Charmed Role Reversal



Dixie, Dark Secrets and Demons

"Dancin' with you Miss Phoebe is a joy indeed," Beau Pinckney said. "Ah'm so glad you came to the ball."

"M'ah pleasure, ah'm sure," Phoebe replied with a smile, her affected Southern accent sounding quite natural.



Click speaker to peek at the ball

Beau Pinckney was a handsome and charming figure. Standing five‑foot ten, with broad shoulders and dirty blond hair, he was, at age twenty‑eight, a most eligible and prominent bachelor. And while his Oakwood Plantation was not the largest in antebellum central Georgia, it was likely the most prosperous.

"Your sister Prue is enjoyin' herself, as well," he added. "As is your cousin. Despite bein' a Yankee, Piper has fit raht in."

"Piper is good at blendin' in wherever she is," Phoebe said, as they bowed to each other and she handed off to a dark complexioned slightly older man.

The dance music continued, the dancers all handed off to their new partners. Taking her new partner's hand, Phoebe glanced down at the cameo pendant hanging from her neck. Seeing its light brown background unchanged, she gave the man a small smile and resumed her dancing.

"Evening," Piper's new partner said, taking her hand. He appeared to be in his late forties, about five inches taller than Piper, some silver streaks in his swept back black hair.

"You're not a Southerner," Piper replied, glancing down at her own cameo. She stared for a few seconds at its background, which had suddenly turned a dark red. She looked up at the man, then catching Prue's attention, gave an almost imperceptible nod of her head.

Prue returned the nod, then turned her head and searched the dance floor for Phoebe.

"No, I'm not from here," the man replied. "And you're a Northerner, too."

"Yes...yes, I am," Piper said, as he twirled her around. "Uh...and sometimes I feel as if I'm in a foreign place, not where I belong."

"I know what you mean," he replied. "I've just recently come here and feel that way myself."

"Perhaps we can take a break from this," Piper suggested. "I am really glad to meet someone who is not another Southerner."

"Of course," the man said, a slight, pleased smile crossing his face. He took Piper's hand and led her out of the ballroom into the hallway.

"Let's go into the library," Piper said. "It's quiet in there and we can talk for a while."

The man led her to the second room on their right, then opened the door, holding it for Piper to allow her to walk into the room first.

"Thank you," she said, leading him into the library. "These Southerners think they're the only ones who know how to be a gentleman to a lady." She turned slightly towards him, giving him a half‑smile.

"My name is Everett," he said, following her as she led him to the far side of the room.

"That is a distinguished name," she said. "I'm Piper."

"And that is a lovely name," he replied, "fitting for a lovely lady."

"Now you're flattering me like these Georgians," she remarked. "I expected something different from you."

"Different?" he asked, as the library door opened. Prue walked quickly into the room, followed by Phoebe, who closed the door behind her.

"What's this?" he asked, confused.

"Just a little family get‑together," Prue replied. "Across time." Phoebe and Prue joined Piper near the man.

"Across one hundred sixty years, to be exact," Phoebe added. "From 2000 to 1840."

"Following you," Piper said, "Everett the demon. Who escaped into the past to hide. And to be free once again to torture and kill good and innocent people. And to enjoy leaving all manner of destruction in your wake. As I said, I was expecting something different from you. An evil act, rather than your effecting a gentleman's pose."

Everett stared in horror from one sister to the other. Then he stuck his hand into his breast pocket and pulled something out.

"Too late!" Prue proclaimed. "Your time‑traveling stone is no match for the Power of Three." And they began to say the spell.

            "Everett demon who is evil to the core
              And escaped through time to kill even more
              We vanquish you whom we abhor"

Thick, grey smoke engulfed Everett. As he was being twisted around in circles, the smoke masked the stone falling un‑noticed from his hand. He opened his mouth to cry out but before he could scream both he and the smoke were gone in an instant.

"He was going to try to use that stone to escape through time again," Phoebe said. "The way he escaped from 2000."

"Our both being 'Northerners' let me get his guard down and get him aside in the library," Piper explained.

"And now no one will have to worry about his evil again," Prue said.

"Those cameos did the trick," Piper said. "The background on mine turned red as soon as he took my hand."

"That was a good spell you came up with," Prue said to Phoebe, "to make the cameos react to Everett."

"And they fit right in place in an 1840 Southern belle's dress," Phoebe said, with some pride.

"And a Northern girl's dress as well," Piper added.

"Well, you had to pose as my Northern cousin because your over‑the‑top Southern accent wasn't believable," Phoebe responded.

"It was believable," Piper insisted, indignantly. "As an actress I can play any role."

"Yes," Phoebe said, "except a Southern one."

"Enough!" Prue interjected. "Piper's playing a Northerner is what let her trap Everett. So it worked out for the best."

Phoebe exhaled and tilted her head at Piper.

"Well...we've spent three days in 1840 searching for Everett," Phoebe said. "Even though I was upset that The Elders sent us off on another mission, instead of changing us back to being our real selves ‑ we did after all vanquish the demon planning major destruction on the solstice, which is the reason they made our Charmed characters real in the first place ‑ it was nicer here than I expected it would be. Despite my not liking time travel, in a way I'm sorry that we're going home now."

"Would that have anything to do with Beau Pinckney?" Piper asked, squinting at Phoebe.

"Beau is a nice man," Phoebe replied emphatically, "and a true Southern gentleman. And an excellent dancer. I'm sure he's wondering why I disappeared from the ball and where I am. I'll just find him and say ‑"

A loud boom interrupted her. They turned and saw that a tall, haggard figure had materialized next to them. An old woman ‑ or so it appeared to them to be a woman ‑ with a hateful expression across a craggy face, and long fingers with even longer nails on her hands. She looks just like the "Wicked Witch of the West", from the Wizard of Oz, was Phoebe's first thought.

But before the girls could react to her, she put her hands together, her fingers interlaced, and pushed them in Piper's direction. That sent Piper flying backwards, hitting the wall hard and falling unconscious to the floor.

"Piper!" Phoebe exclaimed, but the haggard figure cut her off.

"You vanquished Everett," she said, her voice dripping with evil intonations. "We had great plans for what we would do together. His power combined with mine would have turned the plantations of the South into a wasteland. We had only begun to wreak ruination and devastation.

"And you destroyed my plans. And now I will destroy you!"

Prue raised her hand and waived it at the demon.

"Your individual powers are useless against me," the old woman demon said. "And with your sister unconscious, you don't have the Power of Three. You're helpless!" the demon cackled. Or was that just Phoebe's imagination that made her hear a "Wicked Witch of the West's" cackle?

The old woman demon raised her hand as she thought about whom she would kill first. Then having decided, she pointed her fingers at Phoebe, just as the door to the library opened.

"There you are Miss Phoebe. Ah did not know where..." Beau started to say, then stopped as he saw the tableau before him.

"You will not harm them!" he shouted at the old woman. He turned to a cabinet against the wall to his right, opened it and quickly removed a sword from within it.

"Leave now!" he commanded the old demon as he advanced towards her, the sword outstretched before him.

The demon turned her attention to Beau. She moved her hand away from Phoebe, pointing her long finger at Beau, instead.

"Now you will die, too," she said menacingly, sending an energy bolt from her finger towards Beau.

But instead of the energy bolt hitting him, it swerved away from his body and hit the sword. A bright glow came from the sword, but nothing else happened, as Beau continued advancing towards the demon. A second energy bolt came from her finger but it too turned away from Beau and struck the sword, which glowed again.

The haggard woman demon stared in disbelief as Beau approached her. Without hesitation, he ran the gleaming sword right through the demon, then withdrew it. The old woman demon screamed; a more terrifying scream than Phoebe or Prue had ever heard. And then she just exploded. And she was gone.

Phoebe stared at Beau, trying to comprehend what had just happened, while Prue ran to Piper and knelt down beside her.

"Piper! Piper!" Prue shook her, then lifted Piper's head, cradling it in her arm.

"AGGH...AGGH...." Piper slowly opened her eyes.

"Are you hurt?" Prue asked, with concern.

"I...ow!" Piper ran her hand over her head. "It hurts." She started to sit up, then helped by Prue, managed to stand up.

"I'm OK...I think," Piper said. "What happened?"

"That was somethin' evil that attacked you," Beau answered.

"And you ...just vanquished it," Phoebe said, in amazement.

"Ah know this is hard for y'all to believe," Beau said, "but there is evil that takes different forms. And not always human forms."

"Ah...yes...I, uh, we, can believe that," Prue said. "Why weren't you hurt by..."

"It's called a demon," Beau explained.

"Yes...a demon," Prue said, feigning ignorance. "And your sword..."

"Ah'll explain it to y'all," Beau replied. "M'ah father, Charles, was in the army during the Second War of Independence."

A confused look crossed Phoebe's and Piper's faces.

"That's what they called the War of 1812," Prue whispered the explanation to her sisters.

"He was here in Georgia, at the Point Peter Battery in Camden County down on the coast, when the British landed marines in January of 1815. They were a superior force to the soldiers in the fort and quickly overran it. M'ah father was one of a handful of Georgians who managed to escape.

"In tryin' to avoid the British, he became separated from the others. Goin' through the woods alone, he heard someone call for help. He followed the voice and came upon a young woman tied up in a net, and hangin' from a tree. He went to cut her down but neither the net nor the rope could be cut by his sword, no matter how much he tried to saw through them.

"The young woman told him that an evil demon had trapped her in the net. She could not free herself from it, nor could she be freed unless a selfless person's blood would lay on the edge of a sword, which could then cut her bonds. M'ah father did not really believe her. But seein' as his sword could not cut it, he pricked his hand, then smeared his blood across the blade. When he tried again, he was able to cut the rope and free the woman from the net."

Beau paused, looking from one sister to another. He was surprised that he saw no disbelief on their faces.

"Now freed," Beau continued, "the young woman explained that she was a witch. A good witch who helped people. To thank m'ah father for savin' her, she" ‑ Beau paused again, but still saw no surprise on their faces ‑ "cast a spell on his sword. If he ever was confronted with an evil demon, the sword would protect him and allow him to destroy the demon."

"That's...an amazing story," Prue offered.

"But you still took a chance," Phoebe said. "You didn't know if the, uh, spell was true."

"Ah did know," Beau replied.

"It's worked before?" Prue asked.

"About eight years later, m'ah father was travellin' on business to Savannah. Havin' just turned eleven the day before, m'ah father took me along as a birthday gift. When he was away from home, he always took his sword along with him, though at the time ah didn't understand why he did.

"We stopped at a farm on the outskirts of the city," he continued. "A friend of m'ah father lived there. A good man who was known to help those less fortunate. We came in to the house and found his friend lyin' on the floor. Someone...somethin'...stood over him, pointin' a hand from which came a lightnin' bolt, strikin' him in the chest.

"My father ran out to his horse, pullin' me with him to safety outside. Then he grabbed his sword and rushed back inside just as a second lightnin' bolt hit his friend. Of course, I wasn't goin' to stay with the horses and miss what was happenin' so Ah done followed my father back inside and saw everythin'.

"'Evil be gone!' m'ah father shouted. The evil sent a lightnin' bolt at m'ah father but it swerved and hit the sword, which glowed. M'ah father did not hesitate but rushed to the evil and ran him...it...through with the sword. With a scream, the evil disintegrated in a burst of smoke.

"M'ah father then told me the story of the witch he had saved and of the power of the sword. And then ah understood why it was never far from him."

"That's...a truly amazin' story," Phoebe said, remembering to get back into her Southern character.

"Ah know it's a hard story to believe," Beau began. "But...y'all just acceptin' it."

"We've seen our share of things that others would find to hard to believe," Prue answered. "And we saw you vanquish...uh, destroy that evil with the sword. Doesn't take more'n that to convince us."

"Did the good witch tell your father her name?" Phoebe asked.

"Yes," Beau replied. "Priscilla Warren."

The girls turned to each other and gave each other a knowing look. Priscilla Warren. With that name, she must have been our great‑great‑something‑grandmother, they each thought. At least she was in this Charmed role reversal, modified reality.

"We have to properly thank you for savin' our lahves," Phoebe said. "We are surely indebted to you, Beau."

"Yes, we are," Prue repeated. "But now, we must be takin' our leave."

"What?" Beau said in surprise.

"We have pressin' business in Charleston," Phoebe said, picking the first city that came to mind. "We have to be goin'."

"In the middle of the naht?" Beau asked, incredulously.

"Ah know it seems stuhrange," Phoebe said, "and ah'd really lahk to stay ‑".

"Then don't go," Beau replied. "At least not yet. You said you wanted to thank me properly. You can do that bah comin' back to the ball with me, Miss Phoebe. And y'all stay the naht. And if in the mornin' y'all really must go, then ah'll arrange a carriage to take you to Charleston."

"Well," Phoebe said, "we've made arrangements for our transportation. But...we'll gladly stay the naht," she added without looking at her sisters for agreement.

Beau extended his arm and Phoebe wrapped hers around his. As he began escorting her from the library, she half turned her head to her sisters, winked and smiled.

 

The morning sunshine came through the large windows, filling the library with its light and warmth. Phoebe could see the large oak tree just outside and hear the sparrows singing in it. Though having had a full breakfast at Beau's insistence, they were still wearing their ball gowns, having convinced Beau that they must hurry and did not need his carriage.

"We don't want anyone to see us use the spell to go back home," Prue said, as they were alone in the library, "so this is as good a place as any to say it."

"Yes, I suppose it is," Phoebe said, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn.

"Someone was up all night...dancing," Piper said. "Or...perhaps something else."

Phoebe exhaled.

"Just because Beau enjoyed my company, and I enjoyed his, doesn't mean...anything ...happened," Phoebe retorted.

"Right," Piper said, with a knowing look.

"OK," Prue interjected, "enough. It's time we went home."

The sisters held hands and began the spell.

The yellow light began to swirl around them, thickening until completely blocking their view of the library. After five seconds, the light dissipated and they could see their surroundings.

"What?!" Piper exclaimed. "We're still here. In the library!"

"That...that can't be," Phoebe said. "We know this spell works. How can we still be here and not back home in 2000?"

Prue slowly turned around, looking at the room as she did. The library was filled with the morning sunlight just as it had been before they said the spell. She could still see the oak tree through the window and hear the birds chirping.

"I don't know, but..." Prue said, and exhaled, "we are still here in Oakwood."

"The spell didn't work," Piper said, distress in her voice. "We're still in the past.

"We're stuck in 1840."



Click speaker for Opening Credits Theme Song

Prue continued looking around the library, everything looking to be just as it had been. But as she did, she felt something had changed.

"Something...is different," she said, hesitantly. "Something...isn't the same."

"I don't see anything different. It's the same library that it was a minute ago," Phoebe said, slowly shaking her head. "The same book cases, the same furniture."

"No," Piper said. "That chair in the corner. I don't remember it being there before." Piper was pointing to a Louis XVI chair with a charcoal velvet fabric, crowned with an Empire top rail. "In fact, I don't remember seeing that chair anywhere in the house."

"Nor was this here," Prue said, bewilderment in her voice. She was standing by the wall, staring up at a large portrait. Piper and Phoebe walked over and joined her.

"Uhh!" Piper drew in her breath as she saw it. It was a painting of Beau, that much was clear. But it was an older version of Beau, as if painted when he was closer to fifty, rather than almost thirty. But what riveted their attention even more than the apparent age difference was the plaque underneath the portrait.




"How...how can that be?" Phoebe asked. "Beau is alive. I just...uh, uh, saw him." They stared at the portrait in stunned silence. A silence that was broken with the opening of the library door.

"And this is the library, central to the plantation's main house," the woman said, as she opened the door and came inside. She was in her mid‑fifties, dressed in a full skirt swept to the back, less formal than what the sisters were wearing, and with a small bonnet on her head.

But it was the dozen or so people who followed her into the library at which the sisters stared in disbelief. Men wearing baseball caps, polo shirts and running shoes, women dressed in everything from colorful sun dresses to sloppy shorts, and three pre‑teen kids wearing "I love Georgia" t‑shirts.

"The Pinckneys ‑" the woman began, then abruptly stopped when she saw the sisters.

"If you're the replacement tour guides," she said, glaring at them, "you can't just come in here. You have to first stop in the Administration Office." The sisters stared at her as if the woman had just landed on earth and was speaking incomprehensible Martian. And for a second, Phoebe felt as if she had just landed on Mars.

"Down the hallway, third door on your right," the woman added, exasperated. She was clearly not used to people not doing as they had been told to do by her.

"Uh...uh..." Piper stammered.

"Uh...yes...uh...," Prue said. She turned to Piper and Phoebe. "Uh...let's go." They started walking towards the library door, dumbfounded and speechless.

"Uh...third door..." Prue said haltingly as they reached the woman.

"On the right," the woman repeated, then sighed. "My apologies," she said, turning back to the people who had come in with her. "The Pinckneys," she resumed, "were literate, educated people."

"What is going on here?" Piper asked in the hallway, closing the library door behind her.

"Not what...when," Prue said. "The spell transported us through time...but kept us in the same place."

"That spell doesn't work that way," Phoebe insisted. "It takes us to a specific time and place and then returns us to where and when we started."

"It clearly didn't do that this time," Piper said, grumpily.

"We need Leo," Prue said. "But we can't call him in the hallway with people around who could hear us. And worse, could see Leo orb in."

"There's a room across the hall that Beau didn't often use," Phoebe suggested.

"That's not going to mean much in this time," Prue said, "but let's try it anyway."

Phoebe led them across the hall to the room, slowly opened the door and peaked inside. Though on the west side of the house, there was enough sunlight to show them that the room was empty.

"OK, this is good," Prue said, as they went into the room and shut the door.

"Leo," Piper called, in a low voice. "Leo."

They waited a moment but there wasn't any response.

"Lee‑o," Piper said, getting peeved. But there was only silence in response.

"Leo!" Piper said, raising her voice.

"Shh," Prue said, "someone could hear you."

"That's the idea," Piper said, annoyed. "I want Leo to hear me. But he's ignoring us."

"Or he can't hear us," Phoebe said.

"Or The Elders won't let him hear us," Prue said. "We've had that happen before."

"Well that's just great," Piper said, getting more upset. "We're stuck in the middle of Georgia, wearing 1840 clothes, no Leo...and no money to get us home."

"We have to find a phone so we can call Stuart," Prue said. "Have him send us money."

"And a plane ticket back to San Francisco," Piper added.

"That won't work," Prue said. "We have no identification. Even if Stuart bought tickets for us, we couldn't even pick them up, not to mention get onto the plane."

"Are you happy now?" Piper said fuming, looking upwards. "The Elders just love doing things like this to us, don't you!"

"No food, no place to stay, no normal clothes," Phoebe complained. "And as we don't have any money, we're really stuck."

"Maybe we do have money," Prue said. "That woman thought that we were the replacement tour guides. That means they have openings. Openings mean jobs. Jobs mean money."

"You want us to...to make believe that we're tour guides here?" Piper asked.

"Yeah...that could work," Phoebe said. "We just spent three days here. We know the house, the plantation, all of Oakwood first hand. When it really was a working plantation, with people living here. We could give tours, and better ones than whatever that stuck‑up woman in the bonnet is giving."

"We don't have an alternative," Prue said, "at least not at the moment."

"Third door on the right is the office," Phoebe said. "Let's go get jobs."


"That tour guide director almost flipped out when we refused his Oakwood Plantation Tour Guide information packet," Phoebe said, "and told him more about Oakwood than what was in his booklet."

"And connecting Beau's father Charles to the War of 1812 and the Point Peter Battery blew his mind," Piper said. "He couldn't believe we knew more than he did about the family."

"Which I used to our advantage to get him to double our per diem pay," Prue said. "He was so embarrassed that he, the 'expert', knew less than simple replacement tour guides that he didn't argue."

"Too bad we couldn't use the office phone to call Stuart," Phoebe said. "Well, let's go give some tours."

They headed off to the main entrance to await the continual groups of tourists coming in.

 

It was late afternoon and the last tours were over. The girls had agreed to meet on the second floor, not far from the grand staircase that led down to the main floor. Piper and Prue were standing to the side of the staircase as Phoebe was finishing chatting with a young mother who had been on her tour.

"That was really a great tour," the woman said. "The way you described the house and the family ‑ it's almost as if you had lived here and known them."

"Thank you, that's a great compliment," Phoebe said. If only you knew that I really did live here, she thought to herself. "I try to bring it all to life for our guests. And I have to compliment you on your children. They are so well behaved. I'm a bit surprised the tour would interest them."

"Livvy's Second Grade teacher gave her class an assignment to learn about local plantation history," the woman said. "And Livvy's an avid reader ‑ she just loves books. She found a reference to Oakwood in one of them and it said that it wasn't far from where we live. So she's been after me to come here to see it. And Nathan ‑ he's four ‑ likes making up games. So in his head he was doing some make‑believe with the swords and guns that we saw."

"But you're not from here," Phoebe said. "I mean, not originally from here. You don't have the accent."

"No...I'm from the Texas panhandle," she replied. "We've lived here only about two years. My husband is an Air Force pilot and he was assigned here. Oh, I'm sorry ‑ I'm Ellie Avery."

"I'm Phoebe Halliwell."

"Well, thank you again, Phoebe, for such a great tour," Ellie said. "Livvy is thrilled. This will help her get a top mark from her teacher."

"You're welcome," Phoebe said. "Have a safe drive home."

Phoebe walked over to join her sisters near the staircase.

"Well this has been some day," Piper said. "I felt like I could have given the tours with my eyes closed."

"Did you notice that rock display in the parlor?" Phoebe asked. "Just a handful of rocks collected from Oakwood in the display case. They weren't there in 1840 yet there was something familiar about them."

Piper shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.

"Let's collect our pay and see what we'll do next," Piper said. "We should have enough money to get a motel room."

"And maybe some food for‑" Prue started to say.

"Nathan!"

Ellie's scream interrupted Prue. Nathan had gone for a stroll and had decided to turn around and walk backwards. He was standing with his back to the grand staircase, at the edge of the first step.

And then he took another step backwards.

Piper reacted immediately by raising her hand and freezing everyone.

"Oh my goodness, he's going to fall down the staircase," Phoebe said.

"We have to grab him," Prue said.

"People will see what we did," Piper warned.

Prue exhaled. "We can't help that," she said. "We can't let that little boy fall down the staircase."

"Maybe they won't see everything," Phoebe said. "You're standing between me and Nathan's mother so she can't see me. I'll go down the steps, grab Nathan with my right hand and grab the bannister with my left hand. We'll make it look like I lunged for him and caught both him and the bannister."

"That's an impossible position for anyone to get to jumping from the top of the staircase," Piper noted. "But we have no choice. Let's hope she won't realize that."

"OK, here goes," Phoebe said. She slipped past Piper, went down three steps, grabbed Nathan with her right hand and balanced herself with her left hand against the bannister.

"Now!" she said to Piper.

Piper raised her hand unfreezing everyone.

Ellie flew over to the staircase as Phoebe held Nathan aloft as best she could with her right hand.

"Nathan!" Ellie cried.

"Got him!" Phoebe exclaimed, as Piper took him from her, then handed the boy to Ellie.

"Oh...oh," Ellie said, holding Nathan tightly to her. Then she turned to Phoebe, as Prue helped her up the steps.

"Thank you...uh, thank you," Ellie said. She looked at the staircase and then at Phoebe.

"But how...how did you manage to do that?" she asked.

"My sister is very athletic," Piper fibbed. "You should see her on a balance beam."

"Mommy, what happened?" Livvy had run over to Ellie.

"Uh...nothing," Ellie said, recovering. "Nathan almost had an accident but Phoebe ‑ our tour guide ‑ saved him."

"Well, you did something good for us," Livvy said, "so now we have to do something good for you. That's what you always say, Mommy."

"You're right, Livvy," Ellie said. "The truth is I could never do enough for you to equal what you just did for Nathan and me. But...maybe I can invite you and your sisters over for dinner. I can give you directions how to get to us."

"Um...thank you," Phoebe began, "that would be nice...but we...uh...don't have a car."

"Oh...I didn't think anyone could manage living here without a car," Ellie said. "That's not a problem. I'll drive you to your home so you can change, and then I'll drive you to us."

"Uh...well...we don't exactly have a home," Phoebe said.

"We're passing through," Prue said, "and we don't have a place yet."

"Where are your things?" Ellie asked.

"We don't have them," Piper said. "We don't have anything. No clothes, no credit cards...nothing of ours, except these clothes that we're wearing."

"All of your luggage was lost?" Ellie asked.

"Uh...something like that," Prue said.

"Oh, that's awful," Ellie said.

"Then you can come stay with us," Livvy chimed in.

"Yes. Of Course!" Ellie agreed.

"Uh...we couldn't put you out like that," Phoebe said.

"You're not putting me out at all," Ellie replied. "On the contrary, I'm glad that there is something I can do for you to thank you for saving Nathan. I don't want to think about what could have happened had you not been there and reacted so quickly."

"Perhaps you should check with your husband first," Piper suggested.

"Mitch is TDY so he won't care," Ellie said, then saw the confused look on their faces.

"Oh, sorry. That's temporary duty. He's deployed away from here."

"Oh," Piper said.

"Don't feel funny," Ellie said, "it took me a long time to learn all of the acronyms. And I still have to ask Mitch once in a while when I forget one. The Air Force just loves its alphabet soup."

"Where is he deployed?" Prue asked.

"Mitch is somewhere in the Pacific," Ellie said. "Sometimes he can't tell me exactly where he's going and this is one of those times."

"Well, thank you," Prue said. "We would appreciate a place to stay...just for a while."

"You're welcome to stay as long as you like," Ellie replied. "And I'll lend you some regular clothes to wear. I'm taller than you but I'm sure we can do something so you can wear them."

"Thanks," Phoebe said. "We really appreciate your kindness."

"Just plain old Southern hospitality," Ellie said, smiling.

 

"We live in North Dawkins," Ellie said, as they rode in her minivan on the state highway. "It's just fifteen minutes from here. Taylor Air Force base is just ahead. That's where Mitch works."

Clouds had been rolling in all afternoon and now the sky was getting dark.

"They predicted a thunderstorm this afternoon," Ellie said, seeing a few drops fall on the minivan's windshield, "and I guess they were right, for once. But we'll be home before it gets bad."

The state highway took them past Taylor's main gate, then continued running parallel to the base. In a few minutes they came to North Dawkins.

"This is a nice sub‑division," Piper remarked, as they turned into a residential street.

"This is Magnolia Estates," Ellie said. "It's un‑incorporated so we're really in Dawkins County and not in the city proper." They rode a few more blocks, then Ellie turned into a driveway and parked the minivan.

"I'll help you, Livvy," Prue offered, unbuckling the little girl's seat belt, then helping her out of the minivan.

"Let's get in before the downpour," Ellie said, as the rain started coming down harder. She got Nathan out of his car seat and they all ran for the front door.

"You have a lovely house," Phoebe said, as they came inside, shaking off the rain.

"Thanks," Ellie replied. "We have a guest room for two but our sofa also opens up to a bed. I'm afraid it's not as private as a bedroom."

"It will be just fine," Phoebe said. "Your hospitality is appreciated very much."

A crack of thunder startled them.

"We really made it just in time," Piper said.

"Woof".

Phoebe turned around and found a black and brown dog just a few feet from her.

"That's Rex," Livvy said. "I let him in so he shouldn't get all wet in the rain."

Rex looked from one to the other of the sisters. Then he slowly walked over to Phoebe, sniffing her as he did. After a few seconds, he put his face near her hand and began to lick it.

"You've made a friend," Ellie said. "Rex can look imposing but he's really a very friendly dog."

"Hi there, Rex," Phoebe said, scratching him by his ear.

"I'll get Livvy and Nathan settled," Ellie said, "and then I'll get you some clothes."

 

"I'm not sure what kind of fashion statement you're making," Ellie said, as she looked at the sisters. The clothes Ellie had lent them were pulled up in some places and rolled up in others. "My six or seven inches on you do make a difference."

"It's fine," Phoebe said. "It's really kind of you to lend them to us."

"Well, you can't go around like tour guides all night," Ellie replied, smiling.

"We did get paid for our work today," Prue said. "Maybe I could go buy a few things in our size. Is there a store near here where I could get them?"

"There's a small shop in the strip mall in North Dawkins that carries inexpensive clothes," Ellie said. "Definitely not top of the line but decent. It's about a ten minute drive."

"No, I won't ask you to go drive me there," Prue said.

"Actually, I wanted to go to Marian's to get a handbag," Ellie said. "That's the one thing on which I splurge. I can't resist adding another one to my collection every so often. And I saw this saddle colored Red Marc Ecko crossbody bag in the store window last week and it's on sale. Mitch kids me that I'm the Imelda Marcos of handbags.

"I was planning on going tomorrow when Livvy's in school and I just have to handle Nathan. But I could go now instead. Marian's is only about five minutes from the strip mall. And the storm has let up. That is, if your sisters wouldn't mind watching Livvy and Nathan while we go. We'd be back in about an hour."

"I'd be happy to watch them," Phoebe said. "I'll tell them a story."

"Thank you, Ellie," Prue said.

"And I can prepare dinner while you're shopping," Piper added.

"Prepare dinner?" Phoebe asked, giving Piper a look. "For adults...and for children?!"

"Sure," Piper said, with false bravado. Though The Elders had given Holly the same P3 club that's on Charmed, as part of the role reversal that changed her into a real‑life Piper Halliwell, they had not given her Piper's talent as a chef. A fact about which Piper had complained on more than one occasion.

"There's no need to cook dinner," Ellie said. "There's plenty of leftovers from yesterday. They just need to be warmed up."

"OK," Piper said, "that's simple."

"And safer," Phoebe said quietly.

"Livvy, Nathan ‑ Mommy's going to the store," Ellie said. "Phoebe and Piper will be here with you." Ellie saw the faces her two children were starting to make.

"Phoebe's going to tell you a story," Ellie added, trying to head off complaints and tears.

"From one of our books?" Livvy asked, with not much enthusiasm. "I've read them all twice."

"No, it's my own story that I made up," Phoebe answered. "It's called Witches of the Caribbean."

"That sounds exciting!" Livvy said, the promise of a new story changing her frown to a smile.

"Don't worry," Phoebe said quietly as she turned towards Piper. "I won't use our names in it as I did when I told the story to Nicole and Marion." They were the two young daughters of the sisters' friend in San Francisco, for whom Phoebe had made up the story. "I'll use our real names, instead. Although...Captain Shannen doesn't really sound like much of a pirate."

 

Prue had indeed found some clothes in the store priced low enough that she had enough money to buy them for all three of them. Ellie had gotten her handbag and they were in the minivan heading home.

"This isn't the same way that we came," Prue noted.

"No," Ellie said, "coming from Marian's there's a shortcut that goes behind the subdivision. So it's a little faster this way.

"So what do you do when you're back home?" Ellie asked. "Are you tour guides there, too?"

"No, I'm a photographer with 415 Magazine in San Francisco," Prue replied. "Piper has a club called P3. And Phoebe...well, she's just Phoebe. But she has been taking some college courses. Do you work? With two young kids you probably don't have the time for it."

"Actually I do work, part time," Ellie answered. "I'm a professional organizer. Everything In Its Place is my little business. The good thing is that I can usually make the hours fit into my schedule with Livvy and Nathan."

"A professional organizer," Prue said. "I think we could use your services."

"Do you have a lot of boxes and closets at home that need organizing?" Ellie asked.

"No, it's our lives that need organizing," Prue laughed. "Sometimes they're just out of control. Like now, being here ‑"

"Whoa!" Ellie exclaimed. They had just followed a turn in the road and ahead of them was a car sitting sideways, blocking both lanes. Ellie reacted quickly, pulled the minivan to the shoulder and stopped.

The car was on an angle, pointing slightly backwards towards the right shoulder in the direction from which Ellie and Prue had come, the right side of the car facing them. The front passenger door was wide open.

"What happened here?" Ellie asked. They got out of the minivan and hurried over to the car.

"No one's in it," Prue said.

"And the keys are still in the ignition," Ellie said, "but only the passenger's door is open. Why would someone leave the car running and get out the other side?"

They walked around the car and saw a scorch mark along the length of the left side. Prue stopped and silently stared at it.

"This is weird," Ellie said. She looked around the road. Trees and bushes lined both sides of it, limiting what she could see.

"Prue," Ellie said, seeing her lost in thought. "Prue?"

"Huh? Uh, yeah," Prue said, snapping back out of her thoughts.

"What is it?" Ellie asked.

"Uh...nothing," she answered, not sure herself whether what she had been thinking made any sense. I can't let my imagination run away all the time, she thought.

"We'd better go look for whoever was in the car," Ellie said. "He may be hurt. I'll go into the woods on the right side of the road."

"OK," Prue said, "I'll go into the left side."

They split up and Ellie carefully made her way through the trees. The ground was wet and muddy from the storm. Ellie was glad she hadn't changed out of her running shoes to go shopping.

The trees thinned out into an opening of small bushes. She walked around a couple of them, then stopped short, staring at what was in front of her.

The man was lying between a bush and a tree, his head on its right side, the left side of his face visible.

"Prue!" she shouted. "Prue, over here!"

Ellie knelt down and felt around his neck with her hand. After a while she exhaled and slowly stood up, her knees feeling wobbly.

"What?" Prue asked as she reached her and saw the man lying on the ground. Scorch marks ran along the side of his chest.

Ellie took a step backwards and leaned on Prue's arm.

She knew the man.

And she knew he was dead.

 

Prue and Ellie leaned against the minivan, a Sheriff's uniformed female deputy standing close by. D. Markham was the name on the tag pinned to her shirt. It had been about twenty minutes since they had called 911. Ellie had recovered and was feeling stronger. She had called home and told Piper they were delayed, without going into details. The car with the scorch marks had been cordoned off with yellow tape, as had the right side of the road up to the place in the woods where they had found the body.

A man wearing a suit emerged from the woods. He approached Prue and Ellie, nodding to the deputy as he did. The deputy left and headed into the woods towards the body.

"Hello Mrs. Avery," the man said, without any enthusiasm.

"Hello Detective," Ellie replied, and turned to Prue. "This is Detective David Waraday from the Dawkins County Sheriff's Office," she said. No matter how many times Ellie had seen him, she still could not get over how young he looked, like he was just out of high school. She was constantly amazed that he was the head of the Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Unit.

"And who are you?" Waraday asked.

"Prue Halliwell."

"Do you live around here?" he asked.

"No, I'm just visiting," Prue said. "I'm staying with Ellie."

"And how did you come to find the body?" he asked.

"Actually, I found him," Ellie reluctantly corrected Waraday.

Waraday sighed.

"Of course you did, Mrs. Avery. It couldn't have been anyone else," he said, resignation in his voice.

"Look Detective, we were just driving home when we saw the car in the middle of the road," Ellie explained. "We stopped and Prue went looking for the driver in the woods on the left side of the road and I went looking on the right side. And I came across Tucker on the ground ‑"

"You know the deceased?" Waraday asked, with a little surprise. He exhaled. "Naturally you do, Mrs. Avery. You would be in the middle of this."

"I know him," Ellie said, "because Tucker's a cousin to my best friend Abby Dovonowski's husband Jeff. It was a shock to find him..."

Ellie stopped and Prue took her hand and squeezed it tightly.

"I didn't mean to upset you," Waraday said. "I know finding him like that was difficult. Is there anything either of you saw?"

"No, just the car with the scorch marks and the open door," Prue said. "We didn't touch anything in the car so we didn't see anything else except the keys in the ignition. Then we went searching in the woods."

"Thank you," the Detective said. "You can go home now."

Prue and Ellie turned and got into the minivan but Waraday walked around to the driver's side.

"And Mrs. Avery, just to be clear ‑ we'll take it from here," he said. "There's nothing for you to get involved in. If we need anything further from you, I'll be in touch."

"Of course, Detective," Ellie said. He tapped the car twice with his hand and walked back towards the woods.

"Detective Waraday didn't seem thrilled to see you," Prue said, as they drove off. "And what was that about you not getting involved?"

"I've been involved in a few criminal investigations ‑ and murders ‑ since we moved here," Ellie answered.

"Murders? You've been helping the Sheriff?" Prue asked.

"Not 'helping' him in the sense that he asked for it. Or wanted it," Ellie added, "which he didn't. It's probably because of my organizing skills. I notice when something is out of place. And then I have to figure out what and why. Especially if someone was hurt ‑ or murdered.

"In one case when a young woman went missing, I found an important notebook that had been missed in the initial investigation. That didn't make the Sheriff's Office look good, which didn't leave me exactly popular with Waraday."

"But getting involved with murder can be dangerous," Prue said.

"I know. It has been a few times," Ellie admitted. "And that's why Mitch doesn't want me involved with any of that. And I try not to be. But I'm stubborn. When something doesn't fit, I just can't let go of it until it does."

 

"I tried calling Stuart while you were out but the call doesn't go through," Piper said to Prue. "It doesn't even ring. The same thing happens when I called P3. And I tried both numbers at least ten times."

"Phone problems in the neighborhood?" Prue asked, but with little conviction.

"Cell phones and landlines?" Piper said. "No ‑ that's Elders problems. They're blocking the calls to keep us from getting home. They ‑" Piper stopped as Ellie came back into the living room.

"Livvy and Nathan are asleep," Ellie said. "I want to call Abby but I don't want to be the one to tell her about Tucker. I'll give Waraday time to visit her first and then I'll call her later."

"You've been friends with Abby for a long time?" Phoebe asked.

"About six years," Ellie said. "Jeff and Mitch were friends at the Air Force Academy and then Abby and I hit it off, too. Maybe instead of calling her tonight, I'll go over to her in the morning after Livvy's gone to school. Abby lives in base housing."

"Oakwood Plantation is closed on Mondays," Prue said, "so we don't have work tomorrow. I'd like to go with you when you visit Abby, if you don't mind. Maybe I can help in some way."

"I can watch Nathan again," Phoebe said. "He liked my story, though I'm not sure he understood it as well as Livvy did. So he's OK being with me."

"That will make it easier," Ellie said. "And of course you can come with me, Prue. Jeff is TDY with Mitch so it will be a while until he can get back. I'm sure Abby will appreciate your help."

"Were they close?" Piper asked.

"They didn't see each other a lot," Ellie said. "Tucker lived in Oklahoma, where Jeff comes from and where most of his family still is. He moved to North Dawkins about three months ago. But to Abby, family is family, regardless of how infrequently you see each other."

Ellie went to the sofa and opened it up into the bed, then starting putting down the sheet.

"I'll do that," Phoebe said. "You've done enough for us today."

"Thanks," Ellie said. "It has been a long and difficult day. I'm exhausted. I hope you don't mind but I'm going to try to go to sleep now, even though it's early."

"It's been a long and difficult day for all of us," Piper said. Especially when your day began in 1840, she thought. "Good night, Ellie."

"Good night," Ellie replied and headed off to her bedroom.

"A long and difficult day," Prue mused. "And a strange one."

 

"I managed to briefly speak to Jeff," Abby said, adjusting the ponytail of her black hair, "but he won't be able to get back until sometime late tomorrow. It's not immediate family so it's taking him longer to get cleared to come home."

Prue and Ellie were in Abby's living room the next morning. Though it was in Taylor, base housing didn't look to Prue much different from some other residential neighborhoods, except for the bland style and coloring that was standard throughout all of Taylor's buildings.

"Then you certainly need help in making arrangements," Ellie said. "I'll help you with them. And Prue wants to help, too."

"I'm not sure just what arrangements to make," Abby said. "I'm sure we'll send Tucker back to Oklahoma but that's about all I can do until Jeff is home."

"But there is something that you can do for me, Ellie." Abby paused, hesitating before saying what she obviously wanted to say. That's not like Abby, Ellie thought. She always says whatever she's thinking, without hesitation.

"Detective Waraday was here again," Abby continued. "He's closing the case, Ellie. He says it was an accident. That Tucker was driving in the storm and his car was hit by lighting. That's what made the scorch mark on the car. He said that Tucker panicked. The lightning struck the left side of the car so he climbed over to the passenger seat and ran out of the car on the right side, away from the lighting. And then he was hit by lightning while he was running in the woods."

"That makes sense, I guess," Ellie said.

"No, it doesn't," Abby insisted. "Tucker was smart and educated. He knew that staying in a car in a thunder storm is safer than getting out of it. And he would never run into the woods near trees with lightning around.

"Something else happened here. And I'm asking you...to find out what it was. Please!"

"You're asking Ellie to do the Sheriff's job?" Prue said.

"You have a knack for discovering things and putting the pieces together," Abby said. "You've done it before for other people. Not just here but at Greenly, too."

"Greenly?" Prue asked.

"Greenly Air Force Base," Ellie explained. "It's near Vernon, Washington. That's where Mitch and Jeff were stationed before we moved here. And I was involved in investigations...and yes, murders...there too."

"And without your getting involved the OSI would not have solved those murders, either," Abby added.

"OSI?" Prue asked.

"The Office of Special Investigations," Ellie said. "It's the Air Force's version of the FBI."

Prue looked carefully at Ellie. You're a lot more than an ordinary mother, she thought, revising her opinion of her.

Ellie was silent for a moment.

"You're my best friend, Abby," she finally replied. "I don't know what I can really do. But I'll try. With Mitch away, he won't know I'm poking around so I won't have to worry about his not liking it. And by the time he gets back I'll have found anything there is to find and it will be over. If there is anything to find."

"Thanks Ellie." If I didn't know Abby better, Ellie thought, I'd think there was moisture in her eyes.

"I'll help you, Ellie," Prue said. "Where do we start?"

"With Tucker's house," Abby answered. "He was renting it in North Dawkins. Maybe there's some clue there. Here's the spare key he left with me."

"How long was Tucker living here?" Prue asked.

"He came about three months ago to continue his research," Abby answered. "Tucker was a historian."

"OK, we'll look around his house," Ellie said. "Are you going to be OK here by yourself?"

"I took off from teaching today," Abby said, "not that I can do anything until Jeff gets back. But I just couldn't concentrate on the class today. I'll spend time later with Charlie."

 

"Charlie's Abby's little boy," Ellie explained to Prue as they walked back to the minivan. "You didn't see him because he was out with the babysitter. Abby's normally in school now. She's teaching third grade this year."

"She has a lot of confidence in you," Prue remarked.

"I know she does," Ellie said. "She's my best friend and I want to help her. But I don't know whether this time there is anything that I can do to help. I'm afraid it's pretty likely that I'll let her down."


The house Tucker had rented was a small, nondescript stucco home on a quiet street in the older section of North Dawkins. While not really run‑down, from the outside it seemed to Prue that it had never been given a much needed renovation since it was first built. Which, according to Ellie, was in the 1950's.

Ellie put the key into the lock, turned it and opened the door. What greeted them was not what they had expected.

Both drawers from a two‑drawer filing cabinet had been pulled out, its folders strewn across the floor. They slowly made their way inside and saw two bookcases along a wall of the living room. Most of the books had also been knocked off the shelves to the floor.

"What??" is all Ellie could manage to say.

"Someone's been through here," Prue said, "looking for something."

"But what?" Ellie asked. "What could Tucker have had that someone would want? He was here only three months."

"Let's check the rest of the house and see what else was touched," Prue said.

"I'll call Abby and let her know about this," Ellie said.


"After you called me I called the Sheriff's Office and told him what happened," Abby said, when they had returned to her home. "Waraday said someone must have found out about Tucker and knowing that no one was there went to rob the house, looking for anything he could steal. He said it's been known to happen.

"And he still won't do anything more. The investigation is now officially closed."

"He could be right," Prue said, though without much conviction.

"Maybe," Ellie said. "But something just doesn't feel right."

"I knew you'd see something," Abby said.

"Don't get your hopes up yet, Abby," Ellie warned. "I don't know what it is that doesn't seem right. I could be completely wrong."

"Maybe there's something on Tucker's laptop computer that will help," Abby said. "You brought it back with you, didn’t you?"

"Laptop computer?" Prue asked. "We didn't find a laptop in the house. And we went through all of the rooms, closets and drawers. I even looked under the bed to see if anything was hidden there. If someone came to rob the house, as Waraday said, it would make sense that we would steal the laptop."

Ellie shook her head.

"No," she said, "I think that's what's bothering me. That's what doesn't fit. If all the thief did was steal the laptop, that would make sense. But he also went through all of Tucker's files and almost all of his books. People don't keep valuables there. I think he was looking for something specific; a document that would be in a file drawer or perhaps hidden in a book. Or on a computer."

"Do you know what Tucker kept on his laptop?" Prue asked.

"He could have had lots of things on there," Abby replied. "I knew he had the computer but he never told us how he used it. Except for one thing.

"You know Tucker was a historian," she continued. "He had been researching unusual mysteries that happened in the South. In his latest research he had uncovered mysteries from around this part of Georgia. That's why he moved to North Dawkins. So that he could continue his research closer to where they happened and follow up on some leads he thought he had."

"Did Tucker tell you what these mysteries were and what leads he was exploring?" Prue asked.

"No. He said he had a theory that there were some dark secrets around here but he didn't want to talk about it until he could substantiate it," Abby said. "Jeff tried but couldn't pry anything more from him.

"But Tucker was very careful about backing up his research, in case anything happened to his computer. And to be even safer, he left the backup flash drive with us and not in his house."

"We need to take a look at Tucker's research," Ellie said.

 

"Tucker had certainly done a lot of research," Prue said. Abby had slipped the flash drive into her computer and they were sitting together huddled around the monitor.

Ellie's occasional babysitter had agreed to come over to stay with Nathan. That left Piper and Phoebe free to join Ellie and Prue when they returned to Abby's house.

"He has files here from all over the South," Prue continued. "Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, even Texas, all broken down further into locations within the states, time periods and the evidence for his conclusions."

"What's this file...Franklin?" Piper asked, opening the file. "That's not a state."

"Actually, it was...sort of, for a few years," Phoebe said. "Stuart told me about it."

"Stuart is our close friend back in San Francisco," Prue explained to Ellie. "He's not a historian but he does know his history."

"It was after the Revolutionary War," Phoebe continued. "But it didn't get some approval of Congress that it needed and so it was absorbed by other states."

"Mostly into Tennessee, it says here," Piper read from the file. "It had its own Statehouse in its own Capital. They kept the Statehouse as an ordinary building after it stopped being a state. It was dismantled and shipped to the Tennessee Centennial exposition in 1897, where it was put back together and put on display, as part of Tennessee's history. When the Exposition ended, it was dismantled again and shipped back. But...only the front door knocker returned. It says that the rest of the Statehouse disappeared and no one knows what happened to it.

"But Tucker researched a theory," Piper continued, "and it seems he was pretty confident that he was right."

"I'm sure Stuart would be fascinated by it," Prue interrupted, "but I doubt that a one‑hundred year old mystery in Tennessee had anything to do with Tucker moving to North Dawkins."

"Right," Piper admitted.

"Let's open the Georgia folder," Ellie said. "Hmm...here's a file on Marietta. The period is the 20s. That's probably too long ago and too far away."

"This one says 'Central Georgia ‑ Dawkins County'," Prue said, opening the folder. "Natalie Bennett, Jackson Adams, Trish Daniels. Who are they?"

"I know Trish Daniels," Ellie said. "I met her last year when we were doing the search for Jodie."

"Jodie Lockworth was a young woman who went missing about two years ago," Abby added. "Lots of people pitched in to try to find out what happened to her."

"Did they?" Piper asked.

"They found her, but not alive," Abby answered. "Ellie played a big part in solving her murder."

"How is Trish Daniels connected with the other names?" asked Phoebe.

"I don't know," Ellie replied.

"Tucker added 'theft’ after their names," Prue said. "At the bottom he wrote 'police reports ‑ not a coincidence'. But he doesn't explain what he meant."

"Something about those police reports got Tucker's attention," Ellie said. "I'll call Trish and see if we can go over to talk to her."

Taking out her cell phone, she found the phone number and called.

"Voice mail," Ellie said, shaking her head, then left a message for Trish to call her back.

"Natalie Bennett's address is here," Ellie said. "I'll drive over and see if she's home and will talk to us. Will you come with me, Prue?"

"Yes, I will," Prue answered.

"And Abby and I will see what else we else can find in Tucker's files," Phoebe said.

 

Natalie Bennett's house was small but pleasant looking, with cream‑colored siding and a front yard filled with pink and white hibiscus and purple crested iris. Ellie rang the doorbell, then waited. After a moment they heard someone coming to the door and the peephole open.

"Who is it?" a woman's voice asked.

"Mrs. Bennett, I'm Ellie Avery. I was hoping we could speak to you about the theft that happened a while ago."

The door opened a bit, a strong chain latch keeping it in place, and a face peeked out.

"Ellie Avery," the woman repeated. "The name is familiar...oh yes, now I remember. Nita Lockworth told me how you had been such a help to her in solving what happened to her daughter. Such a tragedy." The woman sighed.

"Please come in," the woman said. She was an older woman, somewhere between Ellie and Prue in height, with a round, bright face.

"This is my friend Prue Halliwell," Ellie said, as they came inside.

"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Bennett," Prue said.

"It's Natalie ‑ I don't like formality," she said, as she ushered them into her living room.

"Now," she said as they sat down on the sofa, "you're interested in the theft?"

"Yes," Ellie began, "there have been a few of them lately. I'm just trying to see if there might be a connection amongst them. Just to see what we can all do to better protect our property," she quickly added to give some legitimacy to her interest.

"Well given how you were involved with Nita, I'm not surprised that you're at the forefront of this," Natalie said. "How can I help you?"

"Where were you when the theft took place?" Ellie asked.

"I was with my Senior Citizens group that went to Atlanta," she replied. "We take trips together a few times a year."

"Did people know that you would be away?" Prue asked.

"Well...our trips' schedules are published so that people can come along, even if they're not members," Natalie answered.

"What was taken?" Ellie asked.

"My rocks and stones," Natalie answered. She saw the quizzical look on their faces.

"I collect them," she explained. "Different kinds, different colors. It's a hobby I've taken up since Gerald...since my husband, passed away. It gives me something to do."

"Do you buy them?" Prue asked.

"Some. But others I look for myself," she said. "There are some places outside of North Dawkins that are just filled with all different kinds of stones. Some are colored, others have fine grain. Some are even meteorites from outer space. When I get them I try to look them up and find out what they are. I know, it doesn't seem very exciting. But I enjoy it."

"Collecting things is always fun and interesting," Prue said. "Are any of the stones in your collection valuable?"

"Oh no...other than perhaps to other collectors," Natalie said. "Even the meteorites that he took aren't really worth much. But given how some of the rocks looked, the thief must have thought they were. That's what that nice Deputy Sheriff Markham told me when she came out after I called the police. She said whoever broke in thought some of them were precious stones. I was really upset and frightened when I came home and discovered what had happened. But she told me not worry, that it was just about the stones and that I was safe and should just put it out of my mind..That did make me feel better."

"Were they all stolen?" Ellie asked.

"No...about one quarter of them," she replied. "But I haven't let that stop me. I've been out buying and hunting for new ones."

"Good for you," Ellie said. "Would you mind showing us your collection?"

"I'd be happy to," she said. They stood up and Natalie led them to a back room, opened the door and took them inside. Two five‑shelf cabinets with glass doors stood against a wall. Coming closer to them, Ellie and Prue saw rocks and stones laid out across the shelves. Most were small though some were somewhat larger. Little handwritten cards describing each stone were next to them. They saw the empty spaces on the shelves where the stones that were stolen must have been.

"This is very nice," Ellie said. "From the empty spaces it looks like most of the ones taken were from these two bottom shelves."

"Yes, those were a mixture of different kinds. A few of them were even meteorites," Natalie added with a tinge of sadness. "They were interesting little things. But there are more rocks to be found and bought."

"Well thank you, Natalie," Ellie said. "We appreciate your time."

"Was anything helpful?" she asked.

"I'm sure it will be once we speak to some of the other people who were also robbed and we put it all together," Ellie replied.

 

Ellie's cell phone rang as they got into her minivan.

"Hi Trish," Ellie said.

"Hi ‑ what's up, Ellie?" Trish asked.

"I'm looking into the recent thefts that have happened," Ellie said. "Do you have some time for me to come by to talk you about the one you had?"

"Thefts, huh," Trish said. "Does Mitch know what you're up to?"

"Mitch is TDY," Ellie sheepishly said.

"That explains it," Trish said, a chuckle in her voice. "I have an appointment in half an hour. But if you want to come right now I've got a few minutes before I go."

"Thanks, Trish," Ellie said. "I'll be right over." She started up the engine.

"Trish is sort of our local celebrity," Ellie said. "She's an astronomer and teaches science courses at Wesleyan University up in Macon."

 

"And when I came home two days later I realized that someone had broken in," Trish said, as they sat in her living room.

"What was stolen?" Ellie asked,

"Actually very little," she replied. "The thief broke into my collection room. It used to be my garage but I built it over and made it much larger to house my collection. But I had taken almost all of it up to the university as an exhibit."

"What do you collect?" Prue asked.

"Mostly meteorites," Trish answered.

"I thought that you were an astronomer," Ellie said.

"I am but I'm also a meteoriticist." She saw the blank expressions on their faces. "Meteoriticists study meteorites, which is part of astronomy," Trish explained. "I had left a few less interesting samples behind. That's what was taken."

"And that's all that was taken?" Ellie asked.

"Yes...I suppose that's odd, isn't it," Trish remarked.

"Maybe," Ellie said, but her mind was putting some things together.

"The Deputy Sheriff ‑ uh what was her name...Markham ‑ who came out said it was probably just some petty thief who thought there must be something valuable in the room," Trish added. "She told me not worry about it."

"Could we see the collection?" Ellie asked. "It might help."

Trish looked at her watch. "I really have to be going to get to my appointment. But here..." Trish grabbed a small pad that was on the coffee table, took out her pen and wrote something down.

"Here's the lock code for the collection room," she said tearing off the page and handing it to Ellie. "Actually, I re‑did it so it's really three rooms now. A small reception foyer, and then two rooms in which I divided the collection by general types. I'm thinking of making it into a mini‑museum so that people here, especially children, could learn about them.

"Come out with me through the front," Trish continued. "I'll lock the house and you can just go around the side to the back. Just be sure to lock up there when you leave."

"Thanks Trish," Ellie said, "that's really nice of you."

"I know you, Ellie," Trish said, as she closed and locked the front door behind them. "When you get involved in something, you won't let go until you've figured it out. And I don't want to be the one standing in your way while you do," she added, laughing.

"A houseful of things and all the robber took were a few meteorites," Prue said, as they walked towards the back of the house. "It doesn't make sense."

"Some of the rocks stolen from Natalie's house were also meteorites. And again nothing besides the rocks was stolen," Ellie said. "Something is out of place here. But it must make sense to the thief. So I've got to sort this out until it makes sense to me, too."

Ellie looked at the combination on Trish's paper, then entered the code on the keypad. The door unlocked and they walked into the reception area, closing the door behind them. As expected, it was a small room with just enough space for a desk and a small file cabinet.

They walked through an open doorway into a long room and turned on the light switch. Two rows of fluorescent lights came on. Glass‑topped display cases lined both walls in the room's length. A third row of display cases, this one with storage cabinets beneath them that reached to the floor, stretched across the length but in the middle of the room, with walking space between them and the other two rows of cases. Another open doorway opposite them on the far wall led into the third room.

"Trish must be passionate ‑" Prue began to say when they heard a noise coming from the third room.

"Someone's in the other room," Prue said. They started towards the second open doorway when fingertips of a hand came around the casing. A flash of energy came from them in the general direction of Prue and Ellie.

"Down!" Prue shouted at Ellie and pushed her to the floor behind the center row cabinets. "Stay behind me," Prue ordered her.

A second bolt of energy came from the hand and hit the cabinet at the end, smashing it and the display case above it to pieces, strewing everything across the floor. Through the opening that was now in the row of cabinets, Prue could see the doorway. She couldn't see who was hiding on the other side of it ‑ but she had no doubt what it was.

Prue aimed her hand at the larger cabinet pieces and waved at them, sending them flying at the doorway, one after another. She leaned out and saw two wooden chairs in the other room just past the doorway. She aimed her hand at the first chair and sent it flying to the right side of the doorway.

"AGGH" came from the other side.

Prue aimed at the second chair and sent it flying to the right, as well.

They heard another "AGGH" followed by foot steps running away from the doorway. Then they heard the back door open and the foot steps running out.

Prue got up slowly and made her way to the doorway, then carefully peeked around the casing. No one was there, the back door thrown wide open. Prue hurried to the back door, looked outside but didn't see anyone.

She turned around to look at the room. It was similar to, though a little smaller than, the first display room, with glass‑topped display cases lining the walls in its length. Two of the cases were open ‑ and empty. And at the doorway to the room, Ellie stood staring at her.

"What...just...happened?" Ellie asked, slowly and emphatically.

"A thief...was in here," Prue said. "Must have run away when he heard us."

"I saw what looked like lightning coming from whoever was in this room," Ellie said. "And I saw you...throw things at him, without touching them. This needs an explanation."

"No...you're mistaken Ellie," Prue tried covering up. "It only looked like that."

"You know I always notice details," Ellie said, "so you can't tell me I imagined what I saw. You, the lightning...I saw it. You pushed me behind you to protect me. You knew exactly what it was."

Prue opened her mouth to protest but saw the look in Ellie's eyes. Instead, she just exhaled.

"You'll find this hard, perhaps impossible, to believe," Prue said.

"I believe what I saw," Ellie said.

"That 'lightning' was an energy bolt," Prue said. "It's used to kill. On the other side of the doorway, sending that energy bolt...was a demon."

"A demon?" Ellie asked.

"Yes. They exist. And they...do all kinds of evil," Prue continued.

Ellie picked up one of the wooden chairs and put it upright. She decided that she needed to sit down to hear this.

"How do you know about them?" Ellie asked. "And how did you throw the chairs?

"I've been up against them...a lot," Prue said. "Because...I'm a witch."

Ellie gave Prue a long, hard look.

"You're...a witch?" she asked. There was clearly disbelief in Ellie's voice but Prue couldn't tell how much of it there was.

"Yes ‑ a good witch. It's our responsibility to protect innocents from demons...and other evil," she said.

"Our responsibility," Ellie repeated. "You mean Piper and Phoebe are witches, too?"

"Yes ‑ and we have powers. I can move things with a movement of my hand or my head. Piper can stop time. Phoebe is best at making up the spells that we use to vanquish demons. And together, we have the Power of Three. It links our individual powers together and makes them much stronger when used together."

Prue paused. She saw Ellie trying to come to terms with what without doubt was a shocking revelation to her.

"I know this is very hard to accept," Prue resumed, "and I don't blame you if you don't believe me. I know it sounds like a children's fairy tale."

"You're right ‑ it does sound like one of Nathan's books," Ellie said, then took a deep breath. "But I guess I have to believe you, Prue. I can't deny what I just saw. And your explanation ‑" Ellie stopped in mid‑sentence.

"That's how you saved Nathan. Piper stopped time as he started to fall and...and Phoebe grabbed him on the staircase. It didn't make sense then how Phoebe had physically managed to do that but at the time I didn't care. Now it does make sense."

"That is what happened," Prue said, "and I'm sorry we lied to you about it. But we have to keep our secret. We can't let the world know about us...and our powers."

"It doesn't matter how you did it," Ellie said, "the fact is that you did save Nathan. That's all that counts. And I'm not any less grateful to you that you used...your powers to do it."

"But now that you know," Prue said, "you can't tell anyone about us."

"Don't worry, Prue, I won't," Ellie said. "Your secret is safe. No one would believe me even if I did. Except maybe Nathan," she added with a smile.

 

Detective Waraday slowly walked around surveying the collection rooms, carefully avoiding the shards of glass and pieces of wood that lay on the floor. Finally, and obviously reluctantly, he made his way over to Ellie and Prue.

"Mrs. Avery," he began, then stopped and just shook his head. "Right in the middle ‑ again."

Prue wanted to say something but decided it would be better to let Ellie deal with Waraday.

"We just came in here to look at the collection," Ellie said.

"You just happened to be here, by yourselves, without Dr. Daniels?" Waraday asked, with a hint of skepticism.

"Trish is a friend," Ellie said. "She didn't mind. She gave me the combination to the lock."

"And while you were here someone attacked you," Waraday said, looking at his notepad.

"Yes, from the other room," Ellie answered. "We obviously surprised someone in the middle of trying to steal the collection."

"And you didn't get a look at who it was?" Waraday asked. "That's surprising, Mrs. Avery. You always point out how you notice all sorts of things."

"What I noticed, Detective, was that chair being thrown at us," Ellie said. Prue had placed one of the wooden chairs in the midst of the debris in the first display room, to make it appear that what happened was exactly as Ellie had just described. "We ducked. We stayed down until we heard someone running out the back door. So we didn't see who it was."

Waraday exhaled.

"All right you can go now," he said. "And Mrs. Avery...just try to do normal, everyday things. Things that don't involve you in crime scenes."

Ellie smiled at him then walked with Prue through the reception area and out into the back yard.

"He's only here because of the attack on us," Ellie said. "If it had been just a theft he would have sent one of his deputies."

"This is incredible," Trish said, walking over to them. She had been called by Waraday and had hurried back home. "It's as if the thief was waiting for me to bring the collection back here so that he could try to steal it again."

"Two of the display cases were emptied," Ellie said. "Was there anything special about the ones he took?"

"Actually, most of them were spilled on the floor," Trish said. "He must have dropped them when you startled him. It's a good thing that you were there, Ellie, to frighten him off. I can't thank you enough for your inquisitiveness in wanting to see the collection. I'm just glad that you weren't hurt."

"We were two against one so I doubt he would have actually come after us," Ellie said, omitting the part that one of the two had powers to combat the demon thief. "What can you tell us about the stones that he did steal."

"There are three general categories of meteorites," Trish explained. "Within each category there are different types. Those were in the stony‑iron category, which are made up of a mixture of silicate minerals and iron‑nickel metal. Their type is called mesosiderites. They're formed when debris from asteroid collisions get mixed together."

"Are they rare?" Prue asked.

"Relatively," Trish answered. "Only about one percent of meteorites that make it to Earth are stony‑iron. Though most meteorites burn up in Earth's atmosphere, there are enough continuously making it through that these would not be worth enough money to take the risk to break in and steal them."

"So you don't know why the thief would have taken specifically those?" Ellie asked.

Trish shook her head. "Maybe he was just starting there," she said.

"No. That doesn't fit the picture," Ellie said. "If that's what he was doing then the cases at the end should have been the ones emptied first. There's something else going on here."

"Do you know Jackson Adams?" Prue asked.

"Not well," Trish said. "He's a geologist but I do run into him sometimes."

"A geologist? Does he collect stones?" Ellie asked.

"Sure," Trish answered.

"There was a recent theft at his home, too," Prue said.

"Yes, I remember that," she said. "I ran into him at a seminar and he mentioned that someone broke in to his house while he was away. Stole a bunch of his stones, though his collection wasn't as big as mine."

"Did he have meteorites, too?" Ellie asked.

"Yes, he did have some," Trish said. "And they were stolen. I think that's why he told me about it. But I don't know how many were taken.

"But it seems you were right, Ellie, to try to look into these thefts. Frankly, if there's something common about them, I have more confidence in you finding them than in the Sheriff's Office. Especially with that Deputy Markham telling me ‑ and Adams too ‑ that they were minor, random acts of vandalism and not to be concerned about them."

 

"Meteorites," Ellie said, as they were driving back home. "Natalie, Trish and Jackson Adams ‑ in all three thefts meteorites were stolen. That's the piece that fits. The other rocks that were taken were a cover for the real objective."

"But why?" Prue asked. "What is special about meteorites that a demon would steal them?"

 

Abby had gone to give Charlie a bath and put him to sleep. Prue took the opportunity to tell Piper and Phoebe that Ellie now knew all about their being witches. Then Ellie filled them in on what she and Prue had learned.

"And now I'll tell you what we learned from Tucker's files," Piper said. "A farm outside of North Dawkins was destroyed overnight. All of the crops were found burned. But no other farm in the area was damaged. And there wasn't any indication of how the fire ‑ if that's what it was ‑ started. Nor why it hadn't spread to other nearby farms.

"In the spring of 1840, a plantation in this area ‑ North Dawkins didn't exist back then ‑ was destroyed overnight. The crops burned. But no other plantation in the area was damaged."

"A few weeks after that farm in North Dawkins was burned, all of the animals on another farm mysteriously died overnight," Phoebe said. "No disease or any other explanation was found for it. In the spring of 1840, all of the work animals on a plantation in this area mysteriously died, without explanation."

"I don't believe in coincidences," Prue said.

"Neither did Tucker," Piper said. "That's why he was here, trying to find the answer to the mystery."

"But there's a third one that happened while Tucker was here," Phoebe said. "A farm house and barn suddenly exploded without warning. Again, neither the police nor the Fire Marshall could find an explanation for it.

"And in the spring of 1840, all of the buildings on a plantation in this area suddenly exploded."

"How can they be connected?" Ellie asked.

"In the spring of 1840, Everett the demon was here," Prue said. She looked at Piper and Phoebe then took a deep breath.

"There's more about us that I have to tell you," she said to Ellie. "This may be harder for you to believe than what I've already told you about our being witches."

"I believe what you told me that you're witches," Ellie replied. "So I guess I'm ready to believe whatever else you tell me." At least I think I am, she said to herself.

Prue slowly told Ellie about their time travel, following Everett to 1840. She told her the whole story, including Beau's vanquishing the second demon with his sword.

Ellie exhaled, then looked at the three sisters.

"I saw some strange things growing up in Texas, but this...this is...mind boggling," Ellie said, and looked at each sister in turn. "Yesterday I probably would not have believed it. But then I wouldn't have believed that there were witches, either. I saw what you did today, Prue, and I understand what you did to save Nathan." She paused for a moment. "Time travel...I have to try to digest that."

"I wish there was a way I could prove it to you," Prue said.

Ellie was quiet for a moment, thinking it over.

"Your clothes ‑ or lack of them," Ellie said. "Everything lost, including your wallets. ‑ it didn't fit. But I was so grateful for your having saved Nathan that I wasn't about to pursue it.

"But if you had just...'time traveled' from 1840, then that makes sense that you had nothing else except your Southen belle outfits. And I did say that your guided tour, Phoebe, sounded like you had lived there."

Ellie exhaled. "Time travel," she said the words slowly. "Well, if I can believe that you are witches with powers...then I suppose...I have to accept the rest of it." But there was still some reservation in Ellie's mind.

"We can't be sure how long Everett was there in 1840 before we found him," Prue said. "That other demon said that they had started to destroy the South. These could have been the results of their joint efforts."

"There's more," Phoebe said. "We found three dates Tucker had listed after the names of the people robbed." She showed them to Ellie and Prue.

"That second date is the date of the theft ‑ the first theft ‑ at Trish's house," Ellie said. "She told us when it happened. So the other dates must be the dates of the other two thefts."

"Now look at the dates of the three recent farm incidents," Phoebe said.

"Each one is a day or two days before a theft," Ellie said. "And is a repetition of an identical incident that happened one hundred‑sixty years ago. That repetition...somehow is connected to the thefts. We need to find out how. And for what purpose."

"I wish we had the Book of Shadows here," Piper said. "That might tell us what's going on." Prue explained to Ellie that the Book, handed down through previous generations, contained spells and potions, mostly to combat and vanquish demons. But also had non‑demon spells, such as the one they used to go back to 1840 Georgia.

Ellie went to her pocketbook and took out a handful of Hershey's Kisses.

"These keep me going, especially when I'm trying to figure out something that doesn't fit right," Ellie explained, unwrapping the silver foil on one of them. "I love chocolate ‑ and they give me extra energy."

"Energy," Phoebe repeated softly. She slowly began to sit down, her eyes staring ahead at something that wasn't there, Ellie's words triggering a foggy memory.

"The Book of Shadows," she began slowly. "You know I have to read through a lot of it each time we need something. Not like on Charmed where the script made it that what we needed was always right there as soon as we opened the Book."

"Charmed?" Ellie asked. "What's that?"

"It's...uh...not important," Prue said.

"I remember coming across something about a demon's energy," Phoebe continued slowly. The words and images from that page were coming back to her. "In certain circumstances, a demon can leave behind residual energy. If something transforming, some major change happens to a demon's existence, it causes his residual energy to be left behind. Energy of his whereabouts, where he was, what he thought, what he did. Another demon can connect to it, pick up the first demon's...trail."

"How?" Piper asked.

"By...by duplicating the exact actions that the first demon did," Phoebe answered, the memory of that page now sharp. "That connects them ‑ the second demon to the first demon's residual energy ‑ and memory. And each mimicking of the first demon's actions make the connection stronger."

"Everett traveled through time," Prue said, "becoming part of a society in a very different era."

"I would think that traveling through time qualifies as a transforming change," Piper said. "It's certainly feels that way when we do it."

"So this demon has been trying to access Everett's residual energy," Prue said. "What did Everett know, or have, that this demon so desperately wants?"

"His time travel stone," Piper and Phoebe said together.

"Everett had a stone that enabled him to travel through time," Prue explained to Ellie. "That's how he got to 1840."

"And after each attempt to connect to Everett's energy, this demon has gone and stolen rocks and stones," Piper said.

"Not just any rocks and stones," Ellie said. "That was only the first theft at Natalie's house. Since then, he's been concentrating on meteorites."

"Are you suggesting that meteorites have...time travel capabilities?" Piper asked.

"Meteorites come from outer space," Phoebe said. "They may have properties different from rocks and stones here on Earth."

"That can't be," Piper said. "Then anyone with a meteorite could travel through time. People would be doing it all the time."

"Not if it's latent in the meteorite and needs some non‑mortal power, like a demon's power, to unlock it and make it work," Prue said.

"But there are lots of meteorites around, why go to the trouble of stealing these?" Phoebe asked.

"Because..." Ellie began as she opened another Hershey Kiss and popped it into her mouth. She thought for a moment as she chewed it, then took out her cell phone and made a call.

"Hi Trish, it's Ellie. I have another question. Do you know what type of meteorite was stolen from Jackson Adams?" There was a pause as Ellie listened to the answer. "That's what I thought. Thanks, Trish. I'll let you when we come up with something.

"That demon is not after any type of meteorite," Ellie said after closing her cell phone. "He's specifically after mesosiderites. That's the type Adams had. And it was the display cases that held those in Trish's room from which the demon was taking the meteorites when we interrupted him today. Trish said that only one percent of meteorites are of that type. He had to go to the places, perhaps the only places around here, that had them."

"He had already stolen the meso...uh...whatever...type of meteorite from Adams," Piper said, "so why try to steal more from Trish's collection?"

"Maybe he didn't realize that's what he had stolen," Phoebe suggested.

Ellie shook her head. "He's been very careful and knowledgeable in what he's done. He made sure to know when Natalie and Adams wouldn't be home when he went to rob them. And even today, Trish had an appointment so no one was going to be home. We weren't supposed to be there.

"No...that doesn't fit," she continued. "He's meticulous in his planning and actions with everything he's done. He had to know what he had stolen." Ellie unwrapped another Hershey's Kiss and put it in her mouth.

"Unless..." she said.

Had Ellie been a comic strip character, Prue thought, the artist would have drawn a lit lightbulb over her head. Prue could see something had clicked in Ellie's mind. What had been obviously out of place to her before now fit and made sense.

"That's it!" Ellie exclaimed. "Not all mesosiderites have these time travel capabilities. And the ones that he stole from Adams weren't the right ones.

"Only a few have it. It might even be only one specific meteorite that has that latent power," she added.

"Everett's stone," Prue said. "The one meteorite that we know for sure had that latent power. The stone whose latent power Everett unleashed. That's what he's looking for."

"But that stone was destroyed when we vanquished Everett," Piper said.

"Was it?" Prue asked. "It could have fallen from his hand to the floor while the spell was twisting him around in circles. And we were so busy with that second demon and Beau's vanquishing it with his sword that we wouldn't have noticed the stone lying there. Or even thought to check and look for it."

"Oh!" Phoebe said. "That small tray of rocks in the parlor at Oakwood. Rocks that came from the plantation. It has perhaps ten stones in it. Pretty, colorful ones from the plantation, which must be why they put them together. I said that something about them was familiar. The one that was brownish orange with a silver/grey color. Pretty and more distinctive than the others. I saw Everett's stone only once and briefly. But...but that one looks like how I remember that his stone looked."

"So if Everett did drop the stone and someone, perhaps a maid, found it and brought it to Beau," Prue said, "and he put it in a small box. Perhaps he already had a couple of interesting, pretty plantation stones there. He wouldn't have known that it was a meteorite, just that it was different and interesting and, most important, was from Oakwood."

"So this demon learned that Everett had escaped to 1840 Georgia and been vanquished there," Phoebe said, "but didn't know what became of the stone. He thought it's still here somewhere and if he could connect to his residual energy he'd be able to find it."

"You said that each duplication of the first demon's action makes the connection to the residual energy stronger," Piper said. "This demon doesn't know that Everett's stone is at Oakwood. But if he repeats another of Everett's acts, the connection may be strong enough to connect the residual energy of Everett's last thoughts. He'd know that Everett dropped the stone ‑ and where he dropped it."

"And he'd also know who we are," Prue added, "because Everett knew that when we vanquished him."

"Did Tucker list any more strange happenings in 1840?" Ellie asked.

Phoebe shuffled some pages of notes they had written. "Here," she said, "the flooding of two plantations. It happened the day after the plantation explosion. And there wasn't any significant rain for at least three days before it happened."

"We've got to get that stone out of Oakwood before this demon repeats that flood and finds out that it's there," Piper said.

"With the plantation closed today, we can't do anything until tomorrow," Prue said. "We'll make sure to be there early and sneak it out of that display case when no one is looking."

 

Ellie had asked Abby if she could leave Nathan with her for the morning, as she was following up on a lead about Tucker. Abby naturally agreed. Ellie dropped Livvy off at school, then drove Prue, Piper and Phoebe to the Oakwood entrance.

I'll wait here," Ellie said, "you bring the stone out to me and I'll take it home."

"I still don't like you having the stone," Prue said. "You could be in danger."

"How?" Ellie asked. "The demon doesn't even know that it's in the plantation. And he certainly wouldn't have any way of knowing that you gave it to me."

"Then let's do it," Prue said. They got out of the minivan, wearing their Southern belle clothes again, and headed for the entrance. Ellie turned on the radio as she waited for their return.

 

 "It's not here," Piper said, as they stood in the parlor next to the display case that had housed the stones. "It was here on Sunday. Where did the tray go?"

"Are we too late?" Phoebe asked. "Was the demon here already and took the stone?"

"He couldn't know that it was here," Prue said.

"Look," Phoebe said, "the pillows and small blankets that were here are also gone. The demon wouldn't have taken those things."

"Let's go check in the office," Prue said.

They went into the hallway and walked down to the plantation office. The Tour Guide Director who gave them their jobs was not there. A young girl of about twenty was sitting at his desk.

"Good morning," Prue said. "I'm Prue Halliwell and we're the tour guides. We just saw something is missing this morning. A small tray of plantation stones from the display case in the parlor. Along with pillows and blankets."

"Good morning," she answered, "I'm Leora. Mr. Lark, the Director, was here yesterday. He took advantage of Oakwood's being closed to re‑arrange some of the displays."

"Where did he put them?" Prue asked.

"I don't know," Leora replied. "I wasn't here ‑ I work only part‑time ‑ and Mr. Lark is not in today so I can't ask him."

"Could he have put them in storage and not on display?" Piper asked.

"It's possible," Leora said. "There is a room at the end of the second floor where some items are stored."

"I'd like to check and see if they are there," Prue said. "We...had some questions about the stones from a researcher on Sunday and I'd like to look at them again. In case she comes back expecting my answers."

"It's locked. I...I'm not really authorized to let anyone back there," Leora said, apologetically. "I don't want to jeopardize my job."

"Of course not," Phoebe said, "we wouldn't want you to do that. We'll see you later."

"I'll find the storage room and look through it," Prue said after they left the office. "It'll likely have a simple lock like all the locks here so I'll be able to open it. Start searching in the bedrooms, Piper."

"I'll go out to Ellie and let he know of our problem," Phoebe said.

 

As Phoebe approached the minivan Ellie jumped out anxiously.

"Do you have it?" she asked.

"No...it was moved somewhere yesterday, along with some other items. Prue and Piper are searching the house. You might as well go home until we find it."

"It was just on the radio," Ellie said excitedly. "A farm on the other side of North Dawkins was found flooded this morning. Neither the owner nor the police know how it happened. The demon duplicated the fourth act of Everett. Now his connection is stronger and he almost certainly knows that the stone is in Oakwood. And he'll be coming for it."

Phoebe exhaled.

"He's been careful to make the robberies when no one was around," Phoebe said, "so he won't come here while the plantation is open for tours. He'll wait until tonight. That will give us time to try to find it first."

Ellie slid back into the driver's seat. "Get in. I'm going to park in the parking lot and then come in and help you search."

"No," Phoebe said, "this can be dangerous if he shows up. I'm not letting you be around here if he does."

"You can't get out of giving tours as people come in," Ellie said, "and Prue and Piper will get stuck doing that, too. But I don't have to be on a tour. I'm free to look all around the plantation house on my own without a guide if I choose to."

Phoebe stood by the minivan but didn't move to get into it.

"I don't want to be in danger," Ellie said, "but we can't waste time arguing. Besides, we have the whole day to find it before he'll come to rob it tonight. So I won't be in any danger. And the sooner we start the sooner we'll find it. Now get in."


Prue found the storage room and saw that it had a simple lock as she expected it would. Checking that no one was looking at her, she waved her hand at the lock and it opened. She quickly slipped inside and shut the door behind her. Flipping on the light switch, she saw that there were more items in the storage room than she expected it to house. Some were stacked neatly on shelves while others were tucked away inside storage boxes. This will take a while to search, she thought.


Ellie paid her admission and hurried to catch up with Phoebe.

"Prue was going to search the storage room," Phoebe said, "and Piper was starting in the bedrooms."

"She probably didn't get very far," Ellie said, pointing to a tour group across the hall. Piper was at the head of the group.

"I'll ask her where she searched and let her know about the demon's flood," Phoebe said.

"I'll start searching this floor," Ellie said and headed towards the formal dining room.


Prue was surprised at some of the items she came across in the storage room: a section of a cast‑iron ornamental railing, a baccarat crystal chandelier and three hand‑painted porcelain doorknobs. There were some kitchen utensils and pillows ‑ but not the pillows that had been on display in the parlor.

She was about to open the last storage box when she heard a very loud noise. That sounds like an explosion, she thought. She carefully opened the storage room door, saw that no one was nearby, shut the light and slipped out, locking the door.

She saw a tour group coming out of a bedroom down the hallway, the tour guide confused about what had happened. Piper led a second tour group out of a second bedroom. Prue was about to go to her when she thought she felt something. More precisely, she realized, it was something that she did not feel. Cold air.

Oakwood had been fitted with air conditioning, a 20th century necessity if you want to be a tourist attraction. The vents had been put in most discreetly, so as not to mar the antebellum look and feel of the plantation house. Prue was standing next to a hall floor vent. Nothing was coming from it.

She started down the hallway towards the main staircase when she saw Leora hurrying up to the second floor.

"Ladies and gentleman, we've had a...small accident," she announced in as loud a voice as she could muster. "The unit that provides air conditioning for the plantation house has...uh, broken down. For the comfort and safety of our guests, we are closing Oakwood. Our tour guides will escort you downstairs and outside. We will honor your ticket receipts for any future date. Refunds, if requested, will be handled over the telephone or through our website. Please follow out tour guides to the parking lot and go to your cars so that we can close the plantation. Thank you."

Piper was close to Leora and grabbed her arm before she could run downstairs. They whispered for a moment, then Leora dashed down the staircase. As Prue hurried towards Piper she could hear Leora making the same announcement on the main floor.

"This way, please," Piper said to her tour group. Prue reached her and pulled her aside.

"The central air conditioning equipment behind the house just exploded," Piper whispered to her. "She doesn't know why and they're afraid of something else exploding so they're evacuating the house.

"This way, down the staircase, please," Piper urged her tour group.


"A sudden, unexplainable explosion," Phoebe said to Ellie, finding her after having managed to get Leora to tell her what had happened. "Oakwood is being evacuated. It will be empty in a few minutes."

"The demon doesn't want to wait until tonight to break in," Ellie said. "He must have blown up the unit so that he doesn't have to wait until tonight. He knows that the stone is here."

"But he doesn't know where it is ‑ and neither do we," Phoebe said. "Have you searched the study?"

"No ‑ I was about to do that when I heard the explosion," Ellie said.

"Hurry up and search it before anyone from the staff finds you and throws you out," Phoebe said. "And then search the music room. I'll look in the library." They both hurried to their assigned rooms.

The library is where Everett last had the stone, Phoebe thought, so that will be in the residual energy memory that this demon will have. That's where he'll go first. Phoebe had already searched the music room. But she sent Ellie there to keep her safe. She didn't want Ellie anywhere near the library if the demon showed up there.

The last group of tourists was being ushered out of the plantation house, followed by Leora and the few remaining staff, as Phoebe ducked into the library without being seen. She didn't know where Prue and Piper were but she assumed they were quickly and quietly checking the upstairs rooms.

Phoebe walked into the far side of the library. This is where they had vanquished Everett. And where Beau had vanquished the second demon and told them the story of the sword. Phoebe turned to the wall beside the door. The sword was there in its case, just as it had been the night that Beau had used it. The night two demons had been vanquished in this room.

That was two nights ago, for Phoebe. But so much had happened since then because of that. Because as far as time was concerned, what happened to the demons was one hundred‑sixty years ago. And time went on from then accordingly.

Phoebe turned, looked at the portrait of Beau, and exhaled. Get to work, she thought. She started looking around the library. Something was different. Not just from 1840 but from two days ago.

Along the wall a Mahogany Gueridon, a small library table, had been added. As Phoebe approached the table she saw a small, round display case. Smaller than the rectangular display case that had been in the parlor. But inside this case were the same things that had been in the larger display case. The Oakwood stones, laid out in two concentric circles.

And at the top of the outer circle was a brownish orange stone with silver‑grey stripes. The stone Phoebe remembered. Everett's stone.

Phoebe was about to open the case when the library door opened. She turned around and saw a Deputy Sheriff enter the room.

"Deputy...why are you here?" Phoebe asked.

"We got a call that there was an explosion here," she said in an even tone, walking towards Phoebe. "I'm checking it out. Everyone was evacuated. Including Oakwood staff and that includes you. You have to leave now. For your safety."

"Yes...of course," Phoebe said. "I just need to take something with me. It's of great historical significance and I don't want to chance leaving it here in danger."

The Deputy had kept walking towards Phoebe and now stood only a few feet from her. She looked at the display case on the table, staring for a long moment at its contents.

"No," the Deputy said. "Everything stays here. You leave now!"

The Deputy was close enough that Phoebe could read the name badge on her uniform. D. Markham.

"I'll leave but it's coming with me," Phoebe said. She picked up the round display case and went around Markham, backing her way towards the door but not taking her eyes away from the Deputy.

Suddenly Markham lifted her hand and pointed at Phoebe. Phoebe instinctively jumped to her left as the energy bolt from Markham's hand just missed her. Phoebe held up the display case in front of her as Markham sent another energy bolt towards her, shattering the case.

"You're the demon," Phoebe said, surprised. And no spells nor potions to use against you, she thought. All I have are my martial arts skills.

She lunged at Markham, giving a hard chop on the demon's shoulder. Phoebe seized her hand, now weakened from the chop, and straight‑armed it down, pointing it away from her.

But Markham used her other hand to grab Phoebe's hair and yank it backwards. Phoebe grabbed on to Markham's shirt to keep from falling over. Her hand was over Markham's name tag when Markham sent an energy bolt downwards, almost hitting Phoebe's foot. Phoebe pulled back and with Markham pulling her head backwards, lost her footing. The name tag ripped off in Phoebe's hand as her momentum carried her backwards and she fell to the floor.

Markham quickly stomped hard on Phoebe's stomach, then kicked her hard three times on her head. "UGGH" Phoebe moaned as she lay helpless on the floor, stunned and semi‑conscious.

Markham's arm still hurt. She looked at Phoebe and saw that she was helpless. She turned around and knelt down on the floor, looking for the stones that had fallen out of the shattered display case. She picked up one and discarded it, then picked up a second and a third, discarding them as well.

But the next stone she picked up she didn't discard. She stared at it and there was recognition in her eyes. The residual energy memory. This was it. She had found Everett's time‑travel stone.

The door to the library opened. Ellie came in and quickly closed the door behind her so that no one would see her. Then she turned around and saw Phoebe on the floor and Markham kneeling near her.

"What's going on here?" Ellie asked.

"She's...the demon," Phoebe managed to say. Markham stood up and stared at Ellie.

"Ellie...use the...sword...on the wall," Phoebe said.

What Ellie had seen when she came into the library hadn't made any sense. But hearing Phoebe's words made it immediately fall into place for her.

She turned and saw the sword in its case next to the door. The story Prue told her about how Beau Pinckney had used it against the demon. A story she wasn't sure that she really believed.

But there was no time to think about the story's truth. With her elbow, Ellie smashed open the case and took out the sword. She thought it would feel strange to hold it but to her amazement it didn't. It felt as comfortable as if it fit and belonged in her hand.

She turned around just as Markham sent an energy bolt directly at her. Ellie watched as the bolt veered away from her chest and instead hit the sword, which glowed as it did. Just as in Prue's story, she thought. That story...it's all true.

Markham looked in disbelief at Ellie. She was still standing, still unhurt. Markham sent a second and then a third energy bolt aimed at Ellie's chest. Both bolts veered to the sword and struck it instead, the sword glowing with each hit.

"Run the sword...through her," Phoebe said, weakly.

Ellie looked at the sword, then looked at Markham. Not believing what she had seen, Markham turned back and looked down at Phoebe.

"I know you're a witch and somehow you're doing this," Markham said to her. "I'll kill you now and your powers will end with your death."

Ellie watched as Markham aimed her hand at Phoebe. She knew what she had to do. She ran at Markham and without any hesitation ran the sword through her.

Markham screamed. A scream so terrifying than Phoebe had heard one like it only once. The scream of the old woman demon when Beau had run her through with the same sword.

And then Markham exploded. And she was gone.

Ellie stood for a moment in shock as if she was frozen. She stared at the sword and at where Markham had been just a few seconds before. The sword was clean. Not a drop of blood on it.

"Aggh!" Phoebe's moan snapped Ellie out of her daze. She knelt down next to Phoebe.

"Where are you hurt?" she asked.

"My stomach...and my head," Phoebe said. "I'll be...all right," she said, wincing as Ellie helped her stand up.

"Everything you and your sisters told me...all of it is true," Ellie said.

"I know...it was hard for you to believe, even when you wanted to," Phoebe said.

Ellie stared at the sword, still in her hand.

"I've never...killed anyone," she said. Phoebe heard and saw Ellie's shock at what she had done.

"And you still haven't," Phoebe said. "Markham wasn't a person. She was a demon. A demon who killed Abby's cousin. And who left destruction in her wake. She would have killed and destroyed even more using the time‑travel stone."

Ellie fell against Phoebe's chest and she began to shake. Phoebe put her arms around her and held her tightly.

"You didn't kill a person," Phoebe said gently, "you vanquished a demon. You destroyed evil. That's very different. We've vanquished many demons and saved many innocents by doing that. You've just saved innocents' lives, too."

Ellie regained control of herself and lifted her head off of Phoebe's chest.

"And you saved my life," Phoebe added, looking into Ellie's eyes.

"The sword...felt so natural in my hand...as if it was made just for me," Ellie said.

"The sword's use is only to stop evil," Phoebe said, "and that's what you wanted to do. And the sword knew that. And so it made you feel confident holding it so that you would be able to use it."

"But I don't want to ever use it again," Ellie said, as she slowly walked over to the cabinet and put the sword back in its place.

 

Detective David Waraday stood amid the shards of broken glass on the library floor. Ellie had explained to him what had happened. That Deputy Daisy Markham had come to steal the stones from the plantation house, that she had shorted out the air conditioning unit to empty the building to give her a free hand to rob them, and that she was behind the other thefts as well. Phoebe's corroboration of Ellie's story, her having Markham's name tag that Phoebe said came off when they struggled, and Markham being missing made Waraday accept, at least for the moment, Ellie's story.

"And tell me again, Mrs. Avery ‑ you chased Deputy Markham away with that sword?" the Detective asked, pointing to the sword in its cabinet.

"It's what was handy," Ellie said, and shrugged her shoulders. "And then we heard voices shouting ‑ Phoebe's sisters were still in the building ‑ so I guess Markham wanted to make a getaway before anyone else came in and found her."

"Some of the stones, at least the meteorites, can be valuable," Phoebe added. "She investigated each of the other thefts and made light of them to the victims so that they would just let them go and no one would try to connect them."

"But apparently you did, Mrs. Avery," Waraday said, exasperation in his tone. "I know you spoke to Dr. Daniels and I assume you spoke to the other theft victims, as well."

"I didn't speak to Jackson Adams," Ellie pointed out.

"How did you manage to miss him?" Waraday asked, with a hint of sarcasm. "And just why were you still here after everyone was told to evacuate the building?"

"I couldn't find my keys," Ellie said, "and then I remembered I had been holding them in the study, getting ready to leave. I want back for them, saw Phoebe and she was about to escort me out when we heard a noise in the library. So we went to see if maybe someone had fallen and had been left behind."

Waraday looked at Ellie with what she called his detective's steely, piercing eyes. She'd seen him stare at her that way before, in the other cases in which she'd involved herself.

"Some day, Mrs. Avery, maybe some day...you will leave police work to the police," he said. "And not get involved with crimes in Dawkins County." He exhaled and looked at her again. Then he just shook his head, exhaled slowly again and walked away.

 

"Come in," Abby said to Ellie, Prue, Piper and Phoebe as they stood by her door. "Please sit down ‑ I'll bring some drinks."

They came into her living room and sat down. In a flash, Abby was back with juices, water and iced teas.

"Have you heard from Jeff?" Ellie asked.

"Yes ‑ he should be landing in about two hours," Abby answered as she placed the drinks on the coffee table.

"Detective Waraday just called," Abby said. "They've re‑opened the case on Tucker's death. He said that with today's new evidence he's ruling that Tucker was murdered ‑ by Daisy Markham. That Tucker's research was getting him too close so Markham...so she killed him."

Abby stopped. Ellie reached out and took her hand.

"Tucker had his suspicions about Markham," Abby continued.

"That's why he had 'police reports' and 'not a coincidence' in his notes," Phoebe said. "Markham was the Deputy who handled ‑ and buried ‑ all the theft cases. That's what he meant wasn't a coincidence. She made sure to get assigned to those cases."

"I left the kids with my babysitter for a few minutes and went over to pick up Tucker's mail," Abby said. "After I opened it I made a copy and dropped off the original at the Sheriff's Office for Waraday. He told me on the phone that was the final piece of evidence that he needed.

"Tucker followed up on his suspicions. He wrote to the Police Chief in Manhattan, Kansas, where Markham said she had been on the police force. The mail he got today had some statistics about Markham ‑ height, weight, hair ‑ but more importantly it had a picture of her."

Abby took a folder off of the computer table opened it and handed it to Ellie.

"That's not Markham," Ellie said.

"That's what Waraday just said. Whoever this person was she was an imposter," Abby said.

Prue looked at the second page.

"It says they received a request for a reference for Markham from the Dawkins County Sheriff's Office in December," Prue said. "They sent a good reference. But about two weeks after that, Markham disappeared and hasn't been seen since then."

"It says that Markham's ‑ the real Markham's ‑ last case had been investigating the strange deaths of two prominent Manhattan philanthropists," Prue continued.

"Sounds like the work of a demon," Phoebe whispered to Ellie.

"Waraday mentioned that Markham had been a Deputy for almost six months," Abby said. "That would be about the time the real Markham went missing."

"Applies for a job here as Markham, gets a good reference intended for the real Markham, then..." Ellie didn't want to finish the sentence.

"Killed her," Phoebe said. "She couldn't afford to have the real Markham find out about the job reference and start nosing around."

Or start to connect her to the philanthropists' deaths, Ellie thought.

Ellie looked at Phoebe. "Evil," she said. Phoebe knew that with that one word Ellie was justifying to herself what she had done with Beau's sword.

"Waraday said the burns on the car and on Tucker were from a taser," Abby said. "They don't usually leave marks like that but there have been a few cases where they did. The "lightning" marks are consistent with those cases. And the Sheriff's Office has tasers the deputies can use if they want to. He said that used the wrong way tasers can kill. And that's how Tucker died. Markham went after him with a taser because bullets could have been matched back to her gun. But a taser can't."

Ellie knew that's not how it happened. Markham went after Tucker, all right. But it was her energy bolt that killed him. But that's something that Abby can't be told. What Waraday told her will have to do.

Abby closed here eyes but Ellie could see tears in them. She moved over to her and put her arms around her.

"Thank you, Ellie," Abby said. "For everything that you did. And for all of your help Prue, Piper and Phoebe. Nothing will bring Tucker back. But at least we know the truth about how he died. It wasn't because of his own negligence.

"You didn't let me down Ellie."

She hugged Ellie, then went around and hugged the sisters, too.

"Waraday said he has an APB statewide for Markham," Abby said. "I just hope they find her soon before she can get away."

Ellie and Prue looked at each other. They knew they couldn't tell Abby that Markham would never be found.

"Even if they don't find her," Prue began, "things have a way of evening up. Evil winds up getting what it deserves ‑ one way or another. I've seen it happen. So don't worry if they don't catch her. She will, in some way, get what's coming to her."

 

"Do you really have to leave?" Livvy asked.

"You have a nice home but we do too," Phoebe said. "It's time for us to go back to ours."

"I'm going to miss you," Livvy said and threw her arms around Phoebe. Phoebe hugged her back and gave her a kiss on her forehead.

"I'm going to miss you too," Phoebe said. "Come on, I'll tuck you into bed."

"Nathan will be disappointed he didn't get to say goodbye, too, but he's already asleep," Ellie said.

"Your kids are wonderful," Piper said.

"And you're pretty special yourself," Prue said. "Solving cases and vanquishing demons. And being a full‑time mother."

"I just hope no other demon decides to come here to look for that time‑travel stone," Ellie said.

"No one will," Prue said. "This time we made sure and checked the whole library floor and it wasn't there. Markham had the stone in her hand when you vanquished her. This time it was destroyed."

"Are you sure you'll be able to get home?" Ellie asked. "You said you were locked here ‑ that your spell didn't work."

"We were brought here, and kept here, for a reason," Prue explained. "To stop a demon from getting Everett's stone. And vanquish a dangerous demon, too. Now that's all done ‑ with your help ‑ the spell will take us home."

"And I tried calling Stuart again," Piper said. "I didn't get him but the call did go through and I got his voice mail. So that means we're back in contact with home and no longer isolated here."

"You don't fly on airplanes?" Ellie asked, half joking.

"It's faster this way. Have spell, will travel," Prue replied, smiling.

"OK, Livvy's in bed," Phoebe said, "though I can't guarantee that she's sleeping."

"Livvy's not the only one who's going to miss you," Ellie said. She went to each sister in turn and they hugged each other.

"And don't worry about your secrets," Ellie said. "No one will know about them. Not even Mitch. He wouldn't believe me even if I wanted to tell him," she laughed.

The girls held hand and started the spell. The yellow light began to swirl around them, thickening until completely blocking their view of the living room. In a few seconds the light dissipated ‑ and they were gone.

Ellie exhaled.

"Safe trip," she said.


Ellie's cell phone rang. She saw the calling number and sat down on the sofa. It was Mitch.

"Hi honey, how are you?" Ellie asked.

"Yes, the kids and I are OK."

"It was terrible about Tucker."

"What did I do? Uhm...well, I spent a lot of time over by Abby. I know that my being there for her helped." By searching through Tucker's files while I was there, she added to herself.

"Yes, honey, Detective Waraday did come up with the suspect. And yes, it shows that the Sheriff's Office can solve cases without outside help." Maybe ‑ but he never would have solved this case on his own, she thought.

"Livvy and I made friends with three sisters. They had a problem with their accommodations so they stayed with us for two days. The kids loved the stories they told them."

"No, they went home today to San Francisco."

"No...nothing much else to tell."

"OK honey ‑ love you. Bye." Ellie closed her cell phone.

Nothing much else to tell? she thought. Just meeting three witches, dealing with time travel, almost being killed by a demon ‑ and solving a murder.

Ellie opened a Hershey's Kiss and popped it into her mouth.

No ‑ I guess there's nothing much else to tell, she thought.

And smiled.


~ Notes ~

Read all of the Ellie Avery stories and follow Ellie
as she solves mysteries from Washington to Georgia.
Visit Ellie at her website Ellie's Books or at her chronicler Sara Rosett
And when you do, be sure to bring Ellie some Hershey's Kisses.



Top