The news spread like wildfire throughout the press. They even made headlines in all the local papers. The Journey melodrama had reached new heights. Their new lead singer had been shot by his own girlfriend in front of several witnesses! Donna Gifford, the singer's girlfriend, had been apprehended at the scene. The state had yet to disclose whether she would be tried for assault with a deadly weapon, or attempted murder. Steve Augeri had undergone emergency surgery to repair a collapsed lung caused by the bullet wound. He was now recovering and in stable condition.
Beth had explained everything to Steve after the excitement had died down. He had been as shocked as Beth to discover who was really behind his misfortunes. However, when he realized that they were still no closer to curing him, he grew depressed again. Beth was fairly despondent herself. Not only did she not know how, or even what Donna had done to Steve, but she wasn't even sure there was a way to reverse it. If there was a way, she was fairly certain Donna was the only person who knew it. Even if Beth thought she could get into the prison to see her, there was no way of knowing whether Donna would tell her anything. Judging from what she had said in the studio, Beth seriously doubted the girl would be willing to do anything to help Steve.
Beth looked down at her husband sadly. He lay on the couch, his head in her lap, gazing at nothing. She sighed heavily. "We're stuck, baby," she said aloud.
He stirred and wrote on his board. "Hm?"
"Nothing," Beth wrote. She was having a hard time getting used to how sensitive Steve was to vibrations now. She sighed again. It looked like that sensitivity would be all he had to rely on besides his sense of smell for a long time. There had to be something she could do to make this more bearable for him. She stroked his hair absently for a while and thought about it. Suddenly, she had an idea. She took his hand and wrote "come" on the board. He sat up, and she kept a hand on his shoulder. He was still afraid to be without physical contact with Beth even for an instant, so he'd taken to going wherever she went without questioning her.
Steve held onto Beth's elbow and she led him to the music room. She plugged in his bass, led him to a seat and gently took his board away. When she put the bass in his hands, he looked shocked. He put it down and beckoned for the board. "You know I can't play," he wrote.
"You can. You know where to put your fingers."
"But I can't hear!"
"It doesn't matter," Beth wrote. "Music is only a bunch of vibrations. Just feel them."
"What if I'm off?" he wrote, looking worried.
"There's nobody here but me," Beth wrote. "And it would make me happy to hear you play." Beth knew it wasn't exactly fair to manipulate him that way, but it got him to at least try it. He put down the board and tentatively began to play. He was hesitant at first, slowly feeling out the notes - afraid of making mistakes. After a few minutes, he began relax, playing with more confidence. Beth slowly sat down beside him, putting her hand on his leg and listening to him play.
He stopped after playing one of his favorite tunes, and felt for his board. "Well?"
"Wonderful!" Beth wrote, truly amazed. His initial nervousness gone, Steve had played through the whole song without making a single mistake. "You did it perfectly!"
"Liar," he wrote.
"I'm NOT, I swear!" Steve grinned broadly and kept playing. He played until his leg began bothering him. Then, after the medication started to kick in, he asked to go back to the music room and play some more. He tried everything in the room, but ended up sticking to the guitars and the drums, unable to get enough feeling out of the keyboard. He played for the rest of the day and into the night, stopping only long enough to eat and take another pill. Steve hadn't been this excited about anything in a long time. Beth smiled as she got into bed beside him that night. She went to sleep knowing that, despite it all, Steve would be all right. And so would she.
The next morning, Beth didn't have to struggle to get Steve out of bed. He followed her slowly to the kitchen, eager to eat and take his pill so he could get back to the music room. While they were waiting for his medicine to take effect, Beth heard the doorbell ring. She told Steve and he took her elbow and accompanied her to the door. Beth opened the door to see three strangers standing at the door. There was a young man, in his mid twenties, with small brown eyes, collar length blonde hair and a pointed chin. On his right was a woman around the same age, slightly taller than he, with dark wavy hair and brown eyes. Her slight frame made her look even taller than she was. To the left stood a much younger man. He looked like he might still be in his teens. He was about the same height as Beth, and had shoulder length brown hair and large brown eyes. Beth smiled faintly, wondering what on earth they could be selling that they felt the need to send three representatives.
The blonde man flashed her a dimpled smile. "Good morning," he said in a resonant baritone. "Mrs. Elizabeth Perry, I take it?"
"Yes," Beth said, frowning a little. "And you are?"
"My name is Peter. These are my colleagues, Mikayla and David. May we come in please?"
Beth looked nervously back into the house, not really comfortable with the idea of letting three complete strangers into her home. "Um... are you selling something?"
"No, ma'am," he replied. "We're here to help you reclaim your husband."
Beth gaped. "You... how did..."
"May we come in, please?" Peter said again. "We'll explain everything."
Beth stepped aside and Steve followed her lead. The three people walked in and Beth gestured toward the living room. "Have a seat," she said, closing the door behind them. She led Steve back to he couch. "Just give me a moment," she said to her guests. They watched with interest while she took Steve's hand and wrote, "Three people. Peter, David, Mikayla. They say they're here to help cure you."
"Good question." She looked up at the visitors expectantly. "Well. Not to be blunt, but who are you and how do you propose to help my husband?"
"We're members of the Circle of Inner Light," Peter said.
"It's a coven," he replied.
"Coven?" Beth asked. "Like a coven of witches?"
"Yes," he replied. "We're Wiccan. We think that if we find out what kind of spell Donna used on your husband, we can work together to undo it."
Beth sat back in her seat. "You're telling me she put Steve under a magic spell?"
"That's our theory," Mikayla said, her soft alto tinged with a Southern twang.
Beth eyed the three visitors, trying to decide how she felt about what they'd just said. A spell? Real magic? Well, it might explain why none of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with him. "What... how... " She sighed and collected her thoughts. "The news didn't say anything about Donna being responsible for what happened to Steve. How did you know?"
"We'd already seen the reports about Steve's mystery illness," Peter said. "We thought it might be some sort of spell, but we weren't sure until we saw the reports about Donna and Steve. Her Steve," he clarified. "It was too much of a coincidence for her to have shot him right after he got hired with Journey. Especially after all the trouble your husband had been having."
"So, you already know Donna?"
They all nodded grimly. "She used to belong to our coven," David said. His voice was surprisingly deep, and laden with a strong British accent.
"Yes," he said. "She was asked to leave after our priestess found out she'd been misusing her powers."
"What did she do?" Beth asked.
"She'd performed spells on people without their permission several times," Peter replied. "But then last straw was when she performed a vengeance spell on one of our novices. Apparently, Donna felt that the girl had insulted her, so she set out to teach her a lesson."
"The girl nearly died," Mikayla said. "It took the power of our entire coven to save her."
"Oh my God," Beth said, instinctively drawing toward Steve.
He tapped his board. "What's up?"
"Donna is a witch," she told him. "She cast a spell over you, and they're going to try to break it."
Steve sat still for a few moments, letting that sink in. "Wow," he said. Then he wrote a message for the guests. "How did you find out where we live?"
"Good question," Beth said. "How did you get our address?"
"We visited Steve in the hospital," David said. "He told us where you lived."
"He gave out our address??"
"He only did it because we assured him we wanted to help you," Peter said.
"Forgive me for being a little paranoid," she said. "But how can I be sure you really want to help? I mean, you're witches. Donna's a witch..."
"Yes, she is," Peter said. "And we are, too. But we are also Wiccan. It means we've pledged to follow a moral code which states, among other things, that we don't use magic to hurt anyone, or to interfere with their free will in any way. Donna has shown a blatant disregard for that code several times."
"That's why she was kicked out," Mikayla said.
"I see," Beth said, reassured by their obvious disapproval of Donna's behavior. "So how do you propose to fix this?"
"We need to get into her house and find out what spell she used against your husband," Mikayla said. "Once we know what she did, it shouldn't be hard to reverse it."
"Great! Let's get going. Do you have enough room in your car for us, or should we follow you?"
"We've got enough room," David said. "But we don't have a way to get into their house."
"I'll take care of that," Beth said. "We just need to stop at the hospital."
Hospital oxygen is nasty, he thought. He sat in the narrow hospital bed, propped up on pillows breathing shallowly through tubes - an I.V. trailing from his arm. The television was on, playing some stupid daytime soap opera. He tried not to pay attention to it, or else he knew he would get hooked. He was lonely. The only people who'd visited so far were old friends of Donna. He wished Jonathan or Neal would visit. But they were probably freaked out by what had happened. They might already be looking for someone to replace him. The idea made him want to cry.
He heard noises. People were coming into his room. He saw Beth Perry, leading her husband. He smiled hesitantly, not sure if she was still angry with him. She smiled back, which was encouraging. She led Steve right up to him, then squeezed his arm slightly. Steve wrote something on his board, then showed it to him. "I need your help."
"What..." He winced. The doctors had told him not to try to talk. Now he knew why. His chest hurt too much for him to speak without pain. "How can I answer?" he whispered.
"Take his hand and write down what you want to say," Beth replied.
He did as he was told, his hand trembling slightly. Steve let him guide his hand, and he wrote one word. "Anything."
Steve smiled slightly. "Your address and your keys."
He looked at Beth. "My keys are in my jacket," he said softly. "In the closet over there." Beth brought him his key ring. He took off his house key. Then, almost afraid to do so because of how Beth might react, he took off the copies he'd made of their keys. "This is mine," he said, handing her one. "These... these are yours." Beth gasped. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Beth took the keys from him and he looked away, too ashamed to face her. After a moment, she touched his cheek. When he looked back at her, her expression was one of pity, not anger. "Just make sure that the next time I see your car outside my house it's because we invited you. Understand?" He nodded. Then he watched curiously while she wrote something on the pad beside the bed. "Call these phone numbers," she said firmly. "Tell them I said to get their asses down here and keep you company, you hear me?"
"Good." She touched Steve's hand, which had been resting on her shoulder all this time.
Steve wrote on his board once again. "Thank you."
He shook Steve's outstretched hand, then watched them walk away. When they were gone, he picked up the phone and called Jonathan and Neal.
"I found it," David called. "Up here in the attic."
Beth followed Peter and Mikayla to the attic, carefully leading Steve up the stairs. David was kneeling in front of a low table in one corner of the room. "What is it?" Peter asked. David moved aside so that the others could see. There was a little wax doll on the table, lying in the middle of a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle. A scraggly looking tangle of hair was attached to its head, and there was a little piece of silk tied around its waist. But those details weren't what caused Beth to draw Steve closer to her and wrap her arm protectively around him. There was a long, rusted, ugly-looking nail embedded in its hip. Its ears and mouth were sealed with red wax and there was a blindfold over its eyes.
"Oh my God," she whispered.
"This is it, all right," Mikayla said.
"What's happening?" Steve asked.
Beth took his hand. "Voodoo doll," she wrote. Steve looked completely shocked.
"All right," Peter said. "David, see if you can find a box or something to put it in. Mikayla, help me look around for her Book or Shadows."
"Can't we just destroy the thing?" Beth asked, looking at it in disgust.
"No!" they all cried at once. Beth jumped. "If we destroy it, he'll die," Peter explained.
"Oh. Duh. Well, why can't you just take the nail out and take the wax out of its eyes and stuff?"
"We have to undo the whole spell," Mikayla said, still searching. "We have to sever Steve's link to the doll. Otherwise, he'll have to protect it for the rest of his life."
"Ah." Beth explained the situation to Steve while the others searched the basement.
"Got it," Peter said, holding up a small book that looked like a diary. "Are we ready?"
David came back to the table carrying an empty shoe box. He gently lifted the doll and put it inside. "Ready," he said.
They headed back to Beth's house. Once inside, Peter set down the large cardboard box that he'd brought from the trunk of their car. "We're going to need a large, clear space," he said. "Something big enough for Steve to lay down on. Preferably something you don't mind us writing on."
"I have a deck out back," Beth said.
She showed it to them and Peter nodded. "This is perfect. Mikayla, can you get the stuff?" Peter and David set about moving the furniture out of the way, while Mikayla went back to the cardboard box.
"How can I help?" Beth asked.
"You can help me bring the stuff out," Mikayla said. Beth put Steve's hand on her shoulder and went back into the house with Mikayla. Inside the box, the first thing she saw was dark blue cloth, neatly folded. "Mind taking these?" Mikayla asked.
"Sure. What are they?"
"Our robes," she replied. Then she fished out three huge, thick white candles, matches and some sidewalk chalk. "Do you happen to have a yard stick?"
"Um... yeah, I do." Beth found it in a closet near the kitchen.
"Great. I think that'll do it."
They went back to the patio. Peter and David had cleared away all the furniture, leaving a wide space. Plenty of room, Beth assumed, for practicing magic spells. They each took their long, unadorned robes from Beth and put them on. Then Peter took the chalk and drew a large circle on the deck. Using the yard stick, he began to draw a five-pointed star inside the circle. Beth frowned, pulling Steve back a little. "That's the same symbol the doll was in," she said nervously. "What are you guys doing?"
"It's not exactly the same," David said. "You probably didn't notice, but Donna's symbol was upside down and all the angles on the star were all wrong. That's a sign that you intend to harm someone with the spell you're about to do. Peter's doing it evenly, so that all the elements are balanced. Trust me, there's nothing to worry about."
Beth tried to believe the young man, but it was hard not to be suspicious. She'd never encountered anything like this before, and now she was forced to trust these near-strangers with her husband's well being. When Peter had finished drawing, he asked David to bring the doll out. They sat cross legged on the ground around the symbol - each with a candle in front of them. Peter also had the doll and the small diary he'd taken from Donna's basement.
"We're ready," Peter told Beth. "We'll need Steve to lie down in the center of the circle." Beth hesitated, looking at the symbol warily. Peter smiled slightly. "It's all right," he said. "I promise you, we won't hurt him."
Beth took a deep breath and slowly led Steve into the circle. She told him to lie down, and that's she would be two feet away. Then she took his board from him, stepped out of the circle and sat down to watch them work.
Steve lay on the hard deck, shaking slightly though it wasn't cold. He felt naked without his board. Without Beth. She's only two feet away, he told himself. Just two feet. He took deep breaths to help himself calm down, concentrating on the feeling of the wood beneath him and the warmth of the air around him.
The first thing he became aware of was the startling absence of pain. For the past week or so, he had never been without pain, no matter how often he took his medication. It had become a fact of life - constant, like breathing. Now, in an instant, it was gone. A few minutes later, he heard chanting. He heard! Steve would have shouted if he thought he could. He heard the steady voices, chanting in unison about inner lights and releasing things. He heard birds singing. He heard the wind rustling in the trees. He heard his own breathing. It was all so beautiful he thought he would cry.
Steve lay there for several more minutes, listening eagerly to all the sounds he'd missed so much. Then, suddenly, the chanting ceased. Surprised, Steve lay there, a puzzled frown on his face. Can they be done?
"Open your eyes, Steve," said a deep voice.
Steve obeyed. Then he really did cry. The sky. There it was, in all of its wonderful glory. He gazed at it in awe for several moments. Who would have ever thought something could be so utterly, mind-shatteringly beautiful? "I can see it," he whispered. Then he gasped and sat bold upright. "I can talk!"
He looked around at the unfamiliar faces, grinning at them like an insane person. "I can talk!" he cried again. They smiled at him, and he looked around frantically for Beth. She was sitting a few inches away from the circle, her hands raised to her mouth, tears flowing down her face. Steve smiled and went over to her, marveling again at the fact that he could walk without pain. She stood up, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. They stood there for many minutes, crying in each other's arms as they had done so many times in the past two months. But this time, they were tears of joy.
After a while, Steve held Beth away from him and stared at her face, wanting to etch every inch of it into his mind. He gazed at her for so long that she started to look embarrassed. "Why are you staring at me?" she asked.
"It's been too long since I've seen you," he said. "I love you."
Beth smiled at him. "I love you, too."
Steve turned back to the people who'd cured him. They were standing together, smiling at the happy couple. "I... we... how can I..." Steve sighed and walked up to them. One by one, he shook their hands. "Thank you," he said to each of them. Beth did the same. Then Steve stood there, still feeling like he needed to say more. "I... I can't even begin to thank you enough for what you've done," he said, feeling his eyes grow misty again. "Words can't describe how grateful I am."
They all looked fairly embarrassed. "Mr. Perry, please," the blonde one said.
"If there's anything - anything - I can do, just name it."
"There's no need," he said with a smile. "I'm just glad we could help you."
"There must be something we can do, Peter," Beth said. "You healed him. I... we have to do something!"
"Really, it was no trouble," Peter said.
Beth insisted that they stay for lunch at least. They put their robes and other implements away and talked to Steve while Beth cooked. He felt a little guilty, because he wasn't really paying attention to anything they were saying. He was too busy enjoying the fact that he could hear them talking at all. "That is a really beautiful shade of orange," he said to Peter in the middle of the conversation.
"Um... thank you," Peter said, fingering his shirt with a bemused expression. Steve would have been bemused himself if he weren't so happy. He usually hated orange.
"And you have a lovely voice," he told Mikayla.
"Thanks," she said.
"Lunch is ready," Beth said.
Steve stood up. Then, on the spur of the moment, he turned a cartwheel. Beth looked at him as if he'd gone completely insane. He giggled. "Doesn't hurt anymore," he said, patting his hip.
"Uh - huh," Beth said. "Come on, honey, you're freaking out the guests."
All through lunch, Steve talked about how wonderful everything sounded, how nice it was to be able to see his food, and how he'd never noticed what beautiful colors were involved in tuna salad. Every once in a while, he would hop up from the table and trot all the way to the other end of the kitchen, offering people unnecessary things. "Anybody need some salt?"
"It's at the table, baby," Beth would say.
"What about cinnamon?" he asked the next time.
"On tuna?" David exclaimed.
"Ew!" they all exclaimed.
"Baby, remember how I said you were freaking out the guests?"
"I'm sorry," he said with a radiant smile. "But this is great! I can walk! You guys are wonderful people. Are you sure there's nothing I can do for you? Anything?" He looked into the cabinet. "What about some cloves?"
"Please," Beth cried. "Sit down!"
"Okay!" He skipped back to the table.
After lunch, the three Wiccans said they really had to go, despite the fun they were having watching Steve act like a lunatic. Peter counseled them to melt the voodoo doll down completely and get rid of the wax as a safety measure. Steve and Beth saw them to the door, thanking them over and over again until all three of them were blushing deeply. Then Steve and Beth shook hands all around once more, and they stood in the doorway, waving at the car until it was out of sight.