Most of the animals that lived on The Hill were named, but we didn’t name our hogs. Occasionally, I’d reach down into the muddy pig pen, petting them in response to their grunted greetings, but I never let myself forget that the doomed swine were just killing time ’til “Killin’ Time.”

Early on, the smell of raw blood made a permanent imprint on my memory. The reddish leaves of autumn and the annual rite of hog slaughter are forever linked in my mind. After years of rehearsed dialogue, Daddy and Uncle Finas had honed a polished script, mental preparation for the dirty task.

Uncle Finas would begin the one-act play. “It’s bad luck to kill a hog durin’ a new moon. If you do, it’s hard to cook. It’ll just shrivel in the skillet. Pop like corn.”

Daddy would take his cue. “Yep, as the moon shrinks, the meat’ll shrink.”

“Uh-huh, that’s the balance of it, Brother. There’s always more lard if it’s done at Full Circle.”

“Right on the dot, Finas. But our market porkers should move on the quarter. For a heavier weight. Better for us.”

Back and forth they’d go for several minutes. The unyielding, seasonal ritual of words could drive an unsuspecting visitor to the loony bin in Tuscaloosa.

That particular full moon brought with it my favorite holiday, Halloween. Seven Sisters always gathered to tell their scariest ghost stories. I was happy to trade the shrill screams of suffering swine for the thrilled shrieks of my friends. That afternoon, as Fawn and I rode to Horseshoe Cave together, something happened that can’t be readily explained in the normal way.

It’d been a wet October. The mud on the road was deep, hard on our horses, slow going at best. We’d gone a short distance down Bear Meat Cabin Trail when we spotted an old woman walking toward us. A gray, wool coverlet was wrapped around her, enshrouding the top of her head. A pale, skeletal hand held the blanket closed. She moved hesitantly, in a shuffling manner, but more than her gait was out of kilter. The woman appeared whole from the front, but like a picture from a magazine, there was little depth to her form.

Suddenly, any sort of movement—hers or ours—seemed measured; the air felt as syrupy thick as the mud, and just as hard to pass through. As we drew closer, I could see that the person who stood her ground was an Indian. Remarkably, her face appeared more withered with each passing moment, shriveling right before our eyes, until she looked like a toothless, dried apple doll.

“That’s got to be the oldest person I’ve ever seen,” I said. An abrupt, unnatural quiet heightened my unease. My next words were a whisper, “Listen, the birds stopped singing. Not a peep to be heard. Strange.”

Fawn appeared not to hear me. As if talking to herself, she muttered, “As far as I know, there are no other Indians livin’ around here. I’ve never seen her before. She looks out of place.” Fawn sounded as perplexed as I felt.

The woman hobbled to Fawn’s side of the road and stopped, clutching the blanket ever tighter. Her wizened expression conveyed distress.

Fawn’s nervous greeting cut the heavy silence. “Good afternoon, grandmother, are you all right? Have you lost your way?”

The old woman purposefully lifted her arm, pointing her gaunt forefinger directly at Fawn. At first, it seemed like her lips moved to form words, but no sound came forth. Then, we heard a swishing noise, as if the old lady’s voice and the sudden rustle of nearby leaves were joined somehow.

Transfixed, we leaned forward in our saddles as she spoke. “Listen child. The Grandmother of Time speaks to you with the voice of your ancestors. Beware the secret storm! Goblins of the night, conceived in darkness, cloaked in brotherhood.” The frightening words echoed in the treetops, as if they’d been shouted across a boundless chasm.

With painstaking effort, the venerable elder made a cross in the wet dirt with her toe, and spat into the center of it. Then she said, “I’ve completed my journey of the bloods. I go home now to rest.” A fiery spirit was reflected in the old lady’s eyes.

Unsure of what to do or say, Fawn and I guided our horses forward. The aged stranger’s stare made me shift uncomfortably in my saddle, and as we rode past her, I focused my gaze farther down the trail. After a few moments, I managed to push aside my fear, forcing reason into my mind. I decided the poor, old thing had gone senile and shouldn’t be left to wander alone, but when I turned and looked behind me—she was gone.

Simultaneously, ordinary woodland sounds returned, and the air felt lighter. Fawn and I turned our horses around, then explored the area where the old Indian had stood. There were no footprints in the mud, nothing to prove she’d been there. Even the cross in the earth had vanished. She’d disappeared without a trace. In that wet ground, a person would have had to leave tracks—unless she was a phantom.

We continued our ride without saying much. The uneasy silence was punctuated with Fawn’s repeated question, “Are you sure she was real?”

Fawn asked this at least three times. I repeatedly dipped into my shallow reservoir of patience and answered, “I think so.”

My mind kept going back to what Daddy had told Azberry at breakfast: “That’s right my boy. Stand at a crossroads at midnight on Halloween, and listen to the wind. If you’re brave enough, you can hear the whispered messages of loosed spirits that are roamin’ the earth.”

Azberry’s eyes had grown as big as saucers by the time Uncle Finas added, “And don’t forget son, if you hear footsteps behind you on All Hallows Eve, don’t turn around. They’re the footsteps of the dead. If you meet their eyes, you’ll die!”

I’d laughed at the good-humored taunts, but they no longer struck me as funny. For the hundredth time, I looked over my shoulder.

“Stop doing that, or I’ll ride off and leave you to go the rest of the way by yourself!” The look in Fawn’s eyes told me that she meant her threat.

I coaxed Blue to go faster; soon, we were on familiar ground. Horseshoe Cave was a welcome sight. Everybody got to the Seven Sisters’ meeting early that evening. All of our families were distracted by the same bloody task of hog slaughter, making it easier to slip away.

When we told the others about the old woman, they accused Fawn and me of conspiring to conjure a Halloween prank. Fanny said it had the earmarks of a Pug Sheridan tall-tale. No one believed us until we took the Seven Sisters secret oath. Then, all of us were as jumpy as chicks hatched in a thunder storm.

The mood now properly set, Fawn began to speak in a low, monotone voice. “Badgerwoman says there’s a lot more to the world than most folks know. She talks about four different kinds of little people livin’ around here. They’ve learned to fear big persons like us. Some live on the tops of mountains, others burrow in brookweed, or in laurel thickets; she’s also seen little sprites roamin’ deep in the woods.”

“What are they like?” Ruby asked.

“Their world is sort of catawampus from ours,” Fawn continued. “Where our fire is hot and red, theirs is cold and blue. The fires of the little people are wet while they burn, but they still give off light. On summer nights, you can see them glimmerin’ all over the valley.”

“Maybe Azberry’s not as crazy as I thought,” I said. “One night, he was walkin’ past a burnt-out tree trunk when he saw a large crack in the charred wood, running deep into dead roots. He claims a funny-lookin’ light was shinin’ out of the openin’. There, he saw a hidden world, all aglow. He swears he heard music and merriment comin’ from that place; one wingding of a good time was goin’ on down below.

“Azberry shouted a greetin’ to those livin’ beneath the tree, but he got no answer. When he returned the next night, and peeked inside the ruptured trunk, there was nothin’ left but darkness. As though it’d been sealed closed at the base. Afterwards, that boy rattled on about fairies and elves for weeks. Maybe, he was tellin’ the truth.”

Newt’s voice quivered. “But what about the old woman you saw today? Do you think she was a ghost? I don’t believe dead people can ever come back. Our minds play tricks on us when it comes to spooks, especially if we knew ’em when they were still alive.”

“Maybe our feelin’s bring them back to us. Perhaps true love is a bridge between life and the grave.” Violet’s remark gave me goose bumps.

Fanny chimed in, “The Bible preaches that dead folks don’t know nothin’ at all. They stay in the ground, where they belong, until they’re called on Judgement Day.”

“I don’t believe you can see a spirit; I think you can only hear ’em. Especially where somebody’s been killed; there’s always a noise to be heard.” It was Ruby, putting in her two cents.

Then, Fanny went too far. “I think a ghost is really the devil after somebody, makin’ ’em see things for some lowdown meanness they’ve done. Along with that, certain folks will claim banshee ‘vexation’ where there really ain’t nothin’ to see. For them, Dr. Buttinsky’s nerve pills might come in handy!”

“Fanny!” I was shaking with anger.

“We took the oath!” Fawn’s voice was filled with dismay.

“I didn’t mean it that way!” Fanny said in retort. Then more softly, “I believe you’re sayin’ what you thought you saw, but sometimes such notions have a way of gettin’ addled in the mind.”

“We weren’t both bumfuzzled, Fanny!” I didn’t try to hide my disdain.

Violet was all aflutter; she hated discord. “Somebody tell us another story! We came here to share ghost legends, didn’t we? Halloween’s supposed to be fun. Pug and Fawn helped get things started, that’s all. Look here, Ruby and I brought some treats!” With Violet supervising, crackling bread, molasses, and peach fritters were carefully arranged atop our communal picnic blanket.

Egypt began to talk for the first time that night. “Granny Essie says that if a rooster crows after dark, it means somebody’s gonna get hurt or die. A few years back, one of our peckers crowed in the dead of night. Woke me up twice with its racket. Two days later, Pug got snakebit. Because that cock-eyed bird crowed when he did. So, I killed that old rooster deader than the hammer I hit it with. I buried him, tail deep to a tall Indian, in the compost heap. Granny thought a fox got him. Nobody’s known the truth ’til now.”

It was a side of Egypt I’d never known. My funny bone was tickled; I fell onto the cave floor and laughed for a long time, then the others joined in like dominoes. The dark cloud of dissension had been appreciably lifted by the time Ruby sputtered, “Let’s all go to Crybaby Bridge!”

The bridge’s legend was a sad one. Supposedly, a long time ago, a woman had a baby she didn’t want. She killed the child by throwing it off the high span into the Locust Fork River. Local residents claimed that, sometimes at night, while standing on the infamous archway, they could hear a crying infant. I didn’t believe that old wives’ tale, but I was in no hurry to leave the coziness of the cave.

“Are you afraid to go there, Pug?” Fanny challenged.

The last thing I wanted was more fireworks with Fanny. I glanced at Fawn and she nodded, “Let’s go.”

“Damn right by me,” I said as I stood, showing more confidence than I felt.

Since Fawn and I were the only ones with horses, we decided to leave them tied near the cave’s entrance. The seven of us made the hour-long, uneventful hike along the wooded path that looped around Warnock’s Peak, reaching our destination around midnight.

The covered bridge looked pretty—bathed in moonlight—surrounded by gauzy mist rising from the water below. It had stood a long time, and served the county well. Crybaby Bridge spanned ninety-five feet, boasting a fourteen-foot-wide passageway; the impressive, whitewashed structure rested eighteen feet above the water. The river’s banks were enveloped with overgrown, luxuriantly wild shrubs; moss-covered boulders dotted the landscape.

Our noisy tromping across rough planks broke the stillness of the night. Ruby complained, “Everybody be quiet or we won’t hear nothin’!”

For a few moments, we listened to the tranquil splash of rushing water. Then, from beneath the wooden arch, there came an unearthly, pitiful racket.

“Somebody’s cryin’ and moanin’ down there!” Violet shouted, on the verge of hysterics.

The wailing sounds were soulful, yet familiar, similar to those I’d heard at Mt. Hebron church. The realization of what they really were hit me like a thunderbolt. My friends didn’t need much convincing when I yelled, “Run!”

My warning came too late. Grady Holt and his five buddies had already blocked off both ends of the bridge. We were trapped.

* * *

“Evenin’, ladies.” Grady tipped his hat to us. “This ain’t a good time for a bunch of pretty gals to be slinkin’ about. Don’t you know that the Angel of Darkness makes his evil rounds this night?”

Grady’s friend Toad joined the sarcasm. “I’ll bet they came hopin’ to see a baby angel, the kind with little, flutterin’ magic wings.” Toad’s real name was Wilburn Crowe. He was a small, wormy-looking teenager with dark features. He always walked like he was stalking something. A slight deformity of the face made Toad’s jaw appear misaligned. When he was younger, he’d been cruelly teased by other children. Some still called him Whomper-Jaw, but his current nickname aptly suited Toad’s personality.

Ollie and Odus Crowe, Toad’s cousins, stood next to him. Except for striking, carrot-colored hair, the two boys had the look of albinos, with colorless eyes and milky skin. Ollie and Odus were harmless enough, but between them, they possessed the same amount of intelligence God gave the average grasshopper.

Grady put on a show, bellowing his words like an actor performing on London’s Royal Stage. “Hey Mookie! How much white lightnin’ have we got left?”

Moose and Mookie Gaither, twin brothers, helped Grady guard his end of the bridge. They were so alike, it was commonly believed the siblings could read each other’s mind. Unfortunately, neither one thought much about handkerchiefs. Long strings of snot could regularly be seen, yellow and caked, on the twins’ upper lips. The drooping, mucous mustaches, along with their enormous body size, made them look like bug-eyed walruses. It was just as well they shared a brain.

Compared to most fifteen-year-old boys, the sorry excuses facing Seven Sisters were three bricks short of a load, proof positive that people can grow stupider with age. Grady grabbed a large, earthenware crock from Mookie’s massive hand. He leaned back, taking a good, long swig of the rotgut whiskey. Grady winked, then held the jug out, offering me some.

In the velvety darkness, something about Grady’s face looked false, mask-like; it was unnerving. The other boys continued to gawk, like they were seeing girls for the very first time. I said nothing in response to Grady’s unseemly offer. Instead, I glared a look of disapproval in his direction.

“Come on, Pug,” Grady cajoled. “Come close and taste it. This is real Alabama moonshine. Tastes so good, it’ll make you slap your grandma!”

Wicked chuckles came rolling in toward us from each end of the bridge, colliding and exploding somewhere near my spinal cord. Our female coterie found itself, as Mamau Maude would say, “between a rock and a hard place.” We continued to hold our position, all clumped together in the middle of the bridge, waiting to see what would happen next.

Nervously, Egypt began to dance in place, like a chicken on a hot stove. That’s when I realized the danger that she, in particular, was in. I shook the nagging doubts from my mind. These boys are just havin’ themselves some harmless fun. Still, this is an awful mess. Why did I let Fanny talk me into this? If anything bad happens, it’ll be my fault. I’ve got to find a way to divert Grady’s attention, then maybe they’ll leave us alone.

“All that boy likes to do is show off and aggravate somebody!” It was Fanny. She’d been unusually quiet while her older brother ran his mouth off.

Grady’s next comment made Fanny’s reticence understandable. “You’ll stay shut-mouthed, my contrary little sister, or I’ll tell Daddy about all the nights you go slippin’ off at ungodly hours. I don’t think he’d approve if he knew you were runnin’ around with niggers and Injuns, do you?”

“Oh, I think lots of folks would be interested in this curdled bunch of playmates.” Toad’s tone was threatening.

Grady spat through his teeth. Each boy, as if on cue, did the same; the scene was almost comical.

“We’d like to go home now,” I boldly announced.

“Well,” Grady replied while scratching his chin, “Seein’ as we got here first, it’s only right that we collect a toll as you pass by . . . on your way home to Mama. Ain’t that right boys?” His face was one big smirk.

“I’d like to see a silver-spoon-fed, Southern belle named Sheridan take her first itty-bit of mountain dew,” Toad said. Then, as he devoured Fawn with his eyes, he added, “I’m partial to brown sugar with mine.”

Suddenly, my body turned icy cold, and I involuntarily shivered. Somebody must be walkin’ across my grave, I thought. I wish I could wake up from this nightmare. How am I gonna get us out of this?

Mookie and Moose looked at each other, then Mookie whispered something to Grady. Grady smiled. “Six boys, six girls, six kisses on the toll bridge,” he announced.

“The nigger can pass for free. In fact, we’ll pay you to keep Miss Big Lips as far away as possible,” Toad croaked, his tone caustic. “Now, behave yourselves and give us what we want, or you’ll be the main piece of gossip at Marsh’s Grocery tomorrow.” To emphasize his point, and unnerve us further, Toad made an obscene gesture with his genitals.

Calf slobbers slid down the sides of Mookie’s mouth as he snickered at Toad’s “wit.” Moose’s laugh was a series of nasal grunts. Their “mustaches” grew.

“We’d rather kiss trolls than any of you!” I yelled.

“Pay the toll, or stay here all night!” Grady’s grin mocked me.

“Root hog or die,” Fawn mumbled under her breath.

Each boy called out a girl’s name, like they were choosing sides for a game of King on the Mountain.

“I take Violet!” Moose hollered.

“Fanny,” said Mookie.

“Give me that fair-skinned Injun,” Toad said, licking his lips. “I’ll bet this pretty little thing tastes mighty sweet.”

“That leaves Ruby for Ollie, Newt for Odus, and of course, I get Pug.” Grady’s words were a slurred mess of drunken syllables.

“Grady, why don’t you lie down, so you won’t have to bother with fallin’ on your face? You’ve all had too much bellywash. You know my daddy would box your ears if he found out what you tried to do tonight!” My words were futile. I was talking to a bunch of walleyed fools.

Grady snickered and pooched out his lips, waiting for a kiss; his face turned crimson with the affected effort. He looked like a half-wild, mongrel wart hog.

Expectantly, eleven pairs of eyes focused on me; Grady had his closed. Cautiously, I moved toward Grady Holt, making him think I was giving in. As I leaned forward, my lips were close enough to touch his. Then, with lightning speed, I bit Grady’s bottom lip. Hard. He hollered like a stuck pig.

Slipping past Moose and Mookie, I ran like the devil was after me. I called over my shoulder, “Head for Horseshoe!”

But, my friends ignored their chance to escape in the opposite direction. Grady, along with everyone else, gave chase. His chums wanted to see what he would do once he caught me; they were deriving some sort of depraved, vicarious thrill from the unfolding events.

I scraped my face as I plowed through some scuppernong grape vines. Excitement, mingled with fear, gave me a surge of energy. As I ran, the night felt magical. I fantasized that I’d transformed myself into a deer, swift and sure of foot—until I tripped over a cow patty. My body soared in the air before it hit the soft, slippery ground with a thud.

Grady caught up with me as I attempted to stand. He managed a quick dive that pinned me to the ground. His stout body straddled mine. My nemesis raised his hand to slap me, then hesitated as he stared into my face with an expression of intense fierceness. His lip was still bleeding; he wiped it with his shirt sleeve, breathing hard.

Shock immobilized my limbs and filled me with dread. With the others still out of earshot, Grady’s demeanor softened. “Pug, you’ve always acted so persnickety with me. Ain’t I good enough for you?”

“Get off me! Have you lost what’s left of your feeble mind?” If I’d had a gun, I would’ve shot him right then and there. I was livid.

Grady used his weight to keep me pressed against the earth. Though his subsequent tone was tempered, his words sounded ominous. “I want to tell you something. You’d better pay attention ’cause things are gonna be changin’ around here. It’s a kind of secret. Something I can’t name. When I’m solidly joined, I’m gonna be important, good enough even for you. You’d better come ’round to my way of thinkin’ because I’m plannin’ for us to be together.”

Slowly, tortuously, Grady leaned down and kissed me. His mouth was wet and sour-tasting. The disgusting image of a sloppy stew made with whiskey, saliva, and blood flashed in my mind. A scream of protest began in the back of my throat. The world around me became a cauldron of convoluted emotion, everything happening at once, all blurred together.

An impressive war cry sounded as Fawn bounded from behind in an attempt to knock Grady off me, but he pushed Fawn away with one hand. Then Ollie grabbed her, holding her tightly by the arms.

Toad viciously tripped Egypt as she ran past him in an attempt to help. When she fell, she bloodied her nose on a rock. “Leave her alone!” I screamed. “Touch her again and you’ll be sorry!”

Odus, Moose, and Mookie corralled the other Seven Sisters into a small circle of flailing arms and kicking legs. Our group resembled a giant hornets’ nest as the situation escalated out of control. I heard myself scream louder as panic took over my mind. It was a moment or two before I realized that I wasn’t the only one screaming; I’d become part of a mixed chorus of shrieking and screeching.

Everyone, girl and boy alike, was suddenly scared senseless. Even Grady howled like a wounded animal; the look on his face was one of stark terror. He still straddled me, but his wide-eyed gaze was focused farther down the trail, a direction I couldn’t see.

Grady was able to squeak three original words before he and his pals ran away like frightened jack rabbits . . . “Bloody Hell, Medusa!”

I stood up and faced my six comrades. They made no move to join me, keeping a safe distance from whatever was behind me. Turning slowly around, I found myself standing five feet from Rola Moon, the self-proclaimed sorceress of Pine Bluff County.

Up close, Rola appeared to be my Mama’s age. She wore a long, burgundy dress, made from some kind of uncommon bulky material. It’d been sewn in a quilted pattern with designs of stars, crescent moons, birds, spirals, and other things. A thickly woven, rope-like belt was tied at her waist. She held an impressive walking stick, carved from mahogany, with a shiny stone set into it at the top. White shafts of moonlight streaked Rola’s face, giving her a savage appearance.

The witch wasn’t very tall, but she posed a formidable figure that night. Rola made a complete circle around my rigid body, but came no closer as she carefully looked me up and down. I dared not move or speak. My imagination raced ahead of my wits. This is my choice? The witch or Grady? Please God, let me wake up! I was so scared, I could feel my kneecaps knocking together.

When Rola finished surveying me, like some specimen in a jar, I heard her make a “humph” noise. It was as if she was saying to herself, “Just as I suspected . . .”

Then the witch came ’round to face me again. In a strong, clear voice she declared, “The veil is thinnest between the worlds this night.” Rola was silent for a few moments before she added, “Go home!”

Seven Sisters ran for the cave like bees storming back to the hive. Later, Fawn, Egypt, and I rode home together. Egypt’s nose was slightly swollen, but I could tell she’d be all right, at least physically. Grady’s gang had badly frightened her, but her deepest wounds were the kind that couldn’t be seen.

“I don’t care what those boys say about me,” Egypt repeated, as if trying to convince herself. “The only difference between those stupid buffoons and me is that they sunburn easier. All those bad names they called me, I double right now and send back. I don’t give a damn they didn’t want to kiss me. I really don’t.”

As our horses cautiously made their way along the dimly lit trail, Egypt changed the subject to our confrontation with Rola Moon. Though she tried to act cheerful, it was just a brave front. “Isn’t it amazin’ how she came out of nowhere like that? Didn’t it seem like real magic?” Egypt pondered the experience for a few moments, then added, “Don’t you think Rola looked different than before? Prettier I mean.”

“She did look younger,” I said. “Witches can do that, you know.” My friends laughed at my teasing joke, an inept attempt to brighten the mood.

Then Fawn said, “Well, one thing’s for sure, Rola saved our butts tonight.” She paused before turning to Egypt. “I know you don’t want to talk about it now, but if anybody can understand how you’re feelin’, it’s me. Those ignorant boys don’t deserve the satisfaction of makin’ you cry. Their squirrelly, little minds aren’t worth the salt.”

“They’re idiots,” I agreed, feeling frustrated. “I could kill them for what they did. I’m sorry things got out of hand, Egypt. We should’ve never left the cave.”

Egypt managed a slight smile, then touched her tender nose. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. But I’m worried. The problem with rotten apples like those is that they grow more smelly with time. I’m tired. I just wanna go home.”

All three of us were bone dry by the time we made it to The Hill. Nothing quenches a thirst better than cool water drawn from a deep well, and drunk with a gourd dipper. We helped ourselves to the bucket that was sitting on the porch.

“What are we gonna do about Grady and his goons?” Fawn slurped.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “But I’m sure of one thing. I’m never gonna let ’em push us around like that again.”

Egypt’s response was surprisingly adamant. “Y’all better listen to me. We’ve gotta keep to ourselves. The way we always have. Those boys have pea brains and stony hearts. That can mean bad things happenin’ to anyone in their way. Don’t ask for more trouble. Especially on my account.” It was clear that Egypt wanted no further conversation right then. She whispered a hurried “goodnight,” then made the short walk to her house.

Fawn and I clambered into my room. Another short climb, and we were on my bed. “Poor Egypt,” Fawn murmured. “What they did to her tonight was beyond harsh. It was depraved. We all got a dose of their meanness, but she felt it the most.”

My own, unspoken thoughts tormented me with guilt. Egypt looks to me to watch out for her. I let her down. Seven Sisters can’t venture out of the cave again. Not without some form of self-defense. I can’t make that kind of decision alone, not for the whole group. But the club was my idea. I’m responsible for the consequences.

As if she could read my mind, Fawn answered, “Egypt doesn’t blame you for what happened. And you shouldn’t blame yourself. Egypt’s strong. She’ll sort this thing out. And I’m sure those devil’s sons will learn; every dog has its day.” Fawn yawned as she spoke; we were both exhausted, and she was already dozing off.

I smiled at Fawn’s mixed metaphor, but inside I felt sad and anxious. “All together, those boys couldn’t count to ten,” I said. “I don’t think they’ll tell anyone about what happened tonight. They’d be too afraid of T.H. findin’ out. Still, they need to be watched. Grady and Toad are the only ones with any smarts, a good reason to watch them the closest.”

Fawn didn’t hear me; she’d already fallen asleep.

Even though I believed being more careful would take care of things, it didn’t change the fact that our secret sorority was no longer a secret. We’d been found out; the ante was upped, and much was at stake. I shivered, then slipped under the covers and fell into a sound doze.

I remember one dream from that night’s slumber. A head, disembodied, floated next to my pillow. I recognized the visage of Rola Moon. “Witches are born, not made. But a test must be passed. And this you have already done,” she whispered. Then, the ominous specter faded away toward unknown realms.

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