Wild Paws

Chapter 1

Ineffable blackness and immeasurable despair.

Ember couldn’t recall when she’d fallen into the deep, dark hole. She only knew its dismal darkness proved so bleak it cast an intangible pall over her hope. Despair was her only companion in the darkness.

It seemed the entire universe had set itself against her ever restoring Cedric’s memories. That’s why it was better not to even try to climb out of the hole. No point putting so much into an effort doomed to fail.

The urn. The urn had been stolen, and, with it any chance, any hope of restoring Cedric’s memories. That was the exact moment Ember fell into darkness.

“Hey.” Something tickled Ember’s nose. A soft fluffiness, like a sun-basked cloud made into literal warmth curled up on her chest. “Wanna get out of this hole?”

Ember opened her eyes to see a fuzzy lynx cat sitting on her chest. She became aware of something soft behind her head, a stark contrast with the hardness of the concrete floor upon which she lay.

“Kali…” Ember stroked her fingers through her familiar’s soft fur. “Why am I on the floor?”

“You fainted, that’s why.”

“Fainted? Why on Earth would I faint?” Ember looked around, spying both Cedric and Ash looming over me, worry writ large on their grave faces. “The last thing I remember was walking into the garage and…”

Ember’s voice died in her throat.
“The urn!” Ember sat up straight, her panicked gaze darting to the workbench. A mix of confusion and relief flooded her body. The urn sat right where it had been. “What’s going on? It was stolen—wasn’t it?”
Ash appeared beside Ember, crouching down and taking her hand. “I’m sorry, Sis. That was my bad. I put the urn in the big ley line out back so it could bask for a while. It makes the enchantment easier.”

“What enchantment?”
“The spell to restore Cedric’s memories once and for all, of course.” Ash winked. “I was saving it as a surprise, but the whole serial killer rampaging through town kind of distracted me.”

“Understandably so.” Cedric stared at the urn, his eyes filled with both dread and wonder. “Sometimes, I think I can hear them calling to me. My memories, I mean.”
Ash grinned. “Well, soon enough you’ll be reunited. The spell is actually quite simple, so long as we have the Glawkus siphon.”

Ember’s eyes widened in alarm. “Oh no. I hope I saved it!”

“Relax, Ember.” Ash’s warm hand enveloped Ember’s own. “The bone straw is in your sewing box in the living room. I checked just this morning. Why don’t you go get it while I scrawl out the pentagram?”

“Okay.” Ember hugged Ash fiercely. “Thank you for working so hard on this.”

Ash hugged her back. “It’s no trouble. You went to bat for me when everyone forgot my existence. Besides, we’re family. That will never change.”

“Ember.” Cedric rested his big hand on her shoulder. Ember looked into his beautiful eyes and longed to kiss him. “I’m glad this moment has finally come.”

“Me, too.” She held his hand tightly before moving out of the open garage door. A stiff breeze stirred up the early autumn air and sent her long mane flying behind her. An extra spring drove Ember’s stride as she headed toward the front porch.

How long had it been since Cedric lost his memories to the Glawkus demon? Too long. It seemed like forever. Fate seemed particularly cruel when she’d been robbed of her honeymoon and her husband at the same time. Cedric had been a stranger to her.

They’d been building something new ever since, but it didn’t compare to the idea of getting Cedric –all of Cedric– back. 

Ember entered the house. The air conditioner blasted, chilling on her sweaty forehead. She padded into the living room and went to the sofa. Ember rummaged around in the shelf built into the side table and extracted her sewing box.

It was a bit of a misnomer to call it a sewing box. Ember rarely had time to indulge her crafting hobbies any longer. Still, she collected an impressive number of bobbins, needles, material scraps, and thimbles.

Also, one hollow bone straw, curved and knobby like a miniature spine. Even as she felt it, Ember could sense the sinister energy lingering in the bone still. It was more than just an instrument of Ember’s torment; it had been used to kill. If you steal the memory of your victim’s ability to breathe, they die.

Now this evil instrument would be her salvation. Ember raced back outside, squinting in the bright sun. She almost ran back to the garage, bearing the straw before herself like the standard of an advancing army.

Ember’s excitement dimmed to despair when she saw the grim expressions on the faces of Cedric and Ash.

“Oh no. What’s wrong now? Is the spell a dud?”

“The spell seems fine,” Cedric said quickly.

“It’s not a problem with our spell,” Ash said in a voice tight as a drum. “It’s April.”

Ember gasped. “April? What about her?”

“Her teacher called, scared out of her mind. We have to get to the elementary school. Now.”

Chapter 2

Ember felt a curious blend of anxiety and relief as she and Cedric sped toward the elementary school. Putting off casting the spell which would restore Cedric’s memories felt like a dagger to the heart, yet the procrastination also delayed any possible failure.

Guess I can’t be disappointed if I don’t try…

Cedric zipped beneath the arched boughs shielding the road from the harsh Louisiana sun. His jaw worked silently as they left their neighborhood behind and made for the center of town. It seemed he had mixed feelings about his impending restoration as well.

When he spoke, it had nothing to do with the matter. “What do you think Munkilok’s done this time?”

Ember flinched, then blinked several times as her brain switched gears. “I don’t know. Margaret sounded scared, though, so I don’t think this is his usual mischief.”

Cedric pursed his lips, the skin on his face growing taut. They passed out into a patch of open sunlight, forcing him to squint.

“Miss Margaret is a witch herself, right?”

Ember nodded. “She doesn’t use her magic much, and it’s sort of atrophied, but she’s at least familiar with April’s situation.”
“That’s one headache we won’t have to manage, then. Did Margaret indicate any… any of the children had been hurt?”

“No. I think she would have mentioned it, though, if someone had been hurt. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.”

They turned the last corner before Cauchemar Elementary, the sweater-clad, bellicose sparrow mascot emblazoned on the building’s façade in blue and white greeting them on arrival. Ember noticed the first-grade class screaming and running on the playground. If they’d been traumatized, no evidence showed on their happy faces.

“I pass by this school on patrol a dozen times a week,” Cedric said. “It’s not recess time yet.”

“No, it’s not. I see Miss Margaret, but I don’t see April.”

“Maybe she’s in the principal’s office?”

Cedric parked the car and the two of them strode over to the chain-link fence. Miss Margaret hurried over in a flurry of long skirts and opened the gate for them. Her eyes swam with fear behind the thick glasses perched on the bridge of her button nose.

“Thank you for coming so quickly. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Where is April now?”

Margaret swallowed, fidgeting nervously as she cast a glance across the playground to the school building. “Still in my classroom. I used a glamour to keep the other children from noticing and took them outside for an early recess.”

“Is April hurt?” Ember asked as they strode toward the school building with swift, stiff-legged strides.

“I don’t think so. She’s…you’ll just have to see for yourselves.”

Ember and Cedric entered the school’s western wing via the open playground doors. They moved past the Kindergarten class to Margaret’s first grade room. A cheerful caterpillar holding up fingers with glossy numbers next to them stood guard on the bulletin board beside the entrance.

Ember felt the tingle of magic and became wary. She wished allergy concerns hadn’t forced Kali to remain behind. The familiar was particularly useful in times like this, when she needed focus.

She pushed the door open and her jaw fell open with astonished horror. April floated near the ceiling, body supine as she slowly rotated above a complex pyramid constructed of desks and chairs.

“What’s going on?” Cedric asked.

“Munkilok. He’s put April’s body into an eldritch trance.” Ember could feel the tendrils of magic seeping out, holding the pyramid of children-sized furniture together and piercing the veil between dimensions.

“What’s he doing that for?”
“I believe he’s trying to project his consciousness into another dimension, maybe the one he originates from.”

“Is he trying to open a portal?”
Ember shook her head, staring up at the blonde-haired child as she spun through the air. The grass stains on her jeans and plastic faerie wand in her back pocket evoked a childlike innocence which her strange trance belied utterly.

“I don’t think so. Ash is more adept with dimensional magic than I am, though, so I can’t be sure.”

“What should we do?”
Ember sighed. “I can try to break the trance, but that could be dangerous to Munkilok. His mind might get trapped in the membrane between realities.”
“So?” Cedric said with a scowl. “Hasn’t he been a royal pain this entire time?”
Ember cocked an eyebrow at her amnesiac husband. “Granted, he’s been a nuisance, but does that mean he deserves a fate worse than death? He really does have April’s best interests at heart.”

“If that’s true, then what’s the meaning of all this?”
Ember opened her mouth to respond, then closed it. “I don’t know, but I’m still loath to break the trance. Munkilok and April are connected. What happens to one, affects the other.”

Margaret shifted uncomfortably behind them. “I’m sorry, I do know there’s some risk, but I can’t let this situation continue much longer. Principal Hart is a good man who cares deeply for the children, but he is a mundane.”

“I understand.” Ember looked up at April and channeled energy from the nearest ley line. She muttered the eldritch syllables which bent the natural laws governing the universe to her momentary whim.

Ember felt a tingle pass over her body, then she lifted into the air. She reached out and tousled the girl’s golden hair.

“April.” Ember’s voice bore the weight of an enchantment designed to reach her on a subconscious level. “It’s time to come back, now.”

April’s eyes snapped open but all that showed was the white.

“What are you about, witch?”

“Munkilok, whatever you’re doing has to stop. Now. School is not the place for magic.”

April’s eyes squeezed shut, and her body lowered toward the desk pyramid. Ember caught April and hovered down to the floor. She handed April off to Cedric and regarded the pyramid.

“My classroom is a shamble,” Margret said.

“I’ll take care of that.” Ember closed her eyes and imagined the classroom arranged the way she’d seen it last. She channeled energy into herself and spoke words in ancient Sumerian. Cedric took a reflexive step back as the furniture collapsed onto its legs and walked back into the correct alignment.

April opened her eyes and yawned. “Don’t be mad at Munkilok, he was only testing the walruses.”
“Walruses?” Cedric asked, cocking an eyebrow. April did not elaborate.

Ember turned to Margaret and frowned. “I’m so sorry. I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again—”
“No, I’m sorry,” Margaret said in a strained tone. “I just can’t risk the lives of all my other students. April’s public-school days are over.”


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