Posted in Blogging, Writer’s Unite!, Writing

A Holiday Story

Dearest Readers,

I’m a little late posting the December short story to my blog. I apologize for this, but I have been quite busy preparing for my next chapter in life – pursuing my Ph.D. In Criminal Justice-Homeland Security. I start this journey on January 18th, so any positive thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Aside from that, I promise that I will keep writing and working on my novel(s). As promised, here is my contribution to Writer’s Unite!’s December prompt. Please be sure to check out their page to read some of the awesome stories from other writers!

Enjoy, and thank you for reading and your support!!

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The Secrets of Mistletoe Canyon

 Amber C. Deck

Ana Garrett sighed as she chained her bike to a metal stand in front of her bookstore. It had been two years to the day since her ex-fiancé had walked out on her — leaving the bike as the only memory of him.

Well, a bike and a whole lot of hurt. Ana ran her hand over the cold blue metal between the handlebars. At least you won’t leave me for my former business partner.

Ana frowned as she walked to her shop door and unlocked it — stepping inside as a cold winter wind blew by. She sighed again as she turned on the lights and flipped the sign to OPEN. It was still early morning in the sleepy little town of Mistletoe Canyon, which was why she knew no one would be by as she tossed her things in the office. Mistletoe Canyon was predictable in that way — even at Christmas time.

The faint jingle of the bell above her shop door caused Ana to look up from the coffee station near the register. As the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, Ana glanced around a table of current bestsellers to see who had entered the small bookstore. To her surprise, she saw two men standing there — both looking out of place in their three-piece suits.

Ana approached the men cautiously. She was unsure why two professional-looking — and rather handsome — men would be in her shop. She wasn’t the only place open in town this early. Plenty of shops on Main Street had been open for at least an hour now.

“Welcome to Mystic Mistletoe Books, gentlemen,” Ana said to them. She tucked a strand of long, wavy, dark brown hair behind her ear. Two pairs of vivid green eyes met hers — causing her own dark brown eyes to widen. The duo had to be brothers — with one slightly shorter than the other. They both towered over her, but that was to be expected when one was five-foot-five. “Can I help you with something?”

The shorter one — who probably stood a little over six feet — was the first to speak. His jet black hair was cut short, while the taller one had shaggy, light brown hair. Both were very fit, which is why Ana assumed the two meant business. Whatever that business was, of course.

“Are you Ana Whitmire?” The man’s voice was gruff. His stern expression made her feel uneasy.

“Who?” No one had called her that in years — 200 years, to be exact. She had left that name behind when she left England — and her grandfather. It had been his advice to change her name and eventually adopt an American accent. It was to keep her safe. “I do not know of anyone by that name.”

“So, you’re not Ana Whitmire? Should I instead ask if you are an 800-year-old sorceress or the granddaughter of Merlin?” The sarcastic tone in the man’s voice caused a flare of anger in Ana, and he could see that. “Relax. Merlin’s still alive and kicking in London. He’s got more guards to protect him than most of Europe, I hear.”

“Cut it out, Cal,” the taller man said. He smiled reassuringly at Ana. “We are not here to hurt you or your grandfather. You have both been through enough with losing your entire family in one day during the war of 1224.” He took a step closer to Ana, who instinctively stepped back — causing her lower back to hit the table behind her. “We’re not going to hurt you. We need your help.”

“I don’t know who you are talking about, gentlemen.” Ana tried to make herself sound stronger than she felt at the moment. “My name is Ana Garrett. I’m from Mistletoe Canyon, and I own this bookstore.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Garrett.” The taller one smiled at her. He was undoubtedly the more handsome one of the two — if she had to pick. Something in his eyes made him seem sincere and… trusting. “My name’s Bradley Sloane, and this is my brother.”

“Cal.” The man’s gruff voice confirmed. “Listen, you can go by whatever you want. We know who and what you are. It’s our jobs, and we’ve been searching all over town for you.”

Hunters. That single word caused fear to grip Ana. She’d seen the work of the Sloane brothers plastered all over the supernatural media sites she followed. She should have recognized them by the description from some of her non-human friends. Well, those that had survived meeting the two.

“You’re hunters,” Ana whispered as she tried to back up more. The table full of books was blocking her potential escape route. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve not used any major magic — only a few healing remedies to help some people in town. You don’t have to kill me.”

“Whoa, Miss Garrett. Calm down. We are not going to hurt you.” Bradley spoke in a calming tone. “We need your help. Our dad recommended you. He said you helped him years ago when he got attacked by something. His name is Dylan Sloane. Remember him?”

Ana nodded slowly. “He was injured after a wendigo attacked him. It surprised him as he was laying a trap for it. Luckily, I was gathering berries for a remedy for a person in town that day.” Ana eyed the two men cautiously. “I heard him yell and helped him destroy the creature. I treated his wounds afterward, and he promised to keep my secret. That was the only time I used big magic, too. That was almost thirty-five years ago. He still remembers me?”

“You bet.” Cal grinned at her this time. “You helped him get home to his wife, a two-year-old, and a newborn. Right, little bro?”

Bradley looked slightly embarrassed at being called the younger brother. Ana thought the endearment was rather cute, and it made the two hunters a little less scary to her.

“Well, how can I help Dylan’s two boys?” Ana walked back to the register that sat on a tall wooden counter. Cal and Bradley followed her closely. “I owe him for keeping my secret.”

“It’s a bit complicated, Miss Garrett.” Bradley ran his fingers through his hair. “It has to do with a curse — much like the one that killed your family.”

Ana froze. That curse was supposed to have been destroyed years ago. Merlin had decreed that it was to be removed from all spell-books immediately. The curse had driven the kingdom mad — affecting only humans who entered its path. Both armies couldn’t stop tearing each other apart until Merlin broke the curse. By then, only he and Ana remained in the Whitmire bloodline.

“That spell was outlawed after the war of 1224.” Ana’s eyes locked with Bradley’s. “If it has returned, that means the true originator of the curse has as well. They are the only one who could remember the curse without a spell-book.” Ana motioned for the men to follow her to the office behind the counter. The three entered the room, and Ana shut the door before walking to a bookcase on the far wall. “What I am about to show you hasn’t been seen by mortal eyes — ever.”

Ana removed a book and felt behind it. A soft click sounded, and she quickly replaced the book before the large bookcase slid to the side. A staircase was slowly revealed as the massive structure slowly moved out of the way. 

Ana walked up the stairs as the two men followed. Lights flashed on as they ascended the stairs, and she heard the bookcase slide back into place as they reached the floor above her shop. She waved her hand over the heavy wooden door in front of her — hearing it unlock before opening it. The trio stepped inside, and she could see the look of amazement on the two men’s faces as she closed the door behind them.

“This room holds all of the memories from my past.” Ana walked by the two brothers as she spoke. She approached a large wooden trunk nestled between two tall bookcases — both filled with ancient-looking books written in Latin. “My ex-fiancé never even knew about this room. Of course, I never got to tell him who I truly was before he left me.” She felt Bradley and Cal standing behind her now as she knelt in front of the trunk. She whispered a few words in Latin before the trunk popped open. “I guess I didn’t need to use magic to make him run away. My former business partner was already pushing me out of the picture.”

Bradley knelt beside her and placed his hand on her arm. “I’m sorry about what happened to you. It was probably a good thing this guy never realized who you were, though. He could have tried to hurt you.” He grinned at her as she nodded in agreement. He topped his head toward the open trunk. “Now, how about you show that jerk what he lost while helping us save the world?”

Ana smiled at him. “Alright, I’ll help — since you put it that way.” She glanced at Cal, who had knelt beside her as well. She cleared her throat as she reached into the trunk and pulled out a thick, leather-bound book. “This belonged to my grandfather, but he gave it to me when he decided to advise for the current royal family. I honestly thought I would never have to use it, but Grandfather told me that I might need to one day. He always knows these things…”

The sound of Cal clearing his throat startled Ana. It was clear that he was getting annoyed with her trip down memory lane. She glanced over at Bradley and saw him giving his brother a sharp look.

“You said that this curse could only be brought back by the person who created it.” Cal was trying to hide his annoyance as he spoke. Ana could tell he was an “all action, no thinking” type of guy. “So, we’re looking at an ancient dude who’s bored?”

“Cal…” Bradley warned as he gave his brother another stern look.

“It’s alright, Bradley. I can handle this.” Ana readjusted herself to where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor. She opened the book and turned several pages before laying it on her lap. “Cal, this ‘ancient dude’ you so casually speak of nearly destroyed two kingdoms during one war. In that same war, I lost my parents and siblings. The only reason I survived is because I was in the castle with my grandfather. He had created a magical barrier to prevent the curse from reaching the rest of the royal family. Sadly, the Queen did not survive the war after the King became cursed on the battlefield.” Ana stared directly into Cal’s eyes. “I was four years old and lost almost my entire family. If I hadn’t been born with powers, I could have fallen to the curse just as easy as my siblings did.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Garrett,” Cal muttered as he looked down at the floor.

“It’s okay. I’ve made my leave with everything that happened back then.” Ana took a deep breath. “Please call me Ana — both of you. Miss Garrett makes me sound like an old librarian. I’m only 800 years old, not 8000.” She gave a small smile as they grinned at her. “Now, let’s get back to the curse. The sorcerer who created this curse is not a sorcerer. She’s a sorceress, but she only uses dark magic. At least, she has for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Okay… Why would she be back now?” Bradley asked. “Didn’t Merlin destroy her in 1224?”

“No.” Ana shook her head as she pointed to a page in the book. Both men leaned closer to look at where she was pointing. “He stopped the curse, destroyed all copies of it, and prohibited its use in the magic world. The sorceress was imprisoned in an underground cell protected by runes and spells. This prison is also underneath the deepest part of the ocean — buried under twenty feet of sand and rock.” She pointed to a picture in the book. “Here is a painting of the sorceress. Grandfather used a spell to shrink it to fit into this book.”

Bradley’s eyes widened as he looked at the petite brunette in the portrait. “Is she standing beside Merlin in that painting?”

“Yes, and, before you say it, Cal, I know she looks like me.” Ana sighed. She had to tell the brothers who they were dealing with — even if she didn’t want to expose yet another secret. “This is Morganna — Merlin’s sister and my great-aunt. If she’s back, then she’s back for two things: revenge and this book.”

“Why would she start a curse for that?” Bradley gave her a curious look. “Why wouldn’t she come directly after you and Merlin?”

“I’m more concerned with how she got out of an underground prison that was supposed to be protected,” Cal grumbled.

“Morganna is very powerful, Cal. She has had centuries to find a way to escape. It was only a matter of time before she found that way, I guess.” Ana rubbed her forehead with one hand. “As for the curse, she craves chaos. It makes her stronger. The curse will hit here and soon — if she finds me.” 

Ana flipped through a few pages in the book on her lap before stopping. She spoke a few words in Latin and then placed her hand on each man’s chest for a few seconds. Both of them looked at her in a combination of surprise and shock.

“That will protect you from the curse,” Ana told them as she shut the book and stood up. Bradley and Cal did the same — watching her as she waved a hand over the trunk. It closed with a soft thud and locked. “I now need to hide this book before Morganna finds it…”

“You would keep a treasured family heirloom from your dear Aunt Morganna?” A silky-toned voice with an English accent caused the trio to spin around and face the door. “Hello, Ana. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. You’ve grown up so much!” She sneered at the two men with her. “I can’t say I like the company you are keeping, but your parents were mortal. It makes sense you would have a soft spot for these creatures. Just like my dear brother does. He did marry one, after all.”

Ana gripped the book against her chest. “Don’t you dare speak about my grandfather like that. He has a good heart, where you have nothing but darkness in your soul.” Anger flashed in Ana’s eyes, but she managed to keep her tone calm. “I know why you created the curse again, Morganna. You cannot have this book.”

“Oh? Who is going to stop me from prying it away from your lifeless body?” Morganna gave her an evil smile. “These two mortals? They are hardly a match for me.”

“No, Morganna. I’m going to end this. Permanently.” Ana opened the book about halfway and spoke a few sentences in Latin. She pointed her right index finger toward Morganna as she repeated the sorceress’s name. “There, that should do it. Check with your father, Cal. See if the curse is over.”

Cal nodded and dialed his father. Bradley looked over at Morganna to see her standing there with her mouth open. When Cal confirmed the curse was over, the woman collapsed on the floor.

“What have you done to me, Ana?!” Morganna wailed as she looked at her hands. Her skin was beginning to wrinkle rapidly in front of her eyes. “I feel… I feel…”

Ana interrupted her. “Grandfather prepared me for this day — should it ever happen. He told me of the only spell that would stop you from ending the world.” Morganna met Ana’s gaze as her hair started graying. “I made you mortal, Morganna. Now, you will know how it feels to be completely human — even if just for a few moments.”

Ana, Bradley, and Cal watched as Morganna opened her mouth to scream at them. No sound escaped as the rapid aging process continued. It only took a few more minutes before Morganna was nothing but dust on the floor.

“That was… interesting,” Bradley stated as he shook his head. He watched as Ana returned the book to the trunk. “Are you okay, Ana?”

“Surprisingly, I am fine,” Ana replied as she rejoined him and Cal. “Morganna was given a just punishment. I will call Grandfather later and inform him.” She grabbed a broom and dustpan that was leaning against a wall. “For now, I’ll just clean her up and get back to work.”

“Let me help you,” Bradley said as he reached for the broom and dustpan. He gently took them from her grasp and started sweeping. “It’s the least I can do for you helping us.”

Bradley glanced over at Cal, who now stood by the door. His brother never wanted to help out after a job. Typically, Bradley would just follow him and head back home. Meeting Ana today made him want to stick around for a few more hours.

“You go on home, Cal, and give Dad our report.” Bradley glanced at Ana before looking back at his brother. “I’m going to stay here with Ana for a little bit and help her out.”

“Uh-huh.” Cal raised an eyebrow and grinned. He opened the door and started down the stairs.

“We’re just in the next town,” Bradley told Ana. “I can get a ride later.”

“I can take you home.” Ana smiled. “Only my bike is here, but sorceresses have other ways of traveling.”

Bradley laughed along with her. It would be good to know a sorceress, and Bradley planned to make this relationship personal — even if she was 800 years young…