7 min read

Chapter 34: Bear

The Professor finally puts her plan in motion
An image of a grey-brown cat is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 34: Bear"

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As autumn deepened and the days grew shorter, Saffron and her friends settled into a new routine. Alistair’s mother went to live with him in town. Saffron, Sage, and Bear patrolled the forest every day, looking for any sign that Professor Burton had gone through with her plan.

They didn’t know what they were looking for. Short of seeing her deceased husband strolling through the forest, they weren’t sure there would be any sign at all. Even when they looked at the house, everything looked the same as ever.

None of them knew much about necromancy. Who did? There were rumours and whispers about it, but no one knew that kind of thing unless they sought it out. They all thought the Professor would need some time to prepare the body, but they didn’t know how long that would take or what would happen once it was done.

Still, they had to remain vigilant. Saffron renewed her sigils and wards around the town and forest every few days. She and Sage kept a supply of spell ingredients ready. They were constantly gathering herbs, drying them, and grinding them, not to mention searching for any crystals or stones of power, and making candles in various colours.

Alistair and his mom took some time to catch up on their lost years, but they helped when they could. And Bear, well, he was always around. Alerting them to strange noises, pouncing at odd shadows, and bringing warmth and comfort to a dark time.

When it finally happened, there was no question. Saffron was patrolling the edge of the forest when a chill went down her spine that had nothing to do with the cool October air. Bear’s hackles rose and he let out a long, low growl.

“Come on, then, let’s go see.” Saffron took off toward the centre of the forest, crashing through the woods. Bear loped along at her side and before long they came to the wrought iron fence. Nothing looked different; the house was the same as ever, but the sky had grown dark and the air was cold and damp in a way it hadn’t been a few minutes ago.

Sage arrived a few minutes later.

“You felt it too?” Saffron asked. She had begun to wonder if she’d imagined it.

“Oh yeah. Clear as a bell. What’s the situation?”

“I don’t see anything.” Saffron turned back to peer through the bars of the fence again. “It all looks the same.”

“Doesn’t mean it is the same. Who knows what she’s up to in there?”

They still couldn’t break through the walls, so they camped out on the path to wait and see. Alistair and Adela joined them a little later, having felt the changes too.

“I wonder…” his mother said, and laid a hand on the gate.

She pushed, and it opened.

Saffron sprung to her feet. “How did you do that?”

“She’s gotten sloppy. Must have been so excited about finding Everett that she forgot to change the spell to keep me out.” She shrugged. “Or maybe she was hoping I would come back and she could snare me again.”

Saffron reached out a tentative hand and took a few steps forward. She was able to cross through the gate into the property beyond. “You broke the spell. We can all get in now.”

“Opening the door must have broken her circle of protection.”

“Let’s go check it out, shall we?” Sage strode past Saffron and toward the front door. “Maybe it’s not too late to stop this.”

As the five of them crossed the lawn, they began to hear shouts from inside the house.

Sage raised a brow. “Sounds like perhaps everything didn’t go to plan for the Professor.”

“Everyone keep your wits about you,” Saffron warned. “Be careful.”

When they arrived at the house, she led the way up the front step to the door. She tried the knob, expecting it to be locked, but it opened at the gentlest push.

The interior of the house couldn’t be more different from what she’d seen before. Where the ancient walls had been covered in layers of fungus, now there was only opulence. Everything looked as beautiful and new as the day it was built. The light wooden floors were polished to a shine, the elegant floral wallpaper looked brand new, and the furniture was plush and soft. It took Saffron a moment to adjust before she continued inside, letting the others filter in behind her.

Alistair took a sharp intake of breath as he entered, and Sage reached a hand out to clasp his. “It looks just like I remember,” he whispered.

His mother didn’t speak, though her eyes shone with tears as she took in the house.

“It sounds like the shouting is coming from this way.” Saffron led them through the next door.

“This leads through the dining room into the parlour,” Adela said. “Sounds like she’s tearing the place apart.”

It was true. As they got closer, they could hear smashing glass and ripping wood underneath the shouts. Saffron suppressed a shudder as the noise called to mind the memory of claws scratching at the floor as the beast chased her from the house.

When they rounded the corner, though there was no beast in sight, the sight was certainly monstrous. The Professor had her back to them, and in front of her was a man that Saffron recognized from the picture in the Professor’s cottage. Though he moved about and there was no sign of death on his body, there was nothing of life in his eyes. His face was blank as a canvas as he methodically tore the room apart.

The pair were surrounded by smashed furniture and knicknacks. Everett clearly had a strength beyond human means, as he had ripped up one of the wide floorboards with his bare hands. Despite his bloody and ragged fingernails, he seemed immune to his own pain, and was swinging the board at the professor.

“No! Everett, it’s me. It’s Anita. Please, Everett, stop,” she pleaded. “Look at me, you know me.”

But he didn’t stop; he continued his relentless march toward her, swinging the floorboard in his hands with her head.

“Everett…” Adela breathed. Though it was a whisper, it caught the attention of the two in the room.

“Professor, what have you done?” Saffron asked.

“What I had to,” she answered, though there was a tremor in her voice.

There was no time for any further questions, because Everett turned his attention on their group and was now swinging toward them.

“Stop!” Sage shouted, blowing a handful of herbs into his face, which was enough to pause him for a moment. Then he shook off the spell and swung the board for her head.

“Sage!” Saffron yelled, frozen for a moment in her fear. Alistair was closer and pulled Sage out of the way of his uncle’s swing.

“Everett, no. You don’t hurt family.” Adela reached out and ripped the floorboard away from him, her own strength momentarily boosted by a spell of her own. “Stop this.”

Everett roared, an incoherent sound, and lifted the nearest chair to throw it at her. It was a clumsy move, and Adela ducked it easily.

“We have to run!” Sage shouted. “We can’t fight him like this, we need to retreat and make a plan.”

“No!” Saffron didn’t want to give up now, when the danger she’d feared for so long had finally arrived. “We have to stop this.”

She stepped forward and sprinkled a wide arc of protective herbs, mixed with salt, whispering the words to create a protective shield. It would buy them a minute to think of something.

“What can we do?” she asked the others. “What can we use against him?”

She was met with blank stares and shaking heads from the others. Despite all the research they’d done, they had no idea how to stop the spell.

Desperate, she turned back to the one person in the room who knew how this worked. “Professor, please. You have to stop this. This isn’t him. It might be his body, but that’s not your Everett.”

He was clawing and raging against Saffron’s shielding spell. He was mere inches from them, held back only by a thin layer of magic.

“It has to be,” Professor Burton whispered. “I just need time. I’ll get him back.”

“There is no time. He’s going to kill us all, you included. Please, whatever you did, undo it. It’s not too late to stop this.”

“I can’t. I’m sorry. I just need more time.”

They were out of time. Saffron’s spell failed and Everett broke through. She dodged back, but not quickly enough. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward him, his other hand wrapping around her throat. She tried to yell for help but it was all she could do to suck in a trickle of breath as he tried to crush the air out of her.

There was a snarl from the other side of the room, and Bear darted forward. He leapt at Everett, transforming as he jumped. His body thickened , his limbs lengthened, his claws grew, and his fur darkened as he took on his true form of a massive black bear.

He knocked Everett down. Saffron fell with him, but the dead man released his grip and she scrambled away. “Bear!”

He held Everett down with his huge front paws and roared in his face.

“Don’t hurt him!” Professor Burton begged. “Please. Don’t hurt him. You can’t kill him that way, anyway.”

Bear turned his head to look at their group and Saffron wrinkled her nose. “You can hurt him a little.”

“We have to run,” Sage said again, and this time Saffron couldn’t disagree.

“You go,” she said, directing Alistair and Adela out of the house the way they came. She nodded reassuringly to Sage, who followed behind them.

“Professor?” Saffron offered. “You coming?”

“I can’t. I’ll fix this, I swear. I can bring my Everett back.”

“You know I can’t let that happen.” Though Saffron’s heart was heavy for the grief in her mentor’s eyes, she knew this wasn’t right. “We’ll be back. Bear?”

Bear let out a final growl, then stood and lumbered toward the door. He followed Saffron out of the house and by the time she exited onto the lawn with the others, he had dwindled back to his usual form.

“You alright?” she asked.

He pawed at her leg and she couldn’t help but laugh as she bent to pick him up. “You big baby. Thanks for your help.”

He nuzzled her cheek in response as she turned to the others. “Everyone okay?”

After confirming that no one had been injured, they crossed the property once more, back to the forest path. Saffron glanced back behind her at the house, knowing that she would be back. One way or another, she was going to end this.

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitter, instagram, and tumblr.