Witch and wizard, p.6

Witch & Wizard, page 6

 part  #1 of  Witch & Wizard Series

 

Witch & Wizard
 


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  I saw Whit blinking in sleepy surprise. Then he sat up and stared hard at me. At that moment I realized my butt and back were aching, and it all came together.

  I had been floating in my sleep. The nightmare about the gallows had woken me up, and I had woken… in midair.

  Unfortunately, my bony little butt was not designed for crashing into a hard floor from a height of, oh, maybe four feet?

  “Uh, Wisty,” Whit said, “you were floating. Up in the air.”

  I just looked at him, so, so happy that he was alive, and here, not hanged.

  Still shaken from the horrible dream, I felt cold sweat drying on the back of my neck. I looked above me as if I might see the wires and pulleys that had made it possible for me to float. There was nothing.

  “Floating,” repeated Whit, sounding amazed, “in your sleep. And they think we don’t have any special powers in here.”

  I wanted to deny it, but here I was, with a sore backside, and I had definitely felt myself dropping through the air. I got to my feet, standing in the space I’d been, um, floating in.

  Experimentally, I waved my useless drumstick around. Nothing happened.

  “My sister, the witch.” Whit laughed. “Why can’t you conjure up a double cheeseburger or something useful? A jumbo ice-cream sundae? A stun gun?”

  I sighed and went to sit next to him on the mattress. “You’re laughing, Whit, but… this whole witch-and-wizard thing. The flames. The glowing. The gavel-stopping. Now the floating. I think we really are… magic.”

  It felt like I was saying, “I guess I really am a supermodel.”

  “That’s right, Detective Allgood,” Whit said. “And now we have to figure out how to focus our inner sorcerers to get us out of this dump.”

  “Okay,” I said, tapping my drumstick gently on the floor. It was only a stupid drumstick, but I’d found that I felt better with it in my hand—maybe it helped me think, or something spirity like that.

  “I could flame out and set the Matron on fire,” I suggested. “If I could figure out how to do it on purpose.”

  “Great. And then we’ll have a burned-up giantess on our hands, plus a bunch of angry guards,” said Whit.

  “Right. Maybe I could float out the air shaft,” I said, looking at the tiny, dark window above my head, then picturing myself dropping down it, many floors to the bottom, and getting pulverized by the turbine below.

  “Maybe we can snap our fingers and a golden staircase will appear out of nowhere with angels singing and pointing the way to escape,” Whit said glumly. “Or maybe we’ll just grow wings and fly out of here.”

  I snorted. “Yeah. Kids with wings. That’s likely.”

  Wham!

  Whit and I jumped about a foot in the air, then whirled toward the door. It had swung open and smacked the wall like a hard kick. We waited, both of us as tight as coiled springs.

  One thing we’d learned: anything that came through that door wasn’t good.

  Chapter 34

  Wisty

  “BREAKFAST IS SERVED! Poached eggs with bacon, fresh fruit, waffles, and syrup. Just kidding, kiddies.”

  The Visitor appeared, dressed in black again, his icy green eyes glittering as if he had a fever. I thought that if he looked at me long enough, the blood would start to freeze in my veins.

  He stepped farther into the room, examining everything like he was some anal-retentive crime-scene investigator, tapping on the walls, testing the strength of the wire-glassed window in the door.

  “Keeping you here is a waste of time, space, and money,” he muttered, not bothering to look at us. “Waiting until you’re eighteen is arbitrary. You’re a drain on the taxpayers’ money… feeding you, housing you.”

  “Um, I’m no economics expert, sir,” Whit said with a smile so fake it made my teeth hurt, “but even I know that it’s not costing the taxpayers more than a dime a day to keep us here.”

  The Visitor glared at us from the entryway to the bathroom. “I thought that you’d learned not to talk back to me, idiot.” He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out an ancient toothbrush. “As punishment, you will scrub your bathroom with this cleaning utensil. When I return, it better be operating-room hygienic.” The Visitor wrote something down on a clipboard. “There’s no place in the New Order for your kind,” he muttered.

  “Excuse me, sir”—I finally spoke up—“but what exactly is the New Order?”

  The Visitor wheeled and stared at me. His black riding crop dangled menacingly from one arm.

  Then he began to speak—all singsongy: “The New Order is a bright new future. It is a future that replaces the corrupting and illusory freedoms of so-called democracies and replaces them with a higher discipline. It has taken many, many years of planning, strategic political postings, scientific polling, demographic research, precise messaging, and carefully monitored elections.

  “For this rare moment in human history, those who have values and principles are in a position to do what is best. And part of what is best, of course, is taking steps to eliminate the deviants, the criminals, and all those who threaten prosperity and the New Order way.”

  He smoothed a hand over his slicked-back hair. “Like you two.”

  “But… what’s wrong with us, sir?” I asked like I was the resident classroom dunce.

  The Visitor’s icy eyes narrowed, and he stepped closer until I could faintly smell mothballs and hair syrup.

  “You know what’s wrong with you. You’re a virus,” he hissed. “You two are the worst kind of deviants. Performance artists. Illusionists.”

  My jaw almost dropped. “But we’re just kids!”

  “Kids,” he spat, as if he were saying “pus-filled blister.” “Many, many, many children are unacceptable in the New Order.”

  Right then I should have shut up, wiped my face clear of any expression, and stood quietly till he was gone.

  Instead, I stamped my foot. “We. Are. Just. Kids!”

  The last word was practically a shriek, and as the Visitor raised his riding crop over his head, a maniacal look of delight on his face…

  Whoosh! I was aflame for the first time since we’d gotten to Camp Alcatraz. Big flames. Impressive, even to a fire starter like me.

  Whit cheered. “Thatagirl!”

  Through the veil of dancing flames, I saw the Visitor staring at me in horror, backing away hurriedly toward the door. I opened my arms and stalked him like a zombie. “How ’bout a hug, big fella?”

  “Freak!” the Visitor yelled just before he slammed the door to our cell.

  “Way to prove we’re just kids, inferno girl,” Whit said. “But very cool anyway.”

  Chapter 35

  Wisty

  I DIPPED THE TOOTHBRUSH in the gray-watered toilet and scrubbed another inch of floor. I was singing as if I had lost my mind, and probably I had.

  “I’ve been working on the railroad, all the livelong day.”

  By this time I’d been through every single good song I could remember the lyrics to—and believe me, there are a lot—and now I was at the very bottom of the barrel, reaching back to preschool days. I used to be the ultimate karaoke queen, because I grew up with my parents always playing all kinds of music at our house: old stuff, new stuff, classical, blues, jazz, rock, pop, and, yeah, even hiphop. I’m talking everything from Toasterface to Ron Sayer to Lay-Z.

  That’s how freaking cool my parents were. I mean, are.

  That fleeting bittersweet thought of my mom and dad got me out of the scrubbing groove, and I had to belt out the song even louder to reboot. Clearly, Whit wasn’t interested in listening.

  “So, the Visitor seems afraid of fire,” Whit said, leaning against the wall for a work break.

  “Yeah, Whitford, most people don’t freak out when somebody suddenly bursts into flames,” I said, rolling my eyes. “What a wuss that Visitor is.”

  “We’re a witch and a wizard. What does that even mean?” Whit continued. “It’s been a long time since
I’ve read any fairy tales. I couldn’t even tell you what witches and wizards are supposed to do… except—shouldn’t we at least be able to do things on purpose, instead of all this stuff we have no control over?”

  “I know. If I had a dime for every ‘alakazam’ I’ve done where nothing happened, I’d be able to buy a brand-new wardrobe. With a cute purse-size dog to match every outfit.” I paused, my arm aching. “Wait. I take that back. I don’t even want that. I want—”

  Whit interrupted my reverie. “There has to be a point—”

  His voice was clipped by a strangled gulp. I jumped to my feet. Whit was staring at his arm.

  So was I.

  His hand had sunk right into the wall.

  Not “sunk” like he’d busted his fist right through the cement. More “sunk” like, I don’t know, the molecules that made up the wall had rearranged themselves around his hand.

  “Um, can you take your hand out?” I asked. “Please try.”

  A concerned look crossed my brother’s face, but he removed his hand without any obvious pain or resistance. We both examined it: same old hand. Then he put it against the wall and gently pushed again. The hand sank in several inches, its outline blurring beneath the wall molecules.

  “I can only go in up to my elbow,” he reported. “After that, the wall sort of firms up again.”

  I shook my head. “Totally bizarre. But useful? Not so much. Not unless you can go all the way through. For God’s sake, don’t put your head in there,” I said.

  Whit’s muffled voice came next.

  He had stuck his head in the wall.

  “You won’t believe this!” His words were garbled. “Total mindblower.”

  Chapter 36

  Whit

  I BLINKED—YOU KNOW, like, whoever blinks first loses.

  I could see… a total shadow world. It looked like a whole other dimension, another reality. Everything was black, or gray, or tinged with glowy green. I could make out fuzzy shapes moving and staticky snippets of distorted conversation.

  It was kind of like watching a horror movie on an old TV with incredibly bad reception.

  Wisty had started pulling on my shirt from the other side of the wall. I could barely hear her voice, which freaked me out in itself.

  Some of the shadows were getting clearer—because they were coming closer, which I didn’t particularly appreciate so much.

  “Just stay where you are,” I tried to say, but my voice was lost. Then one of the shadow people turned toward me anyway, like it could hear.

  It sure looked like a human form. Then the mouth opened—nothing but a shapeless splotch in a dark shadow world. If the figure was saying something, I couldn’t understand.

  Slowly, it approached—cautiously. Then I distinctly heard the words “Is someone there?”

  As I watched in awed silence, the shadow’s face became clearer, more detailed—until I screamed.

  It was Celia.

  And this time it wasn’t a dream.

  Chapter 37

  Whit

  “CELIA!” I CALLED OUT, but my throat felt raw and my voice seemed to get snatched away from me again, not to mention that my knees had begun to knock.

  Celia froze, looking all around, like she didn’t see me standing right there a few feet away from her.

  “Celia! It’s me, Whit. I can see you. I’m here. Wherever this is.”

  Suddenly her eyes locked on mine. She blinked. Blinked a second time. Then she stepped back in surprise.

  “It’s me. I’m really here. You said we’d meet again. For real.”

  On the other side, Wisty was still calling my name, yelling for me to come back. But I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Celia. Her skin seemed even paler than in my dreams. But her eyes still shone, spoke the truth to me, and she was as beautiful as ever, maybe even more beautiful. She had this inner light.

  “Whit?” She licked her lips—a familiar nervous habit of hers—and finally came closer. “Whit, I can see you now. How did you—where are you?”

  “Believe it or not, I’m in the bathroom of a cell in a mental hospital,” I said, my words spinning away from me. I felt like I had to reach out to her. Maybe I could pull Celia back with me. “But where are you?”

  Celia gave me the oddest look, and a cold hand grabbed at my heart.

  “Whit,” she whispered urgently, “you have to go right now. You shouldn’t be here. It’s dangerous!”

  “Why?!” I burst out.

  “I’m sorry,” Celia began, “but I have to tell you what really happened to me.” Then her voice broke, and she started to cry. “They murdered me. They said… it was because of you and your sister. It happened at the Hospital, Whit. The New Order and The One Who Is The One—he’s behind this. He’s so awful, so powerful.”

  I was crying now too. My body was shaking and numb at the extremities. “I see you. You said we’d meet. And you’re here with me. You’re not dead, Celia.”

  “Don’t come here again, Whit,” she warned. “This is the Shadowland. It’s a place for spirits. That’s what I am now. I’m a ghost.”

  Chapter 38

  Whit

  “WHIT, COME BACK here this second! Whitford!”

  Suddenly I felt Wisty’s wiry arms loop really tight around my waist. “Wisty, no!” I tried to push her off, but she’d always been like a limpet, able to cling, and strong. I could feel her brace her feet against the wall, and then she pulled as hard as she could, even as I fought against her.

  Either I wasn’t as strong as I used to be, or Wisty was stronger than ever. She yanked me out of the wall, away from Celia, and we both flew across the room. We hit hard against the opposite wall.

  We got ourselves untangled, but I rushed back to the wall like somebody possessed.

  “Whit, no!” Wisty yelled. “NO! No, Whit. Please.”

  “Celia!” I screamed, my lips pressed against the cool surface. “Come back!” I pushed at the wall. Pounded it. Tried to put my fist through it. I couldn’t get inside again. Finally I gave up and broke down.

  Wisty just stared at me, with both hands clasped on top of her head. She had every reason to believe that I’d gone over the edge for good.

  “Wisty, I saw Celia.”

  “What?” She stared blankly. “In the wall?”

  I told her everything that I’d seen, everything Celia said. How she’d been killed because of us. How she was a ghost now.

  Wisty was speechless as she tried to process the next unbelievable twist in our lives: I had seen and talked to a ghost.

  Then I heard the sound of the door to our cell being unlocked.

  Chapter 39

  Wisty

  THE MATRON BARGED IN and informed us we were going back to see Judge Ezekiel Unger, of all people. Maybe there had been a mistake, and we weren’t the witch and wizard? Or our parents had interceded somehow? Whatever it was, something major had happened. Maybe we were going to get a sliver of our humanity back.

  After a not-so-tender good-bye from the Matron came a fast ride in a grungy van that had the coppery smell of blood, and maybe the scent of something that very scared animals do.

  “You’re shivering,” said Whit. He gently kissed the top of my head. The fact is that we had always loved each other, but we’d quarreled over the most petty and ridiculous things. No more. Life, as the wiser-than-you-might-think saying goes, is too short. Plus, it seemed so obvious to me now: Whit was a great brother. I wished that it wouldn’t have taken a New Order hellhole to prove that one to me.

  The van screeched to a stop, and we were yanked outside. We entered a tall building and were suddenly surrounded by stark, monochromatic New Order normalcy: bright lights, a court hallway, regular-looking New Order people wearing neat, boring New Order clothes, cell phones ringing with the same preprogrammed, single-note tones. Pictures of The One Who Is The One were everywhere. And black-on-red N.O. signs were on all the walls. It made our prison days and nights seem just a little more bearable. A
t least we’d been missing this crap.

  Whit put his face close to mine, and he whispered, “If we get a chance, we run! We join hands and run. And don’t look back, no matter what.”

  A guard threw open an ornately carved door, and…

  We were back in that awful courtroom. And there was Judge Ezekiel Unger, looking like Death’s first and favorite cousin.

  “The One Who Judges!” announced a simpering New Order lackey.

  As if maybe we’d forgotten what the big creep looked like.

  This time there was no hating jury, no mocking audience. Just The One Who Judges, the armed guards, and… the Visitor. I groaned to myself when I saw him. He’d probably brought us up on charges for improper toilet cleaning, or pail spilling in the Hallway of Mad Dogs.

  Judge Unger was reading a thick report, sparing only a quick, disgusted glance at us before turning another page and reading on.

  “Wisteria Allgood,” the judge said at last, raising his lifeless eyes to me. “Whitford Allgood.” Somehow, he managed to make the word “good” in our names sound like evil itself. “I trust you’re enjoying your stay at the Hospital?”

  “Fantastic!” I said—couldn’t resist. “Five stars.”

  “I have here your medical reports,” he went on, ignoring me completely, waving the thick document as if it weighed nothing at all. His eyes were lasered on us. “Your tests have come back… normal. Every single test!”

  My heart gave a little leap. Thank God! This had all been a terrible, terrible mistake. Now we would be returned to our parents and go home. The nightmare was finally over.

  “I want to know right this instant,” the judge continued, “whom you bribed. Was it him? Was it the Visitor? I suspect it was him.”

  Chapter 40

  Wisty

 
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