Laughter at a time of sorrow.
Bloodshed at a time of joy.
Salvation at the moment of despair.
Nadia kept her gaze on Mrs. Prasad as she lived each emotion in turn:
Packing to leave Chicago forever, going through the dressier clothing Mom had left behind, watching her dad’s face fall with every nice gown or glittery shoe Nadia pulled from the closet to reluctantly throw away, until he said, “I guess I could perform a drag show,” and then the two of them rolled on the floor laughing until they cried.
The laughter at the Halloween carnival, popcorn and cotton candy in everyone’s hands, all the little kids running around in their costumes, never realizing what was about to unfold within the haunted house.
Being trapped underwater in the sound, seaweed tangling around her ankles, binding her with the force of a magic so old she couldn’t fight it, desperate to breathe and sure she was about to die—until Mateo found her there in the cold and dark, pressed his mouth to hers, his breath to hers—
Mrs. Prasad screamed.
Everyone in the room turned to stare—except Nadia, who had been staring already. But she hadn’t expected a reaction like this. Suspicion, maybe. Trepidation. Caution, which would be a good thing around a demon from hell.
Instead Mrs. Prasad had gone straight to full-blown panic.
“Get away!” she cried, plowing over a few other people as she tried to back away from Asa. For his part, though he must have sensed what was going on, he looked nearly as shocked as everyone else. “Get away from me!”
Mr. Prasad’s voice came over the microphone from the city-council podium. “Honey? Honey, calm down. Nobody’s making this personal.”
But Mrs. Prasad had completely lost it. Her screams kept rising in pitch, and when Asa rose as if to go to her, she staggered back like she might pass out.
It’s too much, Nadia realized in horror. This spell’s too powerful. She’s seeing the demon within in a way that I can’t—a way even Mateo can’t. That’s going to drive her crazy, if it hasn’t already. I have to take it back!
Quickly she grabbed her quartz charm and called up the first useful spell she could think of: a spell of equation, one that witches sometimes used to cover up evidence of their magic, to convince people that the phenomenon they’d just seen was something totally regular—that the thing that had seemed so different to them a moment before was in fact just like everything else around them. This, too, was one Nadia had never cast before, but this seemed like the time to try it.
Snow turning into rain.
A fear suddenly realized to be false.
The interruption of the extraordinary by the ordinary.
Nadia closed her eyes, the better to concentrate:
Mom saying, “Oh, shoot,” as she stood on the balcony of their Chicago condo one unexpectedly warm Christmas, as the snow that would have made the day perfect vanished into rain, turning the whitening scene below almost instantly gray.
That time on the bus when she’d been sure this weird guy was following her, and it was only the second week her parents had let her take the bus on her own, and her heart had been pounding as he got off the bus behind her, but then he’d walked right past her into the Billy Goat Tavern and she’d laughed at her own stupidity.
The moment in her attic when she’d just finished cutting Mateo’s hair, and they’d never been so close for so long before, and they leaned into each other for what would have been their first kiss—except that Cole came in, and they’d laughed and pulled apart even though she still yearned for him so badly it hurt—
“Oh, my God!” Mrs. Prasad screamed. She didn’t sound better. She sounded a whole lot worse.
Nadia opened her eyes—just in time to see a crazed Mrs. Prasad run straight to the emergency fire ax and break the glass with her elbow.
“She isn’t—” Verlaine gasped. “Oh, crap, she is!”
Mrs. Prasad swung the ax at the people nearest her; everyone started to run and shriek. Horrified, Nadia realized that the spell of equation hadn’t made her see Asa as normal again; instead Mrs. Prasad thought everyone in the room was a demon.
And she was now trying to kill them.
What was she going to do? She had no idea. What spell could she cast for this? Even if she could think of one, which she couldn’t, Nadia knew she’d just screwed up her last two spells in ways she didn’t even fully understand. It wasn’t like she hadn’t known before this that her training was incomplete, that she didn’t know everything she needed to know, but never before had she done anything that went so incredibly, dangerously wrong.
“Somebody stop her!” one guy yelled, and a few people tried to get nearer, but Mrs. Prasad seemed like a woman possessed. She kept swinging, kept advancing, eyes wide with terror but never flinching from her homicidal determination. Wildly Nadia thought that if she ever were surrounded by demons, she’d want Mrs. Prasad by her side.
Then Asa was next to her, his breath warm against her ear as he stepped behind her. “I think someone’s gotten a little ahead of herself.”
Snap! The entire room went motionless again—even Verlaine this time, who was frozen in place with her phone held up to get video of the entire incident. Mrs. Prasad had halted midslash, someone who’d been trying to leap away suspended in midair in front of her. People’s hair and dresses and coats were spiraled out around them from their attempts to flee. Only Nadia and Asa were able to move.