Chapter 1: Michelle
The sun was out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and from the inside of my car it looked warmer than it was. Georgia was good at that, fooling you into thinking it was in the sixties on a winter day when you’d be lucky to hit forty. The chill didn’t bother me today, though, because my parents were finally getting married, and that was something to celebrate.
The car lurched to the right, and the steering wobbled. I slowly pressed the break and started searching for a place to pull off the road. Luckily I was on the four-lane, and it was only a few hundred feet until the road opened up into a valley, a rare flat spot in the north Georgia mountains. Thanks to the generous nature of the road folks, the paved emergency lane was more than wide enough for my car and dropped off onto generous, grassy shoulder.
I was out of traffic, even if I was ten miles from any town, and it was a frequently traveled road, so someone would come by. I looked over my shoulder before getting out and walking to the front right corner of the car. The rolling mountains and the sun casting long shadows over the valleys caught my eye, and I took a moment to appreciate the view.
Lately I’d been taking more time to enjoy the crisp winter air, breathtaking views, and fiery sunsets. Life had come at me hard and fast, and I had gotten more than my fair share of tough choices. The cost of killing the demon, Gremory, weighed heavily on me. Sylvia, the elf Gremory had been possessing, had been willing to die if that helped prevent evil from prospering, but that didn’t change the facts. I’d killed her. I killed her because that was the only way to kill Gremory.
Time was slowly taking the sting out of those memories, but I could still hear her screams in my sleep. More often than I’d like, Sylvia’s screams would morph into the masculine yell of my mentor, who had died that same night. Varro had only been in my life for a matter of days, but in that time he had left me with lifetimes of knowledge to study. His passing had left a void that no one had been able to fill.
A cloud passed over the sun, changing the shadows and giving me a different view of the same hills. The pine trees swaying in the breeze kept the hills green even in the middle of winter. This was the time of year for ending and beginnings, which had been plentiful lately.
I wasn’t the only one changed by that night. Elron, a good friend who was becoming something more, had watched his former love burn alive. I’d been sure that killing Sylvia would be the end of my relationship with Elron, but we’d managed to hold on to each other. It was hard to see either of us finding happiness with anyone else; who could understand what we’d been through except the other person who was there?
When the sun reclaimed its spot in the sky and the wind settled down, I shook off the melancholy reflections and studied the car. It was just my luck to get a flat tire on the way to my parents’ wedding. One way or another, I needed to get back on the road because I had to be there. My father had only been in my life for a few months, and my absence would disrupt the happy event.
I glared at the tire, which was now resting on the rim. Kneeling down, I found four large nails sticking in the rubber. It could’ve been the deep shadows on this side of the car, but I thought I saw more nails on the inside of the tire.
I checked the other tires, and so far they seemed to be holding out. Muttering nasty words, I popped the trunk and moved my suitcase and duffel bags to the backseat. Then I pulled up the mat and started extracting the jack and wrench.
A car whizzed past as I got down on my hands and knees, peering under the car to find the notch where the jack needed to go. With the jack in place, and only a few turns from taking the weight of the car, I started breaking loose the lug nuts. Bracing myself against the car, I brought my foot down on the end of the wrench. It hardly budged. I did it twice more before it swung easily. I was working the wrench onto the next lug nut when a car pulled in behind me. Dusting off my hands, I got to my feet and shaded my eyes with one hand.
The man who got out of the driver’s side was in a charcoal suit. A lady in a chic midnight-blue pencil skirt and matching jacket emerged from the passenger side, and through the windshield I could see two people in the back of the car. It would be nice to think that these people were here to help me, but my recent experiences had left me skeptical. It wasn’t that long ago that three witches in pencil skirts had tried to abduct me. I’d managed to escape, but that didn’t make me feel better about this situation.
Besides, in this part of the world, I was more likely to have Bubba in his jacked-up pickup truck, with a coon dog in the back and a gun under the front seat, come to my rescue than a group that looked like they had stepped off a runway. I held my ground and kept my mouth shut.
“When we saw you out here all alone, we had to stop. Do you need help?” the lady asked.
“Thank you for the offer, but I have this under control.” This felt very wrong, like I was being set up. Considering how many nails had found their way into the one tire, it was surprising that the others were fine. If a tub of nails had spilled, one tire wouldn’t have attracted all of them, but it would be child’s play for a witch to sabotage the tire that way.
“Nonsense, Josh knows his way around a wrench. He’ll have you back on the road in no time.” At the woman’s words, Josh took off his jacket and draped it over the seat.
“That’s a lovely offer, but I don’t need the help.” My voice was firm, but it didn’t have any impact on the lady.
She waved her hand and Josh started my way.
“Please leave.” Somehow, I didn’t think they were going to listen to me.
Her smile faltered, and she ducked into the car for a moment. When she returned, there was a wand in her hand and the two ladies from the backseat were getting out.
On the side of a highway, with my car on three wheels, wasn’t the best spot for us to face off. Considering how quickly Josh was covering the ground between us, I didn’t have much time to come up with a plan.
I shot a blast of energy at the woman, turned, and sprinted for the tree line. My odds weren’t good against four witches, and any fight I could walk, or run, away from was a good fight.
The first baby pine was at my side when someone knocked into me from behind. I hit the ground hard, air whooshing out of my lungs. While I lay there, stunned, my hands were wrestled behind my back and cold metal was clipped around them.
“Very good, Josh, now the charm,” was the last thing I heard.
Copyright © 2015 N. E Conneely