Just a reminder as premium content members read this draft of Movement in the Shadows: I have rewritten this book. This is NOT the final version. There will be similarities to the finalized version that will publish in April, but it is not this version. The rewritten version does still have some similar plot points (for example: Helia’s forays into a new part-time profession).
Casanova’s serves the best pizza in St. Louis. I know a lot of natives will tell you it’s Imo’s, but I preferred Cassanova’s. Casanova’s got their meat from The Hill an Italian market in downtown that did everything better, including thick slicing their pepperoni. They also used provel cheese on their pizzas which was a weird hybrid blend cheese. The prove was coupled with a generous heap of mozzarella and asiago that melted beautifully. Everyone in my family loved Cassanova’s. Possibly because they sold pizza in traditional rectangles of crust that were sold by the foot, not round pies. A large was 18 inches long by 10 inches wide. My parents had picked up ten large pizzas which meant they were expecting company. If I had to guess, Remiel and Michael would be among the invited. My father would want to know if the aging was something that could be healed. My mom probably would want to know too, but she’d be less obvious about her anxiety over my aging a bit. Aurora was skipping through the house. She suddenly stopped, and walked into the kitchen where Jerome, mom, and I were getting out plates.
“Aunt Asha looks like a cow now.” Aurora said deadly serious. I wasn’t sure how to take that. Was I supposed to laugh? Cry? Point out it was rude?
“I know you meant because she has white spots in her hair but telling someone they look like a cow is mean,” Helia said to her.
“I’m sorry,” the seven-year-old said. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings Aunt Asha, I love cows.” I smiled at her, trying to reassure her she hadn’t hurt my feelings, but adding she loved cows had made me feel worse for some reason. I handed her a handful of forks. My stomach growled as the smell of pizza wafted up to me and I opened one of the boxes and peeked inside. It was cheese sticks and I felt sad about it. I loved cheese sticks, but I had really wanted the first pizza to be deluxe.
“You can have one or two cheese sticks while we wait for Remiel and Michael.” My mom told me, and I opened the box completely and started putting cheese sticks on plates for everyone at the house. We’d all done at least small amounts of magic this evening and could use the food. I handed Ariel her plate and she silently took it to the kitchen table. Jerome picked up two plates and my mom grabbed an extra cheese sticks from the box and put it on one of the plates. He thanked her and handed the second plate to Aurora. I grabbed my plate and a second plate for Helia and sat down next to Jerome and across from my sister. I was tired. I had weeks where I felt like the only things I did was eat and sleep. Usually, they were weeks that followed mass exorcisms and dealing with cursed objects. Last week, I’d dealt with a cursed football that hexed everyone who touched it to show the signs of possession without being possessed. It was meant to be a practical joke, but it had been exhausting for everyone involved.
Because exorcism was a booming businesspeople thought there must be a lot of evil in the world. That wasn’t the case, seven out of every ten exorcisms I performed were pranks and practical jokes pulled by teens and college aged males. Two out of every ten were accidental, adults or teens messing with spells and doing something wrong that summoned a demon. The other one out of ten was a tossup between intentional possession by an incubus or succubus with the intent of attracting a love interest or at least a friend for a few nights or they were bad guys intending to do bad things and in the course of a month I saw a lot more of the intentional looking for love than bad guys with bad intentions. I was also convinced exorcism was on the rise because it was covered by medical insurance. I couldn’t count the number of claims submitted by my office where some agent has piped up and said something along the lines of that person hasn’t filed any other insurance claims this year for anything. Which was usually code for they haven’t met their deductible and we’re going to have to try to get at least some part of it from the person we exorcised. However, exorcism bill collecting was fairly easy, usually I just threatened to put the demon back and suddenly everyone could pay my fee. However, if we knew someone was hard up, we’d let it slide.
“You have a full schedule tomorrow, are you going to be up for it?” Helia asked as I chewed on my cheese stick. After swallowing my stomach growled again and my mom handed me a box that hadn’t been opened yet. The cardboard was starting to get soggy and I set the entire box down on top of my plate. I opened the lid and tore it off. My mom tsked me and I shoved the lid under the box and took a slice of deluxe pizza out of the box. Mom was still standing next to me and I couldn’t imagine what she wanted. She held out her hand. I looked at it, wondering if she wanted me to give up my slice of pizza. She never let us eat before the guests arrived. Finally, she reached down and grabbed the entire pizza box.
“You were supposed to open it as I held it and take out two or three pieces, not claim the entire pizza and tear off the lid.” Sophia Burns scolded me. I tried to smile with my mouth closed and full of pizza. I reached in and grabbed another slice. I had eaten an entire square cut piece of pizza by the time my mom put the box back down on the island that separated the kitchen and dining room. I stood up, still chewing the last bite of the second slice when she sat down in her chair.
“I think you should have let her claim the entire pizza,” Raphael said smiling at his wife of five hundred years. I grabbed two more cheese sticks and three more squares of pizza. Jerome’s stomach growled loudly and both nieces giggled. I opened the other pizza boxes looking for Jerome’s favorite and when I found it, I grabbed five squares and put them on top of mine and carried the stack of pizza back to the tower.
“May we all eat now?” Aurora asked.
“Yes,” my mom said. “What kind do you want?” There was much giggling and some shouting as mom and Helia fixed the girls’ plates and then got them back to the table. Then mom and Helia grabbed pizza, leaving my dad to fix his plate last. Once we all had food, talking stopped. To my surprise and horror, I finished off the entire large deluxe pizza. Next to me, Jerome was just as gluttonous and finished off the box of cheese sticks, we’d opened as well as an entire large Meat Madness. Remiel and Michael walked in about fifteen minutes after we had all eaten. There were three pizzas and one box of breadsticks left. Helia, dad, and both girls had been nearly as ravenous as I had been. Jerome told all of us, that while standing within range of the amplifier we’d all been doing magic, even though we didn’t know it. Amplifiers didn’t just make magic stronger; they were parasitic feeding upon the magic around them. When done correctly, an amplifier makes everyone within its boundaries stronger and more capable. This one was huge, but he thought there were some problems with it, either it wasn’t pure or the spells on it hadn’t been very strong to begin with. There was no doubt, Angel was the hero of the day.
Remiel still looked older, Michael said it was temporary. He said mine was also temporary, they each ate a pizza and then they went home. My nieces fell asleep in the living room floor. Jerome and I helped Helia load them into my car and then since it was just a few blocks and Jerome had his learner’s permit, I let Jerome drive all of us home. We parked at my house and we carried the girls across the road. Then Jerome and I came back to ours. I fed the horse and unicorn and made sure they had plenty of water. Pinkie Pie nuzzled me as I checked on them. Angel padded along at my side. Not for the first time, as Pinkie Pie nuzzled me and Angel sat at my feet, I thought the unicorn and hell hound were communicating. Neither of them made a sound, but they kept looking at each other and their glances would have spoken volumes if I’d known how to understand hell hound and unicorn. Twilight Sparkle whinnied at me as I checked on her. It had been a long day. There was a note on the door of Luna Sparkle’s stall from Abigail telling me she had put the animals up for me when I wasn’t home at dark.
I sent her a text thanking her as I loped back to the house. I was emotionally and physically drained. My legs felt like lead and my brain was starting to turn off as I walked. Jerome was already in bed when I got in the house. I picked up his shoes which he’d left in the living room and examined them. There were hard whiteish flecks on the tops of both feet. I picked at one with my fingernail and when it came off, it was hard like rock. It took me a minute to realize it was concrete. How close had we been when the parking garage had melted? I wished I could remember. I forced myself to take a shower before going to bed and then I sat on the closed lid of the toilet in my towel for ten minutes trying to figure out how to get dressed. Jerome had said without knowing exactly what kind of time spell it had been, he couldn’t predict the side effects. I hoped I didn’t feel this tired tomorrow. Angel nuzzled my leg and in her mouth were the pajamas I’d set out on the bench in my closet.
“Angel girl, tonight you are my hero.” I gave her a hug and took the pajamas from her. “You saved me twice tonight, if you did it a third, I don’t remember and I’m sorry.” Angel put her large square head on my leg and then put her paw on my foot. If I had to pick a dog breed Angel resembled most, I’d put her as a bear sized mutt. Her ears stood up on their own, her face had longer fur than the rest of her body where it was very short, she had a mane that resembled a German shepherd, the square jaw of a Pitbull, the lean muscular body of a mastiff, and a medium length strong skinny tail that hurt if she hit you with it. When she’d first come to us, she’d been pure black with reddish-brown eyes. She now had about two dozen pink and purple spots and both front paws were white thanks to Aurora’s magic. Angel watched me dress and then she followed me to the bed. I climbed in and felt her jump in next to me. She turned once and then lay down and stretched out next to me. Her paws hung off the edge of the bed and I snuggled in close to her wrapping an arm around her and placing my hand on her belly. It is not easy to share a bed with a bear sized dog, but Angel took turns trying to sleep with either me or Jerome. At some point, she’d get hot and move to the living room to sleep. Until then though, I felt better with her next to me.