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The birds outside screeched then, chattering warnings, screaming the same awful things they screamed at her every day. If you go out there, something bad will happen. She believed them. Birds had no reason to lie. They were excellent seers, so much so, that for centuries people had read bird entrails, not realizing you needed a live bird to get any knowledge of value.

Something bad.

They could at least give her a little detail, some clue as to what she should fear, but the threat remained the same—vague and foreboding as ever.

Fiona had been able to understand the language of animals before she could understand that of humans—a rare and special gift for a witch to inherit. She’d gotten it from her grandmother. Though she’d always seen it as a curse. If not for those damned birds, she’d be outside living her life. Maybe she would have found love, a job, something.

Well, she had a job on the Internet. Her money was direct-deposited. She ordered her clothes online and had her groceries delivered. Thanks to the web, agoraphobia had never been so easy. At least from a logistics standpoint.

She took a slow, measured breath, her hand poised over the doorknob. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. Fiona mentally repeated it like a subliminal message she prayed would take hold. The doorknob clicked in her hand. She moved through what felt like invisible molasses as she forced herself out the door and into the throng of screeching, angry birds.

The wind had a new crispness. Almost Halloween. As a witch, shouldn’t she be in her element right about now? But the idea of ghosts and goblins and veils thinning served to make the whole ordeal seem more dangerous.

Fifty-five steps. She counted them every day because counting them was the only way she could make herself get there. It wasn’t far. She could run back into her house if the birds were right.

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