An excerpt from The Wind in His Heart

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Illustration by Charles Vess

She scrambled up the bank of the wash and ran across a dirt yard, right up to the front door of the witch’s house. Looking back again, she saw that the gangbangers had stopped at the edge of the property. Interesting. They weren’t even shooting at her anymore. Maybe she could just cut across the witch’s yard and lose herself in the barrio. But then one of the men made a waving motion with his arm and two of them set off at a trot, circumventing the witch’s yard as they made their way to the front of her property.

Which left her with only one course of action.

As she returned her attention to the witch’s door she remembered the strange beings she’d seen behind Aggie’s place, the animal people gathered around a fire. If they were real, if the gangbangers were too scared to chase her onto the witch’s property, then maybe there was more to the witch than just stories.

Double crap.

Before she lost her nerve, she lifted her hand and rapped sharply on the witch’s door. For a long moment there was no response, but just as she was getting ready to knock again the door swung open and an old dark-skinned woman stood there, regarding her with curiosity. She didn’t seem particularly scary. Her long hair was in a single braid that hung down the front of a plain white cotton blouse. She wore a dark skirt underneath and looked like some Mexican kid’s grandmother. But there was something in her eyes that made Sadie put her hand in the pocket of her hoodie and close her fingers around her utility knife.

“Is there something you want, girl?” the old woman asked in a gravelly voice after the two of them had stood there for a while regarding each other. Sadie cleared her throat.

“Sanctuary,” she said. “I want sanctuary.”
“This isn’t a church,” the old woman said.
Sadie rolled her eyes. “You think I don’t know that?”

The old woman cocked her head a little and studied her with eyes so dark they seemed to swallow all light.

“Sanctuary from what?” she finally asked.
“Cops, mostly. Right now, gangbangers.”

The old woman nodded. “I see. And what have you done to earn their combined ire?”

It took Sadie a moment to figure out what she’d said.
“With the cops, it’s complicated, but part of it is that I stole one of their pickups. The gangbangers are mad at me because I abandoned the cops’ truck in the dry wash at the back of their property.”

“That would do it. And what do the cousins want with you?”
“The who?”
The old woman nodded at something over Sadie’s shoulder.

When Sadie turned, she saw a young Indian woman standing equidistant between the two groups of gangbangers. She wore jeans and a red and black flannel shirt over a white tee. Her red hair was in a braid. There didn’t seem to be anything special about her, but even with the distance between them, Sadie could see that the woman had a serious hate on for her.

What the hell? What had she ever done to that bitch?

“I have no idea who that is,” she said. “Is she your cousin? Or the cousin of one of the gangbangers?”

“ ‘Cousin’ is what the animal people call themselves.” “Animal people,” Sadie repeated slowly.
She remembered the paintings in Aggie’s home. The fire last night and all the half human, half animal beings gathered around it.

Aggie’s friends.
And she’d cut Aggie open with her knife back at the cop shop. Sadie glanced at the woman again. “She looks human to me,” she said. “I thought they were, like, a mash-up of animals and people.”

“They can look as human as you or me.”
Of course they could, the freaks.
“I might have pissed one or two of them off,” she admitted.

“Is that a problem?”
“I don’t do business with either the police or my neighbors next door. But many of the cousins are customers of mine, so I can’t help you.”

“You’re just going to let them kill me?”
“Is that their intent?”
“How would I know? I didn’t even know they existed until last night, and now all of a sudden they’re all up in my face.” Sadie massaged her temples with her hands. When she took them away, she tried again.

“Please. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“That depends. This isn’t a charity. What do you have to offer for my services?”
“I don’t have any money.” Sadie thought about what witches usually wanted in stories or movies. “I suppose you want my firstborn kid or something. Or maybe my soul.”

Sadie wasn’t sure she believed in souls and afterlives and crap like that. But if this old witch was willing to barter for hers, then she sure as hell wasn’t giving it up. “Does it have to be my soul?” she asked.
For the first time the old woman actually looked interested.
“No,” she said.
“But it has to be given up willingly.”
“Well yeah,” Sadie told her, though she’d known no such thing. “And if the promised soul isn’t forthcoming, then yours will be forfeit.” Sadie had to think on that for a moment to figure out exactly what the old woman was saying. Really, what was with her? She couldn’t talk like a normal person?
“That won’t be a problem,” she said. She’d figure it out later. Truth was, right now she’d say any damn thing just to get out of the mess she was in.

The old woman stood aside and ushered her in.
“What’s your name?” Sadie asked as she went by.
“Around here, people call me Abuela,” the woman said from behind her. Sadie didn’t speak Spanish, but she understood enough to know that only meant grandmother.

“My name’s Sadie.”
“I know.”
Sadie turned around, startled that the old woman would know her name. But then she realized that it was easy to say you knew something after you’d already been told as much. Abuela smiled. There was something in her eyes that said she knew exactly what was running through Sadie’s mind. “So, Sadie Higgins,” Abuela added. “Who do you know that will offer up their soul in return for your safety?” Okay, Sadie thought. How the hell did she know my whole name? Abuela smiled. When she closed the door behind her, Sadie realized she might be in more trouble inside the witch’s house than she’d been outside of it.

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