Chapter 1: Current Day
He had been contemplating the rubble of the ruined mansion but snapped back to attention as one of his men called his name.
“Yes?” he asked, annoyed at the interruption.
“We have confirmation that the suspect is fleeing by motorcycle and is heading east,” Officer Hanson said.
“Is he alone?” he asked, already knowing the answer to the question.
“No, there’s a woman,” Hanson said.
Green adjusted his glasses as he put down the shards of glass he’d been examining. He had expected as much.
“Detective?” Hanson asked. “What do you want us to do? Send the helicopters back, road blocks, more squad cars?”
“Yes to all of the above,” he said, though he suspected it wouldn’t do any good at all. “Find them. If you can.”
The officer jogged towards the door of the dilapidated mansion, already barking orders at the rest of the squad. A cop was dead, one of their own. They weren’t going to let this go without punishment, though Green would have bet good money the death was an accident. He knew the suspect too well by now. You don’t chase someone for twenty years without a damn good reason, and Green had two. The first one was simple to explain: it was Green’s fault the man was so hideously disfigured, on his face and in soul, which was bad enough, but it got worse.
No one knew the second reason, and if Green’s secret had been discovered, he would undoubtedly have been not only taken off the case but dismissed from the force. Since he was twelve years old, his only goal had been to join the police, to make detective, solely for this one reason. He had to find the suspect, and this had been the only way he could do it.
He had to try to save his brother.
Chapter 2: Twenty Years Ago, Pollet's Gulch
“Mom said not to let the necklace out of our sight.”
He still remembered spitting the words out of his mouth like venom.
“I know, shrimp,” Eric had said with a sigh, not even moving from the duct tape-covered chair where he was sitting in the bedroom they shared, his eyes still closed.
“So where is it?” he’d asked, his voice squeaking against his will.
“Where’s what?” he asked, his eyes opening, and the confusion on his face was clear enough that Matthew knew he wasn’t lying.
“Her necklace is gone,” he said. “I thought you took it. It’s hers. It shouldn’t be anyone else’s.”
“It’s not in her jewelry box?” Eric asked, standing up and walking past his brother and into the other bedroom in the small trailer.
“No. I’m not stupid,” Matthew said. “That’s the first place I looked.”
Eric opened the cheap jewelry box from Sears that he and his brother had saved up to buy her for Christmas a few years ago. It was where it was always kept, standing out like a rose in a field of weeds. There wasn’t any doubt it was gone.
The two brothers shared a look before Eric said what they were both thinking.
“Dad hocked it.”
Matthew nodded, feeling sick. He’d almost hoped Eric had taken it to give to Jessamine, his new girlfriend. It would have been a betrayal, but it was a less upsetting possibility than Dad taking it to Pete’s Pawn Shop and selling it for beer money. He’d also known it was also a lot less likely. Eric looked disgusted, but a second later he’d apparently come to some kind of decision. He half-ran from the room and out of the trailer.
“Where are you going?” Matthew called, following a few steps behind.
“To get it back,” Eric said.
“How?” Matthew asked. “We haven’t got any money.”
“I’ll figure something out,” he said, then glanced back at his brother. “I’m taking the bike. You coming?”
“You don’t even get your license for another week,” Matthew said. “If Dad finds out, he’ll skin you alive.”
“You telling him?”
“Didn’t think so,” Eric said, giving him a smile as he mounted the old Triumph and started the motor with an almost vicious kick.
“What about the cops?” Matthew had asked, sliding behind his brother on the seat and rolling his eyes as he handed him a helmet, but putting it on anyway.
“They’d have to catch me first,” he said over the roar of the bike, and they were off.
Matthew had no idea how fast they were going, only that the wind was blowing so hard and the barren trees were speeding by so fast that he couldn’t believe they were still on the ground and not flying. If he hadn’t been so angry, it would have been fun, but the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach stayed in a firm knot. Dad had pawned Mom’s necklace. It wasn’t his right. It wasn’t anybody’s right.
By the time Eric roared into the pawn shop’s parking lot, the sun had begun to set. Pete’s closed at 6:30 on the dot, and it was pushing 6:25. Eric was off the bike and in the door before Matthew could even get his helmet off, so he missed the first part of the conversation by the time he got inside.
“…early this morning, right after we opened,” Pete was saying. He was an old man with a grizzled beard and a nasty habit of spitting tobacco juice, never managing to hit the rusted out coffee can next to the counter.
“That was a mistake,” Eric said. “We need to get it back.”
“Sure thing,” Pete said, smiling at them with what few yellowed teeth he had left. “Just gimme the money plus 20% interest and she’s yours.”
“How much did you give him for it?” Eric asked.
“It’s a pretty piece of jewelry,” Pete said. “I don’t think them stones are real, but it’s still worth something.”
“No, they’re not real,” Eric lied. “It’s just colored glass, but it was our mother’s and we’d…”
“Thought that might be it,” Pete said. “Sorry about her. She was a nice lady.”
“Yeah,” Eric said, and Matthew saw him swallow hard before continuing. “It was hers. Dad shouldn’t have pawned it.”
“Maybe he’s coming back to pay it off,” Pete said.
“He pay off the T.V.?” Eric asked.
“No,” Pete said.
“The toaster oven?”
“My kid brother’s bicycle?”
Pete shook his head, and there might even have been a shred of pity in his eyes.
“I don’t think the chances are good, do you?” Matthew said, finding his voice.
“The odds ain’t in his favor of getting it back, no,” Pete said, shifting his glace to Matthew before squaring his jaw and adding, “but a deal’s a deal.”
“So how much do you need for it?” Eric asked.
“Two-fifty,” Pete said, punctuating the number with a poorly aimed arc of tobacco juice.
Matthew flinched, but Eric, not quite sixteen yet, was staying as cool as Han Solo.
“Two-twenty,” he said, “and you’ll hold it for me for a week.”
“Two-fifty,” Pete said, “and that’s cash only, kid.”
“There’s only one kid in here,” he said, and Pete flat out laughed in his face.
“Okay, you’ve got sand,” he said. “Two-forty and a promise not to sell it until next Thursday.”
“Friday,” Eric said a shade too quickly. “I get paid on Friday.”
Matthew had to admire just how smoothly his big brother could lie. He didn’t even have a job. Eric put out his hand to the old man, who paused for a moment, considering the boy in front of him, before finally giving in and shaking it.
“Agreed,” he said.
“Thanks,” Eric said, then left through the cracked glass door, setting the bells above ringing as Matthew trotted behind him.
“How in blazes are we going to get $240 by Friday?” Matthew asked him as he put on the helmet Eric had handed him.
“I don’t know,” Eric said, looking really tired, “but I do know when we pull this off, neither of us tells Dad where that necklace is again. Ever. Right?”
“Right,” Matthew said, sitting on the back of the bike.
The ride home was slower, though Eric was still cautious to keep away from any of the speed traps they knew were set up around the county roads. Matthew was wracking his brain for anything he had that could go towards the total, but he had maybe five dollars left from raking leaves, and if he scrimped and looked through the couch for change, he might be able to pull up a couple more bucks. He had to have something else, but he couldn’t even think of anything he owned that he could sell to raise money. By the time he got home, he was feeling low.
“Hey,” Eric said as he took back the helmet with one hand and tweaked his nose with the other. “We just bought ourselves some time. It’s gonna be okay.”
“Yeah,” Matthew said, but he didn’t sound confident. “Right."
“Little bro, have I ever once lied to you?” Eric said.
“Yeah,” Matthew said. “That time you told me you were studying geometry when you were really down by the creek with Jessamine.”
Eric cracked up and hit him over the head with his old coat, now covered in road dust.
“You’re nobody’s fool, Matt,” he said as he entered the trailer. “I need the room to think for a while. Go do something outside, right?”
“Fair enough,” Matthew said.
Matthew stayed out in the front yard, now lit only by the full moon, and threw rocks at tin cans set on the old picket fence around the trailer’s front yard. Even in the poor light, he was still very accurate. When he finally got too hungry, he quietly came back inside. The bedroom door was open, and Eric was fast asleep, slumped over his desk. Matthew made two peanut butter sandwiches, ate one, set the other down next to his brother, then went to bed.
As was usual on a Friday night, their father didn’t come home until the midway through the next day when he collapsed on the couch and slept off the weekend for the next ten hours.
Chapter 3: Current Day
Matthew Green jolted himself back to attention behind his desk. He’d fallen asleep and been dreaming of Pollet’s Gulch again before everything had gone wrong.
“The suspect and the woman were spotted heading towards the Nevada desert outside of Vegas,” Officer Hanson said.
“So they crossed the state line,” he said.
“Yes, but with a murder involved, we shouldn’t have a problem,” Hanson said, sitting down in the cracked plastic chair that was the only other seat in the office. “Seriously, did you see that guy? I thought I caught a glimpse of him once, and his face was like… I’ve seen some things since I started working here, but nothing like that. What was that?”
“Memorable,” Green replied. “We shouldn’t have trouble tracking them with that description.”
“Yeah,” Hanson said. “The girl’s pretty damn hot, too. She’ll stand out.”
"True," Green said, then began shuffling papers on his desk as if there was something important he was looking for. “Anything else, Hanson?”
“Oh, that necklace we found in the destroyed mansion?” Hanson said as he got up to leave.
“It’s eighteenth century French according to the expert we found,” he said. “Those are real sapphires in there, but the most intriguing thing is the mark on the back of it means it belonged to a lady-in-waiting in Marie Antoinette’s court. Thing’s a museum piece worth a small fortune. The guy was freaking out over it for being historically significant or something. No idea where that weirdo got it.”
Green nodded, then went back to his papers as Hanson left.
Of course, he’d known that already. Mom had said it was an heirloom, never to lose it, that it would keep them all safe. That it was priceless. Dad hadn’t believed her and sold it for a fraction of what it was worth at the literal level.
What it was worth beyond that was something Matthew didn’t want to contemplate.
Chapter 4: Twenty Years Ago, Pollet's Gulch
Four days later, Eric showed Matthew a wad of money that looked like a pork roast.
“Geez, what’d you do? Rob a bank?” Matthew said.
“No, nothing like that,” Eric said, sitting down. “It’s all five dollar bills, though. Count it out.”
Matthew started uncrinkling them and putting them on the old carpet in the living room in groups of ten each. When he was done, he had three sets of fifty with two left over.
“How’d you get $160 this fast?” Matthew asked, his voice suspicious. “Seriously, Eric, what happened?”
“What happened is I’m still eighty bucks short,” he said.
“Eric,” Matthew said, drawing out the word so it was obvious he wanted an answer.
Eric sighed and stared out the greasy window of the trailer.
“I did the other kids’ homework,” Eric said. “The rich kids. Five dollars a pop.”
“Thirty-two times in four days?” Matthew asked.
“Yeah, well, eight a day is doable,” Eric said. “I haven’t slept more than an hour or two a night, but I did it.”
Matthew stared at him. Eric never cheated. He was the smartest kid in the whole school, which didn’t make him any more popular than living in a trailer park with a drunk dad did, which meant he was a social pariah. But he was going to get out of this stupid town because of it, get a scholarship to college and major in something Matthew couldn’t even spell, then go invent stuff that made Albert Einstein look like he needed tutoring. He’d been tested in school and the results were so high they’d thought the test was broken. Eric kept quiet about it, though. But doing the other kids’ homework? That had to have hurt his pride.
“What classes?” Matthew asked.
“Biology, earth science, trig, statistics, and one explication of an Elizabethan sonnet,” Eric said.
“Won’t they know that it’s you?” Matthew asked.
“I gave them the answers, but they have to recopy them,” Eric said. “My handwriting stands out too much. And I told them to misspell stuff sometimes to make it less obvious.”
“Are you done?” Matthew asked.
“Nope. I’ve got two term papers tonight. Those are longer, so they’re twenty bucks each,” Eric said.
“You’re gonna fall over if you don’t sleep soon, like, really sleep,” Matthew said, noticing the dark circles under his big brother’s eyes.
“I’m fine,” Eric said, and Matthew counted another lie Eric had told him. That made a total of two. “I just need another forty bucks.”
“I’ve got ten,” Matthew said. “Mr. Cuthbert let me clean out his garage for five bucks, plus the five I had.”
The couch had unfortunately already fallen prey to their father, so no spare change had been stuck between the cushions.
“That’s great, Matt,” Eric said, taking the money from him. “And you did it honest, which makes it worth more than all mine put together. You get what I’m doing isn’t right, right?”
“Don’t worry,” Matthew said. “I’m not going to grow up to become a professional plagiarist or something.”
Eric half-smiled, but he looked uncomfortable.
“If it were anything other than Mom’s necklace,” he said.
“I know,” Matthew said.
They stared at the piles of fives for a long time, Matthew willing them to multiply.
“So… thirty more. I might be able to get old Mrs. Pankhurst to let me haul stuff out of her attic for her. That’d be five, maybe ten with a tip,” Matthew said.
Eric took a deep breath and said, “I’m asking Jessamine if she’ll lend me the money.”
Jessamine’s family was loaded, and everyone knew it. Of course, everybody also knew there was something weird about them, and not weird in the way Eric and Matthew’s family was weird. Something about the Cortlands felt wrong, with the exception of Jessamine. Her father was gone or out of the picture or dead or maybe her parents had never even been married. Mr. Cortland just didn’t exist is all, and Mrs. Cortland was wealthy enough that no one asked too many questions, at least not to her face. But Mrs. Cortland had an air of something off, and so did her two older children, Prentice and Priscilla. They were supposed to be twins, though they looked nothing alike, her son having black hair and eyes that didn’t seem to blink, and the daughter was an almost too-beautiful blonde with a disturbing habit of standing perfectly still. A lot of people thought she looked like a perfect mannequin. Matthew thought she looked more like a snake prepping to strike. All three of them gave him the creeps.
Jessamine, a good six years younger than her siblings, wasn’t like that. She was pretty, really pretty, but nothing felt freaky about her. She’d turned sixteen two months ago and had gotten a brand new red convertible for her birthday. It was gorgeous and way out of the price range of most people living in Pollet’s Gulch, but it was just expensive, not disturbing. Within a week, she’d offered Eric a ride home. They’d been a thing ever since, as much as every person in the town’s high school from the popular kids to the janitor couldn’t believe it.
But aside from rides home, Eric hadn’t asked for a thing from her. It was a mark of pride. Going to her for help for something like this felt, well, desperate.
“Are you sure?” Matthew asked.
“She won’t make a big deal out of it,” Eric said, but he looked even more uncomfortable now. “If she says no, that’s okay.”
Matthew might have been twelve years old, but he still knew that it wasn’t a great idea to owe your girlfriend money. Problems happened because of stuff like that.
“When are you going to ask her?” Matthew said.
“Tomorrow on the ride home,” Eric said, then grinned sheepishly. “Hopefully I don’t end up walking.”
Chapter 5: Current Day
“You’re sure it’s them?” Detective Green said, staring at the blurry picture.
“The traffic cam picked them up just outside of Houston,” Hanson said. “They were doing 120 at the time, so it’s not real clear, but we’re pretty certain it’s the same two.”
Detective Green snorted a laugh, then said, “If they were going that fast, it’s definitely them. Were there any reports of trouble?”
“Not a thing,” Hanson said, frowning. “I keep expecting them to do something horrible, but aside from them speeding like a bat out of hell, there hasn’t been anything. What’s the history with the suspect anyway?”
Green put down the grainy photograph and weighed his words carefully before he answered.
“It’s classified,” he finally said. “Believe me, you’d rather not know. It’d warp your whole view of the world, kid.”
“I’m twenty-seven, sir,” Hanson said. “Not exactly a kid.”
“Not an old man yet either,” Green said, shoving the picture back into the manila folder.
“You’ve got what, five years on me?”
“As a very wise man once said, it’s not the years. It’s the mileage,” Green said as he grabbed his trench coat.
“Indiana Jones was a very wise man?” Hanson said, raising an eyebrow.
“Do not argue Indiana Jones philosophy with me,” he said with a completely straight face as he put on his hat. “Gandhi had nothing on that guy.”
“Which one got more girls?” he said as he left his cubicle, tucking the folder under his arm
"Touché, Detective,” Officer Hanson said with a grin as he watched him stride out the door of the station and into the night.
The second Matthew Green was in his car, he pulled out the folder again and stared for a long time at the picture. The man’s face wasn’t towards the camera, but even so, something about his posture, the way he handled the bike, they were all familiar. It was Eric.
As for the woman, whose face was a bit clearer, he was positive. That was Jessamine Cortland, and that meant trouble was coming. Fast.
He had to find his brother.
Chapter 6: Twenty Years Ago, Pollet's Gulch
Matthew hadn’t meant to eavesdrop. He’d been up in the hayloft of Mrs. Pankhurst’s barn, hauling an old trunk from her attic to a spot overlooking the deserted barn below. Eric had said he was taking Jessamine out to the river again that afternoon to ask for the money, so Matthew really didn’t know the barn where they were going to wind up. Granted, everyone over age seven in Pollet’s Gulch knew the Pankhurst place was a popular make-out spot for the local teens (except for Mrs. Pankhurst, obviously), but Matthew hadn’t expected it to be occupied this early in the afternoon, let alone by his brother and his girlfriend.
He looked around desperately for a way out, but unless he wanted to try shimmying out a tiny window in the back and dropping down nearly fifteen feet into a compost pile on the other side, his only options were to immediately announce he was there, which in addition to being awkward would almost certainly kill the mood for the loan, or stay put, hide, and wait it out.
All things considered, he chose the option of keeping his mouth shut and pretending he was blind and deaf as best he could.
Unfortunately, Jessamine, in addition to being pretty, was also pretty loud.
“Eric!” she said, giggling as they entered. “Okay, you know nothing’s going to go on in here, right?”
“What 'nothing'?” he said back. “I’m not trying to pull anything.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, giving him a grin that said she believed that as much as she believed the earth was flat. “Right.”
“Okay, so that wouldn’t be the worst ending to this conversation,” he admitted, giving her an exaggerated fluttering of his eyelashes that had her laughing again, but he became serious again a few seconds later, “but that’s after the conversation.”
She settled down immediately as well, sitting next to him on a bale of hay. Matthew didn’t mean to pry, but it was hard not to, and at this point he pretty much gave up on sticking his fingers in his ears.
“You know my mom had a necklace, right?” Eric said.
“The one with the blue stones that look like forget-me-knots,” Jessamine said. “You told me about it. It’s like an heirloom, right?”
“Yeah, it’s probably a few hundred years old, actually,” he said.
“Seriously? That’s really something,” she said.
“And it’s more than that,” Eric said, then took a deep breath. “My kid brother doesn’t even know about this part of it, but Mom made me swear never to let it out of the family.”
Matthew blinked. He was pretty sure Eric was telling the truth, but he couldn’t think why he wouldn’t have mentioned this before.
“I can see why she’d want it to be passed down if it’s that old,” Jessamine said. “That’s not something most people’s families have.”
“But she said something else, something really strange,” Eric said, frowning. “I don’t know. It could have been all the medication she’d had towards the end of things. It messed her up pretty bad sometimes. But she swore to me that it had, like, some kind of a spell on it. Something that’s meant to keep the wearer from any harm.”
“A protection spell,” Jessamine said as though this were the most normal and obvious thing in the world.
“Yeah,” Eric said, looking surprised. “You don’t seem too weirded out by that.”
“I’m not,” she said, shrugging. “Some people really believe in that. But did she say anything else?”
“That if we lost it, the consequences would be horrible,” Eric said, and Matthew could actually see him shudder. “The way she said it, it seemed really, I don’t know, dire or something.”
“There’s no reason it couldn’t have more than one spell on it, a good one and a bad one,” Jessamine said. “Just make sure you don’t lose it.”
“What!” she said. “You didn’t!”
“No, I didn’t. My idiot father did,” Eric said. “A few days ago he pawned it for booze money when he was completely blasted. I haven’t even seen him awake since.”
“You need to get it back,” she said, “now.”
“I know,” Eric said.
“No, seriously, you do not know,” Jessamine said, getting up immediately from the bale of hay, grabbing his hand and literally starting to pull him towards the door of the barn. “We have to go right now.”
“Whoa,” Eric said, slowing her down. “There’s this thing called money. I have to pay it off to get it back, and I don’t have that much.”
“How much do you need?” she said.
“About thirty bucks,” Eric said.
“That’s it? That pawnbroker’s a moron,” she said.
“It’s actually $240, but my brother and I have managed to scrape the rest of it together,” Eric said. “I just…”
“You needed to ask me for thirty dollars,” she finished for him. “It’s not a big deal. I’ve got it in my purse right now. Let’s just get over there! Now!”
“It kind of is a big deal,” he said. “I hate asking you for something like this, and I swear I’ll pay you back as soon as I can. I don’t want you to think that I’m with you because of money or I’m using you or something.”
“Geez, you big lunkhead, I get it! No problem, but you’ve got to get that necklace! Let’s get out of here!” she said, and she sounded panicky.
Eric stared at her for a second.
“You know something,” he said.
“Yes, I know something,” she admitted. “Once the necklace is back, I’ll tell you everything, but right now we have to get there as fast as we can. Have you got the rest of the money with you?”
“Yeah, it’s in my wallet,” he said.
“Then let’s get on your bike and burn the road,” she said, nearly pleading. “Please?”
“Okay, okay,” he said, taking the keys from his pocket and following her out of the barn at run.
Not ten seconds later, Matthew heard the sound of the bike cranking over immediately followed by the engine taking off down the country road like an angry dragon. He climbed down from the hayloft and stared after his brother, watching the taillight disappear down the road. He wasn’t even completely sure what all of that had been about, but he knew one thing: there was more to the necklace than they knew. Eric had to get to it in time.
Chapter 7: Current Day
“They’re still heading east,” Officer Hanson said.
Matthew grunted in agreement, checking the maps yet again. He’d suspected from the first where they were going, but he’d tried to convince himself he was wrong. Every bit of data was confirming his gut, even though it was the last place he wanted to go. He didn’t have a choice anymore. This had to end.
“Figure out the usual highway routes. They’ll more than likely veer off at some point into rural areas. That’s been their pattern most of the time, but I think ultimately they’re pulling for Nashville,” Matthew said.
“Nashville? Why?” Hanson asked.
“The same reason they hit Vegas. They like to party, and it’s easier to get lost in a big city,” Matthew said. “From there I’m guessing they’ll try to find some way out of the country, probably via Canada and then from there, who knows, but Nashville is the biggest metro near their current trajectory. You’d better alert the Tennessee State Police,” Matthew said.
Officer Hanson seemed satisfied with the answer and went to make the call. Matthew waited a few seconds before phoning the nearest airport and buying a ticket for Georgia on a flight leaving in five hours.
For the first time since his father’s funeral more than ten years ago, he was going back to Pollet’s Gulch.
Chapter 8: Twenty Years Ago, Pollet's Gulch
Matthew waited in the trailer, and that was all he could do. He tried to keep himself busy with anything else: yard work, listening to the crappy radio, reading, anything. None of it helped. He ended up sitting on the old couch, biting his fingernails and staring at the door. The light got lower outside, and then, just as the last bit of daylight was about to disappear, he caught the sound of his brother’s bike.
Matthew jumped up from the couch and shot out the door faster than he’d known he could move. The single headlight came closer until the bike screeched to a stop in the front yard.
“Did you get it?” Matthew said as soon as Eric stopped the bike, yelling at the top of his lungs so he could be heard over the engine.
The way Eric took off his helmet told him before he said a word. He’d never seen his brother look so defeated.
“Pete sold it, kid,” Eric said. “It was gone before I got there.”
“He sold it?” Matthew said. “But… he said he’d hold it for you! I was there! He promised!”
“Yeah, well he broke his promise,” Eric said, his face dangerous. “He said he was real sorry but he couldn’t pass up the profit. Someone offered him $500 for it this afternoon.”
“Who?” Matthew asked. “Who’d spend $500 on Mom’s old necklace?”
Eric gave him a look. “Use your head, Matthew. Who are the only people in town who have enough money to drop twice what Pete was asking without even thinking about it?”
“The Cortlands?” Matthew said, confused. “Why would the Cortlands want it?”
“That’s what I’m trying to get Jessamine to explain,” Eric said. “She was really upset when she found out what happened and made me drop her off at their house so she could try to persuade them to give it back.”
“Do you trust her?” Matthew asked, the words slipping out before he could stop himself.
“Yeah,” Eric said, but it wasn’t the most persuasive thing he’d ever said. “I still don’t get why it would be worth anything to anyone but us. That whole protection thing or whatever is just some concocted story. No one actually believes that stuff.”
Even at twelve years old, Matthew knew that a lot more people than "no one" probably did. Take a look at all the stuff sports teams did to stay lucky. Even Eric never went anywhere without his lucky fifty cent piece crammed into his wallet. Some people really did think it was real, and over the next few days, Matthew and Eric Green rapidly joined their number.
It started the next day when Jessamine didn’t show up for school. None of her friends knew why, and when Eric tried to call her house when he got home, the phone wouldn’t even ring. At first they thought Dad hadn’t paid the phone bill again, but it worked for any other number. Eric considered going to her house to see what was going on, but she’d been so adamant that she needed to talk to her family alone without him present that he thought he’d give it one more day.
The next day when he went to school,technically Jessamine wasn’t absent again. It was a lot worse than that. Matthew had never seen Eric more panicked than when he came home that night.
“Matt, you know what Jessamine looks like, right?” he said, slamming the trailer door behind him.
“Yeah,” he said, giving him a disbelieving look. “She’s been around here enough, and I’m not blind.”
“Then you’re doing better than the rest of Pollet’s Gulch,” Eric said. “When she didn’t show up again, I went down to the office and asked where she was.”
“Bet they loved that,” Matthew said.
“Especially since there isn’t a Jessamine Cortland enrolled in the school,” he said, sinking onto the couch.
“What? She dropped out?” Matthew said.
“No, they had no record of her at all,” Eric said. “Nothing.”
“Then they lost it,” Matthew said.
“I thought the same thing, but they acted like I was nuts,” Eric said. “So I went to her group of friends, and they say they have no idea who she is. Never heard of her.”
“They’re pulling some kind of trick, then,” Matthew said.
“And all her teachers,” Eric said. “All of them.”
“Okay, you’re scaring me,” Matthew said. “This is a joke, right? A really stupid one, but a joke.”
“I seriously wish I were joking right now,” Eric said, then a strange expression came over his face. “Hang on a second.”
He dashed to his bedroom, and Matthew could hear him making a terrible mess out of what sounded like a pile of books being knocked over. Seconds later, he came back into the room, holding a copy of the Pollet Gulch High School yearbook from the previous year.
“You’ve seen her picture in here,” he said slowly.
“Yeah,” Matthew said. It was pretty hard to forget actually since she’d looked a lot hotter than just about everyone else.
Eric stood there, still clutching the book and sweating.
“I’m too chicken to look,” he said. “I’m scared I’m cracking up or something. You check. She should be on page 52.”
He tossed his kid brother the book and sat back down on the couch, every muscle tensed. Matthew hesitated before picking it up, but he opened it and turned the pages until he reach 52.
“Eric,” he said, his voice tiny. “She’s not there. There isn’t even a blank spot like when someone’s sick for picture day. The list just goes from Joseph Copper to Paul Cosair.”
Eric practically ripped the book out of his hands and stared at the page, his eyes wide.
“You’re not crazy,” Matthew said. “I remember her, too.”
“Why are we the only two people who do, then?” Eric said. “What the hell is going on?”
“I don’t know,” Matthew said. “Do you want to try going to her house?”
“Yeah, even though I'm not sure what the hell I'm going to be walking into,” Eric said, “but you stay here, right? I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s definitely not safe.”
Matthew nodded, but his fingers were crossed behind his back. Eric picked up his motorcycle helmet and went out to his bike. Matthew counted to one hundred after he heard the engine die away down the road, then got up and began to follow him on foot. It wasn’t that far to the Cortland house if he ran all the way, and he was a good runner.
A bitter wind kept pace with Matthew as he sprinted down the old dirt road. It took him about twenty minutes, but he found himself standing outside of the Cortland mansion. He looked around for his brother’s bike and saw it stashed behind a clump of expensive-looking bushes near the edge of the property. Under the early night sky, even with a full moon, it was nearly invisible. Eric was gone, though. Carefully, slipping in and out of the shadows, Matthew came closer to the house. Every window but one was dark, and that light was coming from the basement. Silently, he crouched down to see what was happening.
Eric was there, and so was the apparently non-existent Jessamine, but they weren’t alone. Prentice and Priscilla were there along with their mother, but none of that was the really odd part. Mrs. Cortland was seated on what looked like some kind of fancy throne, and her two older children were sitting on slightly lower chairs, one to each side. Jessamine and Eric were standing in front of them, and it looked for all the world like some kind of a trial was taking place. Then Matthew saw it, glistening in Mrs. Cortland’s hand, a little glimmer of forget-me-not blue. His mother’s necklace was dangling elegantly from her fingers. Matthew strained to hear what they were saying.
“—no longer your property,” Mrs. Cortland said with a grim smile. “It’s been legally bought and paid for.”
“I know, ma’m,” Eric said, “but it was my mother’s, and I had the money ready to get it out of hock. Pete shouldn’t have sold it that way.”
“The pawn broker was very easily persuaded,” Mrs. Cortland said. “Money makes things so much simpler.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Eric said, and Prentice and Priscilla gave nearly twin snorts of unkind laughter. “She made me promise to keep that in the family.”
“I imagine she did, and you failed spectacularly at it,” Mrs. Cortland said.
“It wasn’t me who pawned it,” he said quickly.
“I know,” Mrs. Cortland said. “That doesn’t matter. It left your family and is now in ours. That is the end of things.”
“Mom, please,” Jessamine said. “It’s really important to them.”
“They have no idea how much,” Mrs. Cortland said, her face darkening, “and neither have you.”
If that woman had been looking at him like that, Matthew would have headed for the door faster than he could wink, but Jessamine just returned her gaze defiantly.
“I don't understand what's going on here, and I’d really like to know what I'm missing,” Eric said, starting to lose his cool.
“Certainly,” Mrs. Cortland agreed, the word coming out so saccharine that the insincerity was almost visible on her lips. “It’s very simple. This necklace belonged to a family long ago that split into two halves. My great-grandfather, Jacques Tricot, had two children: my grandfather and his half-sister, each by a different mother. My great-grandfather was a jeweler to the last King and Queen of France, and among the baubles he made for Marie Antoinette was this little gem, which was originally to be a present for one of her ladies in waiting, Isabelle.”
Matthew saw Eric frowning at this as though something was wrong.
“However,” Mrs. Cortland continued without a pause, “it was far more than merely a pretty necklace. The Revolution was fast approaching, and my great-grandfather, who always had an appreciation for beauty, had fallen in love with the girl. His skills went beyond merely the setting of stones in fine metal. Like a select few of those who worked with jewels and gold long ago, he also more than dabbled in alchemy, and he placed certain charms upon this necklace to protect her. Undoubtedly, that explains how she was able to flee France into England and from there to America without the loss of her head.”
“And she had a daughter by him?” Eric asked.
“Yes, my grandfather’s half-sister,” Mrs. Cortland said.
“No,” Eric said firmly. “This whole thing is nothing but a line. That’s not possible.”
“Why, pray tell?” Mrs. Corland asked calmly.
“Because the ages don’t fit. That would be over two hundred years ago,” he said bluntly. “You’d need to be, what, over a hundred for that to work out? You’re pretty damn well preserved if that’s the case.”
Matthew didn’t even try to do the math in his head, but it sounded about right. Jessamine, however, seemed oddly still, but her hand went to Eric’s arm. He glanced at her, and she gave him a look that chilled Matthew.
“It’s probably not a good idea to ask that particular question right now,” she said in a voice a lot quieter than her usual one, though it still carried.
Eric switched his gaze to the three other Cortlands, then bit his lip.
“Okay, so I’m guessing the next part of this story is the daughter is one of my mother’s ancestors, and that’s how we got the necklace?” he said.
“Correct,” Mrs. Cortland said bitterly, “though incomplete. You see, by rights, that necklace should have come to my grandfather upon the death of the girl.”
“Why? It was a gift, wasn’t it?” Eric said.
“Yes and no,” Mrs. Cortland said. “Technically, the necklace was never paid for, so the property should have reverted to the estate of Jacques Tricot.”
“But if they were married, wouldn’t that have been—“
“I never said they were married,” Mrs. Cortland said. “I believe my great-grandmother would have had something to say about that. Isabelle was merely a mistress. She had no legal right to his property, even in France where, let’s be honest, this was far from a unique case at that time.”
“So Grandpa decided he needed the necklace back?” Eric said. “What did he do? Try to steal it from her?”
“Essentially, but she managed to disappear utterly. Isabelle was many things, but I will grant that she was not a fool. However, when he couldn’t get it, my grandfather made certain improvements to it,” Mrs. Cortland said, looking lovingly at it as it shimmered in her hand. “The protection couldn’t be undone, but it could be changed, and there was enough of his father’s talent lying dormant in the object that even without the necklace being present, he could twist some of the original intent.”
Eric was giving her a patently disbelieving look, and Matthew was starting to wonder not just if they were all crazy, but if he should run for the police before the craziness got any worse.
It wasn’t Eric this time, but Jessamine who spoke, and the word seemed filled with more dread than three letters should be able to contain.
“Quite simply, the power in the necklace was chained to another force: destruction. It would preserve the luck of the owner so long as it stayed within the blood family of Tricot, but only under certain conditions,” she said.
“Obviously you want us to ask what they are, so knock yourself out and tell me,” Eric said.
Mrs. Cortland smiled slowly, reminding Matthew of the time his class had taken a trip to the zoo and he’d seen a boa constrictor swallow a rat whole.
“If the necklace was ever taken away from an heir of the line, that person’s luck would rebound with horrifying force. The protection would reverse itself and transform into a curse for the perceived ingratitude, though precisely how that would present itself would vary,” Mrs. Cortland said.
“See, this is where things again make no sense,” Eric said. “My mother didn’t have a day of good luck in her whole life so far as I can tell, and dying when she wasn’t even forty yet doesn’t sound like the definition of protection either.”
“Did she die a violent death?” Mrs. Cortland asked.
“No,” Eric said. “It was something with her heart.”
“Then that was not the fault of the necklace,” Mrs. Cortland said. “It protects from outside forces, not internal ones.”
“I’m pretty sure my father falls under the category of an outside source, and he brought her nothing but pain,” Eric countered.
“Did he beat her?” Mrs. Cortland asked with a raised eyebrow. “Did he actually physically assault her?”
“He—,” Eric began, but he paused, suddenly unsure. “He tried. A lot of times. But something always happened.”
Matthew had seen this himself. Their father would lunge at their mother, but would pass out from booze before he could reach her. Another time he’d tried to shove her down a flight of stairs and slipped himself, winding up in a leg cast for months. He’d thrown every kind of misery at her, screaming, yelling, stealing, insulting her, treating her bad, putting her down, but he’d never actually managed to hit her, though not from lack of attempts.
“Then the spell is still quite active,” Mrs. Cortland said as she looked fondly at the necklace. “Dear great-grandfather did his job very well.”
“None of this explains why Jessamine has basically evaporated out of the minds of nearly everyone in town or why you’re so hell-bent on getting your hands on that thing,” Eric said.
“Oh, I’d have thought that last bit at least was obvious,” Mrs. Cortland said. “The necklace has power, and I want it. So I took it. Simple.”
“But it isn’t yours and you don’t have a right to it!” Eric yelled at her.
The change was very subtle. It took Matthew a few seconds to realize what was going on, but his brother looked like he was choking. In fact, he was reminded rather terrifyingly of what Darth Vader did to Admiral Motti for mocking the Force, which he’d remembered thinking looked really cool, but it was significantly less cool when his brother seemed to be on the receiving end of the invisible choke hold.
“You are boring me, as most people do,” Mrs. Cortland said.
“Mother, please,” Jessamine said, and she was very nearly begging.
Mrs. Cortland sighed, but Eric took a deep breath.
“Why not just make your own, then?” Eric rasped out. “Why do you need a used hand-me-down?”
Mrs. Cortland’s eyes flashed in the dim light, and so did those of Prentice and Priscilla. Matthew had nearly forgotten they were there.
“It is mine,” she said slowly, enunciating each word with precision. “It has returned to where it should be.”
“You can’t do it, can you?” Eric said, smirking. “You can’t keep up with your great-granddad.”
“Oh, I can do a great many things,” she said, “though I admit that binding spells to jewels is not among my particular gifts. However, you have already apparently realized that my own talents lie more along the path of concealment and mists that can confuse the mind. That is what has happened to my dear Jessamine.”
Something in the way she said those words convinced Matthew that Jessamine was far from dear to her.
“Fine, you’ve got the necklace,” Eric said. “I’m not sure I buy any of this crap, but Pete sold it to you. It’s not fair, but neither is life. You win. So what’s the deal with erasing your own daughter?”
“She is a traitor,” Mrs. Cortland said. “I have no time for such as her.”
“I am not a traitor!” Jessamine said. “I just think this stupid vendetta you’ve been plotting since who knows when is ridiculous! It was centuries ago! Move on already!”
“That is precisely what makes you a traitor, child,” Mrs. Cortland said, her gaze icy. “That, and of course your love for our enemy. Do not try to deny it.”
“I don’t deny it,” she said a bit more quietly. “I love Eric.”
“You do?” he said, looking pleasantly surprised.
“Yeah, you idiot, though this isn’t exactly how I intended to tell you,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, damn,” he said. “The day isn’t a total loss.”
“Charming,” Mrs. Cortland said with a grimace. “But this doesn’t change the fact that you are not in alignment with the family.”
“I’m not even full family. My dad was just a normal, average, everyday human guy with no connection to magic at all. He was completely ordinary. Well, except apparently for being really hot,” she said.
“He did have that one particular attribute, yes,” Mrs. Cortland admitted with a shrug. “We all have our foibles. Very briefly, he was mine. Regardless, I have raised you within this family, and your loyalty has veered. That is not forgivable. Your job was to seduce the boy, gain the necklace, and return it to us. You have failed in every aspect of that plan, and even petitioned me to return it to him. I really have no further use for you, and neither will anyone else.”
“You’re forgetting me,” Eric said, slipping an arm around Jessamine.
“Oh, no, I’m not,” Mrs. Cortland said, shifting her gaze. “I just needn’t bother about you. The necklace will see to you.”
“Whatever,” Eric said. “It was Mom’s, so I want it, but no one’s going to die over it, whatever you say.”
Prentice and Priscilla laughed identically, and it was not a pleasant sound. It was very nearly metallic and oddly inhuman, making the hair on Matthew’s neck stand up. Even Eric and Jessamine flinched. What happened next, though, was completely unexpected.
The brother and sister looked at their mother from each side of her, as though asking for her approval for something, and at her infinitesimal nod, they both rose and linked hands. It was difficult to see what happened next since a blinding flash of light seemed to erupt from them, but when it cleared, they were gone and something else, something gigantic, had replaced them. As it slowly uncoiled, Matthew first thought it was an enormous, pale gold and black snake, but the head was all wrong. In total disbelief, he realized that he was staring at a hissing, rearing dragon.
A freaking dragon.
Not surprisingly, as any other kid would probably have done, Matthew shrieked so loudly his lungs nearly exploded, and four sets of eyes, three at least apparently human and a fourth that was anything but, snapped towards the window where he was crouching.
“Matthew!” Eric yelled, and yeah, his brother was scared, but Matthew also knew he was angry enough that he was going to be in deep trouble for months, provided of course they all survived this. At the moment, that didn’t seem like a likely outcome, so he wasn’t especially going to worry about that part yet.
The thing—Matthew couldn’t quite bear to make himself actually use the word “dragon” again even inside his head—was now staring directly at him, its neck lifting until the head glided into view on the other side of the pane of glass. The eyes, which appeared to have no pupils at all they were so black, glared at him for a moment before he saw the intake of breath and knew what that had to mean was coming next.
Matthew yelled as he threw himself out of the way of the oncoming burst of fire, which shattered the window immediately and sent a spray of molten glass in all directions. He was pretty sure some of it had hit him, but now wasn’t the time to find out. He began to run, not even sure where he should go, but a heart-stopping sound of metal scales on stone told him not to turn around. It was coming through the melted window, and while he had no idea how fast it could move, he suspected he was no match for it. Wildly, he made a break for the main road, hoping that maybe he could flag down a car or find somewhere to hide, but then he heard a sound that made goosebumps erupt up his neck, something like a cross between an enormous hawk’s battle cry and the sizzling of the world’s largest barbeque.
He couldn’t help himself. He turned around and looked.
By the light of the full moon he saw it twisting like a gold and black rope on the manicured front lawn of the Cortland mansion, but it wasn’t advancing. There, at the tail end of the thirty feet or more of writhing, impossible serpent, he saw two figures. One was his brother, stupidly yet stubbornly holding onto the dragon’s tail with both hands, trying to keep it from advancing, and beside him was Jessamine, her face and hands glowing eerily as though she were about to spontaneously combust.
“Geez, Matt, what the hell’s wrong with you! Run already!” yelled Eric. “I can’t hold this thing forever!”
He didn’t need to be told twice, and while part of him was ashamed that he was leaving his brother and his girlfriend to deal with the thing, the other part of him was entirely thinking with his feet, and they were moving on instinct. He had no idea how fast he went down the road and all the way back home, but it didn’t seem humanly possible. In later years, he wondered if it really hadn’t been. He had never been clear just what Jessamine had been doing that night, but the little he was eventually able to find out suggested she’d been performing some sort of spell that increased strength; whether she directed all of it at Eric or whether some of it went to him as well to speed him on his way, he couldn’t say.
Matthew locked the door of the trailer, then barricaded it with the couch, threw himself on the floor, and shook for the better part of an hour. He listened with every fiber of his being, hoping to hear his brother’s bike, his father coming home, the sound of birds singing before dawn, anything but that awful, inhuman, metallic scratching and shrieking that he knew would haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life.
For a long time, he heard nothing at all. The night moved on, and he saw the shadows from the full moon slowly move across the floor. The taste of blood in his mouth made him realize he had bitten his lips until they bled. He hadn’t felt a thing. Slowly he became aware of a painful, itchy sensation around his left ankle and upon examining the skin, he found he had a good-sized burn there. At least that gave him something to do. He went into the bathroom, cleaned the wound, hunted down some ointment that hadn’t expired, put it on, and wrapped a bandage around it. It wasn’t the neatest job in the world, but what else was he going to do? Call 911 and say he’d burned himself in a dragon attack?
Matthew laughed at the thought, but it wasn’t a happy sound. In fact, it sounded a lot more like crying, not that he’d admit it to himself.
It wasn’t until sunrise that he heard the faraway sound of a motor in the distance. By the time he was sure it was Eric’s bike, it was nearly in the front yard. Matthew pushed the couch out of the way and unlocked the door, but he was almost too scared to open it.
He looked outside and saw Eric still on his bike, but only barely. He was draped over the handlebars like he was exhausted, and Matthew wondered how he’d ever had the strength to make it home. But he was alive, and that was what mattered. With a yell of relief, Matthew ran across the dead grass towards his brother, who slowly raised his head.
Matthew stopped cold a few feet from the bike.
“Eric?” he asked, his voice much too high.
It wasn’t Eric. Matthew was sure of it. Somehow, it was someone almost like him, like a shadowy, twisted, warped version of his brother. His face was distorted so much that it no longer looked like him at all. It didn’t look like anyone. What he was seeing was a monster.
“Who are you?” Matthew said, starting to back away. “What are you!”
The thing on the bike coughed, then groaned and tried to speak.
“It’s me,” he said in a rasping voice.
“No,” Matthew said, starting to fumble for the door handle behind him. “No, you’re not Eric. You’re something else.”
The hands, still clenched on the handlebars, barely looked human, the nails bizarrely long and the coloration of the skin smoky. Those weren’t Eric’s hands. After everything he’d seen, he didn’t know what to think.
“Kid, it’s me,” the creature said. “I know I don’t look too pretty right now, but it’s definitely still me.”
Matthew shook his head.
“I don’t know what happened, but touching the dragon, it did something to me,” he said. “I felt it change me, rip through my like lightning. It hurt. It still hurts. Jessamine tried to help, and I think she’s the one that kept it from killing me, but then out of nowhere she just evaporated right along with it. I don’t even know if she’s still alive, Matthew.”
And then the creature was sobbing, just sobbing. Matthew paused, his hand still on the door, desperately wishing none of this was happening. But that face! Couldn’t it be one of Mrs. Cortland’s tricks?
“Where’s Mrs. Cortland?” Matthew said, not coming any closer.
“Don’t know,” Eric said, his breath coming in rasps. “She might have disappeared at the same time as the other two, or three, or however many that thing should count as. Or maybe she’s still in the damn mansion, playing with Mom’s necklace like some kind of loon. I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
Matthew wanted to believe it was his brother, that it wasn’t a trap, but he also didn’t want it to be him. He didn’t want this nearly inhuman shape to be Eric. He couldn’t help what he was feeling when he looked into the distorted face and saw his brother’s eyes looking back out at him, hurt, terrified, and brokenhearted. Matthew didn’t will it to happen. It had been a long, terrifying night, and this was just too much. His stomach doubled over onto itself, and with a horrible, gut-ripping noise, he got sick all over the front steps, dropping to his knees as strength left his body.
He woke later, realizing he must have passed out. He found himself carefully arranged on the rusty old lawn chair that was still sitting in the front yard. Eric was gone, and so was his bike, but there was a note written on a torn sheet of notebook paper sitting under Matthew’s arm. Matthew’s mouth tasted vile, and shame burned through him. What must his brother think of him? He shuddered as he picked up the note, scared of what it might say.
I can’t stay here. You know why. I’m not giving up, though. There has to be some way to undo this, and I have to find Jessamine. I don’t care how long it takes.
It’s not your fault. Don’t you dare even think that. I love you, baby brother, and someday, I’m coming back, I promise. You stay out of trouble until then, you got me?
Matthew couldn’t even cry. It was too much to take in all at once, but one thing he did know: if his brother had promised to come back, he would.
Over the next few weeks, rumors spread through the town that Eric Green had been caught running a business charging kids for papers, which was technically true, and that he’d left the town in shame not long after because he knew no college would take him with that mark on his record. Interestingly, the rich kids who had paid him were never punished for anything. There was a feeling that Old Man Green’s kid had finally shown his true colors and turned out to be a loser, exactly as he should, and the town was filled with a sickening sense of moral superiority. Matthew’s father didn’t bother with any of it, shrugging it off with a “good riddance” and going out on yet another bender.
No matter what happened, though, Matthew said nothing. He perfected remaining silent. But he thought plenty.
He thought about how stupid he’d been to follow Eric, how he’d blown everything by screaming, how his brother had become transformed because he was trying to stop the dragon from hurting him, how Jessamine had disappeared because she’d tried to help, how his reaction to his brother’s self-sacrifice had been to throw up and pass out, and how all of it, all of it, no matter what Eric’s note said, was on him.
He stayed out of trouble, kept his head down, and didn’t draw attention, but he kept his eyes open, and he planned. Eric had the best brains in the family without question, but Matthew wasn’t too far behind. He was going to find a way to fix it, no matter how long it took.
Chapter 9: A Few Months Ago
It took many years.
First, Matthew graduated high school. Then, he’d become a police officer, rising to the rank of detective. For a Green, Pollet’s Gulch considered him to have been a surprising success story, but they didn’t know the half of it.
The Cortlands never reappeared in town, and it took him the better part of twenty years to track them down. When he did, he found they were living in New York City. Mrs. Cortland had married again, but her multi-millionaire husband had tragically and rather mysteriously disappeared only a few months later, or so everyone thought. Matthew had quietly, discreetly, and tenaciously investigated his death using every possible connection until he was able to locate the man’s corpse, complete with telltale bite marks from what was originally described by the coroner as “an unusually large anaconda.”
He’d managed to prove her guilt along with her children’s in front of a jury of her peers. Granted, they never saw the inside of a traditional courtroom, but Matthew had learned years ago that within the community of magic there was a highly defined sense of justice, and it was a good deal swifter and more decisive than normal human courts.
Matthew gave testimony against them, and they were found guilty. It probably didn’t help their case that at one point during the trial Prentice and Priscilla transformed and attempted eating half the people in the chamber while Mrs. Cortland threw an utter fit and threatened to implode everyone’s head, so there was that against them as well. Precisely what their punishment was he never learned, and he preferred it that way, but he knew that they wouldn’t be bothering anyone ever again. As a reward for his services in bringing them to justice, the jury offered him the spoils of his enemy, anything he wanted.
He took only one thing.
The necklace sat in a drawer in his bedroom for months as he prodded it, researched it, even occasionally threw it against the wall in frustration. He was certain he had the key to something in front of him, but he had no idea what it opened or how to use it.
Matthew had tried to find Eric many times, but there hadn’t been much of a trail to follow, just rumors. Urban and rural legends sprang up in different countries about a genius with a hideously deformed face who could build the most marvelous contraptions, so sophisticated and ethereal that they seemed like magic. Wherever he went, he searched for a woman, someone he loved but had lost, and when he was certain there was no trace of her there, he moved on.
He eventually came to the conclusion that Eric had learned at least a bit of magic himself. He’d stumbled upon one of his former lairs in an abandoned warehouse in a tiny village outside of Paris, and Eric had obviously moved on too quickly, leaving behind a few items, including a very peculiar cup. When it was filled with water, Matthew swore he caught a brief image of Jessamine in it, older but definitely her, wandering through a forest somewhere. It seemed to be some kind of a tracker, but he had no idea how it worked. He bet his brother was sorry he lost that one. He had pocketed it, though exactly what he would do with it, he didn’t know.
It should have been obvious, he supposed, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty. One night, the thought came to him to pull out the cup. He dug it out of its hidden spot under the garbage disposal, put it on the kitchen table, filled it with water, and looked into it.
Nothing happened at first, but then a barely perceptible glow started to come not from the cup, but from down the hallway. Matthew looked towards his bedroom and realized that the necklace, which was sitting on his nightstand, was the source of the light. He picked it up and carried it into the kitchen, and with each step the sapphires became brighter. By the time he rested it around the cup, ringing it, it was almost blinding. The cup started to vibrate, emitting a high, metallic note.
“Okay, that’s new,” Matthew said.
Biting his lip, he very cautiously bent over the cup and stared into the water, hoping against hope, but still there was nothing in its depths. Maybe, he thought, just maybe, if he asked the right way—
“Show me my brother,” he said, and that was all it took.
Immediately, there he was, reflected in the water. Matthew grabbed the cup by its stem and yelled Eric’s name, but there was no sign that he heard anything. Images, but no sound. Instead, he stared intently, desperate for any clue as to where he was. He was wearing some sort of cloak, hiding most of his face. He was moving, but the cup was keeping him in view. Matthew could see trees, which didn’t exactly narrow things down, but then, unbelievably, he saw him walk into what appeared to be an above ground crypt.
“Okay, bro, you have really gotten strange,” Matthew mumbled.
He caught a brief glimpse of a motorcycle, not the same one from so many years ago, but definitely the kind of bike Eric would choose. Apparently, he was using the crypt as a makeshift garage. He supposed there could be more unusual places to store a bike, but he couldn’t think of any at the moment. The place was lit dimly, but he strained his eyes, desperate to see if he could make out a name carved into the stonework. Then he saw it.
“Emmaline Geraldine Costello, 1845-1912,” Matthew whispered. “That’s it. That’s it!”
The glowing subsided, the spell complete. It didn’t take him long to research where she had been buried. It turned out she was in an old cemetery in California, not far from Santa Rosa. He knew where his brother was.
Three days later, a highly confused UPS worker carrying a package found herself standing outside of a crypt at Peaceful Rest Cemetery.
“Okay, this is a new one,” she mumbled to herself, but shrugged. It was a job, and the special delivery instructions said specifically to knock on the door and get a signature. Maybe it was somebody’s idea of a joke, but she should at least try first before she took her lunch break. Besides, it was broad daylight. What could possibly happen?
“Knock, knock,” she said, tapping on the door as she did so. “Delivery for Mr. Eric Green?”
At first, there was no response, but then she was startled to hear a scuffling sound from inside the crypt. Her eyes widened as she saw the door slowly swing open a few inches and a hand with very long fingernails creep out of the opening.
“Uh,” she said intelligently.
The hand motioned for the pen, which she quickly put into its fingers, and the invoice was signed. She shoved the box toward the door and ran back to the truck, then screeched off in the opposite direction. She may or may not have knocked over the cemetery gate in the process.
Eric stared at the box, completely oblivious to anything else. Carefully, he set it down, then opened it, and his mouth fell open. Inside were only three things: the cup, the necklace, and a piece of paper bearing six words.
Find her. Then I’ll find you.
For the first time in a long time, Eric smiled. At long last, he had everything he needed.
Chapter 10: Current Day
The airplane touched down in Georgia, and Matthew sighed. He hated flying. It always fouled up his senses for a bit, making his balance feel off. He quickly grabbed his hastily packed bag from the overhead bin and went directly to rent a car. He was almost glad for the terrible Atlanta traffic as he barely moved along the highway. His destination wasn’t exactly his favorite place in the world.
It took a few hours to reach Pollet’s Gulch. The roads were still dirt, the town a mundane backwater so boring that he half expected it to be in black and white instead of color. Matthew could probably still name everybody who lived here. Not much had changed, and that disturbed him. He wanted to have moved beyond this stilted little town, but it was always going to be where he was from. The past was always going to have happened. It couldn’t be changed.
He drove aimlessly for a while even though he knew where they would probably be. The trailer was long gone, sold after his father died and eventually burning down from a cooking fire that thankfully hadn’t killed anyone. The empty lot still had a scalded look even years later. Mrs. Pankhurst had died as well, and her grandson had taken over the farm, so the old barn where he had eavesdropped on Eric and Jessamine was padlocked and had a very large sign on it warning trespassers about a guard dog who was, in actuality, an overgrown Golden Retriever puppy. The only place left was one he had absolutely no good memories about, but there was plenty of unfinished business in it.
Matthew parked his car in front of the old Cortland house and looked around for his brother’s bike. Sure enough, just within a stand of trees close to the drive, he caught the glint of chrome. It wasn’t the same bike from so many years ago, but Matthew knew it was Eric’s from the moment he laid eyes on it. He took a deep breath, nervous and feeling twelve years old again. He wasn’t sure exactly how this would turn out.
He took a little longer than absolutely necessary to lock the car and put the keys in his pocket before walking towards the front door. No signs of the bizarre struggle that had taken place here two decades ago remained to the naked eye, though in a few places the grass was withered in patterns that might have matched the path of the dragon. On the other hand, it could just be kudzu. He’d gotten so used to expecting the bizarre and unnatural that sometimes he missed the obvious explanations.
The house itself was abandoned, a wreck of the fine mansion it had once been. Kids had shot out some of the windows with BB guns, the shrubs had grown into bizarre shapes, shingles were falling from the roof, and he would bet good money there was no electricity. Still, a glow came from one of the second floor windows. They were definitely there. His hand hovered next to the door, his thumb nervously rubbing his knuckles before he knocked.
That was when the door abruptly swung open on its own.
“I knew it was gonna be you!” said a voice that was deeper than he remembered it, and he found himself enveloped in a crushing bear hug. “I told you I’d come back!”
“Twenty years later,” Matthew started to say, but as he drew back from his brother, his jaw dropped. “You’re… you’re…”
He stared into a perfectly normal face. If he squinted, he could even see the boy Eric had once been.
“I’m not Brad Pitt, I grant you, but it’s a hell of an improvement,” Eric said with a grin.
“But how?” Matthew asked.
“That’d be you, baby brother,” Eric said, ruffling his hair like when they were kids. “When you sent the necklace, it started to repel the effects from that night. Then when I met up with Jessamine again, she was able to undo the rest of the curse.”
Matthew said nothing, only stared in wonder. He was so happy for his brother that he didn’t trust himself to speak.
“Jess!” Eric called over his shoulder and up the stairs. “It’s him! I told you he’d show up!”
Matthew heard a clatter of high heels in the upstairs hallway and then saw her coming down the stairs, still gloriously pretty, maybe with just the slightest touch of something not quite human about her, a flicker of magic in her eyes. She was smiling, and her perfectly applied red lipstick only magnified the effect.
“Oh, don’t gloat, Eric,” she said, rolling her eyes as she came forward to hug him as well. “He’s been predicting you’d be here any minute for the last day and a half.”
“Well, don’t just stand there on the porch. Come in,” Eric said.
The house’s inside wasn’t much better than the outside, though someone had obviously dusted off the couch and a table and a few other things. Dozens of candles littered the entryway, enough so Matthew wondered how he’d missed their light as he drove up.
“Planning on burning the place down?” he said as took them all in.
“Actually, yes,” Jessamine said, “but not yet.”
Matthew blinked in surprise.
“We need to clean up the last of the negative residual energy in this place, and considering the stuff that went on in here, razing it to the ground is really our best bet,” Jessamine explained, giving the room a sour look. “It’s not much of a loss, and don’t worry, we’ll be safe about it. No one will get hurt.”
Matthew winced slightly, remembering the officer who had been accidentally killed at the crypt during their previous chase. Most of the department was still convinced that the perpetrator, who no one knew was his brother, was guilty of murder. He was sure it hadn’t been intentional, but that didn’t make the man any less dead or the other officers any less angry.
One glance at Eric made Matthew realize he was thinking about the same thing, and Jessamine seemed to pick up on it as well, though she hadn’t been present when that part happened.
“I know we can’t stay,” Eric said. “I really didn’t mean for that to happen. I didn’t know he’d try to shoot the chandelier.”
Matthew believed him. What exactly a chandelier had been doing in a crypt in the first place was another question, but it was the crashing weight of the crystals that had killed the man. An accident. A stupid, horrible, unavoidable accident.
“No one would recognize you as the person from that night now,” Matthew said. “At least, I don’t think so.”
“Probably, but it doesn’t feel right,” Eric said. “We've decided to leave the country, though, just to be safe.”
“Where will you go?” Matthew asked.
“Jessamine knows a lot of places, don’t you babe?” Eric said, and it sounded like an inside joke.
"Way too many," she said. “When my mother’s curse hit me that night, it made me start, well, for lack of a better term, popping,” she said.
“Popping?” Matthew asked.
“In and out of places without any pattern,” Jessamine said. “I never got to stay anywhere longer than a couple of days before I’d suddenly disappear from one spot and reappear somewhere else, usually someplace really obscure: suburbs in the Midwest, islands in the Pacific, the middle of a desert, mountaintops, rain forests, Antarctica a few times, the Australian Outback, an actual Outback restaurant’s kitchen, the lower levels of a battleship in the Mediterranean, you name it, it happened. The whole point was to make it so I could never set down roots anywhere. I was never in any one place long enough to have a friend, a job, a home, nothing. Complete isolation. I nearly went crazy.”
Matthew shuddered. When Mrs. Cortland had disowned her, she’d really down the job properly.
“It took me a long time to find you, but I knew you were out there,” Eric said, wrapping his arms around her from behind and kissing the side of her neck briefly. “Again, thanks to you sending me that necklace, kid.”
“Speaking of,” Matthew said, taking it out of his pocket.
Jessamine’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You left it at the crypt,” Matthew said. “Don’t worry. There’s a perfect replica of it still being studied back in California. The only difference is this is the one with the protection spell.”
“And the curse,” Eric said warily.
“It actually shouldn’t be a problem anymore,” Jessamine said. “The curse came into effect because two different sides of Tricot’s family tree were fighting over it. Now that the branches are bound together again, the necklace should be at rest.”
“Bound together?” Matthew asked.
“We got married in Vegas,” Eric said with a grin, and for the first time Matthew noticed the ring sparkling on Jessamine’s finger. “I guess that counts.”
Jessamine grinned at him. “Sure does.”
“So that’s it. The other Cortlands are gone, the curse is lifted, and it’s time for you guys to ride off into the sunset to wherever,” Matthew said.
“We’re thinking Fiji,” Eric said.
“Nice choice,” Matthew said approvingly, but he suddenly had the dizzying realization that everything he had worked for since he’d been a kid was done. He didn’t have a goal anymore, and soon, he wouldn’t have a family again either.
Jessamine looked at Eric out of the corner of her eye.
“Wait, you do realize we want you to come too, right?” Eric said.
“You’re my only family left, baby brother. We’ve talked it over, and unless you’ve got somewhere else you want to be, we want you to come with us,” Eric said.
“Yeah, it’s not like I’ve got family falling out of trees either,” Jessamine said. "Actually, in my case, if I do, that's a pretty terrifying thought."
“On your honeymoon?” Matthew said, raising an eyebrow.
“Okay, so you’ll actually live down the road a piece,” Eric said. “Seriously, I’ve missed you, Matt. It’s time to come home.”
The words slowly lifted a weight Matthew had been carrying since that horrible day so long ago, and he felt like he could breathe for the first time in twenty years.
“Okay,” he said. “Yeah, yeah, okay. When?”
“Right after the big bonfire tonight,” Eric said. “Then, zoom, we’re outta this hellhole.”
Later that night, as he watched the green and blue flames climb towards the stars as they consumed the old Cortland house, Matthew looked over at his brother and his wife, their faces lit by the enchanted fire. The sapphires of the necklace glistened from their place on Jessamine’s throat, and Matthew could almost feel the last vestiges of the Cortlands’ vengeance melting like ice in the fire. It was finally over.
“Ready to go?” Eric asked both of them as the final embers died away and a stiff wind scattered the ashes so that no sign of the old house remained.
"But how?" Matthew asked.
"Now that I have the necklace, it'll be the easiest trip you've ever taken," she said.
They stood around the bike, and Jessamine took both of their hands, forming a circle. Matthew blinked and found himself and the others standing in brilliant sunshine on the side of a hill covered in tropical flowers and overlooking a deep blue ocean.
He was finally home.