If you need me, I’ll be at the bar…

My next book release is delayed because I’m spending too much time at the bar.

I admit it:  Instead of working diligently on my next book, I’m spending my evenings and weekends at the bar.  It’s a really cool place where something is always happening.  The waitress is always friendly and has a big smile on her face (even though she sometimes makes weird facial expressions).  She has a secret – and I happen to know what it is – and then there’s the owner of the bar…he’s interesting in a whole other way, kinda the strong, silent type but a real stand-up guy (even though he has lousy taste in women).  The bar is a place where I’m happy; a place I can go to forget the everyday worries and just lose myself in the atmosphere and drama.  I get so involved there that I spend the hours when I can’t be there thinking about how much I just want to go back to the bar and become oblivious to the annoying details of everyday life.

The bar I hang out at these days is Merlotte’s and my favorite waitress, Sookie, always helps me take my mind off my own troubles.  Sam (the owner) makes me feel like somehow, everything’s going to turn out okay – even though the road might be a little rocky.  Merlotte’s is home because I know everyone and even when I want to smack Sookie for putting up with Eric’s nonsense, I trust her judgment and keep my mouth closed (she knows I’m thinking it, anyway).

At least four years ago, I read the first eight or nine books in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series.  I read them all – one right after another – during the summer.  I clearly remember lying on my couch with the air-conditioning blasting and being totally engrossed in the stories.  I didn’t like Bill Compton, I really adored Gran, and I felt so bad for Jason that I ripped into the next book just to make sure he’d be okay.

Then I had to wait for the next book and…well, I kinda got distracted hanging out with my new friends, Rachel Morgan and her sidekick Jenks.  Then I lost touch with them when I met Jane Yellowrock because she was there for me when I beside myself with worry over someone I love very much.  Jane came to the hospital with me every day and she took my mind off of things I had no control over.  Jane told me about her whole life – one book after the other – while I waited for things to get better and she was my respite and escape when things were too scary in the real world.

Jane went on vacation for a while (the next book hadn’t been released yet) so Sookie and I renewed our friendship and I’ve been spending all my free time with her and ignoring my other friends – Arienne, Caly, and my new friend Hope.  As bad as I feel for ignoring them, Sook has things going on and I need to know how it will all turn out.

That’s the thing about books:  once you’re hooked, you’re in for the long haul.  I might put off reading the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series just because I know I don’t want it to end (really, it ended a while ago, but I was busy with Arienne so I’m a bit behind the times).

My point is this:  my writing has grown out of my deep love for the escape books have always provided me.  Just like people, the characters sometimes disappoint me, but in the hands of a skilled author, that disappointment turns into something I can relate to.  For instance, I really want Sookie to tell Eric off – but she’s being a little passive-aggressive about the whole situation right now.  I want to smack her until I think about it and realize (with some shame) that I have approached similar situations in exactly the same fashion.

That’s the great thing about a good story.  The lines between reality and fiction blur.  I know Arienne and Hope miss me, but for now, I really need to get back to the bar.  Not only do I have friends there, but they’re people who can teach me something – and maybe Arienne and Hope can benefit from those lessons.

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Hedgehog Tea – A Relic Hunter Holiday Short Story

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Christmas shopping in Salem, Massachusetts has always been one of my favorite holiday rituals. Basir was perched on my shoulder, his talons digging into the thick acrylic fur on the collar of my coat while he looked around at the other shoppers with an air of superiority.

“That’s not a very cheerful look. Perhaps this will help you get in the spirit.” I pulled a small red and green collar out of my pocket and slipped it over the brown and white feathered head of my companion. He swiveled his head around to look at his reflection in a shop window.

“Who!” He exclaimed in a horrified tone.

“You look more festive already.” I laughed, reaching up to adjust the small golden bells that were sewn onto the points of the collar. I stroked his sable and white feathers with one of my faux-fur mittens as he glared at me with as much menace as he could muster. Christmas in Witch City is such an odd mix of Santa meets the occult that a great horned owl dressed like an elf doesn’t get me as many strange looks as you might think.

The shops were decked out in the traditional colors of red and green with a random ghoul or vampire thrown in to the mix – some in Santa hats, and three Dickens-type carolers sang under a poster for the Yule Ball. There were other traditional symbols of the pagan holiday Yuletide right next to manger scenes and menorahs.

Silver bells tinkled and shoppers strolled along the pedestrian mall laughing and peering into the festive displays in the shop windows. I shifted my packages in my hands and continued across the brick walkways toward Derby Square. One of my favorite shops was just off the main street and I never passed up an opportunity to poke through Magic Past Times.

A woman with long blonde curls turned the corner and we exchanged a polite smile and wave. I knew her name, but that was the extent of my experience with Caly Mendelsohn, one of the local psychics in Salem. She knew me because she was a huge fan of my grandmother, Wilhelmina Zatavichnova, a world renowned psychic. I knew her because I was often tempted to stop in at Foretold, a psychic parlor where she worked, to have her read my Tarot Cards. We wished each other a generic “Happy Holidays” and continued on our separate journeys.

The front window of Magical Past Times blazed with multi-colored lights and a giant wreath decorated with ornaments which were not your average Christmas decorations. Miniature cauldrons bubbled in the corners of the window, sending up wisps of red, green, and gold smoke which twined in long tendrils around the wreath. A few pentagrams glittered with crushed glass and others sparkled with silvery glitter. Mistletoe, the plant sacred to my Druid ancestors, hung in graceful bunches around the wreath alongside vintage glass ornaments. Everything was festooned with glittery ribbons inscribed with spells and magical symbols.

“Whoo!” Basir called and dug his talons into my shoulder at the same moment as I felt the prickle of magic against my cold cheeks. I saw the flicker of movement on one of the ornaments and a sense of urgency uncoiled beneath my breastbone.

I stepped back and then forward again, searching for the source of the magical charge in the air and saw a flicker of movement on the large round ornament again. I spun around to see if someone else had walked behind me and it was just a reflection, but I was alone on the street.

“Whooooo.” Basir cooed, urging me forward toward the window with a small flap of his wings.

We peered through the window, watching intently so we wouldn’t miss it. The surface of the ornament seemed to swirl and shift and hazy figures appeared and disappeared on the pearlescent glass. I tilted my head to the side and saw the faint image of white feathers and large amber eyes on the top of the ornament.

“Is that a snow owl?” I asked, peering into the window.

Basir clicked his beak once and I saw in our reflection that he had tilted his head to the side as well, trying to get a better look. It was also likely he was trying to figure out a way to wiggle out of the elf collar.

I studied the ornament for a few more minutes before deciding the surface shifts weren’t just a product of my imagination or the lighting. The ornament was definitely enchanted, and I was fascinated.

Without needing any more encouragement, I pulled open the door to the shop. The warm air billowed out, carrying the scents of cinnamon and sandalwood into the cold December afternoon. I glanced around at antique copper spell pots, hand blown glass bottles in various colors, mortars and pestles made from exotic materials, and myriad occult-related doodads. All the items had been used by spell-casters and potion makers for generations before winding up in an antiques store specializing in magical items. I could feel the residual magic inside the store and my own magical senses perked up and added to the faint thrumming in the air.

“Blessed be.” Called a man from behind the counter. He had woven bits of ribbon and gemstone beads into his short red beard and he had a black cape slung dramatically around his shoulders. The ends of his mustache were waxed into elaborate curls which gave him a slightly kooky look.

I cringed and smiled politely. The propensity of the shop owners to give the standard witch phrase of greeting to all the tourists drives me nuts. As a genetically- wired witch I find the greeting trite and vaguely insulting. Witches don’t necessarily use the phrase and it had become somewhat of a cliché. My chic wool and faux-fur coat was stylish, my red beret was cheerful, and my tiny protection amulet was safely tucked into my coat pocket. I don’t announce my magic with a costume or a phrase.

“Same to you.” I replied with a thin smile. It wasn’t my job to wage a personal war against the over use of the traditional Wiccan phrase, but I wasn’t going to pretend that it delighted me. A simple good afternoon would have sufficed, unless he knew me to be a fellow practioner.

“If you don’t see what you’re looking for, just ask. We have some other items in the storage room that we haven’t put out yet.” He said, pulling a cinnamon stick out of a steaming cup of water and laying it on a chipped saucer.

“We’ll let you know, thanks.” I replied, heading down the aisle nearest the window with a vague wave. As I walked, the tiny pulse of magic beat against my exposed skin and I felt excitement skitter up my spine. There was something very special inside the shop, and my skin shivered with the energy.

Basir shifted on my shoulder as we approached the window and I put my hand on his feathered chest as I leaned forward to get a closer look at the pearly white ornament. It was about the size of a grapefruit with a silver filigree cap to cover the stem of the ball. The metalwork was intricate and a few tiny stones were set into the center of flowers which gave the cap a Victorian elegance.

The surface of the ornament itself shimmered as if lit from within. Scrolling along the bottom and sides of the ball were intricate designs and scenes which were masterfully painted in muted tones that were nearly invisible unless you looked closely. It looked like porcelain with the subtle shimmer of pearls. Tentatively, I reached out a finger to touch it.

“Whoo!” Basir warned and I pulled back with a start.

“It’s just an ornament.” I whispered, but even though the words were out of my mouth, I knew I was lying.

“It’s a fine piece of art, actually.” The shop owner said with a note of smarmy salesmanship. He had been lurking at the end of the aisle and I’d been so transfixed I hadn’t noticed him. My usual senses must have been overloaded by the other items in the store. Maybe it was some sort of magical interference.

“Uh huh. It’s very pretty.” I replied, stepping back and feigning disinterest. With a flourish, he stepped toward the window and plucked the ball off the wreath. In huge hands he held it out to me for inspection. In the lights of the shop, I could see the designs which were so faintly painted on the glass shimmer and flicker like holographic images. The price tag was flipped over the man’s hand and I glanced at it quickly and nearly yelped.

“It’s on commission from the Sage family.” The man said, with a note of apology.

The confused look on my face prompted him to add more. “Captain Daniel Sage was a prominant sea captain and one of the earliest settlers of Salem. His family still lives around here and every once in a while they send an heirloom to one of the shops in the area on commission.”

As a child, I had lived in Salem for a few years. I knew of the Sage family, and I had heard the rumors that Mrs. Emily Sage, wife of Captain Tarquil Sage, was believed to be a witch. During the witch trials, it was whispered that Emily was spirited away on the ship of another captain so she couldn’t be tried for witchcraft. She never returned to Salem and history held that her husband was driven mad with grief and lived out the rest of his life in the family home, too distraught to continue sailing.

Their oldest son, Daniel, took over for his father and became a famous local figure; effectively taking the focus off his much maligned parents. In addition to his mother being accused of witchcraft, it was rumored that Tarquil was a vampire, so poor Daniel worked very hard to build a stellar reputation as a captain and as the family fortune and status grew, most people forgot the ugly rumors. Most people – but not all.

A twelve year old witch with a passion for history and a library card stumbled upon the diary of Jane Sage, the oldest daughter of Tarquil and Emily. Jane had some interesting memories of her father’s plan to keep her mother safe from those who accused her of witchcraft.
“Were they a family of witches?” I asked, with wide-eyed innocence.

“They’re not now.” The shop keeper replied with a note perplexity. “I think it’s the symbols on the glass that made them send this antique to my shop. See this one?” He held a thick finger on a small pentagram which was woven into the silver filigree. I nodded. “It’s an arcane symbol. There’s more mysterious symbols on it, too, but I’m afraid I don’t know what they’re all called. It’s a strange thing, really. Every time I pick it up I notice something that I swear wasn’t there yesterday. Like this picture here…” He pointed to the yellow eyes of the snow owl. “I swear that wasn’t there yesterday.” He cast a suspicious look at my own owl and I felt Basir dig his talons into my shoulder a little harder than necessary. The man’s eyes widened and he nervously looked away from Basir. Three and a half pounds of irate bird can intimidate almost anyone.

I felt my heart racing and my breathing was suddenly shallow. I held my mittened hands out to him. “May I hold it?” I asked, hoping the layer of synthetic fur would shield my own magic from mingling with that of the ornament. The man nodded and leaned over to place it in my waiting hands. The minute the ball entered the electromagnetic field of my body, I saw the images on the pearly surface shift and swirl. I held my hands out to prevent the shop owner from giving it to me. “Never mind. I’ll take it.”

The words were so rushed that the owner blinked twice in surprise before breaking into a wide grin. “I’ll wrap it up for you.” He said, sounding pleased.

Although the cost of the ornament was more than the combined value of every single holiday decoration in my house, I paid in cash and hurried back onto the street with my parcel tucked inside a shopping bag. The owner of the shop had looked reluctant to take my cash and I wondered if that was because the Sage family had asked to be notified of the purchaser’s name and address. Given what I suspected to be the truth about the ornament, it seemed logical that the Sage family would want to know where the ornament went.

What I had seen in the glass while the owner held it out to me told me that the ornament was no simple occult item and what I remembered from reading Jane’s diary in the dusty library so many years ago made me giddy with anticipation. I smiled to myself and hurried across the pedestrian mall, waving to Caly Mendelsohn as I passed by her outside of Foretold. Basir and I had a mystery to solve, and I couldn’t wait to get home and get down to work.

I hurried to the parking garage and stored my packages in the trunk of my tiny red car. Basir perched on the back seat as I pulled out into traffic and immediately took my first wrong turn, getting instantly lost on the way out of the city. It never failed that I could not successfully navigate myself into or out of Salem on the first try. Getting lost was just part of the journey for me, despite the fact that I had lived in Salem for many years as a child. No matter how many times I visited the city, no matter how many maps I had bought, even with the annoyingly confident GPS voice giving me directions, I had never made it to the highway without getting utterly lost and wandering through side streets and shopping malls while desperately seeking a road sign that would put me back on Route 128.

It took us nearly two hours to get back to our home in the Berkshire Mountains, and by the time I had parked in the old tractor bay beneath our converted barn, I was practically drooling with the eagerness of ripping into the box which contained the ornament.

I hurried up the old ramp and to the front door with Basir flying ahead and through the doggy-door I had installed high in the roof for his convenience. As I pushed open the bright jade green door to our home, I felt a tingle of delicious anticipation. Inside the barn, I toed off my furry boots and hung my coat and beret on the hook before scooping up the box which contained the prize we’d found. With great ceremony, I placed it in the center of the kitchen table.

Basir perched on the back of a chair with his ear tufts raised to full attention. Ka’Tehm, a water spirit who took the form of a blue beaver sauntered out of the bathroom to see what the excitement was all about. I pulled out a chair and sat in front of the box with my hands spread to test the vibrations coming off the object. I felt small sparkles of magic against my skin and something which might have been interpreted as hope blooming in my heart.

Ka’Tehm floated through the air and sat in the middle of the table, leaving tiny sparkling drops of water on the wood surface.

“I think it’s a witch ball. What do you think?” I whispered to my companions as I pulled up the cardboard lid and exposed the layers of bubble wrap and tissue paper beneath. Luminous blue and golden amber eyes watched as my fingers peeled off the layers of wrapping. I unrolled the bubble wrap while I recounted its discovery to the blue beaver. Basir stared intently at his other companion and I had the odd feeling that they talked to each other in ways I didn’t understand.

I slipped the ball out of the last of the packaging and once the ornament rested against my bare flesh, I felt the cool sandy texture of the glass and little tendrils of giddy energy skated along my nerves. Dusk was gathering outside the windows and I pulled the shades down and flipped on the overhead light. In the warm glow of the kitchen, the pearly surface of the ornament began to shift in subtle ways that had the three of us clustered around, transfixed by the magical surface of the ball.

“Witch balls were supposed to attract evil spells and trap them inside.” I shifted the ball and noticed a faint swirl on one side of the surface. I pointed to it. “Inside the ball are tendrils of glass or other material, like threads or twigs. I think this one has some sort of organic material. Maybe silk?” It was a guess, but a rather educated one. Captain Sage imported silks from the east, and since silk was an organic material, it didn’t seem far-fetched. “I need something to hang it on…” I said as I glanced around the room. Basir flapped his wings and hooted before flying off into the other room. I cradled the ball in my palms until the owl returned with a wooden candle holder. I set it into the grooved top of the holder and sat back to watch the shifting images on the glass.

The silver filigreed cap which fit over the stem of the ball was inscribed with magical symbols woven into an elaborate floral motif. I could make out a pentagram, as well as the elemental symbols for air, fire, water, earth and another symbol I didn’t quite recognize. I pointed to it and Basir narrowed his eyes at me.

“I should know that, huh?” I asked, tapping my fingers on the table. I named off the other four and studied the symbol again. It was a round circle. “The sun?” I ventured.

Basir rolled his eyes. “Moon?” I tried.

More eye rolling. I hated it when the bird made me feel stupid. “There are only four elements, Basir.” I groused.

One wingtip shot out and pointed to the center of my chest. “Me?”

He blinked once.

“So I’m the fifth element?” I snorted with laughter, but then considered the implications. “Of course! Spirit, right? The fifth element is the spirit of the one who channels the power of the other elements.”

Basir blinked once and clapped his wings together half-heartedly.

“Wise guy.” I groused, smirking and stroking his feathered head. “It’s not like I have an extensive magical education.” I stated in my own defense.
Basir opened his beak and wagged his black tongue back and forth. He had good reason to laugh, because our entire foray into the magical world had been a series of learn-as-you-go moments; some with comical results, some quite hair-raising, and some which proved to be very lucrative.

I turned my attention back to the ornament and studied the luminous surface of the glass. The pale yellow eyes of the snow owl glowed, and soft feathers appeared. Beneath that was a tonal portrait of a woman in a fur hood, her features regal and delicate. The fur of the hood seemed to shift as if blown by a cold breeze. A frame emerged from the surface of the glass, encasing the portrait in an elaborate filigree oval. Around the portrait, four smaller ovals appeared, hazy images forming inside each. The woman’s face faded into the glass, replaced by the spiked fur of a tiny critter with black eyes and a tiny black nose. The critter was holding a tea cup in his tiny rodent hands.

“What is that?” I whispered, leaning closer. Basir fluttered to my shoulder and looked hard at the ornament.

“Whoo Who.” He said, snapping his beak.

I grimaced. I know he expected me to catch on immediately, but his limited vocabulary really made that difficult. I looked again at the image on the glass and tried desperately to come up with the name of the animal.

“Whoo. Who!” Basir said again, slapping me in the back of the head with a wing.

“Two syllabils. Um…hmmm…it’s a…um…what do you call those? It’s a rodent, right?” I looked again at the small black nose and spiky fur.

“Hedgehog! It’s a hedgehog!” I slapped the table and looked up at Basir who rolled his whole head around and nodded grudgingly.

“But why is a hedgehog drinking tea?” I asked, tapping my fingers on the table. I knew the hedgehog was a clue, but it wasn’t connecting in my brain yet. “Well, it makes sense that a sea captain would have brought back tea, right?” It made sense, but I was pretty sure the sea captain angle wasn’t the only answer.

The image morphed again, this the lines of the hedgehog straightened to become a sprig of apple blossoms before the lines shifted again, revealing a frozen lake. The whole miniature animated movie started over again, in a different order. The woman morphed into the hedgehog drinking tea, the steam from the tea froze into icicles which were then melted by a fire made from apple blossoms and the woman’s face appeared again.

Basir hopped onto the table and looked at the back of the ornament. His eyes got wide and he flew out of the kitchen. Ka’Tehm and I exchanged puzzled glances and I heard a crash from the bathroom followed by wild flapping.

“Are you okay?” I called.

“Whooo.” Came the irritated response followed a few seconds later by Basir flying in and dropping a small makeup mirror into my lap. I caught the mirror and looked up at him.

“Do I have something in my teeth?” I asked, bearing my teeth at myself in the mirror.

Basir snapped his beak to get my attention and pointed to a spot behind the ornament. He hopped across the table and nudged the poinsettia center piece into place behind the ornament. I propped the mirror up against it and I could see a shifting pentagram on the back of the ornament while I watched the images on the front change from woman to hedgehog and back again.

The five points of the pentagram glowed softly as the picture on the front altered. The woman’s image lit up the top point, or spirit location, of the pentagram. The hedgehog image lit up the earth point, the frozen lake lit up the water point, the apple blossom lit up the fire point, and the tea cup lit up the air portion.

“Ah…I think it’s like a spell formula.” I said, letting a smile spread across my face. “In order to unlock the ornament, we have to follow the recipe.”

I glanced out into the dark yard and saw my small fire pit was outlined by the silvery moonlight. “I think we better do this outside. Just in case.” I managed a weak smile and Basir nodded in agreement. Ka’Tehm scampered to the door and turned around to look at me.

“You’re going out?” I asked, surprised.

The blue beaver blinked once at me and I shrugged. If he wanted to go out, I wasn’t about to stop him. I opened the door and watched him scamper across the lawn before disappearing into the forest. I felt a pang of fear for him, but knew that the magical blue beaver could just mist out of existence if he needed to. He’d be fine, I assured myself as I gathered up some other supplies to work the spell.

I pulled the long fireplace lighter out of the end table in the living room and grabbed the copper kettle off the top of the wood stove. I turned around to say something to Basir, but he’d flown out his doggy door and I was alone in the house. For a moment, I thought of how crazy it was that I was going to try and work a strange spell that I found on an ornament in a magic shop, but the vibrations from the pearly white object all felt positive and somehow…lost.

I was obligated to work the spell, because I had found it and I knew instantly what it might be. I had the history, the ability, and the materials to do it. It was like that ornament had been waiting in that little shop for me to come along and recognize it.

That thought sent slimy little drops of doubt into my gut, so I examined the coincidences further and decided that the ornament could have been picked up by anyone. Had it been a black magic item, it would have either over-ridden my doubt or given me the heebie-jeebies. The fact that I had doubt wasn’t a bad thing; it proved that the ornament wasn’t compelling me to work the magic. I could resist it but I didn’t want to. It just didn’t feel like a bad idea. My companions weren’t worried about it, either.

I felt like we were doing something that should have been done long ago. I thought about the hedge hog again and opened my spice cupboard. I pulled out a clear apothecary jar with a cork stopper and read the name of the herb aloud.

“Raskovnik.” It was a rare magical herb from Eastern Europe and I had spent a week trying to track it down before stumbling across a patch in the woods of Czechoslovakia last month. I had gone looking for the herb so I could give some to my mother for Christmas. My mother had an old grimoire which was magically locked and no matter how many spells and potions she tried on the iron lock, she couldn’t open it. Raskovnik was said to open any enchanted lock, and it was one of the few gifts I could think of for the woman who had everything.

I thought back to Jane Sage’s diary. She had copied her family tree inside the front cover. Jane’s maternal grandmother, Helena, was Romanian, and the legends of Raskovnik originated with the Slavic people. One Romanian source claimed that the only way to find the herb was to trick a hedgehog into finding it for you. I had used an alternate method to find my stash; a tortoise with a locked wooden box strapped to his back was just as effective, mainly because I couldn’t find a hedgehog when I went hunting for mom’s present.

I pulled a small bit of the herb out of the jar and dropped it into the copper kettle. At the front door, I stuffed my feet into my boots and shrugged my heavy coat on. Lugging my tools out into the garden, I set them down on a stone bench and began stuffing junk mail under some sticks in my fire pit.

Basir dropped a branch onto the papers and flew off again. I picked up the dried piece of apple wood and inhaled the faintly sweet scent. I laid it carefully on top of the pile and set an iron grate across the pit. Next, I placed the kettle in the center of the grate and sat back to wait for the rest of the materials.

Ka’Tehm sauntered toward me, making an odd tinkling noise. I noticed icicles hanging off his blue fur. He stopped next to the kettle and I watched as the icicles evaporated into tiny crystals which were suspended in the cold night air. The crystals began to float toward the kettle, plinking softly as they hit the metal bottom. I peered into the kettle and found a pile of icy snow coated the inside of the pot. I reached a mitten covered hand out to stroke the blue fur of my other magical companion.

“Nice job.” I said, adjusting the kettle and placing the lid on top of it. Basir returned with another two sticks of apple wood and I arranged the sticks and lit the paper. Fragrant smoke drifted up and I turned my attention to arranging five bamboo poles into a teepee over the fire pit. I returned to the house and took the ornament from the candle holder, threading a wire hook through the cap before returning outside and suspending the ornament over the fire.

I settled in to watch the flames and listen to the crackle of the wood and the sizzle of the frozen water inside the kettle. Loose tendrils of steam began to rise and I smelled the woodsy aroma of the steeped Raskovnik on the crisp air. Basir and Ka’Tehm both sat on my lap and I pulled my coat over the two of them, snuggling them close to me while we waited.

The steam rose higher and I heard a faint tinkle, like ice cubes cracking a glass of warm water. I watched in fascination as the ornament burst into a million tiny pieces, sparking in the night like stardust and blinding me temporarily with their brilliance. When I blinked and opened my eyes, a woman formed out of the sparkling lights. Her hair was piled atop her head and she wore a long fur coat which I thought was probably mink. Under the coat, she wore a plain white cotton nightdress, as if she had been pulled from her bed, yet dressed for any weather conditions.

“You broke it.” The woman whispered.

“I believe that was the point.” I said, a bit more defensively than I intended.

“I didn’t think anyone other than Mother would be able to do it. She told me to expect to be someplace else, but I thought she’d be here.”

I smiled. “I’m going to guess that you are Emily Sage?”

“I am.” She turned around in the moonlight, looking perplexed. “Where am I?”

“You’re in the Berkshire Mountains, Mrs. Sage. My name is Arienne and I am an Archaeologist, witch, and Druid. I believe your husband and your mother arranged to hide you in the witch ball when the trials began.”

Emily Sage looked at me and tilted her head to the side. “Yes. The men came to the house and Tarquil tried to keep them from coming upstairs, but mother said they would take me away. She worked the spell, but Tarquil didn’t know.” She shook her head and a tear slid down her cheek.
I opened my coat and Basir and Ka’Tehm climbed off my lap. I stood and crossed to Emily in the moonlight. “I believe he did know, Mrs. Sage. Your daughter knew as well. When I was a young girl, about the same age as Jane was, I read her diary in the library in Salem. After your mother worked the spell, she fell ill and didn’t have the energy to undo it. For years, your family tried to free you from the witch ball, but nobody understood the materials or the process.”

“Years?” She asked and I felt myself grimace. Emily Sage had spent almost two hundred years trapped in a witch ball and I was going to have to break it to her. I realized with a sinking feeling that I didn’t think about the consequences for poor Emily.

Emily didn’t notice the look on my face and she continued speaking, as if the words would keep the reality at bay for a few more moments. “My mother brought the ball with her from Romania. I did not know what it was until she showed it to me that evening. She said the only way to unlock it was to brew the special tea. She said that because Tarquil was English, he would understand tea.”

I smiled. I was sure Tarquil did understand tea, but I was equally sure he didn’t understand what hedge hogs had to do with tea. Helena really didn’t understand her audience. Then again, I wasn’t much better at that.

The gong on the front porch sounded and I felt fear creep up my spine. Headlights pierced the darkness and I backed into the shadows, realizing too late that there were ways to find someone without a name and address; my whole idea of paying cash hadn’t accomplished what I hoped. Emily seemed to freeze, her mind paralyzed by the suddenly alien world of the twenty first century.

I heard a Coyote howl in the woods and I drew in a deep breath as a sleek luxury sedan slid to a stop in my driveway. The door opened and a man slid gracefully out of the car. He was gaunt, but beautiful under the silvery moonlight.

“Tarquil!” Emily breathed with a slight hitch to her voice. I watched as she turned and ran toward the man, her fur coat streaming behind her and her breath making icy plumes in the night air.

The man caught her in his arms and I noticed that although Emily’s sobbing breaths caused white trails in the moonlight, Tarquil made no such display. Over the moonlight garden our eyes met and while I’m sure mine showed deep fear, his only showed gratitude and relief. He stepped from his wife, leaving her in front of the car, still as a statue as he crossed my gravel walkway.

I backed up a step and felt hands on my shoulders. “I wish you’d tell me when you’re having company.” Coyote breathed in my ear. His words drained the tension out of my body and I leaned against him as the graceful and gaunt man approached in near silence.

He drew a breath and his voice was low and soulful, like a midnight deejay on a love-song station. “It has taken centuries for one to undo this. There are no words to express my gratitude.”

I nodded and cleared my throat. “Um…you’re welcome. She has no idea how much things have changed.” I grimaced and tried to keep my eyes focused on his, instead of staring at his mouth. I was failing at that task until I felt Coyote’s fingers dig into my shoulders a little more. I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling. “I think you’re going to have a little explaining to do.” I said, feeling a bubble of hysterical laughter rise in my chest.

Tarquil Sage stepped back and regarded me with an amused expression. “Pardon?”

“She’s been away a long time. You’re going to have to explain about cars and computers and ATMs.” Coyote said with a wave of his hand. I opened my mouth to add something to that list, but Coyote clapped his hand over my mouth and continued speaking. “It will all be quite a shock.”
The man pulled an envelope from the breast pocket of his suit and dropped it on the stone bench. “I am refunding the money you paid as well as giving you a token of my gratitude.”

“It’s not necessary.” I said from behind Coyote’s hand. It sounded more like “Iff no newassy” but Tarquil understood and smiled without showing his teeth.

“I assume I will quickly forget this encounter?” He asked the man behind me.

“By the end of the driveway.” Coyote agreed.

I watched as Tarquil Sage placed his wife into the passenger seat of the sedan and slowly drove back down my driveway.

Coyote let go of me and I spun around to face him. “He was a vampire, wasn’t he?” I asked.

The mythical trickster spirit, Coyote, in human form grinned at me. “It’s the wrong season for vampires, my little witch.”

A Cup of Christmas Cover

The above story is my contribution to the holiday anthology A Cup of Christmas. The proceeds from this book are being donated to First Book – a wonderful charity which provides books to needy children. There are several other lovely holiday stories, poems, and recipes in the anthology so why not give a gift to a friend and do some good at the same time?

Have a wonderful, blessed Holiday Season
Love,
R. Leonia Shea (Leigh)