Stranger Than Witches (The Witches of Secret Hallow Book 3) (4 page)

But Keene was okay for the moment, and Kimberly was human. That had to be enough.

4

T
he problem was
, if Keene couldn’t go to school at Ash Academy, he had to get school somewhere else. A boy needed to be educated. And if he was so eager to learn, then Kimberly would have been doing him an incredible disservice to withhold that.

There was only one formal school in Secret Hallow, though.

A school filled with witches.

That meant that Kimberly would have to teach him instead.

She had never been interested in homeschooling. It was done frequently around Secret Hallow; the families were filled with brilliant witches excellent at organizing themselves for lessons, teaching wonderful, enriching things to their budding witchlings. The home curriculum of the likes of the Winterblossoms rivaled any private school in the nation.

However, Kimberly was not of that type.

She adored Keene, yes. She would have fought bears in the forest bare-handed for him. But homeschooling was simply not one of her strengths.

Helping to run the farm, of course—she could do that. She could run much of the equipment with as much skill as Maddock. She didn’t fear getting dirty.

But teaching?

Alphabet, numbers, shapes, and colors? Rudimentary spellcasting, if possible?

Well, if she would confront bears for him, surely she could confront a preschool curriculum for him as well.

It was no great difficulty for her to set aside her chores around the house and farm so she would have time to teach Keene. Kimberly’s time with chores was well-organized; she was usually ahead of herself in getting things done. She needed only feed herself breakfast, tidy up a bit, and then turn to educating her darling boy.

It took Kimberly more time than she’d be willing to admit to in order to find somewhere adequate for education.

It wasn’t that they couldn’t work pretty much anywhere—she landed on using the couch after a good half-hour going over the house for spots—but, if Keene couldn’t go to the actual school he liked, she wanted him to have a space he would enjoy. She wanted him to be more than “comfortable” with their homeschooling situation. She wanted him happy. Ebullient, if possible.

But the couch was the best place for the two of them to sit. Or, in Keene’s case, to stretch out as far as he could. He was very good at taking up space, and not just for a three year old. His adult father didn’t take up as much space.

Keene rolled in place a few times as Kimberly found some pencils and paper. “Mommy?” he asked, sticking his feet in her face.

“Yes, son?”

Keene made an airplane noise. Kimberly nodded in acknowledgment.

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“I’m
hungry
.” He sighed like this was the worst affliction in the world. His body bent over double, feet dangling above his head.

Kimberly glanced at the clock. Maddock had only just fed him breakfast, but Keene was a growing boy. “We can have lunch after we spell a little bit.”

“Spell?”

Kimberly ducked into the office and pulled out pens and paper from there. Pencils would have been better, but she didn’t think they had any in the house.

“Letters,” she said, returning to the couch and moving Keene’s feet so she’d have a place to sit. “You remember the alphabet?”

Keene knew at least some of it. Maddock had a song with all the letters that he’d apparently learned as a young warlock at his witch mother’s knee, and he sang it sometimes.

Mostly, Keene would sing the first part, an “A is for” segment, and he’d forget the rest and mutter nonsense words until he got to the next letter. He often sang in random order, too. A was always the first letter, but the second letter was often K—Maddock bellowing “K is for
Keene,
” drawing out the middle sound of his name, was always Keene’s favorite part, so he usually liked to skip to it—and M (“M is for me!” with an exaggerated point at himself) or Z (“Z is the end!”) was third.

Anything was fair game after that point.

“A is for…” Keene frowned. “Yeah, I know.”

Well, it was enough to start. Kimberly uncapped her pen and wrote out a big and very straight A and then pointed at it. “A,” she said.

Keene stared at it.

“Can you say ‘A’?” Kimberly asked.

Keene nodded without speaking.

“Please say it.”

Keene looked between Kimberly and the letter. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.

Kimberly pointed at the A again. “A,” she said.

“A?” Keene asked.

Kimberly nodded. “A.”

“A!”

She held out the pen. “Can you try writing it?”

Keene looked at the pen thoughtfully for a minute. “No,” he said finally, with plenty of cheer in his voice. He smiled up at Kimberly, rolled off the couch, and ran out of the room with his best eagle cry.

“Keene?” Kimberly called, getting to her feet and raising her voice slightly. “Please come back here.”

Keene replied in his eagle voice again.

Kimberly, suddenly, was tired.

Very tired.

She had spoken more today than she could remember speaking in a long time, and it probably wasn’t much of a surprise that her sleep last night hadn’t been restful. Not to mention the sheer panic of her waking.

How was she supposed to function like this?

More than that, how was she supposed to educate her son like this?

It probably didn’t say very good things about her that chores were sounding nicer and nicer, but there were many reasons her involvement with the coven involved the farm and not helping at the Ash Academy.

She sighed. She had to try again. For Keene.

“Son, please come out here.”

Keene didn’t listen.

It took another ten minutes for Kimberly to get Keene to listen to her instead of playing with his toys in his room. It took five minutes after that to get him back in the living room and on the couch. (She closed his bedroom door behind them, so hopefully that temptation would be removed, at least.)

“A,” Kimberly said, writing another letter on the paper next to her first.

Keene was sitting up next to her, rocking in place. He was looking nowhere near the paper.

“Keene,” she said. She pointed at the paper. “A.”

“A,” Keene said, not looking at the paper.

It was a start. “Look at the paper, please.”

He did, and she wrote the letter yet again. “Now you try.”

Keene took the pen from her. He wrote one diagonal line, and Kimberly smiled, pleased. He raised the pen carefully and set it down at the top of the first line, like Kimberly had shown him.

And then he scribbled up, making a dirty-looking cloud over the diagonal line.

“Mommy?” he asked, grinning at her. “It’s Poke!”

He gave an eagle shriek that was beginning to sound shockingly like the real thing.

“That’s…that’s good, son,” she said. “A good first try. Now…”

Keene burst off the couch again and ran for the back door.

Kimberly sighed. Well. She couldn’t say she didn’t try. “Aren’t you hungry, Keene?”

“No!” he called cheerfully. He wriggled, trying to get the door open, but the door was locked.

Kimberly could sense Thorn outside. He was above the house.

She unlocked and opened the door for Keene. Stepping outside into the warmth, she shielded her eyes against the light and searched for her familiar. He was spiraling high above, just near enough that she could see him with her comparatively terrible human vision.

Kimberly waved at Thorn, who opened his wings a bit so she could see, the fall-like breeze ruffling his feathers.

Keene was shrieking already, thanks to the leaves twisting up around him on the gentle wind. He raced across the field with his arms spread wide, like he were flying on wings.

Thorn would keep an eye on Keene outside. He usually did when Kimberly had to do something inside. Even if she was around, Thorn had such careful, intense focus, that she would learn about what Keene was doing through him anyway. Thorn was better than eyes in the back of her head.

Keene was as much a wild animal as any of the creatures in the forest, if Kimberly were being honest with herself.

Much happier—and probably safer—outside on the farm, supervised by Thorn, than trying to learn the alphabet from his mother.

Everyone seemed happy as Kimberly closed the door again, leaving it unlocked so Keene could come back inside whenever he wanted. She would make a snack for Keene when he inevitably changed his mind about being hungry in five seconds, she would clean up the attempts of her lesson, and she would get to work.

Her to-do list shouldn’t have been such a relief. But it was.

Anything to distract her from the feathers that she desperately hoped had been nothing more than a hallucination.

Anything.

K
imberly was putting
Keene’s toys away and cleaning out the trash in Keene’s room when she sensed, through Thorn, that Keene was shrieking.

Keene was not a quiet boy. Shrieking was more or less his standard mode of communication. As a seasoned mother, Kimberly was familiar with most of the tones: the “I see a bug I want to catch” shriek, the “I just spun too fast and got very dizzy” shriek, and very occasionally the “I’m in mortal peril and will die if you don’t intercede within milliseconds” shriek, which was fortunately not terribly common, but unfortunately almost identical to his “I like this rock” shriek.

She didn’t need to interpret his shrieking on this particular morning. Seconds later, almost faster than Kimberly could start to worry, she sensed another yell through Thorn’s senses.

Maddock, apparently, was taking a break from work and had picked Keene up to swing him around in the yard, which Thorn was witnessing approvingly. Kimberly spared the picture of all of them a moment of fondness before she got back to work, enjoying the buzz of Thorn in the back of her head as she went.

It wasn’t until she felt her husband’s touch on her shoulder that she realized he’d come inside.

She could hear Keene thumping around the house again as well. She sat away from the toy boxes and the rustling garbage bag to smile away from him.

“Hey,” Maddock said softly.

Kimberly stood and turned into his arms immediately. It was always nice when they had these moments, where they would just hold each other and…not talk. Well, not talk right away. Words did have to happen, but taking the space to be quiet gave Kimberly the time she needed to form her thoughts again.

“Hey,” Kimberly said aloud after a few minutes.

Maddock kissed her cheek. “Why isn’t Keene at school, wife of mine? I didn’t expect to see him playing outside like that.”

“I told you last night.” She sounded tired to her own ears, but the words were matter-of-fact, not defensive. “Without magic…”

Maddock was silent for a few more minutes to give Kimberly room to speak. When she didn’t, he asked, “Is that all? You don’t think Keene has enough protection? We could probably work with that. If I help the coven, we could make something to help him.”

Kimberly sighed and pulled Maddock a little closer to her. He rubbed her back, and she let herself close her eyes and just feel him.

“You know, whatever’s going on, I’ll listen,” Maddock said softly. “I want to hear what you’re thinking.”

I woke up with feathers
, Kimberly thought. It sounded ridiculous in her head like that, but she couldn’t think of a better way to put it, so… “I woke up with feathers.”

“Feathers?”

“Like…” Kimberly spread out her arm, waved her other hand across the top, and flapped the arm like a wing. “Eagle feathers.”

“Wow,” Maddock said, the word coming out like a gust of air. “What happened to the feathers?”

“I concentrated, and they went away.”

“So it’s part of your magic? Just like…”

“Like Thorn?”

Maddock huffed a humorless laugh. “That wasn’t who I was thinking about.”

The air hung heavier for a moment. Kimberly knew what Maddock was thinking because she was thinking about the exact same thing. Well, she wasn’t
actively
thinking about it—she’d found, years ago, that it was easier to deal with if she didn’t pursue it whenever possible—but it lurked in the back of her head, dark and ominous.

“Like that, yes,” Kimberly said. “Like
her
. Possibly.”

“You will never be anything like
her
. This news is interesting, though. We’ve always assumed you have virtually no magic. If you’re a shapeshifter, that will place you among the most powerful witches in the village.”

Kimberly had no interest in such prestige. She didn’t need to shapeshift to run the farm which fed all of her witch family-friends among the coven. She didn’t need to shapeshift to be the best wife possible to Maddock. And she certainly, absolutely, did not need to shapeshift to be the best mother possible to her beloved child.

“I don’t understand where Keene fits in,” Maddock says. “Unless you’re worried that he
does
have magic.”

Kimberly shook her head quickly. “He was what brought me back. I heard him, and…”

She let her voice trail off as Maddock nodded thoughtfully. He couldn’t know, not exactly, but if anyone was going to be sympathetic, it was Kimberly’s husband.

“I hoped that it wasn’t real, that I was imagining it,” Kimberly said.

He rubbed her back in slowing circles.

They both knew that it was far too much to hope that it could have been an extension of the dream.

“What do you need? What can we do in order to help you through this?” Maddock asked. “To stay close to Keene?”

Since Kimberly had had some time to calm down, she didn’t think that was entirely necessary. At least, not at the moment. She shook her head.

“To work with Thorn?” Maddock suggested.

That…was a pretty decent idea. Thorn, as Kimberly’s familiar, could focus her magic, or boost it, although Kimberly wasn’t inclined to think that she wanted the latter very much. There was also the fact that Thorn was an eagle and he was more used to the feelings that went along with it.

Kimberly nodded.

“What will that take?”

She thought quickly. “A trip into the forest,” she said. “Probably alone, so both of us can focus.”

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