“I wished for you too.”
-Practical Magic


9. Chapter Nine

Even though Sophie hadn’t actually been gone for three days, she felt exhausted. She’d been questioned enough at the police station and her mother’s house and didn’t want to have to come up with any more lies for why she was gone for three days. A simple tea charm stopped Cara and her mother from continuing their interrogation, and within minutes Cara was back to pretending Sophie didn’t exist. So she quietly excused herself to her room where she crashed onto her bed and fell right to sleep.

She woke to the sound of Phil growling low from somewhere far off. She jolted awake, but as soon as she concentrated on the sound, it vanished into the darkness. The house was silent and the hum of magic had been snuffed out like a candle. She jerked from her bed and focused on her room and the strange eerie glow emanating from behind the curtains. It was such a faint glow that it was only capable of illuminating the things beside the window. The trinkets of magical items she owned, but could no longer tap into.

And then very slowly she could sense the magic forming in her room like the swirling of mists in the darkness. One by one, two eyes lit up like distant lamps and stared directly at her from somewhere over by the bookcase.

Terror seized control of her body, and she scooted back against the headboard. She wanted to call out for Phil or even for Cara and her mom, but somehow she knew they weren’t there. She wasn’t at home. At least not the home she knew. She was somewhere else without magic. A mirror realm that was merely a reflection of the one she knew.

“What do you want from me?” she asked the creature since she had nowhere to run. It moved forward and she pulled the blankets up over her shoulders as if they’d protect her from the monster that had once been known to terrorize the English countryside.

The large black beast stepped up onto her bed as if it was nothing more than a tall stair. Her heart was pounding in her chest as its magic swarmed around her. Ancient and unreadable. But then the beast plopped its body down on the end of her mattress and cocked its head to the side. It’s tongue lolled out from between gleaming white teeth. It panted like a dog waiting for a pat.

She could only stare. And the dog got impatient. He popped a paw forward the way a dog does when it wants to play and you’re not throwing the stick. It made a sound like “aroo” and then waited expectantly.

“You—you want me to play with you?” she questioned. The beast turned its head in the other direction. Despite its long lanky legs, big black body, and glowing eyes, it no longer seemed so terrifying and threatening. It looked like nothing more than a goofy dog who chased after squirrels and liked getting its belly rubbed.

Sophie released her grip on her blanket and reached a timid hand outward. The dog nudged its nose into the palm of her hand, leaving behind a wet feeling and another soft and friendly groan. She patted its unusually silky fur and then the creature bounded back onto the floor. She jumped, but it made the same playful movement toward the door. As if begging for her to take it for a walk. She looked at the faintly glowing window and then back at the dog.

“Right now?” she asked.

The creature answered the question by jumping on its feet as if she’d just said the word “walk.” So she cautiously crept out of bed and located a pair of shoes to slide onto her feet. When she opened the bedroom door, the dog bounded down the hall toward the stairs, clumsy, but managing not to knock anything over.

She followed it down to the first floor and looked over the house. It felt strangely quiet and empty. No clocks ticked. Nothing electronic blinked from the darkness. The air felt still like the house existed in a snapshot. The only light was the faint glow that illuminated every window and barely managed to twinkle off of surfaces.

The animal was waiting by the front door, wagging its long tail and looking at the door with expectation. For an animal as ancient and wise as it was, she didn’t know why it waited for her to open the door at all. It seemed capable of going wherever it pleased and didn’t need her to open a door for it. But it waited anyway, and when she pulled the cold handle, it rushed out into the yard and disappeared.

She wondered if she’d done her duty to it by letting it out into the yard. Maybe she’d picked up a strange spirit dog that acted like a regular dog. And she’d just have to pop into the mirror realm on occasion to let it out to do its business. But then the dog barked from somewhere she couldn’t see, and though the sound of it was strangely hollow and metallic, it was clearly a bark of impatience. It wanted her to follow.

So she stepped out into the night and looked around at the way the world seemed to have changed in this new place. The glow, it seemed, came from a single light in the sky. It looked almost like a moon. But the desaturated light was so bright no shapes could be made out. It didn’t feel as far away, and she couldn’t tap into its silvery magic. It looked like nothing more than a spotlight hanging over a model city. There were no stars in the sky and no cars on the road. She also knew that the moon in her world wouldn’t be full for another week and a half.

The black shuck sat on the sidewalk by the empty road. It was where Rory had parked his car earlier that day, but there were no indications that any cars ever drove on this road at all. No streetlights or tire marks. No misplaced gravel or oil stains. Just a reflection of a world that existed somewhere else.

As soon as she reached the dog, it bounded up the sidewalk toward the woods. She was reluctant to follow it since the last time they’d been in the woods together, it had chased her for three whole days. She wondered if time was passing in her world at all now. If it had already been several days. If Cara’s mother would wake up in the morning and realize Sophie hadn’t gone to school. If she’d be trapped in this place forever.

But the dog clearly wanted to show her something, and she didn’t think it was likely to leave her alone if she refused. It knew where to find her wherever she went and it was best to get it over with now and hope that it didn’t take up too much of her time in the real world.

So she followed the dog up the path she’d taken with Rory on their trip to the cemetery. The dog sometimes disappeared into the trees, but Sophie could always sense it. Sometimes behind her, sometimes in front. Sometimes it would appear suddenly at her side, tongue hanging out and lungs panting from running through the woods.

She wasn’t surprised when the dog led her back to the cemetery. The moon cast a silvery glow on all the gravestones, but it seemed more alive than she was accustomed to seeing. The trees didn’t seem as dense, and the graves didn’t seem as old. The mausoleum looked clean and brand new off in the corner of the graveyard.

The dog took off at a run for it. She could see its dark body swerving through the gravestones like it knew each and every step by heart. It leapt up the steps to the mausoleum and disappeared inside.

Her stomach was twisted in knots, but she followed after anyway. The world she was in was consistently silent. No crickets sang and no owls hooted. The only sound at all was her own steps and the dog that had been her companion since they started out. But now it was gone and all she could hear was the crunch of leaves beneath her feet.

Until something began to sing from inside the old building. She recognized the song instantly. It was the same one she’d picked up from time to time whenever she visited the cemetery. Every so often the voice would drift through the air and fade out again. It always sounded so distant before. As if it was just the wind that carried it. And no matter how close she got to the mausoleum, the song never seemed to get any louder or clearer.

But now she could hear it as clear as if the singer herself was sitting right inside the doors. In the dense, still air, the song wafted over to her. The beautiful haunting tune of a ghost.

Then Sophie remembered what Rory had told her. About a witch born to a family of vampires. Who had a Black Shuck for a familiar. She wasn’t in a mirror realm at all, she realized. And it definitely wasn’t Faerie. This land, a mere snapshot, a nonworking reflection of the land of the living, was an in between.



Terrifying black shuck is actually big spoopy nerd dog.


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