Thirty Minutes to Midnight
“Are you sure you don’t want me to escort you, Cari?”
“No thanks, Nanny,” I told my caretaker as I double-checked the contents of my new backpack purse. I had my tablet, a blank notebook with golden stars across a deep aqua cover, a matching planner, some ballpoint pens, my smartphone, and my wallet all ready to go. The Academy of Occult Arts was not an establishment that gave many paper assignments, so there wasn’t really much else to add. “Besides, I’ll have Ax with me.”
The three of us were standing in the basement. Mami had purchased a building in Salem, Massachusetts for Clarence, Axel, and myself to live in while she worked overseas. It consisted of three different suites, each with two bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms, and on the first landing one could be led to a set of stairs leading down. Nanny hadn’t had the chance to get much done with the attic, so the space was barren except for the full length Rococo style mirror that hung from the north wall. Black tourmaline framed the reflective glass, sharp edges and pointed stars carved into the cloudy stone. The very sight of it was daunting.
Nanny grimaced, and I could tell he was trying to wrack his brain for a way to convince me to comply. Clarence Burke had been employed by my mother as a caretaker for first my brother Val, and then me. While a thirty-year-old man might seem an odd choice for a nanny, beneath the rugged beard and intimidating muscles and grunge clothes was a sweet soul who was wonderful with children. I’m sure the Burke family’s expertise in wards, security seals, and protection spells was a major deciding factor in the hiring process, too–but you can’t expect a child to say “bodyguard,” when asked who’s picking them up from primary school, can you?
“Cari, you know your mother wants me to escort you,” Clarence reminded me. However, he pulled my glasses off my face and cleaned them with a cloth from his pocket as he changed the subject. “Your meals for the next four years are already taken care of, so make sure to eat. Do you need me to show you how to enter?”
I smiled. “Say the incantation into the mirror. I know.” Then I threw my arms around my nanny, embracing him tightly. He returned the affection with a sigh.
“Feels like only yesterday I was scolding Val for not sharing toys with you, and now you’re off to the Academy. You both need to slow down with this growing up nonsense.”
My fingers dug into his back. “If I don’t go now, I’ll never catch up to Val.”
Clarence pulled away, gazing down at me with sad eyes. “It’s not a race, love. You need to move forward at your own pace.”
Instead of a smile, my lips formed a tight line as I nodded. Nanny kissed the top of my head, handed me my spectacles, and wished me luck as he stepped back.
The mirror shimmered as I locked eyes with my reflection, and I watched those brown pools widen as a pentagram and other symbols appeared in a thick, void-like black. I fidgeted on the spot, tucking my onyx-colored hair behind each ear and combing my bangs over one eye. The rest was a mess of thick dark curls spilling behind me, ending halfway down my back.
“Yes, you look fine, and no, there’s no time to change anything about your hair,” Axel pointed out in response to the expression I wore. He moved to stand on my left, his hands in the pockets of his black trousers. His matching blazer was unbuttoned, revealing that the white collared dress shirt he wore underneath was not tucked in. His tie hung loosely from his neck, its diagonal scarlet stripes matching the school crest over his left breast.
“Axel, would it kill you to look good on the first night of classes?” asked Clarence.
The vampire shrugged and threw the nanny a smirk. “Just might.”
When the elder witch narrowed his green eyes at the Haunter, he let out a sigh and began fixing his tie. “Need me to go first? Your guide’s one of my friends, so I can make sure she’s waiting for you–”
His words faltered as I held my hand out to him, waiting. Axel took it immediately, his tie momentarily forgotten, and he watched as I summoned the courage to open the portal.
After an entire minute had passed, my friend asked, “You ready?”
“Not really,” I admitted.
“You’ll do alright, kid. I didn’t go to school with Val, but I remember walking him to the Academy. He was nervous on his first day, too.”
My eyes widened as I tried to imagine my older brother, the prodigal son and the future patriarch of the De Ardo Coven, as anything but confident. My imagination fell short, and it came time to enter the dark dimension.
I’ve been told that most freshmen are nervous upon their first portal crossing, and that many refused to look away from their reflection as they were transported. I was no exception; I stared into my own eyes and whispered the incantation, almost as if I were telling myself a secret.
“Gaizki dagoena zuzena da. Eguna gaua bihurtzen da. Eman nazazu santutegia argitik urrun.”
I didn’t look away, not even when the single bulb hanging overheard was replaced with a towering street lamp. I didn’t look away when the lackluster walls around me disappeared, nor when the concrete beneath my leather boots fell away, revealing smooth marble. I especially didn’t look away when the ornate full-length mirror became a clean oval one carved from the same stone. No, I refused to tear my eyes from my reflection until the symbols faded, and I watched myself blink.
Axel leaned in and whispered, “Congratulations, you just crossed the portal without any assistance.”
My face was flushed with heat as I dropped his hand. “I did it.”
It wasn’t until I heard a relieved giggle off to my right that I realized we were not alone.