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.
Morgan couldn’t decide whether to be enraged or amused when she spotted the latest note. Like the earlier one, it was affixed to the door with a knife. This time, an old plaid sport coat lay on the ground below it, inside out.
“Of all the days to pull this!” Mom was furious. “You’ve been through enough this afternoon. How dare somebody kick you while you’re down?”
Best to laugh it off, Morgan thought. Mom’s mad enough for both of us. Aloud, she said: “On the up side: free coat. If it’s not moth-eaten, I’m totally having that thing dry-cleaned and wearing it to school next week.”
Mom glared at her. Morgan sighed. “Look, I know they meant to scare me, but is it wrong that I think this is kind of hilarious?”
“Hilarious?! Someone is threatening your life! There’s nothing hilarious about it!”
Morgan shrugged, catching Dr. Kavanaugh’s eye. “Think about it, Mom,” she said. “We have just established that I am, beyond any doubt, the reincarnation of a Celtic war goddess. I can summon fog and control it. I can shapeshift. I can fly. If memory serves, I’ve been fighting supernatural monsters since time immemorial — and some anonymous mortal thinks I’m going to be scared of a — what is this? A steak knife? — and a bad ’70s blazer?” She shook her head. “Some genius is really trying to start a pissing contest with the fucking Morrígan?”
Dr. Kavanaugh laughed. “She has a point, Sierra.”
Mom clearly wasn’t convinced. “Someone is threatening my daughter. I don’t care what she is, or how capable she is of defending herself; someone is threatening my daughter, and as a mother, I simply cannot see the humor in the situation.” She shot Morgan a look. “And as a mother, I hope you don’t think your newly revealed status means you have license to start dropping f-bombs in front of me. You may be a two-thousand-year-old goddess, young lady, but you are still my 11-year-old daughter.”
Morgan bit her lip, fighting valiantly to keep from laughing. Mom’s gonna Mom. She hid her amusement behind a sheepish grin. “Sorry, Mom.” She looked back at the note. “It’s still pretty funny, though,” she said. “Let’s see what they think they’re big enough to do.”
She started to reach for the knife, but Mom stopped her. “Wait. Don’t touch anything. I want this preserved for the cops when they show up to take fingerprints.”
Dr. Kavanaugh exchanged a look with Morgan. “Sierra, I appreciate the sentiment, but I think we’d better have a look at that note first,” she said. “The timing seems awfully strange. Let’s find out what we’re dealing with here before we invite the authorities in to ask questions with answers they won’t believe.”
Mom grudgingly accepted the handkerchief Morgan offered her and used it to keep her fingers off the knife blade as she pulled it out of the wood. She unfolded the note and looked at it, frowning, before passing it to Dr. Kavanaugh.
I don’t know what unholy ritual you deviants were invoking on that mesa this afternoon, but you can give up on summoning whatever false god you were trying to summon. I hope you know you’re going to hell for your witchcraft. Don’t make me send you there myself. I’m running out of patience.
Dr. Kavanaugh raised an eyebrow. “Interesting. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who could feel something happening while Morgan was communing with the dragon.” She showed the note to Morgan. “If nothing else, this pretty much confirms that our unseen harasser is human. The shapeshifter would know better — and I don’t think it would be making empty threats, speculating on our theology, or trying to run us off. Not if it wants a rematch.”
Morgan looked at the note.
“I agree,” she said. “Mom, let’s see what the cameras picked up while we were away.”
Mom unlocked the door, and the three of them trooped through the kitchen and into the lobby.
Morgan and Dr. Kavanaugh hovered over Mom’s shoulder as she typed her password into the laptop on the front desk and opened the app that connected to the surveillance cameras they’d installed at strategic points around the Tumbleweed. A few clicks, and they were watching the afternoon’s events on fast-forward.
“Stop,” Morgan said, pointing to a rectangle in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. “I saw something move. Back up and let me see that again in slow-motion.”
Mom clicked back 30 seconds and hit play. A scrawny tomcat slinked out from under the office and looked in the direction of the mesa. As it passed out of range of the camera Mom had mounted to the corner of the back building, a pair of black blurs — one about a foot off the ground, and one about five — appeared and then disappeared on the left edge of the frame. Mom hit pause, backed up a few frames, and leaned forward, squinting, as she zoomed in on the blurs. Dr. Kavanaugh put on her glasses.
“What the hell is that?” Dr. Kavanaugh breathed.
“Let’s find out,” Mom said. She zoomed back out and clicked a square in the center of the screen. She rewound to a couple of seconds before they’d seen the blur and zoomed back in. The three of them watched in fascinated horror as the tomcat transformed into a big, black horse.
“Well, there’s our shapeshifter,” Holly said.
“That son of a –” Morgan caught herself. “Sorry. I know too much about that thing now.”
“So do I,” Sierra said. “That’s the son of a bitch that murdered my husband.” She choked on the last word. Morgan hugged her.
“It’s OK, Mom. I’ll make it pay. I promise you that: I will make it pay for everything it’s done to both of us.” She looked back at the screen. “In the meantime, we still have to figure out who keeps sending us these charming love letters.”
Mom nodded, wiping her eyes. “Right. Hang on.” She returned them to the multi-camera view and selected the camera that monitored the back door. They watched on fast forward until the figure of a human with short hair entered the frame.
“She moves like a woman,” Dr. Kavanaugh observed.
“Mm-hm. An older woman,” Mom agreed. “Look — she’s a little stooped, and she doesn’t move very fast.”
The woman approached the back door.
“She’s taller than I am, but not as tall as either of you,” Morgan said.
“Well, that narrows it some,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “We’re looking for an older woman on the low side of average height, with short hair and bad posture.”
“Would you think I was being terribly childish if I mentioned who we know that looks like that?” Morgan asked.
An instant later, the woman on the screen turned around, and Mom gasped. “That bitch!”
Dr. Kavanaugh looked at Morgan. “I guess that answers your question,” she said.