After years of wanting to do a “trailer” I finally came up with something I like. Okay, it’s not technically a trailer, but it is informative and it shows all of my cool covers.
After years of wanting to do a “trailer” I finally came up with something I like. Okay, it’s not technically a trailer, but it is informative and it shows all of my cool covers.
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.”
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
R. Leonia Shea (Leigh)
I stayed up all night researching the history of Abbotshire. I looked into papers Dr. Ash had published, read through countless articles on the history of Great Britain and no matter how many notes I took, I couldn’t find a connection between Ash-hole and Ray besides magic – and that just wasn’t logical given what I knew about Dr. Ash.
With a dramatic sigh of frustration, I pushed myself to my feet and began pacing the floor. Basir and Ka’Tehm watched me with bored expressions. The more I thought about those photos, the more obsessed I became. I ran my hands through my hair and gritted my teeth. There was just no graceful way to get more information on the dig. If I called any of my former colleagues out of the blue and told them that I had seen an article and suspected something was afoot, they would think I was a bit wacky.
Hell, even I thought I was losing it! I sat on the couch and held my head in my hands. “I need to let this go.” I groused, feeling utterly exhausted. I stood up, feeling resolved in my decision and walked back to the kitchen. “Who wants breakfast?” I called to my companions.
I rounded the kitchen island and pulled the refrigerator door open. I grabbed bacon and eggs off the shelves and set about making breakfast while trying to get my mind off the mystery on the other side of the ocean. I scrambled and fried like a mad-woman, whipping up a pile of frittatas while I contemplated the facts and filled in with a little conjecture.
We had just finished eating in silence when the copper gong on the front porch sounded a loud tone. I glanced at my companions and a shiver ran down my spine. Nobody visited our nearly-converted barn in the woods, and the wards I had set around the property were generally strong enough to discourage even the most determined religious missionary from venturing down the long driveway.
I looked out the window. Sure enough, a car was rolling slowly toward our house. I didn’t recognize the small car, and I peered out the window as Basir landed on my shoulder.
“We have company.” I said, stating the obvious.
“Whoooo.” Basir replied.
“Well I don’t know yet.” I quipped and ducked as he slapped at the back of my head with his large wing. Owls have no sense of humor about their limited vocabulary.
“You better go take a look. I don’t like unexpected company.” I said, reaching up a hand to stroke his soft feathers. He nipped my ear affectionately and soared up to the peak of the roof and through the small door.
I watched from the safety of my house as Basir passed in front of the car and looked in at the driver. He veered out of the way of the moving vehicle and landed in a tree where I could see him. I held my breath and let it out in a whoosh when he lifted his wings in a joyful gesture. He flapped wildly in the air and returned to the house.
I felt myself relax and I pulled open the kitchen door and peered out as the car eased to a stop. Basir’s reaction meant I’d be pleased with the visitor, but I still didn’t know who it was. The person inside the car took forever to shut the engine off and open the door, but when the old man swung his feet to the ground and stood leaning against the driver’s side door I gave a shout of delighted surprise and ran out to greet him.
“Pops! What are you doing here?” I laughed, hurrying toward the car with my black flip-flops slapping a quick rhythm against my heels.
“Chicken!” He called, fumbling with the key fob to pop open the trunk. “Can’t a man visit his favorite grandchild without a reason?” He asked, smiling brightly.
“I’m your only grandchild and you don’t need a reason to visit. I’m so happy you’re here!” I said, meaning it with every fiber of my being.
I helped him pull his small suitcase out of the trunk and watched while Basir landed on the porch railing, waiting for his turn to greet my grandfather. After much excited hooting and affectionate beak snaps, the three of us chattered happily and walked into the house.
“I see you’ve done a few more things since I was here last time.” My grandfather said, looking around at the kitchen cabinets that were hung, the hardwood floors that had been stained and varnished, and the solid surface counter that I had considered a necessary extravagance when I’d bought it – even though it completely shredded my budget.
“It’s coming along.” I agreed, having long since come to the conclusion that refinishing that old barn was going to be my life’s work. “Where’s Nan?” I asked, thinking it odd that my grandmother didn’t come along.
“Oh, she’s out visiting that worm of a brother she has in New Mexico. I never cared much for him.” My grandfather announced.
“And she let you jet off without her?” I said, suspiciously.
“It’s not like I’m sneaking off with some tart, Arienne. She’s visiting her brother and I’m visiting our granddaughter. After sixty years of marriage, we don’t need to be joined at the hip and I don’t need to see that worm she’s related to.”
Pops had a point. Uncle Bert was a worm, and I wouldn’t drive across the street to see him, never mind fly halfway across the country if I had a choice. Nan had never given me that choice, though. I’d spent more than a few vacations in the burning sun of New Mexico. When I wasn’t dodging scorpions and Uncle Bert’s mean old cat, Pops and I had trudged through the desert looking for Native American sites and traces of old magic.
Pops looked around the house while he continued his story.
“Seems as if the worm is having a hard time with his son…your Nan went to give him some advice.” Pops waved a dismissive hand in the air and grinned at me with sparkling blue eyes. “I don’t suppose you have a cold beer in that fancy refrigerator?”
“What sort of girl do you think my mother raised? Do you want imported or domestic?” I headed to the fridge and pulled out two bottles before grabbing two glasses and an opener. “Have a seat in the new and improved living room.” I said, gesturing past the kitchen.
The house had improved in comfort and completeness since his last visit. I’d managed to replace my thrift store couch with a comfy sectional in a rich chocolate micro-suede. One wall was painted a pumpkin color and the threadbare rug had been upgraded to a modern shag in shades of cream and copper. The small television I’d rescued from the dump still stood in the corner; it was next on the list of things to be replaced when I had enough money to justify the expense.
Pops sat on the sofa and eyed the twig patterned throw pillows. “Pretty plush, isn’t it?” He asked, eyeing the faux leopard fur throw on the back of the couch where Basir perched. He stroked a large hand across the seat of the couch and winked at Basir.
“Whooo.” Basir agreed, shaking his wings and strutting around like he was royalty.
“I was going for cozy.” I said, sitting next to him and placing the two glasses upon the coffee table.
“It’s nice. You have good taste.” Pops leaned toward Basir. “She gets that from me, you know.” He swiped a bit of silver hair out of his eyes and grinned at me.
“Whoo!” Basir blinked once and pointed to himself with a white wing tip.
“You did not pick it out.” I disagreed. “You picked out that…” I said, pointing at the large oil painting of autumn trees, “…and that…” I said, gesturing toward the rug, “…but the rest of it was mine.”
Basir swiveled his head around and raised an ear tuft, looking pointedly at the large carved wood branch sculpture next to the windows.
“Oh yeah, you picked that out. Not like you had an ulterior motive or anything.” I said.
Basir swooped to the sculpture and landed on it gracefully, folding his wings and looking regal on his perch. The wood was carved walnut, lovingly shaped into a gnarly form and polished with beeswax by a local artist. Tiny little lights were strung beneath the branches and at night, it cast sparkly light all around the room when we lit it up. It was a beautiful sculpture, and I wondered what its creator would think to see a real owl perched on his art. I had to admit, as stunning as the piece was it looked even better adorned with rich sable and white feathers fluffed out with attitude and sass.
“So tell me about your business, Arienne. How do you like gardening?”
I shrugged. “It’s not archaeology, but it’s kind of fun.” I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks and I sipped my beer to hide my discomfort. Why did I choose those words?
“Oh, chicken.” Pops said with a note of sympathy. “I’m just as proud of you if you’re a gardener as I would be if you were winning some fancy award in archaeology.” He shook my knee with his gnarled old hand and smiled warmly at me.
“An award isn’t very likely, is it?” I snorted. Without warning, I felt hot tears sting my eyes and I blinked them away, a flutter of panic in my gut. “Be right back.” I said in a shaky voice as I escaped into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.
Where did that come from? I thought frantically. For heaven’s sake, Arienne – GET A GRIP! I stared in the mirror at my sage green eyes and gave myself a stern but silent talkin’ to. You’re fine. You’re doing well. You’re not homeless. You have a nice barn, a good business, Basir and Ka’Tehm. You’re doing fine! What in heaven’s name is WRONG with you?
I felt a spattering of cool water on my lower legs and I looked down to see luminous silver eyes staring up at me with concern.
“Oh, Ka’Tehm. Everytime I think I’m over it…” I whispered, sitting down on the thick bath mat and looking at the spectral blue beaver. He had waddled out of the kiddie pool to check on me. “I don’t know why that happens out of the blue. I’m happy most of the time!” He looked at me and rolled over on the mat to dry his fur. I pulled the thick towel I kept draped over a stool for his use into my lap and closed my eyes, thunking my head back against the vanity in frustration. “He didn’t even say anything and there I go acting like a fool and getting all emotional for no reason. Jeez! It’s ancient history. No pun intended.”
Ka’Tehm looked at me and blinked once; at least he agreed with me. He nudged my hand with his cool nose and I passed the towel over his fur lightly. Since Ka’Tehm consisted mainly of water, I didn’t want to dry him off too much for fear that he’d just disappear. I don’t know what magic enabled him to stay on the same astral plane as me, but I was glad for his sympathetic ear.
“I need to get a grip.” I said, stroking my hand over his shimmering fur. “I’m not an archaeologist anymore. End of story. I’m a landscaper, and I’m pretty good at it. Sure I use magic to make the plants grow, but that’s my little secret. I’m supposed to use magic – I’m a witch. The only profession where magic got me in trouble was archaeology. I mean seriously, if those monks meant for that demon to stay banished, they shouldn’t have carved those words on the stone, right?”
Ka’Tehm blinked again and I squared my shoulder. “Pops is here, so you should go out and say hello. I’ll come out in a minute.” I said, bending down and kissing his water vapor head. I stood and opened the door, watching the blue furred critter saunter toward the living room. I turned and faced my reflection in the mirror. I squared my shoulders and looked straight into my own eyes.
“Now, Arienne Cerasola. You get a grip on your sorry self. You can’t change it and it wasn’t fatal. You were fired. It happens. Big freakin’ deal. Move on!” I looked back at myself and nodded as if to emphasize my point.
It had been more than two years since I collapsed that cathedral in Ireland. Since then, I’d located a magical healing tree and saved the magical community from a variety of ailments. I’d rescued Boston from a loose Cemi that left chaos and destruction in its wake. I’d done real magic; I’d improved my ability to control it, and I’d managed to gain a few grains of respect by saving one of the top members of the United Coven and Alliance…and the fact that he was really more loyal to the opposition than the Alliance made me feel even better about it.
I was a witch, damn it, and I needed to stop beating myself up over my past mishap. Just because Pops was the legendary archaeologist, Dr. Christy O’Flynn, didn’t mean that I had shamed him because of my antics. Just because no academic institution would hire me didn’t mean I wasn’t a good archaeologist. I was. I had made money finding magical artifacts that nobody else could have found. I just wasn’t your typical archaeologist and that was my new reality. Being ordinary was way over-rated, anyway.
Feeling better, if a bit ashamed of my overly emotional reaction – I squared my shoulders again and headed back to the couch. Pops was talking to Basir and Ka’Tehm in a hushed voice and I felt a prickle of unease.
“I guess I’m tired, Pops. You know how I get when I don’t have enough sleep and I was up almost all of last night.” I grinned and sat back down, sipping my beer and trying to remember my optimism. I decided not to mention why I didn’t get enough sleep. That was my little obsession and I didn’t want to rile Pops up over my suspicions.
“Sure, Chicken. I understand. If you think about it we’re sort of in the same boat. Neither one of us is using our fancy degrees these days.” Pops sipped his beer and his blue eyes drifted out over the driveway. I watched him for a second, thinking that he looked as if he were waiting for someone, but that didn’t make any sense. I relaxed when he spoke again.
“So tell me about your business.” He prompted, facing me and putting his elbows on his knees.
“Well….” I began, looking for something to say. “I did a pretty cool pest repelling charm for rose bushes.” I explained the charm’s origin and how it evolved from super electric bug zapper to the present perfect form.
Pops stared at me with his blue eyes wide with what looked like astonishment as I finished my description.
“What?” I asked, narrowing my eyes as he leaned toward me with his brows knitted in disbelief.
“You tweaked the charm to only work on bugs of a certain weight?”
“Yeeess….” I drew the word out because it seemed like the obvious choice. “I didn’t want a pile of dead birds and squirrels around my gardens. That would be bad advertising.”
“Your charm works?”
“Yup. There’s probably a lady bug crawling over the plant right now and she doesn’t feel a thing.” I nodded, proud of that little victory.
“That’s quite an accomplishment.” Pops said, raising his glass in a salute to me.
“And I’m working on some new landscaping plans that I’m going to put in one of the local nurseries. It should be good advertising for those people who don’t know what plants they should put together.”
The gong sounded again and Pops looked sheepish when I peered out the window to see another unfamiliar car coming down the driveway.
“That’s odd. I wasn’t expecting anybody…” I said, watching Basir fly out though the owl door to scope out the new visitor.
“Um…I think I might know who that is…” Pops’ voice trailed off as I turned and gave him a questioning look. He stood and walked quickly past me, avoiding my gaze. I watched him go and had a fleeting thought that perhaps Pops wasn’t just visiting because Nan was in New Mexico with Uncle Bert.
Basir hooted from outside and I turned my attention back to the small black vehicle. I suppressed a groan when bright orange sneakers appeared below the open car door. One end of the white shoestring was frayed into a large fuzzy ball that was apparent even from the house.
“Dr. Froehlich?” I asked, hurrying toward my grandfather with a confused look pasted on my face.
“Ezra and I go way back, Arienne. Surely you know that…” Pops gave another vague wave of his hand before hurrying by me and down the steps to greet the half-mad archaeologist from my last magical adventure. I hadn’t seen my nearly eighty year old grandfather move that fast in years, and I suspected it was more to avoid my growing realization that I had been set up, than to help Ezra out of the car.
I didn’t exactly like the way the little surprise visit was going, but I had a nagging feeling that the two old men were up to something that I’d be neck deep in before sundown.