The first snow enlightens Vulturu at Taïga’s return from boarding school in France. Granny has been suffering from a bad case of flu, so it is Missy who picks her up. As the old car struggles up the winding roads, the first snow starts to fall.
‘It will be a hard and cold winter, this year,’ Missy grumbles.
‘Cool! I love winter! I hope we’ll get lots of snow!’
‘Says the girl who won’t even be here to suffer through the endless darkness.’
‘Sorry… I didn’t think about that.’ She gathers her things and jumps out of the car as soon as it slows down to park, eager to give Granny her present.
It’s a big watercolor of wild poppies. Granny hangs it in the living room where it lights up the murky blue walls.
Granny is delighted to have Taïga back. She serves hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream and a ginger and walnut cake. ‘Now you must tell me everything!’
Missy settles with her usual book, making an effort and smiling kindly. Granny scolded her enough last time she saw Taïga, God forbid what would happen if she found out the yellow was her doing… ‘I love the painting of the pink peonies you’ve made-’
‘Poppies,’ Granny points out.
‘Right. Still. I think you’re spending so much time painting, that you could have painted something for me, too. Not that I like flowers, but-’
‘And what about the dance lessons? Do you think you’ll get the part? Are the teachers any good? I remember when I first…’ Granny rambles on, not waiting for an answer.
Maybe she gets a little carried away, she doesn’t seem to notice how silent her granddaughter is.
‘… and we’ve grown pumpkins this summer when you were in Italy, to make Jack O’Lanterns.’
‘Great, like the ones already outside?’
‘Yes! Missy couldn’t wait… But we’ve got tons of decorations, just waiting for you.’
Granny is not the only one happy to have Taïga back. Tramp can’t wait for her to go for a walk or play in the snow… or why not both! But Taïga is tired after the long journey, and as soon as she can she stumbles into bed. Tramp stays for a while, hoping she’ll just nap a little, but gives up, curling into a ball at her feet.
The next day Taïga wakes up only to discover that the snow has melted under a drizzling rain. After taking Tramp for a quick walk over to her friends’ homes she is back, gloomily carving pumpkins in the hall. Jen didn’t answer the phone, nor did Leann or Mitch, and when she showed up on their doorstep nobody answered the door. They are probably spending Halloween somewhere else this year, but she hopes they will be back before she has to leave again.
She sighs. Stabbing the knife into the pumpkin, she starts to carve out a triangular eye.
‘It’s Halloween, It’s Halloween,’ she recites. ‘The moon is full and bright. And we shall see what can’t be seen on any other night…’
‘That’s a nice poem, dear.’ Missy stops on her way to the kitchen.
‘Yeah, it’s our English homework…’
‘Dang teachers, always giving homework over the holidays,’ Missy mutters to herself.
Taïga smiles. For once she agrees with her great aunt.
In the afternoon it’s time to go “trick or treat-ing”. Granny is exhausted after spending the night sewing a fancy costume for the occasion, only using magic on the old Singer machine.
‘I don’t understand why you didn’t use your wand? I would have.’ Missy sips her huge cup filled with hot chocolate. She licks her lips, efficiently getting rid of the creamy moustache the rich beverage has left on her upper lip.
‘I’m sure you would. But you know I can’t risk using magic on her again, it’s only been four months since I styled her hair before we took off to Monte Aquila. Four months already…’ Granny stifles a yawn.
‘You threw a spell on my Singer,’ Missy says petulantly.
‘Exactly. But just a weak one.’ She sips her tea and walks over to put another log on the fire.
Missy snorts. ‘I think you’re too protective of her. I’m sure she can stand a little magic now and then. I bet it’s you, who-’ Suddenly she splutters and puts her mug down with a loud bang, spilling chocolate on her skirt. She jumps to her feet, staring at the door.
Taïga stands in the doorway, a grim expression on her face. Missy tries to keep a straight face, but it’s impossible. She giggles, trying to hide behind her hand, but there’s no way she can disguise the merriment in her eyes.
Taïga crosses her arms on her chest and glares at her great aunt, willing her to stop giggling. ‘Err… Granny… I wanted scary. Not ridiculous…’
Granny looks her creation over. She thinks she has succeeded in captivating the general idea – the green sweater is crisscrossed with leaves and swirling stems, you can immediately see the plant part. And the headdress is a masterpiece. ‘I think a cowplant is the scariest thing alive on this earth, and I defy you to find anyone who says the contrary!’
Taïga knows there’s no point in arguing. She just hopes no one will recognize her in this stupid outfit…
‘Be sure not to knock on any doors if you’re alone and don’t approach the doorways too close. OK? Don’t accept any homemade sweets, and stay away from the darker streets. You should be home before dark, by the way.’ Granny admonishes.
Taïga stares at her grandmother. ‘The sun is setting now, Granny. And I’m alone. Leann and Jenn didn’t answer the phone – or the door…’
‘Oh. Well, then.’
‘Well, then what?’
Granny shrugs, making an apologetic face.
‘Oh, no. Nonono. Granny is coming with you. Aren’t you, Tara?’ Missy looks from Taïga who’s grinning broadly.
‘Oh, yes, please, Granny! It will be so much fun!’
Granny doubts it, but can’t very well let the poor girl down… Glaring at her sister, she follows Taïga outside.
She stops on the porch. ‘Remember: We don’t accept pennies, toothbrushes or little boxes of raisins. This is a holiday, darn it!’
If she has to follow her granddaughter knocking on doors in the sluggish weather, it must be worthwhile. Even if she has to cast spells on the more reluctant inhabitants…
‘Yes, Granny. Darn it!’ Taïga peeks up at her from the inside of the cowplant’s wide opened pink jaws. The little pink udder underneath the chin tremble as she vigorously nods.
Maybe it will be fun after all. She can’t deceive her granddaughter who expectantly looks up at her.
‘Aren’t you going to disguise yourself, Granny?’
‘Oh. Err…’ Granny looks down at her sweeping grey skirt and adjusts her pointy hat. ‘I’m a witch.’
Taïga looks at her doubtfully, pursing her lips. ‘OK.’
Granny knows that’s the closest she’ll come to approval, so she clears her throat. ‘Ahem. Let’s do this!’ She hands Taïga a pumpkin shaped basket. ‘Come on. Let’s get this filled to the brim with goodies!’
The two of them run giggling off down the block…
Missy is left to distribute candy. With a satisfied sigh, she closes the door behind her sister and great niece, looking forward to scaring the kids who’ll come ringing on the door. She has just the right super scary mask she wanted to inaugurate tonight… A loud bang, followed by yelping and she finds herself on her knees, picking up sweets after Tramp knocked over the huge bowl filled to the brim with Halloween goodies…
Missy can’t help herself. As soon as she judges that her sister and annoying niece have vanished into the night, she grabs a coat sneaks outside. She walks all the way to the bend in the road to make sure her sneaky sister is really gone, before rushing back home. Drawing a deep breath, and checking over her shoulder for the umpteenth time – you never know with Granny – she gets to work. Systematically she stomps out the Jack O’Lanterns Taïga has so painstakingly carved the very same morning…
Even though Granny and Taïga soon found out that Halloween isn’t celebrated in Vulturu, they got some cookies and sweets anyway. Some people even took pictures of them so all in all it was quite fun going from house to house with Granny.
But spending day after day alone isn’t. Playing chess with Granny or reading Anne of Green Gables has totally lost the initial appeal. Taïga takes Tramp for long rainy walks, going everywhere she used to hang out with her friends looking for them, but they seem to have vanished.
Their homes stand strangely empty, a permanent vacant feeling about them.
She finds Mitchell’s bike in a ditch close to the cemetery, and she uses it to get home faster. Tramp runs happily alongside, working hard to keep up with her. Granny is persuaded her friends have left on vacation and has promised Taïga she’ll contact her three friends as soon as school starts again. Meanwhile, finding Mitchell’s bike discarded must surely make Granny understand that something has happened…
She dries off Tramp first, then she stands for a while under the shower, letting the warm water heat up her freezing extremities. Tonight is her last night before returning to France and her holidays has not been what she had expected… She thinks of the long evenings in Bigwood Falls when she used to keep Granny company in the attic, helping out making elixirs, and decides to join her in Missy’s basement “laboratory”.
‘Granny!?!’ She pushes open the heavy wooden door at the end of the long dimly lit passage. She’s happy to have Tramp, or she would never have dared descending the dark stairs.
But here they are, the candles on the walls automatically lighting up as they pass the threshold. She’s disappointed to find the huge room empty, but she soon forgets that she had initially come to look for her grandmother.
Wide-eyed she looks around the room. Spooky? No. Witchy? Absolutely! Tramp sniffs the floor, finding the room just as interesting as his mistress does. He yaps, sending a spider scurrying away.
Taïga’s eyes roam over the workbench. It looks a lot like Granny’s, with its set of candles and a heap of spell books and other magical paraphernalia stacked haphazardly next to it.
Granny has specifically told her not to touch the grimoires before she’s sixteen, but it can’t be dangerous if she just approaches a little, can it? She leans towards the huge book, trying to see what’s written on it. With a yelp, both she and Tramp jumps backwards when the book opens and the pages start turning so fast she can feel the wind stir her hair. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to approach after all. Tramp continues exploring, sniffing at everything, high and low. Taïga giggles, he must be in smell heaven!
Talking about smells. She approaches the kettle, throwing a precautious glance into it. ‘Mmm… It smells heavenly!’
Tramp has moved on, finding some delicious breadcrumbs and a mouse hole in the wall, next to a rolled oriental carpet and a sparkling bottle on the floor.
A huge spider draws his attention and barking wildly he starts jumping and scratching the wall to reach it.
‘Stop it, Tramp! It’s just a decoration spider!’ Taïga grabs his collar and draws him back before he smashes the intriguing bottle. Stepping over a crate, she steadies the heavy carpet and leans forward as much as she can, picking it up.
She staggers back a few steps when the dog forces his way past her to whining lay down, peeking into the gaping hole in the wall. Automatically she grabs the edge of the table with her hands to steady herself, but doing so she lets go of the bottle, sending it crashing onto the floor.
‘Oh, no! I dropped it!’ The bottle shatters at Taïga’s feet, letting lose not liquid but a strange dark cloud.
It surrounds her, making it difficult to breath. Contradictory, the cloud is lit from within, giving it a muddy appearance. Taïga’s little “mishap” with the apple has taught her a lesson and now she tries to hold her breath, scared of what would happen to her if she breathes in the thick substance.
She backs away as the dark cloud begins to dissipate and she finds herself staring at… Herself!
Disoriented she glances to her left, and the padded mirror is still there. But with two versions of herself. She looks back at the girl facing her. ‘OhMyGod! Oh.My.God!’
Her breathing comes in quick bursts. Is she hallucinating? Or is she dead? She glances back at the mirror again, relieved to see that only one of the two girls is moving. That’s her, all right. If you’re dead you can surely not see yourself in a mirror. Or could you? She looks slowly back to the perfect copy of herself standing in front of her. What evil could she have let loose from the bottle?
Before she has the time to react, her mirror-image reaches out and touches her hair. Taïga flinches. ‘Oh.My.God.’
‘Nope. Not God. Just you.’
‘Yep. I’m you.’
‘Are you some kind of genie? If so, my wish is that you get back into the bottle.’
‘Well, repair it! It’s my second wish. Repair the bottle and return inside it!’
‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t work that way. And I’m not a genie, by the way. I told you – I’m you.’
Taïga stares at the girl who looks exactly like herself, down to the messy braids, her new dark blue embroidered traditional blouse and black jeans. She adventures a quick glance at the girl’s feet and is not surprised to see that even the socks and shoes are identical. She touches her head band with the bow, seeing a blur of red in the other girl’s hair, too. She swallows. What has she done?
‘Err… What’s your name?’ she asks.
‘What’s yours?’ the girls asks back.
‘Well, then I’m Taïga, too.’
‘You can’t be.’
‘Because there’s only one me and it’s not you.’
‘Yeah, well. I wonder how you’re gonna prove that?’
Taïga gapes, clenching her fists. This is getting too weird. Maybe she’s hallucinating? ‘GRANNY! GRAAAAANNY!!!’
The girl raises an eyebrow, grinning. Then she hollers, too, in exactly the same voice, ‘GRANNY! GRAAAAANNY!!!’ She looks triumphantly at Taïga. ‘I can’t wait to meet Granny. I bet my new life as you will be super cool.’
‘Granny will make you go back home.’
‘Home? This is my home.’ The girl fold her arms on her chest with a satisfied expression.
‘It’s not. I live here. Not you. And you’re not me. You can’t be. It’s impossible!’
Taïga looks bewildered at her. She has seen movies like this, and they ended well. With the accent on ended, as the whole action in between was more like a living hell for the poor person who nobody believed. OMG. And now she’s the girl nobody will believe. What if Granny gets rid of her?
‘Oh, shut up, will you. You’re the one made me come here, huh? And nobody can see the difference between us anyway… So… Just get out of my way!’ The clone heads for the door. ‘Come here, doggy.’
‘Wait! I have to think!’ Taïga puts her hands over her ears to shut out the clone girl droning on. Granny will surely recognize her, won’t she? But even Tramp seems confused, sniffing around them both, hesitating if he should follow the clone or stay with Taïga. I can’t let anybody mix us up…
Taïga can feel the anger like a flaming ball in her stomach, and before she has time to think, she reaches for the wand displayed on the table next to her and words in a foreign language she didn’t even suspect she knew flows from her mouth, accompanied by blue lightning spurting from the wand and making the clone tremble and shudder.
‘My hair! What have you done to my hair!?!’ The clone touches her white braids.
‘Just so Granny can see the difference between us. Bi- Err… Brat!’ Taïga tries to sound more confident than she is deep down. She hopes the clone is not a witch – and plays the same trick on her.
But the clone just laughs and turns on her heels – running right into Granny. The old witch steadies the young girl with her hands, starting to say something, but changing her mind and looking over the clone’s head straight at Taïga.
‘Leave us, Taïga.’
She kneels next to Tramp who has taken refuge under the table. She takes his collar with one hand and fusses about him knocking over the pillow displaying the wand, and puts it back to its place. With the wand. She avoids looking at the clone and Granny as she passes them on her way out.
Taïga stays in the hall with her ear glued to the door. She can hear muffled voices – Granny and the clone are heatedly discussing something, but she can’t distinguish the words. Red light is blazing through the little opening, but it is too high up for Taïga to see anything.
Maybe it would be better to leave. Even if she’s curious to know what Granny is doing, she doesn’t really want to be questioned about her whereabouts in the basement.
‘C’mon, Tramp. We’d better leave.’ She tugs on the dog’s collar and starts walking away as quietly as possible.
Suddenly the door is thrown up and her grandmother beckons for her. She turns back, discreetly looking for the clone, but there’s only Granny. A very angry Granny. Apart from the traumatizing fact that she had to get rid of a little girl looking exactly like her granddaughter, she is not happy about Taïga breaking a bottle of precious “Clone Drone”.
Taïga breaking a bottle of precious “Clone Drone”.
‘Especially as the potion was defective. You see, the clone’s hair should have been the same color as yours-’
‘But it did!’
‘-but maybe I shouldn’t have changed the formula and added wicked- What did you say?’
‘Nothing.’ Taïga realizes it might be better if she didn’t get into details about the wand. It’s already bad that she entered the forbidden room…
‘Anyway, I hope you understand it could have been something worse! I don’t suppose you would enjoy being changed into something indescribable…’ She looks sternly at Taïga, repeating, ‘Indescribable,’ making the word sound ominous and terrifying.
Taïga nods, looking suitably subdued. She wonders what could be so horrible it is indescribable.
Granny continues lecturing Taïga on the dangers of touching her potions as they walk through the corridor.
At the bottom of the stairs, Granny stops. ‘Don’t move, I almost forgot. I’ll have to throw this cure elixir at your feet, and I’d better don’t miss.’
‘Wait!’ Taïga gasps. ‘Are you sure about-’
‘Too late!’ The bottle crashes to her feet, surrounding her in a warm glow. ‘And yes, of course I’m sure. My grandmother used the same elixir on me when I was a kid.’
Taïga stares at her grandmother, feeling a little drowsy. ‘You mean you broke a… a…?’
Granny looks sternly at her. ‘I did. Ahem. But it was a mistake.’ She steers her granddaughter up the stairs. ‘A hot bath and some soup, and you will feel like a new person.’
‘Figuratively speaking, of course.’
Even if the holidays have been rather boring, they were still too short and tomorrow Taïga will be on a plane back to boarding school. She sings softly while she washes and then she just lays back and closes her eyes. A nice hot bath when it’s starting to get cold outside. Starting? Taïga giggles. It never seems to be warm in Vulturu.
She wonders what her classmates have been doing during the holidays. Maybe she’ll be the one to dance the lead in their musical…
‘Naan,’ she mutters, blowing away foam from her hands and watching the bubbles float through the air. ‘It’ll probably be that blonde girl, Louise whatever! And she has a nice voice, too…
It has been raining every day. A cold drizzling downpour varying in intensity without never really stopping. But when Taïga leaves for France in the early after, the ground is covered in a thin layer of snow, and the sun tries to pierce through the heavy clouds. Just like when she arrived. It’s like she hasn’t been home at all… She is relieved to have talked to Granny and Missy last night. They promised they would go to the police with the bike, maybe it was stolen as Granny said…
Granny is watching the cab leave from the upstairs balcony, waving until it disappears out of sight.
Suddenly there’s a suspect sound from the bathroom. She pushes the door open on a scene worthy of Titanic. She had no idea all plumbing could give up at the same time.
She can’t muster enough magic to take care of everyday trivia, like defective central heating and, as mentioned, century old plumbing. Add an Alien infested population, mystic disappearances and a school that’s not worthy of carrying that definition. And, most important, the almost total lack of sunny weather.
‘This is it! I’ve had enough.’ With swirling skirts, she turns on her heels, closing the door on the disaster. Missy comes running, skidding on the water seeping out into the hall. Arms flailing, she tries to grip Granny but after wrestling to keep their balance, both women crash to the floor.
‘Oups! I didn’t see the puddle.’ Missy straightens her glasses. ‘Did the wretched girl shower again without drawing the curtains?’
Granny stands up, wringing out water from her skirt. ‘You won’t have to worry about Taïga anymore. We’re moving.’
Missy sits in the middle of the puddle, looking up at her sister with a glorious smile. ‘I can’t wait. Where are we going?’
Granny had not really envisioned to include Missy in “we”. She quickly does the maths in her head. Leaving her sister behind would mean that she has no control of what she’d be up to. Especially as her touchy sister won’t take the refusal to bring her along lightly. A vengeful Missy would certainly continue her necromancy experimentations and after the Zombie fiasco – which would have gotten entirely out of hands if she had not been there to stop it… She shakes her head sadly. Well. Better keep your enemy close, as the Godfather said…
Witches don’t use real estate agents, and Granny is no exception. Discarding her wet garments, she wraps her robe tightly around her and settles in front of the palantìr with her sister. They can’t just move anywhere, they have to take in count the mystical and spiritual possibilities of their future home and their new house should ideally be situated on a leyline.
Granny frowns, peering into the crystal ball.
‘What is it? Is it bad?’
‘Wait, Missy… No, it’s not bad… I can see trees, lots of trees.’
‘Because there’s no way I’m settling in Africa among wildlings.’
‘Missy! Africa is a civilized continent. Underdeveloped, but-’
‘Well. It’s too warm to live there anyway.’
‘I told you it’s not Africa.’
‘Is it Bigwood Falls then? I’m not sure I want to live in the Pacific North West, it’s too rainy,’ Missy squeaks.
Granny looks up from the palantìr. Is her sister serious? ‘No, it’s not the West Coast.’
‘Oh. Because the West Coast is all right. Sea, Sun and-’
‘The house seems big enough,’ Granny interrupts her sister. There’s no way she will let her sister’s expectations let her influence the palantìr. ‘Ahem. It’s in a forest with mossy oaks and banyan trees – it looks like a bayou. It’s hard to tell-’
‘-because I wouldn’t like Ireland or Scotland neither. Too rainy and cold.’
‘I’ve never heard of a bayou in Ireland, nor in Scotland, Missy. But it seems rather foggy… Or misty… I’ll try to follow the road backwards…’
Granny concentrates hard. ‘There’s a stone cottage… with a sign… It’s some kind of shop.’ She grins at Missy. ‘I know where we’ll settle down!’
‘Where? In a shop?’
‘No, in the mansion at the end of the road of that shop!’
‘What does the sign say? Can you read it?’
‘Yes…’ She squints at the small letters, willing the palantìr to approach. ‘It says “Abracadabra Witches’ Brews”…’
‘I know where it is! Grandmother used to talk about it, it’s in South Carolina and it’s held by fair folk.’
‘Really? There’s no “fair folk”,’ Granny says absentmindedly, scrutinizing the image of the little shop. It changes from the idyllic summer to fall as she urges the palantìr to advance, finally settling on a winter image.
There are two girls riding past, the first one with the dark braids draws her attention, she’s smiling, looking over her shoulder and saying something to the blond girl a few yards behind her. The horses set into a canter. A glimpse of the future-
‘Oh, my…’ The winter landscape gives way to a dark man looking like a Mexican highway robber from the last century who looks at her through the palantìr, a puzzled look on his face.
‘So where do you think she got her stock of fairy dust from, huh? Apart from the little fairy imprisoned in Grandmother Ailey’s gilded cage.’
Granny snaps to attention. The palantìr falls back onto its support with a clang. ‘What imprisoned fairy?’
‘The one captured by… Err… I don’t remember… But the cage is exposed at the museum here in town.’
‘Missy. How come the gilded cage is at the museum if it was Grandmother Ailey’s?’
Missy fidgets on her seat. ‘Well… I kind of sold it to them,’ she murmurs, avoiding Granny’s piercing gaze.
Granny stares in disbelief at her airhead sister. ‘You “kind of” sold the only chance to harvest we’ve ever had in the family…’
‘Err… You couldn’t have harvested anything anyway. It was impossible to open and it was empty. Only some weird plant inside and centuries of dust.’
Centuries of dust… Granny closes her eyes, steadying herself with her hands on the edge of the table. ‘Missy, what do you know about fairies?’ she asks with a tired voice.
‘Err… They are pretty. And they have wings. They are mischievous, real pranksters and they can fly and get really tiny and invisible. They can also do magic and… They can- Ahem. Get invisible,’ she whispers.
Her eyes meet Granny’s. ‘Oups. I’m so sorry! If I had known, I would have kept it like Grandmother Ailey told me to. She said never to part with it. How stupid of me…’ Her face lights up. ‘But I know how to get it back!’
Granny doubts it, but she listens halfheartedly to Missy’s reckless plan nevertheless. Her mind is busy elsewhere, trying to figure out why Grandmother Ailey confided the precious gilded cage to her airhead sister. She can’t believe the old lady could have done it on purpose. She’s the eldest for God’s sake, and Missy is only a half-witch. Even if Grandmother Ailey got really bizarre towards the end, and favored her airhead sister, encouraging her attempts at magic. No, Granny should have gotten it…
Missy finishes, waiting for a reaction but Granny just sits there, looking grumpy. She probably doesn’t approve of the plan then. She changes the subject, gesturing towards the palantìr. ‘So that’s all? It didn’t say anything about me? You promised you would search…’ Missy looks at the crystal ball, deception written all over her face.
Me, me, me. Everything always turns around Missy… Angrily Granny holds out her hands, beckoning for the palantìr to rise.
‘Yes… Wait. I can see… Err… Oh.’ Granny keeps her tongue about the wedding set-up she is witnessing. With a stocky red-haired bride that looks unmistakably like Missy. Better not let her sister’s hopes up… She’ll tell her later. Eventually. The palantìr lets you glimpse the future, but the future today is not necessarily the future of tomorrow, she reasons, feeling slightly guilty. ‘-a dark storm cloud following you everywhere you go,’ she lies, secretly satisfied to see her sister’s face crumple.
‘Are you sure it’s a dark cloud? Not a dark stranger? Thought I saw someone-’
‘I’m positive – cloud as in rain and storm… Now let’s find our town. And then we shall look into how to get the gilded cage back.’ Granny pushes her chair back and stands up.
Missy looks at her with a surprised look on her face. ‘But, can’t you see it in your crystal ball?’
‘Yes, and I did, but now we need more precise magic. We’re in need of Google Earth to find where 13 Hangman’s Nook in Crooked Bayou Swamp is situated.’
‘Don’t you think that sounds a little ominous? Hangman’s nook. It must be near the sea, I think handsome pirates and such. Or not. It could be quite positive too, to live at number 13. Which is also a lucky number. Or so they say…’
Missy rambles on, but Granny doesn’t listen. She hates to admit it, but they are in need of some modern technology and the only place they can find a computer is at the library. Hopefully with someone around who can help them use it.
As soon as they can, they head for the museum like library in town. Seeing Taïga’s pale geography teacher, Cristi Vladimirescu, hovering behind one of the screens makes her feel uneasy. She nods curtly, hurrying past him to where Missy is already explaining their predicament to the young librarian. Granny is glad that Taïga is not going to school here anymore and that they have finally decided to take action and get out of Vulturu.
The librarian quickly finds some realtors on the Internet and after scanning a picture of the house Missy hands her, creates an ad to sell their house.
‘I think we should say the garden is bigger. City people fancy a big garden. Probably because they don’t know how much time you spend on maintenance…’
The librarian answers something in Romanian and Missy nods happily. ‘Absolutely. Seeing it is smaller will be a nice surprise, then!’
Granny is dubious about the whole thing. Even if the real estate site seems serious enough, she doesn’t know what Missy and the librarian are talking about. The whole measuring system is pure gibberish to her, and after her time in Vulturu, she still hasn’t got the hang of Romanian. The principal is to get the house sold before the roads close for the winter months…
Surprisingly, the ad works and the house is sold in a blink to a realtor in Bucharest who intends to let it to tourists from the capital, searching for mystery and vampires.
‘I told you the Twilight series was a benediction, anything with a connection to vampires goes since gorgeous Edward Cullen made the headlines.’ Missy gushes, hanging up the phone. ‘Maybe I should just stay here and start a Dracula roundtrip,’ she adds thoughtfully. ‘Dusty old Dracula has never drawn as many tourists to Transylvania before.’
‘Dracula didn’t even live in the vicinity,’ Granny mutters. She hasn’t got over the deception of the loss of the fairy yet.
‘You’re right. But the tourists don’t know that and I bet there are others, more handsome than that old bloodsucker anyway. I’ll just contact whatever their name is – the Americans who are studying the occult here in Vulturu. They must have come up with something.’
Uh-oh. The Morelands. Darn it! She knew she had forgotten something important. The Morelands are Taïga’s friend’s parents. She’ll just have to drop by the police station tomorrow, handing over the bike her granddaughter found.
‘So I just sold the house for twice its worth,’ Missy continues. ‘And we even get to leave the furniture. Amazing!’
Granny nods. So much less to pack. But of course there’s a hic with Missy.
‘We’ll just have to start packing. We have to leave before Saturday…’
‘But that’s in four days!’
‘I know. So we better get moving, huh? Got the pun? Moving?’
Packing all their things takes the next two days, finding an honest shipper for the heavier equipment takes another day or two. But before leaving Vulturu, there’s something important the sisters have to do…
After bickering about if they should take their old convertible or not, Granny resolutely calls for a taxi. Their car is over snowed anyway as someone has left the roof down…
They ride downtown in silence, both absorbed in thoughts about their special mission.
They ask the taxi driver to wait before they trudge through the snow up the stairs to the museum.
Granny quickly strides through the somber, boring alleys, rapidly scanning the surroundings for the object they are looking for. Missy complains. There are so many strange things to admire. Suddenly she stops and stares at a little golden cowplant. ‘I didn’t know the gold one was in Vulturu?’
‘It isn’t, Missy. It’s a fake. Can’t you feel it?’ Missy closes her eyes for a brief instant, and then she nods but Granny isn’t fooled. Her sister has not felt a thing because there is nothing to be felt.
‘Look! It seems almost real…’ Missy has stopped – again. This time in awe by a golden pumpkin. Granny glances at the huge object and continues over to the window. The snowfall is intensifying and she’s worried they might get stuck in Vulturu because of the state of the roads. They better hurry…
A loud hissing makes her turn around. Missy is looking stunned, staring at the pumpkin slowly shrinking on the pedestal.
‘OMG! What have you done?’
‘Nothing. I just wanted to see if it was real gold so I just scratched at it a little with my penknife.’
Granny sighs, looking around her. ‘We can’t stop here and draw attention to ourselves,’ she whispers, grabbing her sister by the arm.
‘Draw attention? But we’re in a museum. We’re supposed to admire the artifacts, not rush through all the exhibitions.’
Granny has to admit that her sister is right, but she won’t say it out loud. She just grumbles about admiring, not destroying, and heads for the next artifact where she stops and counts to ten. That should be a good average for the boring pieces exposed.
They go through the painting sections and all the adjacent rooms stuffed with strange paraphernalia like a miniature graveyard and an ugly creature looking like a cross breed of a fish and a toad. Granny scrutinizes the strange animal, trying to decide if it is an artistic creation or something that was once alive. She unsuccessfully tries to shut out Missy gushing about the miniature graveyard.
‘… just like the one Beetlejuice lived in! Do you think we can summon him?’
‘Err… No. We can’t have someone as harmful as him around, you should know that. Try to focus on our mission. Please?’
With a last regretful glance at the coveted object, Missy tags along after her sister. But the item they are looking for is nowhere to be found.
They are casually strolling along the wooden railing on the second floor, heading for the bathrooms, when something draws Granny’s attention. She discreetly nudges her sister and nods downstairs towards a dark section of the exhibition. The access is cut off with red ropes, making sure the public stays away.
They hurry downstairs trying to get their bearings in the maze of halls and rooms. Turning around a corner they almost stumble on a sleeping guard. Granny puts a finger to her lips, shushing her sister and gesticulating towards the red velvet ropes barricading the access. A small sign says the room is closed for renovation and will open again shortly. Missy resolutely steps over the red velvet rope but Granny hesitates. She looks at the sleeping museum guard. What if he wakes up? Sleeping on a chair seems terribly uncomfortable so he can’t really be asleep, can he? A loud snoring answers her question. She clumsily gathers her skirts and steps over the rope in her sister’s wake before she has the time to overthink her action.
‘Wait,’ she whispers, steadying the rope behind her. But Missy has stopped and Granny almost runs into her in her haste.
A little insignificant cage is placed on one of the pedestals in a dark corner. Granny can feel her heart accelerating as she approaches.
She can’t see the fairy, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any hidden inside. She raises an inquiring eyebrow in Missy’s direction and her sister nods. ‘It’s the one, all right. And look! There’s another cowplant. But much dustier… Urgh… It even smells like it comes straight out of a stable.’ Missy grimaces, holding her nose.
‘Uh-huh.’ Granny doesn’t even glance at the dusty object, her attention is monopolized by the fairy cage. Opening the carryall, she rummages around for Missy’s wand. She pulls it out from the bag and holds it with closed eyes. Murmuring, she charges her sister’s tool with enough magic to go through with the delicate mission. ‘OK. Are you ready for the transfer?’
It is more a statement than a question, but Missy fidgets, blurting out, ‘Err… We can’t do this… Can we?’
‘You can do this, Missy. We’ve been through this a hundred times.’
‘Twice. On the way here.’
Granny snorts. Her sister is always exaggerating. They’ve been through it at least a dozen times over the last two days. ‘You learnt the spell fast enough, didn’t you?’
‘Yes. But I still can’t see why I have to do it? You’re so much more powerful than me!’
‘That’s exactly why. If I did it… Gah… I told you I would probably kill the fairy.’
‘If she’s in there,’ Missy mutters. ‘Cage seems empty enough to me.’
‘Stop grumbling and go ahead, Missy. I’ll keep watch…’ Granny advances to the window, pulling discreetly at the curtain.
‘If there’s someone coming, it will be from that direction,’ Missy says, pointing to the entrance to the little room.
‘Right. But you can never be careful enough,’ Granny says, retiring from the window and walking across the room to the doorway. ‘And don’t forget the words.’
Missy is nervous but she goes ahead with the spell anyway.
‘Shazalambinga… bunga… oups!’
Granny swirls around with a stricken expression. ‘Oups!?!’
Missy fidgets, raising her eyes to the ceiling as if the answer were to be read in the dust and spider webs high above. Biting her lip, she adventures a glance at her fulminating sister. ‘Eh, I changed your outfit…’
‘You what? You changed my outfit?’ Granny touches the smooth fur of an… animal? She stops caressing the material as if it had burnt her. ‘Is it real?’
‘Seems so. Looks like cashmere to me.’
‘I meant this.’ Cross-eyed, Granny tries to look at the incredibly soft collar.
‘Oh. That.’ Missy reaches out to caress the fur. ‘My favorite, polar fox.’
‘You know I’m against killing animals,’ Granny hisses. She starts unbuttoning the coat.
‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ Missy says tartly.
‘Watch me!’ Granny shreds the fur, all of a sudden feeling very cold. And very naked.
‘Told you to keep it on.’
Granny looks furtively around her, picking up the offensive garment faster than she had taken it off. She fluffs her hair, raising her chin. Thank the Goddess those surveillance cameras are fakes.
‘But look!’ Missy grins. ‘I did it! The fairy cage isn’t here anymore!’
Granny spins around and almost loses her balance. A quick glance at her feet reveals they are precariously encased in 5.5 inches Louboutin heels. Holding on to the nearest display, she meets Missy’s eyes and her sister shrugs apologetically. Suddenly something crosses her mind. She doesn’t have to check the bag to know it is empty. ‘And… Where is it?’
‘Err… With your skirt and hat, of course.’
Granny is trying hard to stay calm. ‘And where’s that?’
Suddenly the room is filled with the howling of an alarm. Granny pulls her coat closer, throwing a panicked glance towards the hallway. ‘Missy, you said this place wasn’t wired!’
‘It can’t be! There’s no cable TV in Vulturu at all!’
If looks could kill, Missy would be long dead. ‘We have to get out of here.’ Carefully she peeks around the corner. ‘The coast is clear… What the heck are you doing?’
‘We can’t leave empty-handed and I guess the alarm won’t sound any harder if we take this, too.’ Missy stashes the little cowplant statue in her flowery carryall and struggles with the zip.
Granny wobbles over on her ridiculously high heels and irritably tries to lift it up, wheezing with the weight. With a crash she lets it fall back to the floor. ‘How come it’s so darn heavy?’
‘Because it’s probably the real thing this time,’ Missy answers proudly. ‘I can feel it. Or rather smell it. And like this we have two of them – only two to go and we will have a life size Laganaphyllis in our garden!’
‘Who on earth would like to have such a monstrous thing on display?’
‘I would. I think it’s really stylish. And exotic, too. I bet our future neighbors have never even set eyes on one before!’
‘Exactly!’ Granny stoops down to take her high heels off, stuffing them into the bag. ‘We’ll talk about that later. Now we have to get out of here!’
They make it out of the museum without trouble. The guards are too busy trying to find who has destroyed the precious pumpkin to look twice at the eccentric old ladies hurrying past the security, even though one of them is barefoot.
The taxi is waiting outside, and soon the sisters are sitting in the backseat, whispering and arguing the whole way back to their house. Granny quickly goes through her suitcase, searching for an appropriate dress for the journey. And wool stockings. They silence the protesting taxi driver by waving a wad of fake money in front of his face, bribing him to accept their pets in the immaculate vehicle. With Tramp on the passenger seat and Miezul Nopţii comfortably purring on Missy’s lap, they are finally starting on their long journey. Granny watches the landscape through the misty window, happy to leave this godforsaken place.
‘Would you mind if I keep the shoes?’
‘Well. It’s obvious you can’t walk in them. I mean-’
Granny gestures dismissively with her hand, turning her face back to the window. ‘Just take them.’
‘And what about the coat?’
‘What about it?’
‘I mean, we could switch if you want.’
Granny glares at her sister, pulling the coat closer around her, guiltily burying her nose in the soft fur collar. ‘We’ll see…’
Part I – End of Chapter 44