Geek Witch and the Treacherous Tome of Deadly Danger — Part Four

I didn’t call the police. I didn’t sleep, either; not for hours. I sat in my kitchen, sipping tea and thinking. Lots of thinking, my thoughts tumbling around in loops. 

Skyflower and Hierophant Press. Chicago. The Hag of the Kurgans. The intruder. Blackberry jam. Gunther. My weird, frightening dreams. And this odd little paperback that shouldn’t exist, but did: The Twilight Tower of Terror.

The first page with the title and publisher information had been ripped out. There was a smear of blackberry jam along the inside of the front cover.

Had the intruder taken that on purpose, or had removing the page been an accident?

Online searches about the book were close to useless. Most sites listed the thirty-two volumes that I knew about, and that I had assumed were the extent of the series. I found only two references to a thirty-third volume, both on anti-government, anti-regulation conspiracy sites. The first only hinted at the existence of the thirty-third volume in the Change Your Destiny series, citing an unidentified “source” who had worked at Hierophant Press. The second actually named the book, but jumbled the title (The Tower of Terror’s Twilight) and stated that every one of the thirteen copies had been destroyed.

There was a lot of wild speculation by the article’s author as to Clark C.L. Arthur’s true identity, the true purpose of the book, why all thirteen copies had been destroyed, and why only thirteen had been printed in the first place.

My witchy powers may be nothing compared to Gunther’s abilities, but I could make some pretty good educated guesses.

A Guide to Arcane Ruins had not been the only book that Hierophant Press released that contained real magic. So did The Twilight Tower of Terror. And not just any ol’ magic. It was a portal of some kind. 

A locked portal. 

And whatever was behind that locked door was very bad, and wanted very badly to get out.

And I was holding one of the keys in my hand. One of thirteen keys. Were they all needed to open the gate? (Gods, I hoped so.) What had happened to the other twelve? (No idea.) Who was the intruder? (Let’s go with a very bad person.) And what was I going to do now? (That required more thinking.)

By dawn, I had a vague outline of a plan. Not a great plan, but a plan.

I just needed help.

But I had a feeling they would be happy to play along.


I caught a few hours of sleep in my comfy bed, with my comfy blankets and pillows. Just after eight in the morning I called Rochester. I kept my words simple and to the point, just in case someone was listening in.

“Hey, I’m keeping the store closed today. Go back to sleep.”


“No work today.”


“Sleepy time. Come in tomorrow.”



I showered, pulled on some clothes, and headed downstairs. The back ward was still intact, and happy to be whole again. The Hammer of War figures where the intruder had slammed into the table were still scattered around. I would have to fix that up before the next tournament. And the display case was still smashed, shards of glass littering the floor. The intruder had knocked over the Quaesitum volumes and the other Change Your Destiny books, and a few of the other guidess and pricey miniatures.

No blood on the sharp edges of glass.

That would have been too easy.

I taped a hand-written Closed for Family Emergency Open Again Tomorrow sign on the front door, then set to work cleaning up the glass. Once it was safe to do so, I pulled out all of the collectibles and stowed them away behind the front counter.

A little after nine, there was a knock at the front door by a confused delivery person. I unlocked the door, signed for Klara’s fish, carefully locked it behind me, and then headed back upstairs. I added the fish to her gift basket, grabbed my messenger bag, dropped The Twilight Tower of Terror inside (deep breath), and headed out to set my plan in motion.

First stop was M’s Cafe. Miranda was on duty (no surprise) and charged me full price for a tall hot chocolate with mint whipped cream (no surprise). When I asked for a second cup for Gunther, she charged me only half (no surprise) and told me to tell him to have a very good day and to please come see her about that copy of Spencer’s The Faerie Queene.

I smiled, said I would, and headed back down the block to Old Town Books and Peculiarities. Once again, I had wave my hands to get his attention, though a bit more carefully. Gunther blinked at me through the door, then smiled when he saw the cup with the big M’s Cafe logo on the side.

Guten morgen, Ermentrude.” He took the cup and inhaled happily, his eyes closed.

“Morning, Gunther. Mind if I come in? There’s something important I need to discuss with you.”

He frowned, took a sip, and seemed to think over my request. I tried not to fidget while I waited, or hunch my shoulders; someone was watching; I was certain of it.

Finally, he stepped aside and waved his arm for me to enter. He locked the door, reset the ward, and then followed me to the back of his shop. All the way to the back. His frown deepened when I held open the curtain and motioned for him to precede me into the vault room.

Once inside, I dropped the curtain and told him everything.

He listened, not saying a word, just sipping his hot chocolate.

My own cup had cooled to the point of being undrinkable by the time I was done. 

“Mm,” he said.

This time I did fidget, shifting the bag on my shoulder and fiddling with my cup.

He nodded. “Very well. You’ve made me curious, Ermentrude.”

This time, he let me watch as he stowed the book away inside his vault.

I returned to my store, and waited.


Gunther’s first planned phone call was to Rochester, about an hour later. I just hoped that he was coherent enough by that point to understand. Gunther’s second call was another hour after that.

I didn’t expect the Feds to show up until at least three in the afternoon. I miscalculated by a couple of hours. It was after five when the heavy black SUV pulled up in front of Geek Witch. I watched from my upstairs window as Special Agent-in-Charge Dinah Devere jumped out of the driver’s seat, followed a moment later by her silent partner, Special Agent Caleb Wagner.

She knocked loudly at the front door and the wards shivered unhappily.

She was still knocking, louder and more forcefully, by the time I got downstairs. She didn’t even wait for me to say hello. Instead, as soon as I had the ward unsealed and the door unlocked, she shoved her way in.

Her partner carefully unwrapped my fingers from around the handle and closed the door behind him. Click went the lock.

I really really hoped that Gunther was watching. 

Devere peered at me over the top of her sunglasses, then peeled them off and stuffed them into her front pocket. “We received a very interesting phone call from a concerned citizen this afternoon.”

I crossed my arms and waited.

“It seems that your entire inventory of occult texts is not located on these premises.”

I huffed in disbelief.

Devere moved closer, her eyes sparking with anger and … something else. Something I didn’t want to see too closely. “Yesterday you had a copy of The Twilight Tower of Terror on display.” She waved a hand towards the back of the store and the smashed case. “It’s gone. That text is now with your accomplice, yes? A business partner who hides dangerous texts until you can sell them off.”

“I have absolutely no idea —”

“Klara.” Devere grinned. “I believe that is her name.” 

Closer still, crowding me towards the locked door. I didn’t have to fake my racing heart beat or the sweat tingling my scalp.   

I cleared my throat. “Still no idea what you’re talking about. And if that book, The Terror Tower —”

The Twilight Tower of Terror.”

“Right. Is so dangerous, why didn’t you confiscate it yesterday?”

Devere’s mouth twisted. “I wasn’t certain of its authenticity, or if it was the correct text. Now I am certain.” 

A wand slid sideways out of the aether and fit neatly into her hand. The weapon stayed down, parallel to her leg, but the threat was obvious. 

I darted a quick look at her partner. He was holding himself more stiffly now, one hand hidden from my view. I caught flickers of movement as his eyes jumped back and forth between us.

I cleared my throat again. “And now that you are certain of its authenticity, you want it? I assume?”


I shifted on my feet, trying to find an outlet for my anxiety and nervous energy. I licked my lips.

Her wand twitched. A dull red light curled around its length.

“Yes, okay, fine!” I slumped, not faking my relief as the dull red light faded to a pale pink. “She’s got a place north of town.”

“Where?” Devere ground out.

“It’s … I can’t exactly tell you. It’s not on any maps. It’s off the interstate and down a back road and down another back road — look, it’s really hard to find unless you know — ow!”

Devere grabbed my arm and spun me around so that I faced the door. “Let’s go. Wagner, you drive.”

He nodded once, his hand still out of view.

Pressed too close to the wall, I managed to squeeze my hand between my body and the building and deactivate the ward. As soon as it was down, Devere pushed me through the door and towards the dark SUV. Before I could take a breath, I was inside, locked up in the backseat. Devere sat next to me, her wand glowing dull red again and pointed squarely at my ribcage.

I really hoped that Gunther was watching.


Ten minutes and we were through evening traffic and barreling up the interstate. No sirens, but moving fast. Another ten minutes, and I directed Special Agent Wagner to exit towards the east.

Within moments, the highway was gone, the road signs were gone, and we were surrounded by trees, isolated homesteads, and small farms.

Up one back road and down another. Some were paved, some were gravel. Some had been paved decades ago and not touched since, forcing Wagner to slow down as the SUV bounced through potholes and rain-gouged ruts.

The sky darkened. Wagner pulled off his sunglasses and flicked on the headlights. Here and there, we could see the faint lights from houses popping on. Dogs howled and foxes yipped. A small herd of deer darted across the road, slipping from one patch of green safety to another.

Devere’s wand tilted, pointing up towards my head. “How much farther?”

I tried not to lean away. “Um. Ahem. Not far. About another five minutes. Turn right here.”

Wagner braked, backtracked, and pulled the SUV onto a narrow dirt track. He turned the headlights on high, illuminating the trees that crowded against the road. Bugs danced in the light.

My breath caught as the vehicle hit a particularly deep pothole, jarring my teeth. 

The SUV inched forward.

Dead end. The road widened, fanning out into a parking space big enough for a dozen cars. Beyond, on all sides, there were only trees and shrubs and rocks.

Devere glared through the front windshield, then out the side window. She turned in her seat to glare out the window past me, and then out the back.

The view didn’t change.

“What is this?” she hissed.

Wagner twisted in his seat to watch us. His eyes darted between us. Waiting.

“Told you. Her place isn’t on the map. Illegal occult texts, remember? Wouldn’t be very smart to have our place of business easy for the Feds to find, would it?”

Devere looked at me for a long moment, then snorted. “Out.” She waved her wand at the door. “Lead the way.”

I scrambled to obey, opening the door and hopping out. Dirt crunched under my feet. Bugs and frogs and toads were singing, and I heard a red-tailed hawk call in the distance.

The wand poked me hard in the back, sizzling. I felt the heat and smelled my clothes burning.

I scrambled forward. “This way.” My knees were shaking and sweat dribbled down my spine.

I led Devere and her partner into the woods. There was a narrow path carved out of the ground and the forest. People had been making this journey for decades. I had been coming here since I was a child, and could walk it blindfolded. I had brought my son here even before he was old enough to talk.

The path ended on a small clearing. Massive oak and maple trees encircled the area, save for a gap straight ahead and slightly to the left. A very large gap. The bark had been scraped from the trees on either side of the hole, and they had grown with a definite lean, their branches twisted away.

I pointed. “Klara lives right there.”

Sticks cracked and branches creaked. Shrubs rustled. Very faintly, the ground trembled as something large moved towards us. The bugs and the frogs and the toads went silent, and the red-tailed hawk squawked in alarm.

Devere backed up a step. “What is this?” Her voice was rough, an angry whisper.

“You wanted to meet Klara.” I shrugged. “Here she is. Might want to put your wand down, though.”

Devere spun, arm raised. She pointed her wand first at the gap in the trees, the crunching and creaking louder now; then at me, her eyes wide, that same rage burning deep. 

The ground shook harder now, and there was loud breathing.

Special Agent Wagner grabbed my arm and pulled me behind him. His own wand popped out of the aether glowing a cool blue-white.

Devere’s jaw worked. “Wagner. Wainwright. No. Are you —”

Klara roared as she emerged from the forest, the sound rattling my bones. The trees swayed as her great wings flared, the feathers and scales glittering in the distant light from the SUV and the red and blue-white glow of their wands. Her distended belly barely cleared the ground and the bumpy roots of the trees. 

Devere scrambled back, wand still raised. A flash of dull, hot red. The force spell rippled through the air, slamming into Klara’s broad chest and dissipating rapidly. Not enough to hurt her — but definitely enough to piss her off.

She roared again. Lunged, mouth wide.

Devere didn’t even have time to scream. Klara’s mouth closed around her, teeth sharp. 


Her jaw worked, then her throat as she swallowed. She huffed a low growl, great head swiveling towards me and Wagner.

I threw up my arms, all that anxiety and fear and nervous energy finally loosed. “Yes!” I screamed. I danced around Wagner towards Klara. “That’s what you get, bitch! Woooo!”

Klara folded her wings, dipping her head. Her expression was positively smug.

I ran forward to hug her snout, and pat and and scratch and kiss her in approval. “Who’s a good girl! You, that’s who! That’s right! You are the bestest girl in the whole entire world. Yes you are!”

She hummed and I could hear her tail swinging back and forth happily, smashing into shrubs and trees. The hum turned to a purr as I continued to stroke her snout and kiss the blunt tip, and her eyes half-closed to delight.

Behind me, Wagner sighed loudly.

I turned my head to find that his wand was gone. He was scrubbing a hand across his face. 

“For Gods’ sakes, Mom. That’s not — errgh ….”

“What?” I continued to pat Klara. “She was a bad person. And she was going to do something very bad with that book. She got exactly what she deserved.”

“Yes, I know that.” Caleb sighed. “But she was just the first link in the chain. We wanted all of them. Why do you think they made me her partner?” 

I paused. “… Oh.” Klara nudged my hand, encouraging more pats and scratches. “Well. Think of it as a puzzle. Or an epic quest!”

He rolled his eyes.

Klara shifted sideways on her feet, extending her head towards Caleb. She sniffed loudly, so forcefully that the front of his jacket unbuttoned and snapped in the air.

“Hey, yes, hi Klara.” He reached reached out to pat her nose, too.

She hummed, then groaned, heavy brows drawing together.

I stroked her cheek. “Poor girl. That baby isn’t making it easy for you, is it?”

Klara huffed. Her eyes suddenly widened and her head reared back.

Caleb grabbed my arm as we both backpedaled quickly.

There was a gag and the stink of blood and meat. 


Devere’s wand clattered to the ground.

I smiled up at the dragon. “The bestest girl in the whole world. I’m bringing you extra fish tomorrow.”


We met the others at the off-ramp from the interstate. Mac and Gregory were sitting on the hood of Juno’s little micro-compact car. Juno herself was crammed into the driver’s seat, while Fred and Rochester were in the back, wedged in between a dozen bright blue and white street signs. The heavy metal poked out of the side windows, and even through the open back hatch.

The lights from the SUV reflected off one sign.


Another sign had a big shiny sticker slapped across it: CLOSED FOR BREEDING SEASON

They cheered and clapped when we pulled up. Mac whooped and jumped off the hood to envelope me in a hug. “Great plan, Gamemistress.”

“Why thank you.” I half-bowed, waving my arm. “But I couldn’t have done it without my brave party of adventurers.” (No exaggeration. All I had Gunther tell them was that I was in trouble with a corrupt Fed and to pull the signs. They did the rest, no questions asked.)

Rochester flicked a salute. “Hey, Caleb.”

“Yeah, hey yourself. Pretty sure stealing highway signs of a federal crime.”

Fred leaned around Rochester. “Borrow,” they corrected. “These will mysteriously reappear tomorrow morning at the local office of the Highway Patrol.”

Mac frowned. “Wait, I thought we were taking them to the Highway Department. You know, the guys with the snow plows and the asphalt trucks and stuff?”

Grinning, I turned away and left them to argue. I curled my arm through my son’s elbow and led him back to his SUV. “Come on. Let’s go home. I’ll make you a fortifying pot of tea before you have to call this in. And toast. You still like blackberry jam right?”

[Continue to Epilogue]

[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]

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