7 min read

Chapter 35: Confrontation

The Professor's dark deeds come to a head
An image of a crown is overlaid with the text "Saffron and Bear" and "Chapter 35: Confrontation"

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The last days of autumn passed slowly. Saffron measured time in falling leaves, in protection spells, and in sleepless nights lying awake in worry.

After the confrontation at the house, there was no sign of the professor or the returned Everett for several days. Saffron and her friends took it in turns to keep an eye on the house while the others improved the warding spells around town and researched how to kill the undead. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of information on the latter, but they kept trying.

They still heard yelling and crashing and the occasional guttural howl from the house. One day Saffron showed up for her shift to find that all the windows on the second floor had been smashed. Another day, Sage reported that a hole had been punched through the roof. The next, Alistair said the chimney had fallen down.

At that rate, Saffron had a feeling that the house wouldn’t contain Everett for long. She could only hope the professor’s enchantment on the property would do half as good a job keeping him in as it had keeping them out.

Of course, that didn’t help Alistair’s father or his sister, June, who were, as far as anyone knew, still trapped in the cellar under the house. His mother, Adela, spent much of her time trying to scry them or send protective castings from afar. Saffron certainly couldn’t begrudge her focus on protecting the ones she loved.

The one thing Alistair’s mom did know about was the crown, although it was all bad news. So long as the crown was in Professor Burton’s control, everything she had brought back with its power couldn’t be undone by any other spell.

Necromancy was such a rare spell that there was very little information out there on how to combat it. Saffron reached out to her mother and to her other professors at the Academy, but no one had anything of use. The old tales said decapitating the undead was the only way to stop them, but Saffron didn’t see how to get close enough to Everett for that or how to overpower him long enough to get at his head.

In the meantime, all Saffron could do was look after her own charges. Her only comforts were Bear’s constant presence by her side, her friends, and the knowledge that she was doing everything in her power to keep the town and the creatures of the forest safe.

It only took a couple of weeks for Everett to break out of the house. He didn’t venture beyond the property’s walls immediately. He destroyed as much of the house’s grounds as he could first. He lurched around the yard, ripping up trees and gardens. He demolished the tool shed in short order and used both the tools within and the pieces of its walls to attack the professor once again.

A few days later he bent the metal bars of the iron gate around the property, escaping into the woods beyond. From them on, the forest was haunted by his growls and Professor Burton desperately calling his name.

Saffron moved Mister Payton and the others who lived near the woods into the town proper. She and Sage created layer on layer of protective spells around the town and begged the townsfolk to stay within them.

Only Saffron and Sage left, taking it in turns to patrol the woods, protecting the creatures there and keeping an eye out for any sign of Everett.

The last leaves had fallen from the trees before he found his way to town. It was Saffron’s turn to stay back and protect the townsfolk when she saw a distant figure on the edge of the forest. At first she thought it was Sage, returning from her scan of the woods, but the figure was moving fast and she soon saw how wrong she had been.

She spoke into her enchanted rock to send a message to Alistair and his mother and the three of them ran through town, herding the townsfolk into their homes and urging them to barricade themselves inside.

Bear stayed behind at the town perimeter, keeping an eye on Everett, snarling all the while.

“It’s okay, boy,” Saffron soothed, stroking his fur. “We’ll stop him. You don’t have to do anything this time.”

She hoped that was true. Though she knew Bear was more than capable of looking after himself, she didn’t like the idea of him getting hurt trying to fight Everett for her sake.

By the time Everett drew close to the town, both Sage and Professor Burton had emerged from the forest, running through the field behind him.

All three converged on the town. Everett lurched to a halt as he reached the perimeter of protection spells. He growled and scratched at the spell, just as he had with Saffron’s smaller shield spell when they’d first encountered him at the house.

“Professor, please, you have to stop him,” Saffron begged as Professor Burton caught up, the Crown still glinting on her head, “I won’t let him hurt the people of this town.”

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt, Saffron, I promise. I didn’t want any of this to happen.”

Sage arrived as well and ducked through the protective barriers to stand next to Saffron. “I can’t believe I helped you with any of this,” she spat at the Professor. “I lost years of my life to that house, all so you could do this?”

Saffron could feel the layers of protection slipping away under Everett’s barrage. None of their spells could withstand his undead power for long. She knew that if he broke through them, nothing would stop him from rampaging through the town the way he had destroyed the house.

“You have to stop this,” she begged again. “This isn’t your husband, not any more.”

“You don’t understand.” The professor’s voice was softer now. “I couldn’t go on without him. I lost my husband, my family. Everything that mattered.”

“You didn’t have to.” Saffron turned to see Bella approaching the group. Her voice was thick with anger. “It was your own choices that drove me away, mom.”

“Bella?” Professor Burton gasped. “What are you doing here?”

“Wait, you’re her daughter?” Now that she saw the two side-by-side, Saffron could see the resemblance. She turned to the professor. “I never knew you had a daughter.”

“You wouldn’t have,” Bella spat. “After I quit the Academy, she disowned me and acted as if I never existed.”

“That was a mistake, Bella. I’m sorry. Not a day hasn’t gone by that I didn’t regret what I said to you.”

“And yet you never tried to apologize to me.”

Saffron didn’t want to interrupt, but her protection spells were slipping away one by one. She glanced at Sage, knowing she could feel it too.

“That’s why I’m here now, Bella.” The professor gestured to Everett. “Once I brought your father back, I was going to find you so we could be a family again.”

“Dad’s gone,” Bella yelled. “This isn’t him. I’ve grieved for him too, mom, but this isn’t the way. We could have been a family without him, if you’d wanted.”

“I do.” The professor was in tears now. “I want that more than anything.”

“Professor,” Saffron broke in. “We don’t have much–”

Everett broke through the last protection spell with a roar, lifting his arms in victory before charging forward.

“Time,” she finished as Everett took a swing at Bella.

Bella raised her arms in front of her face to protect herself, but Saffron knew that wouldn’t be enough.

“No!” The Professor jumped forward, grabbing Everett’s arm and wrenching him backward with all her might. “Everett, don’t you recognize our daughter? Please!”

But he only swung a hand at the professor, raking his nails across her face and leaving four long scratches.

“Everett…” the professor grabbed his other wrist, winning a brief moment of peace from him. “I’m sorry.”

She took a deep breath and spoke again as he pulled free from her grip. “Return this man to his previous form.”

The crown on her head glowed red and Everett went still. Everything hung in stillness for a moment before he crumpled to the ground, his body wasting away to its long-dead form once more.

The Professor’s hands were shaking as she reached up and lifted the crown from her head, passing it to Saffron.

“I’m so sorry, Saffron.” Tears rolled down her face. “I can never make up what I’ve done. To you, to any of you. But we can put the land back to the way it was. This is your territory, you should be the one to restore it.”

Saffron took the crown, but held it in her hands for a long moment, wondering whether she dared use the artifact that had done so much harm. Bear nudged into her leg, looking up at her wide-eyed. She glanced at Sage, who gave an encouraging nod.

She lifted the crown to her head. Its weight bent her neck uncomfortably. She didn’t want to wear it longer than necessary. She closed her eyes.

“Please restore the forest and the meadow to their state last fall. Restore the house in the centre of the woods to the way it was two months ago.” Alistair’s family would need somewhere to live, after all. Speaking of which… “Restore Alistair, June, and their parents to their human forms, without their curse.”

She opened her eyes and saw that the changes had already taken effect; the close-cropped field was gone, replaced by the beautiful, familiar meadow.

She looked at Professor Burton and spoke once more. “Return the professor’s face to its state before Everett scratched it.” The wounds healed up, blood disappearing and skin knitting itself back together.

“Am I missing anything?” She looked to Sage, to Bella, and to Bear, but they all shook their heads.

She removed the crown from her head. With nowhere to put it, she let it dangle in one hand. “We’ll need to figure out what to do with this. But for now, we should go check on the others.”

“We’ll be along in a little while,” Bella promised. “My mother and I need to have a talk, first.”

“Of course.”

Bear leapt up to Saffron’s shoulder, and with Sage at her side, together they walked back into town to check on their friends, ready to help everyone recover from this dark chapter in the town’s history.

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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.