We now return to our magical old west programming with our gambling man Sam and the witchy sisters, Snake and Smoke, from our ongoing saga of CONJURING MISERY, brought to you by the combined talents of Jami Gray, Camille Douglass, and Dave Benneman. When we left off, Sam and the women were trapped in the traveling coach on their pursuit of the Yaqui Blood Star…

Snake

 Staring through the haze of smoke I took advantage of the blessed silence of the rickety stage ride to settle back for a spell. As much fun as it would’ve been to watch the self-important jackass dance his final jig,  at least the blowhard’s yammering was no longer buzzing in my brain. I tugged the brim of my ill-fitting hat down over my eyes and folded my arms, keeping my hands real close to my girls, Pearl and Ruby. The monied couple looked a little skittish and I didn’t want anything untoward to happen.  

Next to me Sam feigned sleep, not well, but enough I’d let him be. Based on his reaction to the neck stretching yahoo across from us, I caught an inkling of what might be behind his creative neckwear choices. Getting up close and personal with Death, now that would also explain some of Gambling Man’s other unique skills, not to mention why I was finding his presence much more entertaining than most.

Time to concentrate on the real reason I willingly trapped myself in a stagecoach with strangers—the tracking spell Smoke managed to tag Mendez with during our little saloon showdown. Normally it was next to nothing for Smoke to bag and tag our prey with a tracking spell, but the last couple of days of heavy lifting left each of us a mite shy of shiny.  Combining our magic not only compensated for that, but allowed us to track a longer distance. A necessary thing since the tethering line was humming it’s little heart out all the way to Santa Fe. If my estimates were right, we’d hit town close to sundown, just a handful of hours behind Mendez. Unfortunately, I was fairly certain Jinx was eating our dust trail even now. 

If I was the spiteful kind, our dearest dumbass coz would find himself making nice with some of the desert’s more prickly characters. Ah hell, who was I kidding? I let my darker impulses out to play and sent an invitation to a few of my venomous and stinger inclined friends before letting my lips curl in vicious satisfaction as my teeth kept my cigarillo firmly in place. A minor delay in the overall scheme, but it eased some of the black fury in my heart to know Jinx would be highly uncomfortable for a span of time. Meemaw would understand.

A muffled huff of breathe from Smoke indicated she caught that move. Sliding a glance on over I caught her lips twitching as she stared out the window.  

Family taken care of, I turned my mind back to the problem at hand. Shanghaiing Mendez and getting Cyrus’s whereabouts out of the cowardly bastard and who hired him. I was still betting on the Sullivan clan being the one holding his reigns. So trading the Star for Cyrus might be the right solution, or least the right solution to not furthering the feud between us and the Sullivans, but I had no intentions of letting Mendez off that easy. 

Setting the trap was the easy part—we offer the Star in exchange for Cyrus. Problem was getting the thrice damned curse lifted from the boy. Mendez couldn’t do that, that responsibility belonged to the one who cast it. If the Sullivans were bound and determined not to show their hand, we’d get Cyrus back but he’d still be dead of the curse. My gut was screaming this was the ultimate ouroboros—Cyrus’s death was a sure thing no matter how this played out. 

Unless…

Dark, dangerous thoughts crept closer, and thanks to the fear of losing the best of our family, gained traction. There was a spell, a multi-layered, formidable, and completely treacherous spell that offered the barest ray of hope. Unfortunately, I needed Smoke’s help to pull it off, and I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to like it. Not one little bit. I stumbled across it once in a dusty little family journal dating back from before our family set foot on America’s soil, it was called a Rider spell. It required the worse ingredients known—blood sacrifice and a soul-bound deal. Smoke wouldn’t have a problem with the blood sacrifice part, it was the soul-bound deal she’d be taking issue with. 

Tying a demon rider to the Star was risky, especially considering the uncertainty of linking demon magic with the ancient magic of the stone, but it would guarantee that the one who threatened Cyrus would be permanently out of the game. Of course, my place on the board would be forfeit. While that didn’t bother me—much—it would probably piss Smoke right the hell off.  Thing was, I was pretty certain she hadn’t run across the full spell, and if she had, well, then, it was up to me to fast talk my way around how to negotiate the demon deal part. If we did manage to tie a demon to the Star and take out the castor as payment, it left me skating a paper thin line considering my history with the denizens of the lower realm. 

The cherished memories of Cyrus’s bright eyes, impish smile, and sturdy little arms wrapped tight around my neck as he whispered I was his “favoritist” auntie outweighed any possible trepidation. Didn’t matter that I knew Smoke shared that title with me, that boy didn’t deserve to get caught between the vengeance of two unforgiving clans. He deserved a chance to get out and above our families’ histories. Smoke would make sure he did. And I had no problems doing what it took to ensure the same, even if it meant lying to my beloved sister.

Besides, say the worse happened and I joined the demon ranks, I’d make damn sure to keep my focus on the Sullivans—a scorched earth policy tended to work best anyways.

Decision made, the constant worry and anger settled into steel hard determination. As soon as we hit Santa Fe, I’d get Smoke on board and set the wheels in motion. It was time to bring Cyrus home.

Smoke

Sam slept fitfully next to me whatever personal hell going on his head causing his hands to shake, the occasional knee jerk along with the occasional mumbled swear word. Our three companions noticeably avoided eye contact particularly the judge. I’d hoped for a little more spine from that one so I could play with him a bit more to pass the time. Instead he kept his eyes glued out the window looking at the never ending landscape of dirt and rocks. I supposed that was a punishment in and of itself. Focused on the old windbag it took me awhile to realize the Snake had gone silent. Snake, a predator like her namesake, could stay silent for hours, but this was a darker silence. The air in the coach heavy from whatever fool plan she had spinning in her head.

We needed to talk and whatever was on her mind was not suitable for mixed company. My little noose trick already had them on edge and I didn’t need any hysterics today. I closed my eyes and looked for the familiar path letting my body relax into a pseudo slumber as my spirit traveled the well worn path that connected Snake’s psyche with my own. As I suspected the usually vibrant home we shared for private conversations was shadowed and gray. 

“Sister mine,” I called out to her. 

It took Snake a few moments to repeat the process I’d just gone through. “Why are you calling me here? What if the other passengers attack us.”

I laughed at the thought, “That group aren’t really the attack women in their sleep type. Well, maybe the judge but he’s doing everything to avoid our attention at this point. Now, what is going on with you?”

“I’m worried about Cyrus.” The gray seemed to pulse around us. 

“As am I, but the curse will be removed shortly. Meemaw’s taking care of Cyrus, she’ll hold the curse at bay until we can get it lifted.”

Confusion rippled through our shared space. “Meemaw doesn’t have Cyrus, the Sullivans do and you know that they’ll never give him back or the sorry sons of bitches will give him back but leave the curse on him.”

In the mind space I couldn’t stare incredulously at my sister but I wished I could. “Sister mine, the Sullivans do not hold Cyrus. You must remember this?”

“What are you talking about Smoke, I know that they hold him. We trade the star and we’ll get back the boy but he’ll still be cursed so he’ll die or be in so much agony he’ll wish for death. The Sullivans aren’t the generous type,  they won’t offer the boy and lifting the curse.”

Dread filled my stomach as I looked around our meeting space. The gray that had been instantly noticed hid a darker meaning. Tiny veins of black twisted through our mind home causing the illusion of gray. It touched us both. “The Star,” I mumbled suddenly aware of it’s presence wrapped up in my skirts.

“Yeah Smoke, I know we’re going to trade the Star but it’s not enough.”

“No Snake, look around, look closely.” 

I felt her mind wander and a moment later heard her curse. “What the fuck is that?”

“The Star.”

“What is it doing?”

“That there is the ten thousand gold doubloon question. Is it making me forget where Cyrus is to fuck with us or is it making you paranoid that all of our efforts will be in vain because we don’t hold the boy or his curse?”

She swore again, “Fuck if I know.”

“Frankly, I don’t know either . If it weren’t for Cyrus I swear I’d bury that cursed stone ten feet under in salt in the middle of barren land.”

“But there is Cyrus.”

“I know that so now we gotta find out where he is. We were going to go straight to the Sullivans but for matters such as these it may be best to have our matriarch handle the negotiations. Particularly given that she’ll know for certain where the boy is.”

“We need to talk to Sam.”

“Yup.”

With that we both pulled away from our connected space quickly sitting forward with a collective gasp. The banker who had felt safe enough to stare at our slumber quickly darted his eyes back to the window. Sam startled from his sleep and gave us a questioning look. 

“Slight change of plans.” 

“You ladies do live a life filled with enough excitement to keep a man spry or put him in an early grave.”

Snake chuckled, “We’re getting off before Santa Fe.”

“Oh and why would we do that?”

“Due to unseen circumstances of being the new owners of a certain bauble we’ll be needing to confer with our matriarch as to negotiations as well as the general state of reality,” I supplied.

Sam’s brow creased, “Does that mean?”

Snake cut in, “It does. You are about to be honored the great privilege of meeting our meemaw.”

A smile broke across his face as he already reached up to knock on the roof to announce our new destination to the driver. 

Snake and I exchanged a look. Fingers crossed meemaw liked the eccentric old gambler or he’d be in for a nasty visit. 

I swear we’re wrapping this adventure up, so come on back in a couple of weeks for unlucky Chapter 13!

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