They say a witch lives in the old house under the interstate bridge. Always in the shadows, draped in ivy and sorrow, the house waits for a child too daring for his own good. And inside, the witch sits with her black eyes and toothless sneer. They say she can foresee your death in return for a lock of hair. She can make someone love you for the small price of a pinky finger. And, of course, she can kill your enemy if you give her your soul. Some people think it's only a silly tale to scare children, but it's true. Every word.
I should know, she is my grandmother after all, and right now I could steal her pudding stash for what she did to Winn Carter. “Nana! He was just talking to me!”
She sits at her large mahogany desk, a variety of feathers and animal bones arranged just so. She won’t look at me. She never does when I catch her cursing my classmates. “Josephine, my dear, his intentions were clearly impure.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “What have I told you about spying on me at school?”
Letting out a long sigh, I sit in the throne-like chair her victims usually inhabit. “I am safe. Probably safer than most kids, what with all the charms you make me wear.” I jingle the bracelet, riddled with runes and tiny organs incased in glass baubles. I tell my friends they’re medicinal herbs. As if that’s so much better.
“I know.” She grabs her ivory cane and hobbles over to me. As she puts her hand on my shoulder, I can’t help but feel bad for scolding her. “You are just so precious to me. I cannot bear to lose you.”
“You won’t.” My mother died when I was seven—a bad curse not even Nana couldn’t undo—and ever since then I have been kept under tighter security than the President of the United States. It seemed important back then, but ten years later I just want a little wiggle room. Maybe a boyfriend. If whatever killed my mother was after me, they would have shown up a long time ago. “And you can’t give a guy a face full of pimples because he smiled at me, especially when they just appear like that. Your reputation is bad enough, and most of the town doesn’t believe you’re real.”
She cackles. It’s just how she laughs. At least I’ve never heard anything else come out when she makes a joke. Of course, her jokes are usually on the morbid side.
“Nana, I mean it. Winn is a nice guy. Get rid of the zits.”
“Oh, fine.” She plops down in her chair, the old floorboards creaking even at her meager weight. She rearranges the feathers and bones, and then holds her hand over them. In the center, a flame sparks and consumes the feathers. “There.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
“In return, I need you to collect thirty spiders. I’m running low.”
The smile is no more. Should have figured. There is always a payment—the number one rule of magic. You cannot get something for nothing. Nana lives and dies by that rule, even when magic isn’t involved. “Fine.”
Before I leave her apothecary, I grab a spare jar and fish out a frog eye from the bowl by the door. Gross stuff like that has never bothered me, probably because it’s just part of the job. Ever since I was a kid, I can remember hunting for snakes, frogs, salamanders, spiders, and other creepy crawly reagents. The only thing that still gets me is the dead carcasses. They stink.
Standing at the front door, I hold out the frog eye and close my eyes. I picture the door I need; the one that leads to the ivy-covered home under the bridge. The magic pools in my hand, and I concentrate on what I desire it to do. It’s work switching doors. Usually I keep it set on the house in the heart of town—the house my friends and acquaintances think is real. It is, in a way, since it leads here just like the other house.
This door is heavy and black, with a large bronze knocker in the shape of a gargoyle. It always groans when it opens, like most things in this house do. I’ve never bothered to sneak out, since I’d have to either crack open my screeching window or tiptoe across about two hundred squeaky floorboards.
Once the frog eye dissolves, I open my eyes. The brown door is now black and old and menacing. I turn the gilded knob, and the sound of freeway traffic overhead greets me. Checking to make sure the coast is clear, I step onto the front porch. Not that many use this road anymore, since ours is the only house still standing out here and people are afraid to even speak of it.
It’s always cool under the bridge, even in the hot, humid summers. Sun gleams from either side, providing enough light to see. The tree in the yard is more moss than leaves, and the grass is thick and wet. I breathe in the air, full of dampness and magic.
That is, after all, why my great great grandmother moved here.
Normal people tend to think magic comes from inside a person. That’s partially true. Witches can store magic in their bodies, but without a source to replenish that power they lose it. Magic, real, pure magic, is in places. It seeps into the ground, grows in the plants, lives in whatever inhabits its realm.
This house, this land, is one such place that simmers with magic. And no matter what comes, we Hemlocks will never give up this place.
I don’t have to go far to find my first spider. Half the front window is covered in webs, and I pluck one from its perch and drop her in the jar. In the corner behind the rusty swing, there’s two more. By the time I step off the porch, I already have seven. The dark places under the stairs earn me eight more. I comb the ivy all the way to the back of the house until I get the rest. As I head to the front again, they struggle over each other to climb the slick glass jar. “Sorry, guys, there’s no escaping.”
“Excuse me,” someone says.
I look up from my jar, freezing in place. A man in a suit stands at the weathered iron gate, his hands in his pockets. He reeks of money, or maybe that’s just the fancy convertible that gleams even in these shadows. I take a few wary steps forward. “Yes? Do you need something?”
His eyes go wide as he takes me in. I grab the ends of my jet black hair, wondering if I have web in it. Nothing.
“What do you need?” I say again when he doesn’t answer.
He shakes his head, as if coming out of a daze. “Um, does a Carmina Hemlock live here?”
It’s my turn to be taken by surprise. Who on earth would be looking for my mother after so much time? Before I know it I’m saying, “She’s dead.”
“Dead?” he croaks. “When?”
“Ten years ago.”
“Oh.” He looks away, and for a moment I wonder if he might be fighting tears. “I’m sorry.”
I don’t like this. This isn’t Nana’s usual clientele. I should have known just by the look of him, but sometimes the rich still believe in old ways. If he’s not seeking a spell, he doesn’t belong here. “You’d better go.”
“I...” He stares at me, a strange sort of longing in his eyes. “Are you related to her? You look a lot like her.”
“Leave.” There’s something cold on the other side of the gate. Something waiting. This man brought darkness with him. There’s no way in hell I’m letting him in, even if he did know my mother. “Don’t come back.”
I take a few steps back before I dare turn, and then I run for the door.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Happy Writers Society: Sharing Your Stories
There is something about stories that beg to be shared. Even just normal, everyday happenings turn into stories we tell our friends and family. Like that one time a guy at the bus stop kept hitting on me, even though I said several times that I was married (he didn't believe my "little ring" was actually a wedding ring, talk about rude). Or the time my mom embarrassed the crap out of me at Epcot, by telling one of the cute French guys I spoke the language, when I hadn't taken French for TWO YEARS. Oh, the mortification.
Stories. I am a firm believer that humans need stories, not only for entertainment but for learning and growth and increased sympathy. I love hearing other people's stories, both from their life and their imagination. There's no better way to get to know someone.
Lots of people, while happy to hear others' stories, are scared to share their own. It's a natural reaction. No one wants to be ridiculed, especially when a story is so important to them. For better or worse, we are emotionally attached to what we choose to tell. We have to be, in order to give it the necessary life.
But it is just as important to share your stories as it is the listen to others. There's something indescribably wonderful about finding even one person who "gets it." It's a connection—a special kind of human connection. When someone responds positively to one of my stories, I feel like, for the smallest second, maybe they understand me better. And not only do they understand me, but they have sympathy for my journey, as I try to have sympathy for theirs.
Yes, the criticism can hurt, but in my experience the rewards of sharing far outweigh it. Sharing my own work, reading the work of others, has made me a better writer and person.
In light of this, I'm in the mood for sharing today. A first chapter! From "That Witch Thing," my most recent WIP that is in no way finished or titled. Heck, I don't even know what's going to happen next. It's rather exciting. And terrifying.
Happy Friday, everyone!