My biker witch grandma shut down her Harley and pulled off her helmet, letting loose a tangle of long, gray hair. “You need help, Lizzie Brown,” she said, as if I were the one sporting a flaming skull do-rag, rhinestone-studded riding glasses and a brand new Ride it Like You Stole It tattoo.
I snorted. “I’m not the one making us late.” I pried off my riding gloves as she blithely hitched her leg over her motorcycle. Shaking my head, I watched her able toward a bohemian farmers market set up on the side of a country road. It was as if it sprang from the earth between two California strawberry fields.
There was nothing to the place—just a stretch of sandy soil in front of a half-dozen or so colorful tents. A mishmash of tables held everything from broccoli to kiwi, mixed in with dozens of kinds of jams, a healthy display of pottery and a few more specialized booths.
“This better be important,” I said, finding my sunglasses in my back pocket.
Not that I objected to the woman selling erotic redwood carvings or the guy peddling bongs made from hollowed-out pineapples and carrots, but we had a bridal tea party in about an hour, and seeing that I was the bride, I’d rather not be late.
Grandma waited for me to catch up, her eyes narrowing. “This is vital resource gathering,” she said, which had been her excuse for leaving the main road in the first place. “And if you want to know why we stopped here, take a look at your necklace.”
I glanced down. When we’d first met, my fiancé had given me an emerald necklace that held ancient protective magic. Only it had been cold and unresponsive ever since our run in with the Earl of Hell. Now the large, teardrop-shaped stone glowed against my bare skin. “Why?” I asked, touching it, feeling the warmth radiate from it.
Grandma shook her head. “Impossible to say. I’ll feel better after I grab some goodies to juice my protective wards.”
This entire stop made me nervous. “Let’s make it quick,” I said, heading for the market.
Grandma snorted as she fell in next to me.
Yes, well, we’d just sent twenty-four biker witches, plus my dog, to my mother’s party before me.
Maybe I was glad I wouldn’t be around for that part.
I hadn’t even seen my mother since I’d become a demon slayer. And now, in true Hillary Brown style, she’d flown in from Atlanta, rented a historic house and was throwing a week’s worth of parties before my wedding. I’d run into many fearsome creatures, but nothing like my mom in full hostess mode.
I sighed as Grandma shook the road dust from her black leather pants. With fringe.
The two sides had to meet sooner or later. Still,Better Homes & Gardenswas my mom’s bible, and the biker witches only knew the difference between lilac and mint because they used both in the spell jars they liked to hurl at people who wanted to kill us.
“What are we looking for?” I asked, as she headed for the fruit stand.
“Kiwis, apples and grave dirt,” she said, nodding to the guy behind the table. “The fresher the better.”
I shrugged. “At least with the fruit.”
She merely rolled her eyes.
Grandma didn’t like staying in new places without casting a spell to see what was already in the neighborhood. I was all for it in theory, but in this case, I wished we could have skipped it.
I leaned up against a tent pole while she struck up a lively conversation with the vendor about male versus female fruit.Because that makes a difference in spell casting.
Hells bells, it probably did.
Meanwhile the too-skinny, hippie-looking bong seller kept trying to make eye contact with me. Please. I’d only tried real cigarettes once. On a dare. After a particularly strong amaretto sour. I hadn’t been much of a risk taker before I’d learned I was a demon slayer and hooked up with the biker witches. I was still getting used to it.
I gazed out over the strawberry fields.
Wouldn’t you know it—there was a small family graveyard near the edge, partially shaded by a copse of trees. It was older, with an iron gate that leaned drunkenly to one side.
Nothing like one stop shopping.
I was half-way there when the emerald at my neck began to hum. I stopped.
This was the necklace that had morphed into body armor when I needed it, tied me to a tree when I didn’t and fainted dead away at the sight of the Earl of Hell. I supposed everything had its limits.
I held my breath as the bronze chain went liquid, re-forming into a heavier, looped chain. The warm metal poured over and around the emerald. It hardened around the stone, transforming the pendant into an ornate, bronze locket with the emerald at the center.
Okay. I had to think about that one.
I’d never had my jewelry transform into…jewelry.
A change in the necklace usually meant I was about to face a confrontation, or that I needed protection. In this case, I had a stylish accessory.
I blew out a breath. The more I learned about demon slaying, the more I needed to figure out.
I glanced back at Grandma, who was inspecting an apple as if she could see through it. No help there. And I didn’t feel as if I were in immediate danger. Of course, that usually meant I was about to get ambushed.
The new pendant felt heavy around my neck, ominous. I approached the cemetery a little slower than before. Beyond it lay the ruins of an old Victorian farmhouse. I wondered how long ago the family had abandoned this place, and their dead.
A warm touch of air blew in from the south as I pushed open the gate. It creaked with time and neglect. There were only three graves that I could see. Scraggly grass and weeds clung to the sandy soil around them.
Two of the graves were marked standard, rounded headstones. The last one, on the far right, was shaped like an obelisk. It must have been grand at one time. It had softened at the edges with age and black discoloration had washed over the stone. The battered inscription read: Elizabeth 1893.
I bent in front of it and gathered a palm full of dirt. Where I was going to put it was another question.
“Help me,” a voice whispered.
I spun and drew a switch star from my belt. Switch stars were the weapon of the slayers. They were round, shaped like a Chinese throwing stars, only the jagged edges twirled like saw blades when I touched them.
But there was no one behind me to fight. I turned in a small circle. A trickle of sweat tickled the back of my neck. I could have sworn I heard a voice. It was urgent, desperate.
“Hello?” I asked, fingers digging into the handles on the star.
A breeze rustled through the trees.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
There was no response.
I waited. I opened up my demon slayer senses and searched for anything, good or evil, that could have made that request.
There was nothing.
Grandma ambled up from the market, a produce bag in hand.
“What are you doing?” She eased through the gate I’d left half-open. “You say you’re in a hurry and I catch you farting around in the cemetery.”
I sheathed my switch star. “I heard a voice,” I said, scanning the cemetery, half expecting to hear it again.
She stood next to me, listening, her hands on her hips, the bag dangling from her left wrist. After a little while, she shrugged. “I doubt it’s anybody we know. You get the dirt?”
I’d been a little distracted. “Not yet.”
She pulled a Ziplock from her pocket and bent to grab some from the fancy grave at the end. The one where I’d heard…something.
“Take it from the middle one instead,” I told her.
She shrugged and did as I asked.
I touched my necklace, which was now a locket.
Now or never.
Maybe I hadn’t even heard a voice, but I was pretty sure that I had. I couldn’t get it out of my head.
There was no telling who it belonged to, or why it had spoken to me. But it didn’t feel threatening or evil.
I couldn’t just walk away, not without trying to make a difference.
Besides, my necklace had always looked out for me in the past, protected me. And it had given me a way to take some of the grave dirt with me.
I bent and pinched two fingers full from the base of the obelisk. Grandma raised her brows, but didn’t say anything as I opened my locket and stashed it inside.