Note to self: do some more research into superstition. There are all these odd things that people believe bring good luck or bad luck, like throwing salt over your shoulder or breaking a mirror, respectively. Now I’m not superstitious myself – most of it is nonsense, but after all that I’ve seen, I’m beginning to wonder if there really is such a thing as luck, and if there are really things that can affect it. Nothing as silly as a broken mirror, but maybe something else.
“So,” Bill asked, putting down the diary, “what do you make of Liza’s thoughts about superstition?”
“I’ve never bought into superstitions myself,” Evaira said, “but like all myths, I’d imagine there’s an element of truth in them somewhere. It’s interesting that Liza’s trying to find that piece of truth, but I haven’t seen any other mention of it, and I doubt it’s relevant to finding Liza.”
“Remember, though,” Chira chimed in, “we don’t have the whole diary. She could have mentioned more about superstition in one of the burned pages.”
“True,” Evaira said.
“Come on, Evaira,” Bill said, “just because it’s not important for the search, it doesn’t make it less interesting. You’ve got to loosen up a bit. I’ve never been a superstitious man myself, but the idea that there may really be something that affects luck…”
“I know,” Evaira said, “it would be interesting.”
“Perhaps we should discuss these ideas with Jake the next time we meet him?” Bill added, trying to keep the conversation going, “he may know more about it.”
“And if Liza disappearance was caused by anything relevant,” Evaira added, “I suppose it would help to mention it.”
“You know, Evaira,” Chira added, “Bill’s right, you tend to have a one-track mind when it comes to Liza sometimes. Though I understand why.”
Before Evaira could respond, the RV swerved suddenly. Evaira fell over. Bill almost lost his balance, and Chira clung to her pot. After the RV straightened out, Evaira got up and approached the driving Alpha.
“Alpha,” she said, “what just happened?”
“There was a small animal crossing the road,” Alpha said, “I had to swerve the RV in order to avoid running it over.”
“A small animal?” Evaira asked.
“A cat,” Alpha said, “black in color.”
“So you’re basically saying a black cat just crossed our path?” Evaira asked with a smile on her face.
“That is correct, Miss Evaira,” Alpha replied.
“Talk about superstition,” Chira said, beginning to laugh.
“How ironic,” Evaira added, chuckling.
Evaira, Bill, and Chira laughed at the situation for a moment and then calmed down.
“Anyway,” Bill asked, “what should we do for dinner?”
“I think we’ll stop at a café in the next town,” Evaira said, “we should be there by dinner time. Liza’s diary mentioned a really good Italian place.”
“It’s been a while since we had Italian,” Bill responded, “I could sure go for some…”
But before Bill could say anything more, they heard a loud popping noise, and Alpha struggled to keep the RV in control, tires screeching, and bring it to a stop on the side of the road.
“Alpha?” Evaira asked, “What is it this time?”
“We appear to have burst a tire,” Alpha responded.
“Guess we have to replace it,” Evaira said, “the spare tire and the jack should be in the back. Alpha, Bill, let’s go.”
“As you request,” Alpha said, as he and Bill left the RV.
They opened the back of the RV, and retrieved the jack and spare tire. As they began to replace it, they wondered why the tire burst so suddenly.
“Why would the tire just burst like that,” Evaira asked, “we haven’t really had any trouble with it recently.”
Bill was examining the flat tire.
“Look,” he said, “I think this is why.”
He removed a small, sharp-pointed rock from the tire.
“I think we just ran over this sharp rock,” he said, “and it must have embedded itself into the tire just the right way.”
“The probability of that rock causing the tire to burst like that is 1 million, 962 thousand…” Alpha began.
Before Alpha could finish his number, Evaira interrupted him.
“Really unlikely?” Evaira asked.
“Yes,” Alpha answered.
“Talk about bad luck,” Evaira said.
She paused for a moment, and remembered the black cat, but quickly shrugged and got back to changing the tire. It was probably just a coincidence.
Moments later, Bill heard something coming from the nearby woods.
“What was that?” he asked.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Evaira added.
“I thought there was some odd noise coming from the bushes,” Bill said, “but then, I guess it could have just been my imagination.”
“Maybe,” Evaira said, “I’ve had a few of those. When you’re on the road this long, it can get to you.”
“You’re probably right,” Bill said.
The tire fixed, they got back on the RV, and continued down the road. Not long after, they approached a fork in the road.
“Which way should we go?” Alpha asked.
“You’re the one with the directions,” Evaira said.
“In this case,” Alpha said, “both roads ultimately lead to the same place, and are almost exactly the same distance.”
“Then it doesn’t matter?” Evaira asked, “Go right I guess.”
“As you request,” Alpha answered.
So they went right. After travelling down the road for a while, through the forests, the road ended. A barrier was in the way, with a sign “Road Work – Road Closed” attached to it.
“The road is closed,” Alpha stated.
“I can see that,” Evaira said.
“Shouldn’t the workers have put a sign at the intersection?” Chira asked, “Saying there’s road work to the right, and telling everybody to go left as a detour.”
“They must have forgotten,” Evaira said.
“You’d think a sign like that would be one of the first things they do,” Chira said, “And there aren’t even any workers there either.”
“Well,” Evaira said, “that’s not too unusual. They can’t be working 24/7.”
“Seriously, sometimes humans make no sense.” Chira sighed.
“Guess we have to turn around,” Evaira said.
“There is barely room to turn an RV around here,” Alpha said.
“Well,” Evaira said, “we don’t have a choice. “
After Alpha masterfully turned the RV around through a complex series of moves even a stunt driver would struggle to duplicate, they started back to the fork.
“You know,” Evaira said, “first the flat tire, now the road closure, after that black cat. Could there be some truth to the superstition.”
“I doubt it,” Chira answered.
“But even Liza thought there was something to superstition,” Evaira said.
“She said something about luck,” Chira said, “not black cats. Alpha told me the origin of that superstition. It’s an association with witches.”
“Witchcraft!” Evaira cried, “That explains everything!”
“But there’s still a missing link,” Chira said, “why are black cats associated with witches, and more importantly, why bad luck? Think about it – you’ve dealt with witchcraft once before, haven’t you, from before we met?”
Evaira looked out the window and thought on it for a moment, before realizing Chira was right.
“Yes,” Evaira said, “and you’re right, it really doesn’t fit. Real witchcraft would be a bit more unpredictable, and even a witch’s cat can’t use witchcraft just by passing by.”
“True,” Chira said, “and even then, Liza talked about something being able to affect luck, not necessarily the usual superstitions.”
“Alpha, look out!” Bill cried suddenly.
Evaira looked out the window, and saw a large tree was falling onto the road. Alpha quickly hit the brakes, and the RV stopped just in time. Evaira nearly fell off her seat, and Chira grabbed her pot, barely keeping it from falling. The RV stopped mere inches away from where the falling tree landed.
“Are you okay?” Bill asked.
“I’m fine,” Evaira said, “but what just happened?”
“I think a tree just fell onto the road,” Chira said.
“Very perceptive,” Bill replied sarcastically.
“Hey,” Chira said, “ask a dumb question…”
“And the road behind us is closed,” Evaira said, “Alpha, could we call someone for help?”
“No,” Alpha answered, “I am receiving no cellular signal here.”
“I guess we have to clear this tree ourselves. Our luck is just getting worse.”
“Then let’s go,” Chira said, “come on, Alpha, we’ll need your strength.”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
Evaira, Chira, and Alpha proceeded to leave the RV. Bill was about to follow them, until he thought he caught a glimpse of something out the window. He turned around to look, but whatever it was, it was gone.
“How strange,” he said.
The four of them stared at the fallen tree in the middle of the road.
“How do we move this thing?” Chira asked.
“Alpha and Bill will have to do most of the work,” Evaira said, “Alpha’s the strongest, and Bill’s shapeshifting will be helpful too. Chira and I will supervise.”
“Alright,” Bill said, “so a big, strong form is better for this. Let’s see…”
Bill considered the best form to shapeshift into to help move the tree, but while he was doing that, he heard another odd noise from the forest, much like the one he heard earlier. He looked towards the source of the noise. He saw a large bird perched in a tree. When Bill looked at it, it looked back at him for a brief moment, before it flew away.
“Hold on,” Bill said, “something more is going on here.”
“What do you mean?” Evaira asked.
“Alpha,” Bill said, “study the tree. In your opinion, did this tree fall naturally?”
Alpha stared at the tree for a couple moments.
“No,” he answered, “this tree was knocked over by a physical force of approximately 31…”
“And you said the odds of getting a flat tire from that stone were slim,” Bill said, “not to mention how Chira was suspicious about the road work, with there being no sign at the fork in the road and no workers on duty. Now, I heard a strange noise coming from the bushes when we fixed the tire, and just now. Plus, I thought I saw something in the forest before leaving the RV this second time.”
“Yeah, we’re having suspiciously bad luck,” Evaira said, “but what do those voices have to do with it?”
“When we arrived here,” Bill said, “I saw a bird perched in the tree. But when I looked at it, it flew off. The bird was making the noise I’ve been hearing.”
“So the same bird showed up at two of our bad luck incidents?” Evaira asked.
“A bird couldn’t have done this,” Chira said.
“An ordinary bird couldn’t,” Bill said, “but a shapeshifter could.”
“A shapeshifter?” Evaira asked.
“Yes,” Bill said, “there’s one around, and he’s playing games with us. The stone didn’t cause our flat tire, he did. The road isn’t really closed, he just became a barrier. And he turned into a strong form to knock down this tree. I bet he was the black cat too.”
“That actually makes sense,” Evaira answered, “How did you figure all that out?”
“It’s pretty easy, actually,” Bill said, “I know my people.”
He then turned to the forest.
“You’re not fooling anybody!” he yelled, “Show yourself!”
“So y’all figured me out,” a voice with a thick southern accent echoed from the forest.
“Show yourself,” Bill repeated.
A man jumped from a nearby tree and effortlessly landed on his feet. He was medium height, only slightly shorter than Bill, and had long brown hair. He was dressed rather casually, and wore a pair of black fingerless gloves. Though he was clearly disappointed that his ruse was uncovered, he grinned fiendishly at Evaira and the others.
“I’d hoped to wear y’all out with my tricks,” he said, “while using the whole superstition thing to distract y’all, but it looks like I’ll just have to finish the job now.”
“Who are you?” Evaira demanded.
“They call me Crawford,” the shapeshifter answered.
“Crawford,” Bill said, “I’ve heard of you.”
“As I’d expect,” Crawford replied.
“Who is he?” Evaira asked.
“A mercenary,” Bill said, “notoriously ruthless. They say he’s never failed a job.”
“And I’m especially not failing one for Mayor Valencia,” Crawford said, “You shouldn’t have betrayed him, Bill.”
“I figured he’d be too cowardly to leave Carlsburn himself,” Bill answered.
“I don’t ask questions,” Crawford said, “I just do the job.”
Bill glared at him.
“I won’t let you harm my friends,” he said.
“Like you have a choice in the matter,” Crawford answered, “I was hired to kill all of you, and I never fail in my jobs.”
Though Bill acted brave in confronting Crawford, deep down, he was nervous. He knew Crawford was something of a legend among the shapeshifters, and had spent years of training perfecting his abilities, even to the point where water doesn’t affect him. Bill was nowhere near as good. But he had to be, or else.
“I won’t let you!” he stated defiantly.
Crawford smiled. He shapeshifted one of his fingers, making it sharp as a knife. Though this was a simple trick to a shapeshifter like Bill, he was amazed at how quickly and flawlessly Crawford was able to pull it off. Crawford then dashed at Bill, with the sharpened finger pointing right at him. Bill quickly turned into a bird and flew away.
But though Bill was quick, Crawford was quicker. He turned into a larger bird, and flew at Bill. Bill tried to fly away, but Crawford was much too fast, and nearly caught Bill. At the last moment, Bill shapeshifted into a fly, causing Crawford to momentarily lose focus, and letting Bill slip away.
Crawford reached for Bill the fly, and tried to eat him, but Bill’s small size let him give Crawford the slip. Crawford quickly changed into a larger bug, and continued to give chase.
“I’ve always wondered,” Evaira remarked, “how do they change size when they shapeshift?”
“Now’s not the time to worry about that,” Chira responded, “we’ve got to do something to help Bill! He’s in real trouble there!”
“But what?” Evaira asked.
Bill changed back into a bird and went after Crawford, but Crawford changed back into his larger bird form before Bill even had a chance to go after him, and struck Bill with one of his claws. The shock forced Bill back to his human form, and he fell to the ground.
“Bill!” Evaira cried.
Crawford shapeshifted back, and dropped to the ground as well, but landed on his feet.
“You’re no match for me,” Crawford said, “I’ve spent years training my skills, and you left Carlsburn. You haven’t seen another shapeshifter in months. You’re an outcast from your own people, with no way of learning these advanced tricks.”
Bill struggled to get up, and ultimately succeeded.
“I’m not giving up,” he taunted.
“You should,” Crawford said, “it’ll be far less painless.”
Bill had to fight, his life depended on it. But deep down, he knew Crawford was right. He was no match for Crawford.
“Get him, Bill,” Evaira said, “don’t give up!”
“Yeah,” Chira said, “put him in his place!”
“Alpha,” Evaira said, “cheer with us.”
“As you request. Go Bill,” Alpha said unenthusiastically.
“Come on,” Evaira said, “put some feeling into it.”
“I have no feelings,” Alpha replied.
As Bill heard them, he remembered that he wasn’t just fighting for himself, he was fighting for Evaira, Chira, and Alpha. They were counting on him. He couldn’t lose because they would be next.
“Just give up,” Crawford said, “I could kill y’all blindfolded.”
Then Bill had an idea.
“You think so,” Bill said, “I’d like to see you try! You’d do anything for money. You’d sell yourself out to become Valencia’s lap dog. You’d kill an innocent person, just because somebody pays you. You have no integrity, you have nothing! You’re a disgrace to our people!”
Naturally, this made Crawford furious.
“Have you forgotten who you’re talking to,” Crawford screamed, “I am your better in every way! You have some nerve to speak to me like that!”
“Your powers are meaningless,” Bill continued, “you don’t scare me one bit!”
“Well,” Crawford said, “I should!”
Crawford then changed, turning into a large bull. He charged directly at Bill. Bill quickly turned into a bird, and flew out of the way. Crawford ran past, and charged right into a tree. Bill returned to his human form, standing behind Crawford, on the edge of the street.
“Nice aim,” Bill taunted.
Crawford turned back, and charged again, directly at Bill, even faster and angrier this time. Bill turned into a bug, and easily slipped under the bull Crawford’s legs. Crawford continued to run, and ran directly into a large thorn bush. The shock and pain from the thorns forced him back into his human form. As he changed back, he banged his head against a large rock.
“This won’t hold me for long,” Crawford said.
He struggled against the thorns, trying to free himself, but couldn’t. He then tried to shapeshift into a smaller form, so he could slip out, but was surprised when his powers didn’t work.
“What’s wrong?” he cried in a panic, “I can’t shapeshift!”
“A bull can charge into a tree,” Bill said, “but a human head isn’t quite as durable. I knew those thorns and rock could be a hazard even for you – a strong enough blow to the head can destroy your focus, and temporarily stop even a master from shapeshifting.”
“This still won’t hold me,” Crawford screamed angrily, “When I get out of here, it’ll be that much worse for you!”
“Accept it,” Bill said, “you’ve been defeated.”
Crawford, still angry, continued to struggle against the thorns to try and free himself, arrogantly believing he could still kill Bill without his powers, but all his struggling did was make him even more tangled in the thorns. Bill simply turned his back and walked away.
“Nice work, Bill,” Evaira said.
“Thanks,” Bill said, “but it wasn’t too difficult once I figured out his weakness.”
“And what was that?” Evaira asked.
“His pride,” Bill said, “actually, his arrogance. He thinks he’s the best, so all I needed to do was insult him a bit, and it destroys his judgment.”
“And here I thought you had become suicidal,” Chira replied.
“I can still turn into an animal that eats grounders,” Bill answered.
“Enough,” Evaira interrupted, “Alpha, let’s turn the RV around. The construction was fake, so we should be able to keep going that way.”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
“He said he never fails a job,” Evaira said, “so we should get out of here as soon as possible, to lose his trail.”
“Either way,” Bill added, “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.”
So they boarded the RV, and after another fancy U-turn from Alpha, they drove off. As the RV drove off, Crawford finally was able to free himself from the thorns. He watched the RV drive off, and out of sight. Though he considered chasing it down, he ultimately decided it would be best to let them go for now, and regain the element of surprise. He turned back into a bird and flew off, to prepare another plan for next time.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
It’s a commonly used plot – people encounter a run of bad luck, and question their superstitions. TV Tropes even has a whole page about it! But of course, when I do it with Evaira, I have to turn it on its head. There’s no way this is all a coincidence, but a black cat causing bad luck is a bit silly if you think about it.
I also wanted to introduce Crawford, a new enemy for Evaira and her friends – can’t have Professor Fox’s group be the only enemy, can we? I especially like Crawford being an enemy for Bill, somebody to match his powers. And a face for Mayor Valencia outside of Carlsburn. Don’t have much else to say about this one.