Excerpt from The Curse of Dark Root: Part One
Dark Root, Oregon
Armand removed himself from Sasha’s Cadillac, carrying his only possessions: a hastily packed suitcase and his cowboy hat. The suitcase he’d acquired just months before. The cowboy hat he’d worn nearly every day for the last five years.
Though he had grown up in Los Angeles and had seen cows only on television, he wore the hat with conviction. Chicks dug the hat. It had become so much a part of him that he felt naked without it.
“What do you think?” Sasha Benbridge asked, spreading her arms wide to showcase not only the massive house before them with its imposing columns and wraparound porch, but the deep woods that surrounded them as well.
Armand took it all in and shivered. “It’s spooky and smells like car freshener.”
“That’s pine,” Sasha said, her boyish chest heaving with pride. “Pine for miles and miles, with some oak and fir and cottonwood scattered in.” She lit a cigarette and puffed on it twice, blowing the smoke out through the side of her mouth. “We could die right here today, and no one would know for weeks. That’s how isolated we are. Isn’t it grand?”
“Grand?” Armand scratched his head, wondering once again why he had followed her here. She certainly wasn’t the most beautiful woman he had ever known, or the most charming, but she had the ability to persuade him, in more than one way. “It’s not L.A.”
He followed her up the porch steps to an imposing door with an oversized brass knocker. He tried the door and found it locked.
Sasha pushed him aside and tapped the doorknob twice with her right index finger.
It swung open.
“Hell, I can do that too,” Armand said, looking at his own hands.
“Yeah, but you’d break the entire door in the process. That’s the problem with warlocks. They don’t know how to rein in their powers, even when they should.”
He removed his hat and held it to his chest as he peered into the dark musty space before him. It was a virtual cavern, large enough to fit three of his studio apartments within the main room alone. Squinting his eyes, he caught a small shape lurking to his right. It saw him too and scurried behind a cardboard box.
“Ah, hell!” He stepped back. “There are creatures crawling around in there.” He fiddled with the light switch. “And the power’s off.”
Sasha’s eyes gleamed like a possum’s as she wound her way through a living room crammed with large pieces of furniture draped in white sheets. Soon enough she found a candle and lit it with the Zippo lighter she purchased at the airport gift shop. “Better?”
He held back, lounging in the doorway, his thoughts cycling between amusement and disbelief. He wasn’t keen on going back outside––the wilderness was too wild for a city boy––but inside, the covered furniture stood like ghosts ready to pounce the moment he stepped across the threshold. An icy wind rose up and whipped at his back, and he decided haunting souls were preferable to Mother Nature.
Leaving the door ajar, he removed the sheet from the nearest piece of furniture, revealing a coat rack with upturned brass hands instead of hooks. He returned the sheet to the rack and moved on.
Sasha lit more candles, placing them around the room, until there was enough light to navigate.
“So, this is the new casa?” Armand pulled off more sheets, revealing an odd collection of decor: perfectly preserved Victorian tables and chairs nested alongside well-used furniture from the forties and fifties. Sasha’s aura burned a sunshine yellow as she moved about the grand room, reacquainting herself with her past.
“It’s not exactly new.” Sasha ran her fingers over a painting of a pale young woman with dark hair and empty eyes. “The house has been in my family for almost seventy years, commissioned by my mother when she moved from Portland. I wish you could have met her before…”
Sasha shook the thought away and Armand chose not to pursue it. She had mentioned her mother a few times but never went into detail. From what Armand could gather, she died unexpectedly and much too young.
Once the sheets had been removed and gathered into a large pile near the door, Armand began his inspection of the many built-in shelves and nooks that gave the house its character. There were more treasures to be found in these hollows: teacups, books, knickknacks, and stones, some buzzing with energy as if begging for attention.
“What’s this?” he asked, blowing dust from a cracked leather book. It was a large heavy tome, and required both hands to hold up.
Sasha left her task and marched over, yanking the book from him. “That is my spell book. An heirloom handed down from my mother, by her mother. It is very old and will go to my own daughter one day.”
Armand raised an eyebrow and laughed. He had known Sasha several months and knew she was prone to bouts of temper, but he had never seen her react so strongly to an object before. She must have felt bad for scolding him because her aura dimmed and receded closer to her body.
“I’m sorry. Of course, you’re welcome to look at it. I tend to get protective of my stuff sometimes. But I must learn to share now that we are living together.”
She was nearly beautiful, Armand thought, when she was humbled––soft and feminine in her face and spirit. He took the book from her, set it down, and lowered her onto the faded sofa.
“Armand…” she said, but only in pretense. Her breathing caught, then quickened, as he straddled her.
“What were you saying?” He brushed one of her long curls away from her face.
“I was saying that you may borrow my book.”
“Borrow?” He smiled, his eyes narrowing. “I’ll take the book if it pleases me. In fact,” he said, leaning into her. “I’ll take anything I like.”
He kissed her, feeling the warmth of her energy as it merged with his. She was a powerful woman, even when she surrendered. Her aura was the strongest he’d ever known and he wanted to bathe in it, devour it, pull it inside of him and feel what she was feeling.
He kissed her again, harder that time.
They made love and fell asleep, he on top of her, right there on the hard sofa. When they woke, the door was still open and the sun was fading.
“We’ll get the power turned on tomorrow,” Sasha said, wriggling out from beneath him.
“Good idea.” Armand rose, then opened the heavy drapes that stretched across the large front window. He looked out, then upwards, towards an endless gray sky that loomed above the trees, like a boat on troubled waters. The world was dimmer in this part of the world, and he wasn’t sure how he’d fare without sunshine.
“How long does the winter last?” he asked, still studying the sky.
“Just until springtime.” Sasha fastened her long hair into a low ponytail. “You’ll be amazed at how beautiful it is then. And you’ll be happy you stayed.”
“I said I’d come to Dark Root. I didn’t say I’d stay.”
“You’ll never leave me, Armand. For better or worse, we are bound together.”
Her words were true. He had known many, many women, but there was something about Sasha, a feeling of divine recognition. Even if he’d wanted to, which he didn’t, he knew that he could not break free of her.
Sasha wandered over to a rolltop desk near the kitchen.
“This photo!” she exclaimed. “This was taken when I was eight or nine! I was so pretty, wasn’t I?” She held the photo up for him to see and he nodded obligatorily. “Mama said she knew I’d grow up to be a beauty.” She stared at the photo, then caught her reflection in the mirror above the desk. Frowning, she put the photo back.
“Mama paid the photographer a lot to come here. It was scary then, making your way to Dark Root through the woods before most people had cars. He told me not to smile when he took my picture but I did anyway. I hate all those old photos where nobody’s smiling. Looks like they’ve all got dysentery.”
“My tiki mask!” she said, moving on to her next memory.
He raised an acknowledging hand, not asking about it. There were too many treasures and if he had to hear about every one of them, he might just run into the woods after all.
“When are we going to see town?” he asked, seating himself on a dusty chair.
“Tomorrow, when we turn the power on.” Sasha opened a box, removing a shiny golden object. After staring at it for several minutes she said, “I thought this was lost forever.”
There was something in her voice that Armand found curious. “What is it?” he asked, getting up to inspect the object more closely.
She lifted a chain, dangling it from her index finger. It held a large cross with a loop at the top. “It’s an ankh,” she said.
Armand crinkled his brow. “An ankh?”
“The symbol for eternal life. They were very important to the ancient Egyptians. Juliana was given two of these ankhs by a famous archeologist who unearthed them from a tomb.” Her eyes narrowed as they followed the sway of the pendant. “Some say the tomb was cursed.”
“Doesn’t that scare you?”
“Curses? Heavens, no. I’ve been cursed so many times I swear they just bounce off me now.” She bit her bottom lip as she continued to follow the swaying pendant. “She was buried with hers. I thought I lost mine somewhere in Denmark.”
“What does it do?”
“Wonderful things.” Sasha looked at him, eyes alight. “You like power, warlock? Feel this.”
She thrust her hand out.
Even before Armand touched the chain he sensed its strength. He placed the tip of his finger warily on the top loop, as if it might burn him. He was rewarded with a jolt of energy that sent him back a step. He grinned. He wasn’t sure what this was, but he knew he needed it.
“Stay and train with me for two years,” Sasha said, staring at him with eyes that always got their way. She let the pendant dangle enticingly before him like a hypnotist’s watch. “When the two years is up, this will be yours.”
Armand pressed his lips together, weighing the offer. Sasha had helped him get out of Spain when he accidentally caused a local girl to become possessed. He was somewhat in her debt.
He cupped one hand around the ankh and the other around Sasha’s wrist… and was deliciously jolted by both.