Hailey puffed and wheezed as she hurried through the open field just outside of Salem – not because she was moving particularly fast, but because she was out of shape. Tacita and the two witches whose names Hailey couldn’t remember had no trouble with the pace. In fact, they were having an impassioned discussion of the Witch Hunters.
“They’re hypocrites!” Tacita declared. “They only take the job so they can use magic legally, but the whole point of the job is to stop other from using magic.”
“Did you know they all used to be Rangers?” said the tall, skinny witch. Hailey had been calling her “Olive” in her head – partially because she had green skin like Tacita, but mostly because she looked like Olive Oyl.
“The Rangers are all hypocrites too,” said the third witch. Hailey called her “Avocado” because of her skin color and unique shape. “They used to call the Indians savage for their magic, but once they decided to fight the Indians, magic was suddenly acceptable, as long as they were killing with it.”
“That’s what bothers me most,” Tacita complained. “I’ve never hurt anyone with magic, but I’m being hunted for it.”
Hailey was secretly glad she was too winding to participate in the conversation. She was learning so much about the culture of this timeline and didn’t have to reveal her ignorance. It was perfect!
Her focus on what the women were saying was probably what caused her to trip and fall on her face. For a second, she thought someone had grabbed her leg, but that was just her imagination. The only thing around her feet was a patch of Virginia creeper. The historian in her wondered if anyone called it that yet.
“Are you alright?” Tacita asked as she offered a hand.
“I’m fine,” Hailey said. “Hey, what do you call this plant?”
“A bad omen.”
The tone of Tacita’s voice made Hailey want to move on quickly. There was only one problem – she couldn’t move. The creeper was suddenly wrapped around one of her legs. As she tried to pull it free, the vines rose from the ground and took human shape. It looked like a B-movie monster with its tendrils that crept slowly towards her, but Hailey was not a B-movie damsel. She would neither scream nor panic. Instead, she snapped her fingers in the face of the creature, making it burst into flames. Her leg hairs curled and singed as she yanked free and distanced herself from the burning plant. The smell of smoke oddly reminded her of campfires. Lame! Now she’d never be able to go camping without reliving this moment!
“Well, that was freaky,” she gasped. “But, we’re safe now. Let’s go!”
No one responded.
Hailey turned around and saw her friends lying on the ground in strange postures, as if they had all suddenly collapsed. A man stood not far from them. He was dressed in all browns and greens, down to his shoes, hat, and gloves. He blended so well with his background, she had a hard time keeping track of him though he was right in front of her. There was only one thing that made him stand out – he had a fire in his eyes. It was a literal fire – burning in his eye sockets.
Hailey hadn’t hesitated with the plant monster, and she wouldn’t hesitate with this Hunter either. He probably had years of experience hunting witches. Her best bet was to take him down fast – lightning fast. She raised her hands and performed a gesture that would cause lightning to strike him, but the hunter was much faster than her. He made his own gesture and Hailey fell limp. The lightning she called struck wildly off target, hitting the ground a few feet from her. Electricity flowed through her and caused her muscles to jolt and twitch. She flopped over like a ragdoll, landing in an awkward heap.
As the man stalked towards her, Hailey noticed a scar that crossed his fiery eye. It was so wide and jagged that she wondered if he had once been attacked by a rusty spoon. He said something that Hailey couldn’t her over the ringing and then grinned, making her wonder if he had also been attacked by a brick to the teeth.
The hunter knelt next to her, slowly taking off one of his gloves and gently laid a hand on her face in an almost intimate gesture. First, she noticed a tingling everywhere his skin met hers. Soon, the tingling became a prickling and then a burning. It felt like a thousand needles were digging through her. At the same time, it felt like there was suction from the Hunter’s hand. Something was being pulled out of her and it wasn’t going quietly.
For an eternity, the Hunter gently tortured Hailey, but eventually, the flames in his eyes focused into an expression of concern or maybe worry. He released and stared at her for a moment, giving her a brief hope that he was done with her, but when he started taking off his other glove, she knew he had just begun. He grabbed her face with both hands. She immediately realized that more skin contact meant more pain. She wanted to scream but was unable to move even her vocal cords. He put his forehead against hers and she wanted to die. All the while, she felt like she was somehow shrinking, and he was growing.
The Hunter released her abruptly and rose to his feet. He stomped a few paces away, then spun around and looked. The fire in his eyes raged.
“How much magic do you have?” he yelled in frustration. “I’m going to have to call the other Hunters here because I can’t finish. There are going to be eight or ten hands on you when they get here!”
He put his hands together and shot a magical flare into the sky, but apparently, this was too much effort for him. He wobbled a few steps before falling to his knees and vomiting. Gross. There was nothing Hailey hated more than vomit. It was too far to splash onto her, but she still flinched away from it.
It took a second or maybe two before Hailey realized the implication of that flinch – she could move. She sprang to her feet. She was sore all over and starving for some reason, but not actually injured.
The retching Hunter was at her mercy. The smart thing to do would be to kill him. She had been prepared strike him with lightning just a few minutes earlier, but that was before she had felt the effects of magic firsthand. It had become real to her now and she couldn’t bring herself to use it that way.
Before she was forced to decide what to do, the VW Time Machine roared down from the sky and landed in from of Hailey. Like a miniature Hulk, Amity threw the door open. That was OK. Hailey could fix it.
“I saw your flare,” Rhoda yelled from the driver’s seat.
“Not my flare,” Hailey said, “but never mind. Help me get Tacita and these other two into the camper.”
Amity pushed her out of the way and lifted all three witches. She was not gentle as she put them into the vehicle.
“What happened to you?” Rhoda asked as Hailey took her seat. “You’re green… well, half green. And I think you’ve lost a few pounds.”
“Not worth it,” Hailey said. “Let’s get out of here. Pukey sent up that flare to call his buddies. I do not want to meet them.”
Rhoda hastily obliged, but as they ascended, the time machine lurched oddly. Hailey checked the gauges and saw the problem.
“Don’t fly with the booster on at this low speed,” Hailey reminded. “You’re wasting fuel and we don’t have enough for you to waste.”
“I’m not,” Rhoda insisted. “It just got sluggish all of a sudden.”
“I saw the Hunter cast a hindering spell,” Amity told them.
“How do we remove it?” Hailey asked.
“We can’t. That spell can only be removed by the person who cast it – which means you’re not getting it off unless you can somehow convince the Hunter to do it.”
“There is no way we’re getting home with that spell intact,” Hailey moaned.
“We’ll need to figure that out at Constance’s” Rhoda said. “If she doesn’t feed us to her dragons.”