- Boutique de Noël : Découvrez toutes nos idées cadeaux et ventes flash
By the time I reached Winslow and glided through itstraffic lights, clouds had blotted out the stars, but still therewas no rain. I took the road under the railroad bridge at thesame time a freight train rumbled over it, then I headedsouth to open desert, my Harley throbbing in the quiet.
Fingers of lightning lit the clouds with intense white,and I lapped up the residue like a greedy cat. I’m a Stormwalker,which is my father’s people’s way of saying I canharness the power of storms for my own use. On a calmday, I can’t work much more than simple spells, but put astorm near me, and I can make the wind, lightning, and raindance to my bidding. I’m good at it. Deadly.
Storm magic drove me crazy and left me more hungoverthan a three-day bender, but too long between storms hadthe same result. I hadn’t tasted a storm in the two weekssince I’d moved to Magellan to investigate the disappearanceof Amy McGuire, the police chief’s daughter. I neededa fix.
I took the turnoff that led to Magellan. The smudge ofthe small town’s lights beckoned to me from twenty milesaway. The larger glitter of Flat Mesa, the county seat, laya little north. The red taillights of a pickup bobbed aheadof me as it dipped and rose through the washes. Half of theleft light was broken, giving the truck an uneven look. Noone else was on the road with us.
A sudden gust of wind threatened to knock me off mybike, and a voice floated on it across the dark desert.
I skidded to a halt, heart hammering, and dragged offmy helmet. Wind buffeted me, clouds flowing toward methick and fast.
Daughter. The whisper was feminine, soft, almost loving.
Oh, holy crap.
The other reason I’d come to Magellan was to face mymother and stop her, like I should have stopped her yearsago. But I’d been too young then, too scared. The invitationto investigate Amy’s disappearance gave me the opportunityto return, and this time, I would fight her. As soon as Ifigured out how to.
Six years had passed since I’d met my mother in, of allplaces, a diner in Holbrook, where she’d scared the shit outof me. It was easy to convince myself that I was ready toconfront her while safe behind the heavily warded wallsof my new hotel, not so easy out here in open desert withthe vortexes beckoning to me. Here in the darkness, aloneunder this vast sky, I had to admit that she still scared theshit out of me.
Come to me.
“Like hell.” When I’d met my mother, she’d done herbest to make me her willing slave, but I had this problemwith free will. I liked it.
“Not this time!” I shouted.
The whisper died on the wind as lightning flared. Theelectricity of it sparkled through my fingers and pingedacross my helmet.
The storm magic was earth magic, which I’d inheritedfrom my grandmother, a small Navajo woman who wasstronger than she looked. My mother came from Beneath,the same realm that created the skinwalkers, and I’d inheritedmagic from her too. My mother didn’t much like earthmagic, because although earth magic had enabled me to beborn at all, it also made me strong enough to withstand her.
I put on my helmet, my fingers shaking, and glided onward.A curtain of rain washed over me, its sudden chillwelcome. I caught up to the pickup, whoever it was travelingslowly, and I realized that the encounter had taken onlya few short moments.
I pulled into the oncoming lane of the two-lane road topass the truck. Another sheet of lightning ran through thesky, reaching from the mesas to the south and spreading inall directions. It lit the clouds in cold, white radiance, andin that light I saw a giant figure burst from the side of theroad, heading directly for me.
I hit my brakes, cranking my bike sideways, trying desperatelyto avoid the impact. A horrible stench filled the airas the figure missed my front wheel and struck the pickupwith a resounding boom.
My back tire skidded out from under me on the rain-soakedpavement. At the same time, the pickup rose intothe air, almost in slow motion. It rotated once, twice, beforeit crashed to the pavement, landing on its cab. The pickupscreeched forward upside down a few yards, sparks flyinginto the night, before it lay still like a dead thing.
My bike kept skidding. I missed the truck by inches,was thrown free of the Harley, and landed facedown in arapidly filling ditch.
I lay unmoving in the wet dirt, the face shield of myhelmet cracked. My bike sprawled on its side next to me,front wheel bent, my legs just as bent under me.
No one moved inside the pickup. It was black dark outhere; I couldn’t even discern the color of the truck. I couldstill smell the skinwalker, though, lurking in the darknessbeyond us. My mother could control the things, who thrivedon the energy of the vortexes, and she’d sent this one to disciplineme. Not kill me—I knew she didn’t want me dead,just obedient. I wouldn’t be useful to her if I were dead.
I struggled out of my helmet. My gloves had ripped,and blood slicked my grip. I unfolded myself painfully andclimbed to my feet, dragging in aching breaths.
I heard the skinwalker coming back. The legends of mypeople said that skinwalkers were human sorcerers whodabbled in dark magic, wrapping themselves in skins ofdead animals to take on that animal’s characteristics. Trueabout the dead animals part, usually after they’d torturedthem, but skinwalkers weren’t human. They were throwbacksto the previous shell world, the one Beneath, wheremy mother was a goddess. Skinwalkers were evils, like demons,that should never have made it through to this worldwith the rest of humanity. But they had, clawing their wayout and breeding down the generations.
It charged me. The thing was huge, about eight feet tall,wrapped, as far as I could tell, in the skin of a dead bear.Faster than fast, stinking like the worst charnel house, itpicked me up and slammed me down on the road again. Ihit and kicked, making no more of a dent than if I’d hit awall. It put its filthy face close to mine, lips pulling backfrom yellow teeth.
I screamed. Not that it would help. No one lived out here,and whoever had been in the pickup wasn’t getting out.
The storm answered me. Thunder cracked in the distance,and I reached desperately for the lightning. I couldn’tcreate storms or move them; I could only use what naturedecided to give me, but if the storm was close enough . . .
Lightning flowed from the black cloud and into my outstretchedhands. I exhaled in relief. It wasn’t very strong,the storm still too far away, but it would help. I gatheredwhat lightning I could and threw it at the skinwalker. Theskinwalker grunted with the impact and danced back a yardor so, but that was about all I could manage. I scrambledto my feet.
Skinwalkers are damn hard to kill. This one was shamblingtoward me again. I reached for the wind and raisedmy hands to direct it at the disgusting thing. The skinwalkerstumbled. I hit it again and again with wind power, throwingsparks of lightning into the mix.
The skinwalker ran at me again, bent on destruction. Ididn’t think my mother wanted it to kill me, but did it knowthat?
The creature made it back to the road. Instead of pummelingme, it turned and kicked my bike.
”No!” I shouted. That bike was my baby. This old girland me had racked up a lot of miles. She symbolized myfreedom, my independence, me. I grabbed a handful oflightning and blasted the skinwalker. Electricity arcedaround him, but he still didn’t die.
At times like these, I regretted riding away from Mick,my man of wild fire magic. I’d seen Mick burn up a skinwalkerwithout breaking a sweat. Mick had made me crazywith his mixture of bad-boy charm, protectiveness, andelusiveness, but my time with him had also been the bestof my life.
Before we’d parted ways, Mick had given me six lightspells locked into little silver balls. I had one in my pocketnow, the last of the remaining two. The balls, when activated,radiated a white light that drove away every shadow—temporarily. They had no heat, only light, but they wereuseful in emergencies, against skinwalkers or demons orNightwalkers, creatures that shunned the light.
The electricity ebbed, the storm diminishing. The skinwalkercame at me, a murderous look in its red eyes.
The situation definitely qualified as an emergency. I duginto my pocket, digging out the spell that was about thesize of a ball bearing. It didn’t take much magic to activatethem, which meant I could use them whether I had a handystorm or not.
The skinwalker loomed over me, huge fists ready tocrush me. I lifted the spell ball, but before I could call it tolife, the skinwalker gave a sudden cry of anguish. A bluenimbus sprang up to surround it, one not created by me. Theskinwalker fought it, trying to beat its way out, while I stoodwith my palm outstretched, watching in astonishment.
The skinwalker ran off into the darkness, still surroundedwith glowing blue, until it was lost to sight. I blewout my breath in sudden relief and returned the spell ballto my pocket.
The stench receded, a sure sign the thing had gone. HadMama called off her pet? Or had some other entity interfered?I didn’t know, and at the moment, I didn’t care.
I limped toward the pickup. The next burst of lightningrevealed a dusty red truck that looked familiar, and myheart sank as I read the words on the now upside-downdoor. “Fremont Hansen, Install and Fix-It.”
“Shit,” I whispered. Fremont was the plumber I’d hiredto help me restore the derelict hotel I’d bought on the outskirts of Magellan. He was a friendly guy with a recedinghairline and innocent brown eyes, who claimed to have alittle magical ability of his own. “I can fix anything,” he’dboasted, wriggling his fingers.
I closed my bloody hand around my cell phone, but thefall had smashed it. Plastic shards stuck to my fingers, andthe battery dangled from useless wires.
I tossed the phone aside and crouched on the road nextto the pickup’s cab. Blood coated the inside of the driver’swindow, and I saw a head pressed against it.
“Fremont.” I tried the door, but I couldn’t budge it. Ihobbled around to the other side of the truck, my leg hurtinglike hell. The passenger window was open. I saw no gleamingpebbles of glass, so the window must have already beenopen before the wreck. The man lay in the blackness inside,upside down, neck bent unnaturally.
I fumbled in the debris inside the truck and found no cellphone, and the frame was too crimped for me to open theglove compartment. I withdrew, my nose wrinkling withthe stench of death.
Another flash of lightning lit the sky, farther to the east,the storm moving on. The lightning died, and red and bluelights took its place, accompanied by the wail of a siren. Isat down, exhausted, my back against the pickup, as a vehiclecame charging toward me, headlights blinding.
An SUV with “Hopi County Sheriff’s Department”painted on its side stopped a few feet from me, its tiressliding a little on the wet pavement. The door popped open,and booted feet hit the asphalt, followed by sharply creasedkhaki pants. The boots were polished to a sheen, strangefor a man who worked in the dusty desert all day.
Nash Jones, sheriff of tiny Hopi County, squatted downnext to me, regarding me with eyes ice gray in the glare ofhis headlights. Blearily I heard another truck pull up andmore boots crunch on dirt and pavement.
“Janet Begay.” Nash’s voice was flat and hard. He didn’tlike me. When I first arrived in Magellan, I’d tried to talk tohim about Amy McGuire, and he’d shut me down before I’ddone more than introduce myself. Amy McGuire had beenhis fiancée. Jones had hated me before he’d even met me.
He turned on a pinpoint flashlight and trained the lightright into my eyes. “You all right?”
“I’m alive,” I croaked.
“You ran into him with your motorcycle.” His voice heldno sympathy. “The impact flipped the truck. Am I right?”
“Something hit him. Not me.”
He didn’t believe me. “Can you get up? Do you needthe paramedics?”
“I think I’m okay.”
Nash didn’t believe that either. A woman in a blackcoverall came over at his signal, and she helped me stand.Nash abandoned me while the woman got me to the backof a paramedics truck and cleaned the blood off my hands.She checked me over, took my blood pressure, felt mylimbs for breaks, asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital.I said no but asked her for a lift into town, my motorcyclewheel bent like it was. She agreed but said she had to waitfor the sheriff’s okay.
I felt hollow inside. Fremont was dead in that truck.Dead because a skinwalker sent by my evil goddess motherhad missed me and hit him.
Nash Jones and his deputies surveyed the accident andstarted cutting the body out of the truck. I sat there sickand miserable. The storm was dying, leaving me drainedand sick as usual. I really wanted some coffee. Or a stiffdrink. I was a lightweight drunk, so I never drank much,but tonight I’d make an exception.
Nash returned and beckoned with a curt gesture. “Begay.Come with me.”
Probably the only reason he didn’t manhandle me wasbecause the paramedics woman might get mad at him.
Nash Jones had made it clear as soon as I arrived in Magellanthat he resented the hell out of my presence and the factthat Chief McGuire had asked me here. Nash had neverbeen officially charged regarding Amy’s disappearance, buthe’d been questioned as a suspect, and the talk on the streetwas that no one knew for sure. The things Chief McGuirehad told me about Sheriff Jones were . . . interesting.Nash didn’t touch me, but he made me hobble in front ofhim to his SUV. He opened the back door. “Get in.”
“Why? The nice lady with the blood pressure cuff isgiving me a ride home.”
“I’m taking you to the sheriff’s office. For reckless driving,possible manslaughter.”
“You are kidding, aren’t you?”
“I don’t kid.”
Jones could glare. He had gray eyes that could turn onyou with the intensity of a supernova, black hair cut in themilitary style he’d brought back from his army time in Iraq,and a hard, handsome face. I’d seen women in Magellanand Flat Mesa turn their heads to watch him go by, hislooks marred only by a scar on his upper lip.
“There’s something out there,” I said. “It hit Fremont’struck, hard enough to flip it. It ran off, but the storm’s dying,and it could come back anytime. It can tear this SUVapart like a paper bag if it wants to. Skinwalkers are friggingstrong.”
He answered me with a flat stare. Nash Jones was anUnbeliever, one of those people who didn’t buy the fact thatMagellan was built near a mystical confluence of vortexes,where the paranormal was normal. He’d grown up herebut derided those who made money from the tourists whoflocked to Hopi County in pursuit of the supernatural.
“Get in before I throw your ass in.”
“Were you like this in the army? Not believing anyonewho warned you of danger?”
“There I was with trained men. You’re a Navajo girlfrom a sheep farm. Get in the damn truck.”
“It killed Fremont, easy as anything.” I was close to hystericaltears. I liked gossipy, quirky Fremont.
“It’s not Fremont.”
I looked at him in shock. “What?”
“It’s his assistant. Charlie Jones.”
I’d seen Charlie helping Fremont work on my hotel’splumbing, a quiet, kind of scruffy kid in his late teens who’dkept to himself. I’d known his first name was Charlie, butthat was about it.
“Jones?” I repeated.
“My fourth cousin.”
“Oh, Nash, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Nash gripped me under the elbow and all but threw meinto the backseat. “Stay there.”
He slammed the door and clicked a remote, and the locksengaged. As I suspected, the windows wouldn’t roll downfor the prisoner in the back, and a black grill separated backfrom front, with another one blocking me from the storagespace to the rear. I decided to be thankful that Nash hadn’thandcuffed me.
I slumped down in the seat, but I knew I couldn’t hide.If the skinwalker wanted to find me again, it would. I didn’tsense it nearby, though. The flashing emergency lights andactivity might be keeping it away. Skinwalkers didn’t likelight, noise, crowds. That didn’t mean it wouldn’t rise outof the desert and attack again when Nash drove me away.
I also worried about my bike. Would Nash leave it bythe side of the road like a mangled toy? I could imaginehim doing that, sending impound to retrieve it when he feltlike it.
I didn’t have much in the way of possessions, feelingfreer without them, but that Harley was important to me.I’d ridden her across this country and down into Mexico,first on my own, then with Mick, then alone again, whenI’d finally left him five years ago.
The bike represented my means of escape. No matterhow many roots I put down or how much trouble I got into,I could always throw a change of clothes into my saddlebags,swing my leg over my Harley, and disappear into thenight.
I saw the poor thing in the flicker of police flares, thewheel bent, the handlebars sticking up forlornly. It was amachine, a piece of metal, I told myself, but it was likelooking at the twisted body of my own child.
When Nash finally opened the driver’s door, I smelledno stench of skinwalker on the night. I inhaled, tasting theozone tingle of the storm. I toyed with the idea of snatchingthe lightning’s power and zapping Nash with it, but thatwould make me no better than the skinwalker. Hurting forthe fun of it. I shuddered.
“Should I consider myself under arrest?” I asked.
Nash slammed the door and put on his seat belt. “Beingtaken in for questioning.”
“Deputies are impounding it. It’s evidence.”
“Damn you, Jones. I didn’t run into that truck.”
“Save it.” He put the SUV in gear and pulled out past theflipped pickup as the deputies lifted my Harley and tossedit carelessly into the back of their truck.
Nash didn’t turn on his emergency lights, but he gunnedthe SUV and roared down the highway. Ten miles along,the road ended in a T-intersection, another narrow highwayheading north to Flat Mesa, the other south to Magellan. Myhotel stood here, at the Crossroads, a dark, forlorn squareagainst the darker sky. The Crossroads Bar, which shareda parking lot with the hotel, was lit and swarming withpeople.
I gazed longingly at the hotel, picturing my bedroomin the back with its waiting bed and bathroom, even if thewater didn’t work yet. That hotel was my haven, my defiance if you like.
Nash turned left, passing the hotel without stopping,and drove north toward Flat Mesa.
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