Night Shift Page 76

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Kiki was tied up hand and foot, as a matter of fact.

As the three weretigers left the chapel, the Rev (for the first time ever) locking the door behind him, Bobo held open the front door of the pawnshop while Lemuel carried Olivia out. Bobo reached in to grab a stadium seat with an awning, and after he’d expanded it, Lemuel lowered Olivia into it with great care. Olivia looked pale under the pawnshop light; she was dressed in flannel pajamas with a padded vest over them, and socks with moccasins on her feet. Lemuel covered her with a blanket. He was taking no chances.

Joe and Chuy, hand in hand, walked down from their store to stand at the corner opposite the pawnshop. Manfred emerged from his house to stand with Bobo.

And to everyone’s surprise, the Reeds walked over from their trailer to take a post on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Grady was bundled up in a pram-type stroller. Madonna looked resentful but resigned, and she glared around as if daring anyone to make something of her presence. Teacher looked almost pleased. They were both carrying guns.

They nodded at Sylvester, who was wearing jeans and nothing else. He was ready at the Gas N Go corner.

Midnight seemed to fall silent.

 

 

37

 

 

Inside her front door, Fiji was praying, and praying hard. She thought of all the lives that had been lost at the crossroad in the past few weeks, both human and animal, and she knew she had to stop this from going any farther. But this was a bitter pill to swallow, and she almost choked.

She shook her head angrily, exasperated with the weak side of herself, and telling herself to be more like her aunt. She flung open the door and stepped onto the porch, Mr. Snuggly at her side.

Fiji’s hour had come. She felt weirdly like the bride arriving at the entrance to the church, except instead of wedding regalia, Fiji wore a green silk robe. She’d saved it for a big night that had never happened.

Tonight she got to appear naked in front of everyone she knew, have sex, and save the world. If that didn’t constitute a big night, she didn’t understand the meaning of the phrase. She’d also dropped five pounds since she learned she’d have to “drop her drawers,” as Aunt Mildred had put it. But that had been from sheer anxiety.

Standing alone under her front porch light, knowing everyone was waiting for her, Fiji struggled to suppress her squeamishness and her bit of vanity and her performance anxiety. For a split second, she was tempted to scream and run back inside. Though it was night, the clouds seemed to be skittering away and the moon was out. Fiji remembered her sister, so anxious to meet her own death.

And Fiji could feel the demon below, moving and murmuring, yearning for her. She felt Mr. Snuggly’s soft fur rub against her leg.

Her lesser concerns about her body, about the feelings of the men around her, fell away. These were small issues, She had big work to do.

The relief of this realization was sublime.

Fiji began to cast the spell she’d found in Aunt Mildred’s spell book. Its purpose was to close the town to outside notice. She didn’t know how often Mildred had had reason to use the spell, but she also had no reason to doubt its efficacy. Sylvester, whom she saw standing under the awning at Gas N Go, was using a similar spell.

And as she repeated the words over and over, her hands moving in a disseminating circle, she began to feel the cone tightening over the crossroad, enclosing all of them inside. She had a fleeting impulse to giggle, thinking of the “cone of silence,” but it vanished as she could discern more clearly exactly what it was she was sealing them in with.

The rest of the world drifted away, leaving only the people of Midnight and the demon. Lemuel stood up and walked forward as Fiji stepped down from her porch and walked to the intersection to stand under the stoplight. Abruptly, the stoplight froze on yellow. They were caught in its eerie glow.

Lemuel read from a page. “Fiji Cavanaugh, witch of this town, do you agree to protect this place with your body and soul?”

Fiji nodded. She had hoped it would be a graceful gesture, but she felt her head jerk. She took a deep breath, trying to relax. Then she gave that up as impossible. “I will,” she said. Her voice was level.

Lemuel said, “Do you agree to sacrifice your virgin blood to appease what lies below?”

“To seal the demon below us for another two hundred fifty years, I agree,” Fiji said. She turned east. “I call on the air for wisdom.” She turned south. “I call on the fire for courage.” Her voice faltered. After a moment’s recovery, she rotated another quarter turn to face west. “I call on water for cleansing.” Another quarter turn. “And I call on the earth for strength, most of all.” She paused. “Help me defend this town and these people against the demon who threatens them. Bind him into the earth so he can’t harm the earth’s children.”

“Men?” Lemuel said, without raising his voice. But they all heard him.

All the males in the town except Teacher came to stand beside Lemuel, who was glancing down at the pages of script. Fiji could not meet anyone’s eyes. Mr. Snuggly glided smoothly past her and sat looking up at the men.

And then she realized that one of them had moved.

Bobo had fallen to his knees. Silently, he held out his hand to Fiji. And there was no way even an insecure woman like Fiji could misinterpret the invitation.

“Really?” she said, embarrassed that her voice was shaking.

“It would be an honor,” he said, and even Fiji could not doubt his sincerity. There was love in his voice. “I failed you before. I won’t fail you now.”

She tried hard not to cry, but a tear ran down her cheek. The other men stood silent, waiting, all of them with emotions she could just detect. To her astonishment, some of them were disappointed when she took Bobo’s hand to lead him to the center of the circle. And she held her head a little higher.

Chuy and Joe revealed their true selves as they moved apart to opposite sides of the circle. Their swords glowed. Their wings spread. Manfred took a place a few feet away from Chuy, and Lemuel an equal distance from Joe. Sylvester stepped into place, and he was chanting in a language none of them could understand. Teacher moved into a vacant spot with his shotgun, and Madonna, too, joined the circle. The three weretigers joined in, and finally, as if she could not help herself, Olivia rose and made her way, painfully, slowly, to join them.

Fiji raised Bobo up, and he bent to kiss her. It was everything she had ever hoped for. Even under the public circumstances, she began to feel heat moving through her, and there was no mistaking the fact that Bobo was feeling the same way.

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