“You are such a pig.” Wren shoved Mark away from her and zipped her top back up. Wearing the thing had clearly been a mistake. But it had set her back fifty bucks and she wanted to look good for Adam.
“Your girlfriend’s a prude.” Mark snickered as he looked over her head at Adam.
“Stop being such an ass.” Adam glared at him. When Mark reached toward Wren again, Adam caught his wrist. “I said knock it off.”
“We’re out tonight to have fun.” Mark rolled his eyes, then sighed and looked up at the driver. “Why’d you invite the stick in the mud?”
“He’s my brother, jackass.” James shrugged.
“You’re the one who didn’t want to sit in the back.” Vince laughed. He had his arms draped over both Meg and Susan, and they were giggling.
Mark put his hand on Wren’s knee and Adam grabbed it and shoved it back at him. “James, pull over.”
“What?” James glanced back at him.
“I’m changing seats with Wren.” Adam shrugged. “Hopefully, Mark can keep his hands off me.”
“I’m going to kick your ass.” Mark flipped him off.
“We’re never going to get there at this rate.” James growled, but pulled off to the side.
Adam opened the door and slid out. He turned and offered Wren a hand. Mark smacked her on the ass as she started climbing out of the van. “Fuck off, Mark.” Adam glared as he caught Wren to keep her from falling.
“That fucking hurt, you…” Wren shook her head.
Mark rolled his eyes, then leaned over and shut the door. Wren heard it lock and banged on the window. “Don’t you…” Adam started cussing as James hit the gas pedal at Mark’s urging. “Oh, you fucking…” He ran a hand through his black hair. “Do you have your cell phone?”
“My purse is still in the van.” Wren folded her arms. “Along with my jacket.” She shook her head. “Why the hell are you friends with that asshole?”
“Good question.” Adam stripped off his windbreaker and offered it to her.
“Thank you.” She sighed down at the strappy sandals she was wearing. They were going to get ruined. “Will they come back?”
“Fuck if I know.” He took a deep breath. “I think there is a gas station a couple miles up the road.”
Adam caught Wren’s hand, twining his fingers around hers. Under other circumstances, walking through the woods with her would have been a treasured experience. “I’m sorry my brother is such a…” He brushed a lock of her blond hair behind her ear.
“Prick?” Wren offered, smiling up at him.
“Yep.” He chuckled. “If it makes you feel better, he’s flunking three classes and about to get kicked off the team.”
“It…” Wren smiled a little. “Kind of does.”
They both knew James wouldn’t actually flunk or get kicked off the team. He was one of the few decent athletes the high school actually had, and already had his scholarship to the local university in hand. Not a full ride, but since Adam was also going to the local university the Wu family could afford to pay for both their sons to attend college.
He’d gotten into his first choice. But Wren hadn’t. So he was staying. Fortunately, all but one of the art scholarships transfered, and the one that didn’t wasn’t enough to matter. Once he sold a couple more paintings, he’d have enough to take Wren on a nice summer trip. And pay off the ring. His parents were going to be pissed. It wasn’t as though they didn’t like Wren, they just thought they were both too young to be serious.
The way he figured it, James more than made up for it. When they’d planned the trip to this concert just a couple weeks ago, James had been dating Lisa. Yet it had been Veronica riding shotgun. He couldn’t remember the last time his brother had dated a girl longer than a month. James had even tried hitting on Wren once. Wren had hit him back, a nice solid punch to the solar plexus. Then Adam had shoved him into the pool. “Can’t believe that asshole…” He sighed. “Got to play the big man in front of Mark.”
“You sure your brother isn’t gay?” Wren snickered. “I mean, the way he looks at Mark…”
“Oh god, Wren…” Adam winced. “I did not need that thought in my head.”
“Mark is definitely compensating for something…” Wren shrugged. “I had assumed it was just a micro-penis, but…”
“Have I told you lately how much I love you?” He pulled her to him for a kiss.
“I could stand to hear it again.” She grinned up at him.
“There’s the gas station.” He pointed. Then he sighed. “And there are the assholes.” The van was parked by the pumps. They were in the parking lot when his steps slowed. Something seemed off.
“Where are they?” Wren frowned.
“Inside?” Adam shrugged.
“The lights aren’t on.” Wren shook her head.
“I bet they are trying to scare us. Assholes.” He headed toward the station.
A wet, coppery scent filled the air when he opened the door. He fumbled for the switch, and turned the lights on. Mark lay on the floor in front of the checkout. His intestines had been flung over the counter and register, and his eyes stared sightlessly up at the ceiling. A blood trail led to a body that wore Meg’s clothes. The head was missing. “Oh, god.” He heard Wren’s voice.
He fight the urge to vomit, then grabbed her hand and pulled her away. She followed him to the van. He just had to hope their phones were still… The van door was open. His brother’s body lay on the seat, his throat a gaping wound. Blood still dripped, landing in a pool beneath James’ head, but his almond-shaped eyes had already started to glaze over. “No.”
Something made a crunching sound as it came through the woods. Wren tugged his hand, and he followed her to hide in the bushes. A woman stepped out of the trees. She was dressed like a hippy, in a broomstick skirt and tie-dyed shirt with a beaded vest. And she was heading toward the station. Adam stepped out of his hiding place. “Don’t go in there.”
She whirled to face him. “Where’d you come from?”
“Do you have a phone?” Adam gestured for her to come to their hiding place. “There’s…” He swallowed. He couldn’t make himself say the words aloud. His brother was dead.
“Someone killed our friends.” There were tears on Wren’s face.
The woman glanced at the van. “Those were your friends?” She shook her head. “No, not just friends. You smell like the arrogant one.”
“What?” Adam blinked.
When the woman turned back toward them, her eyes had changed. They were yellow, with goat-like irises. Her smile showed fangs. “You seem like nicer kids. So I’ll give you a head start.”
Wren lost her grip on Adam’s hand as her sandals slipped out from under her. She slid down the embankment and landed on her ass. “Wren.”
“I’m alright.” She started getting to her feet.
“Hang on.” He started looking for a safe way down.
Something howled behind them. Wren shook her head. “I’ll follow the stream. Find me at the bridge.”
“Go.” Adam nodded. “I’ll lead her away.”
Her eyes widened as he vanished. That wasn’t… The sound came again. She felt sick as she started running.
He slid to a halt, listening. The road they’d been on joined back up with the highway. If he could flag somebody down… All he could hear was the sound of the forest. Was he even still going the right way? James was dead. Oh god, James was dead. North. He needed to be going North. He turned to see if he could spot the right stars, and froze. The woman stood not a dozen feet from him. How the hell had she come up on him that quietly?
Adam started backing away. She chuckled. “Lost your lady already?” Her form changed as she started toward him, growing in size. Long claws trailed down from her hands as her skin took on a greenish cast. “Run.”
His feet were already doing exactly that.
Wren stumbled to a halt. A van was parked on a dirt road, next to a small cabin. She rushed up to the door and started pounding on it. No answer, so she tried the knob. Locked. “Ugh.” She glanced at the van and moved toward it. The driver side door opened, and she climbed inside, closing it behind her. Frantically she started looking around for the keys.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement. The creature was coming out of the woods. Her stomach lurched when she realized the creature was dragging Adam behind her. He was barefoot, and his hands had been bound up behind his back, between his shoulder blades. Some white material had been shoved into his mouth, and his belt was around his neck. The creature was using it as a leash. Wren dove into the back seat, hoping the creature wouldn’t see her.
It dragged Adam to the cabin’s porch, and shoved him to his knees in front of the railing. The other end of the belt was wrapped around the rail and tied. It picked up a coil of rope and began securing Adam’s legs. His calves and ankles were bound to his thighs. She realized he was going to have difficulty keeping his balance. If he slid, the belt around his neck would choke him.
When the creature finished, it tousled his hair before rising and heading back into the woods. Wren started trembling when she realized it was likely going back to look for her. She waited a few moments before getting out of the van and rushing toward Adam. He stared up at her as she pulled the gag out of his mouth. A shudder of disgust went through her when she realized he’d been gagged with his own dirty socks. “Wren?”
“Hang on.” She yanked at the knot in the belt, but it was tight. She made a frustrated sound before going to the loop around his neck. She scraped his cheek, but managed to get it over his head. “Are you alright?”
“My shoulders feel like their coming loose.” He turned a little so she could get at the knots. He’d been tied with his own bootlaces.
“Dammit.” She growled as one of her fake nails came off. “The knots are right. Let me see if I can find something to cut it with.”
“Hurry.” Adam nodded to her.
She found a piece of broken glass on the other side of the house, and was starting to turn back. “Wren, run…” Adam’s voice cried out.
Wren stepped back around the house to see the creature holding Adam. One of her clawed hands was tangled in his hair, holding him still. “Wren, is it?” The creature made a cackling sound. “Such a pretty little bird.”
“Just let him go…” Wren felt tears welling up in her eyes. “We won’t tell anyone about you, I swear.”
The creature sniffed the air, then slowly shifted until it was the hippie woman standing there, still holding Adam. She tilted her head at Wren, then frowned. “My, my, it’s been almost thirty years since I’ve seen one like you.”
“Wren, just run.” Adam tried to shake his head, and the woman jerked his head back.
“Run, and he dies.” The woman smiled. “Slowly and painfully.”
Adam stared at Wren. His stomach sank when she just stood there instead of running. “Wren…”
“Hush.” The hag yanked his hair again.
“Please don’t hurt him.” Wren shook her head.
He winced as the woman began dragging him up the steps. She unlocked the door, then glanced at Wren. “Step into my parlor.”
“Wren, don’t…” Adam yelled as the woman dragged him inside. He was thrown to the floor in front of a fireplace. The woman kicked him in the side, making him cry out in pain. A moment later, Wren stepped into the house. She was crying.
“Sit.” The woman pointed at a chair. Wren obeyed. “Good girl.” The woman closed the door, locking it behind them. Adam flinched at the clicking sound. “Now, where were we…”
“Please, just…” Wren started shaking her head.
“Awww…” The woman smiled. “Aren’t you a precious little witch, so concerned about your little boyfriend?” She set her foot on Adam’s back, just below where his arms were bound together, then looked down at him. “I think she likes you.”
“Leave her alone.” Adam struggled against his bonds. “You have me, just let her go.”
“But you, little boy, are not the one that interests me.” The woman looked over at Wren. “Order him to be silent.”
“Adam…” Wren’s voice cracked a little. “Don’t make her mad. B…Be quiet.”
“Good girl.” The woman nodded. “Do you know what you are?”
“I…” Wren shook her head. “I’m a finance major.”
The woman laughed. “No. You haven’t realized your power, have you, little witch?” The woman nodded. “There is magic in your blood.”
“There is no such thing as…” Wren trailed off, staring at the woman they’d recently seen shapeshift. Were it not for the pain he was in, Adam would have been certain this was a nightmare.
“As magic?” The woman took her foot off his back, then reached down and picked him by a hand around the back of his neck. Agony shot through him as the sensation of being crushed went through his entire body. He screamed.
Wren stared in horror at the scene before her. The ropes and Adam’s clothes lay on the floor, and a small brown rabbit was thrashing in the woman’s grip. The woman tossed it into a nearby cage, then closed and latched it. “See…” She smirked. “Magic.”
“Adam…” Wren shook her head. His scream still rang in her ears. “Oh god, Adam.”
“You can leave now, if you want.” The woman shrugged. “Go to the cops, tell them your wild story. They’ll arrest you for being high on drugs and murdering all your friends. I’ll drop your fuzzy little boyfriend out in the middle of the swamp to spend the rest of a miserably short life as a fluffy bunny. And then I’ll vanish. You’ll spend the rest of your life in an asylum.”
“Please, please turn him back.” Wren was sobbing now.
“That, my sweet one, depends on you.” The woman folded her arms. “You are a witch. I could teach you, give you the power to turn him back yourself. If you stay.”
“If I…” Wren swallowed, her breath coming in little gasps.
“You’re a pretty little one.” The woman licked her lips. “I can think of all manner of uses for you. And in return for your…” She slowly smiled. “Service, I will teach you.” She glanced at the cage, then back at Wren. “And when you are strong enough, you can take him and go.”
“You’ll let him go?” She wiped at her tears.
“Not until you are capable of taking him from me.” The woman’s smile widened. “You may both go, then. But until that time…” She patted the cage. “His well-being is a prize for you to earn, sweet one. Disobey or fail me, and he will suffer for it. Do you understand?”
She stared at the rabbit in the cage, and noted it was staring back at her. “I understand.”
“I am Renee…” The woman smiled. “You will address me as Mistress.”