insufferable woman’s exaggerated cranial fusion lines that funneled her forehead toward her pencil-thin eyebrows.
The slight but usually intimidating vice principal cleared his throat into his fist. “That doesn’t change the fact that your answers were exactly the same as Sarah’s and Mr. Madden reports that Sarah finished the assignment first.”
“Glamour,” Maeve muttered to herself, her gaze jumping from the table in front of her to the sun-crackled urethane sill to her left.
“Excuse me?” asked the woman, head cocked slightly. Maeve wondered if she used a No. 2 pencil for those annoyingly thin eyebrows. Maeve thought how sappy the understudy looked trying to dress and act so much older than she was.
“Enamored,” said Maeve, distracted, and lifted her head toward the woman to seem interested. “She’s enamored of me, clearly.”
“Are you being sarcastic?” asked the woman.
“Are you being doltish?”
The woman scowled, then covered her mouth and whispered something to the man. Maeve could only make out “Mr. Collins” and “special punishment.”
Maeve put things together in her head and nodded to herself, viced her lip between some teeth and narrowed her sight straight between the two figures opposite.
“Any word from my mother yet?” asked Maeve, knowing that there wouldn’t be. Venom could have dripped from her tongue. Her attention was now entirely on her long-standing resentment of people’s use of fear and intimidation to break youth. Familiar feelings of an exhausting struggle against the incessant herd mentality pulling her back toward the center of society’s bell curve surfaced once again. Maeve exhaled slowly through her flared nostrils. Long live the fringe, she mouthed.
Collins’s boring recitations of cliched admonishments were almost liturgical. Each time his voice broke the silence, Maeve felt drained. She imagined being slowly boiled in some putrescent oil and thought that would be less painful than having to sit there and listen to excruciating palaver. She couldn’t tell them the truth. They would treat her the fool and laugh her out of the room. They never listened. She had to fix things on her own, in her own way. But to do that, she needed to be alone or with her friends. That was how it went time and again.
The veep’s vapid carping continued. “We left messages with the psychiatric center’s receptionist and on your mother’s phone. Someone in our office is trying to get through now. Given your attitude, I don’t see us making any progress without your mother here to make some decisions for you.”
Maeve reached out a hand and clapped the dense wooden table with her open palm. “Good. So, are you holding me here until you can get her, sheriff? Because that could be days. She works more than she breathes. This would be an all-inclusive in-school suspension, then, right? Where should I sleep?”
The suits looked at each other. Collins sniffed and checked his watch. Wait outside this room—this room only—and we’ll call you back in when we hear from your mother. Leave and you will be expelled without further discussion. Hang around and you might get to finish high school, which would surprise most of us, quite frankly. We have some other items to attend to while we wait for your mother.”
Collins’s gaze slid down to an over-stuffed binder on the table in front of him. He reached to the binder and opened it with a thud against the table. The woman shot a laughably childish glare Maeve’s way before eyeing up the stack of drudgery with masochistic anticipation. The woman was probably just out of college and in Maeve’s opinion, one of the worst kinds of administrator—the mildly ambitious rule-loving kind out to prove her übercop-can-make-the-kids-beg-for-mercy mettle.
Rules. Hierarchy. Conformity. All the core values of this one.
Maeve sized up the heavy wooden door to her right, got up from her chair, and slipped out of the room. Just as she closed the door, she was blocked by a welcome visage. Patrick.
“Yet another Malleus attempt?” Patrick crossed his skeletal arms, massaging what he begrudged as a sad specimen of a bicep. He fiddled with his latest wardrobe addition, a pre-tied men’s necktie with purple and orange squares that Maeve had looped around his neck for the day. Not his usual fare, but he didn’t bother to take it off, deferring instead to Maeve’s fashion sense. He tried not to notice the clash with his black and gray argyle vest on white rolled-sleeve Oxford.
Maeve gritted her teeth. “As usual. Same game, different players.”
“Which accusation today?” asked Patrick.
“Cheating.” She faked a quick smile, then plucked a fuzz from Patrick’s tousled coffee bean crop. “I nail a test and some girl who sits behind me in History claims I copied her stuff, and I get no benefit of the doubt, ya know? Of course, they believe her over me because she’s normal and has her lips permanently anchored to all her teachers’ back pockets so she can pucker up whenever necessary.”
Patrick shook his head in disapproval. Maeve watched his one green eye and one blue eye slide saw-like back and forth.
“I’ve got her, though. It’s a glamour. She masked me and made the teacher think I was her and she was me. It just looked to Madden like she was sitting in front and finished the test first. Can’t believe I didn’t feel her doing that.” Maeve put a fist to her mouth, stirring a stew of revenge again in her mind.
“Is the accuser in the conference room?” Patrick asked, inserting a bud and thumbing up some of NYC’s Kevorkian to set the mood for Maeve’s imminent grudge. He took a swig of room temperature lime PoetWater and re-capped the bottle.
“No. She gets to go on as if nothing happened. Smirky little...” Maeve touched the corner of her mouth with her tongue, thinking, tasting the clay funk of her lipstick.
“So, did they do anything other than ask you to leave the room until your mother gets here?” asked Patrick.
“You and that keen hearing of yours. They didn’t do anything yet.” She gave Patrick a quick shove.
“I’m sure their decision is going to have a critical effect on your sense of self-worth.” Patrick’s sarcasm oozed.
“You know me so well,” said Maeve, fluttering her eyes, as if.
Patrick pinned his beverage under his elbow, whipped out a small note pad, and began jotting some short-hand. “This could make a decent story for Creative Writing, assuming the school refuses to kick us out this year and we finish.”
Maeve narrowed her eyes. “I’m not waiting around here for my summary execution.” Maeve slid past Patrick and stormed down the hall toward the double doors that led out of the building. Patrick punched the nearest locker door, sending it rattling open. He tossed the spent PoetWater bottle into the locker and slammed it shut with a clank.
“Hang on,” Patrick called after her. “We’re coming.” He tucked his pad and pen into his front pocket and jogged to catch up.
“We?” asked Maeve, craning to spot his imaginary friend.
“Finn’s on his way. I know those Chucks anywhere. Two flights of stairs to go and he’ll be here.”
“Figures. I’m friends with a barn owl.”
Maeve turned a corner and spotted another ally emerging from the ladies.
“We’re on our way to ditch, Kat. You coming?” asked Maeve.
A covey of freshmen came into view just in time to meet Kat’s stare. She ran her longer-than-average tongue over her upper lip and widened her eyes. They looked away and shuffled off, hoping to avoid a head-on with her. Kat lived in black. Black nails. Black hair. Black lacy things. Black lipstick and paint that extended across her cheeks and tapered into points in honor of the Black Dahlia. And to top it off, she was frustratingly gorgeous.
For a splash of color, she offered the world a haunting set of violet eyes. Most at the school made every attempt to avoid Maeve’s group, less so because of Maeve’s sting and more so because of Kat’s disquieting mien and execrable infatuation with all things dead. Her demeanor scared people enough that despite her being enrolled at the school for less than two years, yearbook pollsters voted her most likely to be criminally insane both years.
A hand slipped around Kat’s throat and up to her mouth, squeezing her cheeks to make fish lips. She grimaced and batted the hand away.
“Cease, Finn! My make-up was perfect. Now I might look like a deranged clown.”
“You wish,” said Finn, his slight Irish accent coming through on ‘wish.’
“Heading out to conjure some payback. You in?” said Maeve.
Finn frowned a little, ran his fingers through his thick copper hair, then bopped a quick nod as if he had nothing better to do.
Kat ducked back into the ladies to touch up, then returned. The four dodged a few adult types and slid down a set of stairs to an exit. Maeve motioned for the group to follow her behind a nearby wall. She rounded the corner. As she did, a speck of ground shimmer caught her eye. Must have rained last night, she thought. Maeve looked again for the glint. Dry. She turned her attention back to her friends.
“We’re going to meet today. I’m not about to leave my fate in the hands of these joiners and let the petty Witch capitalize. Time for the quarry. Finn, bring your lights—they always add that special touch to the occasion.”
“Even in daylight?” asked Finn, pointing up.
“Just bring them. They center me,” answered Maeve. “Kat, you’ve got the cloaks. Patrick, the usual. I’ll get something good.”
Maeve was the unofficial leader of this group. Her authority came not from age, but from her comparative knowledge of spellcrafting. She wasn’t a priestess or part of an order, but she spent more time studying and practicing it than the others. For their purposes, that made Maeve the resident expert on all things sage.
Finn found himself distracted by something on the ground behind Maeve. She grabbed Finn by the scruff and pulled him in closer.
“Finnbar, dearest, if you can call up any of that pure Celtic stuff your family has in its blood, do it. We need as much sovereignty as possible.”
Finn shrugged, then nodded.
Yes, he was Irish, but he wasn’t convinced bloodlines had everything to do with casting talent. His father, a man whose real occupation Finn could only guess at, had no tolerance for anything other than tough-guy tangible reality. Last Finn knew, his father was working for some shadowy government defense contractor, presumably as some kind of elite plugger. That hardened upbringing was tough to shake, despite Finn’s ardent interest in the other-worldly. His mother was the more “feeling” one, but was never much into the old family traditions, opting instead for the other stuff the Irish have come to be known for: the fight potion ETOH. His parents’ oil-and-water personalities led to the divorce eight years prior. Finn jammed his fists into the pockets of his black pea coat, which he wore regardless of weather, and slid closer to Kat.
Maeve noticed Finn lean in to whisper something to Kat. She smiled. Having overheard the whispers, Patrick smiled, too.
“No secrets among friends,” said Maeve, only half in jest.
“Finn was trying to seduce me again.” Kat was usually the quiet type. At least that’s the category most people forced her into. Having lived closer to Manchester and a carpool away from Boston, she craved just a little more excitement than remote small town living offered. If a goth scene was not available, a compelling alternative was due. Until she could be free of the under-eighteen slave hold, she found her comfort in decaying New England cemeteries and in concocting chaos in the lives of people she thought took too much for granted. Spectral attacks on unfaithful businessmen in Concord, breaking the neurochemical inhibition of the self-important, and the like. Make them feel invincible, then arrange for things to unravel. And so on. When lives seemed to spin out of control, it was Kat working to humble them. Her own brand of chaos magick. It was personal, not altruistic.
Maeve massaged her right temple just above the temporary tear-drop art.
“Can we go now?” asked Maeve, locking her fingers together in the shape of a church and steeple and looking around.
“Would I to support your quest. I shall absolve of my duties at school for this day. I am due for another visit from the good truant officers. As surely as I stand here, I have missed them. I have not seen them in scores of weeks,” said Kat, strumming the back of her hand against the wall.
“Must we always speak so perfectly?” Finn chided. Kat embraced the Victorian era just a little too enthusiastically, in Finn’s opinion. She refused to use contractions, even among friends. That trait was mild, though, compared to her obsession with collecting vintage pictures of dead people.
“We need some advice before we do this,” said Maeve. “I want something better than usual.”
“Are we doing a séance, then?” asked Finn.
“No. Every time we do one of those, we end up with some nut job spirit voice speaking in tongues that only Patrick can hear. We’re casting tonight. Dark. People need to learn to back off. We’ll help Collins and his leech come to a better decision and maybe make some life-changing alterations for Miss Sarah Tyler while we’re at it. If she’s on our turf and working up to something, I’m not in the mood for it.”
“Got it.” Finn studied the ground and rolled his tongue behind his upper lip.
Maeve was in a peculiar mood. She was rarely this animated. She was known to cruise through most days cold and apathetic. Being reflective and disengaged when society preferred the instant gratification of schmoozers made her come across as dull and uninteresting—or merely sociopathic. Much had changed since her carefree days as a kid exploring rambling fields and cool streams, hiking trails with her parents, or just reading a cozy mystery on a cold wet November afternoon. She felt she had to defend herself against a vampirical world of slothful naysayers and line-toers. She wanted more in life, although precisely what ‘more’ meant, she wasn’t yet sure.
The exception to her aloof temperament manifested when she or her friends were impinged in some way, spectrally or physically. Outside of AP History and her other classes, she generally spent her free time feeling for darksider attacks and working out some complicated ritual sets to aid her in finding a life path with some grit to it. Mostly the attacks she worked to protect against were from darksiders visiting from out of the area who were trying to win followers or impress people, but some came from amateurs at school—like Sarah—and from nameless lurkers in Ashland who dabbled.
Kat nudged Finn and winked. “Are you going to be a proper gentleman and assist this time, or shall the ladies bear this burden alone?” She smiled.
Finn was still distracted. “Is it just me or is that wet spot behind you getting closer to you, Maeve? Is that ice?” he asked, bending forward.
Maeve glanced behind her, then screwed up her mouth at Finn, slightly irritated by his senseless diversion. Finn snapped up his collar. He had just then noticed a distinct chill.
“You feel that?” he asked.
“Finally some relief from the heat and humidity,” said Patrick.
“Weather on Washington doesn’t usually get down here,” said Finn.
“Canadian front?” suggested Patrick.
Maeve stared them down with not a little incredulity, as if they might have been debating whose mom packed a better lunch. She sneered. “One hour.”