Brooms

“I wished for you too.”
-Practical Magic

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6. Chapter Six

When the sound of squeaking bats disappeared, and the woods grew quiet once more, Sophie turned to the cat who was still lounging lazily on her father’s headstone. For a moment, she thought about what Rory had said about his theory. But she quickly brushed that off. Phil was too cat-like. Even though he was wiser than other cats and definitely more magical, he still, undoubtedly, had the personality of a cat. Familiars were magical cats. Not former people killed by magic.

She shrugged it off and headed into the woods where the bats had disappeared. She could have taken the path back to the road and walked the long way around, but she knew her way through the trees well enough to get herself home quicker. She could also feel the energy of the trees and plants, and so it was very unlikely she’d ever get lost.

People got lost in the woods that surrounded the town from time to time. Usually children or drunks. They always turned up, but sometimes they had to have search parties bring them home. The woods were thick, and Sophie could feel how old they were. The trees had grown gnarled and spiteful, and she felt that sometimes they lured people into their shady darkness just for fun. There were spirits in the trees, and even though they weren’t as intelligent or self-aware as other creatures, they were sometimes almost as playful as pixies. Well, at least the ones who were old enough to grow memories and tricks. The younger ones were just trees.

The undergrowth had grown soggy and full during the fall. After winter’s snowfall, the ground would become soft again. But during autumn all of the leaves would come back down, so it was hard to navigate. Sophie focused her mind on getting her boots through the crunchy twigs and wet leaves and hoped she would reach her house before the chill of nightfall.

She hadn’t been walking for very long when she noticed the silence. Even during the colder months, the woods were alive with sound. She could always hear the highway, the birds, squirrels, and whatever else was in the woods. And it seemed that in just a moment, a switch had been flipped. Everything went quiet all at once.

It wasn’t just the forest, though. She knew sometimes the forest grew quiet for some reason or another. But the hum of energy had washed away. She usually always felt it, somewhere in the back of her mind. The energy of the earth, the sun, the trees, the wind. They were always there. A constant backdrop. So when they stopped, she was startled.

Sophie stopped and focused more on the world around her. The trees didn’t look familiar anymore, but that was normal. Sometimes she would take different paths home without noticing. But that wasn’t the problem. She used her mind to reach out to them, hoping she could gain some familiarity, or enough magical energy to find her way back to the path. But she was met with silence. The hum of energy she was normally always aware of had been snuffed out.

It had grown darker as she walked. She hadn’t even noticed it. The gray sky had darkened prematurely, the clouds came lower and hung around the canopy of trees like a foggy mist. She could feel her own heart beating in her chest. She could feel the chill of the air against her bare skin. But she couldn’t feel much of anything else. Not a whisper of magic.

That was the first time in her life that she felt genuine panic. Sophie had always been attuned to magic. Even as a child before her mother showed her the ropes. She could feel it, play with it, manipulate it. She could even create her own. She never knew what it was like to be without it because it had laced itself into every aspect of her life. And now, as she used her mind to desperately search for the tiniest hint, she felt her fear grow to a level she’d never experienced before.

And then she felt that familiar tingle of magic. But it wasn’t hers. It was somewhere off in the woods beyond. That humming sensation she knew so well. But it was just out of her reach. She couldn’t latch onto it. She couldn’t use it. She could just sense it. Like that feeling you get when you think you’re being watched, but you have no way to prove it. She stepped forward, and the leaves rustled beneath her boots. They weren’t soggy anymore. But fresh and crisp as if they’d just fallen, and the mist hadn’t saturated them yet.

“Hello?” she asked. She felt stupid speaking to whatever was there. If it wanted her to see it, it would have shown itself. And the absence of magic made her think it wasn’t friendly. It must have zapped her of magic. Must have placed a block around her. She didn’t know if that was possible, but there had to be an explanation for it.

Whatever it was that she could sense, was nothing she’d ever felt before. She could usually sync with that hum of magical energy. She could tell a human from another witch, and a vampire from a werewolf. All without ever having to see it. Their magic was different.

Human energy was controlled, untapped, and almost pointless to use. It contained very little magic, but it existed. Witches were also somewhat controlled. But their energy was chaotic, wild, and free. It was ever changing and evolving. One moment it was here, the next it was there. You couldn’t quite latch onto it unless the witch wanted you to. Vampires, like Rory, were different. The magic was old. Dark. Linked to blood. Not so useful in spells. But you could feel it feeding their life force. You could feel the ancientness of it, even if the vampire was young. Wolves were chaos too. Almost human-like in their human forms. Closer to the full moon that energy was wild and violent. You could tap into it, but you couldn’t control it. And fairies, well, she just didn’t deal with them enough to know how they worked. All types were different. And their magic came from their own unique little realms. Good, bad, Seelie, Unseelie. Pixies, Trolls, fairies, they were all unique in their own ways.

This thing, whatever it was, was old. She could sense that much. And it wasn’t old in the way that Rory’s magic was old. Ancient, but not because of its blood. Like the creature itself was ancient. Its magic was controlled, concise. But dark. In the way that the night is dark. Not necessarily evil or bad, but it could be if it wanted to. She just couldn’t tell what it wanted.

So she walked toward it. It must have brought her there. She didn’t know where she was or if she was even in the same woods. It was the first time in her life she’d felt completely cut off. She wondered where Phil was and if he could find her in this place. She figured the answer was no. He was either attuned to her magic and felt it snuff out. Or he was attuned to her physically and couldn’t reach her. She didn’t know how he worked, but she didn’t think he would come for her. How could a magical cat reach a place without magic?

She almost thought she saw him, just for a moment. The figure was black and on all fours like a cat. The mist in the woods distorted the figure. Making it appear like a cat, only for a second. Until she stopped and focused more on the shape, and realized it was much too large and too long to be a cat. Not even wise old Phil.

The creature’s legs must have been as long as her own. But they were long like twigs and black as ink. Two lights appeared where a face would be, and she realized she was looking into the creatures burning eyes. That fear gripped her again. Without magic, she couldn’t defend herself, but the creature made no move to attack. It only watched. A large, lanky black dog with eyes that burned like fiery coals.

She watched for a moment until the creature bent its hind legs, arched its neck, and let out a howl.

It wasn’t like any dog howl she’d heard in her life. She’d heard wolves, werewolves, coyotes, and ordinary domestic dogs. But this cry echoed in a hollow groan that reverberated through the trees. She could sense the magic in the howl as if it was calling for something. Maybe more of them. Like when coyotes find a meal and call the pack to hunt it down.

She decided to use the only defense she had left. She took off in a run.

She didn’t know where she was going since she had no idea where she was. But she figured if she headed back in the direction she came she might make it back through whichever portal she must have fallen through. Maybe she’d be able to reach Phil, or the path, or even some other form of humanity.

Running through the woods was difficult. There were too many wet leaves, fallen branches, and holes and hills. She slipped, and jumped, and tripped. The creature was silent on its paws, but she could feel it following. Its strange empty magic hovered just out of her reach. First, it was behind her, then beside. So she turned south where the road would be if she were in the same woods.

The dog moved to the other side, and then the other. Almost like it was teleporting itself from one place to another. And then she figured out what it was doing. Guiding her. Like a sheepdog guiding its herd. Or a pack of wolves guides its prey into a death trap. She didn’t know where else to run. She could run to the dog, or run away. But the dog would have her exactly where it wanted her.

So she kept moving forward until her feet met solid cement and she stopped short.

The noise was almost deafening. The sound of the wind in the trees, birds singing, squirrels chittering. The hum of magic slammed into her like a truck, and she was almost winded by it. She could feel everything now, and she stood in the middle of the road breathing as if she’d just been—well—chased through the woods.

She couldn’t feel the creature anymore. The hum of it was gone. The mist left with it. The sky was light gray again. The cement was slick with drizzle. And beyond the sound of the woods around her, she could hear someone calling out her name. A few minutes later another person called from somewhere else in the forest. Like a—search party.

She didn’t want to call back to them. She was confused and scared, and so she stood in the empty road waiting for who she knew would eventually appear. And he did, just a minute later. She heard the rustle of leaves and turned her head to see his sleek black body dart out of the woods and right to her. There was a look of panic in his wise green eyes, and she dropped to the cement to face him as he lectured her in a string of yowling cries.

“Phil,” she breathed out, and the cat rubbed his body against her. He was purring now, and clearly pleased to have found her. She scratched him behind the ears, and he didn’t seem to mind that she was messing up his perfect black fur.

Then the sound of squeaking and fluttering filled the air. A dark cloud emerged from the woods and came toward her until it took the form of a boy, who stood in the road looking just as confused and relieved as the cat.

“Jesus Christ, where the hell have you been?” the boy asked as he rushed up to her and grabbed her by the arms. He yanked her up to face him, and she realized he was colder than he’d been the last time she saw him. He wasn’t wearing the same clothes. There were bags under his eyes.

“How long has it been?” she asked. He looked confused.

“What?”

“Since we had that conversation in the cemetery. When was that?” He shook his head again.

“Three days ago, Brooms.”

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