I let my shoulders relax as I take the last long breath of my meditation and slump for a minute, feeling both energized and zonked at the same time. After a minute of finding my bearings, I open my eyes and take a look at the items in front of me. A feather pen sits in the center of a semi circle along with a bottle of ink, one of Granâ€™s favorite ferns, and a vanilla candle.
|The Note in the Journal (The Box book 2) By Christina G. Gaudet|
After one last sniff, I blow the candle out, grab the pen and ink and stand up. It takes me a minute to stretch out my stiff back and legs and as I twist back and forth, I notice the obnoxiously loud clock.
Seriously? I sat there for almost an hour? No wonder Iâ€™m so sore. Though, thatâ€™s awesome. A few months ago, I could barely manage five minutes without becoming restless. The longer the meditation, the more power I can channel through the trigger objects. Iâ€™m betting this pen has some major oomph to it now.
I perch myself on Granâ€™s old wooden seat with one leg under me and place the ink next to the handmade leather journal Iâ€™d grabbed earlier. Itâ€™s already open to a blank page I chose after some careful consideration.
This is Granâ€™s last journal, after all. I have to be respectful. Lou would probably freak out if she were here to see me â€˜defileâ€™ it. Sheâ€™d go on about how Iâ€™m disrespecting the dead or some bullshit. She wouldnâ€™t understand. If anything, Iâ€™m being more respectful than if I never touched the thing again. Iâ€™m trying to continue where Gran left off. If I know anything about my grandmother, and I do, then this is exactly what sheâ€™d want.
Even so, I canâ€™t dive in right after her last words as though nothing happened. Iâ€™m not her and I have no interest in being her. I have my own life to live. So, Iâ€™ve left two blank pages between her last note and my first.
I rub the soft tip of the feather against my bottom lip and think for a final moment before dipping the writing end into the ink and scratching out the first few words on the page.
Iâ€™m sorry I didnâ€™t see Stewartâ€™s betrayal until it was too late. I will never let my guard down again, and I promise to always keep Lou safe. Even though sometimes what she really deserves is a kick in the head.
I reread the last line and sigh. Sometimes I wish I could censor myself. Whatever. Itâ€™s true. No regrets.
Iâ€™ll never stop learning from you and will keep you with me always.
Your faithful student,
Itâ€™s not the most elegant thing ever written, but itâ€™ll do. Iâ€™ve been meaning to write something to her for months now, ever since receiving the journal from the box. But Iâ€™d put it off, at first saying I had to worry about studying, and then I didnâ€™t want it in the house where Mom and Lou might find it. Since I graduated, now living on my own in Granâ€™s old house, I have no more excuses.
Itâ€™s great to have my own place, but thereâ€™s way more shit to deal with than I ever thought possible. And thereâ€™s a seriously funky smell in the entire house I canâ€™t figure out how to get rid of.
I donâ€™t know where itâ€™s coming from. Iâ€™ve checked everywhere, but I canâ€™t find the cause. No dead rodents or rotting, forgotten food anywhere I can find. Then again, maybe it has to do with Farahâ€™s nests. The chimera attached herself to me after turning on the wizard who used to own her. She saved our lives and she hasnâ€™t left my side since. Having her around is great, other than the occasional bit of fire breathing and the nests. Thereâ€™s not a pillow or blanket she hasnâ€™t ripped apart to force into the perfect shape for her. Itâ€™s ridiculous. Iâ€™ve gone through three comforters already, and Iâ€™m telling you, those things are not cheap. Almost all of my money from my shitty cashier job has been used to replace the crap Farah destroys. And I wonâ€™t even start about food, heat, electricity and everything else thatâ€™s come up.
Which reminds me; the electric bill is overdue. Again. Theyâ€™ll probably cut it off in the next couple of days if I donâ€™t pay, and I barely have enough to buy gas for the car to be able to keep going to my crummy job.
Thereâ€™s a real chance Iâ€™ll be going to Mom on my hands and knees, begging for some cash to take me through until my next check. Sheâ€™ll probably use it as another excuse to lecture me about managing my money and suggest once again how I should move home and go to the University of Shit within driving distance from her place. Not happening.
With my life being as crazy as it is, at least I managed to finish one thing from my to-do list. I take a final glance at what Iâ€™ve written to make sure itâ€™s dried, but instead of my letter, a blurred image takes over both pages of the spread.
I wait a second to give the magical image Gran must have left for me time to form. Nothing more happens. My eyes cross as I continue to stare at the image for too long while trying to force myself to see a proper image. Think, Sin. If this is a message from Gran, and it truly is meant for me, what would she expect me to do next?
I look around the room, hoping to find a clue, when I notice the objects Iâ€™d used in my meditation. Of course. Some representation of the elements needs to be used in every spell. The ink I used for my letter probably represented water and the feather pen must have been air. All I need are the other two elements.
I dig a handful of dirt out of the plant pot, but hesitate before dropping it on the paper. If Iâ€™m wrong this is going to make a mess and it will be impossible to completely clean it up. Well, as Gran always said, nothingâ€™s gained without some level of risk.
The dirt clings to the page in clumps for a moment and then absorbs into the paper. As the earth is sucked into the spell, the image becomes clearer and it begins to move as though alive.
The final step is the most difficult; putting paper over a flame so the two are close enough to touch, but not so close to turn the paper to ash. Iâ€™ve seen Gran ruin a spell or two at this stage, so Iâ€™m always a little worried Iâ€™m going to do the same. Yet as soon as I place the paper over the flame instinct takes over and I can feel exactly where the flame needs to be to keep the book safe.
When Iâ€™m sure the fire has done its thing, I place the book back on the desk for a better view of what Iâ€™ve revealed.
The ink has formed into the rivers while the dirt has created trees and mountains as real as the plant next to me. Clouds form and dissipate as I watch, covering parts of the land. I recognize the map easily, since itâ€™s a satellite image of North America. What I donâ€™t understand is why Gran gave it to me. Itâ€™s pretty and all, but the internet has all the maps I need, thanks.
At the top of the page, a bit of script darkens from nothing until Iâ€™m able to read it.
Make her whole again. â€“ Love Gran.
As soon as I finish reading the words three tiny flames burst into existence on the page. I jerk back for a second, surprised by their sudden appearance, and then I lean forward. They donâ€™t seem to be causing any damage to the journal, though their light casts shadows on the rest of the map.
I reach out with one finger to see if they feel like real fire, ready to snatch my hand back if it hurts. Instead, the second my finger passes through the flame the image shifts as though Iâ€™ve hit the zoom button on Google maps.
The scene rushes closer and closer to the earth until it reveals a detailed view of a city full of people busy about their day. The buildings are all made of the same dark, glossy stone and are all similar in size and height. Tapestries, flags and other items hang outside the buildings to give the places some colour. Itâ€™s not like anywhere Iâ€™ve ever seen or even heard of, at least not in this part of the world.
When the image shifts through the city to land on a black castle with a dark green dragon draped around one of its towers, I realise why the city isnâ€™t familiar. Itâ€™s not from this world.
But that means both this world and the one of magic connected through the invisible door upstairs have the same geography. I should have found the new bit of information way more interesting. Instead, my full attention goes straight back to the dragon.
Its long tail flows down and around the stone tower with the pointed end flicking every once in a while as though batting away invisible flies. A single wing stretches out, shakes and returns to the creatureâ€™s side without it seeming to wake from its sleep.
Itâ€™s incredible. I only wish I could be there to see its true awesomeness.
My eyes drift up to the note from Gran and I frown. â€˜Make her whole again.â€™ No need to ask who â€˜herâ€™ is. Itâ€™s obviously Lou. Itâ€™s always Lou.
The three lights on the map also make sense since we already opened two of the five bags I helped Gran create to lock Louâ€™s magic. Gran would have left the three bags in places where she believed theyâ€™d be safe. In a castle guarded by a dragon seems safe to me.
â€œMake her whole again.â€
With Gran gone, itâ€™s up to Lou to start protecting the portal between worlds. Without the magic of a sorceress I can only do so much, and with only part of her magic Louâ€™s not in any better shape than me. I know Gran never wanted this life for Lou, but now sheâ€™s in it and thereâ€™s no going back.
I examine the map one last time, the sight of the dragon causing my heart to race.
Helping Lou might not be on the top of things I want to do, but meet a dragon?
Iâ€™ll help her become whole again, Gran. You leave it to me.
If Iâ€™m going to the other world, I need to dress for the occasion. Iâ€™ve gone through every inch of Granâ€™s house since moving in, including areas she never wanted me to go if the magical blasts and minor traps were any sign. I still have a long scar along the top of my hand as a reminder of the last time I poked my head in the chest at the foot of her bed.
Farah peeks out of one of the guest rooms where sheâ€™s made her latest nest. When she sees where Iâ€™m headed, one of her heads shakes while the other digs in to bury itself in her bed. Looks like Iâ€™m braving Granâ€™s room alone.
The trunk Iâ€™m interested in has two latches on the front, both twisted into the closed position. I cringe, squeezing my eyes shut as I open the locks and wait for the magic from last time to assault me again. All I feel is a slight tickle to my scar. I finish opening the chest, but donâ€™t breathe any sighs of relief. Knowing Gran, there are probably still more traps for me to set off if Iâ€™m not careful.
A few symbols of magic carved into the lid appear to be part of the spell Gran used, though itâ€™s all well beyond my abilities. What Iâ€™m interested in is the pile of clothes and huge leather belt taking up the majority of the space inside. There are some bottles and pouches which I assume are spells Gran prepared and left here for safe keeping. But since there are no labels, thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m touching them. Iâ€™ll make Lou deal with them someday.
Thereâ€™s an outfit I found last time I went snooping Iâ€™ve been waiting for the best opportunity to wear. I thought about going out clubbing in it, but luckily held back. Who knows what crud could get on me in the dives I usually end up? Plus, it is way more exciting to put it on for the first time when Iâ€™m heading out to meet a dragon. I flap out the loose fitting black shirt to flatten the few wrinkles it has. Itâ€™s pretty, but nothing compares to the blood red corset meant to go over it.
I pull on both, and when I click the front metal snaps into place, the back cords of the corset tighten to form perfectly around my body to give me a great shape and show off the girls while not being so stiff as to actually hinder my movement.
Iâ€™m about to put the rest back when I decide to give the belt another look. Itâ€™s a strange design, almost as though itâ€™s two belts fitted together. Doesnâ€™t make sense, unless part of it is supposed to go over my shoulder, like a bandoleer.
A memory of one of my favorite fantasy movies pops into my head, specifically a scene with the leading male. He wore a belt like this strapped over his shoulder and waist, a bunch of pouches, knives and anything else that might come in handy attached.
The belt is like the one heâ€™d worn, though where his knives had been there are more pouches. With this on, I wouldnâ€™t have to limit the amount of magic dust I can carry with me based on the space in my pants pockets. I can carry a ton of readied spells with me without any problems or worries about them mixing together. I donâ€™t have enough to fill them all right now, but Iâ€™m sure where Iâ€™m going Iâ€™ll be able to find stuff ten times stronger than anything I can create here.
The last touch to the ensemble is to strap the journal to my hip using some strips of leather I usually use to keep the book shut.
I do a sweep of the house with Farah walking cautiously behind me. I throw on an awesome pair of tall boots I bought with my last pay check when Farah ripped apart almost every other pair of shoes I had in the house. I feel awesome and look even better. With this outfit on I should have no problem fitting into the other world.
Once Iâ€™m sure I have everything I need, I grab my keys from my purse, including the one to the portal Iâ€™d stolen from Lou.
Farah finally catches on to my excitement and she bounds up the stairs two at a time. She stops in front of the hidden door as though itâ€™s perfectly easy for her to see where it is while I struggle to find even the door handle, let alone figure out where the whole outline is. To me, the door and wall all appear the same.
Luckily the key seems to find its way into the keyhole all on its own, as though the two shapes draw together like magnets. I take a big breath to calm my nerves, and then I turn the key and pull the door open.
The world of magic is exactly like I remember. Lots of trees and grass and green. I automatically check the skies to make sure thereâ€™s no hint of a griffin or other flying animal with a wizard on its back.
Beneath the door, set firmly against the wall with grass covering the bottom rung, is an old wooden ladder. When I see it, I become nervous. Iâ€™m sure I left it on the ground last time Iâ€™d come here so no one would notice it and get suspicious.
But, itâ€™s obvious the thing hasnâ€™t been moved at all this summer since the grass beneath is undisturbed. I must have left it in place and only thought about tossing it to the ground. It doesnâ€™t seem like something Iâ€™d forget to do, but here it is, and thereâ€™s no one else around to move it.
Farah pushes my leg out of the way, almost knocking me head first out the door to drop two stories to the ground, all so she can have a better view of the way out. As soon as she sees the ladder, her mood shifts and smoke begins to billow from her noses.
â€œAfraid of a little ladder?â€ I tease her even though I know she canâ€™t understand. I donâ€™t think. Though sometimes I wonder. â€œYou donâ€™t have to go down. You can always stay up here by yourself. Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s some moldy bread around somewhere you can eat while Iâ€™m gone.â€
One of her heads snorts in my direction, sending a poof of smoke at my face while the other continues to examine the way down.
â€œWell?â€ I nudge her with my knee. â€œEither go, or move out of my way.â€
When I nudge her harder a second time, she lurches forward and timidly puts her front paws on the top rung. After some awkward attempts to place one paw further down, just out of reach, she pulls back, ready to give up. If she didnâ€™t weigh so much, I might have taken pity on her and tried to carry her down, but, as it is, thereâ€™s not much I can do besides watch her struggle and laugh at how silly she is.
As she tries to find her footing on the top rung for the third time, one of her paws slips and she tumbles forward. I cringe and make a sad attempt to help her as she scrambles to grab a hold of the ladder. She misses and falls to the ground with a thud.
She stands up almost instantly to shake off and take several steps to find a place to sit so her lion head can start cleaning her back paw as though nothing happened.
I laugh and shake my head, relieved she didnâ€™t hurt herself too badly. As much of a klutz as she is, I feel much safer when sheâ€™s around. It would have sucked if she hurt herself too much to walk.
The first thing I do when I climb down, after giving her back a rub, is check around the rest of the house to make sure nothing has changed. The study is the most worrisome area. Itâ€™s similar to the one in my world in appearance, as with the rest of the house, but in this world thereâ€™s a pile of strange items Gran kept under a spell Lou broke when we were searching for a way to hurt Stewart. Iâ€™m sure almost everything in the room has a wizard trapped inside. It would be all too easy for someone to wonder in here and release them either by accident or on purpose.
Maybe I can figure out a way to hide it all again once Iâ€™ve found the pouch for Lou. Or she could start picking up the slack and do something useful for once. She is the one with the shit ton of magic after all. She should be the one to lay down some protection spells.
All I can do for now is add a new layer of my magic dust to keep everything hidden, at least to people who canâ€™t see magic. Apparently the dust makes everything brighter for sorceresses and wizards.
Once Iâ€™m done checking inside this worldâ€™s version of Granâ€™s house, I do a quick sweep of the yard. There isnâ€™t much out here to be worried about, except for one thing.
My eyes fall onto a barely noticeable mound of dirt and grass near the tree line of the house. It was a pain in the ass moving Stewartâ€™s body from our world to this so we could bury him, but it was necessary. After all, we didnâ€™t want to be caught digging a grave in the middle of the suburbs. It would suck to be thrown in jail for murder, especially since the person dead was Stewart.
The grave site looks undisturbed. I guess itâ€™s been long enough now I can start resting a little easier. He probably wasnâ€™t faking and wonâ€™t be coming back. If he was, heâ€™d have done something long ago.
I whistle for Farah who ran off to chase a squirrel and head in the one direction I know thereâ€™s civilization. Although itâ€™s been a while, Iâ€™m sure I still know the way to Alâ€™s village. Hopefully no one will remember the last time I was there with Lou and Al when they made a huge scene. Itâ€™ll be hard to find help if Iâ€™m already thought of as a troublemaker. And I definitely need help. Otherwise, how will I find out how to get to the city on Granâ€™s map?
When I start to see signs of life, I dig out some dust I keep special for Farah and blow it over her. As long as she doesnâ€™t start rolling around in the mud or jump into a lake, everyone should see her as a big, black, one headed, perfectly normal dog. Even in this world chimeras are rarely seen, and the ones that are usually have a wizard controlling them. I definitely donâ€™t want people associating me with wizards.
The moment I enter the main street of the village I realize the disguise isnâ€™t enough. Everyone stops what theyâ€™re doing and stares at us. None of them appear any too friendly either. Iâ€™m sure the spell on Farah is working, so is it me theyâ€™re upset by? I guess they remember me after all.
I have no interest in looking for Al unless I have to, which leaves only one other person in the village who probably wonâ€™t treat me like a freak. I only hope Rose is working at the same place she was the first time I was here.
* * *