Barbara Bretton

Sneak Peek

Spun by Sorcery: Chapter 2

I moved past Luke and stared across the wide expanse of open field toward Sugar Maple and my mind literally went blank.

No raging inferno had engulfed the town, reducing it to a mountain of ashes. A tornado hadn't shredded the buildings into toothpicks. Raging floods hadn't washed away the homes and shops and creatures big and small.

It was just . . . gone.

It was as if the town had never existed. No paths, no trails, only mature trees and dense undergrowth in the spot Sugar Maple once occupied.

Where a town once stood there was nothing but grass and trees. And not seedlings or saplings either. The grass as thick and summer-lush even though we were barely out of winter. The treetops scraped the sky, branches budding wildly weeks before their time. In the distance I could see the mountains that surrounded Sugar Maple.

My brain shut down. White noise filled my head. Suddenly I was in motion, tearing across the open field with Luke hot on my heels as I ran toward the place where Sugar Maple used to be.

I don't know if it was adrenaline or magick or maybe some other-worldly combination of the two but I left him in the dust. I could have qualified as an Olympic sprinter. Almost there . . . almost there . . . a couple more feet--


I'm not even sure how the splat happened but one moment I was about to break through the dense tree line where Sugar Maple once began and the next I was lifted up by an invisible wave and sent flying backward straight into Luke.

The man I loved let out a grunt when I slammed into him and we hit the ground with a thud. I lay there on top of him, struggling to catch my breath, while his eyes rolled back into his skull.

I scrambled off him like he was on fire. "Are you okay, Luke? Say something! Are you okay?"

He groaned and rotated his eyeballs back into position. "What the hell was that all about?" he asked as he pulled himself up. "You looked like you were windsurfing."

"That's exactly what it felt like."

"Stay here," he said as he slowly got to his feet. "I'm going to check it out."

"You don't really think I'm going to stay here, do you?"

He shook his head. "I gave it my best shot."

You could almost smell the cop on him. I felt like I was in an episode of one of my favorite shows, watching him be all focused and professional.

Too bad caution wasn't catching. He approached the perimeter of what used to be Sugar Maple with detached, methodical precision. It made me totally crazy. I ran toward a small opening in the stand of trees and this time I slammed face-first into invisible memory foam with a mind of its own.

I was flung back by the rebound only to be sucked back in again by some unknown force. The more I struggled, the tighter it held me. I tried to pierce it with my nails but it was like trying to pierce Jell-o. I tried to bite it, kick it, punch it into submission but nothing worked.

I had trouble drawing in a full breath. My lungs felt depleted, turned inside out by the exertion. I tried to scream for Luke but no sound came out. Let me go let me go let me go—

Strong hands grabbed me by the ankles and pulled hard. I snapped backward like a rubber band and flew up and out, landing hard on my right side with my leg bent behind me.

Luke checked me for injuries but, as far as we could tell, the only damage was to what remained of my dignity.

"Thanks for the help but you know I could have gotten out of there on my own," I said as we regrouped.

"You think?"

"Sooner or later I would have."

"We needed sooner."

No argument there.

"Why don't you try?" I suggested. "Maybe a human can get through."

Then again maybe not.

He was played like a handball. He ricocheted between invisible walls then finally skidded to a stop about twenty feet away from me. I felt horribly guilty for even suggesting he try. He was big and strong but he was still only human. There were limits to how much punishment his mortal body could take.

We were back to square one and I was no longer convinced there was a square two.

"She won," I said as reality (never my best friend) crashed over me like a tsunami. "I don't know how she did it. I don't know when it happened. But Isadora somehow managed to win."

"We were at the waterfall," Luke reminded me. "That's the only portal referred to in Sugar Maple history. If the town was pulled beyond the mist, we would have seen it happen."

I gestured toward the dense forest where my home town used to be. "It happened."

"Agreed," he said carefully, "but maybe not the way you think."

My pulse rate bumped up. "Go on."

He looked horribly uncomfortable as his dark green eyes met mine. "Maybe it was something you said."

Flames shot from my fingertips and he leaped back.

"Hey," he said, fanning the space between us. "It's just a theory. I'm a cop. We throw everything against the wall and see what sticks."

I blew on my fingers and shot him a sheepish smile. "Sorry. It's genetic."

"The flames or your temper?"

I opted for the high road. "Do you really think I might have said something to cause this?"

He shrugged and kept his distance. "You're the sorceress-in-training. You tell me."

I tried to replay the mental tape of the battle at the waterfall but it was a jumble of crazy images, wild emotions, and unintelligible words. "I remember saying fortress against evil and through time and space but nothing that could banish a town."

Or could it? A sick feeling of doubt blossomed deep inside.

"Do you remember when I said when I said moves to blackness?"

"You mean while I was having my head bashed against the rocks or when my leg was being bent back like a Pepsi pop-top?"

"Excuse me for thinking you might have been paying attention," I said with more than a little edge to my voice. "I was busy too."

"Yeah, but I was busy trying to keep my brains inside my skull."

Point made.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," I said.

"No argument there."

I held out my hands to him, palms up. "I'm sorry. I get it now. Flying through the air hurts."

"Actually the flying part isn't so bad. It's the landing that sucks." His expression softened. "I'm thinking a little magic wouldn't hurt right about now."

I made a face. "Magick might be what got us into this mess in the first place. I mean what else could it be? Isadora was busy battling us and nobody else in town has that kind of power."

His silence told me I'd made my point. Normally I loved dazzling him with my logic but today it only made me sad. This was one time I'd rather be wrong.

"You think the Book of Spells might have some answers?"

I tried to laugh. "It's either that or a Magic 8 Ball."

The Book of Spells was a celestial hard drive that contained over three hundred years of magickal wisdom gathered by the Hobbs women who had come before me. There had to be something in there to help a struggling sorceress recover her missing home town.

I closed my eyes and pulled in a long, shaky breath. Everything I had learned about the Book over the last few months danced just beyond reach. I couldn't even remember how to access the table of contents.

Calm down, I cautioned myself. Magick was like a six month old Great Dane. You had to show it who was boss or you'd be the one sleeping in the giant crate.

"Book of Spells," I intoned in my best sorceress-in-training voice. "I command you appear before me."

"Command?" Luke sounded way too amused.

"Perps and vics?" I shot back.

Okay, so maybe the language of magick was a tad seventeenth century. I'd worry about updating the jargon after I found our missing town.

"Book of Spells!" My voice rang out across the dawn-lightened field. "Come to me now!"

I waited for the shiver of awareness that preceded the appearance of the Book but it didn't come.

I pumped up the volume. "Now, Book! I command you appear before me!"

You would almost think I had no magick at all.

"Damn it, Book!" I shouted, dropping all pretense of wizardly mastery. "You've gotta give me something here!"

I'd take anything. A whisper. A glimmer of light. The tiniest clue that I was still connected to all those things that made me a struggling sorceress with an all-too-human heart.

Somehow I had made a mistake. Now all I had to do was undo that mistake and everything would be back the way it was. Maybe even better than before because the troubles with Isadora were finally over.

Denial. Where would we be without it? And the sad thing was I believed every word.

It was still early days when it came to my magick. My skills had taken a major leap forward over the last few weeks but I was still the new clerk at the local supermarket, the one with the big long line snaking all the way through frozen foods. She knows what she's doing but she's slow and deliberate and has trouble distinguishing Swiss chard from rhubarb.

The only difference between me and the clerk at Stop & Shop was that when I made a mistake I didn't screw up someone's dinner, I screwed up their life.

"Anything?" Luke asked.

I shook my head. "For all I know the Book is gone too."

I'm not one of those women who burst into tears the second life gets a little rough around the edges. And I'm definitely not the kind of girl who would dump all of her problems in her man's lap and expect him to carry the load.

But the second Luke pulled me into his arms and I saw those familiar silver and white sparks arcing between us, I fell apart.

"They're gone," I said between sobs. "Everyone is gone. . ."

My cats Pyewacket, Dinah, Blot, and Lucy watch over the cottage I'd inherited from my surrogate mother, Sorcha. EZ came and went at will. And my favorite of all, wise old Penelope who kept me company at the shop and provided her own brand of magick when necessary.

Gone? They couldn't be gone. They were the family I never had, true companions of the heart with a yen for Fancy Feast and catnip mice.

My mind spun down streets that were no longer there. There was the old church that served as our Town Hall, the one with the big stained glass window of St. George slaying the Dragon. The village green with the out-of-place lighthouse that stood in tribute to Salem where we all began. Our world-class flower beds, courtesy of the Sugar Maple Garden Club and Horticultural Society, and the bike path that wound through town all the way to Snow Lake.

And my yarn shop Sticks & Strings, the place where I met Luke and we set off sparks for the first time over my self-replenishing basket of roving.

"My stash," I choked out then cried even harder.

"You're crying over your knitting?" Luke looked horrified but he wasn't a knitter. I couldn't expect him to understand. I mean, he still hadn't mastered the difference between yarn and wool.

"I know it sounds t-terrible and I'm ashamed—well, I'm not really ashamed. I should be. I know I should be and—Luke, stop looking at me like I'm an axe murderer. I'm a knitter!"

My stash was part of my history. Losing it was like losing a piece of myself. A really big piece of myself. Grand Canyon big. Cashmere, mohair, angora, qiviut, sportweight, worsted, DK, laceweight fine as cobwebs. Bags of fleeces and baskets of handspun, including one very special basket handed down from Aerynn that replenished itself with the silkiest, finest roving you've ever seen. Needles made from local hardwoods, smoothed by the hands of the Hobbs women who came before me. The drop spindle that had belonged to Sorcha. My mother's spinning wheel.

Some people kept handwritten journals, secret books where they spilled their lives onto paper. My knitting was my journal. My life in fiber. Every skein of yarn came with a story: where I was when I found it, who I was with, the way it made me feel.

Every gauge swatch triggered memories of projects completed and projects frogged, of laughing with my knitting pals as one of the cats rolled around on an uncombed fleece or got all tangled up in a hank of hand-dyed merino. Teaching Janice how to cable without a needle. Helping Lynnette master lace charts. All the wonderful friends and strangers who had passed through Sticks & Strings over the last ten years.

That shop, those people, my beloved cats--they were my life. They were my family.

Luke loved me but he only knew me within the context of Sugar Maple.

Without Sugar Maple, I wasn't sure I would know myself.



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