Chapter One: Zaylie

The little bird gave one last gasp and then lay still in Zaylie’s hands. She cupped the still-warm bundle of feathers and stroked the wing with her thumb. She closed her eyes and blew gently. She envisioned the bird’s tiny heart pumping blood through its veins. She blew again, as if trying to light a fire. Sometimes, if there were a spark, it could catch and then the necromancer could tease and cajole and encourage that spark to burst into life.

At least in theory. Zaylie opened her eyes and saw the lifeless black eye staring back at her. She tried again. And again. Still nothing. Resigned, she went into the garage of her Aunt Elaine’s house and found a garden shovel. She quietly dug a grave under the last of the summer roses and softly placed the bird in the hole. Then she covered it as quickly as possible, so she didn’t have to see the bird’s accusatory eye looking up at her. She stood up and brushed the dirt off her leggings and put the shovel back. She sat heavily on the porch steps.

Sterling, her Aunt’s familiar came over to her and bumped her knees with his head. Zaylie scratched his chin and he purred so enthusiastically his whole body vibrated.

“You are a devil, Mister. Yes, you. Killing little birds and such. Don’t we feed you?” Sterling rubbed his face against her legs. “Does Elaine know you’re out?” Sterling seemed unconcerned and just to prove it he started licking his tail. Just then, Zaylie’s cell phone pinged. She dug it out of the pocket of her sweatshirt and saw that she had a text from Elaine. “Zaylie, could you come to the office, ASAP? Thanks.” She chewed her lip and texted back, “Sure.”

What was this about? Zaylie glanced at the scratched and dented crap wagon she drove and decided to walk instead. Witch Enterprises was only a mile or two away from her Aunt’s house. Besides, it was nice out. Global warming had pushed summer past its usual expiration date and the temperature had been in the seventies every day this week.

She walked quickly, even though it made little balls of sweat collect at the back of her neck. ASAP. What was so important she had to come right over? Anxiety poked at her like a stick, goading her to walk faster. She tried not to glance at the cemetery where her mother’s grave sat, quiet and stubborn.

Zaylie had always been able to hear the dead speak to her, even when she was a little girl. As she grew older, the line between the living and the dead grew ever more transparent until it was all but invisible. Then her mother, Mystica, had died. It was as if her mother’s ghostly hand reached into Zaylie’s soul, grabbed her powers and yanked them back into the grave with her. Since then, the door between the living and the dead had slammed shut.

She ran up the off-kilter steps of the shabby Victorian house her Aunt’s business was in. It was once a large, comfortable home for an upper class family. Now it had been subdivided into apartments, two on the first floor, two on the second. Witch Enterprises was housed on the third floor. People knew that Witch Enterprises was there, but most townspeople dismissed Witch Enterprises as a lark, much as they would fortune tellers or psychics. Elaine couldn’t possibly be making much money at such a silly, flighty business. They cast curious glances at her, shrugged their shoulders and frowned as they went about their very important business. Those townspeople who had actually used the services provided by Witch Enterprises never spoke of it. They never told their family or their friends, as they were convinced they would be laughed at or worse. The judicious application of memory charms ensured that although they could remember going to Witch Enterprises, they couldn’t for the life of them remember how it turned out. Anyway, it was best to just keep such things a secret, sort of like the local house of prostitution, also located on Maple Street.

Zaylie pushed the door open and walked across the reception area. In many ways the offices of Witch Enterprises looked like any other business. Elaine had tried hard to make the outer office welcoming to the nervous citizens who came in. The walls sloped down on the sides, making the room A shaped, lending it a cozy feel (unless of course, you were claustrophobic). A colorful braided rug lay across the knotty pine floor. A wooden desk was tastefully appointed with a desk lamp casting a warm golden light. Delicate flamingo-colored flowers sat in a crystal vase. Elaine had painted the walls a cheerful yellow. Bookshelves lined the walls, stuffed with leather bound books of all types. Some of the books were a little unusual: Charms: Lucky or Not?; A Complete History of Magic in the Twentieth Century; You, Too, Can Disappear! And probably not every office contained potions in rich hues of amber, dark blue and violet, stored in a spice rack behind the desk.

Zaylie crossed the small room and opened the french doors to Elaine’s office. Elaine sat at her elaborately carved walnut desk. She wore her very sensible, very non-threatening striped blouse and her square-framed glasses. The effect was of an elementary school teacher, perhaps just a bit past her prime and starting to run out of patience. Sitting in front of Elaine’s desk was a police officer. Zaylie glanced from the officer to Elaine, questioning.

“Hi, Zaylie. This is Officer Green. He has a question for you.” Elaine nodded at the officer.

The police officer, a mortal police officer Zaylie couldn’t help but notice, looked to be just a little older than she was herself, and she was eighteen. He had smooth cheeks and a weak chin. He was blond, though not the white blond that she was. His was more the blond of summer hay and asthma attacks.

“Zaylie Vandercraft?” He asked.

“Yes?”

“Hi. I’m Officer Green.”

Of course you are, Zaylie thought. What she said was, “Nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry. Your uh…Aunt?” He tilted his head towards Elaine, who nodded. “Your Aunt tells me you already heard about Jamie Nottwood? He died last week?”

“Yes, I heard. It’s so sad. He was a friend of mine, back in high school.” Sort of. Zaylie had gone to Ridgeway High School, Jamie had gone to Clarksville High. They had been set up her friend Margo, who had dated a friend of Jamie’s. Zaylie and Jamie had gone on three or four increasingly awkward dates before they both realized that not only were they not cut out to be boyfriend and girlfriend, they didn’t even make particularly good friends. She had nothing against him. He was just really boring. Last week the paper had reported that he had fallen from the ridge that ran up above the stream in the local park. It was definitely tragic, to die so young. Still…Zaylie wondered why Officer Green had come. The story was on the website and in the paper. Surely he didn’t make sure every citizen with a peripheral relationship to Jamie was informed of his death.

He cleared his throat. “Sources…a source has indicated that he may have been murdered.”

“Oh my God.” Murdered! How awful. “But why…why would anyone kill Jamie?” He was nice enough. Bland. Certainly not offensive, but then she really didn’t know him that well.

“That’s what I’m trying to determine. I was hoping maybe you could tell me. Do you know Wyler Park?”

Zaylie nodded. “Yeah. I walk there sometimes. It clears my head.”

There was a pause as both Elaine and the police officer looked at her. Zaylie shifted from one foot to the other. Officer Green referred to his notebook again. “Someone said they saw you there on the night Jamie died. Did you see anyone or anything suspicious on the night of October 2nd?”

“Uhmmm…I don’t even remember if I was there on that particular night, just that I do like to walk there sometimes.”

“Try to think back. Last Tuesday. You must remember something. Officer Green said earnestly.

Zaylie sighed deeply. She tried to think back to the Tuesday of the previous week. Did she walk in the woods that day? She couldn’t remember. Oh, no wait! She did remember. Tuesday last week she was sick. She remembered eating lunch with her best friend Sara, and suddenly being overcome with nausea.

“I was sick last Tuesday. Whoever says they saw me, it couldn’t have been me. I was in bed from just after lunch until the next morning. Remember, Elaine?” Zaylie asked. Elaine thought a minute, then nodded.

“Oh, right. See, Officer Green, no one could have seen her in the park. I remember checking on her myself.”

“You checked on her, what time?”

Elaine scratched her cheek. “Well, just after work. I probably got home around 5:00 p.m.”

“And, after that? Did you check on her at all?” Officer Green asked.

“No, I don’t think so. She said she was sick and that she just wanted to sleep, so I left her alone after that.”

Officer Green wrote something down on his little pad. “So, you didn’t see her until morning?”

“No. But I’m sure she was in her room.”

“Any reason you can think of, why someone would want to kill Jamie?” Officer Green asked.

“No. I mean, I haven’t seen him in a while, but I don’t think he had any enemies or anything.” Zaylie said.

Officer Green nodded slowly. “Okay. If we have any other questions, we may be in touch. Thank you for your help.” Officer Green said, as he placed his hat back on his head. “Ladies.” He walked back out. They waited until his footsteps faded away before they looked at each other.

“Why would someone say they saw me?” Zaylie said. “I wasn’t there last Tuesday. Unless they saw me some other night and got their days confused. I think I might’ve walked in the park on Sunday afternoon.”

“It could be a case of mistaken identity. Someone thinks it was you.” Elaine sighed. “Don’t worry. Obviously you didn’t kill anyone and they’ll figure it all out.” She frowned. “I wonder how they decided it was a murder? Last week the news seemed sure it was an accident. But anyway, Officer Green was just following up on one of many tips. They’ll find out who really did it.” She looked anxiously at Zaylie. “I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Yeah. Fine.” Zaylie said.

She had a bad feeling about this.

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