“Beth? Maybe you should come sit over here.”
She shot a glance over her shoulder, where Jack was pointing to the chair. She opened her mouth to say something, and the words died as she caught sight of the glimmering particles dancing in the air in the wake of her hair. She sucked in a deep breath, turned, and stalked to the chair, dropping into it in a slouch, arms crossed.
“Did you see—” Catty said, pointing.
Patty ignored her, glancing from Beth over to Jack, then back to the girl. “Don’t just let him boss you around like that! We’re not through here yet!”
Gold flashed in Beth’s eyes, but Jack leaned over and put a hand on her shoulder when she tried to get up.
“I think you two are more than finished,” Jack said. “Unless you want to see just what Beth will do, and — trust me — you don’t.
“The rules say two at a time during visiting hours, so one of you has to go.”
Patty gaped, blinking behind gold rims.
Catty took her sister’s arm. “Maybe you should go get a cocoa at the cafeteria.”
“She... she threatened me! I’d say she got matched with the perfect lab partner this time around.”
Jack leaned hard, gritting his teeth as the pain flared again in his neck. Beth trembled, ready to leap just like the springs they’d experimented with at the beginning of the year in science class. Sparks of gold drifted from the tips of Beth’s hair, falling the short distance to the back of Jack’s hand. They weren’t hot, as much as they resembled embers.
He squeezed her shoulder, just a bit, and only then noticed how much warmer her skin had grown. He could feel the heat coming through the flannel of her nightgown.
“Don’t make me empty the pitcher over your head,” he hissed, and Beth gave a twitch under his grip, tearing her eyes away from Patty and glancing up at Jack. Her own eyes widened, as she saw the points of gold reflected in his. She took a deep breath, and began counting, slowly, reciting what Jack recognized as Egyptian numbers.
“I knew it! Catty, she’s a witch, she’s going to curse us!”
Jack looked over at the twins, and laughed. “She’s not—”
“That’s why you always take her side, isn’t it? She’s put some kind of… of spell on you, hasn’t she?”
Jack laughed again. “Spell? Yeah, it’s called ‘friendship.’”
“I’m serious, Jack! Just… look, what’s that? Where did that come from?” She jabbed a finger up, and Jack saw she’d noticed his dreamcatcher.
“Oh, this? She made this for me for Christmas.” He reached up to untwist one of the braids.
“Don’t touch it!” Patty hissed. “That’s... that’s some sort of magic circle!”
“Patty, I’m pretty sure that’s a—”
But Patty jerked her arm from her sister’s grasp, and reached for the woven hoop.
Jack reached towards the girl’s wrist, but Beth put a hand on his arm. “No, go on, Jack. Let her try to take it.” Not a trace of anger in her voice, it was all warmth and honey.
Patty froze, her fingers inches from the lowest of the feathers.
“If I was a witch, like she says, does she really think I’d leave something like this unguarded, for just anybody to come and take?” Honey lathered over iron, maybe.
“I wasn’t going to—” Patty squeaked.
“Yes, you were,” Beth said, turning her gaze on the girl. “You were going to take it and probably break it. Go ahead and try. But only I can untie it. Anybody else who touches it… well, it’ll start with their fingers turning black. Then they might itch, when the hair starts sprouting... At first, you might think it’s a nervous twitch, that the red spots on your hands are just from something you ate. Until your hands fall off and scuttle away, to spin webs of their own, up in the corners of your room.”
Patty snatched her hand away as if the dreamcatcher were on fire. She stepped away from Beth, fumbling at the collar of her coat, pulling out a golden crucifix, holding it out as far as the slender golden necklace would allow.
“Y-you stay away from me!”
Beth laughed, something feline, a growling chuckle, as she got to her feet. “Those only work against vampires,” she purred. She took a step closer to the girl.
Patty let go of the cross and reached back to grab her sister’s hand. She turned, pulling the door open.
The other twin barely had time to manage a faint smile as she was dragged down the hall.
Beth didn’t even wait for the door to finish closing before she started laughing.
* * * * *
“So…. It wasn’t a slip, but a pull?” Jack asked, staring at the mass of arrows, dotted lines, and balloons Beth had mapped out on a blank page of his sketchbook. “I.. I don’t have your power. Ability. Whatever you want to call it.”
“How about ‘curse’?” she muttered, looking up at him through bangs gone back to their regular golden blonde. “And everyone can do it. They just don’t believe enough, so it never happens for them. But in your case,” she said, pointing towards a stick figure in one of the balloons, “dreaming and Invoking? That’s… like playing marbles with a wrecking ball.”
Jack laughed, picturing it in his head.
“Not so funny when you’re the marble.”
“Not your fault. Directly, anyway. Like I said…. It’s a curse.” She smiled a weary smile. “I’m just glad this happened now, rather than a few weeks from now.”
“Tonight is the full moon,” Jack said. He’d started paying attention to those things.
Beth nodded. “No complications this month, if the rest of it goes smoothly.”
Jack stared at the diagram, then looked up over his shoulder at the dreamcatcher. “It’s… burned,” he said, sitting up, looking closer.
Beth followed his gaze, chewed on her lip. Her brow furrowed. “Just how scared were you when you called me?”
“Hey, you face down a pack of…” He picked up his sketchbook, turned towards the front, and held the picture out towards her. “These.”
“They’re just…. Cats with extra legs.”
“Yeah. And it was just a dream,” he said.
They sat in silence for several long moments. Then Jack turned back to the dreamcatcher, reached up, untied it, then chuckled.
“What?” Beth asked, shaking herself from her thoughts.
“Nothing. Just checking.”
* * * * *
“When we asked if we could bring anything back from town for the professor, I didn’t think he was serious when he said ‘his daughter,’” Jack’s mother said, from the hospital room doorway.
“Do we want to know?” Hannah asked.
“She drew diagrams,” Jack said, holding up his sketchbook.
“Come on,” his mother said, waving the paperwork. “Let’s get you two out of here.”