Her prompt to me was: My hands felt sweaty on the steering wheel as I went hard into the turn. There was a sheer drop to one side, an unforgiving cliff on the other. My mind raced to think of some way to get out of this mess, but it came up blank as I saw my pursuer yet again in the rearview mirror, maintaining the pace seemingly without effort. It fit beautifully into Cursebreaker although I tweaked it to Jack’s point of view.
Once Nikolas was settled in the guest room telling his story to the recorder, Jack went back to his office to begin contacting all the magic workers he’d freed from dolls over the last couple of months. Greg and Monica sat in the kitchen working through the information they had so far, trying to find a pattern. Greg’s training as an astronaut had given him the ability to simultaneously look at the big picture, while maintaining a necessary focus on the small details and Monica, as far as Jack could tell, was very intuitive with a strong ability to see patterns in events.
Jack’s first call was to Monica’s brother. “Hey, Rob. We’re working on putting together our information on this whole doll curse thing and I was hoping you could come over. I’m trying to get as many of you together as possible that were put into dolls so we can pool information. Monica thinks she has the edges of a pattern.”
“Sure, but I don’t want to drag Julia or especially Sophie back into this,” Rob’s voice was adamant.
“I absolutely understand and agree. Besides, I think that since you are the primary magic-worker in your family, or at least the most public about it, you were the target.”
“Okay. When do you want to do this?”
“Probably this evening. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can talk to the others. But, I’m thinking about eight o’clock tonight,” Jack said. “Oh, and bring the dogs. We’re not sure if the dogs are directly involved, but all of you have dogs and the dogs brought everybody to my house.”
Jack could picture Rob’s face on the other end of the line.
“Ooo0-kaay. I’ll bring them. Anything else?” Rob’s voice took on a cautious note.
“No. I’ll see you tonight. And, thanks,” Jack ended the call.
Jack worked his way through the rest of what he thought of as his doll-curse clients. Everybody agreed to come over that evening although some, like Renee Detweiler, were very fearful. She flat out refused to come unless Jack came out to her house and picked her up. Since he knew he really needed to have everybody present, he agreed to pick up her and Max and bring them to the house.
Phone calls finished, he walked back into the living room to find Greg, Nikolas, and Monica still working their way through the information puzzle.
Nikolas looked up with a smile. “Your recording device is very clever. I checked it as you showed me, and I believe it has captured my entire story. It is odd to hear one’s own voice coming out of an object.”
Jack laughed. “I’m one of those people who don’t like how they sound on recordings. Probably why my rock and roll career never took off. I couldn’t stand to hear myself sing.”
Nikolas looked puzzled as Greg and Monica laughed.
“It’s a type of singing career…but that’s not why Jack wouldn’t be any good at it,” Monica laughed up at her husband. “He can’t sing on key if his life depends on it!”
Nikolas nodded and laughed. “Oh! Now, I understand. Yes, I am the same as far as singing goes. You don’t want to hear me.”
Jack sobered up and looked at the three of them. “Everybody has agreed to come over here this evening at eight. There’s only one small problem…Renee Detweiler, she’s the first magic-worker to hire me, and basically started all of this,” he explained for Greg and Nikolas’ benefit. “She’s extremely frightened. I don’t know if something else has happened or what but the only way she agreed to come tonight was if I drive up to her place and pick her up.”
“Jack…that could be dangerous,” Monica’s voice was hesitant. “Getting up to her house is bad enough on a good day. It’ll be dark, and the weather report says it might rain…and what if there’s somebody or something else up there?” She scowled worriedly.
“I know. I’ll take Captain with me,” he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
Nikolas frowned. “I will come with you. I am pretty good in a fight,” he smiled slightly. “And, even as a living man today, I retain the ability to sense things from other planes. I do not know if the…kinder? entity from the house will be able to help, but perhaps my being with you will enable it to reach us if necessary.”
Jack and Greg stared at Nikolas. “You think it can follow? If it can, what about the other one? The evil force that holds all of you to the house? Could it follow us?” This was a development Jack hadn’t anticipated.
“I’ll go too,” Greg started. Jack held up one hand. “No, I think two people should stay at the house and two go. I have to go…Renee made it clear she wouldn’t go with anybody else. I’ll take Captain, and you’ll have Jake and Scout. All the dogs seem to be able to sense when something is off. It was Scout that alerted to Nikolas’ presence in your house the other day.” He held his friend’s gaze and gave a small nod in Monica’s direction. Greg’s eyes shifted over and back and he returned the nod.
“Okay,” Greg gave in. “Monica, we should probably double or triple up the wards around the house. Especially since Jack is bringing all these magic-workers in. Might as well send up a homing beacon,” he groused.
“Thanks, buddy,” Jack smiled. “Nikolas let’s get going. The sooner we get back here with Renee, the better I’ll feel.”
“I agree,” Nikolas stood. He brushed his hands against the pair of jeans he had borrowed from Jack.
“Let me get you a sweatshirt,” Jack offered. From behind, Monica handed him two sweatshirts.
“You need one too, it’s getting colder out,” was all she said. Jack put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. He dropped a kiss on top of her head, grabbed his car keys and reached for Captain’s leash. The German shepherd moved to Jack’s side without a command, and Jack click the leash on to his collar.
“Okay, let’s go,” he took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure why he felt so nervous, but something about this a simple trip up the hill to pick up a client felt ominous.
Jack opened the back door of the SUV for Captain, and then belted him into the car harness. Nikolas watched with a small smile on his face.
“Why do you need to secure the dog?”
“Well, you’ve only been in a car once…but if we have to go at any high rate of speed, or make a sudden turn, I don’t want him loose back there where he could get thrown around and seriously injured or even killed,” Jack scratched Captain’s ears. Captain’s tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth in a dog grin.
“Oh, I didn’t realize that…how fast can we go?” there was a gleam in Nikolas’ eyes.
Jack laughed. “I’ll give you a taste. We have to get on the interstate for a couple of miles, so I’ll see what I can do.”
Nikolas almost jumped into the front seat. He did remember how to secure his seatbelt and gave Jack an ear-to-ear grin as Jack backed the SUV out of the driveway. Five minutes later, Jack merged onto the interstate. Checking for traffic, he quickly made his way over to the fast lane. Nikolas was still grinning. Once in the fast lane, Jack could see he had open road ahead. A brief check of the mirrors did not show any police or highway patrol officers…at least any that he could see. This was not one of their spots for hiding a speed trap so he was fairly confident he could give Nikolas the speed demonstration without also giving him the speeding ticket demonstration. He pushed the accelerator to the floor and the engine roared.
Nikolas’ grin became an expression of wide-eyed delight as the force of the acceleration pushed him back into his seat. Jack pushed the speedometer to ninety and then held it there for a couple of minutes. At this speed, the exit he needed came up fast. He eased off and started shifting lanes to the right.
As they slowed down to take the exit, Nikolas turned his head toward Jack. His face-splitting grin still in place.
“That was amazing! I never dreamed of traveling that fast! Thank you!” He laughed in delight.
Jack laughed with him. It was fun to test the limits of the SUV. He often forgot how big its engine really was.
The road up to Renee Detweiler’s house wound around the edge of the small range of hills that formed a semi-circle around the town. The hills were not high, but they were steep in places, and concealed deep canyons. While not treacherous, the road did require a driver’s complete attention and a sedate speed. About fifteen minutes after leaving the interstate, Jack and Nikolas pulled up in front of Renee Detweiler’s A-frame house. The lights were on, and she was standing outside on the small deck in the front of the house, Max at her side.
She hurried down the steps and opened the back door of the car before Jack could even turn off the engine. Captain huffed in surprise as she pushed him over and slid into the back seat. Max jumped in behind her and settled on the floor below Captain. The two dogs briefly touched noses.
“Hurry! Please! They’re here! We have to leave now!” she gasped, fumbling with the seat belt.
Jack didn’t think twice. The panic in Renee’s voice was enough to send his adrenaline soaring and he slammed the car into reverse, sending gravel flying. He managed to turn around and throwing more gravel behind him, spun the car out of the drive.
After he was certain he had complete control of the car, he caught Renee’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
“Renee…what’s going on? What happened?”
She took a deep breath and slowly released it. “I’m not sure. But, for the last week or so, something has been…around…in the air…sort of making its presence known. Max won’t go out of the house except to quickly do his business and then straight back in. I haven’t been comfortable leaving the house either. I went down to get groceries a couple of days ago and it was so unsettling I haven’t left since. When you called, I figured the only way I was going to get out of here alive was if you came and picked me up.” Max whined and she leaned down to give his ears a scratch.
Pulling his eyes back to the road, Jack increased his speed slightly. He didn’t want to run them off the road, but at the same time, he didn’t want to get caught up here on the hill road. A flash of light in the rearview mirror caught his attention. Headlights.
“Renee, don’t turn around. If you can, slouch lower in your seat. Nikolas, look in the side mirror and tell me what you see,” Jack sped up again and kept his eyes on the road. Just a few more miles to the interstate.
Nikolas tilted his head to get a complete view in the side mirror. “It is a smaller vehicle, not like this one. It does not appear to be closing the distance between us,” he kept staring into the mirror.
“Okay. There’s a metal plate on the front with numbers and letters. If you get a look at it, tell me those numbers. We can track the owner if we know what the plate is,” Jack was thinking fast. There were no street lights on this road, just the reflective guard rail on his right, and the rock face along the opposite lane. Not fun. He increased his speed again.
“I cannot get a good view of the plate you described, but he is still the same distance behind us,” Nikolas reported. “I cannot feel anybody in the vehicle. That is strange…I think.”
Jack’s hands grew sweaty on the steering wheel as he went hard into the turn. There was a sheer drop to one side, an unforgiving cliff on the other. His mind raced to think of some way to get out of this mess, but it came up blank as he saw the pursuer yet again in the rearview mirror, maintaining the pace seemingly without effort.
He had to maintain his speed and control until they could hit the interstate. He had a strong feeling that their tail would not follow them onto the freeway. At least he hoped not. Regardless, he’d be taking a very different route home.
Jack looked over at Nikolas. “Can you grab my phone…it’s in the cupholder in the middle here, and give it to Renee, please?” As Nikolas complied, Jack briefly caught Renee’s frightened eyes in the rearview mirror.
“If you hit the icon with Monica’s picture on it, that will call her. Put the phone on speaker and hold it for me?” he asked. She gave a small nod and took the phone from Nikolas.
These prompts have been a lot of fun. They give me things to think about, lead me into stories I never imagined (like Cursebreaker) and provide the light bit of structure I know I need to keep me on track with other writing. I’m very grateful to Cedar Sanderson for starting this creative corner of the Internet.