A Reckless Witch
Author:Debora Geary

A Reckless Witch - By Debora Geary

Chapter 1

Sierra looked up and down the beach carefully before she walked out into the water. She didn’t want any stray tourists freaking out about her little swim.

Not that there were a lot of tourists on Oregon beaches in December. She tossed a light trickle of power up to the Heceta Head lighthouse. It was foggy enough today that she wouldn’t be able to see it from out in the water. This way she’d be able to come back—if she wanted to.

Maybe Momma just hadn’t wanted to come back.

Her ankles were freezing. Sierra activated the small spell that kept her warm even in the frigid winter ocean waters.

“I call on Air, I call on Fire,

Molecules dance and heat inspire.

Coat my skin with fire-warmed air,

Warmest summer waters wear.

A child of the ocean, swimming free

As I will, so mote it be.”

Her ankles warmed nicely, thanks to her magical wetsuit. Momma had shown her this trick when she was a little girl and even the much-warmer ocean waters of Hawaii turned her into a Popsicle.

She missed Hawaii almost as much as she missed Momma.

Gathering power one more time, Sierra dove into the surf and swam out into the ocean with long, sure strokes. In less than a minute, she’d cleared the protected waters of the Heceta Head bay and felt the playful pull of the riptide currents.

Careful, she murmured to the water. Not just yet. Let me get out past the rocks first.

She continued kicking out to sea in a steady freestyle. The riptides were strong today. They often were in midwinter—just one more reason to brave the chill waters.

Bubbles of laughter blew out of her lungs when she crossed the shoreline riptide and swam into the much larger one that would pull her out to sea. Want to play today, do you?

Excellent. She was in the mood to wrestle, and the heavy mists would hide them from prying eyes onshore.

She rolled onto her back, power streaming through her outstretched hands.

“I call on Water, friend to me

Curve and swirl, a tempest be.

I call on Air, sister of mine

Dip and whirl, a twisted line.

A storm of fun, we playful three

As I will, so mote it be."

Swells of water rose and fell under her back as energy gathered. Sierra opened her eyes just in time to see the ten-foot wave about to crash on her head. With a flip of her feet, she twisted and dove under the base of the wave, giggling. Play nice!

Surfacing, she threw a bolt of power at the backside of the wave, splitting it in two, and pulled nimbly onto her feet, surfing on the surge of water that charged up the middle.

Energy crackled from both the clouds overhead and her sizzling fingers. She toyed with making a real storm for a moment, and then dropped back into the water. Real storms required a decent breakfast if she didn’t want to run out of fuel and freeze on her swim back to shore.

She dove into another swell, spied a funnel of air and water forming to her left, and swam up into the tail. It was like riding a washing machine, round and round, a solid wall of water at her back. Sierra laid her head back and reveled in the speed.

Blood pounding in her ears, she reached out more gently now. The funnel slowed. Catching her bearings, she sent out a seeking finger of power, heading southwest. Hawaii wasn’t the closest source of warm-water currents, but the Gulf waters didn’t carry the same feel of welcome.

Her heart ached as the first trickles of Maui water came, bringing sunshine and time-faded memories. Foster-care budgets didn’t extend to plane tickets to Hawaii, no matter how often she asked.

If she found a job, maybe she could earn enough.

That was a big “if.” There weren’t a lot of jobs on the Oregon Coast in winter, and DHS only paid for her to go somewhere else if she already had a job.

Yeah—because people handed those out all the time to eighteen-year-old kids they didn’t know. Here, cuddled by the ocean waters of her birth, she could let loose some of her seething frustration with a system of unbending rules and soul-stealing piles of paper.

For the first twelve years of her life, she’d lived a life of utter freedom, being exactly the Sierra Brighton she’d wanted to be.

For the last six, she’d lived numb and dead, dumped into a world where no one cared who Sierra Brighton really was.

Oh, Momma, what happened to you?

Sierra let her tears wash away with the waves. Today wasn’t for crying, either. She needed a plan.

Four days. On December fourteenth, she would age out of foster care—but if she didn’t have a job and a place to live by then, they wouldn’t let her go. She’d end up living under the court-ordered “transitional plan,” whatever that was.

She’d refused to read it. She had no intention of being there.

With a last good-bye to her playmates, she flipped onto her front and started swimming toward shore.

In four days, Sierra Brighton would be free. She just needed to find a job. And breakfast. She’d stayed out too long—her toes were getting cold.

~ ~ ~

Govin frowned at the flashing orange alert on his computer screen. “Hey, Teej—that Hawaii anomaly’s back.”

“Lemme look.” His long-time best friend ambled over to his desk, a beer in one hand, bowl of chips in the other. Most people would have bet TJ Hamblin was a truck driver, not one of the world’s best meteorologists.

Or as the bumper sticker on his desk chair said, “Weather Genius.” TJ wasn’t exactly humble.

And it was a bad sign he was eating chips for breakfast. “Doreen didn’t feed you?”

“She kicked me out. Said she’s tired of living with a slob.”

“She’s got some grounds for complaint.” Govin looked pointedly at the mountain of chaos on TJ’s desk. He wasn’t terribly upset to see Doreen go. Maybe next time, his buddy would raise his standards. He could always hope. He sighed—friendship probably required a little more than a shrug here. “Want some scrambled eggs?”

TJ brightened. “Sausages, too? She kicked me out before dinner last night—I’m starving.”

Govin rolled his eyes. TJ was clueless about at least half the life skills required to be an adult.

His mom often said that’s why the two of them had been matched up—that he’d been born with an extra dose of TJ’s missing common sense. As a mathematician, he appreciated her sense of humor. As a guy with a brilliant, but often clueless friend, it wasn’t always quite so funny.

He pulled out a carton of eggs and discovered that the package of breakfast sausages only contained one sad little link. Which wouldn’t even put a minor dent in TJ’s appetite.

Grabbing his cell phone, he called their personal rescue service. Nell always had extra food lying around. They’d had a deal in college, when the three of them had lived together—if the guys weren’t total pigs, she’d occasionally feed them. He looked around the room and winced. They weren’t exactly keeping up their end of the bargain.

Nell was laughing when she answered the phone. “What do you need?”

“I’m wounded. I don’t always need something when I call you.” Govin hoped that was true.

“It is when you call before noon. Until then, you’re usually too deep into your data to talk to an actual human being.”

“Mornings are busy.” Weather never stood still, and he had to catch up on what he’d missed while he slept.

He could hear rummaging on the other end of the phone. “I’ve got bacon and sausages, and pumpkin pancakes in a few minutes. No more eggs, though. Aervyn’s growing again.”

“Just some sausages would be great.” He peered at the contents of his fridge. “I have some extra eggs I can send back with your delivery boy.”

She laughed. “What’s the expiration date?”

He sighed. Nell had lived with him and TJ for two years, so she had plenty of data driving such suspicions. “Probably not within your tolerances.”

She was still chuckling when she ended the call. A package of sausages, well within their expiry date, thunked onto his counter moments later. Govin saluted in the general direction of Nell’s house. “Thanks, little dude.” Aervyn was a good witchling to have around.

Taking a minute to get breakfast underway, he walked back to his laptop. “Learn anything new?” They’d been trying to understand this particular Hawaii anomaly for two years now—one of their private projects. Their funders didn’t like to pay for the weather version of ghostbusting.

TJ scowled. “Not really. Just that it’s getting stronger.”

Govin looked at the new plots. Same story as always—an errant currant of warm water would appear and run from Hawaii to the Oregon Coast. Less than an hour later, it would disappear, violating all laws of logic and mathematics. It was driving the two of them crazy trying to figure out the source.

He leaned a little closer, and then clicked a few keys, pulling complex displays up on their three oversized monitor screens. “Yeesh, Teej. That’s getting awfully close to tipping point.”

“Yeah.” TJ finished the last of his beer. “It’s still about twenty percent below the threshold, but at the rate it’s been growing, we’ve got three or four months before we have some serious weather perturbations on our hands.”

In weather speak, three or four months meant it was time to stop watching this anomaly and start doing something about it instead. It was what the two of them did—smooth small bumps in the weather patterns where they could so disasters didn’t develop.

It wasn’t very sexy work—but if TJ’s data modeling was correct, they’d saved almost half a million lives in the last ten years. Plus or minus 15.7 percent.

He went back to staring at the readings. “We need to figure out the source.” Magic couldn’t fix what it couldn’t see.

TJ raised an eyebrow. “What do you suggest—camping out on the Oregon Coast and watching for warm-water magnets?”

Govin sighed. “I’ll dig into the geo-oceanic data again.” That was the most likely source of their problem, but damned if he could find it.

TJ just stared at his computer monitor. “This isn’t geo, bro. I don’t know what it is yet, but it doesn’t smell like anything natural.”

Govin chuckled, knowing exactly where this conversation was headed. “No alien conspiracy theories before breakfast. Come on, the sausage smells ready.”

The aliens—or whatever was causing their anomaly—could wait half an hour.

~ ~ ~

Sophie: Is Nat going stir-crazy yet?

Nell: Does she ever? I swear, by the time my due date rolled around, I was ready to reach in there and yank the baby out myself, but she just folds up into lotus and meditates. It’s eerie.

Moira: Well, you didn’t exactly have easy pregnancies to wait out, Nell. The triplets were a bellyful, to be sure, and Aervyn wasn’t patient in those last weeks.

Nell: That would be an understatement. Nat and Jamie’s baby has been playing with power streams for so long that we expected something similar from her, but she’s been really quiet. Lauren says her mind is pretty content in there.

Sophie: Jamie’s going to pop Nat into Realm tomorrow so we can all check out her belly.

Nell: That will make Ginia feel better.

Sophie: She’s been doing a beautiful job of monitoring Nat. This is just to spoil me and Aunt Moira.

Moira: At my age, I deserve to be spoiled. And Sophie, are you sure we can’t meet in our Realm room now? This typing is still so hard for my poor fingers.

Sophie: Which is exactly why we’re doing this the old-fashioned way. You know the deal—one typed chat a week. It’s good physical therapy. Besides, we can’t fetch some poor new witch into Realm without any warning. Pulling them into a chat room with no warning is tricky enough.

Nell: You’re sure you want to be fetching more newbies right now? We have births, Winter Solstice, and the big push on the WitchNet library.

Moira: My Elorie’s a splendid organizer. She tells me WitchNet is coming along very nicely.

Sophie: She is indeed, and she’s got Jamie and his team hopping. Nell, we can wait if you want—but with all these babies on the way, I figured it was going to stay busy for a while. Maybe we can just look for actively practicing witches for the moment, though, and keep building our community that way. I’m not sure we have the energy to handle another Lauren or Elorie right now.

Nell: Okay, I’ll set it up. One day, though, I’m going to retire and sit on the beach and drink mimosas all day long.

Moira: Good luck with that, my dear. Just when you think that day’s arrived, some sprightly young witch will show up and tell you she needs you to help with her new project.

Sophie: Witches’ Chat wouldn’t be the same without you, Aunt Moira. And you don’t even like mimosas.

Moira: The sitting-on-the-beach part sounded lovely, though.

Nell: Just tell us what beach you’d like to visit. Aervyn’s getting pretty talented at schlepping people through Realm to wherever they need to go.

Moira: Ah, my soaking pool takes good care of me. I don’t really need to be anywhere else.

Sophie: Way to call her bluff, Nell :-). We’ve been trying to send her to the beach for weeks now. Some warm-water swimming would be good for her.

Moira: All these healers are trying to turn me back into a twenty-one-year-old instead of an old lady. Not everything works perfectly when you’re my age.

Nell: Ha. That’s already true for me, and I’m half your age. All right. I’ve turned on the fetching spell, and Moira can entertain us with her grumpy-patient routine while we wait.

~ ~ ~

Sierra sat down at the library computer and looked around furtively before grabbing another bite of the bagel in her hoodie pocket. She always needed tons of carbs after a winter swim.

Not as badly as she needed a job, however. And if there weren’t any on the Oregon Coast, then she needed to start looking further away. Maybe California. She had vague memories of a couple of fun days riding the streetcars in San Francisco with Momma. It cost a lot to live in California, though.

She logged into her Monster job-search account and widened the search parameters to include every city she could find that was on the coast in California. A quick scroll showed the same brain-numbing jobs that were available in Oregon—but at least there were a lot more of them.

Taking the lucky red dice out of her pocket, she shook them and rolled a seven. She counted down to the seventh job listed—poodle-grooming assistant. Didn’t sound very likely, but she clicked anyhow. Momma had always said some of the best decisions in her life had been made with the lucky red dice.

This didn’t look like one of those times, however. A job where unhappy dogs tried to bite you all day long needed to pay better than eight dollars an hour.

The next job listing was for a Spanish translator. Her Spanish was pretty decent. She clicked on that one—all good until the part about a university degree and translator certification. Ugh.

Stunt double. Ick. Shower scenes were not stunts.

Then she spied one that sounded pretty cool. Indie-film gopher. But crap, they just wanted people willing to work for lunch and possible future fame. That didn’t pay the rent.

Frustrated, she started clicking at random—and suddenly got a rainbow swirl on her screen, followed by a chat interface. What the heck?

Sophie: Hi, Sierra—we’d like to welcome you to Witches’ Chat. Thank you for joining us!

Sierra: I’m where?

Sophie: Nell, Moira, and I are the three founding members of an online chat group for witches. It looks like our fetching spell found you.

Sierra: Fetching spell? You’re doing magic online? Seriously?

Sophie: Just a small spell to locate people who actively use magic. You’re free to stay or go, but we’d love to chat with you for a bit.

Sierra: You can tell I’m a witch? That’s really cool. Do you have any spells that could fetch me a job?

Nell: Hi, Sierra. Looks like you were running a job search when we found you. What kind of job do you want?

Sierra: Anything close to the ocean that pays well enough to get an apartment. Oh, and where nobody bites, requires a university degree, or wants me to get naked.

Moira: That last bit sounds rather shady, my dear—surely we can find you something better than that.

Sierra: Doubt it. I’ve been looking for months now, and I’ve only got four days left.

Moira: Ah, rather an emergency then. Perhaps there’s a reason our spell fetched you today.

Sophie: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Nothing too personal, but maybe some of your skills?

Sierra: I don’t know. I’m eighteen, I speak bits of a lot of languages, and I learn pretty fast.

Moira: Eighteen? Sweetheart, don’t you have family who can help you out?

Sierra: No. And that’s all I want to say about that.

Nell: Smart. How are you at herding cats?

Sierra: I don’t have much experience with animals.

Nell: Sorry, I was trying to be cute and didn’t do a very good job. I might be able to find you a job. My brother and I run a gaming website called Enchanter’s Realm, and—

Sierra: OMG. You’re Nell Walker. You made Realm.

Nell: With my brother, yeah. You play?

Sierra: Can’t anymore. The library computers block your site. But I used to play while we traveled. It kept me from being too bored in the train stations and stuff.

Nell: Were you any good?

Sierra: I got to the third witch-only level. But I was twelve, so I could probably do better now.

Nell: That’s pretty fancy. Only my daughter has made it any further that so young. So—you need a job that pays enough to cover your living expenses, you’re open to learning new things, and you’re a pretty good gamer.

Moira: And she needs it in four days, dear. It sounds rather urgent.

Nell: Let me talk to Jamie. Sierra, is there some way I can reach you?

Sierra: Yeah. GirlWhoNeedsAJob@gmail.com. Are you serious about this?

Nell: Yup. I’ll get back to you later today—can you get access to a computer after dinner tonight?

Sierra: Um, wow. Yeah, and thanks. I gotta go, I only had half an hour on the computer and my time’s up.

Sierra backed away from the monitor, really glad to see the screen go blank. Most of the librarians already thought she was totally weird. Chatting with witches would probably get her library card taken away or something.

And not just any witches. Nell Walker. When Momma told all her stories about famous witches, Nell had always been one of Sierra’s favorites. Really rich, a totally awesome gamer, and the first woman to ever spellcast a class-one spell. She must have such an exciting life—parties and famous people and lots of cool magic.

As she waited in line to book another slot on the library computers, Sierra shook the lucky red dice in her pocket. Maybe they’d worked after all.