Home > Portals and Puppy Dogs(7)

Portals and Puppy Dogs(7)
Author: Amy Lane

As sunset approached and the possibility of the protection ritual not being performed loomed, a number of freakish things occurred. A jury of nine wild turkeys stood in front of Kate and Josh’s house, plumage spread impressively, wattled chins sunk on plump and stately feathered breasts. The starlings, which flocked this time of year as a rule, all turned upside down as they neared the neighborhood, and flew that way, defying the laws of birds and physics. Snakes—nonvenomous for the most part, and usually the smaller red racers and garden snakes—began to thrust tentative noses out of the lawns and grasses, a particular lot of them beginning to appear on the sidewalk of the vacant land across the street from the cul-de-sac. Experience had taught them that if the ritual wasn’t performed, the snakes would all head for the apple tree in front of Bartholomew and Alex’s house, turning the rather average bit of flora into a writhing herpetological nightmare by morning.

Ravens had begun to gather, perching on the roof and eaves of Alex and Bartholomew’s house, and, more forbiddingly, three owls had recently taken up a perch on the house in the center, Dante and Cully’s house, where the two roommates continued to wander the halls of their little suburban home completely out of sync with each other in time and space.

The familiars—a clowder of nine cats that Jordan had inherited from the witch who’d deserted her cottage—stood guard, in formation, on the yard of the cottage itself. In front of the curb sat their normal, pathetic little pile of dead things—usually one dead thing per day per cat. Small snakes, voles, mice, starlings, house sparrows, any number of small animals had been taken down and sacrificed for whatever cat reasons and left there to remind them all of mortality, apparently.

If anybody attempted to scoop up the offerings before the evening ceremony, the cats—an assorted mixture of felines from a great and powerful black-and-white female to a stompy, loud, cocky little neutered black tomcat—would hiss, spit, and attack.

They were a little terrifying, actually. And they weren’t the only ones who responded to the rituals. In fact if the rituals weren’t performed during sunrise and sunset, the birds would begin to attack.

Nobody left the house without an umbrella, rain or shine, just in case the ritual stopped holding its own.

“Here,” Alex panted as Bartholomew took his hand from one side and Kate took it from the other. Kate was a curvy brown-haired girl with a sweet heart-shaped mouth and an acerbic tongue. Her boyfriend, Josh, was—in his own words—a bit of a meatloaf, with a broad chest, wide, guileless dark eyes, and a blunt way of speaking that could be both charming and appalling.

“What are we doing?” Alex asked Jordan, who stood facing the houses with the sun at his back.

“Darkness, give way to the light of our hearts,” Jordan said, surprising Alex. This language was as close to confrontational as Jordan had ever gotten.

“So may it be,” Alex responded almost automatically.

“Alex, your helmet,” Bartholomew whispered urgently, and Alex fumbled with it for a moment before dropping it on the ground behind him. They didn’t perform their spells naked, it was true, but the helmet felt disrespectful. And awkward. And boy, had Alex had enough of awkward for the day.

“Okay, then,” Jordan said. “Me first, then me and Bartholomew, and so on, widdershins. Then we drop off, one at a time, in reverse order. Are we ready?”

Widdershins meant counterclockwise, but the more Jordan and the others studied Jordan’s inherited library of witchcraft to try to break the curse of the neighborhood, the more Jordan lapsed into archaic “witchspeak” when they weren’t paying attention. What had started as a hobby and a faith threatened to take over the intense, handsome Jordan Bryne both body and soul. Even his pale gold hair—normally cut short and practical—was starting to grow out, looking haphazard and wild, and his blond stubble showed a good three days’ growth.

“Darkness, give way to the light of our hearts,” Jordan chanted, and then he and Bartholomew chanted it together, and then he and Bartholomew and Alex, and so on. As the spell picked up speakers, the vague dance of lights that had begun to gather in the center of their circle with Jordan’s first words grew in power and complexity.

It wasn’t really a cone, because the sides weren’t really round. It was more a five-sided figure that came to a point somewhere above their heads. Each side glowed with a color that resonated with the person projecting that part of the spell—usually a jewel tone. Alex’s color was emerald, Bartholomew’s was the amber of a pure citrine, Kate’s was amethyst, Josh’s was aquamarine, and Jordan’s was deep sapphire blue. When Lachlan participated, his color was the opaque forest green of a bloodstone.

Their cone of power grew in size and intensity as the chant continued. When all five of them had joined in, it pulsed over their heads, remaining strong and steady as they went the other way until it was just Jordan again.

When he spoke at the end, he changed the chant.

“Darkness, give way to the light of our hearts. Let our hearts be free!” he shouted. “So may we all and so mote it be!”

And because they were good at picking up his cues, they all repeated, “So may we all and so mote it be!”

The brilliant dancing lights of their cone of power exploded over their heads, arcing over their neighborhood and infusing the darkness that threatened to overtake the entire cul-de-sac with the orange, violet, and sapphire light of the end of an autumn day.

The coven heaved a sigh of relief, and for a moment, they continued to clutch one another’s hands.

Now that their attention wasn’t focused inward, on the place of conviction and strength that spawned their power, they could look around the neighborhood and see what was doing.

The squirrels had ceased their march, most of them falling asleep where they stood. Part of every night was spent using cardboard boxes to gently slide the little bodies to the grass where it would be more comfortable to sleep. The snakes had pulled their heads back into the grass and were no longer eyeing the apple tree as a conquerable citadel, and the turkeys had stopped judging things and were gathered on Josh and Kate’s lawn, feet underneath them, dozing in a cozy, disorganized little nest. The starlings had dispersed—some to the apple tree, some to the other, smaller trees in front of the other houses—and were making night sounds. The owls had flown off to wherever owls go.

The ravens continued their malevolent watch on top of Alex and Bartholomew’s house, though—that never stopped.

And most of the familiars sauntered off to do cat things under the waxing harvest moon. Only two—a battered, intact orange tom and a skittish five-pound tiger-striped tabby—remained to sit casual watch in the corners of the patchy cottage lawn.

As a collective, everybody’s shoulders sagged, and Lachlan trotted from the front lawn to wrap his arms around Bartholomew’s waist from behind and pull him in tight.

“So is that it?” he asked. “Are we safe for the night?”

“Until… when is it?” Jordan asked.

“At 7:14 a.m.,” Kate responded promptly. She had a Farmer’s Almanac app on her phone.

“I’ll be here at six forty-five,” Bartholomew said. “Here, Alex, let me say goodbye to Glinda.”

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