The Binding Stones #1
Amethyst & Onyx
by Kate Zenik
Hazel Sayers can’t stop seeing things that aren’t there. Strange birds, horrific images, voices in her head, all seem to be tied to the fire at a local high school that’s uprooted half the teens in her tiny Texas town. She doesn’t know how, but she knows she’s somehow connected to the accident.
Hazel and her four siblings have been trying desperately to blend in since they lost their mother, a woman who most of the locals believed to be a witch. They want nothing more than to let the past lie, but when Hazel is thrust into the company of a senior, Luke, who seems to know more about what’s going in her head than she does, all possibility of normalcy fades. Luke leads her to the truth about her mother: not only was she a witch with startling power, she birthed Hazel and her siblings for the soul purpose of creating a terrifying magical weapon. The Sayers are forced to address their heritage while struggling with their newfound abilities, and realize that others may already know about them, and are seeking them out. They must attempt to master the forces that haunt them before they’re found, or worse, used for a more unspeakable purpose than they can imagine.
BUY THE BOOK
~ Halloween ~
“I need to tell you about the Sagestone fire,” he says, his voice rasping like each word is being scraped out of him. “I need you to know how this started.”
My eyelids are too heavy to open. I try, but it’s like two thumbs are resting on top of them, holding them down. I can’t do anything but lie there and watch the hallway of the old high school emerge from the fog in my mind’s eye. It surrounds me, makes me feel like I’m standing there, two months ago, exactly. I shiver when he tells me Keir chose the place because he knew it’d be empty and he knew how to get in.
“The boy, Matthew Townsend,” he goes on, “was dead when I got there.”
Every word adds a brushstroke to the scene until his vision is as clear as my own memory. It’s the spell that’s doing it. I can feel it crouching in the back of my brain like a gargoyle, watching the vision unfold while I’m powerless to do anything to stop it, change it, making it real.
I can see the hallway of the old school, everything washed in the grey darkness of nighttime. His feet, my feet, send echoes circling off the walls as I follow the faint smell of smoke down the hall. When I stop outside of French room 2B, my hands reach out and open the door.
The fire Keir started is on the floor, singeing the slip-resistant linoleum in the middle of a black casting circle and throwing his long shadow against the wall. Desks sit clustered around it. Matthew’s body is slung across the long table in the corner. Seeing him there, so rigid and still, makes my throat close until I almost can’t breathe.
The door shuts behind me, drawing Keir’s attention away from the embers.
What took you so long? he says, as he snatches a knife off the floor and tosses it at me, hilt first. My hands barely manage to snag the handle.
Get his blood, Keir tells me, sliding a ceramic bowl across the floor until it knocks into my shoe. We’ll do you first.
My body draws near to Matthew, and I want so badly to open my eyes, break through this nightmare. I watch my hand guide the knife to Matthew’s grey-blue skin and split it with a thin line. There are fingerprint-shaped bruises darkening along his neck.
“Keir strangled him before I got there,” I hear him say through the vision. “Just before.”
He’s dead, but Matthew’s eyes don’t seem vacant yet, like some part of him is digging his nails in, refusing to be torn out.
The ceramic bowl in my hands catches the blood that flows down Matthew’s elbow.
His voice shakes when he says, “Lifeblood had to come from an artery. Keir taught me that. The heart was best, but I just couldn’t put the knife between Matthew’s ribs, dead or not.”
My hands hold out the bowl to Keir and he takes it, mixing a fistful of ashes into it, something like pigment powder. He holds the mixture over the fire, speaking in guttural words that don’t sound like any language I’ve heard before. The darkness deepens in the room, as if it’s being called, clustering in the corners like silent observers.
Keir digs in his backpack and pulls out a pen, just a regular ballpoint that’s been emptied of its ink, but it has a needle on its end. I sit in front of him, horrified, as I gather my shirt up to the back of my neck. Keir goes to work, dipping into the rust-colored paste and piercing a stinging pattern into my back.
“I knew how wrong it was,” he says. “I knew I was breaking a part of myself that I’d never fix again. It’s hard to explain. Each puncture kind of felt like it was filling me. Like all my life I’d been half empty, you know? I couldn’t keep going like that. I’d rather be someone else and let this other side take over than deal with being an unfinished person. I never really thought of stopping. Not even once.”
In the room, Keir works the makeshift needle down to my lower back.
Almost done, Keir says, his voice strained with the effort of keeping his hand steady. The last mark is tricky.
As soon as he’s done saying it, the fire in the middle of the room bursts like a mushroom cloud, stretching up in fury up to the speckled white ceiling. The mineral fiber tiles take up the flames like gasoline, and the whole room loses its breath and starts to choke.
“I knew it was Matthew,” he says, “driving the fire with all the hatred and anger for us that was too strong to move on, leave the place where his life had been stolen.”
The pen drops from Keir’s hand, skittering across the floor. We’re both on our feet, running for the door. The handle is jammed, swollen with the heat. We try the windows, but the metal burns our hands.
“Matthew trapped us,” he says. “His final revenge.”
I grab a chair and break it across a window, chipping out a hole in the glass the size of a dime. It takes six more tries to smash a gap big enough to fit us. I scrape my body through as shards tear at my skin. When I’m almost out, still hanging onto the windowsill, I turn back to help Keir, but he’s not behind me. He’s running to the body, refusing to leave it.
As soon as Keir touches Matthew’s skin, the fire retaliates, eating up every molecule of air left in the room before exploding out the windows. Heat surges into my nose and mouth, burning down my throat, as I hurl myself to the grass outside. After that, I drag my body across the parking lot, collapsing behind an electrical box.
“Sagestone High,” he tells me, “was gone before the fire trucks even got there. I didn’t think there was any way Keir could’ve gotten out. All the evidence was wiped away by the fire. I thought it was some kind of gift. A second chance, almost. I walked away after that. To this day, I’ve never once looked at the tattoos on my back.”
That’s what he says, anyway. I feel the spell losing its hold on me. My vision clears, like a gentle wind sweeping the fog away, and I open my eyes.
It’s just me now, in my own body, still stuck in my hospital bed, and him in the chair beside me. He leans forward, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes like it hurts him too much to see me.
Something’s just been lost between us. I can feel our innocence draining from the room, a dark weight settling in its place.
“If you’d told me one day ago,” I say to him, “we might have been able to save you.”
Two Months Earlier
“I hate this day,” my younger sister Charlotte says, slamming the passenger side door. Her green eyes glower at me amidst several layers of eyeliner, flecks of emerald set in coal. The littered floor of my car rattles against our feet as we wait for our brother and sister to come outside.
“You’re fantastic in the morning,” I say, patting Charlotte on the head.
She swats me hard.
“Everything is going to be different,” she huffs. “They didn’t ask us if we wanted to mingle with all of Sagestone’s rejects.”
“They aren’t rejects, they’re relief students. They had to go to school somewhere.” I run my thumbs over the peeling beige leather on the steering wheel, unable to quiet the fluttering of excitement in my chest. “We’re all nervous. First day of school is always big.”
“I don’t care enough to be nervous,” she scoffs. She piles her dark chocolate hair into a nondescript bun as if to prove her disinterest.
“This is a good development.” Charlotte’s twin Callie heaves herself up into the backseat by the seatbelt. She’s wearing a dress we bought the day before. We share the idea that new clothes are like blank slates, no previous influence. Thus, any big occasion required new clothes. My father does not agree, but that’s men for you.
“Wellsey High needed more guys,” Callie goes on. “Our selection did not profit from puberty.”
“Wyatt will probably disagree.” I roll down the window. “Wyatt! Come on!” I shout toward our house.
Our fourteen-year-old brother slams the front door. His backpack and two duffle bags knock against his legs the whole way down the drive, making him walk like a drunk.
“Dad’s taking Abby to school,” he says, stuffing his gear into the backseat, much of it directly on top of Callie. “You know, to witness the baby starting eighth grade or something.”
“Oh good. We might actually be on time,” I say, putting the car in gear. Cutting the drive to the middle school shaves off a good ten minutes. The ancient SUV rocks forward, jostling its passengers.
“Hey! Get down!” Callie bellows, shoving Wyatt’s bags to the side. She beats her hand against the window, directing her order toward our house, where her grey and white cat, Ruby, is perched on the roof.
“Jeez, Callie, roll down the freaking window,” Wyatt says, doing it for her.
She thrusts her whole top half through the gap, unleashing a tirade at the cat until we turn the corner. Ruby ticks her ears back, but grudgingly starts picking her way down the shingles as we lose sight of the house.
Callie pulls her head back in and leans forward, brushing out my long hair with her fingers.
“You didn’t wear the headband I picked out for you,” she pouts.
“Nope,” I say, recalling the neon red, bow-adorned monstrosity she had cooed over. Our school was absorbing half the students from Sagestone, I didn’t need to look like a lobster on our first day.
The overcrowding is evident as soon as we enter the school. The noise of pre-class chatter, usually a gentle hum, is almost deafening now. Charlotte and I look at each other.
“It’s a little loud,” she practically shouts.
“Something definitely seems different,” I jokingly agree.
Wyatt unshackles himself from us, heading for the freshmen wing. Taylor Fitsch shoves a new girl out of the way to get to me, wrapping me in a hug.
“Hazel!” she says. “It’s a madhouse in here. I wonder if there’s even going to be seats for everyone. Whoa.” Her gaze lands somewhere behind me. Her wide blue eyes look almost hungry. “Check him out.”
I snort and glance over my shoulder, expecting to see some hulking jock, Taylor’s type. But that’s not what I see.
There is an angel in the hallway. He’s tall, with jet-black hair and the buttery brown skin half-Hispanic kids come by naturally. I can only see his profile at first, but then he turns to talk to someone else and cracks a smile. My body can’t decide if it wants to admit it likes him, or get me out of that walkway. His chin and nose are perfectly proportioned—I can’t deny that—but there’s a darkness in his face that makes my stomach clench. So serious for someone so young. Taylor’s hand closes around my arm.
“I need to meet him,” she says, dragging me through the crowd in his direction.
I try to plant my feet.
“Wait, what?” I splutter. The idea of being thrust into conversation with this guy before I’ve regained my wits is not ideal.
Taylor yanks me forward, her sinewy arms overpowering me. “Come on, he’s just a guy.”
As we near, Alison Holmes comes into view across from him. She smooths her glossy blonde hair and smiles, working her magic. Now this seems like even less of a good idea.
We stop right beside Alison and the guy, drawing their attention. Alison stabs us with a glare, her grin plastered over her square teeth. The guy regards Taylor good-naturedly, clearly not aware of the awkwardness he’s just been thrust into.
“They didn’t say we were getting students from Bratton Academy,” Taylor says to him.
I groan softly. Bratton is the teen modeling and acting academy in Austin. He chuckles, the tiniest hint of red lacing his cheeks. It softens him just enough to take the sharp edge off his appearance.
“Sorry, no such luck,” the guy says. His voice is low, moving fluidly from one word to the next like water over rocks.
I find myself longing to hear him speak again.
“I’m Taylor, by the way,” she asserts, sticking her hand out. The guy shakes it, and I think Alison might tackle her right there.
“I’m Luke Caulfield,” the guy says.
“And that’s Hazel.” Taylor turns to me. “Don’t stand behind me like a freak, Haze.”
She practically shoves me into Luke and I look up at him, my tongue locking onto the roof of my mouth. His eyes are the most vibrant blue I’ve ever seen, standing out from his tan skin like water in cupped hands. But a strange hardness edges them. They’re the kind of eyes that always know something you don’t.
He knits his brow just slightly as he studies me. I know his face, I realize. I can’t think from where, but an overwhelming sense of familiarity hits me as we look at each other. He reaches forward, shaking my hand. I hadn’t even realized I’d raised mine.
“Luke,” he says again.
“Hazel Sayers,” I reply.
We drop our hands, but his eyes keep moving over my face.
“Have we met before?” he asks, voicing my own thoughts.
“I feel like we have,” I say slowly.
“Luke and I were just talking about how we went to Mooney Middle School together,” Alison says, clawing her way back into the conversation. “Maybe you went there with us, Hazel.”
Clever minx, already referring to the two of them like they are together. The bell rings for first period and the spell shatters. Luke and I look in opposite directions and Taylor seizes my arm.
“Well, nice to meet you, Luke,” she says. She flashes a shark-like grin at Alison. “See you, Alligator. She looks just like one, doesn’t she, Luke?”
Alison’s trying so hard to keep her smile on that I swear I see her eye twitch.
“Bye,” I manage to say to Luke as Taylor herds me down the hall.
“Bye,” he says, his words almost lost in the din of the hallway.
Taylor uses me like a battering ram as we head to our homeroom, shoving me through cracks in the crowd.
“Sparks, much?” she says under her breath as I open the door to our classroom.
I blink, still in a funk. “What?”
“That Luke guy was totally throwing you lines. ‘Don’t I know you?’ I think that’s how my dad picked up my mom.”
We slip into our seats on the side of the room.
“No, he was right. We definitely know each other from somewhere,” I say, desperately racking my brain. Still nothing comes up.
Taylor takes out her books, dropping them on the desk.
“Why did you say your last name was Sayers?” she asks, looking at me sideways.
I smack my forehead. “I did, didn’t I? I don’t know why I did that. It’s my mother’s maiden name.”
“He got you all flustered, hmm?” Taylor walks her index and middle finger up my arm like a pair of tiny legs. “Ruffled your feathers a bit, hmm?”
I brush her off just as our teacher comes in. I bend my head to my book, but can’t stop replaying the encounter in my head for the rest of the period.
The day goes by uneventfully, despite the added number of students. In some of my classes, the displaced relief kids have to sit on the floor. I don’t see Luke again, which makes me wonder if maybe he’s a senior. I could have found out easily enough at our lunch period, which is upperclassmen only, but I have to report to the library in case anyone comes by for English tutoring. Not like it’s a hopping pastime on most days. It makes for a good hideout though. One encounter with Luke left me feeling like I’d misplaced my brain. I didn’t want a second helping.
~ * ~
“Want to go for a run?” Callie asks me on the ride home. I make a face, glancing up at the clouds above us. They look bruised, angry even.
“It might rain,” I argue.
“It won’t. Those are stratocumulus clouds, not nimbostratus.” Callie twists in her seat to see her twin. “Char, how about you?”
Charlotte rolls her eyes. “No thanks.”
I get a sudden image of Charlotte running in the rain, in her dark clothes, mascara and eyeliner draining down her face. Running really wouldn’t be her thing.
We pull up to the house just as my stepdad and my youngest sister, Abby, are getting out of the other car. His weathered, tan face brightens as he sees us. He’s still in his scrubs, straight from the hospital.
“Hey girls,” he says as we get out. “Where's Wyatt?”
“Football practice. He’s bussing it home,” I answer, walking over to hug him. As soon as I turn, Abby rushes me, thrusting a heavy plastic bag into my hands. I almost drop the giant bottles of Mane N’ Tail.
“Hazel! Can you please, please make up some of Mom's shampoo for me? I’m almost out,” she begs.
“Oh yeah, me too,” Callie seconds as she walks past.
I groan. Abby widens her green eyes, the same eyes we all inherited, clasping her hands.
“Please, Haze. I’ll make dinner tonight. You’re the only one who does it right.”
I’m clearly not going to win this. “Yeah, okay.”
IAbby jumps twice, her blonde hair swinging around her neck.
“Hey,” Callie says, poking her head out the door. “Run in twenty. Be ready.”