30. Revolver

2022, March 23th
Collapse – 27 years

Katherine watched from her front door as Josephine drove off.

She should’ve felt ecstatic. Today, she’d discovered her own magical power, a powerful one at that. Tomorrow, she would leave with a coven of like-minded people. Why could she not shake the feeling that something was wrong?

Maybe it was her inner pessimist—the part of her that was certain that good things just didn’t happen to her—but she couldn’t stop replaying the million little glimpses she’d seen inside Alex’s mind.

The coven was not the cheerful family they pretended to be. They had arguments, feuds, and cliques, just like high schoolers. But for her, they put on a show, because they wanted her. She was an acquisition, but the smiles had come down today. The moment Alexander realized she was reading his mind, she’d gone from being an annoyance to him to a mortal threat. He wasn’t the only mind reader now. Josephine thought that he might behave better from now on, but Josephine had never seen inside his head.

And there was Sakhr. He’d been careful not to look at her, but she’d seen enough about him in Alex’s mind. His power defined him. He was the bodyswapper, the one who kept them all alive. If someone could ever replace him in that role, it would provoke something in him far different than better behavior.

She went inside. Her father was in the other room watching the Badgers game. When he saw her, he muted it and meandered to the kitchen.

“How was Jesse’s?” He leaned casually on the counter while Katherine pried her boots off.

“It was okay. We finished the homework and just watched some television.”

Her father nodded, his mild curiosity sated, but then Katherine met his gaze. Her mind filled with thoughts that told a different story.

He had tried to look ‘Jesse’ up in the school directory. There was one: a boy, not a girl, and he was two grades below Katherine. Her father had called the boy’s mother and confirmed that Katherine had never been there in her life. He knew Katherine was lying to him, but this week, he had seen more life in Katherine than he had since her mother died. She was happy, and it had something to do with where she was going each night. He didn’t think she was getting involved with a bad crowd. She wasn’t cutting classes, and her grades were fine; he’d called the school and checked. His hope was Katherine was seeing a boy. Oh God, did he hope that. At least he’d understand the secrecy. He hated that she would keep it secret from him, but he’d understand.

All of this was hidden behind his look of boredom. He was confused, and hurt, and desperate to know what was going on with her.

And tomorrow she would be running away.

“Thanks for letting me stay out so late,” she said.

He shrugged. “Have you eaten?”

“Yeah. I’m probably going to disappear in my room for the night. I have a little bit of work left.”


She met his gaze again.


Fear that she was slipping away from him.

It had been so long since they’d spent time together. Was she outgrowing him? Was she going to disappear one day. He wanted so much to do something with her. Anything. He’d play dolls with her again if she wanted, but she hadn’t done that since she was a child.

That memory was strong inside his head. She had been eight, and they’d been playing house. Or doctor. Katherine kept jumping from topic to topic, and he wasn’t sure. He was responsible for steering Clifford the Big Red Dog to a car accident to drop off paramedic dolls who were riding him, but Katherine kept telling him he was doing it wrong. He took the dolls off Clifford too soon, or he moved them to the site instead of walking them. With everything he did, she got fussy. He’d lost his temper and snapped at her. It only happened once, but Katherine was done. She never played with dolls again. Logically, he knew she simply outgrew them, but he still blamed himself for ruining it for her. Bit by bit, she became this girl who’s interests strayed farther away from him. No more chess. No more games. Even when he went along with things she wanted to do, such as shopping, it felt perfunctory for both of them.

He’d give anything to know what to do.

Katherine did something she hadn’t done in ages. She hugged him, and kissed his cheek.

“Goodnight, daddy. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Immediately, she headed off. She couldn’t hold herself together if she stayed any longer.

“Goodnight,” he called after her.

In her room, she tossed her backpack against the bed and read her notebooks on witch powers. Now that she knew she could learn them for herself, she studied her notes in a different light. After every section, she’d clear her mind and concentrate on the questions.

What was it like? What’s the most you could do? How did you visualize it? She’d hold the answers in her head and see if she could get that same little click that she felt with Alexander’s power, but nothing came. Maybe she needed someone to test the powers on. With Alexander, she’d looked him right in the eyes, and it happened. Or did it happen, and that’s why she looked him in the eyes? She’d seen her own power through Christof’s memories. All week, her power had been shifting and curling about itself as though something were growing inside, but Christof had only seen her when she was around the others.

Maybe that was the secret. Learning a power was both understanding it and being close to the witch. That still left so many unanswered questions. In theory, she could figure it all out tomorrow when when they traveled together, but she knew what was in Alex’s head. She saw how skittish they all became after realizing what she was, how quickly they sent her home, how reluctant Josephine was to come inside.

They weren’t coming tomorrow morning, she realized. Or if they did come…

That thought nagged at her.

Setting aside her notebook, she crept from her room and down the upstairs hall to her father’s bedroom. In his closet on the top shelf was a shoebox. Careful not to topple the other boxes on top of it, she sidled it off the ledge. Inside was a magnum revolver in a nest of tissue paper.

That was when she got scared. By taking this action, she’d changed a silly worry into something real—an acknowledgement that she might actually be in mortal danger. And even if tomorrow came, and they arrived to pick her up for the airport, she can never take back that she kept a gun with her this night because she thought they might decide to kill her. It would always be between her and them.

She took the gun, collected the bullets, and slid the shoebox back where it belonged. Her father didn’t realize that she’d always known it was there. Tomorrow she could put it back, and he’d never realize it had gone missing. Hopefully.

In her room, she familiarized herself with the gun. Years ago, her father had taken her to a shooting range. It had been one of his father-daughter bonding attempts. At the time, it was pointlessly dull. Now, it was endearing. She’d go again with him had there been more time.

She tucked the gun under her pillow and returned to her notes, particularly on Josephine’s power. Of all the powers, that one was most likely to protect her if… something happened tonight. She read the section front to back and concentrated. It made no difference. With no one to practice upon, she couldn’t tell if she was making progress.

And then the doorbell rang.

Her hands quivered madly as she took out the gun and the ammo box from under her pillow. She could hardly fit the rounds into the chamber.

“Katherine?” It was her father. “Can you come down here a minute?”

Tucking the gun under her sweater, she walked out to the top of the stairs. Anton waited just inside the threshold with her father.

“Your guidance councilor needs to speak with you,” her father said.

She saw in her father’s mind many questions. Why was a school guidance councilor making a housecall? What could Katherine be getting into that warranted this? Her father wasn’t questioning whether Anton was who he said he was. Her father took that for granted. Anton’s Authority echoed in her father’s head.

“I would like to speak with her privately,” Anton said. More Authority.

“Of course.” No question about it. Her father headed toward the kitchen.

“What’s going on?” Katherine asked.

Sakhr stepped around from behind the door. He’d been waiting out of view of her father. “Something’s come up. We need to leave tonight.”


“I’ll explain on the way. Are you packed?”


“That’s okay. Just come now. We’ll replace anything you need.”

“But why? What’s so urgent that we have to leave tonight? Where are the others? Where’s Josephine?”

“Josephine is waiting in the car. Come. We haven’t time to discuss this now.”

“If you’d look me in the eye, you could tell me everything that way. It would be quick.”

Neither did. They exchanged glances with each other. Anton stepped into the house.

Sakhr stayed at the door. “As the coven’s newest telepath, you’re going to need to follow the same rule as Alexander. No mind reading unless absolutely necessary. Respect our privacy.”

Anton was at the foot of the stairs now.

“I think I’ve decided I want to stay,” Katherine said, “I’m not sure I’m ready to leave my father alone. Maybe after I graduate you could come back. If you wanted to.”

Anton started climbing the steps.

“Or if you don’t, that’s okay too. I get it if you don’t want me in the group anymore. And that’s okay. I’ll just… I’ll just be here. I won’t learn any more powers.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. She hardly noticed.

“We don’t have time for this,” Anton said, taking one step at a time. “Come with us.”

The sound of his voice made her body tremble. Without thought, her legs moved toward him. She was down two steps before she clutched the banister. She didn’t have to obey him. He’s here to hurt her.

“Please,” she said. “Please, leave me alone. I won’t tell anyone. Please.”

A rusty squeak came from the back of the house. Someone just passed through the kitchen screen door to the yard. Her father was talking.

Anton was half way up the stairs. “Do not disobey me, Katherine.”

Again, her body moved reflexively. She clung to the banister as though her legs were dragging her down. Anton was almost in reach. Frantically, she pulled the gun from her waistband and aimed it.

He froze, eyes wide. Sakhr practically dove outside the door. All traces of his ancient air of paternalism were gone. He was a man ducking a threat.

Anton held his ground. “Put down the gun, Katherine.” She didn’t. Each time her body reacted less and less to his Authority. Her gun leveled at him.

I said put it down!” he roared.

She hardly even realized it when she fired. The bang was deafening for sure, but it was the gun’s reaction that she noticed. The kickback was as though she’d just pushed a shopping cart into a wall—hardly anything at all. Anton’s head snapped back. As though in slow motion, he fell backward down the stairs. He was airborne for an eternity. Blood streamed from a hole above his left eye. When his body hit the steps, he tumbled the rest of the way, his limbs limp and aimless. At the bottom, he came to a rest. The frozen look of surprise was still on his face.

Something crashed in the kitchen. Her father yelled. He struggled with someone. Then came the sound of a solid crack.

Moments later, Alexander emerged holding her father as a shield. Her dad’s feet dragged, and his arm flailed about for support. Alexander was holding a kitchen knife to his throat.

He’d been grinning when he entered, but upon seeing Anton, his expression turned black.

“What the fuck did you do?”

Katherine’s legs nearly buckled. She clutched the gun with cold, white knuckles.

“You cunt. Do you have any idea what I’m going to do to you now? Do you have any idea?”

“Kat?” Her father sounded groggy. “Run. Just run.”

“Oh shut up.” Alex cracked him on the head with the butt of his knife. Allen would have crumbled if Alex hadn’t been holding him up. “And you,” Alex looked at her. “Put that fucking gun down before I start filleting your old man.”

“Dad…” Katherine’s voice came out as a whimper.

“Nnn… No,” said Allen.

“Look into my eyes, bitch. I will do it. If you put that down and come down here, your daddy gets to live. Up to you.”

In his eyes, Katherine saw that he would hurt her father, but he wasn’t sold yet on letting her father live. That would depend on how he was feeling, or how much she pissed him off.

Either way, she was going to die tonight. That had been decided long before she shot Anton, but now that she had… Oh, my. The things Alexander wanted to do to her. This little bitch had just ended a friendship spanning centuries. They were a duo who understood each other like no other people could. And when they put their powers together, they were unstoppable. Alex could see clean through anyone, and his insight made Anton’s Authority work better—better for picking up women, for gambling, for doing all the things the duo loved to do. That’s because Alex saw how Authority worked. He could see in the minds of others while the Authority worked primordial parts of their brains. It would tickle the fight-or-flight response—lock down the super ego. In time, he’d learned just what memories and feeling worked best, and how best for Anton to work his magic.

He understood Anton’s power in a way Anton never did.

And now Katherine saw it too.

She took a breath and calmed herself.

“Let my father go.” Her voice wavered, but Authority was there.

Startled, Alex reared back. As though of its own mind, his hand released the knife. His grip relaxed, and her father slid to the floor.

She fired. This time however, she over anticipated the kick back. The shot merely nicked Alex’s arm. Alex moved, but Katherine fired again, and again. She didn’t stop. Bullets flew high and wide as Alex stumbled backward out of view. Plaster and dust exploded around him.

The final shot punched his chest. The gun clicked empty. Alex slumped against the wall and slid to a seat beside Allen. He glared at Katherine. Despite wheezing for dying breaths and blood bubbling from his lip, he could think only of his hate for her.

Katherine rushed down the stairs to her father. As she rounded the bottom, Sakhr lunged from the front door and grabbed her waist. He threw her at the stair banister. Her head collided with wood. Pain seared through her. She crumpled. Something warm and slick poured down her face.

Sakhr reached around the front door and reemerged with a baseball bat. He approached.

“Put… put the bat—” She never finished.

Sakhr brought it down in an overhead swing, right onto her leg.

In that moment, pain was all she knew. The scream that tore from her lungs was long and piercing. It petered into a hoarse croak. Her shin bone jutted from a massive gash. Blood poured.

Sakhr raised the bat again.

Katherine pulled herself away, but there would be no escaping it. Before Sakhr could swing, Allen collided with him from behind. They fell, into a grapple. Allen rolled on top of Sakhr and press his forearm into his neck. Sakhr struggled, but Allen’s chokehold was solid.

“Kat, get the phone,” her father yelled.

Then, they stopped fighting. Allen stood. Sakhr, in turn, screamed. He looked over his own body as though it were covered in insects. Sakhr had swapped places.

Now in her father’s body, Sakhr grabbed Allen, who was too bewildered to react. He dragged him toward Alex.

In dread, Katherine saw what was about to happen.

“No,” she yelled. “Stop!”

Her Authority caused Sakhr to pause, but the voice of a broken, bleeding girl was not enough to keep him.

“No!” she yelled again. She tried dragging herself toward them.

By now, Allen had gained control of his senses. He pieced together enough to realize the enemy was in his own body. He kicked and thrashed. Sakhr had to wrestle him the rest of the way. He grabbed Alex’s hand and placed it on the shin of Allen’s current body.

It was as though they each hiccuped within a fraction of a second of one another. And it was done. Sakhr was in his own body. Alexander was in Allen’s.

Alex straightened. He looked at his old body, and then at his new one. “Fuck!”

He felt his new gut. “Fucking fuck. Shit.”

He ran a hand through his thinning hair. Hissing, he jerked it away when his fingers touched a welt—the one Alex had inflicted on Allen when he first broke in. “God fucking damn it!” He slammed a hand against the wall.

Katherine’s father, now inside Alex’s old body, stared in wide-eyed disbelief at the man now impersonating him. His eyes turned to Katherine, and she saw his thoughts. He felt pain and confusion, but at seeing his hurt little girl, he understood one thing for sure: he’d failed. He was going to die. She would follow, and there was nothing he could do about that.

His thoughts stopped making sense. They were flashes of unrelated ideas and memories—just a random chaos of firing neurons as his brain shut down. In the end, there was no final wish for Katherine to escape, and no sentiments of love, just a muddled mess of panic and despair.

And then nothing.

He was dead at the hands of people Katherine had brought into their lives. She knew it wasn’t her fault, but that didn’t change anything. He never got to understand why.

Alex snapped around to look at her. “She’s still alive,” he said. A humorless grin crept over his face. It was not a smile her father had never made. “Shall I do the honors?”

Sakhr brushed himself off and looked down at Katherine. “Fine.” He stepped over her body and headed up the stairs. “I need to find her notes. We don’t have much time. So be quick about it, will you? Don’t look her in the eye. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t touch her.”

“Sure, sure.” Alex fetched the dropped bat and stood over Katherine. Once Sakhr disappeared upstairs, he looked Katherine directly in the eyes. “Do you think I’m going to be quick about it? Look into my eyes, bitch. Take a look and see what I’m about to do to you.”

She looked.

And she saw.

26. Huddle

2022, March 23th
Collapse – 27 years

Josephine’s mind wondered as she drove back to the hotel. Katherine was having second thoughts. Up until tonight, she thought she’d be running away from a life of bullying. Now Alex had shown her that bullying might follow. And there was her father. No goodbyes. No contact. As far as he’ll know, Katherine will head for school tomorrow and never arrive—a parent’s worst nightmare. If there was ever a night for that to sink in for Katherine, it would be tonight.

Even if she did go, how long until she realized what a sorry lot the coven was? Katherine was smart, gifted, and inquisitive. The coven was nothing compared to her. Even Josephine loathed the person she herself had become. They were vampires who leeched lives and bodies. Despite their talents, the world would be better off without them.

Josephine’s mind drifted to more pleasant topics, particularly what Katherine had said about replacing Alex. Now there was a good idea. The coven might be half decent without that cancer.

Sakhr would never allow it, but this would give him leverage to keep Alexander in check. And Anton too.

Josephine returned to the hotel. When she reached the presidential suite, everyone was gathered in the main room, including Alexander. It seemed she’d stepped into the middle of a serious conversation. She expected that, but she’d also expected Alexander to be in a yelling match with Sakhr. He looked more concerned than angry.

And everyone quieted when she entered, as though this were her intervention.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Did you drop the girl off at her home?” Sakhr replied.

“Yes. What’s going on?”

“We’re having a discussion about what to do.”

“Do about what?”

“About Katherine. We need to discuss her power and what that means for us.”

“What’s there to discuss? She figured out how to read Alex’s mind. You’re not honestly telling me you think she’s a threat, do you?”

“That’s what we’re discussing. Christof, tell Josephine what you told us.”

Christof was off to the side of the huddle, as though he’d mostly been listening. He unfolded his arms and spoke. “When Alexander was saying those personal things to her, her power stirred. It’s like tumors are growing beneath the surface. I didn’t know what these tumors were, but when Alex talked down to her, one of the growths took the form of his power. It came to life.”

“Yes? So? It makes sense.”

“She has five other growths forming. I didn’t make the connection then, but she’s developing each of our powers. The better she understands them, the closer she gets to bridging the connection. Soon she’ll have all of our powers.”

“Yes. She and I already figured that out.”

Sakhr looked squarely at her. “Did she try to learn your power?”


Sakhr nodded. He seemed relieved.

“What are you so afraid of?” she asked. “She’s just a girl. She wants to come with us.”

“She poses a threat, whether she means to or not.”

“You talk as though she’ll discard us the moment she learns our powers. She’s a little girl with no friends except for us.”

“I understand that, but people change,” Sakhr said. “You haven’t been around as long as I have. Even saints can turn vicious once they have power.”

“Oh, I see what this is about. This is about your control over us. If she learns how to swap bodies, then we might not need you anymore.”

“I told you she’d be like this,” Alexander said.

“Shut up,” Josephine snapped.

“On your ride home with her,” Sakhr said, “did she read your mind?”


“Did you let her read your mind?”

Before Josephine could answer, Alex spoke, “No, she didn’t. Don’t worry.”

“What the hell is this about?” asked Josephine. “We’re not going to abandon her.”

“If that’d even be enough,” Alex said. “She figured out my power without reading my mind. Maybe all she needs are her notes. Isn’t that when you saw her power stir the most, Christof?”

Christof replied hesitantly. “Yes.”

“And you think she can put the pieces together later? On her own?” asked Sakhr.

“Think about how much she knows,” Alex said. “Those little notebooks of hers are filled with information about us. She may already have enough. She just has to put them together, and we’ve all seen how she is. If she can, she will.”

“Why are you listening to this?” Josephine demanded of Sakhr. “Alex is just saying these things because of his own vendetta against her. She’s just a child. If you’re worried about her, then take her in. Make sure she’s on our side. Don’t condemn her over crimes she hasn’t even thought of. She’s never done anything remotely threatening.”

“Except for today at dinner,” Sakhr said.

“You mean what she did to Alex? He deserved every thing he got after the stunt he pulled. Are you holding that against her?”

“Follow this to its logical conclusion,” Sakhr said. “She lives with us for decades, centuries even. In this time she masters our powers. Then something happens. It doesn’t matter what, but tension forms between her and us. Suppose she decides she doesn’t need us anymore.”

“She leaves, like any normal person would.”

“And what if she decides she’s safer if we’re dead?”

“She wouldn’t. She’s not a sociopath like you.”

Sakhr’s nostrils flared. “Watch what you say, Josephine.”

“Or what? I’m sorry. I’m not going to stand by while you force the rest of us to turn against a little girl just because she might possibly pose a threat to the precious leverage you hold over us.”

“She is a threat!”

“She’s a girl.”

Alex chimed in. “I’ve seen her thoughts. She’s more ambitious than she looks. She dreams of power.”

“Fuck off, Alex.”

“Look at it this way,” said Anton. “What we have now works. We all look after each other, even if we don’t always get along, because we need one another. Sakhr is in charge, but he needs us just as we need him.”

That surprised Josephine. Not the argument—that was just as vacuous as Sakhr’s reasoning—but that Anton agreed with with Sakhr at all. He was a pig, but he was a rational pig.

“I can’t believe this,” she said. “Are all of you agreeing with him?”

She looked around. Anton and Alex both met her gaze as though they were only trying to make her see reason. Sibyl looked as though she’d rather be anywhere but here. Christof was the same, but at least he met Josephine’s eyes.

He saw her pleading and reluctantly spoke up. “I think we should be careful not to overreact.”

It wasn’t much, but Josephine gestured as though that argument should have ended this nonsense. He was her only ally in this fight.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” said Alex. “If she comes with us tomorrow, she’s going to see this conversation in our heads sooner or later. We don’t trust her, and she won’t trust us when she sees that. We can’t take her with us.” He looked at her gravely again, as if only poor Josephine could see reason.

You don’t trust her. Maybe we should put it to a vote.”

“This isn’t a democracy, Josephine,” Sakhr said. “We’re leaving tomorrow. We’re not taking her with us.”

“Fine. She stays. I’ll stay with her.”

“No,” Sakhr said, suddenly fierce. “Do not play games with me. I will not tolerate disobedience. You will do as I say or you will never get another body.” His settled down. “Do you see? Do you see what that girl is doing to us already? Go. Go back to your room. We leave tomorrow. You are forbidden from seeing that girl again.”

He pointed toward her bedroom.

Josephine nodded curtly and left. There was no point in arguing further. Rational discussion was gone. Sakhr was afraid of that girl because she might upset his power.

And he was right. It had. Josephine just decided she was staying. Five people would get on that plane tomorrow. The only question now was whether they would remember there was a sixth.

She always figured it would come to this, she just thought it would be Sibyl she’d escape with, but she’d had enough of that spineless woman. If it had come to a vote, Sibyl would have sided with Sakhr out of shear timidness.

Katherine might be disappointed tomorrow, but she was a smart girl. She’d see in Josephine’s head that she was better off without Sakhr and the others.

Josephine smiled as she lay on her bed.

Who’s to say Katherine wouldn’t get their powers anyway? Once Katherine learned Josephine’s power, they could come and go from the coven as they pleased. Every time they’d meet Sakhr, it would be “for the first time”. Once Katherine learned what she needed, they could fade away.

They’d be a friendly little coven of two.

Somewhere in the hotel suite, a door slammed. Footsteps passed by in the hall. Some just left. Who? And where?

Only one place came to mind.

Josephine ran out the door. In the hall, the elevator dinged. Sprinting, Josephine reached it just as the door closed. Sakhr, Anton, and Alexander had been inside. Alex had seen her. He’d flashed that smile of his just as the door sealed.

They were going to kill Katherine.

She could already follow Sakhr’s demented logic. The longer the waited, the more powerful Katherine might get. Kill her now, while she’s still weak and innocent.

“Go back to your room. Josephine,” Sakhr barked through the door. “Do not interfere.”

The elevator descended.

Josephine jammed the call button. Waited. Jammed it again. Waited more. The other elevators took their time. She considered the stairs, but that would take longer. They were on the top floor.

The next elevator finally dinged. The door opened. She stabbed the lobby button. It closed leisurely and descended. At the third floor, it stopped for a large woman to get in. Growling in frustration, Josephine bolted for the stairs.

Two flights. The lobby. The parking lot.

One of their rented sedans was gone.

A knife was jammed into the tire of the other. The rest of the tires were already flat. This would be Alexander’s doing. She could imagine him whistling as he did it.

She scanned the parking lot. A nearby Prius beeped. A woman in a business skirt was walking away from it. Without pause, Josephine knocked her over. The woman screamed. Her car keys scattered from her hand. Josephine snatched them and got in the Prius.

As Josephine drove off, the woman got up, dusted herself off, and continued to the hotel.

21. Jabbering

2022, March 23th
Collapse – 27 years

After Sibyl’s outburst, Sakhr went to talk with her privately. They returned as Katherine was getting ready to head home.

“I’m really sorry,” Katherine said as she gathered her supplies.

“It’s okay.” Sibyl was calm, although still a little frosty as she sat at the table. “I’ll get used to it, but you should warn people before doing something like that again.”

“But I couldn’t! I had to trick you. It was the only way to get you to do it, or else you would have expected it to fail, and it would have.”

“Hmm,” Sibyl seemed doubtful.

Sakhr spoke. “If you ever think you can trick me into improving my power, you have my permission to go right ahead.”

“Same here,” Josephine said.

“Same,” Christof added.

“Okay.” Katherine brightened. “I do have some ideas I want to try on you guys, but I guess I should probably keep it to myself.”

“It is your call,” Sakhr said. “Josephine? Sibyl? If you’d drive Ms. Faulk back home?”

They did. Katherine was back to her old excitable self by the time they dropped her off. Josephine walked Katherine to the house while Sibyl waited in the car.

Her father answered the door. He looked as he always did when Josephine dropped off Katherine: tired, worn, and old, despite being in his thirties.

“Hi, daddy.” Katherine hugged him.

He returned the hug awkwardly as though this was unexpected behavior. It probably was. Ever since Josephine had approached Katherine that day at school, she hadn’t once reverted to that shrunken version of herself that slunk away from her tormenters. That was a different girl.

Her father disengaged. “Do you have any homework left?”

“A little.”

“Then why don’t you go do it and let me talk with our guest for a moment.”

“Okay,” Katherine agreed readily enough. No reason not to. Her father wouldn’t remember any conversation he shouldn’t.

She turned to Josephine. “You’ll pick me up tomorrow?”

“I will.”

“Cool. See you then.” She disappeared inside.

The father turned to Josephine. “I don’t think we’ve met,” he said.

“That’s right.”

“Name’s Allen.”

Normally Josephine would wipe his memory and walk off. She didn’t though. “Nice to meet you.”

“My daughter has been spending a lot of time with your kid. She never got around to telling me who they are. You’re not Allison’s mother, are you?”

“No. Not Allison. Jesse.” Jesse had been a safe name Katherine and the coven had agreed upon for a cover story.

“Never heard that name before. I’m not too surprised. I have to waterboard that girl to get her to tell me anything about school. How long has she and Jesse been friends?”

“Not long. They met last week.”

“Huh. Just that long? Well something’s really working out. I haven’t seen Katherine this way in years.”

“How is she normally?”

He seemed to consider whether to get into it or not. “It’s been rough. She’s been having some trouble at school with the other girls. I really only know what I hear from the teachers, but it’s been pretty bad. Really bad actually. It’s been affecting a lot at home. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear she’s spending time with someone. This week it’s like she’s actually back to normal. Wouldn’t tell me for the life of her what’s changed. So how’ve they been spending their time together?”

“Oh, you know. Whatever kids do these days. They spend most of their time in their room.”

Allen nodded. “I’m just glad she’s spending time with someone. I’d say they’re welcome to spend time here too, but I don’t want to rock this boat.”

“Is it just you and her?”

“Yeah, it is. She lost her mother a few years ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

He shrugged it off. “Her mother and I were separated. Kat though, she lived with her mom. The thing is, coming to live with me meant changing schools, and that’s when everything went sour. I was honestly considering transferring, or… something. Just get her back to her old school. Maybe that could help. I can’t tell you how relieved I’ve been this week.”

“Yeah.” Josephine forced a smile. By this time next week, this man would be contacting the police about his missing daughter. Kat would be happier with the coven, but that didn’t make Josephine feel any less nauseated about what they were about to do to her father.

“Anyway, thanks for dropping her off,” Allen said. “I hope I’ll be seeing more of you.”

“Yeah, I hope so too,” Josephine turned and headed down the walk way. Allen waved goodbye. Josephine cleared his memory before he closed the door.

She got in the car where Sibyl waited behind the wheel.

“Why’d you stay and talk?” Sibyl asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I shouldn’t have.”

Alexander and Anton came back near midnight, long after Sibyl and Josephine returned from dropping Katherine home. They burst into the hotel suite laughing and joking. Josephine would have awoken if she’d been asleep. As it was, she was on a couch in the common room watching quiet television to sooth her insomnia, something she’d inherited from her current body.

They removed their coats and boots as they chattered drunkenly in mixed English and Russian. Even though others were trying to sleep, Josephine knew from experience that telling them to be quiet was pointless.

Alex looked around. “Oh good. The sleepover’s over.” He sprawled onto the couch beside her. Anton collapsed into the armchair opposite Alex and withdrew a bottle of Scotch from a paper bag. Shrink wrap crackled as he unscrewed it.

Swell. The night wasn’t over.

As he filled two glasses, he glanced at Josephine. “How was the interrogation? She run out of questions yet?”

Josephine ignored him. Whenever Anton was drunk, his accent came out. It would work perfectly for any In Soviet Russia joke. “Maybe next time we’ll find out if I can fax my Authority. Or maybe it can work over smoke signal.”

Alex stretched to grab his glass. “And she’s going to be living with us.” He sipped. “It’ll probably get better once she’s easier on the eyes. Think Sakhr’ll let her dump that chubby body early?” His eyes were on the television, but Josephine knew he was waiting for a reaction out of her. “Course even then, it’s not like she’d be worth sleeping with. Could you just imagine that would go? ‘What happens if we fuck with the condom on backwards? If we fuck upside down, would it feel different?‘” He held up his finger. “Hold on. Actually, fucking her might be fun.”

Anton chuckled.

“Of course,” continued Alex, “chances are we’ll just end up with another lesbian in the group. I’ve seen her thoughts. She’s the kind of person who’d start with some harmless college kissing just to get attention.”

Josephine couldn’t help herself. “You shouldn’t worry. She won’t stay with us long once she realize what enormous assholes you are.”

Alex barked laughter. “Like hell she would. We could demand she fellate every one of us for entry and she’d still do it. Even with all her bubbly excitement, you still have no idea how badly she wants this.”

“I’m not saying she won’t join. I’m saying she’d run off after she figures out that she’ll get just as much bullshit from you as she gets now.”

“Nah, she’ll stay.” Pause. “You stayed, didn’t you?” He craned to look at her. She avoided his eyes. Within her reach was a table lamp. She envisioned smashing it across his head, then making him forget. He might think he’d hurt himself while drunk.

Sakhr emerged from an adjoining room dressed in a hotel bathrobe. His eyes were bleary.

“We’ll keep it down,” Anton said. He gave Alex a look indicating that he’d best agree.

“Where were you two?” Sakhr’s tone was like a father’s who’d caught his son sneaking in after dark.

“Out,” Alex said. “A few bars. Just having fun.”

“You left to get away from Katherine.”

Alex shrugged. “Yeah?”

“She noticed. She’s worried you don’t like her.”

Anton refilled his glass. “We needed break from her uh…” he fluttered his fingers against his thumb to indicate talking, “from her jabbering.” His english continued to devolve alongside his sobriety.

“She’s coming over again tomorrow. You two are going to be here, and you’re going to welcome her. I don’t want you affecting her desire to come with us.”

Alex shrugged, palms face up. “Why? Why roll out the carpets? She’s already decided. We could have left this shit-hole town last week.”

“I will not have her rushed. I want her to leave with us only once she’s ready to leave everything behind. I want her to want to be with us.”

“For what? What’s her fucking power anyway? I’d hate to go to all this trouble just to find out she’s a dud.”

“If you had been here today, you’d know it wasn’t.” He locked eyes with Alex.

The events of today passed between their eye contact.

Alex sat up. “She did what?”

“What?” Anton asked. “What happened?”

“She evolved Sibyl’s power,” Sakhr said. “Sibyl is now able to see auras through walls.”

“How? Is that her power?”

“We don’t know. She did it by coaching Sibyl, but Christof saw her power stir when Sibyl’s power evolved. It reacted somehow to our powers.”

“What do you mean ‘coached’?”

“I mean she did it with all that jabbering. So let me make myself clear. When she comes back, you’re going to answer whatever questions she asks and you’re going to smile as you do so. If it is her gift to make us more powerful, then I will not have you jeopardize her desire to do so by alienating her. Do you understand?”

Alexander and Anton nodded.

Sakhr turned to leave. “Who knows. Maybe she’ll evolve your power too.”

16. Scribbling

2022, March 16th
Collapse – 27 years

“And how far away can you sense them?” Katherine asked.

Sibyl shrugged. “A hundred meters, maybe more. They don’t disappear. I just don’t notice them anymore, if that makes sense.”

“I think so.” Katherine scribbled in her notebook. “What about if they’re mad or something? Can you sense stronger emotions from farther away?”

“Now that you mention it.” Sibyl leaned back. “Once, we were at a local harvest festival in France. This was just before we met Josephine. I sensed fear far away in an alley. When we passed by, a few brutes were robbing someone, but I’d only sensed the fear at first. It wasn’t until we were closer that I sensed the others. So I guess I can. I never put much thought into it.”

“Really?” asked Katherine. “You’ve never tested that? You never tested the range limit of your own power?”

Sibyl shrugged. “My power has always been good enough for me.”

Katherine’s face lit. “Would you let me test it for you?”

“I… suppose so.”

Josephine smiled at this exchange. Ever since they’d picked Katherine up from near the school, her reclusive attitude had turned inside out. During the car ride, she barraged Alexander and Josephine with questions. What’s it like to take memories? Can you make people forget anything? Can you make them remember? What’s it like to read minds? Why do you need eye contact? Can you read minds through glasses? Foggy glasses? Stained glasses? Mirrors? One way mirrors?

She and Alexander answered as best they could, but many answers ended up being, “I don’t know.”

The coven had rented a row of connected suites at a nearby Hilton. Sibyl was waiting in the presidential suite when they arrived. Katherine bombarded her with a fresh round of questions, only this time she had her notebook. She was like a pressure cooker of excitement; Josephine wondered if she might explode.

“What about walls?” she asked Sibyl. “Can you see through walls?”

Sibyl found the idea amusing. “No. No, I can’t see through walls.”

Katherine furrowed her brow. “Why not? Didn’t you tell me earlier that you once sensed someone sneaking up on you when they thought you were asleep?”


“Weren’t your eyes closed? Didn’t you see their aura through your eyelids? And wait! You said you could see auras from behind.”

“Well…” Sibyl’s fumbled for words. “I don’t really see them. I sense them.”

“Then how come you can’t sense through walls?”

“I’m… I just can’t”

“Can you see my aura right now?”


“My whole aura?”


“But you can only see my top half. The rest of me is under the table. What if I lowered? When would you stop sensing my aura?”

“When you’re out of view.”

“But what’s that mean? When I’m completely out of view? So if you could see a few hairs on my head, you could see my aura?”

Sibyl didn’t have an answer.

Alexander laughed. “She’s got you there, Sibyl.” He helped himself to a tiny bottle from the suite’s mini fridge. “I think I might have an idea what her witch power is.”

“What?” asked Katherine.

“A never-ending well of questions.”

He said it with a smile, but Katherine’s energy receded. “I’m not annoying any of you, am I?”

“No.” Alexander sat on the bed next to Josephine. “On the contrary. I find this endlessly amusing.”

“Oh, okay.” Her smile bounced back. She resumed scribbling notes.

Josephine marveled at how different this girl was. When they’d first seen her at the airport, she was pitiful—a frumpy child no one would look twice at. Now with her face alight, she was actually kind of cute, if only she took care of herself more, and wore something other than that hoody. Now that she’d taken it off, her figure wasn’t too bad. Sure, she had a bit of weight in her thighs, but with only a few pounds less, she might be curvaceous, maybe even attractive.

That school was poisonous for her. The bullying and the poor home life had been slowly transforming her into something ugly and forgotten. It warmed Josephine’s heart knowing that they were going to be her heroes. Now Katherine would become the person she deserved to be.

Katherine looked up from her notes. “What about clothes? Clothes don’t stop you from seeing auras, right?”


“But what if I put my hoodie on and turned away from you? You wouldn’t see any of my skin, but you’d still be able to see my aura, right?”


“Can we try it? Then can we try the table thing?”

“I suppose—”

A knock interrupted them.

“I guess it will have to wait.” Sibyl stood quickly. She couldn’t reach the door soon enough.

Sakhr, Anton, and Christof entered. Each carried supplies and groceries.

“Ah,” said Sakhr. “I see our guest has already arrived.”

Katherine gave a tiny wave and tried to smile. She was back in her shell. Josephine couldn’t blame her. Sakhr had a severe, paternal aura about him. It had accumulated over centuries of living among mortals. It gave others the impression of being near royalty.

After dropping his bags, he bowed majestically. “It is my pleasure to meet you. Katherine; yes?”

Katherine nodded.

“My name is Sakhr, and I am the father of this coven. I am pleased to welcome you to our group.” He held out his hand.

Eyes wide and body tense, Katherine took his hand. “Hello,” she said, then nearly yelped when he planted a kiss on her knuckle.

Once he let it go, she cradled her hand as though it had become foreign to her. Sakhr continued. “Allow me to introduce you to Christof Schuster. He is the man who spotted you.”

Christof greeted her with a casual smile. Katherine responded with less reserve. Unlike Sakhr, he kept a younger and more approachable body. It made him less intimidating.

“And here is Anton Formenko,” Sakhr continued.

Anton nodded.

“Hey,” said Katherine. “You’re that guy from the airport. The guard without a uniform.”


“What were you doing?”

“I was finding out where you and your father lived.”

“You were using powers on him, weren’t you?”

Anton nodded.

“What’s your power?”

“It is Authority. When I give orders, others feel they must obey.”

Katherine stared at him in awe. Josephine could sense questions forming inside her head.

“Wow,” she said. “Is there any limit to it?”


“Could you, and I’m not saying you should, but could you order someone to shoot themselves?”

Anton chuckled. “No. It is not absolute. They have their will. They only see me as someone they should obey. Not even a peasant would listen to a king if he tells him to kill himself.”

“Could you order someone to count all the blades of grass in a field?”

“They might start. I don’t think they’d finish. Reason would find them. Think of it this way. A law officer can order you to do a lot, because you fear them. You respect them. You act without thinking, but still within reason. That is my power, only stronger. It works better if they see me as an authority. That is why I told your father I worked for the airport.”

Katherine scribbled furiously in her notebook. She looked up when she finished. “May I see it?”

Anton looked around, like a magician looking for a suitable volunteer. He settled on Katherine. “Stand on your chair.” Beneath his words was a tone Josephine had heard many times. Even after more than a century, the small fight-or-flight part of her brain hiccuped. Something automatic tried to kick in.

Katherine, however, didn’t hesitate. She was on her chair instantly.

“Did you try to disobey?” asked Anton.

“I… wow. No. I didn’t. I feel like I could have. Just…” She laughed. “Try it again.”

“Try to resist this.” Once again, in that strange voice, Anton said, “Take off your clothes.”

Katherine’s eyes widened. Her body went rigid. Her hand drifted to the sleeve of her T-shirt and hesitated.

“Do it,” Anton said.

Trembling, she pulled the sleeve over her arm.

Josephine looked around. Everyone watched. Alexander was smirking.

“Stop it,” Josephine said.

Anton did nothing.

“Anton. I said stop it.”

Sakhr spoke. “Anton, enough.”

Anton relented. “Stop undressing and sit.”

Relieved, Katherine dropped into her seat.

“I hope I did not scare you. You see though that you would have done so. Not easy to resist.”

Katherine nodded. Her body still quaked a little. “I see. Couldn’t you… I don’t know… have shown me on one of them?” She looked at the coven.

Anton shook his head. “I wish I could. If my power still worked on them, I’d be running this coven.”

Sakhr gave a dry laugh at that.

“No. People hear my power… they build tolerance. Their minds learn it’s a trick.”

Katherine nodded in understanding. “So you won’t be able to do that again?”

“Don’t worry. I won’t. Just for demonstration.”

Katherine nodded. Her eyes drifted to Sakhr. “May I know what your power is?”

“You may. Although my power is better demonstrated than explained. Shall I?” He sat and extended his hands across the table toward her.

She took them.

Josephine circled and got ready to grab Sakhr if necessary.

“Are you ready?” he asked.


Then it did happen. Sakhr jolted upright. He would have fallen out of his chair if Josephine hadn’t caught him. Alarmed, he looked about. His frantic gaze fell on Katherine, who observed him calmly. He stared in disbelief, then slapped his hands to his chest and felt himself over. It’s when his hands fell to his crotch that his panic took over. A wordless noise escaped his lips. It turned to a yell, and then a scream.

Alexander burst out laughing. The others chuckled. Josephine rested a calming hand on Sakhr’s shoulder. To an outside observer, one might suspect that something terrible happened that Sakhr hadn’t expected. To Josephine and the others, they’d seen this panic many times over.

Sakhr and Katherine had switched bodies, and now Katherine was discovering what it felt like to have male genitalia.

From within Katherine’s body, Sakhr held out a hand. “Here,” he said in a calm female voice.

Katherine was too busy panicking, so Sakhr reached and touched her arm. Instantly, the switch was undone.

Sakhr, back in his own body, calmly retook his seat. He stated the obvious. “I can switch bodies with others.”

Katherine was still recovering from her hyperventilation. Involuntarily, her hand strayed between her legs, just to make sure. Even Josephine grinned at that.

“Is it permanent?” Katherine asked.

“It is.”

“What happens if your body dies while you’re in somebody else?”

“Then it dies, and the other person dies with it.”

Katherine pondered this. All panic was gone. Curiosity was back.

Finally, “How old are you? Chronologically?”

Josephine was impressed. Katherine had skipped past the question of whether he was in his original body, and jumped straight to the logical conclusion: immortality.

Sakhr grinned like a smug cat. “For my first switch, I left my slaver to build the pyramids in my stead.”

That wasn’t entirely true, but Sakhr told it that way for effect. He was born as a slave in Egypt. However, he later admitted that he’d actually been a servant to an overweight politician, and that he was born about five centuries after the pyramids were constructed, but everyone agreed that Sakhr’s pyramid version was punchier.

“Wow,” said Katherine. “What if… How do you…” She giggled. “I have so many questions I don’t know what to ask first.”

“You have all the time in the world to ask them.”

Katherine chewed her lip a moment. “When do I get to know what my power is?”

The others didn’t respond.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing’s wrong,” said Sakhr. “We’re just not sure yet.”

“How did the rest of you learn your powers? Is it through experimentation?”

“Normally I tell them,” Christof said. “When I look at people, I see these things in my head, like living blocks of clay, or physical metaphors. Somehow, I always know what they mean, like how you know things in a dream.”

“But not with me?”

He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can tell you are a witch, I’m just not sure what your power does.”

“Can you tell anything?”

“I think… I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it can do anything.”

Katherine’s smile faded. “You mean I can’t do anything special?”

“Maybe not now, but it’s not nothing. I can see it… wriggling. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

“Was it doing that at the airport?” Sakhr asked.

“No. At least I don’t think so.”

“But it’s going to change?” Katherine asked.

“Don’t worry, Katherine,” said Sakhr. “We will figure out what you can do. If it can be unlocked, we will.”

“And if it can’t?” Katherine’s expression was pleading, like a child asking if their parents were going to be okay. Josephine wanted to hug her.

“It will,” Sakhr said. “Whether it takes days or centuries, we won’t give up.”

“Centuries? How could we take centuries to…” Her eyes widened. Her apprehension was forgotten. “I get it. Body switching. Right? You’ve been keeping the others alive. You switch with one of them, then you switch to a stranger’s body, and then back to your own. That puts you back in your own body, and leaves one of you switched with the stranger. That’s it, isn’t it?”

“Very good, Katherine,” Sakhr said.

“Are you all really old?”

“Some of us are older than others, but yes, everyone here is at least a century old.”

“Are you going to do that for me one day?”

“If you choose to join our coven, yes.”

“I’ll join!”

“Just like that?”

Katherine nodded violently.

“We travel, Katherine. To avoid detection. You would be leaving your old life behind. Your education. Your father…”

Katherine paused. This might be the first time since Josephine had introduced herself that Katherine had thought of home. For Josephine, joining had been a simple choice. Her family had been dead. The Russians had executed them when they invaded in 1870. They had let her live, as though they’d forgotten she was there. She only understood why years later after Christof explained her power.

Katherine nodded slowly. “I still want to do it. I hate my life here. I want to leave. I can finish learning on my own. I just… I should call my dad. He’s probably worried about me right now. Can I see him one last time?”

Sakhr almost laughed. “We just arrived yesterday. I don’t plan on leaving for at least a week. Take time, Katherine. Make sure this is what you want to do.”

The, “take your time” speech was comforting. He had told it to Josephine too. She always had appreciated it, even if she’d already made up her mind in the first minute.

Though sometimes she wondered what he’d do if a new witch said no. She knew Sakhr too well now. He wasn’t someone who would take no for an answer. Perhaps this choice—this time—was just a gentle illusion. It never came up for Josephine. And it clearly won’t come up here either.

Katherine would become the seventh witch in the coven.

12. The Girl

2022, March 14th
Collapse – 27 years

“How about them?” asked Alexander.

Anton craned to look down the airport terminal in the direction Alexander indicated. Two women were seated together, chatting and giggling as they simultaneously listened to a song by sharing a pair of earbuds.

Anton’s face scrunched. “Why you always point out child women.”

“You’d rather have someone your own age?”

Anton shrugged. “I’d rather have real woman, older is wiser. She’s a woman who knows her way around the bed.”

“A prostitute knows her way around the bed. If you want, I know just the girl for you in California. Real old. Plenty of experience.” He grinned at Anton, which didn’t stop until Anton finally acknowledged him with a grunt.

Josephine overheard their conversation. She’d grown adept at tuning them out over the past hundred years, but never quite adept enough that her skin didn’t crawl. Wherever they all went, whether to seedy back alley bars, or a consulate dinner at parliament, those two would sit together and play “Who’d you rather” while leering down woman, and they frequently took their game too far.

The coven had passed through Saudi Arabia about seventy years ago. At the time. Anton had a body nearly identical to the one he had now, a Ukrainian man to match his Ukrainian accent, with a body straight out of an action movie. Alexander had been middle eastern to fit their surroundings.

The coven were guests in the house of Raheem Al-Nader, an oil baron. Josephine and Sibyl were kept separate from the men most of the trip, but afterward, Sibyl discovered something Alex and Anton had done. They’d gotten close with some burka-covered servants who were distant nieces of the host, and had slept with them later that night. Anton had to use his Authority to break through the usual barrier of Middle eastern modesty.

“It was a like a bet,” Sibyl had heard them boast. “What would you see once you lifted the veil?”

“Not really a gamble for you,” Anton had said. “You see their minds.”

“There is a world of difference between what a woman thinks they look like, and what they actually do.”

The coven moved on days later. Josephine checked back to see what became of those women. They were publicly flogged. Alexander must have known. He showed no reaction when Josephine accused him later.

“Now there are women you should be looking for.” Anton pointed Alexander toward a group of four thirty-somethings gathered at a restaurant table inside the airport.

“Cougars. I can see their wrinkled asses from here.”

Anton sighed. “So? Who cares? The fruit has spoiled a little. It is when the sugar is sweetest. And they work harder for you. They know they must earn your attention.”

Josephine had heard enough of their drivel. She collected her suitcase and headed off in search of Sibyl.

“Are we offending your sensibilities?” asked Alexander.

“Oh by all means,” she muttered. “don’t let me intrude.” She didn’t look at Alex when she spoke. Even accidental eye contact was enough for him.

“I would welcome the intrusion,” he said. “In fact, why don’t you share your thoughts on the matter.” His gaze was steady, daring her to look.

Responding further would just be rising to his goading. “Ignore them,” Sibyl would say, “He wants you to react. I see it in his glow.”

Anton ignored them both as his gaze prowled the terminal. Unlike Alexander, he at least had the decency not to include fellow witches in their juvenile games. Josephine glanced toward Sakhr and Christof. As the two oldest witches of the coven, and the ones who’d brought them all together, they sometimes acted as parents, but both were absorbed in books without a thought to spare for squabbling children.

Josephine strolled away without another word. Alexander chuckled in her wake.

Sibyl was in line at a magazine shop. She had an armload of gossip magazines and a horseshoe-shaped pillow to help her get through the coming flight. Hidden between the magazines and her bosom were several boxes of chocolate and candy she’d pilfered from the stand beside the cash register. She’d long ago internalized that the bodies she occupied were disposable. Every ten years or so, she’d take the body of a thin, attractive woman, and she’d indulge. Thighs would thicken. Breasts would grow. She’d turn a sculpted work of art into cellulite and loose jowls. Then Sakhr would get her a new body. Of all the members in the coven, her bodies had the quickest turnover rate. Josephine kept her opinions about that to herself. Sibyl was the closest thing she had to a friend in the coven.

As Josephine approached, Sibyl glanced at her and smiled sympathetically. Josephine’s aura would be spelling out her argument with Alexander.

“Tell me we have separate seats on the plane,” Josephine said. She meant separate from Alex and Anton.

“I think so.” Sibyl juggled all her items to one arm and fetched the plane tickets from her purse. “We’re in the other aisle, by the windows.”

Josephine’s mood did not lift. The entire coven was in first class. They never flew anything else, but that would put Josephine close enough to hear the idiots harassing the flight attendants. It was a five hour flight across the country. Neither Alexander nor Anton could behave themselves that long. Would they actually convince a stewardess into a Bathroom Trip using their wit and guile? Or would they cheat? Alex might read minds for hints on how to seduce the women. Anton might convince them to stay and talk, or even tell the girls that they found Anton attractive. The flight attendants weren’t witches. That made them fair game.

It was how most of the coven saw other people. Even Josephine was guilty of that. When you’re immortal, it’s hard to see others as equals. Their transient lives are only there to supplement your own.

Sibyl might actually be the best of them, probably because of her empathy. Even though she wrecked other people’s carefully toned bodies, she always targeted selfish sorority types. It least it was some kind of morality.

“You know what would be crazy, Sib? What if we changed our flight?”

“What do you mean?” Sibyl asked. “You want to stay in Boston?”

“No no, I mean go somewhere else. Look.” She pointed to a nearby gate. “Detroit. …okay, that’s a bad example, but there. Look. Dallas. What if we went to Dallas? It’s warmer there.”

“But Sakhr doesn’t want to go to Dallas.”

“I know.”

“So why would he go there?”

Josephine waited for Sibyl to figure it out.

And she did. “No, Jose. Please, don’t.” Sibyl looked at her with dismay. “We can’t leave them. Don’t talk about that. Alex will find out.”

“Alex already knows. I think he’d prefer we left.”

“But we can’t. You know we can’t.”

“But let’s do it anyway. You know how long it would take them to find us? When he does, you know he’d let us right back in.”

“He doesn’t want us to leave.”

“We don’t need his permission.”

“Please stop, Jose. I don’t want to talk about this.”

“It’s fine if you don’t want to go…”

This caused Sibyl to nearly drop her items as she grabbed Josephine’s arm. “You promised me you wouldn’t leave me with them.”

“I’m only joking.”

“You’re half joking. I can see it. If Sakhr finds out you’ve been talking about this…”

“Why would he?”

“Alex might tell him.”

“Alex thinks about leaving all the time himself.”

“But he doesn’t tell Sakhr that, but he would tell him if you were.”

“Honestly, what’s Sakhr going to do about it? Hold us at gunpoint?”

“You know what he’d do.”

“It’s an empty threat. We’re too important to him.”

Sibyl started to respond, then caught herself. “Stop talking,” she said.

Josephine glanced over Sibyl’s shoulder.

Alex was approaching. “Ladies.”

“What do you want?” Josephine kept her eyes down.

Alexander grinned. “Relax. Sakhr wants us.”

“We’ll be there in a minute.”

“He wants us now.”

“Then he can—”

“Christof found one.”

Her brain stumbled. Even Sibyl dropped her guard and turned.

“What? Who?”

“Come and find out.”

When they got back, Sakhr and Christof were standing together by an airport pillar. Their reading books were away, and they stared across the terminal at a pair sitting by a full length window wall—a small man and a girl. The man looked worn and tired. Beneath a denim jacket, his potbelly pushed his undershirt over his belt, but the rest of him was scrawny, as though his fat had drained from his limbs and pooled in his abdomen. He was talking with Anton.

The girl was slouched in a chair beside the man. Probably his daughter. She paid no attention, just listened to whatever noise her massive headphones were pumping into her ears. They must close out the world for her

“Which one is it?” Josephine asked.

Sakhr nodded toward them. “The girl.”

“She walked right past me,” Christof added. “I almost missed her.”

Alexander grunted in disinterest. It annoyed Josephine, but she understood why he had. The girl was plain. She had thick plastic lenses and black hair pulled back in an unkempt pony tail. She wore a hoodie that hid her body well, but she’d obviously inherited her father’s dumpiness.

Josephine didn’t care. Looks lasted only as long as your current body, and the idea of having another girl in the coven was too enticing.

“Not much to look at,” said Alexander. “What’s her power?”

“I’m not sure,” said Christof.

Startled, everyone turned to him.

He sensed it. “I can read her just fine. I just don’t know what I’m seeing. She’s…” He winced as though staring into a sunset. “…Nothing? No. That’s not right. There’s something there, it just doesn’t look like it does anything.” He shook his head.

“Maybe she’s a dud,” Alex said. “A useless power. You two have seen them before, right?”

“Not for a long time,” said Sakhr.

“She’s got something,” Christof added. “If she’s got a dud, it’s a strange dud.”

Sibyl turned to the others. “What is Anton saying to them?”

Sakhr answered. “I told him to find out where they live.”

“He’s making them nervous.”

“He’s pretending to be security,” Alex replied. “Security makes everyone nervous.”

Anton finished and returned to the others. The girl glanced at him as he left.

“They’re from a town near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” He handed over a sheet of paper with an address written on it. “Father had dental conference in Florida.”

Alex grinned. “He took his kid to a dentistry conference?”

“Orthodontics, yes. No mother. He couldn’t leave daughter home alone. Man is Allen Faulk. Daughter is Katherine Faulk. I know nothing else on her. She did not want to talk. I did not push.”

“Wise.” Sakhr nodded. “Anton. Alex. Get our flights changed.” He faced everyone else. “It looks like we’re not done with cold weather yet.”