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Chapter 3 - Rude Awakening

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The Hummer skids to a stop on the gravel driveway in front of the old Victorian boardinghouse. The place is surrounded by nothing but dried sagebrush and drainage ravines, with golden brown foothills in the distance. We might as well be in the middle of Nowhere, Colorado.

While part of me is glad to be back where I started this morning, I would rather be at Margery's warehouse in Trinidad right now, devising a way for Nina and me to escape this whole mess of hellish contracts and being the son of a fallen angel.

Pete and Candy get out and rush to my door. She unlatches my seatbelt and pulls me into her arms as if I'm a sack of groceries. "Not very heavy for a tall guy," she says, then whistles an unfamiliar tune.

I squint, expecting she'll drop me just to piss me off.

"After you put Barry in the apothecary," Pete tells her, "bring the stump out back, to the enclosed porch. I'll question him once Barry can join me."

Inside the house, we make our way down a long hallway and into a kitchen that smells like pancakes and strawberry jam. Candy turns left, under an archway, and into a side room. At the center, she drops me onto a metal exam table more suited for a veterinarian's office. Shelves line all the walls and hold an assortment of books and cookie jars in the shape of bears, birds, racoons and other wild animals.

Pete calls out, "Ulla. Inez. Where are you, ladies?"

My guess is he's looking for whoever will reverse my paralysis spell. A chill rushes through my body as I anticipate the pain it will take to regain movement. I might as well be waiting in a dentist's chair.

I do a double take when a plump body with two heads waddles into the room. The head with curly blond hair and rosy cheeks smiles. "Oh, dear, aren't you in a pickle." She's around sixty and remarkably beautiful for her age. But she appears to be an unnatural attachment off their right shoulder.

The other lady wears a braided, salt-and-pepper bun, and appears to belong to the body since birth. She says with the accent I remember from earlier, "Serves you right for not eating my pancakes."

"Barry, meet Ulla and Inez. They take care of us around here." Pete points at the pancake lady. "Inez is an expert in demonic magic."

With pursed lips and a magnifying glass, Inez examines my neck, then makes her way down my body until she reaches the smoke ring around my ankles. Finally, she says, "It's Margery's spell."

I let out a combination groan and sigh, wondering why it took her so long to figure it out.

Inez frowns and yanks my nose. "No attitude, young man."

The ladies shuffle to the shelves, remove a black cookie jar shaped like a raven, and reach inside it. They return holding out a hand full of sparkly black and gold dust. The ladies stroke my hair and the blond lady, Ulla, says, "Take in a deep breath when I blow this in your face, okay?"

I blink my eyes to show her I understand, then take in as much of the dust as I can. Immediately, my mouth opens with a gasp and arms fall to the sides of the table. I'm Free. Remarkably, there is no pain. These ladies are amazing. I'd kiss them if it weren't for Inez's wrinkled brow and cold eyes, which tells she'd put me under a worse spell.

A rush of adrenaline has me off the table, hopping around like a boxer to confirm all movement has returned. I wave my hands over the heavy perspiration that formed under my pits and sing, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Ulla and Inez toddle away without a word, the hem of their flowered housecoat sways around their thick knees.

"Margery was at the gas station," I tell Pete. "She wanted those mummy men to take me back to the warehouse."

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