“I’m going to reach through the phone and strangle you, Penelope,” I growled.
Penny scoffed at the very idea, and rightly so. She had about thirty pounds and four inches on me.
“Any progress?” Penny asked.
“Well, I have food in the house but no angry marsupials. That’s progress.”
“I’m assuming that you’re just tired and not spouting gibberish to annoy me,” she retorted.
“No, no, it’s going well. I’ve found the shop. I’m going to visit tomorrow. And I’ve shopped for groceries and managed to evict a minor possum infestation from my rental house.”
“Have you called Stephen yet?” she asked.
“Oh, shit!” I gasped. “No. I sent him a text when I landed, but after that . . . everything’s a little hazy.”
“Well, you should call him. He’s been calling here, asking for your contact information at the hospital in Boston. You know I can’t lie for anything, Nola. Why didn’t you just tell him where you were going?”
“Because Stephen would think this is insane,” I grumbled, forcing myself out of bed and untangling myself from the seemingly endless amount of spiral phone cord keeping me tethered to the receiver. I hobbled across my darkened room toward the window, glancing out to the moonlit garden.
“Well, if he’s going to be a part of your life, he’s just going to have to accept that you’re—”
“What the hell is that?” I blurted as my eyes came to focus on a strange hulking figure at the edge of my yard. It had the basic shape of a man, only bent and twisted. The stark light of the full moon showed a broad, dark back. Its movements were halting and irregular, as if its long, rangy limbs weren’t working properly. It looked almost canine, like one of those werewolves from the old Universal Studios monster movies. It lumbered toward the treeline, sniffing and scratching.
“Don’t change the subject,” Penny admonished me.
“There’s something in my back garden.”
“Another marsupial?” Penny chuckled.
“It almost looks like a Yeti.” I stepped toward the cheap little nightstand I’d bought to retrieve my glasses, but the movement dragged the sheet with me and knocked a heavy pile of books and notes to the floor with a loud thunk. The shape shifted, its “face” obscured by angled moonlight.
It stepped toward the house. I scrambled away from the window, pressing against the wall. I could hear Penny’s voice from the receiver, shouting for me to answer her. I tried to remember if the doors downstairs had decent monster-proof locks, but at the moment, all I could see in my head was a series of increasingly grotesque potential Yeti/werewolf bite wounds. Should I try to warn Jed? How would I get to his part of the house without going outside?
I was snapped out of this mental runaway train by Penny calling my name. I pressed the receiver to my ear. “Yes?”
“I thought the Yeti was a Himalayan beastie,” Penny said as I slipped my glasses over my nose.
“Werewolf is another possibility,” I whispered, peeking from the window frame and forcing myself to look into the yard. Nothing. Whatever it was had gone. What the hell? I was sure there was something out there. This wasn’t some flash out of the corner of my eye. But what was it? As far as I knew, there were no wolfmen or Yetis in this part of the world. And what were the chances of one showing up in my back garden?
There was also the small matter of my reflection, frightful rat’s nest of dark hair included, which could very easily be mistaken for a furry beast.
I laughed, wiping at my eyes. “False alarm. No werewolves in sight.”
“If you don’t stop talking nonsense, I’m coming over there,” Penny warned.
I let out a shaky laugh, my shoulders sagging as the tension in my chest eased. “It’s fine, Pen, I swear. I’m just jet-lagged and a little loopy. I didn’t have my glasses on, and the moonlight is playing tricks on me. It was probably a dog or a bear or something. Do they have bears in Kentucky?”
“I don’t know. All the more reason for you to be careful. I don’t like the idea of you being over there by yourself. Rumor has it that several Kerrigan cousins have made plans to ‘sightsee’ in the States. That means they’re up to something. Da wanted me to call to say we could spare Richard, James, and myself if you thought we could be of help.”
“You know why it had to be this way. Nana Fee only wanted one of us tramping all over the countryside, digging up family dirt. Four strangers with funny accents in a town this small would definitely cause a stir. And your sudden disappearance from the village would attract attention there.”
“It’s too much for one person to deal with, no matter how strong you think you are.”
“Well, I’m not disagreeing with you. But the word is ‘badass,’ not ‘strong.’ ”
“All right, then, Miss Steven Seagal, what are you not telling me?” she demanded.
“Don’t know what you mean.”
“You’ve got that weird excited tension in your voice. And it’s not because you’ve located the shop or managed to find your Nutella. I know you, Nola. You’re crap at keeping secrets. Confess.”
“My gorgeous new neighbor has an aversion to wearing shirts. And for reasons beyond my control, he may or may not have seen me wearing nothing but a towel . . . at close range. But that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”
“You tramp!” Penny cackled. “You’re not getting away that easy!”
“That’s. All. I. Have. To. Say.”
Huffing at my “mule-headedness,” Penny updated me on some of our patients, and I gave notes on their treatment, and for a moment, we sounded like any other medical team in the Western world. Gifted though we were, there were limitations to what we could do. Magic was not the answer to every problem or ailment, which was where my training came in handy. Nana and the others graciously tolerated my little eccentricities when I insisted on using modern techniques and equipment. So in return, if herbal teas would resolve issues such as indigestion, irregularity, and irritability, I prescribed them happily. Treatment at the clinic was a mix of magic and medicine, and our patients had come to expect a little of both.
My relatives were bolder in their practice of magical healing. Penny, for example, was a dab hand at what she called “replenishing spells.” She could spend just a few minutes talking with a patient who had been run down by a chronic illness or a bout of flu, and that person would walk away feeling as if he or she had spent two weeks at a health spa. She got incredibly offended when I suggested that the soothing, musical lilt of her voice sent the patients into a posthypnotic state that led them to believe they were relaxed and refreshed. If I teased too hard, she’d threaten to perm me again.
The clinic was what brought the family together, when none of the McGavocks were sure how to handle the scandal of my mother’s birth. Nana was the strongest witch in the family, the best healer in a bloodline that had always had healers in spades. Nana had organized the renovation of an old shearing barn into a sterile facility. She’d arranged for the beds, the medicinal herb garden out back, and the donation of supplies.
Instead of waiting for a situation to become so dire that they showed up at the McGavock farm at midnight, our neighbors could come to the clinic during office hours. At any given time, there were at least three McGavocks on hand to provide care, although I was the only licensed medical professional in the bunch—a fact we didn’t quite broadcast to the agencies that governed health facilities. It was rare that they approved a form containing the phrase “we heal our patients with herbs and energy manipulation.”
As a nurse practitioner, I loved working with my neighbors. I liked the fussy seniors with their imagined ailments, who were in reality visiting us after confession failed to provide them with the social contact they craved. I liked solving the real problems, soothing colicky infants and arthritic hands, and, yes, wiping up plain old colds. I loved knowing I was part of something. Even if I didn’t fully accept my extra gifts, I liked knowing that I was drawing from the same source that had been easing the suffering in Kilcairy for ages in exchange for pennies and, occasionally, chickens and sheep.
Plainly put, the clinic was what sent me to Half-Moon Hollow. According to family legend, if I didn’t find the four artifacts Nana had left to Gilbert Wainwright by the summer solstice, we would lose our magic. Even with my medical education behind us, the family would close the clinic. For years, the McGavock healers had been doing the near-impossible. My relatives wouldn’t feel right continuing to operate without meeting those high expectations. Without affordable medical care nearby, our patients would put off the ninety-minute drive to the nearest doctor’s office until minor problems became emergencies. Perfectly treatable illnesses would become big problems.
I would not let this happen to my neighbors or my family. These were the people who took me in when I arrived at the village gate, parentless and wary. They didn’t care that my mother had caused no end of trouble in her short tenure there years before. I was one of their own.
Hearing Penny’s voice brought on a wave of homesickness so fierce it made my teeth ache. I gave a brief update of my activities so far and promised I would e-mail a follow-up as soon as I met with Jane Jameson. After swearing that I would call if I needed help, I hung up. I opened my phone to dial Stephen’s number but stopped myself. “Not the right time,” I muttered. “Call when you get enough sleep to stop hallucinating mythical creatures . . . and you stop talking to yourself.”
I rose again, staring out the window. I was awake now, awake enough to stock my kitchen, unpack my clothes, and start my life here. And before the next sunset, I would pay Jane Jameson’s shop a visit.
In the light of late afternoon, I could see that Specialty Books was indeed located in a run-down neighborhood that seemed to be bouncing back slowly toward respectability. There was a consignment shop next door to the bookstore and a medical clinic down the street. The buildings looked as if they were being gradually rehabbed out of a state of ruin. It was difficult for me to understand—having lived for years in a country where the age of buildings was measured in centuries rather than decades—how Americans let their buildings fall to crap so quickly. Then again, considering Kentucky’s heat and brain-softening humidity in flipping May, maybe the buildings simply melted.
I sat across the street from the shop in my newly acquired heap of a car, purchased with Iris Scanlon’s help at Bardlow’s Used Cars. The twenty-year-old Nissan featured four tires and a motor. There were no other features. It was a hunk of junk, but at seven hundred dollars, I couldn’t afford to pass on the deal. Poor Miranda couldn’t be saddled with driving me every time I needed to go into town.
Beyond purchasing transportation, I had not had a productive day. I woke up late, remembering that I needed to call Stephen, who was not pleased to be an “afterthought” in my travel agenda. But he was back to his same sweet self in a few moments, asking how I was sleeping, if I’d taken my vitamins, if my caseload was rewarding. He was always concerned about me pushing myself too hard, and the way he cared warmed my heart as it always did. Of course, our conversation was riddled with none-too-subtle hints that I should abandon this silly fellowship, come home, and discuss his proposal to move to Dublin. I pretended I was still travel-addled to avoid the topic. He ended the conversation with “Be sure to get enough rest.” Which, in terms of a loved-up phone signoff, was extremely lacking, but still, he worried about me. And that was nice of him.
I wasn’t sure what to do about this ambivalence I’d felt about calling Stephen since arriving in the Hollow. And even more shocking was that I’d barely devoted any time or thought to Stephen in the last few days. There was no bone-deep, visceral ache to keep me from sleeping without him or concentrating on the task at hand. And that was disturbing. I liked that “head over heels” feeling. Losing it felt like going through emotional withdrawal.