Nana Spider regarded me with bulbous, watery eyes. As usual, she was dressed in mismatched clothes. A long patchwork skirt hung all the way to her ankles—or maybe it was an actual quilt, wrapped around her hips and held up with a thick rope/belt. Over that, she wore a man’s button-down office shirt that looked two-sizes too big for her slender, almost emaciated frame. On her feet were flip-flops of different colors. Chunky costume jewelry adorned her wrists and ankles. Frizzy white hair stood out from her head like a dirty cotton ball.
The wind tossed two ‘fun-sized’ potato chip bags behind her shoulders. One would pop up, then the other, then they’d drop, and, a moment later, do it again, almost as if they were hopping up to get a better look at me. I couldn’t say why, but it felt like the dancing bags watched my every move even more closely than Nana did. It didn’t help that the way the wind played with them their tops opened and closed like laughing mouths.
“The demons will be cross to discover their loss,” she hummed to herself. The bags joined in to crinkle musically.
“Now you talk in rhymes?” When I first met Nana Spider, she’d performed an elaborate ritual that Spenser had hoped would give us a clue to solving the necromancer’s murder. I’d been super disappointed that she didn’t talk like a proper witch, no rhyming iambic pentameters. So, it struck me as odd that she would now.
“The rhyming witch took a fall, now the burden is on all.”
“Fall? Wait, are you talking about the woman from this morning? The one we found at the base of the clock tower? She was a witch?”
Nana nodded, shuffling down the alleyway. With a claw-like hand, she beckoned me to follow.
I glanced behind at where the gang of magpies perched on the telephone wire over the precinct’s loading dock. They nodded, their black heads bobbing, as if to say it was okay, there was nothing to fear. Even though I felt far too much like Alice going down the rabbit hole, I followed Nana Spider. The chip bags slid across the ground as if to sniff at my shoes. A bit of wind sent the bags back into the air to circle both Nana and me, crackling joyfully.
Nana reached for my arm, as though for support. I offered it to her and she leaned heavily on me. “Ymir was a witch like me,” Nana said. She shook her head violently, and managed, “Not like you.”
“Hey,” I noted. “No rhyme this time.”
“Ha,” she smiled, her teeth a gnarled mess of yellow and silver fillings. Her claw-like finger tapped my shoulder. “That’s because you took up the burden. With luck, someone else has it now. Ugh, I’ll miss Ymir. Kept the powers happy with all that rhymy-wimy silliness. Makes them feel important, doesn’t it?”
She stopped suddenly and glanced up. We’d come to the end of the alley. On the overhead street lamp someone had thrown a pair of shoes that dangled by their laces. A rush of wind blew from behind us, and the pair of bags circled up the lamppost. When they got to the top it was like the wind cut out, and they paused midair momentarily. After hanging there a moment, they fell back, drifting down as if they’d fainted.
Nana watched the bags settle on the street. They looked flattened, like something had sucked the life from them. “Hmmm, that looks bad. Maybe we should go this way.” She said, pointing back the way we’d come.
Even though the alley led back to the Precinct headquarters where I was pretty sure the demon agents would be, it seemed unwise to argue. The dying bags seemed like an obvious sign, even to someone like me.
Nana surprised me, by blinking up into my face and asking, “What do you think? You have a dragon’s heart, what does it tell you?” Before I could even formulate an answer, she said, “Also, an invisibility spell would be nice right about… now.”
Right in front of us, two uniformed police came running down the sidewalk. “I’m pretty sure she went this way!” shouted one, seemingly not seeing us as he dashed right past the alley’s opening. The other split off right under the hanging shoes and yelled, “I’ll check this side.”
I winced in sympathy as the second cop stepped right on one of the bags of chips. But, instead of hurting it, the kick of officer’s heel sent the bag scooting back into the air.
Once the police were some distance away, Nana patted my arm, “Thank you, dearie.”
“The invisibility, of course,” she said, as if I were stupid.
“But… I didn’t do anything.”
She turned down the alley again. Clucking her tongue she said, “Well, it couldn’t have been me. I can only read the signs. Anyway, to turn invisible is not a human skill.” Her face crumpled up and she put a hand over her mouth. Lifting her fingers she muttered, “Oh, fiddle-dee-dee, it’s back to me.”
I felt bad that she got cursed with the rhyming already again, so I gave her knuckles a sympathetic pat where they were still wrapped around my elbow. But, I had to point out, “You know when you say it like that, you make it sound like I’m not human.”
She gave me a funny look, her lips pursed together. “That’s a secret that’s not mine to tell, ask the one who knows you well.”
Nana snorted, “No, you fool, your father!” Then she smiled. “Ha! Gone again! I swear to fate, I’m not going to speak for a week! Oh, listen to that. Is it back or was that an accident? Oh! Seems gone. Good!” To me, she added, “You should buy me a cup of coffee, dragonheart. This was very exhausting. I don’t know how Ymir could stand talking like that—so cryptic! No one ever understands a word you’re saying. How the hell did she ever find the lady’s room?”
Despite saying I owed her coffee, Nana wandered off shouting to herself. The one recovered bag stuttered along behind her.
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...