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Nov 08

Parasitic Souls – Chapter Eight

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Parasitic Souls Chapter Eight

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Carlotta knew everything there was to know about Irene. Irene was forty-eight years old, and she was an accountant who had made a hobby of meditation and then soul-altering magic once the slow magic apocalypse happened and magic started working.

Irene’s dogs were named Brandy and Kipper, and they were fifteen-year-old purebred Spitz dogs that she fed by hand three times a day. The day she bought them she had driven all the way up to Bend, Oregon in one day with a dog carrier in the back and a cashier’s check made out in the breeder’s name. She had originally planned to only buy one puppy. But when she got there, the dogs refused to leave each other’s side, whining piteously when she tried to pick one out of the horse trough lined with old carpet that they and their mother were living in. Three times she tried to walk away from the trough, but the heartrending cries were too much, so instead she went to an ATM and got enough cash to buy the second puppy as well, then carried them home nestled together quite snugly in their dog carrier built for one. Walter hadn’t been a dog person, but he’d learned to love them. Irene knew that Walter would do anything for her. Carlotta knew it too.

Before Brandy and Kipper, Irene had a beagle named Buddy whom she had loved intensely, and she also had a daughter named Heather whom she thought of rather less frequently than her dogs. Irene had been married to Walter for seventeen years—a second marriage for both of them. While Irene didn’t like some of the things Walter was willing to do to make money, she was often willing to look the other way.

Carlotta remembered Walter as a guy she barely knew back when they were both working for Sunrise Realty. They’d specialized in different areas—he was more into commercial real estate—and while she was aware that he and Guy had been her professional rivals, she thought that once she switched from real estate to magic that wouldn’t matter anymore. How was she to know that Guy and Walter were now in the magic business too? It seemed so unlike them.

From Irene’s memories, Carlotta learned how it happened. Irene had been the one interested in magic. She’d already been taking yoga and meditation at the Gentle Earth Co-op when the magic apocalypse happened, and when they offered a discount on a new class in astral projection, Irene decided to sign up.

When she rolled out her yoga mat and sat down with the other mostly-middle-aged women in the incense-scented room, she had expected another meditation class, astral projection as metaphor. The teacher was a young woman named Sarah, a skinny vegan with red dreadlocks and a tattoo of the symbol for “Om” on her back. She turned the lights down so low that they could barely make out their own reflections in the mirrors lining the wall of the yoga studio. Then Sarah turned on an iPod with ambient music, and told them to sit comfortably. She claimed she had been studying astral projection for seven years—which Irene found hard to believe as the girl looked no more than twenty five, and at any rate, this was less than seven years after the official start of the slow magic apocalypse, but she was mostly there for the company, so she smiled and nodded with the rest of them.

Sarah was an excellent teacher. They left each class session drained physically and emotionally, dripping with sweat and aglow with the realization that they were learning something that most people didn’t even believe in yet. By the end of the ten week session, everyone had learned how to make their aura visible to the naked eye, how to move their soul outside their body, and how to feel when someone’s soul was near.

Walter had been dismissive. He’d been a magic apocalypse denier, and rolled his eyes in disgust that she bought into the hype. Then Irene had showed him how bright she could make her aura, and Walter had grudgingly promoted her magic study from ridiculous nonsense into a legitimate hobby. She demonstrated how she could travel outside her body, which had terrified him when he found her lying apparently dead on her yoga mat. When she came back into her body and told him things she had seen that she could not have seen (the faces of playing cards inside a locked room) her silly hobby became something more interesting.

Walter wanted her to teach him, but she didn’t do as good a job as Sarah had. He thought he should learn faster, and got angry with her not explaining it well enough. Irene became frustrated and refused to teach him any more. Walter went to Gentle Earth and signed up for private lessons with Sarah, and when he thought he’d learned all she could teach him, he demanded the names of other teachers who could show him what he wanted to learn. Sarah suggested that true spirituality couldn’t be achieved on short notice, but it wasn’t spirituality that Walter was after. Walter didn’t want to expand his horizons and enlighten his soul. Walter wanted to make money.

Irene remembered the tenacity with which Walter had courted her. Once he set his mind on something, he clamped down and wouldn’t let go. That went for skills he wanted to learn as well as women he wanted to woo. Walter spent hundreds of dollars on private lessons. Once he’d exhausted all the “useful” information he could from local teachers, Walter turned to the internet. He stopped taking on new real estate clients, living on her income and his savings. She found this alarming, but Walter just said to trust her, that he was looking for the idea that would make them rich.

When Irene had the first tumor removed, she thought he would taper off his all-night studies and spend more time with her so they could be a couple again, but instead her illness gave him more focus.

He wanted to put a soul into a different body. He’d tried it with mice at first. First he figured out how to take their souls from their bodies. Sarah had taught him how to see the aura, and how to feel the soul, but plucking the soul from the body, forcing the mice to soul-travel was all Walter’s idea. It bothered Irene to watch him do it. The mice would lay limp as if dead, while Walter strained, holding something invisible in his hands. When he released it, the soul would return to the body and the mouse revived. They seemed to recover completely, except that they squeaked in fear when Walter reached into their cages.

Walter was not interested in teaching mice soul-projection. But soon he figured out that if he pulled hard enough, the soul would snap free from the body and the mouse died.

“The army might pay for this technology,” he mused out loud to Irene, “If I can just figure out how to do it with less energy … “

“Please don’t kill any mice.”

“They’re just mice,” he said. “They’re bred to be experimented on.”

“But they’re cute.”

Walter rolled his eyes. “How am I going to earn money if I can’t make this profitable?” he said. “The real estate market tanked, no one’s closing anymore. I haven’t had a sale in months.”

“You haven’t had a sale because you’ve been spending all your time killing mice,” Irene said.

But Walter wouldn’t hear of it. He was on to something. The new frontier. He’d missed his chance of being a baseball player when he was a boy, and he’d missed his chance of being a genius hacker when he was a young man, but now he saw the potential of magic, and he wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip past him.

He couldn’t make it into an effective weapon, for which Irene was grateful. When he severed a mouse’s soul, Walter became dizzy. He tried to remove the soul of a cat that had begun hanging around the real estate office (attracted, no doubt, by the mice), but the effort made him pass out. The cat lived.

Walter wanted to try to remove the souls of dogs, but Irene wouldn’t hear of it. Instead she helped him, though she hated hurting any animal, even mice. With the two of them working together (Walter to pull the soul, her to snip the silver cord that tethered it to the body) they could kill the mice without any effort at all.

But she didn’t quite see the point of it.

“I’m going to figure out how to put the soul of a dead mouse into a live mouse’s body,” Walter said.

“Why?” she had said, her lip wrinkling in disgust.

“Think about how much you missed Buddy when he got hit by a car. Wouldn’t you pay good money to have him alive again, in a new body?”

“In a mouse body? It wouldn’t be the same.” She shook her head, hoping he wouldn’t suggest using dogs again. Mice were one thing, but you didn’t hurt a dog. You just didn’t.

“People will, Irene.” He picked up another mouse, and with a pinching gesture, began to extract its soul. The fluorescent light in the back room of his tiny real estate office cast a pallid glow over the mouse cages, the stacks of dead mice, the secondhand scales and beakers and laptop for recording his findings. “Think of the potential. You could keep a person’s soul alive forever, just by transferring it from mouse to mouse.”

“But what about the mice?”

“They’re just mice.” He pulled his arm back, and she sensed the taut silvery string holding its soul to its body. He nodded at her for her to snip its soul free.

“I wouldn’t want to live in a mouse’s body.” She folded her arms instead of snipping its soul. Walter released the mouse’s soul, and it snapped back into its body. The mouse began to wriggle in his fingers.

“People will want this. I’m going to figure it out. All I need is an intermediary vessel, something for it to rest in between bodies. Ira Prandu’s site suggests purified water. I want you to take some time off so you can help me with my experiments.”

“I used all my time off for the surgery.”

“Quit your job then.”

“And what will we live on? And what about insurance?”

Walter frowned, but a moment later he nodded. “I’ll get Guy to help me. I’ve been thinking of starting a company for this anyway. If he lends me some start up capital, I’ll let him in.”

Guy was game. Guy saw the potential. He invested some money, and then Walter taught him to do the soul-snipping. Irene went back to work, relieved that she didn’t have to kill mice anymore.

Walter eventually figured out that he could use a vessel of purified ice to hold the purified water. He knew (from using aura-sensing glasses) that he’d been able to get the soul into the cup of water, but he couldn’t get it from the water into a live mouse. Hundreds of mice died while he and Guy tried to work out the variables.

Success happened, as it often did, by accident. One day, they had put a mouse soul into the purified water, and while trying to drop the live mouse into the ice bowl, Walter touched the ice with his hand. He squeaked and dropped to all fours.

Guy panicked and called Irene.

She came down to the office straight away. Guy tried to push out the door past her, saying he had to be somewhere, but she grabbed his sleeve and demanded to know what happened. Guy rubbed his nose. “Walter touched the bowl with the mouse soul in it.”

“And?”

“He wigged out. See for yourself.”

She walked past the empty desk into the back room. She didn’t see Walter at first, just an aquarium crawling with mice, a box half-full of dead mice, and the laptop open to a spreadsheet. A stopwatch and several puddles of meltwater lay on the table, along with a dead white mouse.

“Walter?” She looked under the desk.

Walter was crouched down on his hands and knees under the desk. His back and bottom were sticking out. She placed her hand on his back, and he responded by squeaking and pushing himself forward, as if by force of will he could make himself small enough to fit in the space.

“Walter? Are you okay?”

It sounded like he was chewing on something.

“I think the mouse soul possessed him,” Guy said, standing in the doorway.

“Has this happened before?” She stood up, using the desk for support.

“No. We’re careful.”

“Can you put the mouse soul back into its own body?” she asked.

Guy shook his head. “It’s dead. You can’t put a living soul back into a dead body.”

“Well what do we do? Are there any other mages that can fix this?”

Guy put his hands up, palms towards her, backing away. “Don’t look at me. I just snip the cord, he’s the one who does the heavy magic.”

“Help me get him into the car. I’ll take care of this.”

The two of them weren’t able to get Walter out from under the desk, but when Guy gave up and left, Walter became a lot calmer, and eventually she was able to coax him out with food and into the car. It took an hour to get him from the car into their apartment. By that time, Irene was exhausted. It was almost midnight, far too late to call Sarah, but Irene couldn’t think of anyone else, so she dug through all the recycling bins in the house until she found the class syllabus with Sarah’s phone number on it.

Sarah barely remembered Irene, and anyway, she was just about to head to Taos for a yoga workshop, but she put her in touch with a guy she knew who worked for Lupe Yanez, an absoluter. Irene took the number. She called, but no one answered.

Meanwhile, Walter had found a closet to hide in.

She sighed. Maybe if he was at home and had a good night’s sleep, he would throw off whatever was afflicting him. That was what her mother would have done. Give a person food and warm blankets, let them sleep, and usually they’d get better on their own.

But by the next morning he still acted mouse-like. Irene found him hidden behind the entertainment center in their apartment, frantic and terrified. She called Lupe again. After a long discussion, and Irene assuring her that she had enough credit to cover the charges, Lupe agreed to make a house call.

“Bring the body of the soul that’s possessing him.”

“What?”

“You said he’s got a mouse soul in him? Bring that mouse.”

“Well, I uh, I’m not sure which mouse it was.”

“You want me to undo this, you bring the mouse. Can’t undo it if I don’t have all the pieces.”

Irene went back to the office and fetched the dead mouse, then rushed back home again.

Lupe showed up with a skinny middle-aged guy with long hair who introduced himself as her apprentice Jimmy. Jimmy tried, unsuccessfully, to coax Walter out from behind the entertainment center, and when that didn’t work, he peered over the top to talk to him. “What happened to you?” he asked Walter.

Walter just squeaked.

“He can’t talk,” Irene said. “He is possessed by a mouse soul.” She coaxed him out with a piece of bread with peanut butter on it. Walter reached out and took it, but wouldn’t let much more than his head peer out from behind the entertainment center.

“A mouse soul?” Jimmy repressed a smile, which made Irene want to slap him.

“Can you fix him?”

Lupe grunted something that sounded like a yes. She muttered angrily “… messing around with things they don’t understand … so sick of …” As she grumbled, opened up her black leather bag and pulled out a scalpel, some sheets of rice paper, and a few items which Irene didn’t recognize.

They tried to coax him out again, but this time Walter wouldn’t come out, so in the end they had to drug him with three sleeping pills shoved inside a Snickers bar. After he ate it, they waited. Irene felt like apologizing for the delay. Lupe didn’t say anything, but her glower intensified.

Jimmy had a laptop, and he drew up an invoice while they waited for the sleeping pills to kick in. He printed it out on a printer in his car and gave it to her to sign. Irene swallowed hard when she saw the fee. Lupe charged enough to cover the cost of that anniversary cruise to Alaska that Walter had decided they couldn’t afford this year. She sighed and signed the credit card invoice, knowing she’d have to carry a balance for a few months.

Twenty minutes later, Jimmy peered behind the entertainment center. “He’s asleep. Wanna help me move this?”

The three of them pulled the entertainment center away from the wall. The dvd player slid off the back and landed on Walter’s legs, but it didn’t wake him up. He lay on his side, curled up in a fetal position. Irene shifted her vision, like Sarah had taught her, and looked at his aura. Walter’s aura was usually a pure golden yellow, but now it was mottled green like cornbread that had begun to mold.

“Hold him down,” Lupe ordered Jimmy. Jimmy did as she told him, but it didn’t matter, because Walter didn’t move.

Irene watched Lupe separate strands of green from Walter’s yellow, and then watched her cut them out with her scalpel, as if she were picking every spot of mold out of the bread, not dropping a single good crumb. It took her about an hour. When she was done, she smoothed her hands over the aura. The golden yellow glow restored itself. Walter stretched out on the carpet with his arm bent under his head, the way he normally slept.

“Jimmy.” Lupe said, and then she began to pack up her things. She made eye contact with Jimmy, and he nodded.

She glanced at Walter, still lying on the floor. He’d opened his eyes halfway and yawned. “You sure he’s going to be okay?”

Jimmy nodded. “Lupe knows what she’s doing.”

“Irene?” Walter asked.

“Go back to sleep, Walter. It’s okay.”

“What’s going on?” he asked, groggily.

Jimmy shook her hand, then hurried out the door after Lupe, who was already halfway up the walk.

“What happened? Who was that?” he asked.

“You had an accident. Guy didn’t know what to do, so I took care of it.”

She wanted that to be the end of it, but she knew Walter too well to hope.

“Took care of it? Took care of it how?”

She sighed, and gave him the details.

When Walter found out that Irene had given money to another mage, he was furious. He got into one of his moods, where he set down coffee cups loud enough to rattle the table and slammed doors and imbued violence into every gesture. Irene tensed up and waited for the storm to pass, working as late as she dared and tiptoeing around the house when Walter came home.

He went to his office for long hours, killing mice with Guy’s help, logging failure after failure. Meanwhile, Irene took another day off work and went to the doctor to find out why she was tired all the time even though the tumor was gone.

After a battery of tests, the somber kid who hardly seemed old enough to be a doctor sat her down and told her about all the other tumors, the ones they hadn’t found the first time, the ones they couldn’t remove. They made a plan to try chemotherapy.

“Even with chemotherapy, my chances aren’t good,” Irene told Walter, in his office late that night. She still felt as if she were talking about someone else, rather than her own body. “The doctor said I need to get my affairs in order.”

“Don’t be so hasty.” Walter had a secret smile. “Guy and I are working on something. We got a machine to levitate the cup of ice. The second mouse knew the maze. It’s working, Irene. I’ll fine tune it. I’ll make sure it’s perfect.”

“I don’t want to be a mouse,” Irene said, gathering the thermos she’d left there the day before. It still felt like it was half-full of coffee, though at least he’d eaten the sandwich she brought for him. “I’m going to call Heather and see if she can come visit. I want to talk to her about my bequests.”

“You won’t be a mouse, Irene. Don’t make any promises to Heather. Say nothing about a will. You’re going to have time enough to spend your retirement. We’ll take that cruise like we wanted.”

“Are you even listening to me?” she asked, but got no answer.

Two weeks later, when Irene was still healthy enough to be able to pretend that she wasn’t really going to die, she had come home from work and found that Walter wasn’t at home. He was working late, as usual. She made some soup and drove to the office, letting herself in with a key and going to the back room without turning on the lights. The office had a new sign on the door reading “Paragon Solutions, LLC” covering up the logo from his real estate company. The potted plant in the lobby had died, and dust bunnies piled up in the corners, but he didn’t have any clients so Irene was the only one bothered by the neglect.

She tapped on the back door. Walter held a stopwatch in his hand, and he was watching a mouse navigate a maze. He didn’t look up when she came in and set the bag containing the soup container on the counter. The room smelled like overheating electronics, and like dead mice that should have been disposed of days earlier.

Walter didn’t turn to look at her. “Irene, you shouldn’t be up and about. You need your rest.”

“I brought you soup.”

He hit the stopwatch and typed a number into a spreadsheet. He turned then, and his face held some of the love and concern that she’d seen often when they were first dating. “You should get your rest. You don’t need to take care of me.”

“Let me, Walter. I’m not going to be able to do it much longer.” The walk from the car had tired her, and she’d left Brandy and Kipper at home so that she didn’t have to deal with them. Now, in Carlotta’s body, Irene barely remembered her old body’s pain, but she remembered how hard it had been to do simple tasks, like walk from the car. “Will you take care of Brandy and Kipper when I die?”

“You’re not going to die,” Walter said. “I have a plan, I told you.”

She’d opened a thermos of coffee and handed it to him, but Walter gestured for her to set it down. He glanced at the computer screen twice and didn’t sit.

“I was hoping we could eat together, maybe sit down and talk about our day.”

“I’m in the middle of an experiment,” Walter said. He lifted the lid and began to shovel soup into his mouth.

“I don’t have many days left. I want to spend them with you.”

“I’ve made a breakthrough, Irene,” he said, wolfing down the soup she made for him as if food were a nuisance he’d rather do without. “The passenger soul is dominant.”

“Like the mouse.”

Walter finished the soup and then waved her closer to the computer. At his feet was a bin full of dead mice, their white and grey corpses stacked six inches high. Did it hurt them when Guy cut their souls away? Walter moved the computer aside and showed her a piece of ice shaped like a cup, suspended in the air. The bottom dripped onto a steel plate, and the indentation held more water.

“That water holds a soul. The water is a vessel. The glass contaminated the water, which is why it wouldn’t work. That’s one of the kinks we had to work out. We used ice, no more contamination.” The words rushed out of him in a torrent, his muscles quivering with excitement and energy. She’d never seen him like this. He’d always been ambitious, but before, his ambition was for money, was for winning sales, for being the agent with the most closings. “Guy and I got a levitation machine. We made it levitate, and we tipped the water onto the other mouse’s body. It has to move, you see, that was one of the problems, for some reason it has to move. I don’t know if it’s the motion, or the agency, or what. I’ll have time for the theory later, right now all I care about is the practice of it.”

“Is this magic? How much did the levitation machine cost?” She felt like passing her hand underneath, but she didn’t want to risk having a mouse soul fall into her. They had almost tapped out their credit, and she didn’t know if Lupe would even come out a second time.

“The machine keeps the spell going so I can concentrate on the rest of it,” he said, tossing the empty container of soup into the trash. “But the levitation isn’t important. I think we’ve done it. I’m virtually positive. I think we’re ready for the next step.”

She felt sick. Sick from the cancer, sick from the smell of dead mice, and sick from knowing that her last days on earth were going to be spent fruitlessly trying to pry her husband away from his work and back into her life.

“Why are you doing this, Walter?”

Walter looked up, bushy eyebrows furrowing in surprise. “For you, Irene.”

“For me, really? Because you can’t bear to lose me, or because you want to be the guy who saved his wife?”

“Can’t it be both?”

She turned and left the room, going home without saying a word. The old Walter would have followed her, knowing she was furious, but the magically obsessed Walter went back to his mice and his stopwatch as if relieved that the distraction had left the room.

Irene got sicker and sicker. It was hard to tell how much of her illness was from the chemotherapy, and how much was from the cancer. Heather said she was busy with work and couldn’t come out for a visit, but she’d come out later. For the funeral, Irene thought, and she fell into a depression that lasted for days. The doctor told her to keep her spirits up, and Sarah said that negative thinking would make the cancer worse. Sarah suggested that negative thinking was what caused the cancer in the first place, that doubt and unhappy thoughts had made her pancreas decide to make different cells, had made those cells wander to her liver, to her brain. She stopped talking to Sarah.

She kept up with the chemotherapy, even though it made her feel horrible. She tried to make peace with death, but she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to have anything to do with death.

She had to quit her job. She was too tired to stand, just spent all day watching television and calling old friends.

Walter came home one afternoon, after she’d gone through all the recorded soap operas and had edged into the depressing news-hour time of day. Their apartment had grown stuffy and warm, but she didn’t have the energy to open a window. Without a word, he scooped her out of the rented hospice bed they’d parked in the living room.

“You’ll hurt your back,” she said.

“Shh. You hardly weigh anything,” he replied. And it was true. She had lost a lot of weight, and Walter had once been a strong man. He didn’t strain as he carried her into the car and gently buckled her into the passenger seat.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said. “Today’s the day.”

She was too tired to answer, almost too tired to sit up. He took her to his office, carried her into the back room. There, she saw Guy and a woman she didn’t know. The woman was younger than her, maybe in her late forties, with long, dark, curly hair. She had sharp features, with large eyes and a face so heart-shaped it almost came to a point. Her nails were manicured, but one of them had been chipped. They’d duct-taped her down to the metal office chair, but her head lay back as if she were drugged.

“I don’t understand,” she said, but of course she did understand. “Who is she?”

“She’s your new home,” Walter said.

If someone had asked her, she would have said that she wasn’t strong enough to protest. That wasn’t entirely true. In her heart she knew she consented. Fear of death washed aside moral compunction like waves eliminating a footprint.

Walter didn’t have to pull Irene’s soul out of her body. She left it on her own, settling into the pool of water levitating in the cup of ice. Walter and Guy snipped her cord, and for a second, she was truly dead. And then they shut off the power to the machine and the levitation spell crumbled, spilling the cold water onto the curly-haired woman. Irene seeped into the body, her new home, the woman who had once been Carlotta.

Carlotta didn’t hate Irene. She would have made the same choice. Carlotta hated Walter for treating her like a lab mouse, but she didn’t really hate Irene. She would gladly kill Irene, if it meant she could have her body back, but she didn’t hate her.

She did hate Guy, completely and without reservation. She would gladly shove Guy into a mouse’s body, or better yet, shove a mouse into his. Walter had done an evil thing to save his wife’s life, but Guy had helped with the same evil thing for a few hundred dollars and the privilege of playing God and making a few bucks at some point in the future. She hated the Carlotta of a month earlier, who had been dumb enough to share a glass of wine with that evil louse. He hadn’t seemed evil when she knew him from their Sunrise Realty days; maybe he just hadn’t had the opportunity.

She had never considered Guy her equal. She’d never considered Walter her equal either, and circumstances had done nothing to change that. Carlotta Brockmeier got what she wanted, and no one screwed her over without getting what was coming to him.

Carlotta didn’t like the fact that Irene was using Carlotta’s body to have sex with Walter. She also didn’t like that Irene drank neat scotch and full-fat milk and never once went to the gym. Carlotta wanted to peer at the number on the scale to see the extent of the damage that Irene was doing to Carlotta’s body, but Irene never stepped on the scale. When you no longer had late stage pancreatic cancer, Irene believed, you never again had to give a rat’s ass about swimsuit season.

Carlotta had built a life out of successful management of the little things. Even if she hadn’t been held hostage by a woman who had bad taste in men (Walter was a body-stealing bastard), Carlotta would have long since been planning a coup. The fact that she didn’t have the slightest idea how was merely a detail she would soon work around.

Carlotta didn’t know much about magic. She knew what the going rates were for warding a property (calculated by difficulty and by square footage) and she knew where she could subcontract if she needed protection amulets, and she read the online journals that talked about new developments in the field. She knew, for example, that soul-shifting had been talked about as possible, but that it was already being denounced as unethical and probably illegal, even as people salivated at how much money clients would pay for such a procedure.

Carlotta did know where you could find good mages to hire, and she knew how much she could afford to pay them, and she knew what kind of profits she had to make to hire a second one and expand her new business. If you were good at managing people and money (Carlotta was) you could get into any industry. Anything you didn’t know, you could learn, and anything you couldn’t do, you could hire someone to do. She’d proved this when she started her fledgling ward-setting company, and kept it in the black.

She did not, however, know how to do anything magical other than set a ward. A monkey with a salt shaker could set a ward. So when it came to kicking out her unwanted passenger, Carlotta had to rely on her other talent—sheer force of will.

So far, she had only partial success. At first, she had a vague sense of moving, as if she were a baby in the womb. After a while (Days? Weeks? Hours?) she was able to see out of her own eyes. Her hands still moved without her permission, and her legs walked to places she hadn’t decided on, and someone else spoke with her lips but Carlotta had won back enough control that she could at least see and hear and feel what was going on.

Every day she got stronger.

Seeing Fiona in the grocery store had galvanized her. Carlotta had railed against her passenger, this parasite, this mind-intruder who had been forced into her body. She’d missed Fiona the first time, finding out about her being back in Clementine only by trolling Irene’s memories. But by the time she saw Fiona in the grocery store, Carlotta had been able to see through her own eyes.

Fiona. Her baby girl. Yes, she was a step-daughter, but the step part didn’t mean anything. Carlotta had raised Fiona since she was a toddler. Fiona was her daughter, more so than she’d been Robert’s. Fiona needed her. Carlotta had promised Fiona that if she ever needed help, Carlotta would be there.

Carlotta did not break promises.

But apparently Irene did. Carlotta hadn’t been able to hear what Irene said to Fiona, but whatever it was made Fiona’s face crack with betrayal and disappointment. That hurt look on Fiona’s face made Carlotta angry, and anger gave her strength. She needed to get out. She needed to take over. At the very least, she needed to warn Fiona to stay away. Sophie seemed to have figured out how dangerous these people were, but Fiona was stubborn, like her.

Stubborn was going to get her killed, or worse.


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