Joni Warren quickly raced home after stepping off the school bus. She had two miles to cover before getting to the house and figured with her lack of speed and the timing of the phone call that she would most likely miss it.
"It's only true if I make it true!" Joni thought. "Give me ten more minutes!" A sudden roar spooked her and she turned around to spot a motorcycle barreling down the road. Joni jumped back as it approached and the tall and lean helmeted rider came to a stop nearby. The cyclist seemed ominous wearing all black: a motor jacket with zippers and chains, tough denim jeans and stiff leather boots. The sleek black helmet came off to reveal a pale face with silvery bobbed hair, bright violet eyes and a beaming wide-toothed smile.
"Hey Joni," the young man said pleasantly. "Want a lift?"
"I ought to smack you, Signe!" Joni screeched and hit him on the shoulder with her backpack, forcing him to drop his helmet. "Don't scare me like that!" He laughed as she scooped it up and handed it to him. Signe placed the helmet on his head as Joni got behind him on the cycle to hold tightly around his waist. He revved the engine and took off with purpose.
Joni thought about her day and the earlier week as Signe darted through traffic, heading for her house. She felt glad that Friday finally came and that she could recover from surviving her hectic week after starting out as a junior in high school. There was the first football game to look forward to a few hours from right then and she wanted to go cheer for her alma mater, Nortiniry High.
Nortiniry was notorious for having a losing football team, the Knights. Since the Knights tended to have a poor pool of talent for being such a small school, even when a professional coach had been brought in to help the team become successful, in the end, the team failed each time they played against all the other schools.
The joy Joni had in watching the team was the fact that they were always playing on that one hope that the Knights would win at least one game, though that had never come. The Knights lost each game the year before and with the best seniors gone from last season, the next were assumed to be even worse.
Joni couldn't wait to get to the stands to heckle the opposing fans and chide the other players while cheering for her favorite team that made playing badly seem like an art form. She wanted something to cheer for in order to escape, to put herself fully into a demanding exercise to get her away from the reality that pushed her close to the edge. Though high school football was a means to get out of the house and away from it all, Joni also put herself into sports she could manage to get into, even protesting loudly to play sports that were deemed too dangerous for girls.
Joni felt proud that she could play along with the boys on her team, especially football and hockey, but because she was only used in practice as a fill-in, she felt happy that she could still cheer and pester the other teams, threatening them with her skill that had yet to be tested. It wasn't because she could play very well, since she couldn't throw no further than arm's length, or strike the puck no further than barely out of the way of an opposing player; it was because she had supernatural abilities that no other people had.
Joni Warren didn't think of herself as a witch, as she was accused of being many times before. She didn't ride a broom and she completely, almost passionately, hated cats. Joni had no have warts on her face, though she had one on her wrist that kept coming back with a vengeance. Joni did have abilities few sixteen-year-old girls had: she could cast simple spells and she could heal those that had minor injuries. Joni could even see what was happening in places far from her home. There was even a time she caught a glimpse of the future.
Joni thought about the day she had a dream about a phone call several months ago. It seemed to come from a future version of herself, warning about a death of someone close to her. First she worried it was about her older sister that happened to be away in college several states over. The matter didn't improve after getting a strange letter from Kathy that detailed her distress of trying to earn her degree and dealing with their father's illness.
Joni didn't believe it at first, not wanting to will the matter to come true, only to find that the future came to pass over the summer when her father died three months before, on the day school let out for the annual three month vacation. Joni still wasn't over it even after getting the vision. She fell into a terrible funk that even her mother couldn't bring her out of. After being sent to her grandparent's house, they felt she needed to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city and decided to send her to live with her uncle and aunt.
Joni felt a touch of sadness and anger as she recalled how a powerful magician like Mister Warren had been suddenly succumbing to a mysterious illness that the doctors had no idea what to do with. He had a strong healing ability, but even that couldn't save him as he fell asleep and never woke again. Mister Warren was one of the few people that helped Joni understand her magical abilities and never hesitated to help others with them.
"I shouldn't be bitter," mused Joni as she felt the warm late summer winds blow through her hair. "But I hate being lonely too! Who else would understand anything about magic?" Joni secretly wished she could let the pain go, but it was her only connection to her memories. She felt if she did, they would fade like ash into water, never to surface again.
Approaching her driveway, Signe cut off the engine as Joni hopped off and hurried up the steps, searching for her keys.
"What's the rush?" Signe asked, following after her. He took off the helmet as she unlocked the door and dashed inside.
"I'm expecting a phone call!" Joni yelped. As she approached the phone, it rang once and Joni quickly dove to strike the button to activate the speaker. She grunted as she struck the floor with a hard thump. "Hey, Gina!" Joni greeted breathlessly from her place on the floor.
"How'd you know it was me?" Gina yelped from the other end of the line.
"Call it a good feeling," Joni said, grimacing as she got up. Signe entered the parlor, chuckling as he held out a hand to her. She pushed him away, shaking her fist at him. "So, are you going to the football game tonight?"
"Yeah, of course we're going!" Gina retorted. "I've got to cheer on Ryan, remember?"
"We're just going to lose anyway," Signe drawled, rolling his eyes. "I can't believe you're going regardless! You should just forget about it and make better use of your time." Joni kicked him and he fell into a fit of laughter, dropping his helmet.
"You're not saying what I think you're saying!" Joni snapped.
"I mean it; the Nortiniry Knights lose to the Tri-City Tracers every year!"
"Is that Signe Blanco?" Gina asked. "Damn Joni, why is it that you're always taking the cute ones? You don't even date them!"
"I don't know," Joni protested. "The good-looking ones just want my attention."
"It's not our fault us men are attracted to pretty red-heads," Signe said, grinning wolfishly. He leaned over and kissed her on the head. "I gotta go help Ryan's Uncle Howard in the shop. Tell Gina and Ryan I'll see them at the game."
"I thought it wasn't worth your time, Signe," Joni complained as he picked up his motorcycle helmet.
"You'd better make it your time," Gina grumbled. "I thought you swore to come see Ryan kick Tri-City's ass tonight!"
"I didn't say that!" Signe fussed.
"Oh my God, he's picking up a knife!" Gina cried in mock horror. "Signe, you'd better come or he'll slash his wrists! I'm serious; Ryan's sharpening it right now! What kind of person are you?" Signe bawled with laughter and shook his head.
"All right," he moaned, "I'll come!"
"Besides that, Joni," Gina continued, "I want Signe to meet my new boyfriend, Slake."
"Is he there right now?" Joni asked.
"No, he's not here. Is there at your house?"
"Yes, Gina," Joni drawled, rolling her eyes, "He's hiding in my bedroom as we speak." Ryan laughed out loud from the other end of the line.
"Shut up, Ryan!" Gina screeched.
"Stop stealing her boyfriends," Signe teased, punching playfully at Joni's shoulder. "Come on and date me, will you? I'm horny as hell and I'll turn gay if you don't go out with me!" Joni punched him in the arm in return.
"Go home!" she said and he continued to roar with laughter.
"He's got a point you know," Ryan said as Signe put on his helmet and waved her goodbye before stepping out of her house.
"So, Gina," Joni said, "is Ryan finally playing the big position?"
"Ryan thinks Coach Oran is nuts putting him as quarterback," Gina replied. "He's too skinny and too lame to throw the ball." Joni giggled when she heard Gina suddenly squeal and yell 'ouch!' "I'm killing you Ryan!" she squawked.
"Tell him good luck for me, okay?" Joni said as laughter and rushed footsteps filled the line.
"We'll pick you up later," Ryan's voice called from far away.
"Tackle her good, Ryan!" Joni jeered. "I promise; I'll be at the door this time." She shut off the speakerphone function and let out a heavy sigh. It was an inside joke between her friends that Joni always stole Gina's boyfriends. Joni personally thought because she had a magnetic personality that they wanted to talk to her and not Gina. Gina's runs with boys never seemed to work out after a month or so, since they always wanted to call Joni instead, asking her all sorts of questions and hoping for a date. Though Joni turned down all offers, she still felt a bit terrible that Gina could never find that love. She personally couldn't understand what they saw in her and not Gina.
"I hope this new boyfriend of the moment leaves me alone!" Joni thought as she left the parlor. "As long as I have these freaky powers, dating's so out of the question!" Stomping into the kitchen, Joni browsed her pantry for an afternoon snack and tried to figure who this Slake was and realized that she never even heard of such a boy, let alone know if he was even in any of her classes. Joni wanted to call Signe and ask if he knew anything about him, but thought better of it, knowing he would be at the shop owned by Ryan's uncle. Even though she could call his house and ask to talk to his brother, she figured she would get the same answer. She stood before her open refrigerator, feeling the cold air on her face.
"I need to take a break right quick," Joni murmured as the sound of thunder rumbled softly in the distance. "I've been under so much pressure to get my grades up so I can graduate early... I haven't had time for a walk!" She kicked shut her refrigerator and stepped out the back door to stand on her back porch, breathing in the fresh air. "Maybe being outside will clear my head…" Strolling down the steps, Joni headed for the woods that surrounded her house, ambling on through the narrow path under the shade of sky-reaching maples and tall pines, going toward a small pond that was several miles from her house.
Joni enjoyed walking in the near-secluded woods that were behind her house. Her father had the house built on the land after saving for years and buying it. It seemed out of place with the other ranch homes in the area, with the home being of mainly stonework and brick. It was completely environmentally friendly, with a small windmill on the far rear of the house and a roof with solar panels. It even had a catch to capture rainwater and convert it into power.
Joni hurried her pace once a sudden chill sprang into the air as she came closer to the pond. She shivered slightly, despite wearing a heavy sweater to keep warm. Though she usually enjoyed the wind against her, Joni knew that she didn't have time to waste.
"I shouldn't have promised to be here waiting on them," she thought. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees, warming her as the melodies of various songbirds assaulted her ears. The squirrels chattered as they scrambled up trees when she passed them, darting out of her way. One bold squirrel eyed her closely as it refused to leave the path. Joni picked up a rock and chucked it, only to have the squirrel sprint out of sight.
"Damn yard rats," Joni fussed. "I hate those things!" As she strolled, the unaltered woodlands that surrounded the rear of her home brought back the strongest memories of her father. She felt more at ease as the surrounding nature enveloped her and happy memories began to surface. Passing by a patch of flowers and herbs used for various teas, slowly, the good times began to fade as the sad memories came quickly.
Joni felt the bitterness coming to the surface once she recalled her father becoming ill with an unknown sickness that even the doctors couldn't understand. She made all the teas for him that she could create, given the plants and resources. Mister Warren drank the teas, but would always tell her that there was nothing anybody could do, not even the gods.
"It's my time to go," he said, smiling faintly as he ran a hand through her hair.
"But you're in your prime!" Joni protested. "Why now?"
"The good die young, you see," he said, chuckling softly.
"Then why should I waste my time making all these teas for you?"
"Because you love me... at least I hope you do." Joni felt slightly pained at the remark.
"Of course I do!" Joni cried.
"Then keep making teas for me," he said. "Stay with me, will you?" Joni nodded and continued to do as requested; making teas and listening to the stories he had to tell. Joni felt troubled because of her father's abilities. She knew he had the power to heal others with a mere touch and she knew he had other abilities as well, in which he would always fail to elaborate. Joni knew that his ceaseless helping those with the healing arts would constantly hurt him and eventually kill him since he took on a part of the illness he was eradicating.
"You're not a god, Dad!" Joni complained. "Why do you do keep doing this? You're not supposed to do this."
"I help others," Mister Warren said simply. "I do it so that nobody else would have to feel pain. The world is so full of it... If I can take it away for a while, it makes me happy that these people are better, at least for longer. They can finish what they need to do in order to die in peace."
"But what about you?"
"I'll be fine."
"What about me?" Joni knew she could heal as well, but she could only rid of minor scrapes and aches.
"You're not strong enough to do what I do," he told her sternly. "I don't want you to do what I do."
"You don't need to use up your will to help those that come to you," Mister Warren grumbled. "Don't take their illness head on. Give it to the earth and let it take care of it."
"How do I do that?" Mister Warren shook his head.
"You can't save me with that technique... I've got too many years of taking too away many symptoms. It's too much for you to handle, even the earth. I would just poison it."
Joni had her suspicions when a mysterious stranger called the house and assumed Joni was her mother. The voice told Joni of the treatments Mister Warren had helped him with and how grateful he was that he was getting better from an incurable illness. Joni promised to send her thanks while looking in on her father that was white as the sheets. Later, Joni worried what was to become of Mister Warren once he began to decline the teas and chose to stay in bed more often, opting to look outside to the woods.
One afternoon, Joni tried to pry answers from her father.
"Dad, what did you try to heal that guy from?" she asked.
"Whatever do you mean?" Mister Warren quipped.
"Come on, Dad!" Joni complained. "Don't play around! Somebody called a few days ago, telling me how great you were in helping them overcome some illness that the doctors said he had no chance to recover from!" Mister Warren's lips tightened into a straight line. "Dad, what is it you took a part of? Why can't they find it in you? You have to let it go!"
"I can't," Mister Warren said simply. "I... I just can't." Joni clenched her teeth as Mister Warren took her hand gently. "There's something I want you to take... it's in the basement. Take it... after I leave."
"I'll do that," Joni murmured. Mister Warren smiled faintly and let her hand go, staring out the window.
"I know you like to visit places while the sun is out on the water."
"I don't travel too far."
"Don't get lost." Joni nodded. "Also, remember; never look into the water when the moon is present, alright?"
"I promise." Joni sighed and looked out the window as well. She could faintly see an outline of someone standing there, waiting. They vanished quickly into mist.
The next day, he was dead.
Joni finally approached the pond and looked down at its glassy surface that had the afternoon sun's light sparkling over the pristine true-blue waters. Though the breeze continued to blow, the surface of the water was still. Joni knelt down, staring back at her reflection. "I want to go where Gina and Ryan are," Joni said softly. She touched the frigid water, causing ripples to form. The cool breeze blew through her much harder as her reflection became wavy. Joni sat on the edge, waiting for the image to clear as the background of the woods and the afternoon sunlight and her reflection faded. The broken images quickly stabilized, turning into a sunny afternoon kitchen inside Gina's house with Ryan sitting at the table, hand in a bowl of popcorn while the other flipped through a teen magazine. Gina sat across from him, feet on his lap as she ran an emery board across her fingernails. Joni wished she could hear what was being said as the two talked.
"Too bad I can only see and not hear!" Joni thought. Gina looked up suddenly, pausing in mid stroke. She nudged Ryan and he ignored her, stuffing a handful of popcorn into his mouth. "Does she notice me?" Gina set down the emery board and got to her feet, suddenly nervous. "Okay, I won't watch you anymore!" Gina seemed relieved and the image began to fade.
The cold winds that surrounded Joni began to subside and she gasped once she noticed that the afternoon sun had faded and the pinks and violets of sunset had turned into the blues and grays of dusk.
"I've got to get going!" Joni thought as she quickly stood to her feet. "They're probably at my doorstep, banging and hollering for me!" She glanced back at the pond, looking down at the evening sky that filled it. "Dad warned me not to look into the water when the moon's out... but it's not out." She knelt down to touch its surface and found to her surprise that no ripples formed. "That's weird! During the day, I can touch the water and things come up..." Joni gasped as the clouds moved from the sky, revealing a ray of moonlight. She watched in shock and awe as silver threads formed from the droplets of water once she pulled her hand away. The clouds continued to pass and the full light of the moon came into view, causing the silvery threads to become stronger, holding down her hand. Joni pulled hard, trying to break them. "I gotta get back! Dad warned me about looking into the water with the moon... I just can't deal with that right now!"
Joni gave a firm yank back, only to feel a great force pull her forward. She tumbled back, striking the ground hard and let out a cry once she suddenly found herself watching her body slump backwards.
"What's going on?" Joni thought, looking down at her pale hands. "Why am I separated from my body? Am I dead?" She looked back at the pond of moonlit water and the surface wavered, as if static filled it. Joni touched it and a fierce, bitter cold swiftly flowed through her as the picture cleared. "What's this?"
The silvery surface changed into dark mist and a room came into view. Many images began to go by as if on fast forward. The scattered imagery slowed down to focus in on a tiled room with hardwood flooring.
"That's the school gymnasium," Joni thought as she saw a tall middle-aged man with a short spiky lime-treated white hair wearing a dark trench coat pacing outside the door. He banged at the door with the flat of his hand and pointed a shotgun in her direction. Joni gasped as the view flickered out and changed, shifting to show a tall young man with glasses and spiky bleached orange hair wielding a glowing long sword, charging forward at her.
Joni let out a cry and shielded her face as he leaped forward at her, only to vanish. Standing in his place was a short young man with greasy blond hair wearing dark clothing similar to Signe's cycling outfit, surrounded by shadows, holding a mysterious hardened weapon that glimmered in cold pale light. He laughed manically and slashed down, forcing the fog to fade.
Joni watched in horror as dark red began filling the pool and touched the water, scooping some into her cupped hand. She gasped once she realized it wasn't dyed water, but blood. Watching bubbles on the surface, Joni reached in to feel slight warmth, yanking out the collar of a pure white sport coat. She pulled up, revealing a tall slender young man covered in tacky crimson. Joni held him in her arms, brushing his sticky feathered blond hair from his face, sensing his shallow breathing slowly thin as the heat from his body turned cold. She sucked in a breath, noticing that his pure white sport coat slowly turned red from absorbing the bloody water.
"Who are you?" Joni asked. "Why are you dying?" He looked up at her, his deep blue eyes displaying sadness and pain. Joni stroked his thin, delicate face and he faded into white light. The darkness came slowly and Joni shut her eyes, trying to keep her tears in check. Moments later, she opened her eyes to stare up a cloudy sky and staggered to her feet, brushing herself off. Realizing the time, Joni raced for home.