The Attacks Chapter 1 Lin and the shop keeper stepped out to see where the scream came

from. She tried to see anything she could under the royal blue sky with white clouds moving in and squeezing out the remnants of daylight. Up and down their left and right of Blackthorn Street, people ran under the light of the street lamps. Down on the pavement, she saw pumpkin Jack-o-Lanterns smashed and smeared up and down the block. “Is the city under attack again?” “I don’t know but I’d better close up, get home, and check in with my family. Sorry, but I’ll see you soon,” and Mara rushed back inside, locking the door behind her. Mara had a car in the back of the shop whereas Lin lived only a few blocks away. She was a little scared and knew she should go home, but couldn’t fight her impulse to investigate. Lin buttoned down her black velvet cloak, pulled the hood over her head, and turned left down Blackthorn Street.

Careful not to make too many clopping noises with her heels, she struggled to walk on the fore of her feet. She squinted as a blast of cold air threw daggers at her eyes and at her nose. AAAAAAAaaaaaaghhhh a voice broke through the night. Lin flinched at the sound of a man yelling in pain, but kept her head forward and continued passed many little shops along the street; all which appeared to be shut down rather early. From somewhere she heard voices in chorus. She continued toward the end of the block. Along the way, she saw many more shops on the street were dark inside while remaining keepers were locking up and leaving quickly and agitatedly. What was going on? She asked herself. One moment, she was visiting with Mara in her dress shop, and, the next, some sort of terror had taken over the town. At the cross street of Blackthorn, she stopped and barely saw dark silhouettes of more people, several blocks down, who ran through the street. She looked right and saw nothing but the dark, sky reaching mountains.

To her left, a chain of a dozen or so hooded people carrying torches in their hands walked shoulder-to-shoulder, combing the street. Lin broke into a cold, cold sweat. She felt perspiration run down her back and her breath quickened. Across the street and a few feet down from the chain of hoods, a man stepped out of a shop and started to lock the door from the outside. He turned and saw the hoods, and then made to run but one of the hooded figures from the center moved an arm and the man flung, feet over head, through the air. The poor man screamed out as he crunched into the ground. A shorter hooded body went rogue from the line and chased down a couple who appeared a few yards down from where the man landed, and then tried to run around the corner. The hood pointed a long, thin piece of brown wood at them and the woman screamed shrill. Without a moments delay, Lin sent the wood fire which obliterated the wand in the hood’s hand. The man jerked his hand and turned his head toward her, as did several others in secession. Lin’s eyes locked with the man’s enraged beady browns, and he looked like he wanted to hurt her. Immediately, she sent up

an invisible shield with her mind that could only be spotted by the glint of a light, reflecting off particles of solidified air which tinged the sky around her just slightly. All at once, the hoods sent a variety of spells at her, but Lin remained untouched. Using her will, she blew the chain of hoods like leaves backward, rolling down the street and flying through the air. She walked into the middle of the street and watched them scatter as she thought about how things were, finally, getting started. It was looking more and more like she couldn’t, consciously, walk away. ~~~ Several months earlier, Lin came to Blackthorn to teach at the local academy. Of course, she could have taught at her home’s town college, where she graduated - that and her family warned her about the state of the magical world as being at war: she’d be safer at home under the guise of a mortal. They said it would be better for her future if she continued blending into normal society, but Lin couldn’t do it. Although she knew her family loved and cared for her, she needed to get out and see the magical world.

Lin studied the various magical communities and towns across the world with special interest in Blackthorn because it was, by far, the richest and most historical township. The town’s history included some of the best witches and wizards of all time, the most important developments in magical relations, and rich family lines of witches dating back to the Middle Ages. When Lin received a request for an interview with the academy, she flew to Blackthorn, immediately, and was only there a few hours before she was completely in love with the town and its people. From the year round academy and cozy shops all nestled on the base of the 35,000 foot Mt. Monroe to the free and open practicing witches, Lin was thrilled. She always fantasized about making a name for herself one day in the magical world; although she didn’t know how just yet, so after being unemployed for an entire year since she’d graduated from college, it was exciting to receive the job offer which, to Lin, felt like the first step to establishing herself in the great town of Blackthorn. Lin was delighted to have found what she hoped would be a second home.

~~~ She woke in her rented apartment on the top floor of the tallest structure of downtown Blackthorn. A few moments, she lay in bed and considered the prior night’s events with questions of who the hooded people were and whether or not Mara got home alright. Lin knew she should leave Blackthorn because the town had become much scarier. Ever since Blackthorn Bank was reduced to rubble several weeks ago, killing all thirteen inside, local residents had become short tempered and mean, but mostly because they’d lost trust in each other. For example, the other day, she went to her local café to get her usual latte from Stanley, the laid back barrister, but when Lin dropped her keys, Stanley jumped a mile high and decorated the wall with her coffee. Then, when she was walking to the Lodge restaurant for her usual Saturday morning breakfast, a woman bumped into Lin and, instead of saying excuse me, tried to punch her in the face and then ran away. However, the town’s people weren’t the only ones to go somewhat insane, so were Lin’s parents who drove her batty by calling, sometimes, twice a day to check in

with her. Often, they’d badger her about returning back home, where it was safe. After last night, she was starting to think they were right. The prospects of returning to her hometown, Buffalo, where she could move in with her parents, not pay any rent until she saved up enough for a house, and was guaranteed a teaching position at the local college, wasn’t too bad. Then, as she considered these things, an image of Professor Milton Wynn, a handsome, pale-faced, dark haired-dark eyed professor from the local academy, appeared in her mind. It wasn’t just her crush that held her back, though. There was her best and closest, not to mention only, friend, Mara Blesswell, whom she cared for, too. Being an only child, she never played well with others. Sadly, she never had any real friendships like the one she had with Mara. The kind of friendship where you can spend hours joined at the hips and never get bored with one another; the kind where you tell each other everything. She pushed back the covers and rose. Telekinetically, she started the coffee brewing as she went for a shower and change. Moments later, Lin sat down on the cushiony brown leather couch she purchased

from Mara’s older cousins, the Wickers, whose shop was down the street from her apartment. The Wickers were a nice married couple with two children who were still in school. Mara and Barb were really close while growing up. Together, they used to run Blesswell’s Dress Shop on Blackthorn Street until Barb married Bill Wicker, leaving the dress shop entirely to Mara. On the day Lin accepted her job offer, she met Mara Blesswell who always seemed to have a funny yet cynical thing to say. Some thought she was a bit of a downer but others thought she was a real cool person. They met on the day Lin walked into the Wicker’s shop and bought furniture she needed for the apartment she’d just signed for. It was there she also met one of the more influential citizens of the town, Golden Craig. She strolled through the aisles as others in the shop stared at her for either being a newcomer or being beautiful. Lin was used to being stared at and it didn’t bother her. She continued as though she were not attracting attention with her long, lean physique, elegant nymph-like face, neck, and full lips.

Upon bending over to inspect a small oak end table, she ran her hands through her long black hair, revealing her fair complexion and glittery grey eyes. As she looked up, she noticed the impressive looking man, whom she came to know as Golden, in a long dark trench coat. He had the iciest blue eyes and a rich head of chocolate brown hair. He strolled with an air of importance and the quality of his clothes was noted by her. The man appeared to have noticed her first, and it was obvious he’d been watching her for some time. When she looked up, their eyes locked for a moment. He was extremely handsome and she liked looking at him, immediately. She stood up and continued through the aisles until a short man, whom she came to know by the name of Bill Wicker, approached her. “Can I help you?” asked the friendlyfaced balding man. She continued to eye the man as he walked about the shop. When Lin and Wicker walked up to the counter, he followed. He stood there patiently as she and Wicker concluded their business. “One moment, Mr. Craig.”

“Sure,” he nodded politely. Lin could see his eyes shift toward her out of the corner of her eyes. Twenty minutes later, she was sipping on a creamy cappuccino, down the street, at the Blackthorn Café. She got lost in her thoughts while looking at the beautiful snowy mountains towering a few miles behind the shops across the street. She flinched as the man with the icy eyes sat down suddenly. “Good afternoon,” he said with a slight English accent. “And to you.” He pulled his black leather gloves off, “I’m Golden Craig, and who might you be?” Her eyes immediately drew down to the gold wedding band around his finger. “Lin Helewise. I’m the new teacher at the Blackthorn Academy.” “What?” his pupils widened as his stare intensified. “Why would they hire you?” “What is that supposed to mean? I’m perfectly qualified to teach.” “Have you had any formal magical training?” She didn’t reply.

“How old are you, anyway,” he asked, snidely. Her temper flared like a match. “Not that it’s any of your business,” she replied, “but my parents taught me. Formally, I went to a normal university and got a degree in education. No matter what you may think, I am perfectly qualified to teach.” “Yes.” he sipped his espresso. “Ms. Helewise,” he drawled on the Ms., “I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I were you. You may find your endeavors, here, short lived.” He took down the rest of his espresso. “Well, I must be going, but it was nice to meet you,” and he bowed to kiss her hand, which she yanked back and smacked him across the cheek. He hardly flinched; she may as well have kissed him, for he looked like he hardly cared, as he strolled off, casually. She sat there confused, wishing she’d asked why he didn’t want her there. The man took all the confidence Lin had, about her first teaching job, and left her bewildered. Her feelings must have shown on her face, for she turned her head and saw a pretty brown haired woman in an elegant black wool dress standing across the street and

staring at her. She walked toward her and, when she approached the table, said, “You’re the new teacher? I’ve heard of you. Do you have family here?” “No.” “I saw you talking to Craig. I can imagine what he might have said to you. His wife stops in at my shop frequently; they can be quite nasty, but she spends a lot. Despite his arrogance, the ladies usually end up loving him, in the end, but, whatever Craig told you, he’s married so be careful. In a small town like this, you don’t want to anger the wrong people.” “Oh, I don’t think he approved of me; in fact, he was quite rude.” “Yeah, that’s normal,” she smiled. Instantly, Lin found she liked the bright eyed woman. She had a confident and extremely honest, manner; completely contrary to her sweet looking, slightly freckled, face, and shiny reddish brown hair. “Would you like to sit?” “I can’t, but feel free to stop by sometime. I’ve got the best fashion store in town and, whatever you want, I can get.” “Okay,” Lin smiled, “I’ll finish my coffee and come take a look.”

“Grab your cup and come over now. It’s okay,” she said as she signaled to a waiter who was sweeping the floor, inside. “We find coffee and shopping go hand-inhand; we help each other out.” Lin looked behind her and the waiter nodded. Like every other business on the street, the shop was a cute, Danish looking building with its narrow A Frame and a bit of ivy growing on the bottom half. Inside was small but warmly lit with dim, yellowish light. The walls were golden yellow with white trim and racks of clothes neatly built into the walls. In the center was a cream colored sofa and matching chair with a coffee table laden with magazines and coasters. “Please, sit.” After pleasant introductions, Mara brought out a few gorgeous articles of clothing; all names of which she’d never heard, yet of the finest quality. Lin couldn’t help herself when she bought three of the finest hooded capes in the shop, a preferred fashion in Blackthorn. Seeing that it was nearly freezing about nine months out of the year, they’d come in handy she thought. Mara was ecstatic with Lin’s purchase and,

for being so generous, brought out the reserve Champagne and cake that was for high spending customers. As she sipped Champagne, in between outfits, Lin enjoyed hearing about Mara’s upbringing in Blackthorn. She felt they weren’t so different, despite being raised in completely different parts of the country. Mara was smart, logical, and very intuitive. Her family was wealthy working class, and Mara went into their family jewelry business after she’d graduated from the academy. Shortly, after, she found she couldn’t stand working so close to her parents, which is why she went to work for her cousin, Barb, who sold the dress shop to Mara so Barb could help her husband with the furniture shop. It was a slow, long day for Mara, who felt like closing early since she’d made three big sales. So she locked up and she and Mara had a long intimate conversation during which, they finished off three more bottles, and Lin learned more about the social affairs of Blackthorn. Blackthorn was just like any other small town, she told her, with nosey people, like her close friend Sally Minton who owned the local tavern, loved to gossip, and always had the latest skinny. Then, there was the goody-two-shoes, Jackie and Will Shoester;

Jackie who was head of the town council and an emblem of virtue and morals, and her shadow-husband, Will, who liked to bully those who didn’t conform. “What about Golden Craig?” Lin interrupted. “You like him don’t you? All the ladies like him, even I like him but he’s a creep. Don’t go down that way.” “Yes, he’s handsome, but I don’t like him. I’m only asking because he mentioned something about my endeavors here being short lived. He seemed angry that I’m the new teacher at the academy. Can he send me away?” “Oh, yeah, well, rumor was his cousin, Angel Craig, was supposed to get that job back, which he lost because he can’t control his drinking. When he showed up to class intoxicated, a few months back, and vomited all over the classroom floor, he was suspended pending he get help. Unfortunately, he’s been struggling with alcoholism for years, so it wasn’t easy for him. Still, he promised the headmaster, Alistair Glock, he’d clean himself up, and it was agreed that Angel would return after a short leave of absence. A number of weeks passed, and he met with Alistair, who agreed to allow him

back into the academy, but he got drunk the night before his first day back, and some students found him passed out on the steps to the castle. Needless to say, everyone was shocked that he’d do something like that. A relapse is understandable, but not on the eve of his return, so he was permanently fired at that point and Golden Craig vowed revenge on the headmaster.” “How could he vow revenge on the headmaster? He can’t possible think the academy can turn a cheek to that sort of behavior?” “Craig feels responsible for Angel because he looked after him when he was a teenager. He promised his mother, before she died, that he’d take care of him.” Her speech was becoming more and more slurred. There was a knock at the door. Mara stood up, slowly, and sloppily walked to the door. When she opened it, a good looking guy with dark, shiny hair and luminous black eyes walked in. They stood and whispered to each other, and Lin noticed him slip her a piece of paper. Briefly, his eyes flashed in Lin’s direction as he backed out of the door and walked out.

Mara nearly stumbled her way back to the couch. “Who was that? He was attractive.” “That’s Milton. We went to school together. Wasn’t quite so cute growing up, but then he went away to college and came back a total hunk. He’s a professor – hi cough - at the academy, too.” “Are you alright?” “Ah he doesn’t care. He thinks because he’s got money they can get away with anything, and control anyone, the Craigs, but my mother is on the school committee. She is a good friend with the headmaster and, if he gives you any trouble, tell me,” her head wobbled. “Thanks, Mara. Uh, well, I’m gonna get going,” she eyed Mara uncertainly. “Tomorrow’s my first day, and I’m on new employee probation, so I want to be fresh when I wake,” she stood up and stretched. Silence. She looked down at Mara and saw she was out cold. Gently, Lin stretched her out on the couch and covered her with a blanket she had found on a cot in back, and that was how she met her friend, Mara Blesswell. ~~~

Lin took a sip of her coffee and turned the television to Channel 10 local Blackthorn news to see if there were any reports of the hooded attacks. Channel 10 news was a local station that covered news from around the world. Although it covered both magical and non-magical issues, the station could only be seen by those in magical communities. Ever since the Blackthorn Bank explosion, the news had become grim as well as silly. The journalists seemed to only report suspicious activities and people rather than actual events. Just the other day, anchor lady Mallory reported that two teenage boys, who were watching a pretty girl twirl in a dress through the window of Youthful Apparel – a dress shop for girls-, were really staking out the place for a potential bombing. The weather man, Chaney, reported that the past weekend’s stormy weather could be due to a group of sorcerers planning to help the Wackens put an end to Blackthorn through natural disaster, but, naturally, the sun came out, again, and they enjoyed a week’s worth of beautiful weather. Lin just shook her head because she knew they were ridiculous.

She sipped her coffee while listening out for any information briefing the incident from the prior evening, when, suddenly, there was a shot of Lin standing a few feet away from the hoods. “Oh my god,” she sat up and felt her face go numb. “… Few really know who this newcomer to Blackthorn is but, according to a source, she is a teacher at the Blackthorn Academy,” and there was a close up of Lin’s face shrouded by her hood. “Peculiar, this stranger, as you can see the hoods go out of there way to torture this couple” and there was a pan shot to the couple who tried to escape around the block, “and you can see that, somehow, his wand explodes into bits. Now, if you fast forward, you’ll notice a rain of spells but this witch survives without a hair out of place,” and there was an image of a dozen spells bouncing off an invisible barrier around her. Then the news lady forwarded to the part where Lin stood in the middle of the street as the hoods flew backward and scattered. “Grateful, though the community of Blackthorn is, a good question is who’s protecting her? Is she friend or foe? Wacken or someone with a secret agenda?”

Lin felt her skin flush hot as her heart pounded; she was embarrassed to have been seen like that. How could they ask if she was a Wacken? Wackens were trying to destroy Blackthorn and she was obviously trying to protect innocent people! Wackens were the ones terrorizing the town because the government wouldn’t give in to their leader, Golshem, who wanted to create a magical kingdom. It was Golshem who was looking to dictate, and she was just a teacher! This was getting way out of hand! The problem was no one really knew who Golshem was, or how to find him and stop his violent followers. For that reason, the town’s people were consumed with paranoia. One night, after drinking at the local tavern, Mara came by to hang out with Lin because she didn’t want to go home and be alone. She told Lin that Billing, the bar keep who worked for Sally (and had secretly been in love with her for years), had to throw Mr. Lichen, the local homeless drunk, out. He’d had to throw him out before, but, apparently, he was especially hysterical that evening. Mr. Lichen told them he’d seen the Wackens doing a ritual up on the mountain. He claimed they could command the clouds, and that they disappeared inside them.

Naturally, no one listened to Mr. Lichen because he was always ranting about something. His stories were infamously fabricated; however, this time, he seemed certain, to Mara. He was really shook up. All Wackens aside, in the future, Lin berated herself, she’d have to be more careful so as not to be found out, for even though she was with magical people, she herself would never be welcome if they knew the truth about her. Throughout history, certain beings endured unjust persecution despite the countless good contributions they made. Common witches and wizards were afraid of these beings whose power over spirits and the elements scared them; these beings, whose power came from within, and who needed no spells. Similar to the ways humans hunted witches during witch trials, witches and wizards pursued sorcerers. Humans didn’t like witches who had power to dominate them and, likewise, witches and wizards didn’t like sorcerers who had power enough to rule them all. Fear of domination was the reason the history of sorcerers often ended in bloody stories of betrayal. Just like the famous sorcerer - father of the town - who founded Blackthorn Academy and gave all he could to the town of Blackthorn in Victorian

times. Lucas Blackthorn was, later, betrayed by his witch coven, and by a warlock named Will Trust. She drained the remains of her cup, grabbed her rich red cloak and sent herself to school. Another trick of being a sorceress, she could will herself to and from places without much thought. A common witch or wizard would, certainly, need a spell or familiar to help transport molecules through the air. To make matters worse, Lin was still on probation with the academy. Today, there was to be a final performance evaluation, and she didn’t like to think what that morning’s news report would do to her chances of passing. She approached the cold, black gate and landed carefully in the soft mud road. The gate opened automatically and closed behind her. As if matters in Blackthorn weren’t scary enough, rumors abounded that a rebellious group who called themselves the Blackthorn Contention were behind some of the terror attacks. Lin walked through the cold fog, along the soggy path; her cloak billowing around her. Up the dozen stone steps to the

door, she went, and through the entrance hall and up the stairs to the Great Hall. The tall, wide black wooden doors opened for her and she strolled into the great hall. As usual, the dozen or so post adolescent boys observed her walking to her place at the dais, where she sat alongside the professors, the dean and his assistant. Lin loved being in the castle because, despite its cold and foreboding look on the outside, it’s inside made her think of medieval times, with stone walls and chunky chandeliers that held real candles; not to mention the thick whittled wooden furniture and faded rustic armory all about the castle. The castle was an historic masterpiece that hadn’t been altered since the 17th century. Inside, the structure was a basic layout, the way the Europeans did it, centuries before; with a kitchen and storeroom on the lower floors, great hall on the first, and multiple purpose rooms turned to classrooms on the upper floors, and with lodgings in top towers. If it wasn’t for the castle being overrun with post adolescents, she would’ve lived there during semesters instead of her apartment, but Lin was the type of girl who

needed her privacy. That and she needed to practice her sorcery regularly to keep it strong, as she seemed to lose her abilities when she didn’t use them. So she kept to her apartment because she couldn’t take a chance that someone would discover her. “Good morning, Professors.” “Morning,” echoed Professor Wynn and Ms. Crackwell as Lin sat down between them. Lin looked around at the Halloween decorations which made the room look extremely gloomy. There were enormous black candles every foot or so along all the tables and grey cobwebs covering most of the walls. She looked to her left and right and saw none of the professors paid her any mind. Feeling relieved, she helped herself to coffee and eggs and decided to put the news report from her mind.

Rumors Chapter 2 Surprisingly enough, the day went by smoothly, until the last class of the day. Professor Wynn walked in with a clipboard in his hand. The sun gleamed off his shiny, black hair as he gave Lin a friendly smile and nod, and then walked to the back the of the classroom and took a seat. Lin tried to relax and hoped that everyone would behave. Unfortunately, it was the class with the most talkative students, and she wished he could have surprised her in another class room; it was one thing to be evaluated by a fellow teacher, but she didn’t want to make a fool of herself in front of Wynn. Figuring it would be better to delve right in, Lin began. “Today we’ll be discussing the element, air, and its components: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and the others, and we’ll look at the characteristics of water

vapor. When using the craft to influence air to make wind, we must remember to address the particular molecules...” “Ms. Helewise?” her least favorite student interrupted, “We’ve studied this already.” Anna Macky was an obnoxious girl who liked to roll her hawk-like angry, dark eyes, frequently, to make Lin feel like an idiot in front of her class. “Before Craig, our last professor, was fired, we were studying how to consolidate water across molecules, so as to move heavier objects for those who don’t have natural telekinetic ability.” “Shut up, Anna,” said Lucas Rent, a beefy dark-haired boy with a backward hat. “If you want, I’ll catch you up later,” he said looking straight into Lin’s eyes and making a slight kissing motion with his mouth. Lucas was another local, privileged kid, who liked to tell everyone he was named after the great Lucas Blackthorn. Supposedly, it was true that they were distantly related. “Screw you!” said Anna. “Lucas,” he sat up in his chair, “if you want to stay in this class, then you’ll show me respect. If I ever see a gesture like that, from you again, I will throw you out for good. This is post-secondary school and I expect you to act like adults. I may look as

young as you, but remember that I am an adult.” From there, the lesson progressed without too much commotion, thankfully. Anna continued to sigh and roll her eyes, but it didn’t make much difference to her lesson. Lin got the impression that Anna might have been jealous of Lucas’ crush on her. After the class was over, and everyone filed out, Professor Wynn came up and gave Lin a copy of the notes he’d taken. “You did well, the way you handled those kids at the beginning.” Wynn had a slight deep, tremulous voice that made the little hair follicles on her arms turn into goose bumps. When she looked into his dark eyes, her heart picked up pace. Picking up the copy of her report and glancing at the comments, she said “Okay, thanks Wynn.” “Listen, I hate to mention this because it’s probably just bad gossip, but the staff has been talking. You’ll learn that that’s what the staff, here, does best,” he smiled and winked, “but I was put to ask you about the news this morning. I didn’t see it, but, apparently, you were seen in the middle of last night’s attacks. I must ask if there are any activities

you’re engaged in that could risk the lives of the students, or put your reputation at risk?” “No,” she said defensively. “I was wondering when someone would ask me about the news report, but that was a mistake. The only thing I’m guilty of is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” “Well, I should advise you to be very careful. Do not get mixed up in any trouble because the teachers and parents will hold your personal misfortunes against you.” Despite not really being in trouble, just that conversation made her heart sink and, although she thanked Professor Wynn, and knew he was only trying to look out for her, Lin was angry and indignant at his words. “Tell Mara I said ‘hello’ when you see her. Oh, and,” he reached into his pocket, “can you give this to her?” “It’s a blank piece of paper.” “Yes, I would give it to her myself but I must leave on a trip tonight, and she seems to trust you.” “What is going on between you two?” “Nothing, we’re simply good friends.”

Later, Lin was home grading papers when Mara came by. “I was going to call you. Did you get home alright?” asked Lin. “Yes, thankfully,” she pull off her jacket and hung it on the hooked rack next to the door. “I saw you on the news this morning.” Mara followed Lin to the kitchen where she pulled two glasses and a bottle of wine. “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Okay,” she sipped from her glass. “Do you want to hear what Stanley at the Blackthorn Café said to me?” “Oh, Mara, I’m so sick of all the silly gossip about who’s behind all the attacks. Who does Stanley say did it this time, a ring of psychotic clowns on unicycles?” “No one really knows who’s responsible,” Mara sipped. “Stanley says the biggest problem is as soon as people appear, then they disappear. Blackthorn doesn’t have crime, so we’ve never needed law enforcement. We’ve always had Deputy Dennison, which, now, isn’t enough.” “Why don’t they just hire more deputies?” “Because everyone is too scared.”

“Still, where was he last night while Blackthorn was under attack?” “Apparently, Dennison got a call that someone had broken into Leslie’s Butcher Shop. When he got down there, he found Leslie and her son out, cold on the floor. Then, someone knocked him out.” “All the while, everyone cowered in their homes or ran,” said Lin, disgustedly. “Not everyone is a coward. There are those who would have helped. Besides, it was a surprise attack. Half the town didn’t even realize what was going on, and, I’m sure if they did, they’d have helped out.” “Who would’ve helped out? Maybe those who would’ve helped out, could help Dennison? Maybe he needs to enlist them as stand in deputies.” “Yeah, well, they’re doing everything they can, plus they already have jobs and families.” “Who’s doing everything they can?” Mara stared at Lin a moment and then said, “I don’t know. It just sounded like the right thing to say.” “Okay,” said Lin disbelieving. Sometimes Mara had a peculiar way of speaking. After many attempts to question her at times when she’d make knowing, yet unclear statements, Lin learned not to pursue

her because she usually got naught for answers. “Wynn told me to give you a piece of paper, today.” Mara looked perplexed. “Why did he give this to you?” “Is it important?” Looking irritated, Mara shoved the blank piece of paper in her purse. “Mara, what is going on with you? What is it with all the secrecy? Are you two involved?” “No,” she laughed, but Lin wasn’t entirely convinced. After a little wine, Lin and Mara walked down to the Minton Tavern, Sally’s place, for a greasy bite. The night was quiet and all the shops were closed, and all the damage from the evening prior had been cleaned and fixed. Fresh pumpkin Jack-oLanterns had been set out in front of some of the shops but, along the sidewalk, there were still orange stains that reminded Lin of the prior evening’s attacks. Upon entering the tavern they were greeted by Sally Minton, the owner of the bar. She was looking pleasantly harried that evening and, despite the cold, sweat was leaking down the sides of her smiling face.

Strange, though, Lin looked around and noticed there were only three people in the tavern, so why did Sally look like she’d run a marathon? Sally was particularly upbeat that evening. She greeted and beckoned them toward the bar. A tall, muscular sandy-haired man by the name of Billing entered from the kitchen, in the back, and started wiping down tables. Lin couldn’t help but notice how the two locked eyes for a moment, and Sally looked quickly back at Mara and Lin. Hmmm, thought Lin as she made the connection. She whispered to Mara, “Looks like Billing has, finally, worked up some nerve.” “What are you talking about?” Mara hadn’t noticed anything. “Nothing,” said Lin, smirking. Lin and Mara sat at the bar. To their right, there was a middle-aged gray haired man in a faded gray suit and an older woman whose hair engulfed her face in a large, white- hazy poof. To their left, sat a scruffy, fifty year old man who looked like he’d been on a serious bender; he had messy hair, red eyes and wore a wrinkled suit.

As they, each, scooted a bar stool, Lin asked, “What happened to the usual crowd?” “They’re scared and staying home,” said Sally as she stacked glasses. Sally was a fun spirited woman in her late thirties. Widowed nearly a decade by a man she went to school with, Sally ran the tavern and lived in the home left to her by her deceased husband. “On me,” said Sally as she set three flutes on the bar and poured sparkling wine. “Happy Halloween,” she raised her glass. “Champagne on Halloween?” asked Lin. “We take Halloween very seriously here. Halloween is a magical night, as it is the celebration of Samhain, a tradition carried on from the first Blackthorn settlers. We have a huge celebration every year - except this year.” “Yeah,” said Mara. “While we don’t dance naked under the moonlight and make animal sacrifice anymore, we usually have a festival.” “Where are all the trick-or-treaters tonight?” asked Lin.

“All the parents are having a haunted house and candy give-away at the junior high. Given the events, everyone thinks it’s safer to stay indoors. You two shouldn’t be out either; me and Billing we live around here,” Sally turned a little red as she said this. “Heck, I say everyone should get the heck outta here,” said the gray haired man to their right. “Old man you’re a coward and you’ve always been. Why should we give up Blackthorn? This is our home,” said the scraggily haired woman as she picked up her drink, downed it and slammed the glass back onto the counter. “Yeah, this is our home. We don’t want strangers coming and taking our jobs and forcing us out!” Lin looked left and saw the other man’s blood red eyes and pockmarked face. He looked at Lin with violence in his eyes as he said this. The look of rage, in his eyes, surprised her, and she looked away. The man stood up and finished his drink. She watched him walk out, slamming the door behind him. “Who was that?” asked Lin. “That’s Angel Craig,” said Mara. “He’s crazy when he’s drunk, but he can be just as scary sober. Be careful, if you ever see

him when you’re alone. He’s been known to make threats and attack people.” “He’s got a right to be angry. It isn’t right, people forcing him from his home and his job!” “Shut up, old man,” said Sally. “You, both, ruined your own lives. Straighten up or deal with the consequences.” “Yeah,” said Mara. “Why can’t you realize that you’re the reason for your problems?” Silently, the gray haired man stepped off the stool and walked out, too. Lin watched him scuff his feet and wondered if she needed to be careful of him as well. “Now who was that?” Lin asked. “Markus Lancaster. Coward, fellow drunk to Angel, and father to Poppy Craig, Golden’s wife,” said the scraggily haired woman from across the bar. “Two drunks in the same family? Mara, you may be right – they are a miserable bunch of people.” “Oh they’re terrible. Nearly anyone in relation to them has turned out to have some sort of addiction, or has done terrible things,” said Sally. “Perhaps addiction is the only way they can tolerate each other. It’s one thing to be terrible amongst good people, but to be

terrible amongst other terribles, well…” said the scraggily haired woman. “Huh,” mused Lin. “Interestingly put.” “Well, Mark’s been strange ever since someone burned down his home.” “When did that happen?” “Ten years ago. He moved in with his daughter, and her family. Ever since, he’s become even more miserable than he ever was,” said Mara. “He’s not a likeable guy, Markus. He’s alienated his son, cost people their jobs, and cheated on his wife. Then, when he got his girlfriend pregnant, he hexed her to miscarry. After six months in jail, that’s when he picked up heavy drinking,” replied Sally. Thinking back to the earlier part of the conversation, before Angel and Markus interrupted, Lin asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if people went into hiding? Instead of fighting and dying? I mean, these people are vicious.” “I’m not going anywhere,” Sally, calmly, said as she poured another round of wine. “Even if we leave, who’s to say they won’t find us, round us up and stuff us into one of those warehouses?”

“What do you mean by warehouses?” queried Lin. “You didn’t see them?” “See what?” asked Lin. “Go look outside,” and Sally took another swig. Lin and Mara looked at each other quizzically as they slipped off their stools and walked outside. “I don’t see anything,” said Lin. They did a full 360 and then, seeing nothing, walked across the street. There, sitting on the highest base of the mountain, were two of the largest structures Lin had ever seen. They were large black shadows and, except for the twinkling of starlight reflecting off their surfaces, they were somewhat hard to see in the dark. Still, the sight of the ominously large black shadows, that hadn’t been there before, made the hair on the back of Lin’s neck stand up. “Where do you suppose they came from?” asked Mara. “No one knows,” said Sally who had joined them. “They appeared sometime last night during or after the attacks. No one knows for sure because no one heard or saw

anything. People are really freaked out though.” “Did the deputy try to bust in?” “Billing was up there earlier. He says him and a couple guys tried spells, battering ram, wrecking ball, saws and even explosives but nothing worked.” “I don’t know about you gals, but that scares me,” said Mara. Not wanting to deprive Sally of the pleasure of an early evening off - a rare thing for her being that it was the only bar in town -, Lin and Mara decided to leave early and return to the safety of their homes. However, Lin wasn’t planning on returning home at all, but, rather, she was going to see the warehouses herself. After saying goodbye to them, Lin disappeared into the cool, night air. Unsure of where to land, she circled the warehouses to make sure that no one was in the area. Then, she landed on the soft ground and walked around. After staring awhile at the humungous, shopping mall sized aluminum structures, she slowly reached out a hand to touch the surface of one of them. Lin shivered, deeply. The surface was extremely cold; colder then down in the streets of

Blackthorn, and so cold that it hurt her fingers to touch. Just as she yanked back her hand, there was a slight draft that caused Lin to turn around. She felt as though someone was watching her. Lin spun, fast around and then walked to the edges of the warehouses. She felt another draft of air and, when she turned to look behind her, there was a shadow 30 feet away from her. The shadow was hard to see in the dark, but it looked like a person in a hooded cloak. The person lifted his or her hand, as though to send a spell at her, but there was a large draft, and the man flew backward through the air and landed on the ground – she didn’t do that! Lin looked to her left and saw a ghostly white, pearly figure of a girl, with dark hair and white skin, standing there and looking right at her while not saying anything. Trying to see the blurry figure of the girl more clearly, she blinked her eyes, but, when she opened them, the girl was gone, as was the cloaked figure. Deciding it was a bad idea to come, she decided not to linger any longer, and flew off. She had a hard time getting to sleep at first because the events at the warehouse kept

replaying in her mind. Lin wondered if she should tell Dennison. Nah, he’d probably think she was crazy, plus he probably already knew about the strange coldness of the warehouses. But would he believe her about the dark figure in the cloak? And the ghostly girl who saved her? Eventually, her mind settled and her eyes got heavier, and she started to drift off to sleep. A cool air blew over her face, and she opened her eyes. There, in the corner of the room, was a tall stranger in a long dark robe. The stranger had pale white hands folded in front of him, and he stood there and said nothing. Though her heart pounded, she showed no fear. Lin sat up and said, “Why did you follow me?” but the figure said nothing. “Get out.” The figure stood a moment longer and then disappeared. Lin looked around the room but couldn’t tell if the figure had truly left. She pulled back the covers and went to the trunk at the foot of her bed. Reaching into the bottom, she found the pink crystals her grandmother gave her, before she died, for protection. In each corner of her room, she set one crystal before climbing back into bed.

Effects of Fear Chapter 3 Over the next couple of days, people could be seen staring up at the mysterious warehouses. Sometimes, Lin couldn’t help but stand and stare herself. They gave her and everyone an extremely eerie feeling. The mysterious warehouses inspired gossip like never before. Everywhere Lin went, people either talked of leaving Blackthorn or complained about Deputy Dennison not doing his job to get rid of the enormous silvery structures on the base of the mountain. Then, there were all the theories about what the warehouses were for, floating about. “Hey, Lacy,” Lin said to the waitress that following Saturday at the Lodge restaurant, which was her usual Saturday morning place for breakfast. Noticing a table

of half a dozen people involved in a heated discussion, and one guy who mimed every word with his hands, Lin asked, “Are they talking about warehouses?” “Everyone’s talking about them. I think the Wackens have a secret weapon hidden in them, like an enormous laser eye that can turn everyone into zombies.” “Why would they do that?” “To force us to do their will; to brainwash us. You having your usual?” After breakfast, Lin took her usual stroll through the business district of Blackthorn. Normally, the district was bare at that time, except for a few open shops. She liked the feeling of the deserted buildings because it was peaceful. On her walk, she always loved to stop at her favorite place: Lucy’s Foot Footing. That day, the shop appeared to be dark and empty, but as she made to walk on, Lin noticed movement way toward the back. Lin walked up to the door, placed her hands on the glass, and peered in. There was Lucy in the back doing something. She knocked furiously on the glass. Lucy, a tall waifish blonde, looked up with wide eyes. Seeing that it was Lin seemed to make no difference. That hurt! She

thought they were friends! Slightly offended, she stood there, stubbornly. Finally, the woman got up and walked to the door. “What are you doing?” asked Lin. “I’m closing up, for the time being.” “Why?” “What do you mean, ‘why’?” “The town is going crazy, but the best thing to do, in a time of crisis, is to stay calm and not do anything irrational.” Lin felt awkward giving this advice, and especially as she wanted to flee, herself. “I’m not being irrational. I just don’t want to get killed, and people are dying, here. I’m sorry, but I must go. Excuse me,” and she walked back in and continued working behind the desk. And as if things weren’t bad enough, all over town, paranoia had also infected the ever-sensible teachers of the academy. “Just ridiculous,” said Professor Crackwell, head of the alchemy department, the following week at a staff meeting in the break room. “If torture or experiments were happening up there, we’d know about it.” “Please, that is just gossip,” said Alistair.

“Yes, please, let’s not encourage hysteria,” said the herbs and potions professor, Mandel. “Now, Alistair, how can you be sure that one of us or our students may be a Wacken?” “I’m not saying for sure,” said Headmaster Glock. “What I am saying is the deputy is doing everything he can, but he is only one man. Now there has been talk of traitors before, and Dennison seems more certain, than ever, that that is the case here. Since the academy has the highest concentration of residents, in and out, it is likely that we could stumble onto something, and that is why Deputy Dennison has asked me, to ask you, to keep a vigilant eye.” No one seemed pleased at the hint that one of theirs could be in with the Wackens. Each teacher seemed to take Alistair’s request as a personal attack. They pursed their lips, nodded their heads and looked away. Throughout Lin’s classes of the day, she would hear mention of the warehouses every so often. Dutifully, she would listen keenly to see if anyone said anything strange. Curious about how the witch, Golshem, came about, Lin asked the only

person she’d become somewhat friendly with on the staff, Professor Wynn. “The Wackens first showed themselves at our International Mage Convention,” he told her later in the common room. “It was Golshem who preached to the council that they should unite under one government, and live in a land that would enhance their magic – where they could walk about freely.” Half hearing him and half lost in his beautiful dark eyes, she asked, “What did he mean, exactly?” Wynn’s eyes flickered a bit. His smile widened as he looked directly into her eyes. Lin knew he found her attractive, too, but she knew that he knew how she felt when he looked at her that moment. Nervously, Lin fidgeted and looked away. “I’m not sure. I heard he claimed to have found a parallel plane where magic was increased by nature, but everyone thought him mad.” Wynn took a step closer to Lin, and she looked up into his eyes again. “What are you doing Friday?” he asked. “Nothing, yet.” “How about dinner?”

That Friday, Mara was really bummed when Lin couldn’t hang out with her. Instead she got ready, and at 8 p.m., Wynn knocked on her door. “You look gorgeous,” Wynn said, eyeing her in her purple skirt and white sleeveless tunic. Wynn took her to a chic restaurant called The Top Linen. Inside was decorated with low lit candles, small bouquets of flowers on every table, and elegantly dressed diners. It was strange for Lin to live in such a small town, as everyone at the tables either nodded or said ‘hello’ to Wynn as they passed, including a lovely brunette in a long white dress. As they followed their hostess to a table, Lin felt a breeze brush by her neck and, instinctively, looked around. She saw a tall hooded figure in the corner and froze. Wynn stopped behind her, “Are you alright? What are you looking at?” “Nothing.” Over dinner, they had nice chit chat about their lives. Wynn had grown up in Blackthorn and was passionate about art. He

was an only child and both his parents died, leaving him enough money to take care of himself. After he’d talked a bit about himself, Lin asked about the Blackthorn Contention. Wynn’s eyes flickered in the light and, for the first time, it seemed like the wheels were turning in his head, as though he were trying to figure out what to say. “Did I say something wrong?” “No. I was just wondering why you asked me that.” “Well, I heard some students talk about them earlier, and I’ve heard them mentioned before. In keeping with Alistair’s request to stay vigilant, I was wondering if you know anything about them. You seem very knowledgeable about many things that happen in Blackthorn.” “I don’t know anything about the Contention, but I hear it’s a group of rivals whose aim is to stop the Wackens.” “So why don’t they help when the city is being attacked? Why don’t they come out and help the deputy?” “Because if anyone were to know who they were, then they could be a target for assassination.” “But people are dying.”

“Look at it logically. There are people who are doing what they can. Maybe they aren’t able to act as quickly as you’d like, but, it seems to me, that when trying to avoid assassination, the best way to go about an operation is in secret. Yes, people are dying, but one can’t help others when they, themselves, are dead, can they? Coming out too soon could cause more unnecessary deaths, and deterioration of any secret weapons or plans. That is why it is necessary for rebellious groups to remain anonymous,” said Wynn with high passion. Lin knew that she had upset him because he became a little more reserved through the rest of the meal. Although she didn’t understand why, she decided to change the subject, but the damage, whatever it was, had already been done. When the meal ended, Wynn looked almost relieved. He walked her up to the steps of her apartment building. “I’m afraid this is where I must leave you.” “Oh,” said Lin without much surprise. “See ya,” and she walked off.

Lin didn’t see why she should kiss or hug him, and especially when he was obviously turned off by her. Normally, she was never rude to a date, even if they were rude to her, but she saw no reason to linger for his overrated sensitivity. As she walked up to the door of her building, the bushes rustled. She stopped, looked around, and wondered if the hooded figure was watching her again. “Wynn?” Lin turned back but saw that Wynn had gone. “AAhh!” she screamed as something jumped out at her. A stinky man in a wrinkled grey suit stood out of the bushes. “You bitch,” he said. “I warned you to leave this town. You were told we don’t like people coming here and taking our people’s homes and jobs,” he walked menacingly toward her, and his red face gleamed in the glow of the street lamp – it was Angel Craig, drunk. Quickly, Lin tried to calculate what Angel was going to do; if he was just talking or if he meant to get physical. “Stay back,” Lin warned, but he kept walking closer.

Angel kept talking and his voice continued to rise until he started to choke. “Mr. Craig?” He put both hands around his throat and seemed to be struggling for air. She walked up to help him when, from her right side, she felt the presence, again. Lin didn’t have to turn her head to know it was the dark figure. “Stop it! Now!” she asserted. The figure vanished, and Lin continued with, “And stop following me!” Angel had passed out. Lin caught him and softened his fall to the ground. Fortunately, he was breathing again. She slapped him a few times and he woke. Without a word, he stumbled off into the night. Wanting to make sure he was alright, instead of going upstairs to her apartment, she turned around and followed Angel for a while. She wanted to make sure he made it somewhere safely – the last thing she needed was for the man, whom everyone knew had it in for her, to be found dead in her neighborhood. As she walked, she kept her eyes roving all around her, wondering if the figure was still watching her.

After some time, and to no surprise of Lin’s, Angel led her straight to the tavern, where he clumsily opened the door and stumbled inside. Lin stood a few feet away but, then, decided to go in. Angel stumbled over to the bar, still grasping his neck. She waved to Billing, behind the bar, and sat down in the only available seat. Next to her, a woman she didn’t know said, “I remember Golshem. He was a grubby little teenager. He spent a lot of time up on the mountain, and even claimed there were ghosts up there – that he could travel to other worlds up there. That was twenty years ago, then he disappeared. He hasn’t changed a bit. He must’ve frozen his face with magic because I’ve never seen anyone look that good, and he must be, what, fifty years old?” “How are you doing?” asked Billing. “Alright, except that Angel Craig, who’s drunk as a skunk, was hiding in my bushes, and then tried to kill me.” “What?” “Yeah, just now. I followed him here to make sure he was alright.” Billing poured her an Irish coffee and then went to help another customer. She sat

there, listening to other customers babble about the Wackens. As she sat there, the ground started to rumble. Blackthorn was never a place to have Earthquakes. Lin looked around, the bar had gone silent, there was a high pitched scream, and then people ran outside. The warehouses were ablaze. With a nasty pitch, there were multiple explosions that sent up clouds and clouds of dust, highlighted brightly by the light of exploding flames. Then, the sky rained down on them: ash, soot, and dirt. A particularly large piece of boulder landed in the middle of the street, denting it and sending a crack for half a mile down the road. On the sidewalk, the customers babbled. “What the hell is going on?” “An attack on the town?” “No. They’re trying to open the warehouses.” “How do you know that?” Not wanting to wait for more boulders to smash up the town, Lin transported herself to the warehouses to see what was going on with her own eyes.

When she got to the base of the mountain, all was quiet. Seeing no one made her wary, and she didn’t want to be ambushed, so she landed in the barrage of trees a hundred yards up the base. There, she heard foot falls all around her. Turning around and around, she saw hooded figures running this way and that, some of them trying to curse one another. Then, not more than fifty feet away, Lin saw and heard a woman muttering a death curse at a person who ran away from her. She couldn’t see the woman’s face through the shroud of her hood, or through the darkness of the woods. “NOOO!” a woman behind the one who muttered the curse, screamed. There was a bright ray of light that flew from her rod. The one who was fixing to curse the one who ran, away from her, screamed as she was hit. “Mara?” asked Lin. All around her, there was fighting and screaming. Dark figures ran about her, through the trees. Some were already injured while others tried to injure others. Unsure of whom she should help, Lin stood and watched a moment longer, trying to think of what she could do to put a stop to the fighting, completely.

The only idea that came to mind was something she’d read in one of her books. A wizard who wanted to stop a town from being slaughtered without revealing who he was, brought a storm about that swept the attackers away. She never tried anything like that before. Would she be able to control a storm? She closed her eyes, raised her hands and envisioned the dark night. The sky resonated within her and she felt its power. Using her mind, she envisioned herself as one with the sky, and she could feel the molecules moving within her. Lin envisioned moisture, and the sky becoming more and more humid until she felt droplets spatter her face. Within moments, it had started to pour down, hard. Loud thunder sounded through night, but the people weren’t scared and they continued to fight. So she closed her eyes once more and tried to form a wind storm. A few more moments, and the wind blew so violently through the trees that several of them slanted; Lin, herself, could barely stand. “DUCK,” a woman shouted.

“Mara?” Lin called again. And the woman sent a spell over her head, knocking out a woman, Lin hadn’t noticed, who was attempting to hex her. Being scared in the middle of an elemental summoning jolted her to invigorate the storm even more, causing the wind to turn into a nasty tornado. The wind was deafening and she held her hands up to her ears as she struggled to stand. Tree limbs broke off, all around her, and flew about. Several trees uprooted and flew through the sky, breaking other trees in half, some of which fell down so hard and fast that they planted themselves right back into the Earth. Suddenly, everyone was running away from the woods. Lin saw a few white faces and, although she couldn’t hear them, their mouths formed silent O’s as they ran. Shocked at what she’d accidentally done, Lin tried to ease back the wind. It was too late, though. Horrified, she watched as a couple of the hooded figures were pulled up into the whirling air! The woman who yelled at Lin to duck stood next her. It was Mara – her hood was down. “CAN YOU STOP IT?”

“I DON’T KNOW.” Lin tried to calm down and focus, but, just then, she saw the man in the hood again. Ignoring him, she raised her hand and mimed pulling them back down to the ground; their real bodies followed. Next, she closed her eyes and resonated with the wind. The tornado slowly, completely, dissipated. When she opened her eyes, the figure stood, watching. She could see his dark eyes and white shrouded face. He disappeared without a word. Lin felt horrible as she looked around. She’d nearly destroyed the entire mountain forest and likely killed several people. To her right, at least a hundred yards of trees lay flat upon the ground: broken, bent and uprooted. Most of the people who were fighting had gone. Those who remained were injured, passed out, and probably some were dead. Mara grabbed Lin’s arm, said “Let’s get out of here, now!” Lin flew them back to Mara’s apartment. Although Lin tried desperately to excuse herself, Mara insisted that she come in so they could talk.

“Coffee?” and she went off to put on a pot. Lin walked up to the curtained windows and peered through. Although she had brought the wind storm down, the city rained on. “What are you?” asked Mara, setting down a hot carafe and cups. “A warlock? A shaman? I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that before.” “It’s just something that I was born with.” “Are you an elemental?” “What? Some who controls the elements? No.” “What are you? Why have you never told me you have power, like that?” “Mara, I have a secret, true. I’d rather keep it to myself, but don’t make me feel bad about it. Let’s face it, you have some secrets, too, like I know there is something going on with you and Wynn. I’ve also noticed how you disappear sometimes and don’t want to tell me what you’re up to, but I don’t ask.” “Well, I’m not hiding anything terrible, Lin. If I could, I would tell you. In time, I will probably tell you my secret. Hopefully, you will tell me yours, too.”

“Alright, then, maybe in the future. For now, we’re even,” Lin took a sip of coffee. “But what if people died tonight because of me? How am I to live with that?”

After the Storm Chapter 4 After the incidents on the mountain, the town was a flurry of near pandemonium. If Lin thought people couldn’t be any more paranoid than they already were, she was wrong; everyone was constantly on guard. Most of the shops in the town had been shut down by the owners. Many residents had left town or barricaded themselves inside their homes. The supermarkets were emptied as people stocked up on goods. Price gouging was a problem, but people didn’t flinch to trade $100 for tiny two person tents, or $300 for sleeping bags with built in pillows. Even sadder was the fact that it was nearing Christmas. The happy spirit, known to infect people on the holidays was replaced with rage, fear, and suspicion, especially

towards those who were considered untrustworthy. People like Lin, who was not a native local, were top on the list of suspicion, and everywhere she went, people regarded her with a stale attitude. The only thing that offered relief, for Lin, at least, was that all those who’d been injured on the mountain had fled. No dead bodies were found. She hoped that meant that the Wackens saved their own, and if any rebels were there, that they were okay, too. Although relieved about the mountain injuries, there was one other detail that bothered her, nonstop, and that was the figure that was following her. Was he a Wacken? If so, do all the Wackens know who she is and what she can do? Surely, more than Mara saw that she was there on the mountain. Since that night, she’d taken extra protection precautions. Her apartment was always protected by crystals. Wherever she went, she always had her invisibility shield up, and always watched for people behind her, or sudden blasts of air. One week before the holiday, the head of the town council, Ms. Shoester, called a meeting. “In light of the holidays, let’s try to be cheerful for, if anything, the children,” she said.

The whole town agreed with Shoester that it was time to put on smiles for the younger Blackthorn – that being fearful all the time was doing no one any good. Almost overnight, it seemed people lost the look of grim fear from their faces and added smiles to their cautious lives. Lin, herself, was tired of feeling the gloom and doom, and so she embraced the infamous Blackthorn end-ofyear celebrations with enthusiasm. Considering the nerves everyone ran high on, Lin thought festivities was just what the town (and she) needed. From that night on, people went about putting up Christmas decorations all over the town. It was amazing that Lin didn’t notice that the whole town, and even the academy, seemed to have forgotten to put out Christmas decorations: there were no ribbons, lights, wreathes or any festive window displays – even the town square didn’t have a tree. “Normally,” Mara told her, “we make a big ceremony out of lighting the tree in the town center; then there’s a parade and a big party. Christmas is usually the best time of year, here, so it’s really sad that the Wackens had to go and spoil it. But my mom is still having her winter soiree.”

Every year, Mara’s mother threw a big party for the entire town of Blackthorn. It was held in their mansion on a hill, on the opposite side of town. Lin received an invitation to the party weeks ago. Since the night Lin blew away most of the forest, Mara hadn’t mentioned a word about their meeting on the mountain. They were still friends, and they went about things as usual, but Mara did look at her differently. Lin, on the other hand, regretted not asking Mara what the hell she was doing there on the mountain, that night. The only thing that held her back was their agreement. In wanting not to break the agreement, she kept her wonders to herself. She just hoped that, whatever her secret was, it wasn’t that she was a Wacken. Although Lin didn’t see the hooded figure since the night at the mountain, through all these things, he was always in the back of her mind. She wondered if he was watching her through other means, and if she’d ever see him again. At the academy, she saw Professor Wynn on countless occasions, but he was overtly avoiding her. He’d always smile and nod, but it was mild and he would avoid staying in the same room or social circle with her for long. She didn’t know what she’d

done to offend him, but his behavior hurt her, bad. He and Mara swore there was nothing between them, so it had to be something else. Mara continued to run her shop like normal but, like most patrons, had begun to spend less time in downtown Blackthorn. Likewise, Lin, too, had begun to spend more time indoors. One strange thing she noticed about Mara, of late, was there seemed to be a lot of oddball strangers stopping into her shop. They’d always be wearing cloaks, and they seemed to always have something for her, and, sometimes, she for them. When she dared ask, Mara quickly reminded her of their agreement. Fortunately, there were no new attacks, but news of the Wackens was nil, which made Deputy Dennison highly uncomfortable, according to Sally one night at the tavern. He took the time to recruit new deputies but with little success; everyone was more concerned with protecting their families and their home, as a result, he’d only managed to recruit two new officers. In addition to his desperate attempts to protect the town, Dennison continued attempts to break into the mysterious warehouses that endured not even a single scratch from the explosions on the mountain.

This time, he was reported to have brought in specialists from around the country, but that, too, didn’t work out. Lin didn’t know Deputy Dennison well, but just the time she’d spent listening to him talk in the tavern, she could tell he was very worried. Despite the wreck of papers she needed to get to that Saturday, Lin decided to go shopping with Mara. She’d received an invitation to the Blesswell Court where her parents were having their annual winter soiree. Since the party required ball gowns and tuxedoes, everyone in town would be at the Glass Towers that day getting fitted for such. Lin arrived that afternoon at the quarry; a large concrete hang out with umbrella tables and chairs everywhere. Despite the cold and the possibility of snow, the quarry was busy with Blackthorn residents eating their lunches and waiters running about in multiple scarves and wool hats. Lin stood at the entrance to the quarry and looked about and, not seeing Mara, decided to go ahead inside, as the wind was all daggers that day. The Glass Towers were so called because they were made out of thick

enchanted glass that was more than bullet proof; it was said that not even a comet could destroy The Glass Towers. Looking like an ice castle under the gray-cloudy sky, a few remaining sun rays glittered golden, penetrating into the surface and spun the colors of a rainbow across the panes of glass. It was shaped like a large castle and looked like something out of a fairy tale. She walked the path through the quarry and up to the thick paned door which looked like it could weigh well over 300 pounds yet opened with barely a push of the metal bar. Inside the towers was a warm brightly lit entrance hall that looked much like a mall. The walls were shiny thick glass and, although the walls couldn’t completely be seen through, one could see blurry outlines of people in the quarry and the color of the gray sky bleeding through the ceilings and walls. Lin was excited to finally get a chance to see the towers because she was tired of seeing the same old shops in downtown Blackthorn. Although a glass castle from the outside, inside was just like a shopping mall. On her walk through the right wing of the

Towers, she passed various shoes, dresses, and novelty shops; everything she could possibly need was there, such as Shoes, Shoes, Shoes and Samuel’s Fit for Formal where Mara said they should look for dresses. Lin was super relieved when she nearly walked passed a coffee shop. “Hallelujah,” she said. In need of a warm up, she took two steps back. Lin always loved the fresh burst of coffee aroma in the air upon entering a shop; she followed the scent all the way to the register line. In the shop, Lin noticed various faces she’d seen throughout the community but had never met. For instance, she saw the girl from the town meeting – she was Mrs. Shoester’s daughter. The girl was squirrely but cute with a tiny pointed nose and shiny brown hair. The girl looked slightly odd as she sat there in her light blue skirt with white knee high socks and dirty brown Mary Jane shoes, yet on top wore a thick, baggy dirty brown mohair sweater. Something about the girl gave Lin a strange vibration and, when the girl looked up and saw Lin looking at her, she felt like she’d seen the girl before. She could have

sworn the girl looked just like her grandmother’s childhood photos: the same squirrely nose, eyes slanted toward the outer corners, and ruby red lips. But this girl looked a little off, in the head. The girl, quickly, looked back down at her magazine. Lin couldn’t help but notice how the girl’s hands seemed to shake as they turned the pages. The girl had blood shot eyes and dark circles beneath them which added years to her child-like face. Lin continued to observe the girl’s features and, in a way, she reminded her of herself. She wondered what the possibilities of their being related were. But as the girl used the back of her hand to wipe her snotty nose, Lin brushed the thought from her mind. When Lin finally made it to the register and ordered her drink, she took another look and caught the girl watching her back. Lin decided it was time to try and make a friend out of this girl. Somehow, she felt sorry for her because she seemed a nervous wreck. The girl watched Lin approach. “Hey there,” she tried to sound chipper. “Hey,” the girl said in a flat way.

“I thought I’d come and say hi. I noticed you at the town meeting, and I have to say that you look, incredibly, like my grandmother did when she was a child. You don’t have any family in Buffalo, do you?” The girl just stared at Lin with a dead pan look in her eyes and face. “I’m Lin. I’m a teacher at the academy.” “Yes, I know. Everybody knows who you are.” The girl spoke through extremely stiff lips that hardly moved. Her eyes were extremely red. The girl stared at her with the most piercing blue eyes that made Lin feel uncomfortable. She looked at Lin in such a way that kind of frightened her. Lin couldn’t hold her smile which faded from her face. She wanted to walk away but she decided to try and friendly up to the girl one more time. “I hope you’ve heard good things,” she tried to smile again. The girl looked straight into Lin’s eyes, wiped her sniveling nose with the back of her shaky hand; all the while she made a terrible suction noise as she tried to force air through her nostrils. Repulsed, Lin grimaced. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You’re being watched.” “How do you know that?” but the girl became distracted. Her eyes turned glassy and started to revolve around the room, like the eyes of an owl cuckoo clock. Lin continued to watch the girl for a moment longer. “Get out of here,” she said through barely moving lips. The girl appeared to be staring at the wall to their left. Eyes popping out, the girl stood up from her seat and, as she made to leave the café, a gust of wind blew into the shop. The girls hair fluttered in the blast of air, and under her hair, Lin noticed the girl had the pointiest ear she had ever seen. Lin watched her walk out and didn’t seem to hear the barista when he called her name until a woman tapped her on the shoulder. “They’re calling you, I think.” Feeling embarrassed, Lin looked at the lady and said, “Sorry.” “Don’t listen to her. She’s a little strange.” Lin turned her head and saw a pretty woman with tan skin and large, dark blue phoenix shaped glittery eyes. The woman

wore all black and her hair twisted in a neat bun. “Poppy, Poppy Craig,” the woman extended a black leather gloved hand. Despite Mara telling her that Poppy was a rude and arrogant woman, Lin’s first impression was that she was very polite. “Lin Helewise.” “I know who you are,” she said with a warm and even voice. They looked at each other for a moment, “Well, it’s nice to meet you.” Samuel’s Fit for Formal was a nice shop with elegant silks, finely spun cashmere, and lots of hand sewn rhinestones and sequined gowns. Lin was sifting through racks of dresses and trying to put the crazy girl from the café out of her mind. She was closely examining the square pattern of a fuzzy, sheer light pink mohair dress with camisole straps and a sewn in slip when Poppy said, “That makes your complexion look really smooth.” “Thanks.” “I almost went with that dress too.” “Oh. Have you been invited to the Blesswell’s soiree too?”

“Yes, of course. The whole town is invited.” “Well, I think I’m gonna try it on.” “Wait a second. I want to ask you a question. How would you feel if I offered you a position?” “A position?” “Yes. My daughter, who also attends the academy, is having trouble with a few classes. I’m afraid she isn’t doing work that is of her full potential. I’m prepared to offer you a decent salary, nearly double what you’re making at the academy.” “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I’m going to have to say no. I love my job with the school, and if I went to work for you it might stifle any future opportunities.” “We have all sorts of connections. You won’t be limited because you work for a family instead of an institution. What kind of work is it you desire?” “I’m not sure yet, but I don’t feel that it’s the right time for me to quit teaching just yet.” “… oh! There she is. Lin!” She turned and saw Mara and a ginger brown haired woman who looked much like Mara. “I’m sorry but my friends are here.”

Wanting to get away from Poppy, Lin went directly to Mara and the younger woman with the pink dress in hand. The younger woman said, “Wow. That’s pretty!” “Were you just talking to Poppy Craig?” asked Mara. “Yes,” Lin whispered. “She offered me a job. Can you believe it?” “What sort of job?” “A job tutoring her daughter.” “I hope you turned her down.” “Well, yeah,” she said with sarcasm, “I’m not stupid ya know. She just wants me gone so she can help her brother-in-law.” “Working for the Craigs might actually be a smart thing – they have a lot of connections,” said the younger woman with excitement. “I would give anything for the job.” “Lin, meet my younger cousin, Blair,” Mara rolled her eyes. “Hi.” Blair looked like a younger smaller version of Mara, except lighter hair and a skinnier form, but she was lightly freckled and had the same eyes and nose. Likewise, she had the same depth of brown eyes, but Blair’s eyes were smaller and friendlier

whereas Mara’s were large, deep and penetrating. “Yes, I saw you on the news a few weeks back,” Lin flinched as she mentioned the news- she’d hoped everyone would have forgotten. “You must be going to the soiree too?” “Y- yes,” Lin stuttered. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” “No worries.” “Well, let’s get shopping because we’re gonna need a few hours to get ready, and the party starts at 8 pm.”

The Party Chapter 5 After shopping, they all went to Lin’s to get ready for the party. After spreading a sheet down on the carpet of the living room floor, they spread their makeup all over and made themselves into winter queens. Mara stepped out of the dressing room wearing a light waxed linen emerald green gown. “Woooow,” said Lin. “Darling, you look fabulous in that dress,” said Blair. “Don’t use words like ‘darling’ and ‘fabulous’ because you sound like Poppy. You sound like a snob.” Lin watched Blair blush fuchsia but did not apologize. It was an awkward moment as Lin observed Mara observing herself while Blair’s face showed signs of embarrassment

and rage. Did Mara even notice the way Blair was looking at her? Lin wondered and watched them both, but Mara seemed oblivious, or she just didn’t care. “You look lovely, Mara,” Blair said with a subdued voice. “Thank you,” Mara said indifferent and cold. Later, they all stepped out into the icy, dark blue night: Mara in her waxed green linen, Blair looking like a snow goddess in a white sleeveless gown, and Lin in her sheer, light pink mohair. “Why do we have to walk in this cold weather?” “On this night, we walk,” and all up and down the street gentlemen and their lady’s walked in gowns of rich color and length, as their hems all nearly touched the ground; their gentlemen in tuxedoes, and they all clopped along in heeled shoes. “It’s tradition that we walk to the center of town and then be taken in carriages,” continued Mara. It was a half mile walk to just about everywhere in Blackthorn. They walked to Blackthorn Street, which was the main street

in town, and there were enormous decorative carriages in a line next to the sidewalk. They walked up to the line of guests waiting to get into a carriage. “Where are drivers? Why aren’t we getting the carriages and going? I’m freezing and we’re in heels. Shouldn’t we preserve our foot pain for later?” Lin chattered. “Tough it out,” said Mara with irritation. “It is tradition that everyone should go together because it is how we get to know each other. When people enter at the party, they tend to go in groups, but this is a night where bygones are bygones, and we welcome each other.” “Mara,” yelled someone. “Hiiii, long time!” said a white-blonde girl with a huge smile on her face. “Ashley,” Mara and the blonde hugged and mouthed kisses, cheek-to-cheek. “You’ve met my husband, Michael.” “Uh, hello.” Lin watched Mara’s mouth spread out in a wide clown-like stretch, as she often did when forcing a smile. “How’s the shop?” “Good,” Mara’s eyes shifted between them all, and then looked away. “Did you get any new hats?” asked the Blonde, who happened to be wearing a

large white hat, herself, that was topped with hand sewn flowers. “No, but this is Lin. She’s the new teacher at the academy.” Mara touched Lin’s shoulders as she said this, and then turned her back on them all and pretended to look out for the coach men. “Hello,” Ashley hugged and kissed her too. “We’ve heard good things about you,” she said. “Professor Wynn speaks of you,” she added. “You know the professor?” Mara could feel her face turn red. “We went to school together,” said Michael. “Actually, we all did,” he motioned to Mara and his wife. Lin didn’t like the way Michael looked at her, as he had a light smirk that implied he knew something about her, or what happened on their date. She looked at Mara who shifted her eyes to the ground, and then pretended to be noticing the detail of woman’s dress, a few feet ahead. They all got uncomfortably quiet. Normally, Lin would step in and engage, when Mara got queer as she’d done. This time, because of the Wynn remark, she didn’t feel like being as polite. She turned her back on them, too, while Blair just stood there

with a blank look on her face; her eyes bouncing between Michael and Mara’s back. “Hey Michael, Ashley!” someone shouted up ahead in the line. “It was nice to see you again. Nice to meet you,” and they left. Mara and Lin didn’t even say goodbye. Simultaneously, they turned around. Lin watched Mara watch Michael and Ashley join another couple in a carriage. “I gather you don’t like them very much?” asked Lin. “Ashley and Mara went to school together; they used to be best friends until Ashley stole Michael from her. I wanted to put a hex on them but Mara didn’t want me to.” “Look, it’s alright. I’m okay. Just let it go. It’s my fault anyway.” “It’s not your fault that slut stole your guy! What is wrong with you? No selfesteem. I swear.” But Lin thought there was more to the story than Mara was telling. The first clue was Mara wanted to “drop it,” and Mara never “dropped” anything so easily.

Eventually, they got a carriage with a couple and their kids, the Balkers, who owned a leather and jewelry repair shop in the town’s center. When they finally arrived at Mara’s parent’s house, Lin was even more aggravated to be forced to walk up the fifty stone steps to a small white mansion. “You grew up here?” “Yes, but it’s more impressive than it looks, and we usually drive around to the back rather than go up all these steps.” Mara bent over and started unbuckling her heels as did Blair. “What are you doing?” “Ladies take off their shoes,” and Lin looked around to see that, indeed, all the ladies were slipping off heels or bending over to undo straps and buckles. Barefoot and twenty minutes later, they panted over the last stone step to a large green hedged yard with stone statues. Strands of strung up lights twinkled all about the property while lit up water fountains glowed shiny against the dark blue night. They walked a cemented path several yards into a white columned walkway where

Mara’s parents stood before a large double door entrance and greeted them. Next to the parents stood Lucas Rent, the kid from class who tried to flirt with her. “Hi, Mother,” said Mara and they hugged. “Hi, Daddy,” and they hugged too. “Hi dear. Hello Blair, and you’re Lin?” asked Mrs. Blesswell. “Yes. Thank you for inviting me.” “I’m Maxie, this is my husband Rich, and this is Luke. I believe you know each other,” said Mara’s mother. “Hello Ms. Helewise,” chimed Mr. Blesswell and Luke. “Hi Mara,” Luke bent over to give her a hug. “Hey, little cousin.” “This is your cousin?” Lin whispered. They continued past a front landing with more stone benches, over the threshold of the house and into a large white entrance hall with pinkish-white marble floors. Two men stood near several large coat racks and several large white couches. Lin and Mara checked their shawls, sat on the sofas and put on their shoes. After, they took a right into a hallway that was the

size of Lin’s apartment and lead them into a ball room that was larger than any roomanywhere she’d ever seen. Directly across the room was a large five foot high fire place, and the flames were roaring magically high. More pinkish-white marble floor shone under the large glittering crystal chandelier that hung down from the ceiling. Statues and plants were placed variably along the walls, as were hung paintings. On the right, there were tables of food and drinks, and on the left were couches and tables. Hardly anyone was there yet, so Lin, Mara, and Blair were nearly first to the food tables where they grabbed glasses of wine and plates of food. The middle of the room was completely bare for dancing and walking, and against the wall furthest from the room’s entrance, a huge band was setting up. The band began the evening by playing classical, jazz, and a couple of oldies tunes. Just when Lin said she wanted to throw up, Mara informed her that as the night progressed, the music would get better, as the older people would begin to leave.

Lin watched Michael and Ashley come in with the other couple from the carriage. She watched them get plates of food and drinks and sit. Mara and Blair were watching them too. The room gradually became louder and louder as more people came inside. A few minutes into their meals, they were joined by Sally and Billing who arrived together; although pretending they were friends as usual. Lin wondered why when it was so obvious that they were together. As usual, they didn’t touch or say much, but the way they looked at each other gave away their real relationship. Sally cleaned up well. Instead of scraggily hair and a sweaty face, she was matted and polished with pink cheeks, lips and perfectly straight hair down her back with a pair of ivory combs neatly placed at each side of her head Her dress was not as fancy as others, but it was a nice, basic black ankle length gown, and Billing, instead of a tux, a shiny black shirt with black khakis and matching loafers. Noticing Lin staring, Sally said, “We’ve done this so many times that we don’t need to get all dressed up anymore.”

“You still look amazing, the both of you -which is what I was, actually, thinking,” to which Sally smiled and blushed. The tables filled up quickly and they were joined by two strangers who Lin didn’t recognize. Both had most sour expressions on their faces which was a complete contrast to everyone in the room who, for the most part, seemed to be enjoying themselves. The woman, who had a face like the Wicked Witch of the West, was short with long unkempt black hair and an oversized black dress that looked a decade old. Similarly, the man had a serious look in his sunken eyes and it struck Lin that the two might not belong there at the party. Lin watched the two walk bickering to their table, and as they got closer, the woman said “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” in a hushed tone. “Hello,” she said and they sat down with plates and started to eat. The two continued to talk into each other’s ears. She watched how the woman held her fork backwards like a child and how she shoveled the food into her mouth. The man downed his glass of wine and then pulled a

flask from his pocket, and his food went untouched. Lin looked around the table to see that Mara, Blair, Sally, and Billing were watching the two just as interestedly. Judging by the repulsion on their faces, Lin assumed they didn’t know the two strangers who sat stiff and stared into their plates without looking or saying a word to the other members of the table. The band started playing some Frank Sinatra tune and people started to dance. Lin turned her head and saw Mara watching Ashley and Michael dance, and Michael threw glances at Mara every so often. Lucas Rent was dancing sloppily with a girl from the academy. The girl had a most annoyed look on her face when, suddenly, she tore herself away from him and walked back to a group of girls chatting. “Oh, look! There’s Golden and Poppy Craig,” said Blair whose eyes followed Mr. Craig and his wife from greeter to greeter. Mara gave Blair a disgusted look but Blair was oblivious. A man in a white tuxedo, whom Lin had never seen before, walked over and asked Mara to dance, and leaving Lin in the

company of Blair, with whom she had nothing in common. About an hour passed where most of the younger crowd was gathered in groups or at tables. Lin was ready to fall asleep as she spoke idly with Blair. She tried to excuse herself but Blair begged her to stay because she didn’t have many friends at the party, so Lin tried to listen courteously as Blair told Lin about her ambitions to become the best jewelry designer the world had ever seen. Not only did she want to run all of the Blesswell Jewelry Fashion lines, but she wanted to be the most successful jeweler in the world. Lin was soon to regret staying because Blair went on to bore her even more with her life story of how no one ever liked her at school. She almost tried to excuse herself once more, but then she realized she’d almost made a huge mistake because in walked Wynn looking more gorgeous than ever in a black tuxedo. His black hair was gelled and shiny with a permanent white gleam, from the light, across the top, and his face clean shaven for once. Previously, she had given up on Wynn and was resolved to never think of him again, but like a dark knight, he charged in and stirred her hormones.

He walked in and stood for moment to scan the room. After a second he saw some people he recognized and proceeded to go and greet them. Hoping to get closer to where Wynn was, so he’d notice her, she said “Let’s get some more champagne.” The music began to pick up and, in between classical and oldies, they started playing a mixture of classical rock and eighties pop music. Just like Mara said, some older people left the dance floor while younger people moved into their place. She watched Wynn as she sipped, and Blair continued to twitter on and on. Then, Lin felt a hot rush of blood to her face Wynn walked over to Mara and they walked off to a corner and spoke intensely. Lin was starting to get suspicious of them. Not that she was angry with Mara, as she knew they were good friends, but she was slightly jealous. Lin and Blair stood near the drinks and appetizers tables. They tried to talk about interesting things, but they really hadn’t much in common, so Lin resorted to gossip.

All the while, she watched Wynn out of the corners of her eyes. At the moment, he was saying hello to a couple in their early thirties whose names she didn’t know, but whose faces she’d seen around. “So tell me more about Mara and her man troubles because she doesn’t talk much to me about it but it seems like something’s always going on with her. Like, now, who is that guy she’s dancing with? She doesn’t look like she’s enjoying herself, so why is she with him?” In fact, the man in the white tuxedo looked a bit beneath Mara’s standards as he puttered about over enthusiastically. “That’s because she’s learned to keep her mouth shut. If you’re gonna go through life gullibly then you might as well keep it to yourself.” Lin laughed out loud as something the man said angered Mara. Suddenly, she slapped his glasses halfway across the dance floor; the man ran after them leaving Mara alone in the middle of the dancing crowd. “What does that mean?” asked Lin, returning to the conversation. “It means she’s always made bad choices in men, and she knows it.”

“Well, there does seem to be a shortage of decent guys our age.” “Yeah, true, but still…take George, for example,” Blair motioned to the man in the white tuxedo as he crawled across the dance floor looking for his glasses, “the town knows he’s a jerk; everyone knows he can’t stay faithful, yet Mara still fell for him. Then there was John, Marc, Brandon, Golden,” “She had an affair with Golden Craig?” “Yep.” Mara walked off the dance floor but, instead of joining Lin and Blair, she went and sat at the table with her other cousins, Bill and Barb Wicker. Over in another corner of the room, Lin saw the man from the bar, Mark Lancaster - Poppy’s father. He sipped casually on a glass of wine as he danced alone on the spot in a shiny tuxedo and black house slippers instead of shoes. Blair continued on and on about Mara’s love affairs while Lin pretended to be interested. Lin’s eyes were starting to literally droop as she stood there; the alcohol and boredom were dragging her down fast, but then Luke walked up and asked her to dance.

She really didn’t want to dance with Luke, but there really was a shortage of men their age in Blackthorn. In fact, there was a shortage of men and women their ages, so when Luke asked her to dance, seeing as no one else had asked her yet, she said yes. The music they danced to sucked big time. Some show tune she’d never heard before made her wonder if it were possible to sleep-dance, sort of like sleep-walk. Apparently the show tune was the last tune for the older crowd for the night. Next, the band played Rebel Yell by Billy Idol which, subsequently, cleared the remaining older generation off the dance floor. The music was just what Lin needed to get her blood moving. For a few minutes during the song, Lin actually started to feel like she was having fun, but then Luke grabbed her butt and tried to pretend it was an accident. “I think it’s time for you to sit until you learn the proper way to dance with a lady,” said Wynn who’d appeared behind Luke. Looking unashamed, he said “Yes, sir” and walked off. “May we?” Wynn asked.

“I was wondering if you would show up.” It was compulsory for Lin to pretend as though she hadn’t noticed him there. “I had a few things I needed to take care of at the school.” They danced on and Lin tried to think of something to say, but Wynn appeared happy not saying anything, plus the music was continuous eighties and nineties music and was too loud to talk. As she was about to ask Wynn if he wanted to sit for a few moments, there was a sound of shouting. Lin looked behind her and saw two men yelling at each other; one was the strange man who’d sat at her table earlier and the other was Mark Lancaster. Wynn tried to excuse himself so he could diffuse the fight, but the lights flickered on and off and everyone froze on the dance floor. Lin looked up at the ceiling and saw several black figures fall, fast, down from the ceiling as though they were surfing on air. People shrieked and dropped to the ground. The figures dropped black bags on the floor and quickly lifted upward again and disappeared into the ceiling. Within a moment of the figures disappearance, the bags began to shriek, scream, and explode. Through flickering

lights, and white streaks of smoke and sparks, Lin saw what appeared to be rockets exploding and flying out in every direction from the bags. The shrieking of the fireworks and the screams from people made her ears hurt. The sulfuric smell was making her choke and she tried to see where Blair and Mara were, but all she saw was people running from, or being hit, by rockets. In between flashes of light, she saw Wynn running off the dance floor and bending over to help someone she couldn’t see. Lin realized there could be a bottle neck effect at the door, so she turned ran out as fast as she could. On her way to the door, she saw Poppy Craig get hit in the face by a wild rocket, and several others get spray with bright, hot, lit gun powder. On the front landing, Lin stopped and grabbed her knees and tried to catch her breath. She hoped Mara and Blair were alright. Lin turned around to see who else had come out, but it was just some other Blackthorn residents with whom she wasn’t familiar.

Feeling crowded as more people rushed the landing, Lin backed away into the walk way where she was greeted by Mara’s parents and waited. From there, she could hear screaming and crying from inside the house. Then, two men came out and said everything was under control, and that no one was hurt. “Did you catch the guys who dropped those bags?” asked someone from the crowd. “They disappeared, but Sheriff Dennison is looking for them. It’s safe for everyone to come in and get their things. Ms. Blesswell has been badly burned, as have several others. Let’s be respectful, and call it an evening.” Oh no thought Lin. She ran back inside, shoving and pushing against all the people. Inside she tried to spot Mara’s green gown but couldn’t find her anywhere. She went up to the coat checkers and asked after Mara and Blair who said they were with family and Mara’s mother. “Are you okay?” Wynn, suddenly, appeared behind her. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Come on,” he guided her out of the house by her elbow. Down the fifty stone steps, they walked; pausing halfway to take off her shoes. “Mara told me to make sure you got a carriage.” “So she’s okay, then?” “Yes, she’s just tending her mother.” “The drivers will be down in a moment, as will other riders. I must go back up,” he kissed her on the hand and said, “watch your back,” as he helped her up into a carriage. After he left, she stuck her head out of the window and watched him walk up the steps. Then, she felt it again; a strange whirl of wind. Cautiously, she stepped down the steps and onto the cement. She looked right and, seeing nothing, she looked left. “Aah,” she shrieked. There was the hooded figure a few yards down from where she stood. The figure stood very still, and Lin was about to fly home, but then a carriage driver appeared with a group of people, and the man with disappeared.

Lin stood frozen for a moment, and then climbed back inside the carriage.

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