I dart inside as the temporary toxic fumes start to dissipate, and glance over at Anna. “Sorry. You’re about to be ejected until whatever is going on stops. It’s possibly spirit-related, but that’s all I’ve got.”
“Just do it,” she says as she leaps through the wall.
Chanting quickly, I hear the salt spill in the kitchen. I feel it rush around me as I keep my eyes closed, chanting as fast as I can. Listening to the grains rattle across the floor is hard to do when the thunder grows increasingly loud.
More and more salt spills, shooting out of the storage closets, bags of it ripping open. I gauge it all by sound alone, keeping my eyes closed so I can concentrate on using the right words I made up when I was a kid.
The second the salt stops skittering around, my eyes fly open, finding all the perfect lines across the house. After grabbing my rubber boots, I hop one-footed until the process of putting them on is complete.
My gaze moves to the window where the storm is growing. It’s abrupt and random and much too cosmically strong to be made from a single individual, but gypsy covens are strictly forbidden.
The most likely reason is that it’s being caused by spirits only, and that’s entirely alarming on another level.
The front door starts shaking, and I look around, seeing people running through the street, rushing into their homes. Shops start dropping wooden shutters over their windows and slamming heavy wooden doors.
Do they know something I don’t? The entire town?
“This is super weird out here!” Anna calls. “Llamas are crashing through the clouds at accelerating speeds!”
My eyes jerk up to the clouds because I’m a gullible moron. Instead of the promised llamas, I see fat raindrops growing stronger and stronger, pelting vehicles with a tink tink tink that turns into a thunk thunk thunk when it shifts into hail. Lightning strikes here and there, and my entire body turns to stone as I check the salt lines.
Electricity and I do not get along. There’s a reason I only wear shoes with thick rubber soles.
This is not normal on a day when there was zero chance of rain.
“Do you think it’s them?” Anna calls over the storm. “Are they gypsies like you?”
“Can’t be. Those guys haven’t seen you, and you’re impossible to ignore,” I remind her. “This is purely spirit related, which means there’s a shit-ton more ghosts here than we realized.”
She looks like sex on legs in lacy lingerie that was probably considered insanely indecent in the thirties. They’d definitely notice, even if they’re into men instead of women.
Thunder crackles again, and I look up, seeing something smoky rising to the sky. Something familiar sizzles through the air, and it almost steals my breath.
But it’s gone before I can be sure.
Just as abruptly as it all started, the storm ceases, and the sun peers out like it’s been there all along. I’m starting to wonder if I’m a pathological liar when it’s over so fast that I almost question whether or not I made the whole thing up.
Shops start opening immediately, shutters lifting and people walking out with smiles on their faces…like nothing ever happened. It’s as if I’ve entered an alternate dimension, because no one even questions anything.
They chatter on about the beautiful weather as though they’re oblivious to what just happened.
Opening my door, I stare outside without leaving the safety of my house, feeling the wind stir as the salt recedes, all of it traveling back to its place.
“That dog just took a shit in our yard!” Anna shouts, pointing an accusing finger at a…fire hydrant. “Shoo, you nasty dog! Shoo!” she shouts at the fire hydrant.
Before I can come up with a way to distract her from needlessly yelling at an inanimate object that is certainly not taking a shit in our yard, I hear a thump come from overhead.
My blood freezes in my veins when the slightest creak comes from that really terribly loud attic floor.
If someone was up there, they’d have to be louder. It sounds like a herd of elephants invading when someone is simply walking around.
Another creak and slight shuffling has me turning and silently moving up the stairs, grabbing my loaded shotgun from the corner as I go. Mom was always light on her feet, so it’s safe to assume another gypsy assassin would have the same stealth.
It grows silent long before I finally reach the attic door, and my heart is thundering in my ears when—
“Shazaam!” Anna shouts as her head pops through the attic door and her eyes meet mine.
I’m screaming and flailing backwards before I realize what’s going on, and I land hard, just as I go deaf from a loud explosion rocketing through my ears.
Splinters rain down on me, along with really bright sunlight, as I struggle to hear and shield my face. The gun beats me on top of the head when it falls on me, punctuating my spectacular performance.
It takes me exactly one delayed second to figure out what just happened.
The gun flops to my side when I shove it off my head. I’ve now blown a hole in my freaking ceiling because my finger was still stupidly on the trigger, and my stupid ghost stalker’s lips are moving as she shouts something I can’t hear over the temporary deafness.
I should have shot the pain-in-my-ass ghost instead of my ceiling. Roofing is always so expensive, damn it.
No, it’s not the first time I’ve accidentally shot a hole in a roof. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like I’ve hit any wiring this time.
“Why are you shooting a gun in the house?” is the first thing I can finally hear, even though there’s still a steady ringing in my ears. “Are you ignoring me? You’re a lunatic!” Anna shouts before she follows it up with a shake of her head. “Those damn puppies are going to climb in here now. There’ll be no stopping them.”
“I. Hate. You,” I bite out between angry breaths as I sit up, clutching my aching head. “What the hell are you doing?”
She moves through the attic door fully so I can see all of her mostly naked body, and I glare at her.
“I heard a noise, so I came to investigate the attic,” she says unapologetically. “Then I heard another noise. The second noise was you,” she says as though she’s dutifully explaining why she has to terrify me so often.
“You were just yelling at a fire hydrant! You know I hate it when you pop out in front of me like that, especially when I just saw you somewhere else. Why can’t you walk around instead of just doing your disappearing shit and popping up somewhere else?” I demand, making sure she knows the hole in the ceiling is her fault. “And what’s in the attic?”
“I don’t actually walk. I just make it look like I do. And there’s a kangaroo boxing a mannequin in there. Strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” she informs me with a straight face.
I scrub a hand over my own face while groaning, leaving the gun on the ground—since I don’t feel worthy of carrying it around at the moment. After pushing up to my feet, I walk through her and push open the attic door. When I step inside, I find… a box lying haphazardly on the ground.
“Did you do that?” I ask Anna.
There’s the immediate realization that it’s stupid to expect answers.
“No. The kangaroo did it when he was jumping out the window,” she says seriously.
Rolling my eyes, I go to the window just because she’s got me worried someone went out of it. It’s locked, so my eyes land back on the box that has been turned over.
An odd, almost electric current zips up my back when it feels like something brushes up against me, and I whirl around, looking at nothing but a mirror’s reflection of me.
Which still makes me squeal, because for an unnerving second, I think it’s someone else. I really need a break if my own reflection is making me jump and squeal like a pansy.
Shaking off the lingering sensation that someone is in here—since it’s a small room and it’d be easy to spot someone—I lift the box from the ground, wondering if maybe the brief thunderstorm rattled the house enough to knock it off.
“I really hope there aren’t rats up here,” I say with a shudder, but all thoughts blank when a familiar red cloak falls to the ground, tumbling from the half-opened box.
Putting the box on the small table it used to be on, I bend and slowly lift the scarlet, luxurious cloak, smiling softly as memories of my mother wearing it dance in my head.
“You look like a grown-up Red Riding Hood,” I remember telling her.
“Red is the color of the Portocale gypsies clan. And Red Riding Hood couldn’t slay a pack of wolves if necessary. I, however, can,” she’d boasted with a wink.
“Earth to gypsy girl. Come in, gypsy girl,” Anna is saying annoyingly close to my ear. “Is that a magic cloak? Like Harry Potter’s?”
Carefully, I pull it on and tie it at the collar, before pulling the hood over my head and turning to face the mirror.
“No. Mom wore it when she went hunting,” I say absently, feeling the soft, velvety material as it sparkles with my mother’s residual magic.
It’s almost like I can feel a piece of her in it.
“Hunting?” she asks incredulously.
“She hunted for ghosts who were possessing humans and causing them to go insane,” I elaborate, leaving out the part where she killed them a second time.
It’s not like I know how to do that, so there’s no need in risking Anna’s possible panic attack. She’s under the impression that all girls grow up to be their mothers.
“What’d she do when she caught them?” Anna asks like she’s riveted by this conversation.
“I don’t know,” I sort of lie as I study myself in my mother’s cloak.
“I’ve never possessed anyone before. Or have I? Is it difficult?” she muses.
“It’s actually very complicated to successfully achieve, and it’s incredibly draining on the ghost. Not to mention what happens to the host. When a person doesn’t know what’s going on, it causes them to go insane, because they lose pieces of their life and find themselves in the middle of somewhere they don’t remember going, with every successful possession. Mom isn’t the only gypsy huntress out there,” I add dismissively.
“Gypsy huntress? That sounds like she’s hunting gypsies,” Anna argues as I check the pockets of the cloak, pulling out a small, crinkled receipt.
“Don’t overthink it,” I answer distractedly. “She was a gypsy hunter because she was a gypsy and a hunter.”
“First you said huntress and now you’re de-feminizing it. Truly disappointing,” Anna prattles on, while my head tries to wrap around the large amount of cash my mother dropped in one store.
My eyes dip to the date that is from the night before she died, and my brow furrows. It’s not an itemized receipt, but the bottom dollar is still on it. It’s odd this hardware store has an address that’s from a completely different town.