That’s not helping.
“Think, Penny!” I berated myself while rubbing my temples.
The sizzle from outside grew louder, competing with the murmurs and shouts of males in the main room. I yanked at my foot, lifting it. I pushed back with everything I had. Tried to step backward. An invisible wall kept me put. I shoved it out sideways—or I tried, anyway. Another wall kept me in my spot, only allowing me to move forward.
“What is this?” I yelled at the room, losing any semblance of calm. My terror amping up the closer that colorful arm of death got to my feet. “Let me out!”
Shivers slid over my skin and out through my fingers. A tearing feeling ripped through me, blistering. The air crackled and popped. Something burst within the cauldron, firing liquid out. It sprayed Beatrice in the face, but she didn’t even flinch. Her arm was still extended toward me, spoon waiting, perfectly still despite how long it had been in the air.
A thought curled through my memory. The intent is the opposite of what it should be.
The words seared my brain. A desperate plea from my subconscious, still active, though fear covered me like a stifling blanket.
Undo the spell.
Use the energy in the room to undo the spell. To reverse it.
I ripped out the sheet of paper. My gaze flew over the instructions.
“Buggity flapjack, give a dog a bone,” I muttered, falling into my habit of using nonsense and nursery rhymes to keep from swearing. My mother’s influence loomed, even now.
Though for the first time ever, I would not be embarrassed or angry should she barge in and break up the party. For once, her interference to keep me safe would be entirely welcomed. Entirely welcomed.
I dashed forward, feeling the invisible barriers directing me toward the potion. Trying to channel a ninja, I leapt over the reaching tendrils on the ground and ducked under others waving in the sky. I snatched the spoon from Beatrice and shoved her away. Strangely stiff, like rigor mortis had set in, she timbered backward. At the last moment, she staggered, catching herself, and crashed into the invisible barrier of the circle. At least I wasn’t the only one who was stuck.
I skipped past the “drink” instruction and read the previous one, only to realize I needn’t have bothered. It was already stored in my brain, crystal clear. I didn’t have a photographic memory, or even an excellent one, but as I started to reverse what I’d had the ladies do earlier, I realized that from start to finish, and backward to boot, this spell was perfectly preserved in my noggin.
“I’ll marvel at that later,” I muttered, switching sides of the cauldron and stirring. “But how in frick-frack Nickleback am I going to get the ingredients out?”
Tears of frustration pricked my eyes. The colorful tendrils curled out of the sky, drifting toward me.
I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated on the herbs floating in the gurgling, rolling water. Pulled on my knowledge of their properties. I completed the reversed next step, feeling something dark and evil glance off my hair. A loud thunk echoed from the outer chamber.
Ignoring it all, I kept going. Kept working. A blast sounded from beyond the room that startled me out of my fugue. I snapped open my eyes. A wall of colorful texture had manifested in front of my face. Had dropped over my arms. I didn’t feel its touch, but there was no denying the throbbing blackness it had set off in my middle.
Reversing the spell wasn’t working.
“You have no power over me,” I yelled, stealing a line from my favorite children’s movie Labyrinth. I threw the spoon in defiance. Willing something to happen. Willing my attempt to make a difference, if only a small one.
Another woman jolted. Followed by another. Their shoulders jerked and their heads twisted to the side.
I spun around to face my former position in the circle, gritted my teeth, and prepared for a last-ditch effort. I didn’t know how to fight, but I did know how to crash through walls. My life’s clumsiness had provided good training, and an invisible wall couldn’t be too much different from a visible one.
I sprinted forward, dodging an outstretched hand that more resembled a claw, and jumped over the colorful tendrils. I put my forearms in front of my face, led slightly by my hard elbows, and poured everything I had into my intention to bust through the barrier. Sometimes that had worked for me. If I thought of something hard enough, the impossible became reality.
I pulled up the desire to get out from my toes. Felt it throb throughout my body. Used the energy of the room to add to my fervor.
I hit the invisible wall. A bone-deep vibration rocked me to my core. White-hot pain shot up my spine, tearing me in half, but then my limbs slapped against the ground beyond the wall. I rolled to a stop as the pain dissipated.
Another explosion went off in the other room. A surge of light flashed under the door, accompanied by a loud pop.
No time to breathe out an incredulous sigh of relief. Within seconds, I was up again, darting for the far chamber. I didn’t know where else to go. The outer room sounded like a war zone.
A slice of brown caught my eye to the left. I twisted my head to look, and my toe hit an uneven spot. I sprawled across the ground, still looking.
Another door. Maybe it led outside.
I was up and at the door in a moment, ripping it open. A tiny space filled with brooms and mops greeted me.
“I really wished you things flew.”
A glance over my shoulder told me the coven was finishing their transformation. Their bodies jerked and a feeling of decay crowded the air around them.
My guts pinched. I knew I’d had something to do with that, that I might’ve even made it possible. It was a hard pill to swallow. But swallow it I would, or I’d be joining them soon enough.
“The one time someone does what I say, and look what happens…” I muttered miserably as I darted into the closet and ripped the door closed behind me. I fumbled for a lock, my hands shaking. I couldn’t find anything, and my stupid flip phone didn’t have a light or glow to it. Great long-term thinking, keeping a flip phone just so my mother couldn’t use an app to keep track of me.
Explosions, large and volatile, rumbled the floor. Shouts and yells followed. The coven hadn’t been kidding—it was a full-scale battle.
Speaking of the coven…
I tilted my head as women’s voices reached me. It sounded like a chorused chant, almost a drumbeat.
I glanced down at the slice of light at the bottom of the closet door. The only thing separating me from danger was the hope that no one wanted to rummage through the closet.
That wasn’t good enough.
My brain churned as more explosions shook the foundation. Energy pounded through the air, even in my somewhat removed space. That potion was nothing compared to whatever was going on out there.
I bit my lip, grasping for a solution to this problem. Nothing came to mind. I had nothing with which to brace or tie the door. Not from the inside.
A door slammed somewhere in the building, making me jump. Either the enemy was inside, or the women had left.
I really hoped for the latter, but prepared for the worst and scooted back until I hit the wall. I slid down and burrowed into the rank smell of mopping equipment, pulling buckets and broom handles in front of my body.
A loud gunshot made me jolt.
Were guns allowed at a witching convention? That seemed like cheating, somehow.
A broom handle clattered against the metal bucket. I reached for it in fright, hoping no one had heard. A blast from the room outside shook my closet door and made my teeth chatter.
Clearly, what little noise I was making wouldn’t be noticed.
The invisible string started pulling on my ribs again. Another pressure change popped my ears. Something had happened out there, changing the landscape of the energy. It sucked at me, clawing and scraping along my bones.
Screaming erupted. Was that sound the cauldron sliding across the stone floor?
I burrowed a little deeper and squeezed my eyes shut, focusing on my breathing and thinking of being protected. Of locking myself in. Of safety. I used to do this exact thing when I was little: imagining that I was blocking the closet door to keep the monsters at bay. Only this time, the monsters and I had switched places. And the monsters were real.
More blasts shook the closet door, but my deep breathing and intense focus were calming my quivering muscles. A shout and another gunshot ended the disturbance. Heavy silence fell over the room outside.
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