Authors: Ariella Moon
by Ariella Moon
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2013 ARIELLA MOON
Cover Art Designed by AM DESIGNS STUDIOS
Also by Ariella Moon
To Beth Soloway and Barbara Millman Cole, my fabulous critique partners.
And to the brave teens who, with quiet courage, struggle to survive each day.
My whole life since fifth grade has been a lie. That was when I razor-cut my blond hair and dyed it black and purple. I got an eyebrow stud, which hurt like blazes, then became infected and hurt even worse. I scoured thrift shops for vintage black clothing and adopted a Mess-With-Me-At-Your-Own-Peril attitude. Teachers no longer recognized me as Amy Miller's little sister. I became the Anti-Amy. No resemblance, no expectations. And unfortunately, no friends.
Magic always exacts a price.
But now, barely three months into my freshman year at Jefferson High, I'd found a friend — Evie O'Reilly. She'd seen through my disguise and discovered the reason behind it: I have difficulty reading.
Compared to Amy, I'm a failure. But this Halloween night, I'd succeeded at something big: I'd overturned a wrongful love spell. As a consequence, I saved a life, probably two. And I helped Evie in the process. As Evie's mom drove me home and her Volvo swung into my driveway, my brain buzzed with the thought,
will definitely go in my Karmic Win column.
"Bye, Salem," Evie said.
"Bye. Thanks for the ride, Mrs. O'Reilly." Giddy with success and magic, I hopped out, closed the car door, then waved to Evie before sprinting to my front porch. The lantern-shaped light fixture cast an amber glow over the empty candy bowl perched on the footstool. As I unlocked the front door, I wondered if the trick-or-treaters had heeded the Please Take One sign, or if marauding teens had stolen all the chocolates.
Feeling like a thief, I snuck inside. Einstein, Amy's cockapoo, guarded the marble entryway. The dog ignored me and stood on his hind legs to sniff the plastic bag looped over my wrist. One whiff of the noxious brimstone emanating from the half-destroyed spell book was enough to catapult him, nails clicking, down the hall. He raced past the half-bath on the right, my room on the left, then Amy's. He took the corner at a skid, almost crashed into the glass case displaying Amy's trophies, recovered, and then disappeared from view.
"Sarah?" It sounded as if Mom had cracked open my parents' bedroom door at the far end of the hall.
My post-magic buzz vanished. I shielded the bag behind my back and froze. "Yeah, Mom," I called out. "I'm back from Evie's."
"Good night, Toothpick." Dad sounded exhausted. I pictured him standing behind Mom, dressed in his white tee shirt and gray flannel pajama bottoms. He was probably scratching the stubble along his jaw.
"Good night." I waited, muscles tensed. When neither of them emerged around the corner, my arm dropped to my side. The grimoire pressed against my thigh like a needy child. My gaze drifted to my sister's bedroom door. Part of me wanted to sit on Amy's bed and hug her stuffed animal, Flipper.
Would Amy get better? Should we have brought her home? I thought about the suicide prevention pamphlet stuffed in my backpack.
Surely M.I.T. would allow a leave of absence for a student who had overdosed.
She's going to get better. She has to.
In the hall, I hurried past the framed eight-by-ten photos of Amy. Thirteen years of formal school portraits, splashy action shots of Amy scoring for the water polo team, and Amy giving her valedictorian speech last June. In each, her shiny blond hair haloed her sun-kissed face. Her eyes gleamed with intelligence; her smile was wide and welcoming. She radiated athletic wholesomeness.
Interspersed among the photos of the Golden One were a few smaller photos of me. Well, photos of my pre-goth self, taken when I'd looked like a mini-Amy but with an unsure smile, worried eyes, and fragility instead of athletic prowess. There were no pictures of me after the fifth grade. Zero.
Nada. I had ceased to exist when I
'd gone goth.
I was shocked my parents had waited up for me tonight.
Maybe I'm the Golden One now. The thought unsettled me. It wasn
't like when I had been four and Amy eight, and we had played on the seesaw. Amy shouldn't have to teeter down for me to rise up. What kind of a victory would that be?
The hundred-watt light from my desk lamp spilled like a beacon into the hall. I gravitated toward it, tiptoeing to soften the thud of my faux combat boots against the parquet floor. Einstein doubled back and took up sentry in front of Amy's room.
"Behave," I whispered, entering my bedroom. As I locked the door behind me, the wounded spell book coughed up another cloud of brimstone. The stink bomb fanned out like cigarette smoke and coated my pearl-gray walls.
Great. Just great. I tossed my keys onto the bed and watched them sink into the pale turquoise comforter. I waited for the peacefulness of my un-
goth, Zen-like room to seep into my bones. As the new owner of a shape-shifting spell book, I needed as much tranquility as I could muster.
After slipping the grimoire from the bag, I carried it my meditation altar, a curved Japanese bench. As I placed it next to my Kuan Yin statue, a fresh wave of anger rippled through me.
What had Parvani been thinking? Evie had warned her not to direct a love spell at Jordan Kent. She had warned her to never direct a love spell at anyone
Hello? It's called
karma, you moron.
At last, finally, Parvani had caved. Earlier tonight we had rescued Jordan, Evie's secret crush and the victim of Parvani's spell. But we'd been too late to save the spell book. When Evie had first bought the grimoire at a used bookstore, it had appeared to be an ordinary paperback titled
Teen Wytche. Once Evie had brought it home, the book had grown to the size of a photo album. The cover had transformed into plum leather with embossed silver leaves and vines, and the pages had changed into vellum covered with spidery handwriting.
The grimoire's author must have placed a fail-safe spell on it in case it fell into the wrong hands, like Parvani's
's not evil or anything, just desperate and misguided. Her wrongful love spell had launched some kind of magical self-destruct code. The grimoire had shrunk. The edges of the leather cover had singed then reverted to paper. Most of the silver leaves had faded away. The stiff vellum pages had almost disappeared, replaced by printed text on modern paper.
I sank to my knees and placed my hand on the tattered spell book. A fragment of the cover was still embossed leather. It beat like a failing heart against my palm. Suddenly, the cover swelled and a jagged bolt of energy struck my hand.
"Artemis, Demeter, and Hecate!" I jerked away and flicked the bad mojo to the floor. Then an odd compulsion rippled through me. Moving to my desk, I scavenged through the top drawer until I found a silver permanent marker. With quick, exact strokes, I drew the silver leaf design on my left wrist. Just three leaves, but they matched the ones on the grimoire. The tingle from the bad mojo subsided.
I expelled a long breath. "Okay," I reassured myself. I was on a magical roll. Unfamiliar pride spiked my thin frame. After I had overturned the wrongful love spell, I had crafted a rightful love spell, where Parvani, Evie, and I had listed the attributes we wished for in a boyfriend. The new spell had worked immediately for Parvani and Evie. They'd been reunited with their true loves, Zhù and Jordan.
I sank back onto my heels.
Too bad my Mr.
Right failed to materialize.
The grimoire chirped.
I flinched like Einstein when someone squeezes his squeaky toy. "What?" I asked the spell book. For a second, I thought the grimoire appeared a little better. Then it sort of deflated and resumed its feeble death beat. Maybe the rightful love spell had arrested the damage, but it had been too little, too late.
Guess I'm not such a hot spell-caster after all. A fresh worry gnawed my insides. Had I made a huge mistake working magic in front of Parvani and Evie? What if word got out? Pretending to be an edgy g
oth kept everyone at bay, even the school bullies, the Smash Heads. Granted, Evan and Tommy weren't the brightest kids in class. At least they kept their distance. But what if I were forced out of the broom closet? The Smash Heads and everyone else would pounce.
Evie won't say anything. But Parvani might…
Teen Wytche seared a raw path up my nose. Soon the reverse transformation would be complete
, and the grimoire, with all its magic and wisdom, would be lost forever. Parvani and Evie had been so confident I could save it.
I wish. If I could work amazing magic, I
'd cure Amy. Then I'd cast a brilliance spell so I wouldn't have to disguise myself. And Mr. Right would stroll into Jefferson High and fall in love with the real me.
So not going to happen.
"Nico, you listening to me?"
"What?" The sting from Papo's slap burned the side of my head. I tore my gaze from the streetlight illuminating an estate sale sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead. The van's headlights swept over a smashed pumpkin in the middle of the road.
"We're here." Papo angled his head toward an abandoned-looking house with a For Sale sign out front.
Another foreclosure. I rolled my shoulders and noted four things in my favor. It was late on Halloween night, so the neighborhood dogs were probably too exhausted from barking at trick-or-treaters to warn of our arrival. Trash and recycling cans lined the curb. Those, coupled with the estate sale, upped my chances of finding discarded utility bills in the trash. With a little doctoring, a bill could be used to establish proof of residency at the local high school. And it was Friday, so I
'd have the weekend to locate the high school and the nearest city bus stop.
I jutted my chin in the direction of the house. "Easy walk to town. The hedge will give us privacy."
The back seat squeaked. "My butt is numb," Kali whined in her hour-past-quitting-time voice. "We've been in the van for hours. At this point, I'd vote for any place."
"Old woman?" Papo said over his shoulder.
I glanced back. "She's sleeping." Magdalena's head rested against the window. As usual, she had refused to buckle her seatbelt. Her hands loosely clutched the odd, scuffed-up satchel she never let out of her sight. She appeared innocent enough, like someone's grandmother. Not
my grandmother, but somebody
Papo drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. "I wish her vision had led us to a less ritzy area. This is the only foreclosed house around."
I thought back to three days ago when Magdalena had stabbed her finger at the map Papo kept in the glove compartment and declared,
"This is where we will find the
Grey Grimoire." Like the spell book actually existed. So far, I hadn
't seen the proof.
Papo rubbed his eyes. "Maybe I should keep driving. Find a place in San Francisco. There we won't stick out so much."
I gritted my teeth. I wanted to shout, "Not San Francisco!" But if I did, Papo would floor it and head for the bridge.
Kali grabbed the back of my seat and hauled herself forward. She smelled of corn nuts and cheap hair gel. "It's gotta be close to midnight. Pull over or find us a hotel."
A hotel. Not in this lifetime.
Papo snorted. "We'll stop here. If there's no trouble, we'll stay until the end of the Crystal Faire."
"When does it end?" I asked.
"November thirtieth. Unless—"
"You find the grimoire," Kali and I said in unison. She lowered her chin and stared down at the empty water bottle at my feet. Six years ago, Papo and Magdalena had forced Kali to sit outside in a storm while they'd eavesdropped on treasure hunters in Max's Saloon. Frightened by the lightning, Kali had run into the bar as the treasure hunters whispered about an ancient book of spells. They'd said it had been stolen from one of the big gypsy families in southern California and were determined to find it and claim the reward. The bartender had kicked Papo and Magdalena to the curb when he'd spotted Kali. Papo had belted her so severely she couldn't sit down for three days.