This story is set in the same universe as my previous stories Finale and Prelude and takes place at some point during the second half of Prelude.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Summoned by Shadows
'Miss Penshaw!' Mr Hallam snapped.
Janice grunted vaguely as she tried to gather her scattered concentration. She was at school on a Tuesday morning. Geography. Not her favourite subject. Like when was she ever going to need to know about meandering rivers anyhow?
'I'm sorry if my lesson is boring you,' Mr Hallam continued ('Read my mind,' Janice thought), 'but could you at least try and look as if you are paying attention. I shouldn't have to compete to be heard over your snoring.'
'Sorry,' Janice murmured, sitting up in her chair.
Someone two rows back giggled and for a moment Mr Hallam's attention was distracted elsewhere.
Janice turned to Dawn, who was at the desk next to her.
'I wasn't drooling, was I?' she asked, wiping her mouth as she did so.
'No drool,' Dawn promised.
Mr Hallam glared at them both then, after Janice smiled apologetically back, he turned back to the board and carried on with his lesson.
* * *
'So, what's so exciting it's keeping you up at night,' Dawn asked a short while later as they were walking to the cafeteria, 'or should I say 'who'?'
'You'll laugh,' Janice told her.
'No I won't,' Dawn promised.
'Yes you will.'
'I've stayed up all night reading,' Janice confessed.
Dawn clamped her teeth down on her lower lip and struggled to keep her face under control.
'Good book?' she managed to ask.
'No, I stayed up all night reading crap,' Janice responded. 'And you promised not to laugh.'
'Am I laughing?' Dawn replied. Well, she tried to, but she broke down into giggles before the first word was out of her mouth.
'Like I'm ever going to trust you again,' Janice complained.
'You can't blame me,' Dawn protested when she finally managed to control herself. 'You hate books.'
'I think 'hate' is a bit strong,' Janice replied.
'Are you not the girl who submitted an English essay titled why I believe all books should be burned?' Dawn persisted.
'That was a long time ago,' Janice insisted.
'Interesting definition of 'a long time',' Dawn mocked. 'So, was it romantic?'
'Was what romantic?'
'This book,' Dawn explained. 'Was it all manly men and heaving bosoms and - ' Dawn put her hand to her head and gasped '-oh, take me now!'
Now both of them laughed.
'No it was not,' Janice insisted. 'It's all inside your perverted little mind.'
'Really? Want me to share?'
'You keep your sordid little fantasies to yourself,' Janice told her, 'unless'
'Unless?' Dawn wheedled. 'What's going on inside your perverted little mind?'
'Nothing.' Then, off Dawn's look, 'Nothing. I'm justI've been reading some books Tabby loaned me.'
'Tabby?' Dawn asked.
'You know,' Janice replied. 'Jonathan's friend. From the coven.'
'Oh, that Tabby,' Dawn said. She located an empty table and sat down, then began rummaging through her bag for the lunch her dad had prepared for her.
'And what's that supposed to mean?' Janice shot back, sitting down beside her.
'Nothing,' Dawn protested. 'There's no need to get so defensive.'
'I'm not' Janice began. 'Okay, maybe I am. A little. But I'm really starting to like these people, Dawn. What they're doing feelsright. It's hard to explain.'
'You think you've got problems,' Dawn retorted. 'Try telling you best friend that vampires a real, your sister's a Slayer and you are not a human being, but a ball of energy instead.'
'All right, so you win on points,' Janice conceded.
Her voice trailed off, distracted. She could see something over by the vending machine, a shape hidden amongst the shadows. It looked likeJanice shook her head. It looked like a big cat, but that couldn't be right, could it?
'Jan?' Dawn asked, concerned.
'Do you see that?' Janice whispered, pointing.
Dawn turned in her seat.
'See what?' she asked.
Janice blinked and the cat was gone, if it had ever been there.
'Nothing,' Janice said apologetically. 'Lack of sleep must be really getting to me.'
'So,' Dawn persisted, ''fess up. Why the books?'
'I guess I want to be a part of what they've got,' Janice replied slowly. 'It's stupid, but this is important to me, you know?'
'It's not stupid,' Dawn told her. 'Just be careful what you're getting into.'
'Hence the books,' Janice explained. 'I wanted to be sure before'
'Before what?' Dawn asked.
'The coven are meeting this weekend,' Janice said. 'I'm going to be there.'
* * *
'You okay up there, Janice?' her mother called from the bottom of the stairs.
'Fine, mom,' Janice shouted back, not straying from her bed.
She was reading again. There was another reason for all this study, besides making sure she knew what she was getting into - she didn't want to embarrass herself in front of all these proper Wiccans. The last thing she wanted was for them to think she was just playing at this because she wasn't, was she? Okay, so she didn't really know what she was doing, but that was part of the reason for going to see the coven, right? To learn.
'Your dinner's getting cold,' her mother shouted.
'Be down in a minute,' Janice replied.
Just one more chapter.
* * *
Her dinner really had been cold by the time Janice had made it downstairs. Her mother scowled, but said nothing. Janice's elder sister, the lawyer, had had an eating disorder during her teenage years so, as long as Janice was eating, her mom kept quiet.
After dinner, her mom asked her if she wanted to watch TV, but Janice declined, citing 'homework', and hurried back up to her room. Mrs Penshaw was surprised to find she was a little troubled by this. Surely a parent should be glad their child was putting this much effort into their schoolwork, not to mention getting the house to herself, but part of her wished her daughter would spend more time with her, schoolwork or no
* * *
The book slipped from Janice's fingers. It struck the floor with a thud, but Janice did not hear it. She had battled valiantly against exhaustion, but had finally lost and now snored softly into her pillow.
Her mind was still active, however.
She stood in the middle of a desert. She knew that she was dreaming, but the sand still felt real beneath her feet and the wind chilled her through her clothes. It was night and the lack of cloud meant that the temperature had plummeted after dark. Janice could see her breath misting in front of her face.
There were stars speckling the sky. Janice had heard that it was possible to tell where you were by the position of the stars, but she did not know how. She could have been halfway round the world and not known it.
She looked down. There were tracks marring the golden sand. Animal tracks. Janice's heart began to quicken. The sound of the wind changed from a low moan to a rumbling growl.
Janice glanced around, her hair blowing into her eyes. She was alone. And then she wasn't. There, on a distant dune, was a shadow, the silhouette of a large cat. As Janice stared, the cat languidly turned to face her and, even at this distance, Janice could see its yellow eyes flash. Then it opened its mouth and the wind carried its growl to her ears once again.
Janice turned and ran, not an easy feat on sand. She sank up to her knees, but soldiered on regardless, more swimming than running now.
'Quick, over here!' someone called to her.
Jonathan was standing on the surface of the sand, dressed in a black top hat and tails.
The little guy waved his hands and shouted at the top of his lungs, 'Rood eht nepo!'
A red door fell from the sky. A black number twenty-two was attached to the door, but the impact of striking the ground knocked one of the number twos loose and it fell and disappeared beneath the sand. The door swung open, but Janice could not see what lay beyond.
'Well,' Jonathan prompted, 'what are you waiting for? It's like the last reel of Lost in Space. Anywhere's got to be better than here.'
The cat growled again and Janice could not argue with him. Dragging herself up and out of the sand, she tumbled through the door
and landed face down on a bed. The bed was soft and the bedspread was decorated with a forest scene depicting a stag amid some trees. Janice wondered why its antlers did not get caught among the branches. She propped herself up in a kneeling position as she tried to figure out where she was now.
A tabby kitten sprang up on to the bed, causing Janice to jump. She flinched away from it, even though it looked up at her mournfully with large amber eyes.
The bedroom door was flung open. Wesley, Dawn's Watcher friend, was standing on the other side. And he was holding a gun.
'I'm sorry,' he said.
Then he shot her.
Janice did not feel a thing. She looked down at her chest expecting blood, but there was none. Slowly, she turned around to try and find out where the bullet had gone.
Kneeling on the bed behind her was Tara MacClay. Janice recognised her from photos Dawn had shown her. She was one of the witches Dawn had known, the one who had been shot, shot in a bedroom if Janice remembered correctly. But Tara, like Janice, also showed no bullet wound, which was not to say that she was unmarked. Instead, her flesh and clothes had been raked by claws.
Janice recoiled in horror.
'What's the matter, Janice?' Tara asked, stretching out a bloody hand. 'There's nothing to be afraid of.'
She turned away, but rather than showing Janice the back of her head, she turned to show Helena's face, bound to her like double-headed Janus.
'It's not what it seems to be,' Helena said as the wounds on her arms healed before Janice's eyes.
Before Janice could process this, there was another growl. She whirled to face it only to see the kitten looking sweetly up at her.
There was a flash of light that momentarily blinded Janice and, when her vision had cleared, the kitten had been replaced by the cat she had seen earlier, a huge leopard with glowing eyes.
The leopard bared its fangs.
Then the covers beneath Janice gave way like quicksand and she was falling through darkness.
She hit the ground with her shoulder and pain rocketed through her body as she tumbled down the uneven golden slope. When she finally came to a halt, she realised that what she had at first taken for sand was in fact a huge pile of gold coins, thousands, perhaps millions, of them.
A pale arm emerged from the pile, coins dripping from her fingers. Then a blonde head popped up. Anya smiled blissfully.
'Hi,' she said.
A male head appeared beside her, attached to a naked torso. Janice was trying very hard not to think about what they had been doing down there.
'I didn't know there was going to be company,' Trix said.
'I didn't mean tointrude,' Janice added hastily.
'Hey, no big,' Xander said.
'Well, I wouldn't say that,' Anya purred.
Xander looked embarrassed. And hadn't he been Trix a minute ago?
'It's just difficult to perform in front of an audience,' he continued.
'I'd better be going,' Janice said. 'I'll leave you to'
She waved ineffectually when words failed her.
'Don't go,' Anya said. 'You can help out.'
'What?' Janice and Trix (or Xander) exclaimed.
'With counting the money,' Anya explained innocently. 'You didn't think I was going to count all of this all by myself did you. I've got better things to do with my time.'
Before Janice could say anything in response, the two lovers disappeared again beneath the mountain of gold.
A cloud passed in front of the moon, which hung full and heavy in the sky.
The hairs on the back of Janice's neck stood on end.
A gentle rumbling drifted to her ears.
She spun round and found herself staring into a pair of glowing amber eyes. The big cat roared and Janice scrambled away, but it was difficult to find purchase on the slippery pile of coins. The coins shifted beneath her weight and Janice was falling once again, carried on the crest of a wave as the avalanche plummeted down the slope.
She came to rest against something hard, coins pooling around her. Looking around nervously for the cat, Janice picked herself up, examining her bruises as she did so. She felt like Clem had sat on her, but at least nothing seemed to be broken. She could not stay here, she reasoned. If that cat caught up with her
She began to examine that wall she had collided with, partly to see if there was a way round, partly to distract her brain from any thoughts involving food. It was an odd shape, rounded and smooth. She followed it round and discovered another convex section, then another, like a row of stone toes lined up next to one another. She stepped back. 'Like' didn't enter into it. They were stone toes, attached to a massive stone foot. Janice craned her neck, following long legs and then sculpted torso until she could get a good look at the statue's face.
'Chrissie?' she whispered.
'So, what do you think, honey?' Halfrek asked, stepped out from behind the statue's left heel, her dark ringlets swaying in the light breeze. 'Cute, isn't she. Not exactly the Colossus, but stillthere's a glow about her, don't you think?'
Janice glanced back up at her friend and fellow magic-user. It really was Chrissie, right down to that condescending expression of hers and yetfor all that she was carved out of stone, there seemed to be a certain softness about her. Janice put her hand against one big toe. The stone was warm to the touch.
She turned to Halfrek.
'What's going on here?' Janice asked. 'And what's happened to Chrissie?'
'I'm not the one with all the answers,' she replied. 'Chrissie there, she's part of something bigger, something primal, or she will be, but youwell, we're all waiting to see where you fit in.' She glanced over Janice's shoulder. 'Well, nearly all.'
It was the cat again. Janice had not even heard it pad up behind her, but now she could feel its hot breath on the back of her neck, the dampness of its saliva.
She turned only to be met by glowing white canines and those deep amber eyes swallowing her whole.
She hit the floor hard, still tangled up in her sheets. She fought to disentangle herself, pulse racing, lungs heaving, and flicked on the light. She was in her own room in her own house. There were no cats to be seen. She kept reaching out to objects - the bookcase, the dresser, the jacket discarded on the floor - just to confirm that they were solid, real. According to the numbers on her alarm clock, it had just turned midnight.
The witching hour.
* * *
Janice's stomach rumbled, teased by the odours emanating from the barbecue.
'Skip lunch?' Tabitha asked with a gentle smile.
They were sitting on the grassy slope, waiting for Jerry and a few of the others to finish the cooking. The ceremony was over, but the group was in no hurry to disperse, the members more than happy to stay and talk. And eat, of course.
'No,' Janice insisted. 'Well, okay, yeah. I was at the library and I kinda lost track of time.'
'The library,' Tabitha repeated. 'On a Saturday. I guess teenagers have changed a lot since my day. Not that that was that long ago, before you say anything.'
'Wouldn't dream of it,' Janice assured her.
'So, all this library and no fun time,' Tabitha continued, 'I take it you've got an exam coming up or something?'
Janice squirmed uncomfortably.
'Well, yeah, but'
Caitlin came bounding over, her pigtails streaming out behind her. Caitlin was the daughter of two members of the coven, Jerry and Ellie. She was not the only child at this gathering, but Janice reckoned that Caitlin was the noisiest.
'Tabby! Tabby!' she cried, spreading her little arms wide and throwing them around Tabitha. Tabitha scooped her up and settled the little girl in her lap.
'Hello, trouble,' she said.
'Hiya, Caitlin,' Janice said, beaming broadly at her.
Caitlin screwed up her face in concentration.
'Janice,' Janice supplied.
'Janice,' Caitlin repeated proudly.
Craning her swan-like neck, Tabitha spied Jerry waving to them from over by the grill.
'Did Daddy send you over, Caitlin?' she asked the girl in her arms.
'Mmhmm,' the girl affirmed. 'Daddy said to tell you that the food is ready.'
'Well in that case,' Tabitha began as she stood up, 'we'd better get over there before everyone else eats it all.' She grunted as she hefted Caitlin. 'You're getting to be quiet a big girl now, aren't you.'
'I am a big girl,' Caitlin agreed.
'Right then, let's go and get Janice fed before she wakes the neighbours.'
'Hey,' Janice protested as they set off towards the barbecue where the rest of the group was already gathering.
'So,' Tabitha said, 'but what?'
'About the library,' Tabitha explained. 'You said 'well, yeah, but''
'Oh, yeah. That.' Janice looked away.
'Well?' Tabitha persisted.
'I've, er, well, I've been reading up on witchcraft,' Janice explained. 'On Wicca.'
'Have you now,' Tabitha mused.
'Well, I got really interested, you know, after the last time and I wanted to do more,' Janice hastily explained, 'but I know you take it all so seriously - and that's right - and I wanted to make sure I got it right so that I didn't make an idiot of myself in front of all of you andI'm making an idiot of myself, aren't I?'
Tabitha laughed, but it was not mocking.
'No, Janice,' she said, 'no, of course you're not. I think it's kind of sweet that you felt the need to go to all that trouble for us, but you really didn't have to.'
'I didn't?' Janice asked. 'Butbut I'm really interested in this stuff - I mean really interested - and the more I read the more into it I become and I just want to know that I'm doing it right.'
'Janice, Janice, Janice,' Tabitha said, shaking her head, 'you're going about this all the wrong way. Doing the rituals and casting spells doesn't make you a witch, though that's certainly a part of it.'
Shifting Caitlin's weight into the crook of one arm, Tabitha used her free hand to poke Janice in the ribs.
'It's what's in here that makes you what you are and that can't be taught, not by a book, not by me, not by anyone. You've just got to find your own answers.'
'But I don't even know, like, where to start,' Janice protested.
They had reached the barbecue by now and Tabitha, with some relief, put Caitlin down on the ground. The little girl immediately scampered over to her mother.
'Hi Tabby, Janice,' Jerry said. 'What can I get you ladies?'
'Just a burger for me Jerry,' Tabitha replied, 'preferably one that hasn't quite reached charcoal stage yet, and some advice for my friend.'
'Advice, huh?' Jerry said. 'Well, you know me, always ready to help those in need. What can I do you for?'
'Janice wants to try her hand at witchcraft,' Tabitha explained, 'but she doesn't know where to start.'
'And she's pestering you for advice, huh?' Jerry deduced. 'Sounds a bit like me when I was a kid.'
'But I thought you said that your mom taught you?' Janice interjected, recalling their first meeting.
'She did,' Jerry agreed, eventually. But I had to make my first steps on my own. I could see the rest of my folks doing all this cool stuff that I wanted to be a part of, but no matter how much I kept pestering and pestering my mom she always said 'no'. So in the end I gave up on that and decided that if I was going to do magic I'd just have to do it myself. I 'borrowed' one of my mom's books and I set about preparing my own ritual. Nothing fancy, you understand. I knew I wouldn't be ready for that sort of stuff for at least a week. I settled down, set up my altar as per the diagram in the book, left the window open so I could see the moon and then I performed the ritual.'
'And what happened?' Janice asked, caught up in the story.
'Nothing,' Jerry replied. 'It was a complete waste of time. I immediately renounced magic as just cheap hocus pocus. But the rest of my folks kept having these meetings without me and I still felt excluded, so my resolution never to practice magic again lasted all of a fortnight. So I tried the ritual again. It still did nothing for me, but I can be a stubborn sort when I want to and I kept trying again, night after night, and eventually, I feltsomething. It's hard to explain.
'We've all felt it,' she confirmed, 'everyone here. You will too if you keep at it.'
'Day after I'd got the ritual right,' Jerry continued, 'my mom invited me to join in the family rituals.'
'But, like, how did she know?' Janice asked.
'Would you believe magic?'
* * *
'You are sure about this, aren't you?' Dawn asked as Janice scanned the shelves at the Magic Box.
'Of course I'm sure,' Janice replied. 'What could possibly go wrong?'
'You want a list?' Dawn shot back.
'Okay, magic can be dangerous,' Janice admitted. 'Already got the memo. But I can't access that kind of power without Chrissie so chill already.'
'We don't know that for sure,' Dawn insisted.
'Fine, whatever,' Janice said. 'It's not like I'm summoning demons or anything. Look at this.' She waved the basket of items at Dawn. 'Nothing fancy, nothing creepy. Nothing at all like that.' She wrinkled her nose as she caught site of a shrivelled rat's head floating in a jar. 'Do people actually use that stuff?'
'I think Anya just keeps most of it for show,' Dawn confided in her. 'Look, I know I sound like your mom right now, but I'm just worried about you, okay?'
'I know and I appreciate it,' Janice told her, 'but really there's nothing to'
'What?' Dawn asked.
But Janice wasn't listening to her. She was staring at something at the far end of the shelves. Something only she could see. A big cat. A shiver ran down her from the crown of her head to her toes. She blinked and when she opened her eyes the cat was gone. But she knew she had not imagined it.
'You okay?' Dawn inquired.
'Sure, why wouldn't I be?' Janice insisted. 'Come on, let's pay for these and get gone.'
* * *
Janice surveyed her set-up - the illuminator candles, the four elements, the pentagram - and took a deep breath to steady herself. It only seemed to make her heart pound more wildly. She could here the sounds of the TV downstairs. She had wanted to wait until her mom was asleep, but in the end her impatience and eagerness had got the better of her.
She could do this, she kept reminding herself. She had done plenty of magic before with Chrissie and Jonathan. How was this any different? But it was. There was a spiritual element to this that frightened her, but which lured her in all the same.
She was ready. Okay, so she didn't feel ready, but there was nothing more to prepare.
'Here goes nothing,' she remarked.
She walked around the items she had gathered, whispering to herself as she did so, conjuring a magic circle within which she could work. Then she knelt down on the floor and began to summon the power.
* * *
She was standing in the middle of one of the classrooms at school. The room was in ruins, the shattered remains of the walls clawing at the orange sky like broken fingers.
'Hello?' Janice called out.
She seemed to be alone. Cautiously, she began to explore.
Emerging into a corridor open to the sky, she encountered her first pupils and teachers. They were fixed in animated poses - running, fighting or just talking to one another - but they were not moving. They were statues, but carved with such detail that Janice had no trouble recognising those people she shared classes with. Or maybe they hadn't been carved at all. Maybe they were the real pupils and they'd been turned to stone by a medusa or something. Were medusas real? She would have to ask Dawn about that. She was still learning the rules of the world Dawn had drawn her into.
Thing was, if medusas were real, then it might still be lurking around here somewhere. Maybe she should just find the exit and get out of here. Heck, she could probably climb one of the walls, the state they were in. But then, if this really were the school's pupils and staff and not just remarkably good statues, someone had to do something for them. She supposed that that someone didn't have to be her, but the thought did not linger long. She thought of Dawn and her friends and her sister who had sacrificed herself to save Janice and she steeled herself for a little medusa-hunting.
'Now if I were a medusa,' she whispered to herself, 'where would I hide?'
'Who's hiding?' Tabitha asked.
Janice jumped. She had not heard the Wiccan sneak up behind her.
'Tabby,' she hissed, nerves giving her words and edge they did not deserve. 'You nearly scared me to death.'
'Sorry,' Tabby said. 'I thought you wanted me to be here.'
'Yeah, didn't you want a guide?' Jerry asked, stepping out of a pool of shadows, shadows that were not possibly large enough to have hidden him.
'But what's going on?'
'How should we know? It's your vision.'
'My what?' Janice was not following any of this. 'And, like, why aren't you two statues.'
'Isn't that obvious?' Tabitha replied with an enigmatic smile.
'No, not really,' Janice confessed.
Her brain aching as it tried to make sense of this confusion, Janice stuck her head around a corner and saw another statue. But not just any statue. This was Chrissie, the same enormous statue she had seen in the desert in her dream. And there, crouched between the statue's legs, was the leopard that had been stalking her.
Janice started to turn, started to run, but she knew that she was not going to be quick enough.
The leopard sprang
* * *
Janice scooted back across the floor, breaking open the circle. In her haste, she knocked over one of the candles and hurriedly snuffed it out before it could set fire to the carpet. She looked worryingly at the pool of wax that had been deposited, but the problem of cleaning the carpet was not what weighed heavy upon her mind at that moment.
'How'd it go?' Dawn asked when she spied Janice walking through the double doors the marked the entrance to the school.
'What, no 'Hi, how are you'?' Janice asked.
'Hi, how are you,' Dawn mimicked. 'So, how'd it go.'
Janice shrugged. 'Okay.'
'Just okay, huh?'
'And how's life with the ghost patrol?' Janice said, changing the subject. 'Anything bizarro to report.'
'All quiet on the ectoplasmic front at the moment,' Dawn told her. 'Seems the monsters and whatever are lying low.'
'You don't sound like that's a good sign.'
'That's never a good sign,' Dawn explained. 'They're getting ready for something and I'm guessing it's not the all-HST production of Grease.'
'HST?' Janice queried.
'Hostile Sub-Terrestrial,' Dawn replied. 'It's something Riley used to say. Aw, hell.'
Dawn slumped against her locker.
'What's up?' Janice asked.
'Riley's a kind of secret agent cum monster hunter,' Dawn explained. 'He was also Buffy's boyfriend a couple of years back. Problem is, what with him being on a deep cover mission in some jungle or other, I've got no way to get in touch with him to let tell him' She choked. 'He doesn't know.'
'Hey, don't beat yourself up over it,' Janice consoled her friends. 'You can't do everything, okay?'
'I guess,' Dawn conceded.
'I know,' Janice insisted.
She passed Dawn a tissue so that she could wipe her eyes. Then the pair started walking towards their first class.
'So,' Janice began cautiously, 'this non-activity among the 'HSTs', it doesn't involve a big cat by any chance, does it?'
'A cat?' Dawn replied. 'No, why?'
'No reason,' Janice said hurriedly.
* * *
Janice could not remember any of the day's lessons, not that that was exactly atypical behaviour. Her mind had spent the day turning over the events of her dreams and the aborted ritual, trying to work out what she was doing wrong. And, just before the final bell went, she had an idea.
Normally she would have walked Dawn home, but today she said a hasty goodbye to Dawn at the school gate and then hurried straight back to her place. Then, with a quick shout of greeting to her mom, she raced upstairs and shut herself in her room. She set up her candles and the rest just as she had before, cast the circle and then sat cross-legged within it.
She slowed her breathing, clearing her mind of clutter, trying to relax despite her excitement. She had read about chakra points at the library and now she tried to visualise her own chakras opening up like flowers, exposing her to the magic. And then, when she was sure she was finally ready, she focussed on her dream.
She was back in the desert, the sand cool beneath her feet. The monument to Chrissie towered above her. Janice put her hand on the stone, wondering if touching the statue might have the same effect as when she touched Chrissie, that strange completion of a magical circuit. Nothing happened, not that Janice was too surprised.
She heard a roar, carried to her on the wind from some distance away. It spurred her into action. With a distinct lack of grace, Janice clambered up on top of the foot. Then she examined the stone leg. As she had suspected, there were crude handholds visible. It was a long climb and for a brief moment Janice hesitated. Then the creature roared again and Janice attacked the leg with an enthusiasm born of desperation, climbing up the statue as if it were the beanstalk to her Jack.
As she climbed higher and higher, clouds began to form around her. They were cold and wet and they obscured her sight. She reached for the next handhold, but the prevailing dampness had made it slippery and she lost her grip. She tried to recover, but it was too little, too late.
And she was falling
* * *
She came to sitting in a puddle in the middle of the high street, Pedestrians carrying black umbrellas to shield themselves from the pouring rain, skirted round her in their rush to get wherever it was they were going. Janice clambered to her feet, water sluicing off of her as she did so. She sneezed.
I hope I don't wake up with a cold because of this, she thought.
Deciding that standing outside in the rain was not one of her most brilliant ideas, Janice darted inside the nearest shop for shelter. It was the Magic Box.
Anya, standing behind the counter, was serving Wesley. Xander was sitting at a table in the back of the shop, writing furiously. Ever so often he would tear of another sheet from his notepad and add it to the ever-growing pile beside him.
'What's this?' Janice asked, crossing the shop floor to speak to Xander.
'Nothing,' Xander said.
Not willing to leave it at that, Janice snatched a sheet from the top of the pile and started to read it.
'Hey!' Xander protested. 'Give that back!'
'What is this?' Janice asked, baffled by the strange shapes on the page. 'It's not even English.'
'It's Klingon,' Xander admitted, embarrassed. 'And it's none of your business.'
With a shrug, Janice returned the paper and turned to see what Anya was up to. And froze.
Anya was just handing Wesley his purchase. It was probably some kind of figurine from some long dead culture nobody really cared bout any more, but in this light at this time it looked like nothing so much as a gun. The same gun she had seen him use in her earlier dream. The same gun he had shot her with.
Janice bolted straight out of the door, not caring about the looks on the faces of Anya, Xander and Wesley, or for the customer she sent flying as she forced her way out onto the sidewalk. She stepped in a puddle - her feet were already so sodden that it hardly mattered any more - but the puddle was much deeper than it appeared. Much, much deeper. And, like Doctor Foster, Janice sank.
* * *
She flailed about under the water, lungs ready to burst. She struggled to swim up and out, but all around her was a uniform green and she had lost all sense of which was the way to the surface. She wanted to scream, but dare not open her mouth for fear of losing the last of her precious oxygen. The pain in her chest was unbearable. She was going to have to open her mouth soon, but as soon as she did it would all be over.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw an amber light in the distance. Mustering the last of her strength, she swam towards it, her one last hope.
* * *
She emerged from a tray of liquid into a room illuminated solely by red light. She knocked the tray to the floor, spilling its contents, a developing photo, on to the carpet.
'Hey, watch it,' Drew chided her.
'Sorry,' Janice apologised.
This must be Drew's darkroom, she reasoned, though she had never been there. Or maybe it was just what she imagined his darkroom should look like. She was finding it increasingly difficult to separate what was real and what was warped fantasy.
'Whatever,' Drew remarked distractedly. 'Just try not to get in the way.'
'What are you doing?' Janice asked, peering over Drew's shoulder as he fished a print from the developing medium and hung it from a line that crossed the room.
Drew looked at her askance.
'I'm developing pictures,' he replied. 'What does it look like I'm doing?'
'Well sor-ry,' Janice retorted, folding her arms. 'I was just, like, trying to show some interest.
She turned her attention to the print on the line.
'Is that Chrissie?' she asked, studying the silhouette.
'Yeah,' Drew confirmed.
'Why'd you do it with all that space around her?' Janice asked. 'It's like she's cut off from everything else in the picture.'
'That's just the way she is,' Drew explained.
She trailed off. There was a gentle rumbling coming from somewhere in the room, like a motorcycle engine turning over.
'Um, we are alone in here, aren't we?' Janice asked, casting her eyes nervously about.
'More or less,' Drew replied, focussing on another print.
'Less as in there's a great big cat in here with us?' Janice asked, noting the amber eyes staring at her from the shadows.
'She's harmless,' Drew insisted.
'Yeah, well forgive me for not staying to find out.'
* * *
Janice's eyes snapped open and she was back in her room, candle light casting strange shadows across the walls.
Well, that was bizarre, she thought, but not as scary. Okay, so there was the cat and the gun, but no one tried to kill me this time so that's a plus, right? Right?
* * *
Janice found Tabitha hiding in the kitchen.
'You couldn't take any more either?' Tabitha deduced.
The sounds of screaming children sailed in from the garden.
'It is a bit much,' Janice confessed.
It was Caitlin's birthday party and the little girl had insisted they invite everyone she knew, including Janice. Janice had been initially sceptical. Much as she liked Caitlin, there was something decidedly uncool about being a sixteen year old at a four year old's party. But she had reasoned that Tabitha might be there and the chance to talk to her about her visions was worth the sacrifice.
'So, does it make you want to have kids of your own?' Tabitha asked.
Janice shivered and pulled a face. Tabitha laughed.
'Me neither,' she agreed, 'but there's still time to change our minds, right?'
Janice shook her head.
'Sorry. I like kids and all, but I can't see myself taking one home,' she said.
'Aha,' Tabitha declared, 'then you want to do what I do. Get friends with kids so you can live vicariously, but leave before the mucky bits.'
'Good idea, but I can't picture Dawn or Chrissie with kids either.'
Jerry bounded into the kitchen from outside. Janice had no idea were he got the energy from.
'What's the matter, ladies?' he asked. 'You're missing all the excitement.'
'Janice and I have had just about as much excitement as we can take for a while, thanks,' Tabitha replied.
Jerry crouched down to get some more bottles of drink from the fridge.
'Caitlin's gonna be so disappointed in you two,' he remarked.
'We'll be out again in a little while,' Janice compromised.
'See,' Jerry said, standing up, 'I knew one of you would see sense. How did the ritual go anyway, Janice?'
'Okay, I guess,' Janice said. 'Actually, I wanted to have a word with you about it.'
'We can have a chat about it later,' Tabitha suggested.
'It's just that'
'Later,' Tabitha said, cutting her off. 'Janice, I know you're really enthusiatic about this and I admire that, but there's more to being a witch, more to life, than just magic and rituals and the like. There's a party going on out there and, as Jerry has pointed out, we're missing out on all the non-Wiccan fun. So let's go and have a good time without the magic while we have the chance. Caitlin's only going to be four once.'
* * *
What Tabitha said made sense, but Janice's impatience still coiled like a worm in her gut. Still, the smile on Caitlin's face when she got to open her presents almost wiped all that away. Almost.
Finally, the children were escorted home and Janice and Tabitha helped Jerry with the clear up while Ellie put Caitlin to bed.
'I thought she's never settle down,' Ellie complained when the five of them gathered in the living-room. 'And it's your fault.'
'My fault?' Janice protested.
'Your fault,' Ellie confirmed, but she was smiling as she said it. 'Seems Caitlin's really taken to you. She wants to know when you're next going to visit.'
Ellie slumped down in an armchair.
'What a day,' she sighed.
'And you wouldn't have had it any other way,' Tabitha pointed out.
Ellie smiled. 'Am I that transparent?'
They chatted generally for a while. A lot of the gossip went over Janice's head, being about people she did not know, but the others were keen to find out about her life, her friends, her interests. Janice tried to be as open as she could, but it was problematic when the most interesting things she had done this past year - such as being shrunk and then swapping bodies with Chrissie - were things she couldn't tell anybody about.
Eventually, the conversation returned to witchcraft.
'Ellie, did I tell you Janice tried her first Wiccan ritual the other night?' Jerry said.
'No.' Ellie leaned forward. 'How did it go?'
'I enjoyed it,' Janice said. 'I felt like a part of somethingbigger. Does that make any kind of sense.'
'Absolutely,' Ellie confirmed. 'I didn't have a lot of time for this magic mumbo-jumbo when I met Jerry, but it was important to him so I felt compelled to go along to events with him.'
'We did our best to make her feel welcome,' Tabitha added, 'but she always kept herself to herself.'
'It wasn't your fault, Tabby,' Ellie said. 'I didn't want to be a part of things.'
'So what changed?' Janice asked.
'Jerry insisted we have this protection charm in the house,' Ellie continued. 'It was a horrible looking thing.'
'Was not,' Jerry insisted.
'Was too,' Ellie replied. 'Anyway, for months I wouldn't go near the thing, but then one afternoon I was doing the dusting and I decided that I just had to move it. I picked it up and it was like I'd stuck my fingers into a light socket.'
'So she dropped it and broke it,' Jerry interjected. 'Don't believe a word of this Janice, She just made this story up to give her an excuse to get rid of that charm.'
'I wish I'd thought of it sooner,' Ellie shot back at him. 'The point is, that was my first experience with magic and it's very difficult to claim something isn't real when you've felt it like that.'
'You'd be surprised,' Janice replied, recalling the way she had suppressed the memory of her first vampire encounter rather than having to confront the reality.
'There was something I wanted to talk to you about,' Janice continued. 'I've been having these weird dreams and visions. Is that, like, normal?'
'We're witches,' Jerry told her. 'We have a different definition of normal.'
Ellie frowned at him and Tabitha turned to Janice and asked, 'What sort of visions?'
So Janice told her. It was difficult at first, but she did not try to hold anything back. She wanted their help and she was not going to get it if she lied to them.
'So,' she said when she finished, 'what's the verdict? Am I crazy?'
'You're not crazy,' Tabitha assured her. 'Well, no more than most teens at any rate.'
'It sounds like those precognitive dreams your gran claimed to have,' Ellie said to Jerry.
'It sounds like any number of dreams with perfectly mundane explanations,' Tabitha insisted. 'Dreams are just the brains way of sorting through the events of the day. I'm sure if you sat down and started teasing the dream apart you'd find that it was just a mish-mash of things you were already thinking about.'
'But it seemed like so much more than that,' Janice said. 'And what about the cat. What's that supposed to mean?'
'It's probably nothing,' Jerry said, 'but I suppose it might be'
'Nothing,' Tabitha cut him off. 'Don't tell me you've never dreamed of cats before. People have strange dreams all the time. They're nothing to worry about.'
'Well, if you're sure,' Janice said sceptically. She turned to Ellie. 'Do you mind if I use the bathroom?'
'Not at all,' Ellie replied. 'It's just on the left at the top of the stairs.'
'Thanks,' Janice said, getting up and leaving the room. But she did not go upstairs. Instead she pressed her ear against the door to hear what the others were saying in her absence. She hated spying on them. She liked these people. But Tabitha was obviously hiding something from her and Janice wanted, needed, to find out what.
'What's going on Tabby?' Ellie was saying. 'It's like you don't want to help her.'
'Yeah,' Jerry agreed. 'It seems pretty obvious to me what's going on so why not just tell her?'
'Tell her what?' Tabitha shot back. 'Let's say we are right. What does that mean for Janice? What gives us the right to drop this on her shoulders?'
'Well, it's not like we can keep it from her forever,' Jerry began.
'Who's talking about forever,' Tabitha replied. 'She'll come to it in her own good time, but right now I don't think she's ready. And, if the dreams are any kind of indicator, neither does she.'
Not ready, Janice thought to herself. I'll show them who's not ready.
* * *
There were no visions when she lit the candles that night. Janice gathered her strength and said a prayer to the God and Goddess, asking them to watch over her when she slept. Then she snuffed out the candles, lay down on her bed and prepared to dream.
* * *
She was in a bathroom. It was decorated with blue and white tiles, but the tiles were chipped and several were missing. There was a figure sitting in the bath. It was Helena Joslin.
Janice felt distinctly uncomfortable about being alone with Helena. She had said some things about her, both to the girl's face and behind her back, that she now regretted, particularly in light of what she now knew Helena's father had done to her. Janice did not know how Helena felt about her, wouldn't have blamed her for hating her, and the guilt forced her to keep her distance.
Helena was scrubbing herself violently with a cloth. Janice took a tentative step forward to see what was wrong.
'Never be clean, never be clean, never be clean,' Helena was muttering over and over and over. Her skin was read and raw and the water in the bathtub was red with blood.
Janice's heart was in her throat. It was horrible to see Helena like that. If I had been nicer, she thought, if I had tried to talk to her then maybe she wouldn't have ended up like this.
'Helena?' she said. Her voice sounded tiny and frail to her own ears.
Helena turned and looked at her.
'Where were you when I needed someone?' she snarled. 'You were always so quick with your jibes and your insults, why not so quick to help?'
'If I had known' Janice began. Hot tears were running down her cheeks.
'Did you bother to find out?' Helena demanded. Her mouth was full of fangs and her eyes were amber, pupils narrow slits, like a cat.
Janice started to back away, trembling, but then she caught sight of the moon watching her through the open window. She thought about what it represented. I'm not the same person I was, she thought. I'm stronger now.
She looked back at Helena and her fear subsided. She still saw the eyes and the teeth, but beneath it all she saw a frightened, vulnerable girl.
'I'm here for you now,' Janice said, reaching out and touching the other girl's cheek.
Where Janice's fingertips touched Helena's dark skin, frost began to form. Janice stepped back as pale blue ice hardened about Helena and stretched up like a tower into the sky. The ice was so thick no as to be almost opaque, Helena just a silhouette at its heart, and, running up one side of the tower, were a set of crude steps.
Shrugging her shoulders, Janice began to climb.
Glasses clinked together, chiming like little bells.
Janice was in the Bronze. Someone had given the place a lick of paint, with a yellow and red motif now crawling its way up the walls. Faceless dancers writhed on the dance-floor in time to the music of a singer Janice could not hear. All was silent save for the sound of ringing glass.
Janice followed the sound and it led her to a small table at which sat Halfrek and Chrissie. Both were drinking from champagne flutes.
'Run along now, Chrissie,' the vengeance - sorry, justice - demon said. 'I need to talk to your friend for a while.'
Giggling, Chrissie left the table, leaving her glass behind.
Janice frowned. She could not remember a time when she had heard Chrissie giggle. There must have been one time, surely, but try as she might she could not call an occasion to mind.
'What's she so happy about?' Janice asked Halfrek while hopping up on to the seat Chrissie had vacated.
Halfrek tapped the side of her nose with a long finger.
'Honey, that's for me to know and you to find out,' she replied. 'Pity, though'
Halfrek gazed sadly at Chrissie, now dancing to the silent band.
'She looks so beautiful, so at peace. She has no ideas her world's about to come crashing down,' Halfrek mused. 'Still, you know what they say. No good deed goes unpunished.'
'What do you mean?' Janice asked.
'Why don't you try some,' Halfrek suggested, indicating Chrissie's discarded glass.
Puzzled by this non-sequitor, Janice picked up the glass and took a sip. Then she spat it straight back out.
'Ugh,' she complained, 'that's disgusting. It's so bitter.'
'All the best medicine is, darling,' Halfrek insisted. 'It's so bad it must be good for you. No, run along, there's a good girl. Wesley's waiting for you.'
Wesley was propping up the bar, a drink nursed between his palms. Judging by the empty glasses around him, it was not his first.
'You feeling okay?' Janice asked, leaning back against the bar so that she could face him.
He looked slowly up at her. His eyes were bloodshot and several days' growth of stubble marred his chin.
'You,' he muttered. 'Not again. Why can't you just leave me be?'
'Why,' Janice demanded hotly. 'Like what am I supposed to have done?'
Wesley shook his head, then grinned, showing teeth.
'What have you done?' he repeated. 'You do realise what you've asked me to do, don't you? Why I'm in here trying to find my courage. Dutch Courage, it would appear.'
He laughed, amused by his own observation.
'Snap out of it!' Janice shouted angrily, snapping her fingers in front of his face. 'What did I say to you? Tell me.'
'No time,' Wesley replied, draining his glass. Then he laughed again. 'No rest for the wicked, don't you know. You're needed on stage, Toto.'
Janice ran a hand through her hair, but it wasn't hair anymore, it was fur and she had long floppy ears and a damp nose. She could not maintain her balance on her hind legs and dropping down to all fours before bounding up on stage to stand beside Dawn.
'There you are,' Dawn said. 'I thought we were going to have to start without you and we could never do that.'
'Smile, ladies,' Drew called before snapping a picture.
'What do you think of my costume?' Dawn asked, giving a twirl.
It was the costume she had worn as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz at Christmas, but now it was stained with blood.
'I made it myself,' Dawn commented.
'Why aren't you up on stage with Dawn?' Janice asked Drew. 'Aren't you supposed to be like the Tin Man or something.'
'Dawn and I are in different scenes,' Drew explained, 'but she's got you to keep her company, right?'
'Wrong.' Janice jumped down off of the stage.
'What's going on?' Drew asked.
'Janice, don't leave me on my own,' Dawn protested.
'I won't leave you,' Janice said, standing upright as she peeled off her Toto costume, 'but I won't stand in your shadow either. Look at this.' She snatched a programme from Drew. 'I'm listed as Janice Penshaw, not Dawn's sidekick.'
'Well, actually,' Drew began.
'Fine, have it your way then,' Dawn growled, doubling over as her body shifted and changed. Fur sprouted from her skin and she threw off the tattered remnants of her costume as she completed her transformation from teenage girl to leopard.
The leopard growled.
'Oh I've had more than enough of this,' Janice snapped.
She barked at the cat, short sharp retorts that echoed around the building. Mewling, the cat scampered away and hid behind the curtains.
'What did you do that for?' Drew demanded.
'Because I'm sick and tired of that thing stalking me,' Janice explained sharply.
'Then why are you here?' Drew demanded.
'What? What are you talking about?' Janice asked.
Drew shook his head and put a hand on her shoulder. Then he burst into flame. Janice struggled, tried to get away, but Drew was strong and she could not break free of his grip. The flames licked at her clothes, tasted them, then started to devour them. Then they tasted her. She could feel her skin burning, bubbling, peeling and cracking. She screamed.
* * *
'Will you stop that racket,' Wesley demanded.
Janice clamped her mouth shut.
She was standing in a circular room, the wall smooth and white like marble. She examined her arms, expecting scars and burns, but her skin was whole and undamaged. Her clothes were gone, replaced by a pale blue dress that fell almost to her knees.
Wesley cleared his throat to attract her attention.
'If you've quite finished playing fashion model,' he said.
He was sitting at a white desk, a ledger open in front of him and a quill pen in one hand. He used his other hand to adjust the way his glasses were sitting on his nose.
'Here,' he said, tearing a page from the ledger. 'Take this to me downstairs.'
'Take this to you?' Janice queried.
'Do I have to repeat myself?' Wesley said testily. 'I can hardly make this kind of request of myself, can I? It concerns you so it behoves you to act as intermediary for me. 'He shoved the paper into her hands. 'Now run along.'
A spiral staircase carved from the same marble as the rest of the room had appeared while Janice's back was turned. At Wesley's urging, she began to descend the steps. She looked at the note, hoping to find some kind of answer, but Wesley's scrawl was indecipherable.
The room below was an exact mirror of the one above, except for its contents. Books and papers were strewn everywhere, so much so that Janice could not cross the floor without treading on something. Sitting at the heart of this chaos was Wesley.
Janice paused and looked back up the stairs. Wesley was standing at the top, waving her on. She looked back into the new room and, sure enough, there was Wesley sitting cross-legged on the floor.
'I, er, I have something for you,' Janice said, handing Wesley the note.
He took it from her and, as he read it, his face paled.
'Good lord,' he whispered.
'Are you okay?' Janice said.
'No, no I'm a very long way from okay,' Wesley replied. 'I'm going to have to think about this.'
He got to his feet and began walking away.
'Hey, wait up,' Janice said, hurrying after him. 'What's the note say.'
Wesley was no longer in sight. How was that possible in a round room with no furniture? There, she saw a door swinging closed. Janice ran through it
* * *
and found herself in the Magic Box.
'Put that one other there,' Anya was saying.
'But you just said' Chrissie protested.
'Well, I changed my mind,' Anya said. 'Now hop to it.'
Drew and Chrissie began lugging a heavy box back across the shop floor.
'Anya, have you seen Wesley?' Janice asked.
'Can't you see I'm busy,' Anya snapped. 'This is taking forever.'
'It wouldn't take so long if you would just make up your mind,' Chrissie interjected, 'instead of changing things around every five seconds.'
'I'm being creative,' Anya retorted, 'and creativity can't be rushed. You know, I think that would be better where it was.'
Chrissie let out an exasperated moan.
Janice noticed Trix and Xander standing by the front door. They were staring dreamily at Anya.
'I don't suppose either of you saw Wesley, did you?' Janice asked.
'Sorry, what was that?' Xander asked vaguely, not taking his eyes from Anya.
'Never mind,' Janice muttered, throwing open the door and stepping outside.
* * *
It was dark. An owl hooted as a cloud passed across the moon. Janice shivered. Her new dress was not ideal for tramping around a graveyard at night. There were voices coming from up ahead and Janice hurried to see who they were.
'So, this is death, huh?' Buffy Summers was saying. 'You know, I was kinda hoping for something more dramatic. Just lying in the dirt while the worms and the bugs and all the other icky stuff eats you, it's hardly the stuff of legend, is it?'
'Oh but the worms,' Drusilla cooed. 'All that writhing an wriggling.'
She swayed her hips to match her words.
Janice ducked behind a headstone before the vampire noticed her. Drusilla had tried to kill her the last time they had met and would have succeeded were it not for Buffy. And now they were sitting among the graves chatting?
'Less with the writhing and the whatnot,' Buffy was saying. 'It's not like we're going to get any anymore. There's just no romance in death.'
'Poor sweet Slayer,' Drusilla purred, running a hand through Buffy's blonde hair, now matted with the dirt of the grave. 'Doesn't understand. Death isn't the turn of the final yellowy page. Death is the bright and painful light at the end of the tunnel and the warmth of a thousand sunrises and the sweet, sweet smell of cherry blossom and new beginnings. Death is a door. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat.'
'It's sickening,' Dawn said.
Janice looked up. Dawn was standing beside her, not bothering to hide. She was dressed in back with something silver hanging round her neck, like a cross, butnot. She was cradling a white bird in her hands.
'What is?' Janice queried, trying to regain her composure. 'Drusilla, your sister and Drusilla or Death by Simile?'
'All of the above,' Dawn replied. 'You can get up. They can't see us.'
'Because they're dead and we're not?' Janice asked.
'Because they don't want to see us,' Dawn explained. 'Seeing the two of them together, it's just sowrong.'
'I can imagine,' Janice consoled her. 'This must be hard for you.'
'Must it?' Dawn replied. 'They're just phantoms. Things that were, things that are, things that may yet be.'
'What's with the bird?' Janice asked.
'Some other birds broke his wing,' Dawn replied. Now that it had been pointed out, Janice could see a little wooden splint holding the wing straight. 'I'm looking after him until he's strong enough to fly again.'
'Maybe I can help with that,' Janice suggested.
'Why? What do you think you can do?' Dawn demanded, holding the bird a little tighter and turning her body to shield him from Janice.
'Helping people is what I want to do, Dawn,' Janice began. Then she corrected herself. 'No, it's what I will do.'
She reached out and took the bird from Dawn's arms. Her movements were so precise, so determined, that Dawn could not stop her. Gently, Janice removed the splint and smoothed the bird's ruffled feathers.
'There, there,' she said softly. 'You're all well again now, so fly.'
She opened her hands and the white bird flapped its wings once, twice, then launched itself into the air and fluttered heavenwards.
'See,' Janice said, turning triumphantly to Dawn.
But Dawn was not there anymore. Nor was the graveyard. Janice was alone.
Or was she?
'I know you're out there,' she said to the darkness.
In response to her call, the leopard padded out of the shadows and crouched at her feet. Janice crouched down herself so that she could look the cat in the eye.
'I guess this is it then, huh?' she said. 'When you strip everything away, all that's left behind is me and the magic. And that would be you. I'm right, aren't I? I may be a little slow on the uptake, but I always get there in the end. You've been trying to get my attention the whole time, but I've been running away from you because, deep down, I didn't think I was ready. And maybe I'm not, but I'll never know if I try. So here I am.'
The leopard opened its mouth, baring its teeth, then licked Janice's face. Janice laughed and ticked the leopard under the chin. Around them, thousands of tiny lights started to illuminate the dark, flickering like candle flames.
'It's beautiful,' Janice breathed.
* * *
The spoon laden with milk and cereal paused in mid-flight to Janice's mouth ad Janice herself was distracted by the ringing phone. Her mother picked it up, then passed it to Janice.
'It's for you,' she said. 'Someone called Tabitha.'
'Hi, Tabby,' Janice cheerfully called down the phone.
'I hear congratulations are in order,' Tabitha said.
'How did you' Janice began. 'No, don't tell me. I get it.'
'Yes, I think you do,' Tabitha replied. 'Could you stop by my place later? I've got a surprise for you.'
* * *
It took all of Janice's patience to finish her breakfast before racing across town to Tabitha's apartment.
'You took your time,' Tabitha remarked ironically when she answered the door. 'Come on in.'
She led Tabitha into the living-room. It was decorated in white and chrome with a glass-topped coffee-table in the middle. Two abstract paintings brought colour into the room.
'I'm proud of you, Janice,' Tabitha said as they sat down. 'It takes a lot to start down this road.'
'I didn't think you though I could do it,' Janice remarked.
'I had hope,' Tabitha replied, 'but it wasn't about what I thought.'
'I guess not,' Janice conceded.
Tabitha put a small black box on top of the table and opened it up so that Janice could see its contents. Inside the box was a silver pentacle on a chain.
'When I was making my own first stumbling steps in Witchcraft, I used to spend many hours talking to the woman who ran the local magic shop. She didn't advertise it was a magic shop, mind you. It was an antique shop, but if she sensed the Craft on you then she let you see the real merchandise on offer. Well, she took me under her wing and was something of a fairy godmother to me, I suppose. And then, one day, she gave me this. I wear a different pentacle nowadays, but I've held on to this one, waiting for the day I'd pass it on.'
She pushed the box across the table.
'I'd like you to have it,' she said.
Janice did not know what to say. Her mouth moved, but words were not forthcoming.
'Do youDo you really think I've earned it?' Janice asked.
'How many times do I have to say it before it sinks in?' she asked. 'It doesn't matter what I think. Do you think you've earned it?'
Without another word, Janice picked up the pentacle and put round her neck.