Chapter 22: Pirate Bay

Dear Leon,

Love wasn’t the only thing needed to break the curse.

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Weeks stretched out to months, and months to seasons, and still my best friend transformed into a vicious werewolf on the night of each full moon. I did everything I could. I read every book I could find, including some of the strange and ancient magick books hidden in the dusty corners of the town bookshop and library. No one seemed to have an answer, and no one seemed anxious to talk about our “furry little problem,” as Belinda and I had begun to refer to her monthly change.

“It’s like the world’s worst case of PMS,” she joked, even though there was nothing amusing about the situation.

Then one night, after a few years had slipped away, I scanned the crystal ball for answers. Very rarely did I scry for my own sake, preferring to keep the future a mystery. But I was desperate for a cure. As it always had for my clients, the orb began to crackle and glow with an eerie light. Then images floated to the surface of the glass. Belinda. Me. Suitcases. The old truck I’d purchased two years ago. The answer was clear.

It was time to leave Asteria.

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The truth was, I didn’t mind leaving. Even though we had done our best with life in the old, abandoned house, it was not our home. Surely it belonged to someone, and we were only squatting there, rent-free. We lived cheaply, and so I had managed to save quite a bit of money. Belinda didn’t mind either. In fact, she seemed eager to leave this town and its dark secrets behind.

And so, we left. Now, I’m not sure how long we’d been on the road before Belinda begged me to pull over. “Are you sick?” I asked, worried, as she clambered out of the truck, clutching her middle. But she wasn’t sick. She was transforming. Not into a werewolf, but back into a complete human. You should have heard our cheers of joy from the side of the road. The curse had broken! I guess werewolf magic was bound by the borders of town.

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So on we went, in search of a normal life far from spells and curses and fairy dust. I no longer wanted any part of it – not even my own so-called “gift.” And at last, we landed in a small town on the Pacific coast, called Pirate Bay. No, there weren’t any real pirates there, haha. But there were a few pirate-themed shops, and a pirate ship replica turned into a seafood restaurant near the beach.

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Belinda and I found a house to rent that had – you guessed it – a vegetable garden. No longer content to be a psychic, I searched for more suitable work, and discovered a quaint little main street bakery. The manager put me to the test, and so I baked a delicious loaf of crusty white bread. He was so impressed, he hired me on the spot.

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With a real house and a real job, Pirate Bay quickly began to feel like home. Our first normal home in many years. We even adopted an adorable, chocolate-colored dog, who Belinda named Peanut. He’s kind of a handful, but we don’t mind.

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Oh, there’s one more thing: Belinda is in love. His name is Chris, and he’s getting ready to graduate from university. He’s going into international business, he says. He seems pretty decent, but I’m keeping a very close eye on their relationship. You never can tell when some guy is really a werewolf in sheep’s clothing.

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Always,

Tadi

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Chapter 21.5: His Heart’s Desire, Pt. 2

Dear Tadi,

I’ve had a chance to rest, and as promised, I am ready to tell you what happened next.

For a second, we all stood there in stunned silence. Then Keith rushed forward. “Lilaaa!” he wailed, embracing the golden statue as though hoping his touch could revive her. When nothing happened, he whirled toward D.J., eyes flashing with anger. “Bring her back!” he said. “Bring her back now!”

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D.J.’s eyes had lost their glassy look. He took a step back, eyes flitting from Keith to the Lila statue. “I — I don’t know how.” He glanced down at his fingertips, which didn’t look at all like supernatural weapons that had just transformed a bunch of furniture and a woman into solid gold.

Keith let out a furious bellow, then struck D.J. across the face. D.J.’s face turned a deep shade of red. I could almost feel his anger boil over, the dam no longer held back by breathing exercises. When Keith lifted his hand to hit him a second time, D.J. threw a punch that connected with Keith’s jaw. Next thing I knew, the two of them were full-out brawling in the middle of the antique store.

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Moments later, the scuffle came to a halt. For one brief, foolish moment, I was relieved, thinking they had stopped fighting. But no, D.J. had only stepped away, and was now lifting his finger. I watched, paralyzed, as he pointed his finger at Keith.

“NO!” I said, too late. Keith, our roommate Keith, was already changing — his brown skin, his too-short jeans, his unkempt black hair – all transformed into a statue of gold.

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D.J. met my horrified expression with one of his own. “Oh no, oh no,” he said over and over, backing away from the pair of golden statues. “Oh my god…I’ve killed Keith.”

“D.J.,” I said in a whisper, peering over my shoulder, certain that the shopkeeper had overheard the ruckus and would emerge from the back room any second. “We’ve got to get out of here. Okay? We need to leave.”

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I didn’t have to tell him twice. We both grabbed out jackets and quick-walked out of the shop. The moment the door closed behind us, we took off running. After a few blocks, D.J. stopped me. “Leon, we’ve got to go. Leave town. Tonight.”

I nodded, my quick, panting breaths forming clouds in the frozen air. He was right. We couldn’t stay here, not now. People would wonder where Keith had gone. The antique store owner would raise questions about the two human-sized gold statues. Maybe someone would remember that D.J. had been studying alchemy with the genie. Maybe I would be implicated along with him.

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We didn’t have time to pack much. Just like when we had left Detroit during an impulsive whim, we hurriedly threw some clothes into garbage bags. Then we bid adieu to D.J.’s dear Aunt Mabel’s house. Just before we left, D.J. used his golden touch to transform a couple of rocks into gold. “Could come in handy,” he said, shrugging. Then we climbed into his van and left the town of Asteria.

“To California?” asked D.J.

“To California,” I said in agreement.

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A few hours before reaching California, we ran out of gas in some dusty desert town. I am writing you from a cramped motel room, which smells like Pine-Sol and old cigarettes. We have been here for five days, and D.J. has barely left his bed. He just stares at old TV shows, or, if the TV is off, at the bare walls. I think maybe he’s run out of gas, too.

Your fugitive friend,

Leon

Chapter 21: His Heart’s Desire (Part 1)

He who wishes to grow rich in a day will be hanged in a year.

LEONARDO DA VINCI, Thoughts on Art and Life

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Dear Tadi,

What do you wish for most in life? When was the last time you sat down with nothing but the wind and grass to keep you company, and wondered about your heart’s deepest desire? Most of all, would your life be better if your wish came true?

Something terrible has happened. Yes, again. But this time, it is almost too horrible to write about. I’ve already told you some of the bizarre things that have happened since we moved to the town of Asteria – things that belong in story books, read aloud to make children wide-eyed with fright. Well, I am sorry to say that what happened last month tops them all.

First, the happy part. My roommate, Keith, found a girlfriend. No, she was not a witch. Nor was she a ghost, or a genie, or a fairy, or a zombie roaming around the graveyard. Lila was a kind, sweet, and normal human girl. Well, mostly normal. She had a thing about dressing up in clothes that seemed to belong in the Victorian era. And according to Keith, she also had an enormous collection of porcelain dolls. But other than that, she seemed cool. And Keith was crazy about her. It was nice to see him so happy instead of freaked out for a change.

Well, that didn’t last long.

Remember how D.J.’s ex-girlfriend, Catherine, cursed him with a magic hex after their break-up? Ever since that night, D.J. had been very quiet. You have to understand – D.J. is never quiet. Unless he is absorbed in a really good book, D.J. is constantly talking, or belting out rock songs at the top of his lungs, or clomping down the stairs as he’s dashing out the door. The change was so creepy, that I wondered if that was the hex.

“No,” D.J. said in a subdued voice when I asked him. “When Catherine hexed me, she was very specific. She told me that the curse would give me the thing I desired most in life, and that it would destroy me. How can that be?” He looked up at me, his sleepless eyes marred by tiny red blood vessels. “The thing I desire most? Happiness? Love?”

“A new corvette?” I said, laughing. But D.J. was not in a joking mood.

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To cheer him up, I suggested a trip to the antique store. D.J. is really into antiques. It’s strange, I know, since antique shops tend to conjure up images of gray-haired old ladies squealing over chipped washbasins and marble-topped side tables. Whatever. D.J. contented himself with rifling through junk while I browsed around and Keith made gaga eyes with his girlfriend. I steered clear – in part to give the two of them some privacy, and in part because seeing them together made me think of how much I wished could be making gaga eyes at Caroline.

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I didn’t see the change that came over D.J. Not until I returned to the soft red armchair where I’d been sitting a few minutes before and saw that it was no longer red nor soft. It was a cold, hard chair made of shiny gold.

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You read that right. Gold. As in the precious metal.

“How on earth—” I started, turning toward D.J. Just then, I noticed the way he was looking at a fancy-looking hutch made of dark wood. His eyes shone with an odd light. “Um, D.J.?” I said. D.J. lifted his finger and pointed. Before my eyes, the dark wood of the hutch transformed into gold.

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“D.J., what’s going on?” I waved my hand in front of his face, but he barely blinked. Had the genie finally taught him how to do alchemy? I had always pictured him starting a lot smaller, say, turning pennies to gold coins or something. Not huge pieces of furniture.

“Maybe it’s the hex,” said Keith, who had also noticed the gold furniture and D.J.’s trance-like state. Of course! I had forgotten all about the hex, and Catherine’s words to D.J. She would give him the thing he wanted most, and it would destroy him. What did D.J. want most?

Money.

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“D.J., you have to stop!” I placed my hands on his shoulders and gave him a shake. “No more gold, do you hear me? Stop!”

It was as though he’d gone deaf. D.J. broke away from my grasp. Unfortunately, Keith’s girlfriend was standing in his path. “Are you okay?” she asked D.J., her voice filled with concern. D.J. responded by lifting his finger and pointing it toward her.

“NO!” Keith and I both cried out. But there was nothing we could do. One moment, Lila was all peaches-and-cream human girl. The next moment, she was a solid gold statue.

A cold chill ran down my spine. I gaped at D.J., who stood blinking in confusion. “Oh my God,” I said to him. “D.J., what have you done?”

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Tadi, I want to tell you more, but it is very late at night, and my fingers are cramped from writing so much. I will send you this, then write you another letter very soon, to tell you what happened next. Please keep D.J. and – well, all of us in your prayers. We sure can use it right now.

Your horrified friend,

Leon

 

Chapter 20: Curse of the Moon

Dear Leon,

After Justin’s attack, Belinda was weak and pale for days. The hospital said that she’d lost a lot of blood from the wound, which had the appearance of an animal bite. They asked a lot of questions, but Belinda just kept shaking her head and repeating, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” So they stitched it up and gave her a bottle of pills to prevent infection.

Belinda refused to take the pills, however. I couldn’t get her to eat or drink anything besides water for the next several weeks. “Please, eat something,” I begged. “You’re losing too much weight.” She responded by shoving me out of her room and slamming the door.

I became frantic, certain that she’d contracted rabies or some other dreadful disease that had sapped away her appetite and flattened her bubbly personality. I sought out Justin, so that I could demand him to tell me what he had done to Belinda, but no one in town had ever heard of a young man by that name. It was as though he didn’t exist. At last, I appealed to Clara the Genie, desperate for any explanation, physical or supernatural, for what had happened to my best friend.

Clara looked puzzled. “The pills the hospital gave her should have prevented any effects.”

“She refused to take the pills,” I said.

Clara’s expression was grim. “Then it may be too late. The infection has already begun to take hold.”

“What infection?” I asked, grabbing Clara’s arm. “Will she be okay? Can you cure it?”

“I will try,” said Clara. “Bring her to me on the night of the full moon.”

Easier said than done. A few nights later, I helped Belinda to dress, then led her out of the house. She paused, lifting her face toward the velvety black sky, where the moon sat like a round, glowing pearl.

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“Hurry,” I said, taking her hand. “We need to go see Clara.” But Belinda yanked her hand away and snarled – actually snarled at me, like a threatened animal. I held up my hands and backed away. “Okay, I won’t touch you. Just follow me, okay?”

To my relief, she shuffled along behind me as I led her to Clara’s house. Barbie the Fairy met us just outside. Her eyes widened in shock when she saw Belinda. “She’s transforming,” she said. “This is not good.”

Just then, Belinda snarled again, and lunged toward the fairy, swiping at her with clawed hands. Barbie shrieked and dodged away, then conjured up a rolled newspaper. “Bad wolfie!” she scolded, beating Belinda over the head with it. “You do not attack fairies!”

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As Belinda cowered, Barbie threw a handful of pixie dust in her face. “Take that!” she said gleefully. “And that! And that!” Belinda staggered backwards, but all the pixie dust did was make her sneeze. She lunged again, but the fairy had disappeared into a tiny ball of light.

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Belinda whipped her head in my direction. She was my very best friend, Leon, and all the family I had in the world. But when I saw the monstrous beast that stood before me in the moonlight, I screamed. This was not Belinda. This was…I don’t know what it was. My heart pounding in my throat, I turned and raced for the door of Clara’s house, then slipped inside and ducked behind the sofa. The door flew open, and Belinda – or the creature that used to be Belinda, followed me inside. For a moment, she just stood there, sniffing the air, then she lifted her chin and let out a howl that made every hair on my body stand on end.

Suddenly, there stood Clara the Genie, her eyes flashing. “I do not allow werewolves in this house!” she said. She clapped her hands together one time, and a purplish mist began to rise and swirl around Belinda. When the air had cleared, Belinda was gone.

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I stood, my knees still trembling. “What did you do to her?” I asked.

“I bound her to your home,” said Clara. “She will be unable to leave until the full moon has ended.”

“But…you can cure her, right?” I asked. “You can make her back into a normal person again, can’t you?”

Clara gave me a sad look. “Even the power of a thousand-year old genie cannot break the curse of a werewolf,” she said. “There is only one thing that can do that.”

“What one thing?” I asked.

“Love,” said Clara.

That is the only thing she would tell me, Leon. Apparently, there are no special instructions, no pills, no herbs, and no pixie dust that can make Belinda be just Belinda again. All I can do is continue to love and care for her, then lock her in the basement before the moon rises in the sky. It has been three months now, and the curse has not broken. I wish there were some more effective cure.

 

Always,

Tadi

 

 

 

Chapter 19: Cold Spell

Dear Tadi,

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Winter has hit Asteria like a freight train slamming into a glacier. After spending my teen years in Michigan, you’d think I’d have gotten used to this kind of weather. But the chill creeps into my bones and ices over, until I can barely even remember those hot, dry days on the savannah.

It hasn’t all been bad, I guess. The guys and I sometimes get into some wild snowball fights. One time, D.J. and I crept up to the roof and lay in wait until Keith left the house. Then we pelted him with a dozen snowballs, sniper-style, haha. Sometimes, when we managed to save enough money, we head up to the slopes for the day and ski or snowboard.

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And when my teeth are chattering and my fingertips are blue from the cold, I call up Caroline. Just being near her is like standing in the sunshine.

Well, it was, anyway. Until D.J. ruined it all.

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Caroline and I had grown pretty close. I cared for her more than I had any other girl before. Not just because she was pretty, but because she was so kind and warm and honest. I was even starting to think of telling her those three little words. Yes, those. But one day, I was driving home from work (I know, it’s pretty ridiculous to drive around an ice-cream truck in the middle of winter. But a job’s a job, right?). Exhausted, I turned my key in the lock, thinking of hopping in the shower, then maybe calling to see if Caroline wanted to go grab a bite to eat. But when I pushed open the front door, I froze.

There stood my so-called friend D.J. and my Caroline, locked in an embrace.

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The blood drained from my head. D.J. leaned down and kissed Caroline, who kissed him right back. I don’t know what happened next – I was gaping like a fish and making these weird choking sounds. Then D.J. and Caroline noticed me and broke apart.

“I’ll see you later, baby,” Caroline murmured to D.J. She barely even glanced my way as she breezed through the front door. I was still gaping as D.J. started to walk away, a goofy smile plastered on his face.

I exploded. “Baby? She calls you baby?” Caroline had never called me baby. Not once. Not only had D.J. stolen my girlfriend right in front of me, but here she was, gazing into his eyes and calling him pet names. “How long has this been going on?” I demanded.

D.J. shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said, giving me a wary look. “I met Catherine a few months ago, but..”

“Caroline,” I said. “God, you can’t even get her name right? What does she see in you?”

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D.J.’s face reddened. By the slow way his chest was heaving, I knew that he was taking deep breaths and counting to keep his temper under control. Too bad for him, my own temper was out of control. “How dare you!” My voice echoed through the room. “She was my girlfriend. You knew that I was dating Caroline, and you moved in anyway.”

D.J. held up his palms. “Hey man, Catherine told me she wasn’t seeing anyone. I swear to God, I didn’t know.” Seething, I turned and stalked up to my room. Was he telling the truth? Did Caroline lie to him? Come to think of it, I had never even introduced him to Caroline, so he couldn’t have known who she was. Had my best friend betrayed me, or had my girlfriend?

When I learned the truth, I felt like an idiot. It turns out that Caroline had an identical twin sister. Catherine. They looked so alike, it was impossible to tell them apart.

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“Sorry for all the confusion,” said Caroline. “I guess I should have mentioned my sister.”

That wasn’t the only thing Caroline should have mentioned. It wasn’t long before both D.J. and I learned that Caroline and Catherine were also witches. Real, live, broomstick-riding, would’ve-been-burned-at-the-stake-three-hundred-years-ago witches.

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When D.J. found out, he was so turned off that he broke up with Catherine on the spot. This made Catherine so mad, then she laid some kind of evil magic hex on D.J. Then, just to be even more cold-hearted, she made her sister break up with me, too.

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And that was the end of that. Well, except that we still don’t know what Catherine’s magic hex will do.

“I just hope I don’t turn into a frog,” said D.J. with a sigh. “I really hate frogs.”

Your frozen friend,

Leon