Author: Froggy Frog and Miller
Willow hummed tunelessly to the song on the radio and grinned. She felt happy. She felt free. She felt alone. The wind blew through her shiny red hair, and the autumnal trees showered copper and gold colored leaves over the road before her. She sped through the countryside without a care in the world.
Well, perhaps she wasn't very happy, come to think of it. She was no longer a respected agent with a near-perfect record. Her crown sat askew, pushed off-center by small minded, narrow thinking bureaucrats, simply because she had a talent and a passion for something they feared and didn't understand.
And she wasn't free, either. She felt compelled by her dedication to her work, and what she understood that work to stand for. That compulsion was currently propelling her north to the small town of Turrendale to investigate six murders. And hopefully prevent another.
And she certainly wasn't alone. Next to her, in the passenger seat of the Ford rental, slept Agent McClay. Tara. She had dozed off over an hour ago, and sat slightly slumped in the seat. Willow liked to glance at Tara's peaceful face as she drove, see her hair blowing softly over the pale skin of her face. Occasionally she would snore softly, which made Willow smile. And then quickly scowl in annoyance. Willow felt she was getting a little too interested in this woman, and scolded herself every time her thoughts wandered. It wouldn't do. Not now. Both were on probation, and under scrutiny, and they had to stay tightly focused on the case. Go by the book. That's the way she intended to play this.
Willow sighed. She went over the assignment in her mind, seeking distraction from more disturbing thoughts about her new colleague. She felt they had made good progress that morning, over breakfast. They had come to the same conclusion given the same evidence, and now had working theory for a motive for the killings. This was a great start. But only a start, Willow realized. The hard work was still to come.
Willow turned left at an intersection a little to fast, causing Tara to bump gently against the car door. She stirred and rubbed her eyes.
"Oh dear... I think I d-dozed off," Tara said. "Sorry Agent Rosenberg... er, Willow."
Willow grinned. "It's okay. You've been out for quite a while!" she said. "We're almost there."
Tara sat up in her chair and smoothed out her crumpled suit.
"Oh, I'm very sorry," Tara said. "The drive was so pretty. I was feeling quite relaxed."
"Bit more used to my driving style, eh?" Willow said, remembering Tara's white-knuckled trip from FBI headquarters to her apartment.
"A little," Tara said, smiling. "It doesn't look q-quite so fast in the open space. Oh, look," Tara pointed ahead at a roadside sign. "Turrendale, three miles."
"Yeah. We made good time," Willow said.
They drove through green fields spotted with the cows, past a few farms and small barns.
As they drove over the crest of a small hill, Tara took in a quick breath through her teeth.
"Oh dear... Willow?" she said, her voice slightly choked. "Do you feel that?"
Willow did. A sudden, overbearing feeling of dread went through her. She felt an intense wave of nausea. She slammed on the brakes and skidded to a halt at the side of the road. She looked at her colleague. The blood had drained from Tara's face, and her lips were almost blue. She looked like she would faint. Willow glanced at herself in the rearview mirror and found she didn't look any better.
"Out of the car," Willow grunted. Both agents climbed out of the car. Willow joined Tara on the side of the road. Tara was kneeling on the grass, clutching her stomach and breathing deeply.
"What... w-what is it?" Tara groaned.
"I'm not sure..." Willow said. She squatted beside Tara and concentrated on not throwing up.
The queasiness slowly faded, and after several minutes Willow managed to stand up and look around. The countryside was peaceful and quiet except for the song of a distant bird.
"I don't think it's a toxin or gas," Tara said. "That feeling. So intense. So frightening."
"Yeah. I felt it," Willow said. "It's a spell. It has to be."
"Yes. That's it. P-perhaps a protection spell," Tara said. "Or some kind of ward?"
Willow watched a few cars drive by and proceed down the road ahead.
"With a particular target, perhaps," Willow said. "I'm not sure its effect is being felt by everybody"
Tara looked up at Willow. The color had returned to her cheeks and she was breathing normally.
"You mean, just us? W-witches?" Tara said, her voice trembling slightly, her eyes wide with fear. "Oh my..."
"Could be. It's okay, Tara", Willow said, softly.
Willow put her hand on Tara's shoulder to reassure her. She instantly removed it, and bit her lip. Warm, delightful sparks. Oh dear. Not a good sign.
"I'm feeling m-much better now", Tara said. She stood up and dusted the grass of her knees. "The feeling seems to have passed. I still feel a little s-scared though."
"Yeah. Me too", Willow said, scowling. She walked around the car and opened the door. "Let's go, McClay," she said, rather sternly.
They climbed back into the car and continued down the road. Willow drove in silence, a troubled look on her face. She felt apprehensive and slightly worried by the intensity of the spell and its effect on the both of them. And she was alarmed by how nice it had felt to touch Tara's shoulder.
The town of Turrendale sat nestled into a wooded green hillside. Pretty white wooden houses dotted the hills, and golden-leaved trees lined most streets. A small river wound its way through the valley below the town. In many respects, it was a peaceful and picturesque small town.
Both agents found it disturbing and oppressive. Neither could totally shake the feeling that there was something very wrong here. As they pulled into the car-park of the town's only motel, both wished they could be somewhere else very far away.
"Let's find a room, McClay, then go and talk to the local authorities," Willow said, curtly.
"Oh. Okay," Tara said. Willow opened her door and started to get out.
"Agent Rosenberg?" Tara said quietly.
"Yeah?" Willow said, impatiently. "What is it?"
Tara looked a little worried. She hesitated for a few seconds, then spoke in a soft voice.
"Did I do something w-wrong?" she said. "You seem a little angry with me... ever since we stopped on the road. I can't think what I've d-done, though. I'm... I'm not very good at this... at field work. I often make m-mistakes. Will you tell me what I've done?"
Willow took a deep breath and looked at Tara.
"I'm sorry, McClay. I mean - I'm sorry, Tara," Willow said. "It's me. I'm a little... spooked. By this place. And some other things. You've done nothing wrong. Nothing at all. To be perfectly honest, I'm really glad you're here with me."
Tara held her gaze for a few moments, then nodded once.
"We'd best go check in, eh?" Willow said, gently.
"Okay, Willow," said Tara.
They made their way to the motel's small lobby and rang the bell. A small elderly man came out of a back room and looked the two agents over.
"Hello there, now. What can I do for you lovely young ladies?" the man said in a strong foreign accent. Maybe Welsh, Willow thought.
"Two rooms, please," Willow said. "For a week at least. Possibly longer."
The man typed away on the keys of a rather ancient computer and frowned. He typed away again for a few more minutes.
"I'm sorry. I can't do that. Only got one room free, you see. All the other rooms are fully booked," said the man.
"Booked? All of them? All the way out here?" Willow said, incredulously.
"Yes. It's quite unusual, don't you know? You see, there's a conference an accounting or law firm or something. From New York city, I think," the old man said, scratching his head. "They booked out both the lodge and this motel for the whole of this week. But I've one double room left, if you two ladies don't mind sharing."
Willow cursed under her breath. Not good. Not good at all. "There's nowhere else to stay in town?" Willow asked.
"No. This is it. We're usually pretty empty at this time of year, but this conference has us all packed up like sardines in a tin, it does," said the man. He fiddled with a pen and waited patiently while Willow frowned at him, her arms crossed.
"Damn," she said, eventually. "Okay. We'll take it. But I want two accounts made up for separate rooms. And two receipts. You understand?"
The man stared at Willow in confusion. "No. I'm not sure I do," he said. "You want me to charge you twice for one room?"
"Exactly. Two separate accounts. With different room numbers on each account," Willow said.
The man paused and scratched his head again. "Um... If you are sure, I guess I can do that," he said eventually.
"I am sure. Please do so. Thank you," Willow said. She filled in the registration form and completed checking in. The man gave Willow a room key, then watched both of them leave, a puzzled statement adding extra creases to his already wrinkled face.
"City folk", he muttered.
Willow wandered around the outside of the motel, looking for their room. It was on the second floor of the furthest building away from the reception building. Tara followed her, travel bag in hand.
They climbed the stairs to the second level and Willow unlocked the door to their room and went inside.
"Home sweet home, Tara," she said. "For a while, anyway."
The room was small and somewhat gloomy. It was a little old, and the furnishings were in appalling shades of brown with orange highlights. But it was clean and it didn't smell. There was a closet off to one side and a small bathroom at the far end. And two beds, Willow noticed with relief.
Tara followed her into the room and put her bag on one of the beds.
"Willow?" Tara said. "You know... If it's a problem - me s-staying with you, that is... I can find somewhere else, I'm sure. I can understand you wanting some privacy..."
Willow dropped her own bag on the other bed and took of her jacket. She sat on the bed and began taking off her shoes.
"That's not the problem, Tara," she said. "The FBI's the problem. They frown on agents sharing rooms. 'Inappropriate social contact' or something like that."
She began to rub her feet. She knew she wasn't being totally honest.
"Hmmm... that's better," she said. "Anyhow, since we're in trouble to start with, it's going to look a lot better on our report, and expense claims, if we don't appear to have tripped over yet another silly Bureau protocol issue. Plus..."
Willow glanced briefly at Tara before continuing to rub her sore feet.
"Plus?" Tara said, sitting on other bed.
"Plus..." Willow said. She paused before continuing. No. She wouldn't go there. Not yet, anyhow. "Well... it doesn't really matter. But believe me when I say it's important that we keep up appearances, eh?"
Willow couldn't read Tara's statement. She sat staring at her hands for a few moments, then looked up and smiled at Willow.
"I u-understand," she said. "It was a very good idea, Willow."
"Thanks," Willow said. She stood up and stretched.
"I'm going to take a shower, I think," Willow said. "Then we can pop down to see the local police. Shake them with the big FBI stick! That's sure to be entertaining, eh?"
Tara laughed. "Yes. Let's shake our big stick!" she said, feebly wobbling her hand back and forth.
Willow laughed at Tara's demonstration, then made her way to the bathroom.