Been working on my novel this week, so I thought I’d share the opening to that:
Sunlight crept over the trees and through her window. Audra rolled over, exposing her sweaty face to the fan, and fought to find sleep again. Summer vacation had started two weeks ago, and she was going to enjoy sleeping in as much as possible.
Her mother’s insistent knocking finally overpowered the white noise of the fan. “Audra, it’s time to get up.”
She sat up with a groan. “Mom, come on.”
Her mother swept into the room with her auburn hair already pulled up and an anxious smile on her lips. “The Bakers are up from Ohio. We should visit with them.”
“Mom.” Audra pulled the single sheet over her head and she lay back down. “We visited last night.”
“Yes, and you and Jacob really seemed to hit it off.”
Audra pulled the sheet down and made a disgusted face. “He’s fifteen.”
“And a bacan, from the main branch of the family. He’ll be sixteen in two weeks.” Anna’s grin was less knowing and more desperate.
“Well, he’s almost as strong a witch as you are.”
Audra gaped at her mother. “Are you really playing match maker?”
Her mother froze for a moment and then shook her head. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Jonas asked about you last night, and I think I’m having a bit of a mom reaction.”
“Jonas?” Audra made gagging noises. “He’s so skeevy.”
“That’s bad, right?” The worry in her mother’s eyes was obvious.
Audra laughed. “Yes mom, I don’t date skeevy guys.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll stop pushing you at Jacob.” Her mother’s nose wrinkled. “I didn’t really like him, anyway. But we should help Becky get ready. She insisted on hosting today, but you know how stressed out she gets.”
Aunt Becky cried when the slightest thing went wrong. She’d had to go lay down last Christmas when her daughter puked after dinner.
“Dad can’t go with you?”
Her mother paused, and Audra’s stomach flipped. Her dad had been going to the doctor every week or so since March. Audra didn’t know what was wrong, but he had been really tired lately.
“Never mind, mom. I’m up. Just let me get a shower.”
Forty minutes later, Audra and her mother bounced down the dirt road in the truck. The sun already boiled the air. The humidity turned Audra’s skin clammy and sweat dampened her long, red hair.
Aunt Becky was in tears when they arrived. Aunt Sydney and Aunt Toni gave Audra and her mother the long suffering aside glances they always did when Aunt Becky started crying. Audra grabbed her all five of the cousins under the age of eight and took them outside.
As she watched them played tag, and an unfamiliar sense of nostalgia filled Audra. Graduating from high school hadn’t been a big deal. Watching her cousins play tag in Aunt Becky’s huge backyard seemed more a symbol of her last summer of childhood than Pomp and Circumstance.
Once the Bakers and most of the family showed up an hour later, lunch was ready and the kids were cranky. Audra helped to get plates and made polite conversation about her college plans. She had decided to take a year off and work. Unsurprisingly, the family approved. Going off to college just wasn’t something they did.
As the temperature continued to rise, Aunt Becky’s house grew sticky. The air was still on her side of the hill and she’d cleared the trees from around her house, leaving it bare to the sun. The only shade was on her long porch. Audra settled herself on the swing, trying to force a breeze.
The afternoon wore on, and the longer Audra sat on the porch swing, the harder it was to keep her eyes open. The swing moved erratically and spark of energy almost like static electricity hit her arm.
She opened her eyes to Jonas. “What do you want?
“Just needed to get away from all the chatter.” Jonas grinned and Audra studied him. He had appeared at Gramma Jo’s house one morning in May, a letter in hand from the de Freitas Clan. Maybe twenty five years old and good looking. He was medium height and slim, almost skinny. Audra wasn’t sure if he was Native American, Hispanic, Asian, or all three. His skin was light brown with yellow undertones, and his nose long. His chocolate brown hair hung in frizzy waves to his shoulders. His dark eyes had small folds that made them appear tilted.
Audra didn’t like him. He smiled too much, and had a way of letting you know that he was thinking about you naked.
That look came to his eyes as they wandered across her now. “There’s a lot of people in there.”
“You’ve been here for a month. Aren’t you used to it yet?”
The corner of his mouth opened and his tongue snaked across his lips before he said, “I’m not a people person.”
“I am.” She stood and walked away from those hungry, dark eyes. His low laughter chased her into the house.
She hurried to her mother’s side when the tantrum started. Mikey was only three, and it was pretty inevitable. A hot and humid nap time, with too many family gatherings in the last week. And once Mikey began crying, the tears spread around the room.
Her mother gave her a look and pointed to the older cousins. Ranging from eight to thirteen, there seven of them, two of which were visiting Bakers. Audra heaved a sigh and herded them outside and into the forest.
The air was still, but the tall pines and oaks and birches made lots of shade. They played in the creek until the mosquitoes outweighed the cool water. Audra enjoyed splashing around with them more than she would have believed.
After the bloodsuckers chased them away, they headed over the hill to Uncle Peter’s. He never locked the basement and had homemade strawberry popsicles in his chest freezer. It would be cooler than Aunt Becky’s.
As they approached the road, Jacob saw the roadkill.“It’s a cat!”
They surrounded the animal. It didn’t stink yet on the oiled dirt and gravel road. Jacob poked it with the large stick he was carrying. The pile of blood, skin, and muscle shifted with a squelch. Dark, sticky, blood clung to Jacob’s stick.
Audra’s fingers tingled. “Guys, this is gross. Besides it probably has worms or maggots or something.” Her cousin murmured and nodded. Uncle Peter’s cool basement waited for them.
Throughout the day and into the hot night, Audra’s thoughts turned to the cat. At Gramma Jo’s she sat quiet at dinner. She poked at her fragrant chicken and wished for a rare steak.
“What’s up, Rose?” Her father tugged at her hair as he sat.
“Just tired and hot,” she said, her mind on the dark blood congealing in the cat’s fur.
“I don’t think anybody would miss you if you headed home,” he said, winking and handing her the keys. Audra smiled at him and headed into the night. Their truck was a ways down the road, at the end of the long line of cars.
Audra had no fear of this dark though. The stars and fireflies lit her way.
As she headed home, the headlights illuminated the dead cat. She slowed down and let the truck drift to a stop on the shoulder of the road.
It’s just blood.
The thought brought the tingle back to her fingers. Audra licked her lips and took deep breaths.
I’m going to drive away.
All her life she’d heard the stories. Blood witches were evil. The nature of the gift mandated it. She’d been allowed to read up on her gift, but never allowed to practice it. Even her mother said she’d never stop once she started.
Her thoughts were stopped by the figure who stepped out of the weeds. Jonas’ bushy brown hair was pulled back from his face, leaving his sharp features exposed to the night. He knelt beside the cat. The smell of road kill came through her open window and Audra threw herself out of the truck.
“What are you doing,” she demanded.
“What you want to do,” he said. “I’m getting blood on my hands.”
“That blood is no good,” she said.
Jonas smiled at her. “No such thing as bad blood.” His eyes gleamed in the truck’s headlights. She knew his feelings too well. Blood did strange things to witches who had an affinity for it.
“Fresh blood is better,” Audra insisted. “That stuff hardly has any life left, any spell written in that blood would be really weak.”
“And how do you know that, Audra?”
“I asked,” she said with clenched teeth.
“You experimented,” Jonas said. His dark eyes bored into hers. She felt the challenge in those eyes and heard it in his voice. “What else did you ask about?”
Audra frowned and stared at her scuffed sneakers. “Not much,” she said with a shrug.
“Can you draw a shield?” he asked.
Audra had too many cousins not to know a dare when it was uttered, but she hesitated. “Better to carve one out of wood or into stone. Blood spells only work while the blood is fresh. Once it dries your protection is gone.”
“Then I would have to ask the obvious question: how do you keep the blood fresh?”
“Use your own,” Audra said with a shrug. “A shallow cut on your hand will bleed a lot, and you can keep rewriting the spell.”
Jonas grinned at her, and Audra found herself smiling back.
“You’ve thought about this a lot have you?” he said.
She nodded, slightly ashamed to admit it.
Jonas’ smile slid into a smirk as he stood up. “What else have you thought about, Audra. Ever imagine how bright fresh blood would look on that pale skin of yours?” The callouses on his hands caught and tugged on her skin as they ran up her arms. The tendril of magic made the hair on her arm stand.
Audra slapped his hand away, ignoring the desire the blood raised to touch him as well. “Don’t touch me.”
His eyes locked onto her arm. Audra looked down. A dark red streak of the cat’s congealing blood stood out darkly against her pale arm. Audra shuddered, and went to wipe her arm on her shorts.
“Stop,” Jonas said as he caught her wrist.
“I told you not to touch me,” she hissed through clenched teeth. Jonas only laughed and ran a thumb over the soft skin on her inner wrist. Audra wouldn’t give him the pleasure of squirming or pulling away. Instead she concentrated on the blood. She may not like Jonas, but he was right. She thought about blood magic a lot. And she experimented. It wasn’t hard to find blood in the country. Catch a fish or shoot a deer.
Or etch a spell on your own skinned and bloody knees.
The blood on her arm was almost dead. The cat lost its life that morning, but there was still some energy there. Jonas chuckled and caressed her wrist as Audra raised a long, pale finger to the sticky smear on her arm. As soon as she touched it, the tingle in her hands grew to a buzz that ran all over her skin. Jonas pulled her against him.
“What are you?” he said, gasping for breath.
“I’m a blood witch, same as you,” she said. His empty hand snaked around her waist. Audra spun in his arms, tugging at the hand that held her blood smeared wrist. Jonas slid her hand along her body from her breast down her belly and to her hip before he held it where she could write. Audra fought to keep calm. It wasn’t fear that left her trembling though. Under his clothes, Jonas was a mass of stringy muscle, and with blood in her nose, he felt good.
The symbols came easily, despite the gummy quality of the blood. Instinct guided her beyond the simple square within a square that made a shield. When she finished drawing, her body vibrated with energy, and Jonas gasped, pulling her tighter.
“What did you do?” he growled in her ear.
Audra leaned her head back, her heart pounding, relaxing her hold on the emotions blood opened her. Jonas took the bait and kissed her. He was rough and demanding, but she expected that. She kissed him back, bruising her lips. While he was lost in the tingling of the shield warming up, Audra finished the spell. She bit Jonas’ lower lip. Fresh, warm blood spilled on her tongue.
Jonas was flung away from her and cried out in pain. “What the hell was that?” he snarled as he pulled himself to his feet.
“A shield against you,” she said. “Your own blood activated and pinpointed it.”
Jonas glared at her for a moment before he laughed. “I am going to have fun with you.”
Before Audra could respond, a low rumble sounded to the east. The rumble didn’t quite sound like heat lightning. The night sky was cloudless.
“What kind of crazy planes do you hicks have out here?” Jonas pointed into the darkness. Beyond his finger something flew just above the tree tops. It wasn’t a plane. It looked more like a man in some sort of armor.
“It’s heading for Gramma Jo’s,” Audra whispered.
“Good for it,” Jonas hissed as he grabbed her around the waist, and placed a hand over her mouth. Audra struggled as he pulled her into the woods. The cat’s blood was weak and her shield already used up. He pushed her to the leaf covered ground and she kicked and flailed against him. “Shut up and be still. There’s something coming up the road, and it’s sure as shit not a car.”
Audra froze and Jonas let go of her. She pushed herself up enough to see past his long, skinny legs. Six figures marched in perfect harmony. Metal sparkled dully in the starlight. Audra squinted trying to make out… something weird on the figure’s arms. It was tubes of liquid and twisted wires, but it was the arrangement that was familiar. Before she remembered where she had seen them before, Jonas pushed her to the ground.
“Stay still,” he breathed in her ear. “Wait for them to pass.”
Audra nodded. They huddled in the hot, sticky darkness. It didn’t take long for the sounds of gunshots and screams to reach them.