Conjure – Deleted
Here’s a chapter that was cut from CONJURE just before our final round of edits. Even though it was filled with some fun, flesh-exploding action, we decided it slowed the pacing and opted to provide the information in summary instead. These are uncopyedited so please forgive any mistakes. In the original manuscript, these scenes took place right after Miss Delia had her troubles with the plateyes under the bottle tree…
Flora, the nurse on St. Helena Hospital’s intensive care ward, quirks a doubtful eyebrow. “Y’all are Miss Whittaker’s next of kin?”
My mouth opens to answer, but I freeze, unsure what to say. I should say yes, but it’s so obviously a lie, she’ll never believe it.
Jack pushes me aside. “Of course we are.” He flashes a confident smile. “She’s our grandmother.”
Aside from being awed at his manipulation skills, I’m astounded he’s pulled himself together to help me out. Up until this moment, he hasn’t uttered a word since Maggie disappeared in the garden and he realized their relationship was fake. And that she’s a ghost. The whole ride over here, his skin was as dull and gray as the sky, and I thought for sure he’d vomit all over the front seat of Beau’s station wagon.
Nurse Flora peers over the top of her reading glasses and eyes the three of us— Cooper, Jack and me—and crosses her arms. “Your grandmother, huh? I suppose that means you’re all related, too?”
Jack gleams. “Yes, and Emma and I are twins.” He flicks his gloved thumb between the two of us, then wraps his bony, rash guard-covered arm around me. Cooper and I nod in agreement.
She snorts. “Sure you are.” She flips open Miss Delia’s file and scans the record. “She’s in Room 307. Make sure y’all are quiet in there. She’s out of surgery, but still in a coma. There’s no telling if she can hear what’s going on around her, but if she can, I don’t want her disturbed. At her age, it’s a miracle she survived that attack.”
Jack flashes a gloved thumbs up and winks. “No problem.”
“And visiting hours are over at eight, so I don’t care who y’all say you’re related to, you’ll have to leave.”
“Sure, no problem,” I manage as Jack tugs my arm and guides me down the hall. I call over my shoulder. “And we’ll be quiet, I promise.”
I pause outside Miss Delia’s room, afraid to go in. It’s stupid considering I already know what the worst-case scenario looks like. But somehow, it doesn’t make it any easier to open the hospital room door. The image of her lying broken and bloodied under the bottle tree flashes across my eyes as the familiar note of despair swirls in my gut, but I shake it off. I can’t afford to go all cry-baby now. Too much is at stake.
Cooper reaches down and squeezes my hand. “You ready, Emmaline?” I don’t care if Jack notices that we’re holding hands. I need Cooper’s strength and support.
I bite my lip and nod.
“Well come on, then.” Jack pushes against the oak door and strides in. “We can’t stand in the hall all night.”
With Cooper at my side, I square my shoulders, and follow Jack into the cool, bleach-smelling room. Jack darts for the chair beside her bed, the one with the choice view of the ceiling-mounted television set, and fiddles with her remote control.
Cooper and I stop short at the foot of her bed. Tubes snake into her nose and mouth, pumping oxygen and food into her system. Her eyes are taped closed and gauze bandages cover her face and arms, protecting the sutures the surgeons must have woven into her skin to close the plateyes’ bites. A machine beeps, registering the sluggish beats of her heart, while another automatically inflates the blood pressure cuff wrapped around her arm. She appears small and weak, a frail and withered shell of her former self.
My throat tightens, choking me with guilt. This is my fault. She didn’t want any part of this because she knew how dangerous The Creep was. She warned me, but instead of listening, I dragged her into breaking the curse to save my brother. If it wasn’t for me, she’d be whipping up collard greens, not Psychic Visions in a stolen mortar. But I pushed her and now she’s in a coma. And the worst part is, since Jack’s still falling apart, all her suffering’s been for naught.
My chest heaves. She must have been so frightened—hurt and alone—and waiting to die under that tree. A tear escapes my eye. “I’m so sorry Miss Delia.” My voice catches. I hope she can hear me.
Cooper leans close and rubs my shoulders. “She’s going to be fine, I’m sure of it. She survived the attack and the surgery. She just needs some rest and she’ll be as good as new.”
As much as I want to believe he’s right, I can’t trust that modern medicine will be enough. She needs some hoodoo magic, which is why I made her another collier before we left her house. Sniffing, I release Cooper’s hand then go to the head of her bed and pull the new necklace from my bag. Slipping it under the tubes, I thread it under her neck and tie the ends. It’s not a magic potion, but it’s something. Plus, as long as we’re here, and there’s a whiskey bottle in my messenger bag, we can protect her from any intruding plateyes. Hopefully.
Jack clicks on the television and zooms through the channels as Cooper drags the other chair from across the room. While they bicker over what to watch, I settle on the end of Miss Delia’s bed, careful to avoid her legs, and pull her spell book from my bag. I had to dump my art supplies to make it fit, but that’s a small price to pay. Now that it’s up to me to save everyone, I’ve got to figure out how. Maggie’s translation of Sabina’s incantation runs through my mind for the thousandth time, and I’m hoping the book contains some mention of sun blood or moon blood. It’s got to be a rare herb or potion, something she mixed with the beach sand to cause the explosion on The Dagger. It’s the only thing that makes sense. It’s not like the actual sun and moon are alive, and have blood that can be captured and mixed together.
An hour into scouring her book, I’ve come up empty. There are recipes for practically everything else—summoning benevolent spirits, potions to ensnare a boyfriend (which thankfully, I don’t need to use against Cooper), money-making spells, a charm for mind confusion, even a listing for dragon’s blood resin—but no mentions of the sun, the moon, or their blood.
Jack switches the channel again, away from the sailboat documentary Cooper was watching, to a wrestling match re-run.
Cooper sighs. “Ugh, come on, bro, we watched this last week. It sucked then just as bad as it sucks now.” He reaches for the remote.
Jack yanks his hand away, the control clutched in his bony, gloved fingers. “Yeah, but it’s way better than that thing you had us watching. Who cares about dry rot anyway?”
Likely spurred on by Jack’s disrespect for sailing, Cooper huffs and reaches for the remote. “This isn’t even a real match, you do know that right? They’re just faking it.”
Jack’s lip curls as he whips his arm around, persisting in his keep-away game. “Seriously? Now you’re proving your ignorance.” He laughs. “The fights might be choreographed, but the hits are totally real.” At that moment, the Masked Mudman drags a metal folding chair through the ring and slams it across the Invincible Violator’s head, spurting blood across the canvas. “See, you can’t fake that!”
Cooper narrows his eyes. “Real or not, we’re not watching it!” Diving for the remote, he lunges across Jack, slams into his arm, and crashes into Miss Delia’s IV pole. Jack’s bony fingers depress the remote buttons, muting the sound and skipping through the channels like a roulette wheel, finally landing on the weather channel. The pole shoots into the middle of the room, tugging on Miss Delia’s IV site and setting off the alarm on the mechanized unit that controls the medicine drip.
I jump off the bed, clutch the IV stand, and fumble with the buttons to get the alarm to quiet before Nurse Flora charges in and kicks us out. I must guess at the right combination of buttons because a moment later, the beeping quiets. My heart racing, I snap my head around to tell them off. “Guys, that was totally uncool—”
Jack and Cooper stare, slack-jawed, at Jack’s arm. Their little wrestling match has exploded the last festering section on Jack’s forearm, and the sulfurous yellow liquid’s burned like battery acid through his rash guard sleeve, dripped down into his glove, and singed the side chair cushion. The dank scent of death wafts through the hospital room. Machine beeps cut the stunned silence.
Cooper clears his throat. “Oh, bro, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.” He and I rush to the sink basin and grab some paper towels to clean up the mess.
“Dang.” Jack sets his jaw and peels the tattered rash guard away from his now fully exposed radius and ulna. “This is turning out to be a great frigging day. First my girlfriend turned out to not be an actual girl. And now this.” He jerks off the ruined glove and tosses it across the room and into the trashcan.
I blot at the cushion, but it’s no use, the vinyl’s irreparably burned. With the paper towel wrapped around my finger, I pick at the hardening yellow Creep residue and toss it in with the biohazard waste. “It wasn’t like you didn’t expect this to happen, I mean, we figured it would blow on its own tonight.” I wince, hoping he doesn’t yell at me.
He rolls his eyes. “Thanks for the encouraging pep talk, Em. Real helpful. Maybe you should quit art and plan to be a motivational speaker.” He sinks back into the chair and begins the descent back to depression land. “How am I going to leave the hospital like this?” His voice breaks as he lifts his arm. “I don’t have another rash guard with me, and it’s not like one of those short sleeved hospital gowns are going to work.” His chest shudders with deep sobs. “Why are we even bothering anymore? I’m dying.”
“Hey now, don’t talk like that. You can’t lose hope.” Cooper opens one of the cabinets. “This is a hospital. I’m sure we can find something.” He paws through it, coming back with several wads of rolled gauze. “This should do the trick.” He tosses one at me, and unfurls another.
Starting at opposite ends of Jack’s arm, we wrap him with the cotton bandage, winding it around his forearm so many times it sort of looks normal. Despondent, Jack stares up at the muted television as we work, watching a weather channel reporter in rain gear broadcasting live from some cloudy beach.
“Hey, guys.” Jack points to the screen. “I figured out who Amelia is. She’s a hurricane.”