The Secret Circle: The Hunt Chapter 4
Cassie’s mother appeared at the top of the stairs the moment Cassie stepped through the door. “Good, it’s you,” she said. “I’m glad you’re home.”
“Were you expecting somebody else?”
“No need for sarcasm.” Her mother descended the stairs. “I’ve been concerned about you since last night. Since the incident.”
“Incident,” Cassie said, as she dropped her bag on the kitchen table. “That’s one way of putting it.”
Her mother followed her into the kitchen. “Lift up your sleeves. Let me see your hands.”
“They don’t even hurt anymore,” Cassie said, lying. She pulled her sleeves back to reveal the aching burns. “They’ll probably be gone in a few days.”
But her mother persisted and carefully examined the marks. “I prepared an ointment for you from some herbs in the garden. It’s cooling in the fridge.”
Cassie sighed at her mother’s safeguarding, but the truth was, she was grateful. She’d felt strange since she’d woken up that morning, and her burns had been throbbing all day.
Her mother fetched the stone mortar and pestle full of ointment from the fridge and took a seat at the kitchen table across from Cassie.
The ointment was pea green and smelled like skunk. Her mother mixed it with her fingers and reached for Cassie’s hand. “The way that book heated up on you – I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”
She focused on applying the medicine gently and evenly. “I want you to be honest with me and tell me if you feel any other effects from what happened.”
“Effects like wincing every time I opened one of my schoolbooks today?”
Her mother frowned. “This is serious, Cassie. I don’t want you going near it again, at least not until we figure out how to disable the guarding spell. It’s too dangerous.”
Getting the book back from her mother was going to be more of a challenge than Cassie had anticipated. “But how else are we supposed to learn how to break the spell?” she asked. “It’s not like there’s anyone around here to ask.”
Her mother was quiet for a few seconds. “Times like these, I wish your grandmother were still here. She knew a lot more about these things than I do.”
Cassie had been thinking the same thing but hadn’t had the heart to say it aloud. When her grandmother died, she took all her years of knowledge and wisdom with her. She was irreplaceable.
“At least I have you,” Cassie said, and she meant it. She and her mother had come a long way over the past few months, and Cassie believed she could tell her almost anything.
As her mother wrapped Cassie’s medicine-covered skin in fresh gauze, Cassie explained everything that had happened that morning with the principal. She didn’t leave out a single detail; she was hoping to convince her mother how necessary it was to give the book another try.
“I wish there was some way we could keep Faye and Laurel safe,” she said. “Actually, that reminds me. Is there anything else you can remember about Black John saving your friend from the hunters when you were younger?”
Her mother thought for a moment. “It was some kind of spell. A curse, actually. I imagine it would be in his Book of Shadows.”
The book. Cassie knew her question would lead right back to it.
“I remember your father once saying,” her mother continued, “that the hunters themselves don’t have power. They don’t have magic. But they carry stone relics that have been passed down for centuries, and the relics are incredibly powerful. If the bond between hunter and relic can be broken, so can the marks on witches.”
Cassie’s eyes lit up – there was a way! But her mother paused and her voice took on a serious tone. “Now, Cassie, I know what you’re thinking. You want to find that curse to save your friends, but you have to believe me when I tell you that you can’t use magic from a book you don’t understand. No dark magic can be used without grave consequences. Those burns on your hands were just the beginning.”
Cassie agreed for the sake of her mother’s peace of mind.
“But until we can figure out a way to use the book safely,” her mother said, “I think I have another way to help. I know the perfect place to keep Faye and Laurel safe.”
This was a turn Cassie hadn’t anticipated. “Where?”
“Right here. There’s a secret room in the house.”
Cassie looked at her mother in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Her mother laughed. “Your grandmother built it when tensions between the townspeople and witches started rising sixteen years ago, just before the storm that claimed so many lives.” She paused solemnly. “So many of your friends’ parents’ lives. She had it spelled for special protection. Come on, I’ll show it to you.”
Cassie followed her mother to the stairs that led to the basement. “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?” she asked.
“You didn’t need it then.” Her mother led Cassie through the shadowy basement, which smelled of mold and mildew, and stopped in front of an old bookcase. “But you do now.”
She raised her arms and rested her hands upon one of the dusty shelves. “I’m a little rusty,” her mother said. “But I think I can do it.” She closed her eyes and then focused her energy on the wall of books. She recited a wary chant in a tone of voice Cassie had never heard from her before:
Enchanted threshold –
door untold –
reveal to me what you conceal.
The edges of the bookshelf gradually began to glow, like the sun had just broken through a wall of clouds, and then a doorway appeared. Cassie couldn’t believe her eyes. It was an enchanted opening – a rippling portal made visible in the center of the shelves, just large enough to step through.
Cassie’s mother was pleased with her success. “I guess after all these years I’ve still got it,” she said. “Go on, step inside.”
Cassie cautiously crossed the threshold to look around. It was a large room, fully furnished like a studio apartment. There was a cast-iron bed, handmade lamps, and a tufted sofa. It was all so old-fashioned it looked antique, giving the space an unexpected elegance, like a nineteenth-century sitting room.
“It needs a good dusting, that’s for sure,” her mother said. “But it’ll do the job. Should I start preparing it for your friends?”
Cassie nodded. The room had its own kitchen nook and bathroom, and in the living room area there was even an old television set. “It’s perfect,” Cassie said. “Thank you.”
They wasted no time getting started. Her mother dug out every cleaning appliance and disinfectant they owned. They stripped the beds and vacuumed the carpet, scrubbed the bathroom and scoured the kitchen countertops. Cassie brought down fresh linens and some food for the refrigerator. Faye and Laurel will be pleased, Cassie thought. As far as overnight hiding places went, this was a best-case scenario.
When they were finished, Cassie’s mother gave her an affectionate squeeze and headed back upstairs. Cassie’s mind turned to her father’s book. She had to figure out where it was.
She eyed the mysterious room. Her mother was so good at keeping secrets – too good. How would Cassie ever discover where she’d hidden the book? It could be anywhere.
And then the answer unwrapped itself like a gift. The room was spelled for protection, which meant Cassie could safely perform a summoning spell to locate the book without fear of being caught by her mother – or the hunters.
She listened for a moment to be sure there was no movement coming from upstairs and then tightly closed her eyes. She concentrated and whispered a simple incantation:
Book of Shadows, I summon thee.
Be released, appear to me.
Nothing happened at first, but then Cassie felt a peculiar tugging at her throat, a pull from the necklace around her neck. She grasped its silver chain, quickly released its clasp, and held it out in front of her. The quivering pendant was clear quartz. Of course – it was a visionary stone. It must have begun picking up traces of the book’s energy.
Cassie let the pendant hang from its silver chain and watched the delicate crystal spin until it aligned itself in a definite direction. Soon it started swinging in broad sweeping strokes, like a pendulum.
Cassie took careful steps in the direction it led, keeping her hand steady as best she could. She followed the curve of its path, which was guiding her nowhere near the room’s exit but toward the couch in the sitting area. Was it possible her mother had hidden the book down here in the basement? A strange excitement filled Cassie’s chest as the silver chain straightened to a thin vertical line. The crystal stopped moving. It pointed and quaked at the floor directly below Cassie’s feet.
Excitedly, Cassie lifted the throw rug to reveal the pale wooden slabs of flooring beneath it. There was a slight crack in one of the panels, barely visible to the eye but just large enough to dig out with her fingernail. It took a few tries to lift the board out of place, but once it was removed, the others were simple. And there was the book, nestled within a carefully carved divot like a tomb.
Cassie eyed the dark book like a dormant enemy. She leaned in close to it and poked it with her pointer finger. Then, deciding it was safe to pick up, she held it in her hands.
She couldn’t have Faye and Laurel lounging around so close to something so private and powerful. She wasn’t so concerned about Laurel using it, but Faye. She had to make sure Faye didn’t discover this book under any circumstances. The secret room was definitely no place for it.
Cassie replaced the floorboards and the rug, then stood up to make her way to the stairs. She held the book close to her chest, trying to decide if she could sneak it past her mother by hiding it beneath her shirt. And then out of nowhere a foreign and mysterious feeling passed over her. She looked down at the book in her hands and had the overwhelming urge to open it, right then and there. She couldn’t say why. She was sure it would burn her again, but her desire for even that brutal punishment was so strong, it was like a craving. The need came from somewhere deep inside her.
She looked around the room and listened for her mother’s footsteps upstairs. No one would know. Not her mother, not the Circle. It would be her own secret – all her own.
The book seemed to be calling her, beckoning her.
But Cassie thought back to her mother’s warnings, and shook her head to resist the urge. She quickly shoved the book under her shirt and ran upstairs to her bedroom before she had the chance to change her mind.
She would wait until Adam was with her to open it – that was the smart thing to do. Until then she would conceal the book out of sight. She knew just the place: Beneath her bed was a gunmetal chest that locked with a key. Cassie kneeled down, pulled it out into the light, and stuffed the book inside. It pained her to let go of the book when she so badly wanted it near her, but she forced herself to slam the chest closed, lock it, and shove it back underneath her bed.
The golden key to the chest felt warm in the palm of Cassie’s hand. She squeezed it tightly in her fist, realizing she would have to hide it in a separate place. She decided on her old wooden jewelry box, which had a hidden pullout bottom nobody knew about. Cassie gently placed the key inside, just beside the chalcedony rose Adam had given her. The two of them can keep an eye on each other, she thought, and then realized how ridiculous that was. Inanimate objects didn’t live and breathe. Right?