For the first time since Taïga started school, she doesn’t want to go. It’s not only the appalling weather – the rain is pouring down since Mrs. Brown was buried a couple of days before. No, it’s the fact that her whole existence has been turned upside down, and she’s dealing with a sense of loss never experienced before, even after the departure of her mother. She knows in her heart that Shasta will be back one day, and take her with her, and that hope makes her go on every day. But Mrs. Brown…
Taïga had never been to a funeral before, and when she saw the coffin, she suddenly realized that the beloved housekeeper was never going to come back again. The little girl had had a breakdown in church, obliging Granny to take her home… Since then she had slept almost non-stop for three days, not even wanting to see Derek, who had called on her every day.
So today, when she’s due to start in 3rd grade, she just kept her eyes shut feigning sleep when Granny came to wake her. Her grandmother almost caved when she saw the distress in Taïga’s eyes, but convinced herself that getting her to her first real school start was for the best. She got her heartbroken granddaughter out of bed and into her new dress, driving her to school in the seldom used vintage car.
The sooner she resumes a normal life, the better. I would even be happy if she’d like to see that Derek character of hers…
The ceremony is exceptionally taking place indoors because of the bad weather. First the middle school students, then the three last classes of elementary school, followed by some refreshments. The younger kids start in the afternoon. The Middle school students have finished and are leaving with their parents when they arrive. The numerous cars exiting the school are jamming the access to the parking lot, reducing Granny to park on the reserved area for the school buses.
‘But you can’t park here, Granny!’
‘Why not? There’s lots of space for us to open the doors and there are no school buses today, anyway.’ She pulls the hand break tight and squints through the windshield. ‘We better hurry, or there won’t be any seats left and you know I prefer arriving discreetly on time.’
They dash across the schoolyard towards the Sports Hall, sheltered under Granny’s huge light-blue umbrella with butterflies on. So much for being discreet, Taïga thinks. They are out early, her grandmother being a bit of a stickler for protocol, and the hall is almost empty. They tactfully take a seat in one of the backrows nevertheless.
Apart from the Crumpelbottom witches, Granny doesn’t actually know anyone in town living as a recluse in the setback Cove. Their seats permit overlooking all the people coming in through the double doors right behind the makeshift scene. Taïga nods in acknowledgment to her friends, but she’s relieved that no one comes over to talk to them, her eccentric grandmother’s reputation probably scaring them off. Whispering, Taïga tells Granny the names of the children who were in her class last year. Granny recognizes some of their last names and even identifies some faces as Shasta’s old classmates. She fiddles nervously with the hem of her new dress, bought on the summer sales from a British catalogue.
‘Don’t worry, Granny. You look great, just like a normal grandmother.’ Taïga squeezes her grandmother’s hand.
‘Err… You know what I mean, Granny. Look, it’s starting!’
An expectant silence lays over the large hall when the Headmistress of the school takes place on the scene. Some hushing, scraping of chairs and random coughs, and then there’s silence.
‘Welcome to Everglow Academy everyone. I am Miriam Hoppcraft, headmistress of our school, and I’d like to…’
Yada yada yada… Taïga tunes out the voice, surreptitiously studying the people present. She can’t see the Vargas’s anywhere, but the Wilkins family is there –front row, of course– and the buoyant MacDuff’s.
Startled she straightens in her seat at the sound of her name, but it’s only her teacher calling out the list of names of her students.
A little smile finds its way to her face when she hears Teddy’s name called out last on the list of her class. So he’s with her this year again. Cool. She can see him now with his parents, two rows in front of them to their left, waving at her. Her smile broadens and she waves back. Where is Derek? Teddy reads her silent question and motions towards the back of the hall.
Turning on her seat, she can see the Elementary and Middle school sports teams on the bleachers with the cheering squad. There he is, in the middle of the football team, craning his neck to talk to- she frowns, her smile dying when she recognizes Serena Wilkins. Pretty, intelligent and popular Serena Wilkins … I hate her… and I hate Derek too… Just look at her, her hair all over him… Ridiculous!
A lot of scraping of chairs and the first part of the meeting is over. Her little hand firmly clutching Granny’s, they start moving forward towards the tables with refreshments. Her new teacher is coming over to have a few words with Granny, and after politely saying hello, Taïga tries to see what her other classmates are up to. She’s surprised to see Derek wave her over.
Granny nods distractedly when she lets go of her hand, too concentrated on her conversation to really notice.
‘C’mon, Taïga, I’d like you to meet my team mates.’ Derek puts a hand on her shoulder, steering her towards a group of boys she recognizes from 8th grade. ‘See you around, Serena.’
Blah… Taïga sticks her tongue out mentally at Serena who looks her over before walking away with a flick of her hair.
‘Gaah, she’s in my class this year…’ he says in a low voice, adding, ‘Hey guys, this is Taïga…’
His team seems nice enough but Derek drags her away after quickly introducing everyone.
‘How are you? I’ve been calling on you every day, did your Grams mention it?’
Taïga nods, suddenly overwhelmed by emotion.
‘So… You’re in Teddy’s class again.’
‘Uh-huh.’ Darn tears are brimming, making her eyes suspiciously shiny.
Derek steers her towards the emergency exit, ‘Let’s get some air, you seem to need it.’ He holds the door for her, and they both run over to the shelter of the almost empty bicycle rack.
The rain is smattering hard against the tin roof in a soothing rhythm. They just stay there in companionable silence, watching the rain, until Granny comes outside looking for her, waving the car keys.
‘I’ll keep you a seat tomorrow,’ Derek calls after her, making her heart sing.
Fall comes early that year. The cool weather brings a taste of winter, prematurely changing the green landscape into a symphony in red and orange. She meets with Derek and Teddy at the crossroads when the weather allows it, and they bike to school.
Derek is keeping his promise, saving a seat for Taïga on the school bus when the weather is too bad for them to use their bikes. But she can’t help thinking about the pretty blond girl in his class.
If Serena took the bus, would he keep a seat for her? Instead of me? But I guess I’ll never know, as she’s coming to school in a sleek Lincoln Town car with a hired driver…
Teddy and Taïga are still in elementary school, and as they don’t share the schoolyard with the 5th graders, they hardly see Derek at all. They didn’t last year either, but this year, she misses him terribly. Probably because she knows Serena is always around…
The last she sees of him is in the morning when the bus drops them off. He taps her amiably on her back adding an infuriating ‘Take care, kiddo!’ before hurrying off towards his “grown up” friends.
Whenever she gets the opportunity to talk to him, it seems that Serena comes over, flicking her long blond hair, interrupting, interrupting…
It doesn’t help that the most popular girl in middle school is on the cheering squad, and has training at the same time as Derek’s team. He has abandoned the ballet, concentrating on football. His trainer thinks that he’s a one of a kind player, making him train with the 7th graders, but not knowing in which position to start him yet.
‘Geez, I know I’m fast enough to aim for receiver this year. Did I tell you what Coach Stevens said? He wants to talk to my dad about my future.’
‘Err… Isn’t that a good thing?’
‘He’s already talking about scholarships and college! I’m only twelve, for God’s sake! I don’t even know if I wanna go to college.’
‘Of course you want to. Everybody wants to go to college.’ Taïga says outraged. She loves school, and can’t imagine a future without studying.
‘Well, you’ll see about that when you grow up, kiddo!’ Derek teases, pulling one of her elaborate braids as the bell rings.
‘I’ll drop by after training. I have an essay to write for next Thursday.’ He calls out, rushing towards the stairs with the flow of students.
Sometimes they bump into each other at the school library, but of course they’re not allowed to talk. He usually sits with his team and classmates anyway.
She’s also starting to hang more with the girls in her class, playing hopscotch and jump rope during recess. The pinkies stay apart, freezing out Taïga, but she doesn’t care. She’s getting more confident in herself and her abilities and wouldn’t become part of their gang even if they paid her.
She even finds the harsh dance teacher less frightening than last year, and continues looking forward to her three hours of classical ballet a week. Mrs. Hoffman is amazed by the young girl’s progress, accomplishing to reach almost the same level as the other girls in only a semester. But then again, she’s strong and flexible as most kids are. What has helped her is a very good sense of rhythm and a genuine capacity to dance without counting.
Even if they don’t see each other much due to their busy schedules, Derek still comes to the cove a couple of days a week after practice and they do their homework together. It’s a win-win situation – he helps her with her maths, and she helps him with his English assignments. And most important – she’s got him all to herself for a couple of hours, even if it’s just to study and they don’t have much time to play. Their weekends are spent in their treehouse with Teddy. They’ve brought blankets to keep warm, stacked up on comics and take turns bringing something to eat.
Granny is still struggling with the housework. She has tried baking cookies, but resigned when she saw the result. Admitting that the flat, charcoal-like, unshapely things coming out of the oven couldn’t be described as a bit crispy or just burnt around the edges, she deftly threw them away and sent Taïga to the grocery to shop for industrially baked goods.
The autumn has started out exceptionally rainy and cold on the Pacific North coast, but in Italy the sun is shining more often than not. The Count Di Grisogno and his brand new Countess have moved back to sunny Monte Vista for the winter and Shasta is literally sparkling with energy. She has succeeded in convincing her doting husband to let her re-do the glum Old Nectary in France, and has free hands as long as she doesn’t stray away from the two first floors. The renovation won’t start until after Christmas, but she’s already spending time and money picking out furniture and wallpapers, refusing to call upon one of the famous interior architects her husband has suggested.
Feeling happy and safe for the first time since her teens, she has finally decided it was time to take up the contact with her family again…
An unsuspecting Granny picks up the phone late one night, almost dropping it when she heard her daughter’s voice.
Shasta is talking to her mother as if she had never left, and doesn’t seem to notice the apparent reserve in Granny’s voice.
‘… there’ll be a new little Countess Di Grisogno in March sometime…’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Mother! I’m four months pregnant!’ Shasta gently strokes her baby bump.
‘Shasta… Be careful. It’s your second child. You’re not supposed to-’
‘Don’t always be such a pessimist, Mother. You have a sister who’s perfectly healthy.’
‘Yes, if you say so. But our mother isn’t…’ Granny lets the sentence hang in the air.
There’s a brief silence as the meaning sinks in. Granny and Missy’s mother, Glinda, died giving birth to Missy. As most witches do if they have more than one child.*
‘Ahem…’ Shasta clears her throat, ‘It’s the 21st century and I told you Leonardo is terribly well off. I’ll get all the medical attention that money can buy – if it becomes necessary. Which I doubt. I feel so good, Mother. Not at all as when I was pregnant with Taïga. And we went through the rites…’**
‘Speaking of which. Would you mind calling back in a couple of hours? It’s almost midnight here, and your daughter is sleeping. She’ll want to talk to you.’
‘Err… Could you tell her? I feel so guilty…’
‘I don’t think it’s such a good idea. You are her mother after all and-’
‘Oh! That must be Leonardo coming home! Ciao! Grazie mille, Mother!’
Granny stands with the beeping receiver in her hand, the faint sound drowned by her sister’s ominous voice: “Don’t say I didn’t warn you…” ***
Granny drives Taïga to the Fall Festival, which has come to town as usual in time for Halloween. She’s struggling all the way with how to tell Taïga that her mother has called, but she still hasn’t broken the news when they arrive. She’ll tell her on the way back…
Taïga and Teddy finish early on Friday’s and he’s impatiently waiting for her. Granny gives Taïga some change and watches them hurry off to see what’s new this year. Teddy explains about the haunted house, and they both agree they’re too big now to get scared by such childish things. Derek catches up with them later in the afternoon, waving a stupid blue flower in the air that he has won at the air rifle stall.
‘Taïga, look what I got for you!’
‘Are you kidding me? You promised me the tiger! Or one of the huge teddy bears over there.’
Derek is already more than a little annoyed about the whole thing. He’s persuaded the sight had been tampered with but of course arguing with the attendant was useless. There’s no way he’ll start providing excuses to the outraged girl, justifying why he didn’t win one of the big prizes.
‘OK.’ He looks slyly at her, ‘I think Serena likes blue too and-’
‘I’ll take it!’ She snatches it out of his hand and strides away towards her grandmother, who’s taken up position on one of the decoration rocking chairs, simply ignoring the protests from the crew and the passing visitors.
Granny has decided to stay at the Festival and get some fresh air. It has been ages since she last set foot in town and it seemed like a good idea after the emotions her daughter’s phone call stirred up. She is rocking fiercely, keeping an eye on Taïga –and Derek- mumbling to herself.
‘My long lost daughter finally calls to tell me where she is! In Europe. Married to a count – no less – and pregnant! It will be hard to break the news… When am I supposed to tell Taïga she’ll soon have a sister? And how do I tell her? Hmmm… What is the wretched boy doing now? Giving her a flower?’
She watches Taïga come stomping towards her.
‘Granny, can you keep this for me?’ She holds out the kitsch object to her grandmother, who chuckling takes it.
‘So you have won a nice flower for me, have you?’
‘It’s Derek’s. He was going to give it to Serena. And it’s not nice.’
Taïga had told Mrs. Brown all about the pinkies, but her grandmother isn’t the kind of person you confide in, so she shrugs. ‘Just some girl in his class. I’ll tell you later… Could you just keep it for me?’
‘I thought you said it was Derek’s.’
‘Well, he kind of gave it to me. Instead of that huge tiger over there,’ she adds, pointing towards the air gun stall.
Granny nods. Smelling the fake perfume she feels a little sorry for the proud boy. Her granddaughter must learn to be humble. ‘Better a flower than a tiger. Easier to transport. Off you go now. Just check in every half hour.’
‘You mean you really like it?’ Taïga asks.
Granny doesn’t know what to answer. She’s not really an adept of lying so she just shrugs noncommittally.
Taïga smiles and hugs her, ‘You can keep it then. I’m sure Derek won’t mind. Thanks, Granny!’ She runs off into the crowd again.
Granny looks after her disappearing granddaughter, then back to the ugly plastic flower. Looking around her, she surreptitiously sticks it into the ground, mumbling an incantation and the flower comes to life. That’s better. Satisfied, she continues rocking.
After the flower fiasco, Derek drags Taïga along to the different stalls.
‘Just one more try… I promise I’ll win something for you!’
‘Do I really have to watch?’ This is so boring…
‘Yeah, you bring me good luck!’
‘Not so far I haven’t! This is a waste of money. With all the coins you’ve put into these machines, you could simply have bought me something.’ She looks meaningfully at him. ‘It’s getting dark and I’ll have to leave soon. Let’s do something else!’
He has to admit she’s got a point. ‘OK. Tell me what you wanna do.’
‘What about the Tilt-A-Whirl? Or the Ferris wheel?’
‘Let’s do both. But first…’
Derek has something in mind… He takes her to the outskirts of the fair, to the Spooky house.
‘Hey! Wait!’ She stops and stares at the ominous looking building. It doesn’t look childish at all, and suddenly she realizes she’s definitely not too old to be scared… I won’t go inside that. No way…
‘Hurry up, Taïga!’ Derek is waiting by the door, letting other people pass him. ‘C’mon, what are you waiting for?’ He holds out his hand and beckons for her.
Taïga doesn’t want to come across as a wimp. Hesitatingly she puts her hand in his and together they enter the scary old house.
Five minutes later they stumble giggling outside again.
‘Why don’t we go to the cemetery this weekend, to get a look at some real ghosts?’ Derek suggests as the creaking door closes behind them.
Taïga just nods, her heart still beating fast after the scary, but fun, experience.
‘Do you think we could check out the roller coaster now?’ Derek pulls her along, hailing Teddy and some other kids on the way.
The very next evening, Taïga sneaks out of the Cove as soon as her grandmother is asleep, and bikes to their usual meeting place, the crossroads, where Derek is already impatiently waiting.
‘I was starting to think you’d got cold feet about the whole thing,’ he grumbles. ‘So you got away without waking your Grams’?’
‘Would I be here if I had?’
He grins at her. ‘Ready to see some real ghosts?’
They start out towards the school, but quickly turns off the road and onto an old trail. They can’t go very fast as the only light is provided by their bikes, and the trail doesn’t seem to be used much. Soon the stone wall surrounding the Hallowed Grounds Cemetery is in view.
‘Are you sure you’re not scared?’ Derek looks at her, leaning his bike against the high fence next to the ornate iron gate.
‘Yeah…’ But Taïga is scared. Just a little. Who wouldn’t be? It’s after dark, and they’re at the cemetery…
He tries the handle, shaking the gate a little, but it’s locked.
‘What do we do now? Shall we leave?’ Taïga asks hopefully.
‘We can’t go home now. I guess we’ll have to climb.’ He looks at the fence, but it’s mounted by sharp points, just as the gate is. ‘Let’s try the wall.’
They retrace their steps, leaning their bikes against a dead tree.
‘This will have to do…’
The wall isn’t very high, but it’s built on a slope, making the access difficult. It’s no match for Derek, who runs up the slope and easily climbs up onto the wall. Taïga looks nervously around her. She has only been here twice, and both times accompanied by Granny. Now she’s feeling exposed and alone with Derek up on the wall. What if…?
‘C’mon.’ Derek calls in a low voice. ‘Take a run up and I’ll grab you.’
Taïga nods, backing away before rushing up the slope and jumping. Derek grabs her arm, pulling her up easily. They stand on the wall, looking down at the eerie cemetery.
‘Here we are…’
‘Yeah…’ Taïga swallows. They shouldn’t be here…
Derek jumps down with catlike grace, holding his hand out towards her, but she ignores it and jumps down next to him without any help. She’s a big girl, not a wimpy Serena-clone.
She stays close to Derek as they walk past the old church and the mausoleum hosting the town’s wealthy founders. She’s glad they’re going in the opposite direction of the newer graves, she doesn’t want to disturb Mrs. Brown. Slowly they progress further into the cemetery, waving their way past the tombs. The autumn air is chilly, and tendrils of fog snake around the old gravestones giving the place a haunted look. Taïga can’t help but visualize a dirty hand surging out of the milky fog, grabbing her ankle and- She quickly changes her line of thought, glancing at Derek.
She would like to take his hand, but somehow it seems even scarier than anything that might happen with ghosts and dead bodies. Clenching her teeth, she makes sure she can see the ground where she threads. They walk all the way to the more ancient part of the graveyard, where they find an old marble bench.
‘So we’ll just sit here and wait then?’ she says, slumping down on the cold surface, trying to sound brave.
Derek looks around him, before slumping down next to her, ‘Yeah.’
They sit in oppressing silence a while. He clears his throat, rubbing his hands on his jeans, before putting them down again, very close to her own.
‘Aren’t you scared?’
‘No. I mean yes.’ She shakes her head, a quick side-glance at his face makes her rapidly look away again.
She stubbornly avoids turning her head, feeling his gaze on her. She wiggles her feet, scrutinizing the dark in front of her, but only making out the silhouettes of gravestones. It doesn’t feel good to sit here, both facing the same direction, so she cranes her neck to look behind her. A bat suddenly appears out of the darkness. Taïga ducks, shrieking and waving her hands, instinctively seeking refuge in Derek’s arms.
‘C’mon, it’s gone.’
She withdraws slowly. Looking up at him she starts apologizing, ‘I’m sorry, I-’
She’s interrupted by his lips gently brushing hers. Instinctively she shuts her eyes, leaning in towards him, her closed lips soft against his.
The kiss only lasts a few seconds, but it has changed both their lives.
Flustered, Derek pulls away. Nervously he pulls off his cap, passing his hands through his hair before putting it on backwards again. He searches her eyes, ‘Wow, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to! It just happened… I’m so sorry… Taïga are you OK?’
NO, I’m not OK! You just kissed me and you say you’re sorry it happened! That you didn’t want to! Taïga wants to scream at him, but she just blushes crimson and thank God it’s so dark… Should I slap his face? No, it’s too late now…
‘Taïga, say something!’ Derek desperately scrutinizes her face, looking for something to go on, but she keeps staring at her feet. What shall I do? Didn’t she like it? Why did I do this? I wish I could turn back the hands of time and… No. I don’t regret it! I’d do it again if only…
A faint sound distracts him from his thoughts. ‘Shh…’
Finally Taïga raises her head and looks into his eyes. ‘What was that?’ she whispers.
Simultaneously they turn around, listening to the scraping sound from behind them…
A raccoon. Sitting back on its hind legs, it looks at them with black, glimmering eyes. It raises its little nose, smelling the air. Deciding the two children devoid of food, it lumbers off into the dark again.
Taïga giggles, turning back to Derek, ‘Gosh, it scared me.’
Derek’s face is just inches from hers, and instinctively she knows he’s going to kiss her. Again.
A movement catches her sight and she freezes.
Clumsily she stumbles to her feet, pointing towards the stele a few yards away. Derek quickly looks in the direction she’s pointing, then back at her again. There’s nothing there. Only darkness.
He can sense her fright, though, and it’s real. The young girl breaks out in a cold sweat, and he can see a ghastly whiteness spread over her face as she stares unblinkingly at something in the darkness.
Her mouth twitches nervously, and she opens and closes her mouth to speak but she has problem articulating, ‘A… A ghost!’
‘What?’ He glances over his shoulder again, but still can’t see anything.
The terrified girl starts backing away and he grabs her wrist to stop her, but she keeps staring behind him, her arm beginning to tremble violently. The air surrounding them has become incredibly cold, and he can see Taïga’s breath escaping her open mouth. What is this?
‘Oh, c’mon.’ He cranes his neck to check again what Taïga is pointing at. ‘I can’t see anything. There’s nothing-’
But suddenly he can sense it. An ominous presence making his hair stand on end and his skin crawl.
He jumps to his feet, pushing Taïga behind him.
‘Can you see it?’ Taïga whispers.
‘No. What is it?’ he whispers back, not knowing if he really wants to find out – the presence itself being terrifying.
‘I don’t know…’ They both start to back away.
‘It’s coming!’ Taïga shrieks suddenly, but Derek has already felt it. He grabs Taïga’s hand, dragging her after him before she has even finished her sentence.
A bloodcurdling laugh makes them run even faster.
Taïga stumbles, but Derek’s firm hand drags her on, sending her feet flying over the uneven terrain, making her take steps longer than usual. How can he run this fast?
She follows the young boy blindly, having lost all sense of orientation in the maze of old gravestones. She can’t even see the wall in the impenetrable darkness.
Taïga tries to look behind her but Derek cries at her not to. The maleficent creature has taken up the chase, breathing down their necks.
They take a sharp turn around an iron fence and the wall is right in front of them. It is lower on this side, and easier to climb. Derek doesn’t slow down but jumps up easily, dragging her with him. Panting they look behind them, but there’s no sign of the creature.
‘I think we lost it…’ Taïga is so out of breath she can hardly speak.
‘We better hurry. Do you think you can jump down?’
‘I’m not sure… I can’t even see the ground from up here…’
Taïga is right, the slope seems to be much steeper here and the fog effectively hides the ground. She lets Derek help hoisting her down. Holding frantically on to him, she adventures a glance down.
‘I – I still can’t see the ground. Don’t let go! Help me up!’
‘Hey, don’t look down. Look at me.’ Derek whispers, but when she raises her head she sees a movement behind him.
Screaming, she stares into the burning white eyes of the creature which has been following them. Without thinking she braces herself with her feet against the wall, pulling as hard as she can, just like Derek himself taught her this summer on the pontoon at La Shove Beach. She sends Derek flying over her, both of them rolling down the slope into the weeds.
They scramble onto their bikes, setting off towards the safety of the forest without looking back.
A haunting shriek pierces their ears as they try to put as much distance between them and the old cemetery as they can, pedaling as fast as possible without any lights on.
They don’t stop until suddenly something gets stuck into the front wheel of Taïga’s bike, sending her sprawling to the ground. Derek jumps off his bike and rushes back to her.
‘Are you all right?’ He helps her to her feet.
‘Yeah… I’m OK. Do you think it’s still after us?
‘Err… No.’ Derek has walked back and is checking her bike. ‘I guess this is what they call a potato chip wheel…’
He turns on the light on his bike, and they stare bewildered at the dense forest. There’s no way they could continue advancing on their bikes. They’ve been extremely lucky so far, avoiding the low branches.
‘We must have made a wrong turn somewhere… We have to go back. You can ride with me. C’mon.’
Taïga shakes her head. ‘What about the creature? I don’t want to go back.’
‘We’ll have to continue on foot then.’
‘Anything is better than returning!’
Derek agrees. Passing the cemetery is definitely not an option. Not tonight. ‘We’ll come back for the bikes tomorrow with Teddy. Don’t worry.’
He reaches out his hand towards her. She hesitates a little, then limps over and takes it.
The walk home is long, but they soon find their way back to the main road and from there it’s easier. They don’t talk, just walk hand in hand, each fighting their own demons.
Granny wakes up around midnight from a horrible nightmare. Something dark, maleficent, was chasing her granddaughter and it had seemed so real that she couldn’t go back to sleep before checking on her. That’s when she discovered the little girl wasn’t in her room. Thinking first that she might have been thirsty, or needing the bathroom, she quickly went through the old Cove, getting more and more worried.
It’s been a really long time since she had a premonitory dream, and she tries to put what she saw in her nightmare aside. Should she call the police? Definitely. But first she has to try a location spell. Quickly gathering some hair from Taïga’s hairbrush, she sets up everything she will need on a table in her study. Her hands shakes as she takes a knife and cut her left forefinger, letting drops of blood fall on the map over Skagit County. Nothing happens, no matter how she sings the spell. She even checks several of her spell books to find out if everything had been done as it should.
The cloaking spell! Of course. She had cloaked her grandchild since she got here… Quick. She could undo it…
Mixing the ingredients, chanting the spell, running down two flights of stairs to get more hair, then up again, mixing, slicing, chanting.
Granny can feel the panic rising with a taste of bile in her mouth. She can’t locate her grandchild with magic. The only thing she knows for sure, is that she isn’t in the Cove. But maybe in the garage? She’ll just have a look out there, and then she’ll call the police. Or maybe she’s at the treehouse! Yes, that must be it. She has sneaked out to do a sleepover at the treehouse. She has to check there too before calling the police. She stops on the threshold.
But she has no idea where the dang treehouse is located. She’ll have to call the Vargas’ to ask them, their boys are probably there too anyway. But she doesn’t have the Vargas’ number.
‘OhmyGod! What shall I do? Oh, yes. Call the police. Right now. Telephone is in the living room. That’s it. In the living room. 999. Downstairs.’
Fate makes her throw a glance through the window, just as Taïga and Derek emerge out of the woods. She almost faints with relief. She watches them come closer, and-
‘Is he holding her hand?’
She approaches her face to the window, cleaning it with her sleeve to see better. But no matter how hard she rubs, the image only gets more blurred. She snivels, realizing she’s crying. Dang tears prevent her from seeing clearly.
Whatever. Taïga is home.
She dashes downstairs. Gratitude, fury and something else she can’t define, rushing through her in waves, making her heart beat so loud she can almost hear it. She stops behind the door to straighten her clothes and blow her nose. Can’t do to let the Vargas boy see her come undone like this. Maybe she should wait for Taïga to come in by herself. She dabs at her eyes. Let them say goodbye properly.
Properly!?! She throws up the door.
But Derek is already gone, Taïga turns surprised towards her grandmother, her eyes huge with fright. But Granny just holds her arms open, taking her grandchild in a warm embrace, kissing the top of her head.
‘Thank the Goddess you’re home sound and safe! I was so worried. Don’t you ever do anything like this again.’
She can almost hear Mrs. Brown mumble her approval behind her back…
Granny settles in her favorite armchair after throwing another log on the fire. Taïga snuggles up in her arms, smelling of fresh air and the woods.
‘Now tell me why you were out at this ungodly time of the night.’
‘Well… We just wanted to see some real ghosts, and we thought the graveyard was the best place…’
Taïga has some difficulty getting started, but soon the whole story is pouring out; the bat, the raccoon and finally the… the thing. She tells her grandmother about how scared she was that someone would try to drag her into a grave, and how stupid she felt for getting scared by the raccoon. She tells her absolutely everything – only holding back the kiss. It’s too private, and she has a feeling Granny won’t let her see Derek again if she finds out.
‘… I was so scared, Granny. I thought it would take Derek.’
‘It probably would have – if you hadn’t pulled him down so hastily. That was a very good reaction, thinking fast isn’t easy in such a stressful situation.’
‘Do you know what it was?’
‘I have an idea, but I’m not sure. It might be a Lemur.’
‘I’m quite certain it didn’t look like an animal, Granny.’
Granny chuckles, ‘Not the cute lemur living on Madagascar. No, these lemurs are malignant and very angry wandering ghosts. We’ll have to do something about it though… It’s soon Samhain. It will be the perfect night to stop that spirit from haunting the cemetery. And I’ll get some help too, at the North Coven’s annual gathering.’
‘Please tell me, Granny.’
‘Once upon a time…’ No. That’s the start of a fairy tale. ‘Err… In the late 1700s, there were a rich Spanish settler who built his home here, on the river. He ruthlessly traded skins with the natives, not caring which tribe he dealt with – Upper Skagit, Swinomish, Stillaguamish… Anyhow. He grew rich and pretentious, having several native mistresses. But when it was time to marry, he wanted the best, so he accepted to marry a young lady from Cadix in Spain. Constanza was the youngest daughter of his business associate, and this marriage were to seal their partnership forever. The young lady was spoilt and used to the luxury and mild weather in the south of Spain. She surely hadn’t expected the harsh weather and the brutish, ruthless people who lived and worked for her husband. The new country offered her long, boring winters with only her servants for company, and the “savages” camping out in their yard. She was most unhappy…’
Taïga yawns. ‘Is she the ghost I saw tonight?’
‘I think she is.’
‘How did she die? Does she come back because she is unhappy?’
‘I don’t know, but I guess it could have something to do with her being brutally raped and left to freeze to death in the woods.’
Granny continues the story, but Taïga’s eyelids get heavier and heavier and soon she’s rocked to sleep by her grandmother’s steady heartbeat.
‘… and anyway, her husband thought it was the natives who had done it, to avenge the brutal attacks that had happened to their women by his men. But it wasn’t the Indians, it was his own men who were responsible… The secret was well kept and the men went unpunished. That’s why Constanza haunts the graveyard around Samhain, to seek revenge…’
Taïga mumbles something in her sleep, and Granny kisses her head, mumbling soothingly.
‘You are safe here. I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Ever…’
It has been exactly a year since her grandchild arrived at the Cove. Strange. Granny looks down at her sleeping grandchild. Only a year and she can’t even remember what is was like before she showed up on her doorstep. It feels like she has been here forever.
Granny pulls her closer, settling in more comfortably in the armchair. Staring into the flames, she ponders what Taïga told her about the happenings at the graveyard. One thing is sure, she won’t let her go there on her own, even if it’s only to put flowers on Mrs. Brown’s tomb. Not until she has this taken care of.
And she has to figure out why Taïga couldn’t be located with the spell…
And while Taïga falls asleep in her grandmother’s arms, Derek tries to sneak into the room he shares with his brother. Teddy has been waiting for him, and immediately starts bugging him about what happened. He doesn’t let go until Derek tells him about the ghost, asking for details even though he knows he won’t be able to sleep afterwards.
Derek has some trouble finding peace too, but not for the same reasons. His mind is far too preoccupied with the kiss…
Taïga is still feeling terribly awkward around Derek ever since he kissed her, and she avoids being alone with him. Derek seems to understand her dilemma, and for once he doesn’t complain about having his brother around when he visits the Cove, even when it comes to doing their homework.
If you ask Granny, she thinks that the Vargas boys spend too much time at the Cove. But it’s the prize to pay to keep her granddaughter in sight. But sometimes it gets a little too overwhelming and she deftly throws them all out as soon as the weather permits it.
Raking leaves is a healthy, meaningful and productive activity. Just what’s needed to contain three overactive kids. She hands out the rakes and gestures around her.
‘Go ahead. Have at it.’
As soon as they get a heap big enough, they play in it to Teddy’s despair. In a moment of weakness, Granny promised him the honor of lighting the fire and he’s working hard on getting a really big heap.
‘I just finished that one!’
‘We’ll rake it up in no time, little bro.’
‘C’mon, Teddy! It’s fun!’
‘No. You’re spoiling my fire.’
‘It’s not exactly your fire, Ted.’
‘I’m the one who are gonna light it!’
‘Sure. But that doesn’t make it yours.’
‘Just make sure that Granny isn’t around first…’ Teddy mutters, refusing to join in the fun.
When they are done with the lawn, Granny gives them some pocket money for the effort. She is impressed by the sheer size of the heap. Circling it with Teddy on her heels she takes out a box of matches.
Teddy clears his throat. ‘There’s no risk we’ll set the house on fire, is there?’
‘No. With all the rain this morning, the walls and the roof is too wet,’ Granny answers. ‘And the heap is at a safe distance.’
‘There’s the garden hose, just in case,’ Derek adds.
‘Hey! Watch this!’ Teddy shouts to Derek and Taïga who are perched on the veranda’s railing. He lights a match and throws it onto the heap. The match sizzles and dies out before doing any real damage to the leaves. He tries again with the same result.
‘Why don’t you do as Mr. Bumble told you in the scouts, Ted?’
‘Right!’ Teddy runs off to get a long twig. He sets it on fire, and from a distance lights the heap in several different places. It doesn’t take long before they have a roaring fire going on the lawn.
Teddy grins, happily and points to the growing fire. ‘Must have been awful to be a witch…’
Granny and Taïga looks at him.
‘Why do you say that?’ Taïga blurts out.
‘Nothing. Burning at the stake, I mean.’
Granny has bought Taïga an iPad as a late present for her first real school start. Yet another thing that reminds the old lady of her late housekeeper. Of course it was Mrs. Brown who bugged Granny to buy the technical device, arguing about the necessity of Taïga being able to do research for her schoolwork…
Granny is even thinking about a cell phone, so she could reach her everywhere all the time! But she still have an aversion to technology and doesn’t like seeing her granddaughter spending too much time playing online games, so the cell shall have to wait. Derek has given Granny his number, so at least she can reach her granddaughter when they are together.
If you ask Granny, she thinks that the Vargas boys spend too much time at the Cove. But it’s the prize to pay to keep her granddaughter in sight. But sometimes it gets a little too overwhelming and she deftly throws them all out as soon as the weather permits it.
‘It can’t be healthy to stare at pixelated dolls on a screen the whole day… And all that violence…’ she mutters. ‘Why don’t you go out and play?’
‘It’s raining, Granny.’
‘Really? Well. I shall confiscate those tablets and that will make you play like real children. Not like… Err… Like…’
‘Geeks?’ Teddy adds helpfully.
‘Yes. Exactly.’ She holds out her hand to collect their iPads. ‘Why don’t you do something creative? I’ve added some new outfits to your chest, Taïga.’
‘Nice, I wanna show you my new dinosaur outfit I got for Halloween.’ Teddy’s round face scrunches up with a smile, ‘I’ll go home and fetch it so we can play pretend!’
Taïga lights up, but Derek grimaces,
‘Yeah. Right,’ Derek adds. ‘And take your time, little bro. Don’t hurry back!
Derek and Teddy has brought with them their Xbox, connecting it to Mrs. Brown’s old TV. It’s the first time she finds herself alone with Derek since their incident at the cemetery, and she’s both happy and annoyed that he acts as if nothing happened between them. They strap on helmets and Derek quickly goes through how to play using Kinect. But Need for Speed isn’t exactly quiet, so it doesn’t take long before Granny shows up in the doorway.
‘I didn’t confiscate your tablets only for you to go upstairs and do the same thing on a bigger screen. I want you to pack this thing up and take it with you when you leave tonight. Is that clear?’
‘Yes, ma’m.’ Derek puts away his brother’s helmet and starts folding the cables.
Taïga sighs, looking at her grandmother.
‘What? Just do something less noisy!’ She stops on the threshold, ‘Weren’t you supposed to play pretend?’
‘See?’ Taïga says triumphantly, ‘Granny wants us to!’
Derek drags his feet in Taïga’s wake…
Taïga has asked Granny to transform some rags into real disguise clothes in the magic chest, otherwise she could never play pretend with her friends.
‘C’mon, Derek. Let go of your backpack! You’ll be a great prince!’
‘But I’d like to be a spy. Or at least a cowboy…’
‘But I’m a princess! Have you ever seen a princess with a cowboy!?!’
Derek raises his eyebrows. ‘Err… No. But I still want to be something more- masculine -someone with a weapon!’
‘You’ll have a sword.’
‘A sword? I want a gun!’
‘A sword is better, and you can’t kill a dragon with a gun!’
‘Yeah, when Teddy gets back, he’ll be the dragon!’
‘So, you’ve got it all figured out, huh? But no thanks. If I say NO, it’s NO. N-O, NO.’
Five minutes later…
‘Are you ready, Derek?’
‘Yeah, yeah…’ He pulls at the hem of his grey tunic. Gosh! I can’t believe I’m dressed in this wretched prince outfit again… How come she always gets the last word?
‘Derek, don’t slouch! Walk like a prince!’
Derek comes stomping down the hall after her.
‘Like this?’ Do I really have to do this? I’m too old for God’s sake!
Taïga frowns. ‘You have to be more elegant. More courteous.’ She curtseys, holding her dress with one hand. ‘And then, you wave like this. Go on, your loyal subjects are watching from down there…’
Derek rolls his eyes.
‘Yeah, yeah, I’m waving…’
They look at each other, and suddenly they burst out laughing!
‘You looked so stupid!’
‘Wait a minute..’ Derek returns to his backpack and fishes out something. ‘Here… It’s for you.’
‘For me? A gift? Thanks!!!’
She turns the package in her hands. My, it’s heavy! ‘But why? My birthday is after Halloween…’
Derek becomes serious. ‘You know, when we… when I… I just wanted you to know I’m sorry about what happened!’
The words are like a cold shower to Taïga.
Here he goes again about regretting what happened…
She wants to throw the heavy gift at him without even opening it and hoping that it knocks him out. Instead she pulls off the ribbon and tears away the paper. Clenching her jaw she steals a glance at him from under her lashes. When she sees his expression, she regrets her thoughts.
Derek is nervous!
Derek gazes at her expectantly…
‘A stone?’ Taïga looks up at him with an astonished expression.
‘It’s a special stone, a “Gonk”. I’ve painted it myself!’
‘Oh… it’s lovely. Does it have powers?’
‘Sure! The power of listening.’
‘Listening?’ Taïga checks the grimacing stone for painted ears.
‘Yeah… And when you hold it in your hands and talk to it, you’ll think of me…’
That’s sweet… Oh my God. I’m supposed to say something…
The awkward silence is interrupted by the doorbell.
Taïga and Derek chase each other downstairs, but he beats her to the door. It’s Teddy who’s back. Green dino-dragon-Teddy.
Taïga laughs at his new costume, ‘You’re late! We’ve already started – I’m a princess, and you’re the dragon-’
‘Tyrannosaurus Rex.’ Teddy specifies.
‘-that will try to-’
‘KILL YOU!’ Teddy interrupts with a terrible roar.
‘And I’m the Wyatt Earp!’ Derek adds, straddling the old rocking horse.
‘No, you’re not. You’re the prince who will save me from the dragon, stupid!’
‘Don’t call me stupid! Or I won’t save you!’ They stare at each other. ‘Go ahead, Teddy, have a bite! She’s all yours!’
Arms crossed, Derek watches Teddy attack Taïga.
‘HELP! The dragon will eat me!’
Teddy pushes her, and she falls backwards.
‘Don’t you dare hurt her!’ Derek whips his horse, forgetting he didn’t want to play anymore, ‘I’m coming, Milady!’
‘Bang-bang! You’re dead!’
‘I’m not! You missed!’
Taïga is discouraged. Typical boys to bring imaginary guns to the middle ages… ‘C’mon, Derek, there were no guns at that time!’
‘Well, there were no dinosaurs either!’
‘I’m a wounded T-Rex! Beware!’ With a terrible roar, Teddy jumps at Taïga who ducks aside and screaming runs into the adjoining room and out into the corridor with the growling, roaring T-Rex close behind. Derek jumps off the rocking horse and takes up position to jump Teddy when they pass.
Mrs. Brown stumbles backwards into the kitchen again, balancing a tray of tea that she hardly succeeds in keeping in her hands, Granny on her heels. The old Lady stops and stares at the wild chase.
‘Oh. My. Godess.’ She backs into the kitchen after Mrs. Brown, just in time to hear Derek shoot at his brother with an imaginary machine gun, or even an automatic bazooka after the sound of it. Her granddaughter is running – no, stomping – upstairs, still screaming.
‘This must cease. Now.’
She steps out into the hall again only to find it empty. And silent.
Taïga and Derek are upstairs on the landing overlooking the winter garden.
‘I have slayed the dragon that imprisoned you, my princess.’ Derek gestures towards Teddy spread-eagled on the floor among the greenery. He falls on his knees in front of Taïga, taking her hand between his. The silk of her high red gloves is smooth and soft, but her hand feels heavy and lifeless. He searches her eyes.
‘I… err… lay my heart at your feet.’
‘OK. What’s wrong? I killed Teddy. Isn’t that enough for you?’
Taïga looks down at him with blazing eyes. ‘With a machine gun!’
‘C’mon. You have to admit that a sword wasn’t enough to-’
Granny yelling from downstairs in the winter garden interrupts him. ‘By the Goddess! What have you done?’
Derek and Taïga peeks through the bars of the balcony at the distressed old lady. ‘Don’t worry, Granny. He’s not really dead, he’s just acting!’
Teddy lifts his head, acquiescing.
‘I’m not talking about Teddy! I’m talking about this- this… Disaster!’ She gesticulates around her at her plants. One or two of them are overturned, spilling moist earth onto the polished planks of the floor.
‘Effing Teddy,’ Derek mutters. ‘Just had to waltz into the plants and overturn them.’
‘I heard you! A dying T-Rex is kinda clumsy and you’re the one who killed me, so it’s your fault!’
‘We’ll be right down to take care of it, Mrs. Grey.’ Derek ventures, glaring at his brother who’s struggling to sit up.
‘Nonono. Just stay where you are.’ Granny quickly says, adding to Teddy who has sat down again. ‘Not you. Go away! Shoo!’
‘Better let her do her thing,’ Taïga whispers, motioning for Teddy to join them on the landing.
‘Let’s play Star Wars instead? I saw you had some astronaut costumes in your chest,’ Derek says.
‘But I want to be a princess.’
‘You could be Princess Leia, prisoner on a distant planet!’
‘I hate her hair.’
‘Amidala? She’s pretty. And I’m Anakin Skywalker.’
‘And who am I?’ Teddy calls to them, ‘I don’t want to change my costume. It’s too cool.’
Derek and Taïga looks at each other, and bursts out at the same time, ‘Jar Jar Binks!!!’
‘Haha. Very funny.’
‘As long as you stay quiet,’ Granny mutters, rearranging the pots with her cherished plants.
Derek and Taïga on planet X13, in search of extra-terrestrial (or rather extra-Teddestrial) life forms.
‘Stay behind me, Princess. I’ll neutralize this one!’
‘But I want to neutralize too!’
‘Right. Next one. This is men’s doing!’
Granny snaps her book shut and heads for the attic. But even with the door closed, the sound of the children screaming and stomping all over the place follows her, making it impossible to concentrate.
After reflection, Granny decides to teach Taïga how to play chess. Chess might be a war game too, but it’s so much quieter than Call of Duty, and it avoids having the kids running around wreaking havoc at the cove… Or getting their eyes ruined by staring at their iPads.
‘But I want to play with Derek! And he doesn’t understand when I explain, Granny!’
Sighing, Granny gives in, and the next time he’s coming over, she teaches him too. Derek is very interested in the ancient game, and his logical sense is stimulated. Against her will, Granny is impressed at how fast the young boy is learning not only how to move the different chess pieces, but also how to use tactics. “Pin, fork, en passant” soon has no secrets for him.
That’s why Taïga doesn’t like playing chess that much with Derek. He’s winning most every time and he gets far too cocky about it.
‘It’s a little like football, Mrs. Grey. You have to anticipate the adversary’s moves.’
‘You’ll be a great quarterback one day.’ Granny says and gets a rare devilish grin as an answer. And you’ll also become terribly attractive to women. Granny’s smile fades.
Part I – End of Chapter 14