Birthday Short Story

It’s my birthday. I’m sharing a “short” story. I don’t remember if I shared this before or not, but I really like it. It has nothing to do with birthdays.

Spencer and ZeeZee

Jeannie slammed the door behind her and yelled for her dog. “Toby! Where are you?”

“Jeannie!” Her aunt whispered loudly from the living room. “Be quiet! Your grandmother’s asleep and so is Spencer. I just got him down for a nap, too.”

Jeannie scowled at her aunt from under her shaggy hair. She needed a haircut but kept refusing as she could hide behind her bangs. “Sorry.” She looked around. “Where’s Toby?”

“You know very well that I don’t like dogs. He’s out in the yard.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t you think about going out there if you haven’t done your homework!”

She stomped her foot. She was wearing her brand-new combat boots, and it made a nice thud on the hardwood floor. “By the gods! I just want to say hi!”

Corin looked her up and down angrily but nodded. “Fine. Ten minutes, but then I have to leave.”

Jeannie squealed and ran out to the back yard. She greeted Toby by grabbing him around the neck and holding on tight as they tumbled to the ground. She was still very careful, he was getting old, but the golden retriever never seemed to mind the rough play. He never bit Jeannie or barked at her in anger. Toby had been her fifth birthday present. Eight years together was a long time. Toby was her best friend.

When Spencer was born last year, she tried to keep Toby to herself, especially after her mother died, but her gramma didn’t let her. Also, Toby didn’t have a mean bone in his fluffy body. He was all heart and liked Spencer just as much as the tiny baby seemed to like him. Jeannie pretended to be ok with it, but she liked it better when it was just Toby and her.

“Jeannie! Come back in! I have to leave.”

She stared down at her best friend. “At least you get to come back inside. Mean old aunt Corin.”

Jeannie started to the house and gestured for Toby to come with her. The dog complied happily. Once they were back inside, she held on to Toby’s collar while Aunt Corin gave what Jeannie thought of as the leaving speech.

“Dinner’s ready, all you have to do is reheat it in the microwave.”

“Thanks, Aunt Corin.” She would probably make something different for herself. Aunt Corin always made things she hated, like Brussels sprout casserole.

“Don’t forget to feed and change Spencer.”

“Yes, Aunt Corin.” Like she would forget. She was pretty sure Aunt Corin didn’t change Spencer as much as he needed it. The diaper box never seemed to run out when Aunt Corin watched Spencer, and he always had a full diaper after she left.

“And be quiet until your grandmother wakes up. She’s scheduled for a double tomorrow.”

“Ok.”

“That means I’ll be here when you get up in the morning.”

“Ok.” That wasn’t unusual either, and it meant horrible thick porridge in the morning. She liked runny porridge, with about twice as much milk as the recipe called for. It was better that way.

Aunt Corin leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek. The dog didn’t move from his spot as she did so. “I’ll see you tomorrow,”

“Bye Aunt Corin. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Corin nodded and left. Jeannie rolled her eyes and went to the kitchen to see what was for dinner. She kept an ear open for Spencer in case he started to cry. It was midafternoon, he would probably only rest for an hour, but that should give her enough time to eat in peace. Inn the kitchen she was surprised to find that Corin had made a chicken casserole with vegetables she liked. Jeannie grabbed a plate and helped herself to a good serving without removing the dish from the fridge. She quickly heated it up in the microwave and went back to the living room.

As she ate, she watched some TV but didn’t really listen. It was low enough to not wake either Spencer or Gramma, but she didn’t really want to listen anyway. It was a soap opera, but she didn’t like this one. The one she liked was on while she was at school. Her Gramma didn’t like recording it, as she said those shows rotted Jeannie’s brain.

Finished with dinner, Jeannie left Toby lick her plate clean. She put the dishes away and went to check on her brother. He was just waking up, but as soon as he saw her, he was fully awake and smiling. She rolled her eyes.

“Couldn’t give me a couple more minutes, could you?”

Jeannie picked up her little brother, as he laughed in happiness, and took him to the changing table. She changed his diaper and took him to the playpen in the living room. She turned on the TV just loud enough to hear and removed her homework from her bag. Spencer stayed quiet for about a half an hour, then started to fuss, which meant he was hungry. She went to the kitchen and brought him a bottle. Toby followed her the entire time, looking at her expectantly. She looked to his food bowl and nodded. He needed dinner too.

Jeannie went back to the living room, put the bottle on the table and headed back to the kitchen. Once Toby was fed, she went back to the living room. Spencer was holding his bottle suckling happily. She smiled and sat down. He wasn’t being too bad tonight. She started on homework, but in a moment, stopped and looked at her brother. She frowned in concentration, trying to remember if she had given him the bottle or placed it on the table. He saw her looking, laughed at her and went back to drinking his milk. She shook her head and looked up at the TV.

It was the news hour. She didn’t want to watch the news, but during the news hour, that was all that was on. The police had captured five witches this morning. The witches were plotting to rob something or blow something up, Jeannie wasn’t sure. They were always plotting to do something. That’s why the government had to hunt them. A lot were killed on sight, but there were public executions as well, to remind the populace what could happen if they hid a witch or were a witch themselves.

“ZeeZee!”

She rolled her eyes and glared at her brother. She hated that he called her that, but he was having trouble saying her actual name. “What do you want?”

He pouted and pointed to a toy that had escaped his playpen. It was a stuffed shark with soft fur and soft teeth. It was about a foot long and looked to have been hugged and sucked on as the short fur was starting to mat in some places. It needed a bath, but it was Spencer’s favorite and he cried whenever it went missing.

“Play?”

She glared at him again, grabbed the toy and threw it into his crib. “I have things to do, Spencer. We can play later.”

Jeannie turned back to her homework and a minute later, she felt the soft plush hitting her side. She let it land on the ground and ignored Spencer. Toby woofed, and she looked at him. He was standing near the toy as if waiting for instructions. Jeannie rolled her eyes, grabbed the toy and looked to Toby.

“No. It belongs to Spencer. You can’t play with it.” She set it on the table and went back to her homework as Toby settled under the table at her feet.

It was quiet for a few moments, with only the low sound of the TV and Spencer’s insistent sucking at the bottle. She heard when he finished the bottle and braced herself. Spencer dropped the bottle to the ground, took a deep breath and started in.

“ZEEZEE PLAY!” He said it as loud as he could.

Jeannie banged her head on the table a couple times, not hard enough to hurt herself, and took her own deep breath to calm down.

“Spencer, Gramma is sleeping, you have to be quiet.”

“ZeeZee play.”

She turned and looked to Spencer. He had his hands out to her, as if he wanted her to pick him up. She shook her head. He pouted, then picked up his shark and threw it at her. She put it on the table and turned back to her homework. A moment later, something soft hit her side, and thumped to the ground. She looked to the ground and saw the shark. Toby’s nose was almost touching hers and he was panting expectantly.

“You’re both driving me nuts. I have to finish this.” She had a report due in the morning; she had been putting it off for a month.

Toby licked her face and she groaned. He was being a little too playful. She wanted him nearby, but she knew he had to go outside. Jeannie took Toby to the backyard and let him run around. She closed the door and went back to the living room. She sat down and had written one word on her paper when she was hit again with something soft.

Jeannie looked to her left and saw the shark on the ground again. Instead of acknowledging Spencer, she picked up the toy, put it on the table next to her and went back to her homework. A moment later, she was hit again. She looked to the floor, wondering what toy he threw at her this time. The shark stared back up at her, as if mocking her. She frowned, then rolled her eyes and picked it back up. She looked her brother dead in the eyes and shook the plush shark at him.

“If you throw that again, it’s going to turn real and eat you.” She tried to be quiet as her gramma was probably still asleep. She wanted to yell, but it was a bad idea to wake up gramma.

Spencer looked at her in wonder, then laughed happily, as if life were a joke. Jeannie let out a frustrated noise and threw the toy at Spencer. It landed in his crib with an odd noise. Jeannie frowned and looked in the crib as Spencer jumped up and down, laughing. There was an odd noise coming from the crib, as if something were flopping around on the plastic. She looked in and there was a live shark, the size of the toy, thrashing around. Jeannie screamed, grabbed Spencer and pulled him out of the crib.

The door slammed open upstairs. “What is it? What’s going on?”

Jeannie stared at the shark in the crib, trying to understand what happened, as her grandmother marched into the living room. The squat woman had a mean look on her face. She stormed to the crib and stared inside. Jeannie was still mute, trying to understand what had happened.

“What the witches?” Gramma reached down, grabbed the shark by the tail and head and carefully lifted it. She turned accusing eyes on Jeannie. “What happened?”

“Spencer kept hitting me with it…” She said in a quiet voice. “I told him it was going to turn real if he…” She looked at her grandmother with sheer terror in her eyes. Her grandmother had killed witches before. “Toby…” She looked to the dog outside.

“Girl if you don’t start making sense, I’m taking you to the-”

“Toby! Toby did it! He’s a witch! I couldn’t tell you before, but he turns into a human every night.” She turned terrified eyes to her grandmother. “Help us.”

Delores Carmichael, Witch Hunter First Class stood tall. She broke the shark’s neck and looked to the dog. “Put your brother down in his room and bring me the axe.”

Tears rolled down her cheek. “Yes, gramma.”

Jeannie ran out of the room and put Spencer in his crib. She stood shaking in his room for a moment, taking deep breaths. Toby was a dog, he wasn’t a witch, but it was either lie to her gramma or watch her kill Spencer. She turned to her brother and saw that he was lying on his back staring at the mobile over his crib. She hadn’t turned it on. Thinking back, Jeannie remembered a lot of times that Spencer ended up with something that was out of his reach. He was a witch, and gramma could not know.

“Jeannie! Hurry! Before he catches on!”

“Yes, gramma!” She breathed and ran for the hall closet. There were a lot of axes in the hall closet, all meant for killing. They were polished to a high shine. She grabbed her gramma’s favorite one; the one made of silver and brought it to her.

Delores took the axe and looked to Jeannie. “You’re going to have to hold onto him. He trusts you.”

“Yes, gramma.”

The words caught in her throat. Her dog. She was letting her dog get murdered. What was she doing? As her grandmother started to the back door, Jeannie’s eyes landed on a picture of Spencer. She was saving her brother, that’s what she was doing. Shaking, she followed her gramma out to the back yard. In a false voice, she called to Toby, but she didn’t have to. He bounded over to her, a happy grin on his face. She held him close and whispered into his ear.

“I’m so sorry Toby. I love you.”

“Take him to the stump.” Gramma’s harsh voice sounded from behind her.

Jeannie did as told taking hold of his collar to lead him. Gramma followed closely behind. At the stump, gramma turned the axe, and aimed the blunt end at Toby’s head.

“Tell him to stay.”

Jeannie stared down into the loving eyes of her favorite living creature. “Stay, Toby.”

She backed away, repeating the word over and over. Toby cocked his head, seeming to understand that something was wrong. He whined softly, but before he could move, gramma hit him over the head with the hard end of the axe. He made a pained noise, and he fell to his side. Delores grabbed the axe in her hands, aimed the sharp end at the dog and started to chop off his head.

“Sometimes they change and sometimes they don’t.” She stated plainly, as if this was a natural occurrence. Jeannie realized it probably was.

It took a few minutes to chop through the dog’s neck. Jeannie stayed in the yard the entire time, thinking the words, ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again. She hoped it was enough to atone for the cruelty her dog had to endure. When her gramma was done, Jeannie saw she was smiling.

Delores grinned. “This is a great way to start the day. Go inside and take care of your brother. I’m going to shower and head to work. Leave the body where it is. I’ll bring someone over in the morning to pray over it correctly. Get any last of the evil out.”

Jeannie nodded and ran inside. She rushed up the stairs to her brother and picked him up. She held him tightly and listened as her grandmother got ready for work. Jeannie knew that her grandmother would have killed Spencer as easily as she killed Toby. It was her job and she enjoyed it greatly. Tears running down her cheeks, Jeannie knew she had to leave with Spencer. There was a forest to the west of town. If they could reach it, they could hide there. Gramma was always telling her the forest was dangerous; it was where the witches found their power.

Jeannie had never been afraid of witches, even with everything her gramma told her. Her mother, Annie, always told her that Jeannie should respect everyone; that no one should die just because they might be a witch. She also remembered stories of the forest being a safe haven.  Jeannie thought they might be able to take care of Spencer, keep him safe. She didn’t know what would happen if she found some witches, but she knew it was better than trying to keep him safe here. Gramma would find out and she would kill him. He was one year old. He didn’t deserve that.

She heard her gramma calling out goodbye. Jeannie called out goodbye as well and headed to the living room as her gramma closed and locked the front door. Jeannie grabbed her backpack and dumped out everything in it. She was about to walk away, when she stopped and looked at the pile. Corin would see it right away when she arrived tomorrow morning. Jeannie started to shake. She couldn’t really be thinking of running away. That was too absurd. It was getting cold out. She and Spencer would be cold and hungry and why would she do that to her younger brother?

She looked to the kitchen, thinking of everything she would have to take with her, including food, formula, diapers, wipes… Jeannie sat on the ground, holding Spencer to her. She couldn’t leave. She just couldn’t.

A hitching breath left her lips and tears came again. “Toby.”

But he was gone, and the dog would not have been able to help her in this situation anyway. Maybe she could wait, go on the weekend. Give herself and her brother a little more time to plan.

She looked to Spencer, who was asleep and knew she couldn’t wait. She would never leave if she didn’t leave now. Gathering her courage, Jeannie stood and placed Spencer in his crib. It wasn’t wet from the shark, nor was it damaged. She laid him in the crib, covered him and grabbed her school things. She took everything into her room and threw it under the bed. She grabbed a heavy jacket and put on some good walking shoes. She grabbed the paper bills she had in her piggy bank but left the change and went to Spencer’s room.

There she filled her backpack with as many diapers and wipes as would fit in the main pocket. Gramma had a piggy bank in here for him. She grabbed the paper bills and left the change. She then went to her gramma’s room and took her cash as well. She had to be careful to make it look undisturbed, but most of the cash was hidden under dressers. There was a lot of cash; gramma didn’t trust banks. Jeannie only took one bundle. It wouldn’t do to take everything.

Cash hidden at the bottom of the bag, she went to the kitchen and grabbed bottles and formula for Spencer. She grabbed a new container of formula but knew that wouldn’t be enough for him. She also took some squeezable fruit pouches, some cereal and some snack sticks. She didn’t take anything for herself; she could buy things along the way.

Jeannie stuffed everything into her back and went to the living room. Spencer was still asleep. She made sure that everything was in place, then went back into the kitchen. Nothing was out of place there either. She then went to her room and made sure it wasn’t a mess. In Spencer’s room, she grabbed his heavier jacket and his shoes. She went back to the living room, where Spencer was awake.

He gave her a quizzical look. “ZeeZee play?”

She forced s smile. “Yes. We’re going to play hide and go seek. We’re going to go to the park and wait until gramma finds us.”

He giggled as she pulled him out of the crib and dressed him. Once he was ready, she grabbed his stroller from its spot by the door and put her backpack in the space under his seat. She then realized there was a lot of space under there and went back to grab more diapers and wipes. They would run out of that quickly. With everything finally ready, Jeannie strapped Spencer in and left the house.

They headed to the park, but Jeannie knew they couldn’t stay there for long. Curfew was in two hours. She could stay in the park for half an hour, get Spencer tired, then head west. Other than heading west, she wasn’t too sure what to do. She let Spencer play in the sand for a while, but once he started looking tired, she put him back in the stroller and looked him in the eye.

“We have to go away, Spencer.” She made sure no one was close enough to hear her. “Gramma might hurt you if she finds out what you did. We’re not going home. You just let me know if you’re hungry, ok?”

“O-tay!”

She sighed, not sure if he understood, and finished strapping him in. She got behind the stroller and started off in the direction she thought she should go. The forest was to the west, which was where the sun set, but there were clouds in the sky, and she couldn’t tell where the sun was. Feeling rather unprepared, she started down the street, hoping she wouldn’t be stopped.

Jeannie was tall for her age, and was often mistaken for an adult, especially if she had the right posture and attitude. At a corner, waiting for a light, she reached into her pocket and grabbed a hair tie. She pulled her hair back in a bun, stood taller and walked as if she knew exactly where she was going. She felt better, and people stopped looking at her. She smiled. Maybe this wouldn’t be as hard as she thought.

The streetlights came on half an hour into their walk and Jeannie started to wonder where she was supposed to sleep for the night. She had some cash, but not much. They could probably sleep in a hotel room, but that required ID, and her ID showed that she was underage. If she showed her ID, gramma would be called. Jeannie stopped near a corner, looking around. Parks were out, since the police patrolled them. She looked around some more and saw an alley to her left. She smiled and slipped into the alley. Spencer, quiet since they started, decided it was time to be fussy. He started to make noises as if unhappy. She didn’t listen but went down the alley. She parked the stroller and moved to the side. She looked in and smiled to Spencer.

“This is where we’re sleeping tonight, if I can figure out how.”

He shook his head as if he understood and pointed to the wall. She looked but didn’t see anything. Jeannie looked back to her little brother and frowned.

“I’m sorry Spencer, we have to stay here. I’ll get you a bottle.”

She stood to move, and he started to scream. She immediately went back to his side, trying to quiet him. He wouldn’t be quiet though, not even when she picked him up. He screamed as if he were in pain. Not sure what to do, she finally strapped him back into the stroller and pushed him out of it. There were windows on both sides of the alley; she couldn’t risk getting caught.

Jeannie walked on for another few blocks, not sure what to do. Part of her almost wanted to give up and go home. Maybe she could hide Spencer’s abilities from gramma. She knew that would never work; she could hide them from gramma, but not from Aunt Corin, who was his main babysitter. She hated witches just as much as gramma. Jeannie didn’t understand it. It seemed like a bunch of malarkey anyway. It felt like a way for the government to hide other troubles.

“ZeeZee!”

She stopped the stroller and looked to Spencer, who was poking his head out the best he could. “What?”

He was pointing to an alley and smiling. She looked down the alley in near surprise, unsure why he was pointing to it. She went down the alley anyway and looked around. It was almost identical to the one she had taken him down before. There was a dumpster, some cardboard boxes, and it was dirty. She looked to Spencer.

“I wish you could talk.”

He blinked at her then smiled. “Mik!”

She nodded and moved closer to the wall. She grabbed a bottle out of the stroller and gave it to him. As he drank, she used the boxes, all of which were intact, to make a shelter for the night. The boxes were large, probably for a refrigerator, and could accommodate both of them and the stroller. Jeannie sighed. They might not be comfortable, but they would be warm. She grabbed some of Spencer’s cereal, made sure he ate some and then had the rest for herself. Though she had eaten earlier she was already getting hungry again. She would get some real food tomorrow for breakfast.

                                                            *****

Jeannie woke tired, sore and hungry. She moved and realized that Spencer was curled up next to her, sleeping peacefully. She wrapped her arms around him and kept him close, wondering what she was thinking. It was hard to think that her gramma would actually kill Spencer if she found out he was the witch. Jeannie could see Toby in her mind though, his poor, sweet face as her grandmother brought the axe down on his head to knock him out. Jeannie had witnessed her gramma doing this to adults and children. She didn’t think gramma would hesitate to kill Spencer either.

It was then that she wondered if gramma had killed her mother. After Spencer was born, her mother didn’t come back from the hospital, and Delores refused to talk about it. She said Annie was dead and never spoke of her again. There was one other person she kept quiet about, and that was Uncle Darnel. Someone accused him of being a witch, but he disappeared before the authorities could find him. Gramma never spoke of him either.

“ZeeZee?”

Her thoughts left, and she looked down to Spencer. He was rubbing his eyes, as he woke up. “Hi, Spencer.”

She grabbed a bottle out of the folded-up stroller and handed it to him. He started to drink but seemed to fall asleep as he sucked. Jeannie wanted to get started, therefore she laid him down, but moved herself out of the box. She pulled the stroller out and then coaxed Spencer into crawling out. No one was around but the sun was coming up. She strapped Spencer into the stroller and headed out of the alley.

There was a fast food restaurant open across the street. She took them there, ordered some food and sat in a booth by the door. Spencer liked some of the food, but not much. She let him eat what he wanted and wolfed down a large breakfast. She wasn’t sure what she ordered or ate, but it didn’t taste very good. She didn’t really like fast food; even Corin’s cooking was better than this.

As she ate she watched the sun come up. Halfway through her sawdust flavored pancakes, she realized they had been heading in the wrong direction. It looked like they were heading east, maybe even south, and they had to head west. Jeannie groaned and placed her head on the table for a moment. She needed a map. She didn’t want to use her phone or the Internet, because those left traces.

There were maps around the city, but she didn’t know where to go for one. A bookstore might have one, but she didn’t know where one was. They hadn’t walked that far, but it was further than she had walked before. She didn’t even know what neighborhood she was in. School was south of her house and she only walked there or to the park. Corin drove her to the mall every now and again, but Jeannie usually didn’t pay attention to which way they went. Sighing, she looked around. There was no one else in the restaurant. Jeannie nodded and finished her breakfast. It wasn’t good, but it was sustenance.

Once she was done, she headed back to the counter and smiled at the boy behind the register. “Hi. Do you know where I can find a bookstore? I’m not from this area.”

“Sure. There’s one two blocks down on Harris.”

“Do I just follow this street there?” She indicated the street the restaurant faced.

“Yep. Hard to miss. There’ll be books out front on the sidewalk.”

She smiled big and he blushed. “Thank you.”

“Welcome.” He mumbled and looked away.

Jeannie left the restaurant and headed to the bookstore. It was easy to find. It was closed, but there were books on tables and shelves on the sidewalk. There was a big sign that told passersby to take what they wanted and leave what they could. Jeannie took a couple kids books for Spencer, including a coloring book with three crayons, and found a map. She took some money from her wallet, slipped it into the mail slot on the door and hoped that no one but the owner would find it.

Map in hand, Jeannie went to the bus stop and sat down on the bench. She dug through her backpack’s side pockets until she found a pencil. She kept it there for emergencies, when her pens ran out. On the map, she marked the corner where she was and she marked her house. She very lightly traced the streets she had taken yesterday, to see where she thought she had traveled and then opened up the map fully to see where the Western Woods were.

Riva, the city she lived in, wasn’t that large, but the metropolitan area was. She lived on the east end and the woods were to the west, past all the suburbs. The area was longer east to west then it was north to south. Jeannie felt disheartened when she realized how far the woods were. They had not traveled far yesterday, but they had gone about an hour in the wrong direction. Now she had to go back towards her neighborhood, which meant she might be seen. She could take public transportation, but you needed ID to pay for the rides. If she used her ID, her gramma would be able to find her.

ID was used for everything in Riva. She was surprised that fast food places didn’t require her to use ID, but then, there were probably cameras. The thought of cameras almost put her in a panic, but Jeannie calmed herself down. It was still fairly early. Corin probably hadn’t gotten to the house yet. Jeannie took a deep breath and looked back at the map. She had to go around her neighborhood and that would add a few miles. It didn’t matter. What mattered was keeping Spencer safe.

She took her time mapping out her route and when she was done, she felt satisfied. It would probably take a few days to walk through the city, but she could do it. If they could hide in alleys at night, and find good boxes like last night, they had a chance of avoiding the authorities. Satisfied, Jeannie folded her map to be able to see the next part of her route and stood. She put the map in the stroller and started on her way.

                                                            *****

They didn’t get as far on the first day as Jeannie wanted. She thought she could walk for eight hours, but that wasn’t realistic. Though she did exercise at school, it wasn’t the same as walking all day. She also had to take into account time to change Spencer, time to let him walk around, time to eat, and time to use the bathroom, when and where she could. The first day, they managed four good hours of walking. She was exhausted by the end of the day and all she wanted to do was find a place to sleep.

All day, Spencer had been pointing to different places, as if he knew where the safe places were. At lunch, she tried to go into one store, but he fussed and cried until she moved on. He then giggled and pointed at another store a few blocks away. She couldn’t see any differences but felt that he did. If he remembered this walk when he could talk, she would ask him about it.

A couple hours before the sunset, Jeannie started looking for an alley. Instead of wandering about aimlessly, she knelt down beside Spencer’s stroller and looked him in the eye. “Ok, Spencer. If you can understand me, I’m tired. We have to find a safe place to rest for the night. Can you find a place like last night?”

He looked at her with his big blue eyes for a moment, then nodded. “ZeeZee!”

A bit frustrated, she nodded too, gave him a tired smile, and started to push the stroller down the block. She had been fairly successful at finding a business section of town. For part of the day, it had been mostly apartments, with few alleyways. Now, there was about one alleyway on each street. She aimed the stroller at the first alley she found, but when Spencer fussed, she kept moving down the block. They kept this up for another mile before Spencer finally giggled and pointed to an alley.

She didn’t question it. Jeannie was too tired. She pushed the stroller into the alley, found boxes and breathed a sigh of relief. She quickly set up a box, another large one, put the stroller, Spencer, and herself in it and fell asleep.

                                                            *****

“ZeeZee? Mik?”

The quiet but insistent voice slowly brought her out of her deep sleep. Jeannie looked around and noticed it was pitch black. There was no light, not even where the box closed. She pushed open the end that was closest to her head and realized it was storming. She sighed, closed the box and wondered if they would get wet. So far, the box seemed pretty dry. Jeannie looked to Spencer, who was sitting up and staring at her. He was sucking his thumb, which he only did when he was starving. He didn’t cry if he was hungry, but he became rather quiet and sucked on his thumb, as if it gave him sustenance.

Jeannie felt hungry herself but knew she couldn’t go out in the storm. She wasn’t going to take Spencer out there either, if she could help it. Moving a tad bit, Jeannie grabbed a bottle from the stroller and gave it a good look. It was his favorite bottle. The cap was neon green and any time he saw it, he giggled with happiness. She had given him this bottle this morning, and he only had one. He had emptied it and she had not refilled it, but now it was full. And warm, but not in a bad way. It was as if someone had just warmed it up.

“Mik?” He had his hands out to her, toward the bottle.

Jeannie stared at it for a moment longer than handed it to her brother. She looked at the other bottles in the stroller and took a deep breath. They were all full. She hadn’t thought about it yesterday or through the day, but all the bottles were full. She had taken five from home. They had used all of them today, but there was still milk in all of them. Jeannie grabbed the other food she brought for him and found that all the food was still there. The cereal, which she had devoured a couple different times, was replenished. The fruit pouches were all full and sealed, though she knew she had given him at least two. The fruit juices were also full.

She then looked the box of wipes she took. It was half full. It had been half full when she took it yesterday, and she only used one or two when she changed him, therefore that was hard to judge. There was a bag of diapers at the bottom of her backpack. It was half full when they left the house. It was still half full. She looked to her young brother, who was almost done with his bottle.

“You’re helping aren’t you? I don’t know how, but you’re filling everything back up.” She looked to the cereal. “I wonder if you could make me a burger. That’s what I really want right now.”

He laughed and handed her the empty bottle. She noticed that there was a little bit of milk left, more than he usually left. She handed it back.

“Don’t you want to finish?” There was about an ounce left.

He shook his head and grabbed one of the fruit pouches. Jeannie then realized there was light in the box, but she didn’t know where the light was coming from. Both ends of the box were closed and no light was seeping through anyway. She looked around for a moment, then shook her head. Jeannie guessed Spencer was taking care of the light but didn’t really know how to ask him.

“ZeeZee!”

She looked back to him and saw that he was holding out the fruit pouch. She took it from him and squeezed it a bit. There was still some left in the pouch. She stared at it for a moment, as she handed him some cereal. She put the pouch with the bottle he just finished and put everything else away as he ate some cereal. Once he was done eating, she took the bag of cereal. It was sandwich bag that zipped closed and could be reused. He left no more than 20 pieces of cereal in the bag.

Jeannie looked at his almost eaten food and took a deep breath. She put all three in her backpack and zipped it closed. She put the bag in the stroller and wondered how long it would take for everything to magically reappear. She then rolled her eyes. She needed to eat, too. She forgot about her own hunger when she saw the full bottle of milk. Jeannie rolled her eyes again and grabbed the backpack. She opened it up and grabbed for a fruit pouch and bag of cereal. It wasn’t the same as she had just put in. She wanted to give that time. She ate her food, but not all of it. She left about as much as Spencer had and put the nearly empty containers back into the bag. Her hunger partially satiated, she changed Spencer, and both curled up to go to sleep. There was nothing left to do, and Jeannie was still exhausted. Since Spencer fell asleep almost right away, she figured he was, too.

                                                            *****

When she woke the next morning, Jeannie was more concerned with finding out the weather. She pushed open the box near her head and saw that the rain had stopped, and the sun was out again. She left the box open and leaned back, allowing some cool air to circulate. Spencer found a comfortable spot against her and snuggled closer. She slipped her arm around him and let him sleep some more. The sun was barely up; they didn’t need to start any time soon.

Her stomach rumbled, and Jeannie remembered the food. She carefully moved away from Spencer and pulled the backpack closer. She opened the big section and pulled out his favorite bottle, the one with the neon green top. It was full. The fruit pouch and the cereal bags were full too. Jeannie leaned back as best she could against the cardboard box and looked at her younger brother. He was refilling the food and milk. He was probably also refilling the diapers and wipes. She then wondered, as he started to wake up, if he had done this at home. The diapers and wipes never seemed to be empty. They never seemed to need more from the store.

She stared at Spencer as he reached for his milk. “How in the world did gramma not know?”

He looked at her with his big blue tired eyes as he took the bottle. He didn’t have an answer for her, but she wasn’t surprised. Jeannie sighed and grabbed a fruit pouch. She wanted something more filling, but this would have to do for the moment. She remembered to leave a little bit, then put that back in the bag. She waited for Spencer to be done, then changed him. Once he was changed, they crawled out of the box and continued to head to the Western Woods.

                                                            *****

Jeannie consulted the map in front of her several times, trying to see if there was a way around this section of town. They were sitting in a fast food restaurant, finishing lunch. Jeannie bought extra food for dinner, as they would be traveling through a residential area for a good portion of the afternoon. She wasn’t sure what to do. The area was a really good neighborhood, and most of the people who lived there were rich. She heard on TV that there were politicians, witch hunters and other authority figures in this neighborhood. If she went through this area, someone might stop her.

Going around this neighborhood might not be the best either. Going south meant going through an industrial area. The district names were written on the maps and Jeannie remembered the names from when her gramma talked about the city. Going north meant a poor section of town, one her gramma always warned her against. She said a lot of pretend witches were there and did a lot of bad things to show that they were real witches. Jeannie never asked her what, and her gramma never seemed interested in telling her what.

Jeannie sighed and looked to Spencer, who was sitting in a high chair next to her. “What do you think, kiddo? North, south or straight?”

Without hesitation, Spencer pointed to the top of the map. “Naught!”

“Close enough. North it is.” She grabbed her pencil, traced out the route then folded up the map. They finished breakfast, used the restroom and left the restaurant.

Though her gramma had always warned her about this area, Jeannie didn’t know why. It was like any other area in the city. It had people, stores, apartments and cars. The cars in this area looked a little older, but not that much older. There were a lot more kids than in her area, but her gramma’s house was in an older folks neighborhood. There were two things that she hadn’t seen in other areas: street vendors and store front churches. She didn’t know what else to call them. They were stores under apartment buildings, but they were churches. She was used to seeing churches as separate buildings. This was a little strange.

There seemed to be a church on each block, with a pastor standing in the doorway, talking loudly about the gods. All of them seemed to be telling whoever was listening that they could be saved, if only they came into the building. Jeannie had a vague recollection of one of her gramma’s story. Jeannie wasn’t absolutely sure, but she thought she remembered her gramma and other witch hunters finding out one of these places slaughtered humans.

Jeannie kept her head down and kept walking. She consulted her map only when she could hide the fact. She was exhausted but didn’t want to be in this neighborhood tonight. If she walked fast enough, she might be able to get out before sunset.

She couldn’t keep up the pace for long, but still walked steadily. People were starting to look at her though, and she realized it was because her stroller and clothing looked too new. Jeannie knew she couldn’t do anything about that but wondered again if it was smart to go this way. She didn’t want anyone stopping her or harming her in any way.

“ZeeZee!”

Jeannie stopped and looked to Spencer. “What?”

He seemed to be pointing across the street and made a noise. She looked across the street and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She looked back to Spencer and pursed her lips. He made a noise again and continued to point across the street.

“Across the street?” She asked him, quietly.

He nodded, and she knelt beside him.

“Ok, but I can’t cross here. We have to go to the corner. Don’t fuss to loudly, ok?”

He nodded as if he understood and she stood up. Behind the stroller again, she shook her head and went to the corner. She crossed the street and started back toward the space he looked to be pointing to. She walked slowly, allowing him time to find what he had seen before. Halfway up the block, he called her name.

“ZeeZee!”

She looked to him and he was pointing to the food vender, smiling. Jeannie looked to the vender and saw him for the first time. He was an older man with a very kind smile.

“Hello. Looks like the young fella’s hungry.”

She looked at the sign on his small metal cart. “He might be but whatever falafel is, he’s never eaten it. Neither have I. I don’t even know what it is, and he can’t eat it.”

The man smiled to Spencer and waved his hand in an odd way. Spencer giggled and waved back in the same way. The man looked to Jeannie.

“Falafel is a grain, he’ll like it. Why don’t you try some?” He handed her some food in a paper boat and she wondered where it came from. It was almost like magic.

Jeannie took the food and looked at it for a moment. It looked like breaded, fried balls of food. She picked one up, bit half of it and smiled as she chewed. “This is good!”

He indicated Spencer. “Let him try.”

She nodded and handed some to Spencer. He ate it quickly. Jeannie laughed and stood up again. “He likes it. We’ll take another of these.”

As he reached for more, the man looked her in the eye. He spoke softly. “They travel well. They’re good cold. You sure you only want two servings?”

Her eyes grew wide, but he shook his head. He indicated she should move a bit closer. Jeannie looked to Spencer, who was giggling. She nodded and moved closer to the cart.

“My name is Khalid. I’ve been watching the news lately and it seems as if a sister and her very young brother have gone missing. No one’s sure what happened, but she may have been kidnapped or she may be under a spell. You aren’t under a spell, are you, Jeannie?”

Her face went white and she dropped the food. She turned and gripped the handles of the stroller. She was shaking. The next thing he said did not stop the shakes, but made her breath heavily, as if scared.

“Your brother told me your names. The news hasn’t released that information yet.”

She turned wide eyes on him. “How did he tell you our names? He can’t talk.”

“He can, just not out loud. Jeannie don’t leave. I have a spell around my cart. Only those who are strong in magic can see me or those around me.”

“I’m not…”

“But your brother is, and he told me to let you see me.”

“I don’t… this is…” She took a hitching breath. “I really want to sit down right now.”

“Then sit.”

She looked behind her and saw a plastic chair, like one from a restaurant. She sat down and pulled the stroller closer. Khalid came around the other side of the cart and another chair appeared. He sat close, but not too close and held his hands out to her. She carefully took one. His hand was warm, strong and gentle. She nearly cried.

“Why did you run away, Jeannie?”

She closed her eyes and grit her teeth. “Spencer’s a witch. He made a shark plush turn real. He does other things too, but that was my wake-up call. Gramma saw it.” She looked to Khalid. “My gramma is Delores Carmichael.”

He nodded as if he understood. He did. That was a feared name.

“I told her my dog Toby did it and she killed him in front of me. I couldn’t let her do that to Spencer. I ran away to save him.”

“That’s a very brave thing you did. Do you know where you’re going?”

“Western Woods. Gramma always said that’s where the witches go. Do you know if that’s a good idea?”

He took a moment to look at Spencer, then looked back at her. “I think you’ll be safe there, yes.”

“Can you help us?”

“I’m sorry, Jeannie. I can’t. If I get involved, more than I already have, someone will notice. You’re actually better off on your own. I’ll tell you what to look for. You’ll be ok.”

“Have you been doing this a while?”

He smiled. “Yes.”

Jeannie gathered her courage and took a deep breath. She moved her hand to the stroller and stood up. “Ok. Tell me what you can.”

Khalid stood and looked to Spencer. “Listen to Spencer. He knows what to look for.”

She frowned. “Can you tell me how? There have been times he’s almost leading me.”

“We leave signs. He can see them.”

“Can I?”

“If he decides to show you, he can do that. It has to be a family member that casts that spell.”

“Ok.” She looked to Spencer, then back to Khalid. “What else?”

“Let me get you some more food. Do you have a map? I can tell you a safe route out of this area.”

She nodded and handed over her map. He placed it to the side and packed up a good amount of food. She put it in her backpack while he used her pencil to trace out the correct route. She dug out money and when he handed her back the map and pencil, she tried to give it to him.

Khalid shook his head. “You’re money’s no good here. Keep it. You might need it later on.”

“But that’s a lot of food.”

“It’s ok. It’s why I’m here. Take it, say thank you and be on your way.”

She held out the money for a moment longer, then gave him a brave smile. “Thank you. A lot. You don’t know what this means to me.”

He gave a small nod and she left. Jeannie looked at the map and headed away from Khalid and his cart. At the next corner, she headed north five blocks, then headed west again. There were still stores here, but it was different. The cars looked a little newer, and the people were walking and looking into the shops rather than running by them. People were entering the shops as well and looked nicely dressed. There were also no pastors yelling about the gods.

Jeannie felt a little better here, and walked with the flow; not too fast, but not too slow. She looked in the shop windows when she wanted, but didn’t tarry too long. She had places to go and a long way to get there. When she could, she consulted the map and found that if she were lucky, she would get to the woods in two days. Two more nights on the street did not make her happy, but she was going toward safety. Eventually, they would find it; she was sure of it.

                                                            *****

A few hours later, Jeannie didn’t feel as confident. She was tired and hungry. She wanted warm food. It meant a fast food restaurant or better, but she wasn’t sure it was a good idea. The news was probably still talking about her disappearance. It was one thing to be hiding during the news hour. It was another to possibly be in a restaurant, where the news was playing, when the news was playing. As she passed another diner, the smell of hamburger wafted around her.

Jeannie gave up and went into the diner. She took a booth at the back and put Spencer in a booster chair when the waitress brought it over. She was facing the rest of the diner, and Spencer was facing the back. There was one other booth behind them and Spencer immediately started to mime to the child in the other booth. Jeannie didn’t pay much attention. Spencer often giggled and laughed with other kids, even if he didn’t know them. As long as the parent didn’t care, neither did she.

She looked around a bit and noticed that the news hadn’t started yet. They had time. She ordered quickly and grabbed a bottle for Spencer. He took it without fuss and sucked happily. She ordered him some food as well but wasn’t sure he would eat anything but his own food.

The food came quickly. Jeannie didn’t waste time. Though she wanted to enjoy the food, it was impossible. She was too worried. She wolfed down the burger and slurpped down her chocolate shake. She let Spencer have a few fries and gave him some of her shake too. He liked it. Done with dinner, Jeannie went up to the counter to pay. Spencer was walking next to her, out of the stroller. He was walking oddly, and Jeannie knew she had to change him. She paid for the food and looked to the waitress ringing up the check.

“Can I leave the stroller here? I need to use the restroom.”

“Sure, honey.”

Jeannie took Spencer’s hand and started walking toward the back, but he tugged at her hand and pointed to the backpack.

“Right. Diapers.”

She almost didn’t take the entire thing, but Spencer used his free hand to grab hold of the backpack. She looked to him and he nodded. She nodded too and took the backpack, making sure she had everything she needed. Leaving behind only the stroller, Jeannie took Spencer to the bathroom for a change.

As she was taking care of him the TV in the bathroom started and the news came on. The first segment was on a missing girl and her brother. There were no pictures, but the anchors promised those for later. Jeannie hurriedly finished, grabbed everything and left the bathroom. She ran right into a woman waiting. They stared at each other for a moment, while Jeannie almost panicked. She tried to leave, but the woman wouldn’t let her. Spencer made a noise and the woman’s child answered. Jeannie and the woman both looked down. The children were waving at each other in a particular way. Jeannie noticed he looked a lot like the child Spencer had been talking to earlier.

The woman’s eyes went wide, and she looked to Jeannie. “There are police out front, witch hunters, too. You can’t go that way.” She pointed to the emergency exit. “Go out that way, through the alley, away from the front of the building. At the alley’s other exit, take a right. At the first corner you get to, take a left. Go three blocks, and find a bookstore called Last Page.” A card appeared in her hand. “Give them this.”

Jeannie took the card, still trying to process everything that was going on.

“They’ll help you. Go. Now.”

She looked to the door as she picked Spencer up. The backpack was already on her shoulders. “The alarm…”

“Don’t worry about it, just go.”

Jeannie nodded, situated Spencer on her hip and nearly ran out the door. She barely registered that the alarm didn’t sound as she ran down the alley, away from the diner. At the other end of the alley, she took a right and stopped herself from running any further. She walked at a normal pace and tried not to squeeze Spencer too hard. She was holding onto him for dear life.

At the corner, she took a left and headed up to the bookstore. It was open, but there were a lot of people milling about, watching the news. She ducked her head and found an aisle that seemed unoccupied. Unsure of what to do, Jeannie paced a bit but stopped cold when a woman appeared in the aisle. She had a kind smile on her face and had long grey hair. It was somehow comforting. She placed her finger over her lips, as if asking Jeannie to be quiet.

The woman walked closer and held out her hand. She mouthed the word ‘card’ but had to do it a few times before Jeannie understood. As soon as Jeannie laid the card in the woman’s hand, it disappeared. She nodded and started to walk past Jeannie.

“Follow me, and please be quiet.”

Jeannie did as told and followed the woman to the other end of the bookstore. They walked to a dark corner, where the woman moved a bookcase out of the way. It was attached to a door and swung open effortlessly. The woman led Jeannie and Spencer down dimly lit stairs, to a dark basement. From nowhere came a very low light. Jeannie followed it. A moment later, another door was open. The woman led her inside then from the sound of it, the door closed.

“Lights.” The woman said softly, and light appeared. It started as a low glow but in a few minutes, the room was fully lit.

Jeannie gasped. She was in an underground living room. There were two sofas, tons of book cases filled with books, lamps, side tables and what looked like a bowl of fruit on a coffee table. Jeannie looked to the woman.

The older woman smiled. “My name is Paige Casber. This is my bookstore. And this is where we keep invited guests. You can’t stay here very long, but you are welcomed to stay the night.”

Jeannie started to shake. Unable to take it any more, she moved to one of the sofas, sat down and started to cry. She held onto Spencer, but he didn’t want to stay still. She let him go and Paige sat down next to her.

“How long have you been running?”

“I don’t know. I think this would have been our fourth night on the streets.” She managed through tears and sobs.

“What’s your name? Don’t worry, it’s safe here.”

“It’s Jeannie. He’s Spencer. My little brother. I’m surprised the news hasn’t said our names yet.”

“They never do. And they always manage to find very blurry pictures for the news. It’s like they don’t actually want the lost to be found.”

Jeannie looked to Paige. “Really?”

“I’m afraid so. Why did you run away?”

“My brother made a toy become real. I don’t want my gramma finding out that he’s a witch. I don’t want to know what she would do.”

“You think she would harm him?” Paige looked skeptical.

“Yeah. She’s killed other people before. Adults and children. Delores Carmichael.”

Fear crossed Paige’s face. “That is a feared name. You’re her granddaughter?”

Jeannie nodded.

“I can see why you ran. Do you know where you’re going?”

“The Western Woods. I think I can find help there, but now I’m not so sure. You’re not the first person to help me. I keep wondering if we can stay here somewhere.”

“Nowhere is safe for witches, but if you feel you should go someplace, you should go. It usually means that someone is guiding your thoughts. Either your brother or someone else.”

Jeannie looked to Spencer, who had found some toys, she wasn’t sure where. He was sitting on the rug, playing with some blocks, entertaining himself. “Spencer has helped me out a lot.”

Paige placed a comforting hand on Jeannie’s knee. “I’m going to go back upstairs, dear. I have to make sure my customers leave. Once they leave, I’ll come back down and make sure you don’t need anything. There is a bathroom, toilet only, in the left corner. There’s a door, so no need to worry about privacy. If you need to change Spencer, use whatever space you can find. All right?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Paige smiled, stood and left the room. Though Jeannie heard a door open and close, she did not see one. After the door closed, Jeannie leaned back on the couch and relaxed. She had not been able to do so in a few days. Safe, or relatively so, at least for the moment, Jeannie fell asleep where she sat.

                                                            *****

“ZeeZee?”

She felt Spencer’s soft hands on her cheek, but Jeannie didn’t want to wake up. She made a noise and pushed him away. She was having a lovely dream and didn’t want to get up to take care of her little brother.

“ZeeZee!” His voice was a little more insistent.

She opened her eyes and glared at Spencer. “Go find gramma. Have her help you.”

Before she could close her eyes, he shook his head. “No gamma.”

Jeannie frowned, wondering what he meant. Memories of the past few days came back, and Jeannie groaned. “Right. We’re running away.”

She sat up and yawned, still tired. She looked around and saw some food on the coffee table. Some of it was eaten, but most not. She looked to Spencer and felt his diaper. It was full, too full. She looked to her little brother.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“An entire day.” A voice came from the shadows.

Jeannie turned to the shadows as Paige appeared.

“I’m sorry if I startled you. I had a spell set to notify me when you woke.”

Jeannie nodded. “I can’t believe I slept that long.”

“How long since you’ve been safe?”

“The day I left home.” She said in a quiet voice. Jeannie stood and went to her backpack. She took out diapers and wipes.

“The food’s probably cold. I’ll bring you more. Jeannie, it’s almost night again. I’ll let you stay tonight, but you have to leave in the morning.”

Jeannie sat down on the ground and watched Spencer as he came to her. He laid down on the ground, knowing what was coming. Jeannie smiled to him then looked to Paige. “Are you sure? About us staying? I know you said I could only stay one night.”

“It’s fine. I didn’t think you would sleep as long and I didn’t want to wake you. I’ll go get food.” She went to the table, grabbed the tray of old food and left.

Jeannie changed Spencer, apologizing the entire time. She cleaned him well and hugged him tight after the new diaper was in place. She took the old diaper and headed to the bathroom. There was a garbage can and some garbage bags next to it. She grabbed one, disposed of the diaper and turned back to Spencer. He was sitting on the floor, playing with the blocks again. She went to sit beside him and helped him to spell a few different words.

She heard the door this time when Paige came back. She brought a tray of fresh, hot, home cooked food and Jeannie suddenly realized how hungry she was.

“That smells so good.”

“Tomato soup and grilled cheese. Spencer said it’s one of your favorites?”

Jeannie grinned. “He’s right.”

Paige set the food down in front of Jeannie and sat down with her. The three sat and talked about nothing as they ate dinner. Once dinner was done, Paige left again, promising to wake Jeannie in the morning. When Paige was out of the room, Jeannie looked to Spencer.

“Too bad we can’t stay here. I like her.”

Spencer grinned largely and giggled in agreement.

                                                            *****

The next morning, after an early breakfast, and after looking at the map carefully, Jeannie and Spencer set out towards the Western Woods. She didn’t have the stroller any more, but Paige gave her a cloth to help her carry Spencer. She was supposed to tie it around him and her and it almost looked like she was carrying him in a backpack. Since Jeannie already had a backpack, Paige showed her how to use it with Spencer in front. It worked fine, but Jeannie was on the lookout for a thrift store or baby supply store. She wanted a new stroller.

They entered a residential area before noon. Jeannie looked at the map and saw that they had in fact reached the outskirts of town. She sighed. It was easier to hide in the city. If they couldn’t reach the woods before nightfall, they might have issues. A lot of residential areas had police patrols. Spencer squirmed against her. He was getting hot, she could tell. She was getting hot as well. It was not going to be an easy walk.

Jeannie let him down and took his hand. He giggled happily and walked with her. She didn’t mind him walking, but it slowed her down. Also, she knew he wouldn’t last long. Sooner rather than later, he was going to ask her to pick him up. They had gone maybe three blocks when he tugged on her hand and made a noise. She looked down. He held up his hands to her.

“Yep.” Jeannie shook her head and picked him up. She would hold him like this for as long as she could. It was too hot to use the sling.

To his credit, Spencer let her hold him and rested his head on her shoulder. He was being rather quiet, which she appreciated. Since they were walking slowly, he could see the parks they passed. There seemed to be one every few blocks. Moms and younger children were playing. She could hear laughter, and some crying. She knew Spencer could too. He hadn’t played in days, but he didn’t fuss, didn’t ask to go to the park. He loved the park too. She was grateful for his quiet attitude. It helped to hide what they were doing.

She knew how they looked by now: their hair was greasy, their clothing wrinkled and dirty. They looked like they didn’t belong. Jeannie also knew that she had a look on her face that made others leave her alone. Her gramma called it her ‘stone face’. Jeannie used it when she was being told something she already knew, or when she was being disobedient. She remembered her mother having the same expression when gramma was talking down to her, or when she was defending Jeannie.

Jeannie walked on, holding Spencer. She could see mountains in the distance, and knew they were getting closer. The Western Woods were at the base of a mountain. With each block, Jeannie could see more and more details of the mountain. She had forgotten its name but could see pine trees. There were no roads into the mountains. The city stopped at the forest’s edge. No one seemed to want to build into the forest. Jeannie wondered, if not for the first time, if the woods were protected by the witches. It would make sense. Maybe that was why she knew she would be safe. The knowledge might have been transferred to Spencer, who told Jeannie somehow.

She shook her head. Her thoughts were getting odd. She was tired and hungry. She looked to Spencer. “Hungry?”

He nodded against her shoulder. She continued walking until she found a park with a table not too far from the street. She didn’t want anyone approaching her and wanted to be able to run if necessary. She really didn’t want to run. Running would show there was a problem. Jeannie sighed and sat down at the most convenient table. It was near the corner of the park, and near an odd intersection. Though the street heading east and west was residential, the street heading north and south looked more like businesses. If she had too, maybe she could run long that street and hide in a store if necessary.

Sitting down felt great, and Jeannie had to pull her head together to remember what she was doing. She put Spencer next to her and put her back on the table. She grabbed his bottle first and grabbed the remainder of the falafel for herself. It still smelled great and looked fresh. She smiled at Spencer and whispered into his ear.

“Did you do this? Did you make this stay fresh?”

He looked at her as she pulled away from his ear and shook his head. He removed the bottle from his mouth and spoke a name. “Khalid.”

She blinked a few times in amazement and looked back at the sandwich. “Huh.”

Spencer went back to the bottle and Jeannie ate what tasted and looked like a freshly made falafel sandwich on pita bread. The tomatoes were still good, the salad was still crispy, and the cucumber sauce was still cold. As she ate it, she thanked Khalid in her mind, hoping one day to be able to repay him for what he did.

When they were finished, Jeannie looked at the map to see if she could tell how much further. She found her corner on the map and saw that they were still some ways off. She traced a few streets, trying to find a better way to the woods. There were none. A lot of the side streets dead ended or wrapped around back east before they reached the woods. She didn’t want to detour off the main road, as that might take longer. She looked at her watch. It was five o’clock. They would have to find shelter for the night soon. Curfew was at seven, but she thought that because it was still light until later, that she might be able to walk without issues until night fall.

Tired but having no other choice, Jeannie packed up her things, and Spencer’s bottle and looked around. He needed to be changed. She found the public bathroom with her eyes and picked up Spencer. They headed off and she took care of things quickly in the bathroom. The mirror confirmed her worse fears: they both looked awful.

Jeannie looked around the family bathroom. For a public bathroom, it was nice. The family bathroom was its own room, with a locking door. There was a sink, a toilet and a changing table that was an actual table, not a fold out one. There were diapers and wipes and all sorts of amenities, including little soaps and cloth hand towels. She looked to Spencer.

“Screw it. We both need to clean up better.”

Hoping that no one would come along, Jeannie ran the water in the sink, found a good temperature and stripped Spencer. She cleaned his bottom, then soaped up a hand towel. She cleaned him carefully and even cleaned behind his ears. She made a game out of it, getting him to laugh at her. She also cleaned his hair with a little bit of soap and a lot of water. When she was done with him, she dried him off with another towel and dressed him in the cleanest outfit she could find. Once he was dressed, she stripped and cleaned up as best she could using another soaped up towel. She cleaned her hair as well and felt better for it. After, she put on her dirty clothing and touched up the stains and dirt as much as she could.

Dressed she turned to look at Spencer, who was on the floor, playing with blocks. They were the same ones as at the bookstore. “Ok, you made those out of thin air, didn’t you?”

He looked up, giggled and handed her the block in his hand. She took it. There were two letters on the six-sided block. Two sides had ‘z’ and four sides had ‘e’. He laughed loudly when she looked at him.

“ZeeZee!”

“Oh, you are a handful.” But she laughed as she put her things away. She found a hamper for the towels and cleaned the sink and counter as best she could. Done, she packed up, picked up Spencer and headed out. The blocks were gone before she picked him up. She looked at her brother and planted a kiss on his nose. He giggled.

“You are one weird kid, but I love you very much.”

He giggled again. “ZeeZee!”

Feeling better Jeannie started walking at a faster pace. They didn’t have a lot of daylight left and she wanted to get as close to the woods as she could. From the map, it looked like they had about five miles to the edge of the woods. If she were lucky, she would get there before curfew.

                                                            *****

Jeannie was pushing herself and she knew it. Since the park, she had set an impossible pace. She was walking as if she didn’t have anything to carry. But she was carrying Spencer and the backpack. Spencer was not a small child. She had never carried him this much before this trip. She wanted to use the sling, but every time she tried to put him down to grab it out of her backpack, he would start to fuss. At a red light she finally looked at him. No one was around, therefore she felt it was safe to ask.

“Is there a reason, other than being a brat, that you need me to hold you like this?” She didn’t know if she expected an answer, but he had given her ones before now. She was tired and fed up, but she had to understand.

Spencer looked to her as she asked the question, and looked at her for a moment more, then nodded slowly. He looked a bit scared, but she wasn’t sure if it was her tone of voice or the question. She took a deep breath and shifted him to her other side.

“It’s ok, Spencer. I’m not mad. If there is any way you can tell me what you’re worried about, go ahead.”

He seemed to chew his lip for a moment and looked as if he were trying hard to think and speak. It was slightly amusing, as it was the same look he used when taking a big dump. She had her arm under his butt though and knew he wasn’t dirtying his diaper. He looked to her as the light changed and they started to cross. This was a big intersection; four lanes of traffic and a medium. She hurried along, getting away from the intersection as quickly as possible. She saw a police car a few back from the walkway and hoped it hadn’t seen her. It was too close to curfew for her liking.

The houses were bigger here, and the blocks a little longer. She could see the tree line of the Western Woods, but she wasn’t in the clear yet. It was two, maybe three blocks, but the blocks here were about the length of two of normal sized blocks. Cars passed her in the street and she realized it was the end of the day. Tough it was late, people were still getting home. This was the outskirts, it probably took them a couple hours to get here. She shifted Spencer again and he fussed. She looked to him and he pointed to a house.

“ZeeZee!”

He said that as a police siren blared, and blue and red lights flashed around her. She plastered an innocent look on her face and turned, as if looking to see what was going on. The car was right next to her, and the police officer in the passenger seat was already getting out of the car. He had one hand on his holster at his hip.

“Miss, do you know it’s past curfew?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. Practice ran late, and I had to pick up my brother. We’re headed home now. Thank you for your time.” She gave him a bright smile, then waited as if to be told she could leave.

The police officer in the driver side got out of the car then and looked at her and Spencer. “We can give you a ride home. Where do you live?”

She looked at him kindly. “Oh, that’s so sweet, but really, I wouldn’t want to impose.”

The men looked at her and then to each other. The one closest to her reached out his hand. “We’ll need to see your id and his. Now.”

“Of course.” Jeannie gave them a fake smile. “I have to put him down. It’s in my backpack.”

Both men were on the sidewalk now and Jeannie didn’t know what to do. She had their ids, but they would see immediately that she wasn’t from this area. They would run her number and find out who she was. She put Spencer down, unslung her backpack and started rummaging through it. She looked to Spencer. He looked her dead in the eyes and pointed to the house right next to them. She shook her head. He gave her a pleading look.

“ZeeZee.” He said in a soft voice as if asking her to understand.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Spence. I’m sorry.”

He screwed his face into a frown and pointed again. “See.”

She paused her rummaging and looked to her brother. He didn’t say ‘Zee’ he said ‘see’. She looked to the house with its big closed iron gate, then back to her brother. “There’s nothing there, Spencer. I can’t see anything.”

His frown came again, but it was softer. He looked to the police officers. Jeannie did as well, and they suddenly seemed rather interested in the traffic flowing by. She looked back to Spencer as he walked very close and placed his hands on her eyes. She closed them out of surprise. He said one word and enunciated very well. He sounded like a grown up.

“See.”

He backed away and she blinked. She shook her head and blinked a couple more times. Her eyes felt weird, as if something were covering them. She looked to Spencer and saw that he was pointing to the house again. She looked and gasped in surprise. The small door in the gate was open and in a green the same shade as his favorite bottle was the word ‘HAVEN’. It was in bold letters and she knew she could go there. She turned back to the police officers, but they were still ignoring her. She grabbed her backpack, grabbed her brother and ran into the door. As she passed through, she heard one of the officers exclaim.

“Hey, where did she go?”

The other officer sounded just as mad. “I thought you were watching her!”

They continued to argue, but Jeannie allowed the sound of traffic to drown them out. She looked around and saw that there were more green messages. There were arrows pointing toward the side of the house, and the back. She followed them to an alley between the house and a large brick wall. The arrows led to the back of the garden, where a plastic shed stood. Over the door the word ‘HAVEN’ once again beckoned. She went quickly, tried the door and sighed with relief when it opened. She closed it and lights came on.

“Oh, hello.”

Jeannie took a step back and looked at the man in front of her. He was seated at a wooden table, a book in front of him. He was older with grey hair and baggy t-shirt. “Hi. Sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. The signs said haven.”

He shook his head and stood. “It does. I was expecting a boy, not a boy and his sister.”

She looked to Spencer. “Is he talking to you in his head?”

“He is. My name is Jack. Spencer didn’t say you were with him, but that doesn’t matter. He told me the police found you. It was his biggest worry. I can help you get out of the area.”

She blinked at him. “Look, I’m sorry, I really don’t know what’s going on right now. I’m tired and we’ve come a long way. We have to get to the woods.”

He looked to Spencer for a moment, then nodded and looked back to Jeannie. “Jeannie, you have to trust me. I can help, but only if you trust me. I know this is confusing and maybe when he’s older, Spencer can tell you what happened on this trip. He will remember, even though he’s young. I can get you three blocks north of here. From there, you can ask the guide how to get to the woods.” He held up his hands to silence her. “Please, Jeannie. Trust me.”

And she did. She didn’t know why, but she did. Maybe it was because of the word haven, maybe it was because she needed to, maybe it was because of Spencer. She really didn’t know. What she knew was that she would allow this stranger to help her. Each time a stranger reached out, it was to help her. She nodded.

“Thank you for helping us.”

He smiled, and she nearly cried. It was a beautiful, kind smile. “I have to ask, you’re not a witch are you?”

“No, he is.” She indicated Spencer.

“You’re going to go through this door,” he indicated a door to his right. Jeannie hadn’t seen it before. “You’re going to go through it. Witches can go through without a problem. It might make you vomit. Once you get through, try to warn the other guide first.”

She gave a small humorless laugh. “Ok.”

The man nodded, closed his eyes and reached for the door knob. He touched it, said some words rather quietly and opened the door. Jeannie walked through and heard as it closed behind her. She blinked, and the world spun away, as did her stomach. She held on, and a door opened in front of her. She spilled into the doorway, fell to her knees and let Spencer go. As the door closed behind her she warned the person on this end.

“I’m going to throw up!”

A bucket appeared in front of her. She grabbed it and retched into the can. She cleared her stomach a few times and breathed slowly for a few minutes. Spencer laughed but she didn’t look up. A kind voice came from her left side.

“Are you all right?”

“I don’t know. I feel like the world is spinning out of control.”

“Not a witch?”

“Nope. Sister to one. Gods, but my stomach hurts.”

“Here, drink this. Slowly.”

She took the cool glass and slowly sipped. It tasted like water, but had a thicker consistency. She sipped slowly and drank about half the liquid before he took the glass away. She looked at the man and a confusion graced her features. “You look like the other one.”

He smiled. “My twin. Works better that way.”

“Ok.” She frowned. “What was that?”

“A tunnel of sorts. A tunnel or road where there is none.”

She sat more comfortably on the ground as she realized her stomach did feel better. She realized the man had a green glow about him. Seeing this, she turned to Spencer. His glow was larger, almost brighter. She wondered why there was a difference. Jeannie turned back to the man.

“Your twin said you could tell me how to get to the woods?”

“I can. Do you know this area?”

“I have a map.”

He smiled and helped her to stand. They went to the table as she unslung her backpack. She pulled out the map and they laid it on the table. She looked to Spencer, who was on sitting on the ground. He was pointing to the ground and looking confused. She frowned at him, then looked to the man.

“I think he’s trying to bring about a set of blocks.”

“He can’t cast a spell in here. Only I and my brother can. Limiting spell casting makes the tunnel stronger and easier to maintain.”

Spencer pointed to the ground and made an annoyed noise. She shook her head “You heard him, Spence. Not here. Be good. He’s helping us.”

He made another noise, pouted and crossed his arms.

Jeannie shook her head and looked to the map. The man had already marked her new route. “This takes you a little further north, but there’s no other choice. There aren’t that many streets that lead to the woods.”

“I saw that. Can I make it by nightfall or will I be stopped again?”

“The route I’m marking goes through a small business district. Though it’s after curfew, you should be able to walk through there without being stopped.” He pointed to the map. “Here where the stores stop, you have to head west for one block, north for another block and then finally west again. This final road will take you to the woods. It’s about two blocks long, but they are very long blocks. No one patrols that area.”

She looked at the map as he drew out the area then looked up at him at the final sentence. “Why not?”

He smirked at her. “It’s haunted.”

She wasn’t sure about the smirk. “Are ghosts real? I’ve never been able to figure that out.”

“If they are, they don’t exist in that area. It’s spooky. Mostly run-down houses that burned in a fire a few years back, but no one wants to go there any more. A lot of people died. Teenagers go there during All Hallows to scare each other and to prove they’re not sacred of anything. No one’s ever been hurt, even though the stories say people are killed each year. It’s unsubstantiated. You’ll be safe.”

She nodded. “Ok.”

“You’re not scared?”

“You said not to be.”

She looked at him with open trust and he bowed to her. “Thank you for your trust, Jeannie.”

“Thank you for helping me and Spencer.”

He smiled as kindly as his twin.

“Can I know your name before I go?”

“No, it’s better not to.”

She crinkled her nose. “Well, it’s still really nice of you. Be safe.”

He smiled at her, helped her put on her backpack and handed her Spencer. Jeannie smiled again and left. Outside she saw that she had exited another plastic shed. She continued on her way and found the streets he marked easily. Though it was busy near the stores, no one stopped her. She followed the map closely and found herself in the haunted area sooner than she had wanted. Spencer didn’t fuss though, and that helped tremendously. They continued to walk and saw the Woods ahead of them. She was tired and wondered if they could stop somewhere in the woods and sleep. At the end of the last block, Jeannie almost sobbed. She was almost there; almost safe.

Spencer was asleep in her arms. She didn’t mind.  Once in the woods, though, she would put him in the sling. It would allow her to walk better. Not thinking about anything but the tree line, Jeannie crested a small hill near the woods and started along a trail. She followed it until she was nearly at the tree line. She stopped momentarily right at the tree line and heaved a sigh of relief. Behind her, lights came on and blues and reds started to flash. Jeannie turned as a bullhorn sounded.

“Stop where you are.”

Jeannie started to breathe faster as she heard her gramma’s voice. “No.”

There were three police cars, two wagons and a large amount of men and women. Some were in uniforms, some were not. Delores Carmichael, First Class Witch Hunter, stepped forward and addressed her granddaughter as Spencer started to cry softly.

“You have nowhere to go, Jeannie. Bring Spencer home. We’ll take care of him. You’re young, we’ll make it quick and painless.”

Jeannie took a step back. “You think…” She stopped her words, thought about her answer then spoke louder. “Are you planning on killing me like you did your own daughter? Like you did my dog? I won’t let you do that. Witches don’t deserve to die. You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Jeannie, come home now. You have nowhere to go.”

“Bullshit.” Her stone face came up and she glared at her gramma. “The woods will be our home from now on and you won’t be able to find us.”

“Jeannie!” Delores used her most authoritative voices. “You come back here! If you don’t, we’ll be forced to hunt down all those that helped you and kill them too! We can find them, you know.”

She looked to her gramma and the others around her. She didn’t see any glowing green around anyone and knew that meant there were no withes in this group. Jeannie looked to her gramma. “How?”

Jeannie turned and walked into the trees, not waiting for a response. Once in the trees, she ran. She heard the people behind her starting to follow her.

“Spencer, if there is any way you can help me, now’s the time. We can’t let them find us.”

In a moment, the woods grew dark, but somehow Jeannie could still see which way to go. She realized as lighting flashed and thunder rolled that some of the trees were glowing green. She ran in between the glowing trees, flowing the path as the storm continued. In moments, it was raining, but Jeannie didn’t stop running. She didn’t know if the others were following, but it would be impossible for them to see. The rain soon soaked her and Spencer though, but onward she walked.

Into the night they went, deeper and deeper into the woods. Jeannie had no idea where they were, she just kept following the glowing trees. Soon, she saw arrows pointing the way. She followed those, and the glowing trees stopped. Moments after the arrows started, Jeannie stopped. They were in front of a small log cabin. It was out of a dream, Jeannie was sure. It said ‘Haven’ over the front door. She didn’t question it. She walked inside, found a candle and Spencer lit it.

There was a bed, a table and a couple chairs. There was a bowl of fruit on the table, and the apples looked fairly good. Jeannie didn’t care about the food. She put down her backpack and Spencer and stripped. She hung her dripping clothing on the chairs and anywhere else she could. Naked, she went to the bed and wrapped a blanket around her body. It was warm and soft. She then went to Spencer and stripped him down. She changed his diaper and made sure he was clean and comfortable. After all his clothing were hung and everything in the backpack laid out to dry, including the backpack, Jeannie laid down on the bed with Spencer. In moments, they were both deep asleep.

                                                            *****

The sun came streaming in through the windows the next morning. The birds chirped happily and woke Jeannie easily. She lay in bed for a while, marveling at how good it felt to be in a bed. Spencer was next to her, curled in her arm, still asleep. Hungry, Jeannie carefully sat up and moved off the bed and to the table. She still had the blanket draped around her body. She took an apple and found it to be a bit bruised, but very nice. She ate two, then went to the rest of the food from her backpack. The falafel sandwiches were no longer edible. She looked around and found a garbage can. She threw away the sandwiches with a regretful sigh.

“Looks like your sandwiches didn’t stand up to the rain, Khalid. Too bad, too. They were really good.”

Everything else was fine. She ate some cereal but left a few in the bag to allow Spencer to work his magic. She had one of his bottles, since she was rather hungry and very thirsty. It somehow was warm and tasted fresh. When she was done, she went to her clothing and found that they were dry enough. She dressed then went to the back pack. It was dry enough as well. She put away what she could and looked to the bed. Spencer was sitting up, watching her. She smiled and handed him a bottle. He took it and sucked hungrily. She smiled as she realized he still had the green glow around him.

Once he was done, she changed him, dressed him and put everything in the backpack. She grabbed the sling and showed Spencer.

“Is this ok today?”

He nodded.

“Are you going to help me find our way?”

He nodded again, and she started to tie on the sling. She figured it out, got him situated and put on the backpack. She looked around wistfully and headed out. She immediately saw arrows and followed them.

Walking through the woods was harder, as the ground was uneven. There was no path, no trail of any kind, not even a deer trail. Jeannie tried not to mind, but by now, her legs were in constant pain. She hadn’t thought about it too much, as she knew she had to keep going. She hoped there would be cars at the end of her journey and people willing to help. Jeannie didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t even know where she was going, but as long as the green arrows were there, she would follow them.

                                                            *****

Jeannie kept following the green arrows for half a day. Other than the arrows, there was no path. The ground was uneven and a few times, she almost fell from tripping over a branch. Somehow, she caught her balance each time. Spencer was asleep, but Jeannie still thought he was helping her. She was never very graceful. When the sun seemed like it was just about overhead, she stopped to feed herself and Spencer. She changed her brother, and smiled at him, hoping to make things seem not as dreary. He laughed with her, pointed to the green arrows and laughed again. It made her feel better.

They set off again, but it was getting dark and Jeannie wondered if a storm was coming. They were under the trees, which would help a little, but not enough. When the first rain drop hit her, Jeannie sighed and got out their winter jackets. She put Spencer’s on, then her own, and found that she could still comfortably wear the backpack. They set off again, but Jeannie did her best to keep her head down. She could cover Spencer better that way.

On they walked, for hours and hours. Jeannie lost track in the rain but didn’t care. The end had to be soon. She believed it would be a good end, just didn’t know when that would be. She was getting hungry again when the rain stopped. Jeannie thought about stopping and eating, but the trees were getting thinner. Hope in her heart, she continued on. Soon, the trees thinned more and light came through the forest. It was the natural light of sunset. The end of the woods was near. Jeannie went a little faster and almost ran. At the edge of the trees, she did finally stop. She looked through the trees into a clearing and saw five people.

The people didn’t look mean, they didn’t look like police either, but she was still leery. Carefully, she broke the tree line and faced them. Spencer woke then and started to fuss and wiggled about. She tried to sooth him, as the people hadn’t moved, but he wouldn’t listen.

“ZeeZee! Down!” He nearly screeched.

His earnestness surprised her, and she loosened her grip on him. Suddenly, he was on the ground, running toward one of the people.

“Daddy!”

Jeannie stood where she was, shocked as Spencer ran to one of the men. The man bent down and grabbed Spencer in a bear hug. He didn’t seem to want to let go. Jeannie moved forward, not sure what to do. Spencer wiggled out of his dad’s arms and ran back to her.

“ZeeZee! Come!” He took her hand, or rather grabbed hold of one of her fingers and pulled her forward. She went willingly.

Halfway to the other side, Jeannie suddenly felt rather nauseous. She tried to fight the feeling and moved a few more steps forward. Her stomach turned, and she fell to her knees. She threw up on the grass as she leaned forward. Jeannie felt comforting hands on her back and a soothing voice spoke in her ear.

“We couldn’t warn you. I’m so sorry sweetie. This’ll pass.” The woman sounded upset that she was going through this.

“I know. It happened when we used the tunnel.”

The woman didn’t say anything but rubbed her back. It reminded her of when her mother used to do the same when she was sick as a kid. Jeannie frowned and looked up at the woman near her. She looked rather familiar. Older, but familiar.

Tears sprang to her eyes, blurring her vision. Her voice cracked as she said one word. “Mom?”

Tears streamed unchecked down the woman’s cheeks. “Yes. Hi, Jeannie.”

Jeannie pulled back slightly, aggressively rubbed her eyes to remove her tears and looked at the woman again. She had a tense smile on her face, as if unsure of Jeannie’s reaction. Her hair was longer than Jeannie remembered, and there was some grey in the blond hair, but it was her.

“MOM!” Jeannie threw her arms around her mom and knocked her back to the ground with her fierce embrace. She kept calling to her mom, holding her tight. Tears were running down her check and she was nearly sobbing in happiness and confusion.

A few minutes passed like this, but Annie knew it couldn’t last. She pulled away from her daughter and dried her tears. “Jeannie, sweetie, we have to go. It’s not always safe after we use that much magic.”

Jeannie calmed down enough and stood when her mother did. They started walking toward the other people and Jeannie realized she could see them now. Before, they had been a bit blurry. Spencer’s dad came to her first. He had Spencer in his arms. Spencer looked like a miniature version of him, except with blond hair. He also had a cleft chin, which Jeannie was sure Spencer would have eventually. He had a small one now. The handsome man held out his hand for Jeannie to take. She did so.

“It’s very nice to meet you Jeannie. I’m Wallace. Spencer’s been talking about you for a while.”

She frowned. “You can talk to him in your mind, can’t you?”

“Yes. When he’s older, he’ll probably want to do that with you.”

“I’m not… I’m not a witch.” She said almost reluctantly.

Wallace smiled. “He put the Magic Sight spell on you. He’ll learn the Telepathy spell too. He’ll use it on you, I’m sure.” He gave her a look. “If you allow it, of course.”

Jeannie gave an unsure smile. “We’ll see.”

“Wallace, we need to leave. The others are already out.”

He looked around and saw they were the only ones in the woods. “Right. Let’s go. We can catch up at home.”

Wallace turned and started to walk away. Annie took Jeannie’s backpack and led her daughter further out of the woods.

“Was it you that was helping me get here, or Spencer?”

“Wallace has been talking to Spencer for a while now, trying to get him to understand not to use magic. We wanted to help him stay safe until we could get to him. All he said was ZeeZee. Then he turned the shark real and you realized what you had to do. He told us what happened. I’m sorry about Toby. I know how much you loved that dog.”

Jeannie stopped walking for a moment to look at Wallace and Spencer as they walked ahead. “I did love Toby, I still do, but Gramma’s insane and I couldn’t let her kill my little brother.” She looked to her mother. “I thought she killed you.”

“She almost did. But when it came right down to it, she just couldn’t. She told me to run. She told me also that if they caught me, she would kill me. I came here with Wallace. We’ve been here ever since.” She started them walking again. Jeannie followed.

“She almost caught us. It sounded like she was telling people that I was the witch. That she wouldn’t hurt me if I turned myself in. She also said that they would keep Spencer safe. It confused me, but I know she would have done something bad.”

“They have facilities that try and stop young children, but it hurts them. If a witch is forced not to use their power, more often than not, they kill themselves. Usually when they hit puberty, and everything gets stronger.” Annie looked up. “Here we are.”

Jeannie looked where her mother was looking. There was a car waiting for them. She laughed with relief. “A car?”

“It’s going to take us home.”

Jeannie shook with joy and allowed her mother to lead her to the car. She sat in the back with Spencer. There was a car seat for him. As the car started with her mother and Spencer’s dad in front, Jeannie started to laugh. Relief flooded her being and she laughed and cried with absolute joy. At one point, she turned to Spencer and hugged him in his car seat.

“Home, Spencer! We’re going home!”

Spencer giggled with joy and made many happy noises as the car started on its way.

                                                            *****

Jeannie stood near the top of a small hill overlooking the town of Tiant. It was smaller than Riva with about 8,000 people, but it had been home for the past seven years. Not everyone was a witch, but most people were. The best part was everyone was treated the same and no one was hunted. There was peace in this town and she liked it.

“Hi, Jeannie. I thought I’d find you here.”

She turned and smiled at Wallace. “Hi, dad. I like to think up here.”

Calling him dad came quiet naturally and happened about a year after she and Spencer found their way here. He liked to hear it and never corrected her, though he wasn’t her biological father.

“Finals start tomorrow.”

“I know.”

He stood beside her and looked out at the town with her. “You’ll do great.”

She laughed with confidence. She was graduating a year early. “Oh, I know that. But thank you.”

“Something’s bothering you, though.”

“Some of my friends offered to help me cheat. Some of them are actually going to cheat.”

He gave her a sidelong glance. “What are you going to do about it?”

She gave him a smirk. “I don’t need to cheat. I’ve studied hard enough. I don’t want to get them in trouble though, so I asked one of our professors what would happen if someone tried to cheat. She said that it was impossible as classrooms would have an anti-cheating spell cast on them right before finals started. If anyone tried, it wouldn’t work. Won’t even work with non-magical cheating materials.”

He laughed. “Did you tell your friends?”

She grinned. “Nope. They can find out themselves.”

They smiled at each other for a moment before he gave her a serious look. “That’s not what brought you out here, is it?”

“No.” She turned away. “You’re really good at reading people, dad.”

“Telepathy helps with that.”

“Yeah, but you’re not reading my mind. You’re really good at reading expressions. Mine anyway.”

“Are you going to tell me what’s on your mind, Jeannie?” She seemed to be stalling and he didn’t want to pester her if she wanted him to stop. It was easier to cut to the chase.

She took a deep breath. He was only trying to figure out what was going on. He was a good man. Maybe he could help her. “I want to go back to Riva. I’ve been listening to their news. The witch hunts haven’t stopped. Their getting worse.” She hung her head. “Last week, one of the people that helped me get here was killed. She was a good woman.” Jeannie looked to her dad. “Paige Casber. From Last Paige book store? She let me sleep there a couple nights on my way here. She was really nice.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I think we need to bring more people here. I was thinking maybe we can do an underground railroad, like they did for the slaves a long time ago? Just make it for witches. There were twins in the suburbs that made a magic tunnel. They helped me get away from the police. A couple years ago, Spencer made my Magic Sight permanent. I can use that to guide people.”

He looked worried and proud at the same time. “Jeannie, that’s dangerous. Anyone helping witches to safety are killed as if they were witches.”

“I know, but there was a mother and son, the twins, Khalid the food vender and Paige. I think there were other people too. There were signs on the alleys that I could safely stay in. Mom said that wasn’t you guys.”

“Jeannie…” He stopped and looked at her determined face. Her mother often wore that same expression. “Jeannie, it’s wonderful that you want to do that, but I want to be sure you understand the risks.”

“There’s the risk of my own life, anyone I’m caught with and there’s the risk to this town if they can make me talk about it.” She looked him straight in the eye. “I don’t think they can, dad. This place is too important. To me and to all people who want to live in peace.”

“Who would you bring over?”

“I would start with anyone who has family here. I’ve talked with a lot of the families. All of them seem to have aunts, or uncles or ever brothers and sisters still living in Riva. If we can bring them over, that’s a huge start, don’t you think?”

“You’ve thought this through a lot.”

“I’ve been thinking about it since the first night I slept in my bed, in my room, in your home. That was really nice that you did that, by the way. Mom said you insisted, even if you didn’t know for sure I was coming.”

He blushed slightly. “You’re Annie’s daughter. I wanted to believe that we would have the family together one day. I love your mom.”

She smiled. “I know. I can see that every time you look at her.” She gave him her stone-faced expression. “I’m doing this dad. I know the stakes. I’m willing to risk it. There are too many people dying and they don’t need to be. I wish I could stop the witch hunts all together but getting family here safe is a good start. Can you help me? I know it takes a lot to bring people through the Western Woods Wall.”

The Wall was magically constructed to stop any uninvited guests from finding Tiant. To cross it, witches had to chant and open a window. It took four to five witches to open the window every time, and only one or two people could come across at a time. It all depended on how strong the witches were and who they were trying to bring through. If a witch were trying to get through, they could help. If too many mundane were trying to cross, it took a lot more witches.

“What is your plan for that, Jeannie?”

“If we can use the cabin in the woods as a safe house, I would get them there. Once there, we would figure out who was capable of casting. I would split the groups into twos and pair off one mundane and one witch. If there was an odd number, I would figure it out on the fly.”

“And in town?”

“Alleys, maybe abandoned buildings. I would find those willing to help. I think I would have to go by myself for a while and start talking to witches. I can find the ones who helped me before or try to anyway. Maybe they can get more people to help out. They were all willing to help me when I was on my way here, dad. I think we can do this. I think we can save lives.” She took a deep breath. “I need to try.”

Wallace stepped up to his daughter, placed his hands on her cheeks and peered down into her eyes. He smiled with pride. “It would be my pleasure to help you in any way I can, Jeannie. You are an amazing woman and anything you set your mind to, you will make happen. Your mother and I are one hundred percent behind you.”

She slipped her arms around his waist and hugged him hard. He held her just as tight. They stood there for a moment, then let go. Wallace smiled down at Jeannie and she smiled back.

“I want to start after graduation.”

“Good idea. It’ll give you time to see if anyone here has contacts on the other side.”

“I already have a few.”

He laughed. “Of course, you do.”

“They didn’t know my plan. I wanted to think about it some more, but I think I always knew it would come to this.”

“Of course, you did.” He gave her a smirk. “Come on. Let’s go home and tell your mom and Spencer.”

She slipped her arm around his waist and he slipped his arm around her shoulder. They headed home as the streetlights began to turn on and the sun slipped behind the hill.

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