Mary Christmas 2: Christmas in July – Chapter 33 – by lostandwhatever
Continued from Chapter 32.
Monday, July 2nd, Morning
The next morning Candice was drawing circles on the bare concrete floor in an unused section of Department 8.
“What’s she doing?” Ken asked.
Alice shushed him and said, “She’s making a magic spell, and she needs to concentrate.”
“Oh, cool,” Ken said. “So that’s what the chalk is for?”
Everyone else shushed him. They were standing around the circle watching Candice draw out her lines and runes.
Bill whispered to Justin, “So, what is this supposed to do?”
“It’s for a disguise,” Justin whispered back.
“Why doesn’t she just wear a wig?” Bill asked.
“That’s what I said,” Carol said.
“Oh,” Ken said. “Hi, Carol. Didn’t see you there. Wow, you look so young.”
Everyone shushed him again.
Candice broke her concentration on the spell and looked at Carol for a moment. The girl had lost another inch overnight, more than half a year had just disappeared as she slept. Candice pushed aside her worry and focused back on her circle. There was no time left to waste.
A minute of silent work later and Candice had finished laying out her crystals. The circle looked complete at last.
“Fascinating,” Dr. Schultz said as he walked around the circumference of the spell, scribbling down notes in his little notebook. “I see you have these triangular shapes crossing over it. Did I see you using a compass to lay them out.”
“Yes,” Candice said. “Circles are normally best when it comes to focusing magical energy, but properly aligned straight lines work just as well. In fact, they work even better in some circumstances.”
“Fascinating,” he said, standing in awe of her work. He made more notes.
“Come over here, Carol,” Candice said. “Justin, bring the eggs.”
Carol walked over into the circle, being careful not to step on any of Candice’s lines. Justin followed her with a picnic cooler in his hand. He handed the cooler to Candice, and she retrieved an egg from inside of it.
“Those are Mary’s eggs,” Carol said. “The ones we found at Chuck’s farm.”
“Yes,” Candice said and cracked one open in the middle of the circle and let the whole egg drip onto the floor, she set the egg shell pieces down there as well. Then, she handed the cooler back to Justin, who stepped back outside of the circle.
Angela spoke up when she saw Candice taking out a needle from her suitcase full of tools. “Is this really necessary?” she asked. “We have some experience with disguises, you know.”
“You might be able to make me look human,” Candice said. “But, you’ll have a hard time disguising the magic within me. Our best option is to transform me to be at least part human. That will help muffle my magic, making it harder for Mary to detect me.” She turned to Carol and said, “Your finger.”
Carol held out her little hand, and Candice paused with the needle before pricking Carol’s finger. Instead, Candice handed the needle to Carol. “You do it,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Carol held the needle over her finger and asked, “Isn’t this, like, blood magic or something?”
“No,” Candice said. “Well, sort of, but I’m not creating a curse or anything. I’ll just be borrowing some of your DNA for a little while. If I’m going to pretend to be your mother, it would help if we looked something like each other. Plus, Mary has seen me before, and I tend to stand out in a crowd.” Both of them looked at Candice’s mane of red hair. “I just need a drop of your blood on the egg. The magic in the egg should be enough to power the spell. Then, I’ll activate the spell, and it will combine our genes in my body. It should be the perfect camouflage.”
“You sure about doing this?” Carol asked.
“No,” Candice said. “But, I don’t have a better idea right now.”
Carol nodded. She pricked her middle finger and winced. Then, she squeezed her finger until a drop of blood dripped out onto the egg and spread out over the yolk.
“Thank you,” Candice said. “Now, step back everyone.”
Everyone backed away, leaving her alone in the circle. Candice stepped out of her sweat pants and pulled off her sweater. Then, she tossed all of her clothes out of the circle.
Alice covered Ken’s eyes with her hand. “Hey,” he said. Everyone shushed him.
Candice positioned herself in the middle of the circle and placed a hand down on the ground next to the egg. She closed her eyes and concentrated. The circle glowed. Then, some invisible energy surged form the egg into Candice. She gasped, feeling as if she had been given an electric shock and been dropped into cold water all at once. She stood up and shuddered. The magic worked its way through her, changing her in subtle little ways. Her hair darkened to a deep auburn. Her skin darkened slightly as well. She shrank a little and her curves became less pronounced. Her features shifted slightly on her face, and her ears shrank down to a more human shape. Then, the light dimmed away, and the transformation ended.
Candice let out a sigh. “Well,” she said. “How do I look?”
“You look like my sister,“ Carol said. “It’s kind of uncanny.”
Candice touched her ears. “Do these look normal?”
“They’re a bit pointy,” Alice said. “But, they look human enough. Here.” Alice tossed Candice a bathrobe, and Candice slipped it on.
“Good,” Candice said. “The spell should last about 12 hours. Hopefully, that will be long enough to investigate the theme park for Mary.”
“Only one thing left to do,” Alice said.
“What’s that?” Ken asked.
“Time to go shopping,” Alice said with a smile.
A couple of hours later, Candice drove into the parking lot of Santa’s Village.
“You’re home!” Carol said with joking cheer from the back seat.
“This is so surreal,” Candice said.
The gate to the theme park was covered in lumpy layers of fake sculpted snow. The real thing would have melted in July of course, but this snow ended up looking more like frosting on a gingerbread house than real snow. The giant candy canes only added to the gingerbread house feel of the park. There was a banner hanging over the entrance, inviting guests to an Independence Day celebration with fireworks called “Fourth at the North.”
Candice pulled a crystal out of her purse and set it on her lap.
Carol unbluckled herself and stood up so she could get a look at what Candice was doing. “What’s that crystal for?”
“It’s one of my magic detectors,” Candice explained. “It’s directional, and I’ve got it pointed at the park.”
“So, it’s not detecting your magic?”
“No,” Candice said. “It wasn’t picking me up earlier, not after the camouflage spell I did.”
“It’s glowing, though. Isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Candice said. “There’s something magic in the park.”
“Could it be Mary?”
“Maybe,” Candice said. “This is a sensitive Crystal. It would pick up the presence of a very magical elf if she were in there.”
“Well,” Carol said. “We better get going, then.”
“Yeah,” Candice said, thinking back to the last time that she had confronted Mary. It had not ended well.
They both looked back at the park. In the distance, they could see the wooden scaffolding of an old roller coaster and hear the screams of kids as they rode the thrill rides.
“Oooh!” Carol said, pointing at the park. “I wanna ride the roller coaster! Can I, Mom? Can I?”
Candice was so shocked by Carol’s suddenly childish tone that she was at a loss for how to respond. “Uh…”
“You okay, mom?”
“Why are you talking like that?” Candice said, worried that the spell might be affecting Carol’s mind now.
Carol sighed. “You’ve never done any acting before. Have you?” she asked in a more mature tone.
“Not really,” Candice said. “I was in a school play when I was little. I played a candy cane. I had no lines.”
“Well,” Carol said. “We’re going undercover. That means you need to become a damn good actor really quickly. You want to know the trick to it?”
“Try to believe what your saying. Believe you are who you say you are. Act like you would if you were that person. That’s it.”
“So,” Candice said. “I just need to be your mom.”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
Carol sighed again. “Forgive me if this is rude, but did you have a mother growing up?”
“Pretend to be her, then.”
“Okay,” Candice said, thinking back to her sweet old mother and how she would cook meals for Candice and play games with her. She was always there to watch out for her and keep her safe. “I think I get it.”
“Good,” Carol said. “Now, quick mic check. Can you hear me, Justin?”
Both Candice and Carol were wearing hidden microphones and ear pieces. Over the ear pieces they heard a voice reply, “Loud and clear.”
“Copy,” Carol replied.
“Copy,” Candice repeated.
“Right then,” Carol said. “I’m going back into character again. Don’t freak out.”
“I’m ready now,” Candice said.
“By the way, call me Cammy,” Carol said and smiled.
Candice smiled back. “You got it,” she said and added, “kid detective.”
“Come on, Mom,” Carol said and whined, “Let’s go. I wanna ride the roller coaster!”
“Alright, Cammy,” Candice said, slipping the crystal back into her purse. “Just stay near me while we’re in there. You understand?”
“Yes, Mom,” she replied. Then, she bounced up and down like a giddy child.
Candice got out of the car and adjusted her new underwear under her T-shirt and jeans. She appreciated the support from her bra but was not quite used to the feel of it pressed against her skin. Then, she opened the rear door of the car and little Carol with her hair done up in pig tails hopped out. The girl was wearing a pair of overalls with adjustable shoulder straps over a pink T-shirt. Below she had on a brightly colored pair of sneakers. Carol was already down below 50 inches tall, and they expected that she would be shrinking more throughout the day. The straps of the overalls could be tightened up and the leg cuffs rolled up as needed, but the shoes would need to be replaced. Candice grabbed her purse and checked that she had remembered to place several successively smaller pairs of shoes in it. Then, she hung the purse on her shoulder. That was it for spare clothes. They might have looked around for more clothes, but Carol gently reminded them that the shopping trip was literally killing her, so they stopped after their first outfits. With their gear ready, Candice held her hand out for Carol, and the little girl took her hand, and then Candice led her “daughter” to the front gate.
The teen girl selling tickets at the entrance booth was dressed in a green elf outfit with a stripped red shirt on underneath it. The fake elf ears really completed the look. Candice was not sure if she was more insulted or annoyed by the costume. Inwardly, she cringed. She did keep in character, though, and said, “One adult and one child, please.”
The girl printed their tickets and Candice paid in cash.
Then, the girl handed them their tickets and said in an unenthusiastic monotone, “Have a merry day in Santa’s Village.”
“Thank you,” Candice said, now feeling only sympathy for the poor teen for being forced to say that all day long.
They passed through a gate and, after a quick check through the purse by security, entered into the park. Immediately, Carol started to drag Candice to the entrance of the roller coaster. “Come on, Mom!” she said as they walked. “Let’s get to the roller coaster first.”
Candice was assaulted by Christmas music over loudspeakers mixed in with the sound of bells from carnival games and excited chattering children. Many kids wore red santa hats or rubber pointy elf ears and a lot of them were stuffing their faces with ice cream and cotton candy. It was all a bit overwhelming. So much of it was vaguely familiar and yet wrong in subtle ways, leaving her feeling disorientated.
The voice in Candice’s ear said, “Remember to keep an eye out for Mary.”
“All right…” Candice said and added, “…Cammy. We’ll do it.”
Candice started glancing at every employee they passed. Most of them were young adults working summer jobs. Some seemed almost enthusiastic about their work. Unfortunately, when Candice reached the line to the roller coaster, she had seen no sign of Mary.
They were about to enter the ride, but the “elf” guarding the line said, “Hold on a minute, young lady. We need to check you height.”
“Sure,” Carol said and stood up against the hand of a wooden cut out of a smiling santa that measured out 48” tall, the minimum height for the ride.
“Congratulations,” the “elf” said. “Looks like you’re just tall enough this year to ride.”
“Yay!” Carol said and looked up at Candice with a gap-toothed smile. “Let’s go, Mom!” She said and dragged Candice into the line.
It was a long wait to get on the roller coaster. Candice and Carol were stuck in line between other families, while Christmas music played in an endless loop over loudspeakers.
“You okay, mom?” Carol asked with gentle concern.
“Yes,” Candice said but not convincingly.
“You look nervous.”
“I keep thinking about the North Pole while I’m here,” Candice said.
Carol nodded. “That’s a long way away from here.”
“Let’s just have fun today and worry about that other stuff later,” Carol said, taking Candice’s hand gently in her own. “Okay, mom?”
“Okay, Cammy,” Candice said giving the girl a reaffirming little squeeze of her hand.
Eventually, it was their turn on the roller coaster. As they road up the first hill, Candice was nervous again. She had never ridden on a coaster before. Still, they both screamed in excitement as they went over that first thrilling hill and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the ups and downs of the ride. For a moment when the ride was over and they were giggling on their way back into the park, Candice forgot about her mission. She forgot about Carol’s situation. She even forgot about Mary. She was just happy. It surprised her how good that felt, and she realized it had been too long since she had just had fun. She had been a child all of her life, but somewhere along the way she had forgotten how important it was to just have fun once in a while.
“Let’s go!” Carol said as they exited the ride. “I want to go on every ride. I want to see everything here.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Candice said and let the girl drag her to the next ride, while both of them kept an eye out for a fugitive elf.
Around lunch time, Carol stepped out of her shoe while they were walking. “Uh oh,” she said.
Candice looked at the girl, whose clothes had become noticeably looser since that morning. Carol slipped her foot back in her shoe, but it was obviously too big for her now.
“Let’s take a seat for a minute,” Candice said. They found a bench and Candice pulled out a smaller pair of sneakers from her purse as Carol rolled up the cuffs of her overalls. Then, they traded Carol’s old shoes for the smaller ones, which fit her perfectly now.
“Huh, size 13 now,” Carol said. “I’m in children’s sizes.” She stared at her little shoes for a while.
“You all right?” Candice asked.
“I’m hungry,” Carol said, turning her attention back to Candice. “Let’s get something unhealthy but really tasty.”
“Okay.” Candice said, trying her best to hide her worry.
They ate funnel cakes and ice cream and cotton candy. They wandered from ride to ride. They played every carnival game. They rode on the fire truck ride, blasting squirt guns at targets. They did everything, but they saw no sign of Mary anywhere.
Occasionally, Candice peeked into her bag to check her crystal, but the signal had become muddled in such a large crowd of people. She could not tell the direction from which it was detecting magic now. It had to be somewhere nearby, though.
There was only one place left to visit.
“I wanna sit on Santa’s lap,” Carol said and pointed to a small pavilion with a line of kids and parents waiting outside. The sign next to the entrance read, “Come meet Santa inside.”
Again, Candice felt that disorientating familiarity of the situation. She had seen Santa several times before, the real Santa. The idea of taking a child to meet an imposter felt vaguely sacrilegious to her. Nevertheless, she replied, “Sure thing, Cammy. Let’s go meet Santa.”
She let Carol drag her to the line. Then, they waited. Candice felt the time drag on, and she became increasingly worried that they were getting nowhere. With each passing hour, Carol was losing month after month of her already short life. Time was something they could not afford to waste now.
Eventually, the line moved enough that they entered the pavilion. There was the park Santa, looking like the cola advertisements depicted him. The real Santa was less colorful and his beard was less fake as well. Still, their fake Santa did manage to be properly jolly. Candice scanned the tent to see if any of the “elves” might be Mary. None of them were. Candice thought about making an excuse to take Carol out of the line so they could continue the search elsewhere, but she decided that would be a bit too conspicuous. They would have to see this situation to its natural end.
Finally, it was Carol’s turn to sit on Santa’s lap. Candice took her phone out to document the moment as a good mother should. She snapped pictures as “Cammy” whispered her wishlist to Santa. After the third photo, Candice noticed something. There had been two “elves” next to Santa when Carol had sat down, but there was briefly a third “elf” that had spoken to the girl on the left. Candice only noticed that third “elf” as the woman left the pavilion. She had dark hair just like Mary did.
Quickly, Candice opened up the photo of the third elf. She was not in focus, but the face could have been Mary’s.
“Cammy,” Candice said. “I think we need to get going.”
“Oh?” Carol said. “Excuse me, big guy.” She slipped off of Santa’s lap as he was mid-sentence. “Bye! Merry Christmas!” she added as she headed to Candice, leaving the park Santa, looking very confused.
As they walked out of the pavilion exit, Candice passed her phone to Carol and said, “Look at the elf on the far left.”
Carol squinted and shaded the phone with her free hand. “Is that her?” she replied in a more mature tone.
“Maybe,” Candice said. “I didn’t get a good look at her.”
“Which way did she go?”
“This way,” Candice said, taking Carol’s hand and leading the girl deeper into the park. “Wait a moment.” Candice paused, pulled the crystal out of her purse, and swapped the crystal for the phone Carol was holding. “If you point the thin end at magic, it will light up,” Candice explained and then held hands with Carol again.
“Got it,” Carol said and began and sweeping the Crystal around in front of her like a compass. “I think it’s lighting up more in the direction we’re going.”
“Okay,” Candice said as she scanned the crowd in front of them, feeling glad for her extra inches since she could see over many people’s heads. “There!” she said when she spotted the employee with dark hair. “I think that could be her.”
“I can’t see her from down here,” Carol said. “But, the crystal is lighting up in that direction.”
The voice in their earphones said, “Can you confirm it’s her? Should we send in the teams?”
“I don’t know,” Candice said. “It could be, but I’m not sure yet.”
Carol said, “Let’s follow her. Lead the way. Just don’t get too close.”
Candice pulled Carol by the hand through the crowd in front of them. Trying to keep up with the woman. Then, the woman paused briefly at the entrance to the roller coaster to chat with another employee.
“She’s getting into the line for the roller coaster,” Candice said. “Come on.”
They hurried up to the entrance, but just before they reached the dark-haired woman, they were stopped by a new “elf” guarding the line. “Sorry, sweetie,” the teen girl said to Carol. “But, we need to check your height before you can ride.”
“B-but,” Carol said. “I rode the coaster this morning.”
“Let’s just check you out real quick,” the teen girl said.
“Fine,” Carol said, walking over to let the teen to measure her height.
Candice kept watching the dark-haired woman as she walked deeper into the line and further from them. She was getting away.
“Oh,” the teen girl said. “I’m sorry. Looks like you’ll have to wait until next year.”
“What?” Carol asked.
“You’ll need to grow another inch before I can let you on the ride.”
Candice and Carol exchanged a worried look.
“I’ll go in by myself,” Candice said and walked into the line.
“Wait!” the teen girl said, grabbing Candice’s arm. “I’m not going to babysit your daughter while you ride. You can’t just leave her here.”
Again, Candice and Carol exchanged a worried look. They both checked on the woman they were following. She was heading through a gate at the back of the line into some employee only zone of the park.
“What do we do?” Candice said as they took a few steps back from the entrance.
“Your call,” Carol said. “I never got a good look at her.”
Candice paused a moment. She had never got a good look at the woman either. She was not sure, but they had no time left. “Call everyone in. Let’s get her. She’s in the employee area behind the roller coaster.”
“Roger,” said the voice in their ears. “Sending in the teams now.”
Candice and Carol headed for the entrance. There was no reason to pretend to be family anymore, but the kept holding hands so they did not get separated in the crowd. They could hear cars and trucks screeching to a halt at the entrance to the park. When they reached the exit, they saw armored FBI agents rushing in and tried to keep out of their way.
Then, there was a sound like thunder in the parking lot, and three young elves appeared, holding crystals at the ready like pistols. This group of trained security elves raced in after the FBI agents.
The rest of the park patrons streamed out of the park exit and were met by FBI officers, who led them aside to be checked over by another team of elves before being let go.
“Well,” Carol said when they returned to her car. “Let’s wait and listen to the radio.”
They both leaned against the car. As much as Candice wanted to be charging in to catch Mary herself, she knew that fighting was not her strong suit. It was better to let the FBI and the ESF, the Elf Security Force, take the lead there. Additionally, she refused to leave Carol behind again.
“Can we get an update?” Candice asked the microphone she was wearing.
“They just found the woman you were following,” Justin said in their earphones.
Carol asked, “Was it her?”
After an anxious pause, Justin said, “No. They don’t think it’s her.”
Candice hammered her fist against the side of Carol’s car. “Damn it!” she said. They had jumped the gun. Now, they had lost the element of surprise.
“The place is secure,” Justin said. “You two can put on your badges and go in to question the woman. We’ve pulled aside the park managers to interrogate them as well.”
Candice opened Carol’s car’s trunk and pulled out their badges, but they had to stop on their way back into the park when Carol stepped out of her shoe again. Candice gave Carol the smallest pair of kids’ sneakers that she had in her purse.
Later that evening back at Department 8, Candice and Carol led the debriefing for the whole team in the meeting room. They made a quick recap of the events leading up to the raid, and then they explained what they learned from their interrogations of the park staff.
“We were right in our belief that Mary worked at the park,” Carol said. she was standing on a chair so that the whole room could see and hear her. “The manager we spoke to shared her personnel file with us.” Carol pressed a button on the remote she was holding, and their slide presentation showed Mary’s picture from the file. She was wearing a Santa’s Village T-shirt, but she was not wearing her glasses to glamour away her pointy ears. Candice could imagine how much Mary enjoyed that her real ears had become her costume.
“She was going by Mary Timberlake and using a falsified ID,” Carol said. “We’re looking into how she managed to bluff her way through a background check, but we think she might have cast a spell on the people hiring her since no one could recall her actually being interviewed for the job.”
Candice readjusted her pants, which no longer fit her well since her camouflage spell had worn off. Then, she continued the presentation. “According to the file,” Candice said. “Mary began working at the park in the spring and continued working there up until she quit her job at the park the day before she broke into the office here. No one at the park has seen or heard from her since then.” She flipped through her notes. “Mary was an exemplary employee, according to the file, although we think she might have used more magic to charm her superiors for that glowing review. Only a few of the employees remembered her, but no one claimed to have been close friends with her. Apparently, she mostly kept to herself, but there was one employee that knew her.”
The next slide showed another dark-haired woman. “This is Mandy,” Carol said. “The one that we had followed, thinking she was Mary. She admitted to having been almost friends with Mary. The two of them had eaten lunch together sometimes, but they had never spent time together outside of the park. She did not know much about Mary, but Mary had given Mandy a little gift just before she left.”
The next slide showed a crystal handing from a necklace. Candice said, “The gift was a crystal with a magical charge in it. Mandy was wearing it in the park. She said she loved it and wore it all the time. Apparently, Mary had given it to Mandy with the hope that it might throw off our magical tracking crystals, which, unfortunately, it did.”
Carol said, “We checked with the managers to see if anything strange had happened at the park while Mary was there. They said there was nothing out-of-the-ordinary that they noticed. They had made note of some missing inventory from their food and souvenir stocks. Pretty basic ‘shrinkage’ for a retail business. There was also some confusion over a missing paint mixer that might have just been misplaced or possibly stolen. Other than that, we found nothing to indicate what Mary had been doing at the park besides earning a paycheck.”
The team sat there silently for a moment, taking in the weight of their failure.
“Thank you for the presentation,” Angela said. “Well, despite this turning out to be a dead end, we’re far from done. We’ll keep digging into the leads we have left. Everyone, finish your work for the day. We’ll figure out our next step in the morning.”
Everyone filed out of the room except for Candice and Carol, who took a seat on the chair she had been standing on.
“Do we have any leads left?” Candice asked Carol, whose feet were danging far off the floor.
Carol shook her head and said, “There’s the gun Mary gave you, which hasn’t been much help so far, but besides that… nothing.”
As Candice drove them back to their hotel, she heard a sniffle from the backseat.
“Are you, all right?” Candice asked Carol.
“I’m just crying a little,” Carol said matter-of-factly. “I guess the emotions come with the body.” She sniffled again.
“We’ll figure something out tomorrow,” Candice said, trying to sound optimistic.
“Yeah,” Carol said with more of a bitter tone. “Tomorrow. We’ll try again tomorrow. Unfortunately, I seem to be running out of tomorrows pretty quickly.”
“I’m sorry,” Candice said. She had never heard Carol sounding so down before.
“No,” Carol said. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I just got in the way when we were chasing Mary. If I wasn’t so damn small, you could have followed the employee onto the ride. You could have confirmed that she wasn’t Mary.”
“Mary wasn’t there, anyway. It wouldn’t have made a difference, really.”
“I’m slowing you all down,” Carol said. “You’re being very supportive, but you’re wasting time and energy babysitting me.”
“We need you,” Candice said. “You know how to do all of this better than anyone.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it. I really do, but I don’t think I’ll be going out into the field again after this. We’ll see what we can figure out tomorrow, but if we can’t come up with anything…”
“Right,” Candice said.
“I don’t want to leave you all,” she said. “And, I sure as hell don’t want to quit now, but I need to be back with my family if it looks like we’ve run out of time.”
Carol sniffled again and then chuckled a little. “You know, I just realized something.”
“I’m the littlest kid in my family now. How about that?”
They were both quiet for the rest of the ride to the hotel.