NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.
Tumbleweed Motel ~ Coldwater, N.M.
Sandy pulled a chair out from the table, set it in front of the refrigerator, and climbed up on it to reach the small cabinet above the refrigerator where Sierra kept the hand mixer. She pulled out a plastic case that looked as if it belonged to a cordless drill and handed it down to Holly.
“Sierra has many fine qualities, but efficient kitchen organization is not one of them,” Sandy said with a grin as Holly held out her hand so she could steady herself as she stepped down from the chair. She winced as she put her weight on her left leg.
“Hey, now,” Sierra said as she walked into the kitchen. “I know where everything is. I just don’t use that mixer often enough to justify keeping it in the lower cabinets.” She frowned as she saw Sandy favoring her leg. “You’re limping. What happened?”
“I got old,” Sandy replied. “That left knee just gets a little sore now and then. Think I wore it out chasing men in the ’60s.”
Holly laughed. “I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that.” She picked up a recipe card from the counter and squinted at her aunt’s spidery handwriting. “I hope you can make heads or tails of this.”
Sandy looked over her shoulder at the card. “Oh, I know this recipe. I’ve made it for years. She probably got it from the same magazine I did.” She gestured toward a cabinet in front of Holly. “The cocoa and baking powder should be somewhere in there. Bottom shelf, I think. Sugar and flour are in the canisters next to the stove.”
Holly found the baking powder and set it on the counter. She rooted through the cabinet in search of the cocoa as Sandy got out a big mixing bowl and a set of measuring cups.
“Thank you for doing this for Morgan,” she said.
“No need to thank me. That’s what grandmas do.”
Sierra poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot next to the stove. “I’d offer to help, but I’m afraid I’d just end up in the way,” she said.
“You would,” Sandy confirmed. “Sit down and rest. We’ve got this under control.”
As Holly measured out the flour, Sierra spoke again. “So explain to me exactly what happened to Morgan,” she said. “I haven’t seen anybody this tired since Grant –” she paused, taking in a sharp breath. She looked away for a moment, and Holly saw the tears threatening to fall.
“Sorry,” Sierra said, a little breathless. “It just hits out of nowhere sometimes, you know?”
“I know,” Sandy said. “Take your time.” She gave Holly a questioning look. Holly nodded, raising the measuring cup, and Sandy nodded once and walked away from the counter to hug her daughter-in-law. Holly turned back to the counter and continued measuring ingredients, giving them some privacy until Sierra could regain her composure. The cake took on a new importance as she stirred the dry ingredients together. She and Morgan needed all the strength and comfort they could get if they were going to destroy the monster.
And we are going to destroy it, she thought. This family didn’t deserve the kind of pain that fucking creature has caused them in the name of provoking the Morrígan.
Behind her, Sierra spoke again, her voice shaky but determined. “I haven’t seen anybody this tired since the last time Grant came home from the first day of a new school year,” she said.
“That’s a good comparison,” Holly said. “I hadn’t thought about it like that, but it’s a similar kind of exhaustion: Keeping tabs on a building full of kids involves a lot of mental and emotional labor in the name of keeping other people safe, and if you haven’t done it in a while, it can be exhausting. That’s basically what Morgan is doing, except the stakes are higher, and instead of being away from it for a few weeks, she’s having to relearn skills she hasn’t even thought about in 400 years — or ever, depending on your perspective. The Morrígan knows how to do all this, but Morgan has never seen any of it before in her life.”
“Is she safe?”
Holly met Sierra’s eyes. “At the moment? Yes. Into the future? I can’t promise you that, Sierra. All I can tell you is that I’m doing everything in my power to make sure she’s as safe as a powerful goddess can be with a bloodthirsty monster stalking her.”
Sandy rose and limped over to the counter to take the mixing bowl from Holly.
“And making a cake is part of that?” Sierra sounded skeptical. Holly didn’t blame her.
“It is. She is a goddess, but she is also one of the fae. A fae child needs butter to grow, the same way most children need broccoli or spinach. In our case, it’s not the vitamins that help, but the life force contained in the butterfat.”
Next to Holly, Sandy unwrapped a stick of butter and put it in a pyrex measuring cup. She inverted a small saucer over the cup to contain spatters and put it in the microwave. “Hence using a recipe that calls for real butter instead of vegetable oil?” she asked.
“Exactly,” Holly said. “And this one is especially good for eating with butter on top instead of icing. Throw in the fact that it was made from scratch by people who love her, from a recipe handed down by another bean sidhe, and it’s a near-perfect recovery food.”
Sandy nodded. “Makes sense. Sierra, I take back what I said earlier: I think you probably ought to help with this, too. As soon as this butter melts, you can stir it into the cake.”
“I’m scared,” Sierra said. “I lost Grant to that abomination out there on the mesa. I can’t lose Morgan.”
“And you won’t,” Sandy said firmly. “Didn’t you hear what Holly said? She’s a goddess. My granddaughter is a goddess.”
“A war goddess,” Holly added.
“Yes! A war goddess who knows what she’s dealing with, even if she doesn’t remember it, and she’s mad as hell at that thing for killing her daddy and her classmate and scaring her mama and hurting her second-favorite principal. She isn’t going into this blind or helpless.” Sandy pulled the butter out of the microwave and swirled it around in the cup. Frowning, she put it back into the microwave with the plate over it for another half-minute.
Holly sat down in the chair across from Sierra and took her hands. “Sierra. I can’t tell you this isn’t dangerous. The Morrígan is immortal, but the body she inhabits at the moment isn’t. I can’t change that. There’s a chance Morgan could be killed. There’s a chance she could become a very different person from the little girl you know and love. But I know better than most that she isn’t alone in that. I’ve screamed for dozens of children over the years, and I’ve seen dozens of teenagers turn into people their parents don’t recognize and don’t like very much.” Holly squeezed Sierra’s hands. “Here is what I can tell you now: I think she is safe for the time being. The shapeshifter is waiting for a worthy opponent. It won’t wait forever, and the longer Morgan takes to remember herself, the more people it will kill and the more strength it will gain in the meantime. But it isn’t likely to attack your daughter directly until it’s sure it is fighting the Morrígan herself — her whole self — and not just a bean sidhe who can do a neat little trick with fog when she feels threatened.”
Sierra sighed. “Why do I feel like I’m sacrificing my daughter to save the rest of the world?”
Holly looked away. “Because there’s a chance that you are.”