Shiplap and Spell Hunting
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When a mysterious portal opens up in Norma Ray's barn, giving people everything they wish for, Clem and Rufus are on edge, doing everything they can to close it as quickly as possible.
But that's easier said than done. When the whole town discovers the portal's abilities, everyone is wishing for their heart's desire. Only some folks want things that should never be wished for--namely Malene.
And when Clem and Rufus discover what will happen if they don't close the portal--namely the destruction of their town, they jump into high gear, doing everything they can to shut it down. But nothing works.
Can Clem and Rufus close the portal, or will it destroy Peachwood?
Release date: May 23, 2021
Publisher: LADYBUGBOOKS LLC
Print pages: 162
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Shiplap and Spell Hunting
The day had started simply enough. Well, if you consider freeing a tree spirit from a barn simple, that was. Since my life lately had been one strange occurrence after another, yes, I did consider working a little voodoo in a residence to release a trapped entity almost an everyday occurrence.
But what I didn’t consider run-of-the-mill was watching Norma Ray, hair askew as if she’d left the beauty salon mid-styling, climb out of her Murano and run over to where Rufus and I stood. Her knee-hose sagged to her shins as she waved her arms, face red in a fluster.
“Clem, you’ve got to come quick.”
Goodness, what could be the trouble now? “What is it?”
“It’s my barn.”
Rufus clenched his jaw. He was always ready to take on a challenge. He was almost like a superhero in that way. More Henry Cavill’s Superman than Ben Affleck’s Batman. Could be I thought that way because Henry was simply prettier to look at than Ben.
Rufus took a strong, determined step forward. See? Superhero all the way. “What’s wrong with your barn?”
Norma Ray’s arms flapped as if she were trying to take flight. “It’s too hard to explain. You’ll have to come and see.”
“Norma Ray, I don’t like walking into situations where I don’t know anything,” I told her.
“Well…some sort of portal showed up on it.”
“What?” The hairs on the back of my neck soldiered to attention. “A portal? Where does it lead to?”
She gnashed her teeth. Looked like Norma Ray was debating telling us. What was there to debate? If she had a portal, it had to go somewhere. I would rather know before I went to her barn than after I got sucked in and wound up in some strange Bizarro Peachwood.
In case y’all haven’t guessed yet—and by my rather flaky explanation, you probably haven’t—my name is Clementine Cooke and I’m a witch.
But going back to the portal and in answer to my question, Norma Ray said, “It’s hard to say. You just need to witness it.”
Rufus and I exchanged a look. “I’m not doing anything else right now,” he said, his mouth slowly curling into a devilish smile.
“Now that you mention it, I have the afternoon free,” I murmured.
“Shall we go take a look at this portal? Make sure that it doesn’t unleash beasts on our town?”
I shuddered. “Do you think it would do that?”
“It could, but seeing as we’re discussing this with Norma Ray”—he leaned over conspiratorially—“my guess is she actually painted a circle on the wood and forgot about it.”
I stifled a laugh. “You’re probably right.” To Norma Ray, I said, “Lead the way. We’ll follow.”
“All right, but come on. I don’t want this thing to get any stranger.”
Rufus and I exchanged another look. I grabbed Lady, my furry little dachshund who’d been snapping at butterflies, and we climbed wordlessly into his SUV and followed Norma Ray back through town.
For as messy as she had appeared, Norma Ray didn’t drive any faster than forty miles per hour on the two-lane road that headed back into Peachwood. About a million cars zipped around us, and it was all I could do not to sink into the car seat and pray that no one recognized me.
“You should sit up,” Rufus joked. “Be proud that we’re obeying the speed limit.”
“We’re actually not. It’s fifty through here.”
His dark eyes glinted with amusement. “Going under is obeying.”
“Maybe in your world, where you’re from,” I replied. “But in my world, the correct speed limit is at least seven miles over what’s posted.”
“And how many accidents have you been in?”
“None.” Victory laced my voice. “And you?”
“None. Though I will admit to being pulled over for riding my cast-iron skillet over the limit when I was a teenager.”
I howled with laughter. “You broke the law? You went too fast?”
“Difficult to believe, I know,” he murmured.
It was not a hard truth to swallow. In his youth Rufus had been what most would call an evil wizard with a penchant for playing Dr. Frankenstein on witches. You see, he had wanted to attain the powers of others.
I had almost been one of his victims—that is, until I escaped.
Only a few months ago, Rufus appeared in my town with a nasty case of amnesia. He couldn’t remember one lick of who he had been.
Of course I knew all about his past, but I didn’t tell him—not for a while. When he discovered the truth (and that I’d been keeping it from him), Rufus was ticked, but by that time I was falling in love with him—with the man who had once hurt me.
And he was falling in love with me.
Sometimes you have to face your fears and overcome them in order to find the love buried deep in your heart.
At least, that was the truth in my case.
We hit downtown Peachwood during rush hour. Norma Ray’s slow pace gave me plenty of time to admire the storefronts with colorful awnings. There were about half a dozen antique stores, several clothing boutiques, Bender’s, the coffee shop that I love, a pizza place and a sports bar. Peachwood was a small town with a lot of character, and I hearted it so hard.
We crept out of the center of downtown through a residential area and then turned off onto a side road. The houses were turn of the century, and I spotted one that was for sale. It was a Craftsman cottage with chipped paint and shutters dangling from the windows. It would make a perfect renovation. My guess was that the bones were good. It just needed a bit of repair work, some updating, a little love, and it would be a perfect home for somebody.
As I daydreamed about the house, the residential area opened to green fields that had just been tilled. I rolled down the window and inhaled the scents of grass and earth. They wrapped around me in a comforting blanket, bringing a smile to my lips.
Past a field of newly sprouting corn sat a small white farmhouse beside a red barn trimmed in white. The whole scene was picture-perfect, and I nearly gasped when Norma Ray put on her blinker and turned down the drive.
“Whoo wee, look at that place,” Lady said.
Oh, and I might have forgotten to mention that my dog talks.
“Nice place,” Rufus mumbled.
Surprise laced my voice. “It is nice.”
“Clem, that’s nicer than your place,” Lady said. “Why don’t we live in something like that?”
“Because it costs more money than I make,” I told her.
Lady stared up at me blankly. “You’re a witch. You can make money.”
“It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just make money.” Actually I’d never attempted before. “I wonder—”
“It doesn’t work,” Rufus interrupted. “You can’t grow or make money.”
“Among other things,” he murmured. “But back to this house. I take it you’ve never been here before.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Isn’t Norma Ray one of your friends?”
My gut twisted. “Well, technically she’s Malene’s friend.”
“She’s your friend, too,” Lady added, to my annoyance. My dog did not know when to keep her mouth shut. In fact, most of the time her yapper was wide open, tongue flapping.
“And isn’t Malene your grandmother?” Rufus asked.
I folded my arms defiantly. “Need I remind you that I just discovered that nugget of knowledge not long ago?”
“Somebody’s touchy,” he said with a wry smile. “It isn’t my fault that you don’t know where your friends live.”
“I really don’t like you right now.”
He chuckled and pulled to a stop beside Norma Ray. She about jumped from her car and motioned for us to get out.
“I’m almost afraid to see this portal,” I said. “The way she’s acting, I’m wondering if the Kraken is inside or something.”
Rufus cut the engine. “If that were the case, she wouldn’t have asked us to come here. Norma Ray probably would have very slowly crashed her car into the barn.”
I barked with laughter. “Good point. Come on. Let’s see what she’s got.”
“Yeah.” Lady’s tail wagged. “Let’s get down there and see what the heck’s going on.”
“You”—I tapped her nose—“have to be extra careful. No going into the portal. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I’ll watch her.” Rufus opened his arms and took Lady. “She’ll be safe with me.”
Lady licked his chin. “Thank you. I always knew you’d make a great doggy daddy.”
Um. What? I laughed uncomfortably. It was a bit soon to be talking about Rufus being a doggy daddy. We hadn’t been dating that long, after all.
Rufus’s gaze darted to mine as if he could read my thoughts. Heat streaked his cheeks. Apparently Lady had embarrassed us both.
Way to go, Dog.
Norma Ray strode over and rapped on the window. “What’s taking y’all so long? Come on!”
With all the doggy daddy talk I’d almost forgotten why we were here.
“Coming,” Rufus said to her. “Shall we?”
I grinned. “We shall.”
We walked beside Norma Ray as she waddled across her land. “It started last night. Well, at least that’s when I first noticed it.”
“What exactly did you notice?” Rufus asked.
“Yeah,” Lady echoed. “What’d you see?”
Norma Ray stopped and considered the question. “I went outside to do my nightly closing up—make sure all the doors were locked. I went into the barn to say good night to the barn cats—”
“You have cats?” Lady’s ears lifted. “Where are they?”
“Dog,” Norma said with a finger wag, “you ever see the movie Secret Life of Pets 2, where the cats are feral and they’ll scratch your eyes out?”
Lady cocked her ears at me in question. “Remember,” I reminded her, “there was an old lady who had a million of them and they were all wild—well, sort of?”
Lady’s tongue lolled to one side. “Yes,” she replied, chipper as a chipmunk. “I remember now.”
“Well the cats I got’ll claw you to shreds,” Norma told her.
Lady’s tongue slipped inside her mouth, and she didn’t say another word. Hmmm. Perhaps Norma Ray was on to something. To quiet Lady, apparently all I had to do was suggest that a thousand feral cats would attack her.
“Anyway,” Norma continued. “I went inside the barn, and that’s when I saw what looked like a hole in one of the walls. I didn’t think too much of it at first—well, you know, other than the fact that I’d have to get a carpenter out to fix it. But as I peered closer, I realized the wall looked all swirly.”
Rufus cocked a brow as if to ask, Is that an official description? Swirly?
I bit back a laugh. “Was that all?”
Norma shook her head. “I inspected it closely and realized that it was indeed swirly. Well, I didn’t know what to think about that, but you know I don’t wear glasses.”
“We know,” I bit back.
She glared. “You don’t have to be so persnickety about it.”
“I mean, for the sake of other drivers on the road, you should wear them.”
She sniffed. “I’ll have you know that going slow saves people’s lives.”
“I would beg to differ,” Rufus chimed, “especially when they’re not expecting you to be going ten miles an hour. You could get rear-ended.”
Norma dismissed him with a wave. “As I was saying, since I can’t see too great, I just went to bed and figured that I’d get another lookie-loo in the morning.”
We were at the barn now.
Rufus pointed to the doors. “Shall I?”
“Be my guest,” she said.
The doors slid open easily. Norma might have been a slow driver, but she certainly took care of her things. Sunlight splashed across the inside, illuminating beams. The open space was neatly swept and the hay in the loft was stacked in organized rows.
Lady trembled in Rufus’s arms. “Where are the cats?”
Norma ran a hand over her head. “Probably up there. Don’t worry, they’re shy of people, but go after dogs,” she said darkly.
Lady’s gaze darted around nervously, but she said nothing.
“Where’s this portal?” Rufus asked, getting things back on track.
“Follow me.” Norma led us to the back wall. “It’s right here.”
In the center of the wooden slats sat a dark smear. It looked like someone had dipped a paintbrush in black paint and then spread it evenly across the wall. It was about the size of a dinner plate, and inside it, what looked like a small galaxy, stars and all, whirled around.
“No one touch it,” Rufus said. To Norma, he added, “It opened yesterday?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“How big was it then?” he asked.
Norma scratched the top of her head. “About this size. I think. It was dark.”
“And you know for sure it’s a portal?”
“Yes.” She exhaled a deep breath. “Something came out of it.”
His eyes widened. “What?”
“Let me show you.”
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