~ This excerpt is from the beginning of Chapter 6 ~
After Halloweentown, Zoey pretended to go to bed but snuck down the stairs as Steve and the girls launched into their forth romantic comedy in a row.
Zoey leaned against her dad’s headstone and ran her fingers over the brittle grass.
“Hey Dad. What’s new with you.”
She pulled her rosary out of her shirt and spun a bead between her fingers.
“Oh my gosh, do you remember Meathead, Sean from Pop Warner? He was the quarterback when I was a cheerleader. Of course he’s still the star quarterback but he’s, like friggin’ huge. High school is so weird that way, the freshmen are tiny and the seniors look like grown ups, but with the brains of children. I actually talked back to him today. I though he was going to crap his pants. I mean, I stood up and he literally flinched, it was crazy. Jill’s eyes just about fell out of her head.”
She pulled a graphite pencil and small sketch pad from her jacket and flipped to a blank page.
A few rows away, a stone angel stood with her head bowed, her wings drooping and a roly-poly cherub at her feet.
The pencil moved over the surface of the paper, a loose blocking of the shapes, ovals for heads and torsos, a circle for her hips, narrow columns that would be refined into delicate arms.
A glass smashed somewhere in the mansion and Zoey’s pencil dug into the paper. She scurried to her knees and looked toward the sound. Then she saw it, a faint light through the curtains, at the end of the hall.
“What the hell…?”
She jammed her pad in her pocket and hurried along the side of the house. As she reached the corner, she slid along the wall and stopped under the open kitchen window.
She heard a woman’s voice and broken glass being swept into a metal dust pan.
“Catkin, this is hopeless. I’m hopeless.”
The glass slid out of the pan into a trash can.
“Well - thank you I appreciate your vote of confidence, my friend.”
“Oh, don’t be silly.”
Zoey frowned. It seemed like they were having a conversation. But that wasn’t possible. It took everything in her not to pop up and look in the window.
“If I can’t get this magic potion right, they’re not going to let me join the Society.”
Magic potion…? She started to raise her head but sank back down.
“Then where will I be? All this will be a waste. Of time, of money. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Zoey jumped as a cat hissed right above her.
“What is it Catkin, who’s there!”
Zoey darted for the fence.
“Hey you! PROHIBERE! Freeze right there or, or you’ll regret it.”
She was suddenly frozen in place, a weeping angel caught in mid-fight or flight.
“You stay right there, I’m coming out.”
The woman’s footsteps moved across the kitchen floor, hopped over the missing floorboards, tap tap tapped across the porch, clicked down the steps and then she stood in front of Zoey with a hand on her hip.
“Just who do you think you are spying on me.”
Her hair was dark, down toher waist, falling over a black gown from some other era and a floor length cape.
Zoey tried to answer but she couldn’t speak. She tried to move her arms, turn her head, but she was completely paralyzed, as if she were suspended in concrete.
“Well, say something.”
Zoey squeezed her abdomen, forcing air out of her lungs. Her voice came out a faint whisper. “I, can’t.”
“Oh phooey. Let’s see, LIBER! Can you move now?”
“Hmm. I got to the part where I could freeze objects, but I haven’t really mastered the part where you undo the spell. How about, DISSOLVO! I think that’s a pretty general one.”
The concrete sensation gave way then she was wobbly like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, but just a moment later she was standing upright, back to normal.
“So, who are you.”
“Well Zoey Jameson, what are you doing sneaking around my house.”
“Your house? This place has been abandoned forever. I come here all the time and no one has ever been here.”
“Yes, we just moved in. Yesterday. Catkin and I.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Reginald LeDoux’s daughter. He is recently deceased and so the house came to me as I’m the only heir, not that I wanted a run down, old mansion. I was doing just fine in New Orleans, thank you very much. Had my own Voodoo shop, friends, even that stupid dating app was finally starting to bear fruit. But no my father had to go and-”
“No I mean, what’s your name.”
“Oh! I’m Anastasia. LeDoux.”
She looked like a female version of George LeDoux, but way prettier. He was the guy that founded the town of LeDoux, so his portrait was everywhere, murals even. But she had crazy long eyelashes and full, shimmery lips.
“I’ve read about you is all.”
Anastasia squinted and tilted her head, the light from the kitchen window casting deep shadows under her cheekbones, electric green eyes glinting in the light. “Me?”
“Your family is pretty famous around here. Since George LeDoux was the one who came from Louisiana and settled in the,” she wiggled her fingers in air quotes, “rolling green hills he found here. It says that under all his pictures, that he fell in love with it and decided to stay. But you, you were born in New Orleans and then you were sent to boarding school in New York. When you were 18 you went back to New Orleans and took control of your family’s businesses, because your father was getting older. So you must be what, 25 now?”
“24 but yes. That’s right. I’m sorry how do you know all this about me?”
“Ah. I didn’t realize I was on there. I shall have to get someone to remove all that. I’m just a private citizen.”
“I mean, if you tell anyone your last name, they’re gonna treat you like, some kind of famous celebrity or something.”
“Famous?! Don’t make me laugh. Everyone I’ve met so far has been quite rude.”
“It’s because you’re pretty.”
“Oh, thank you?”
“And young and rich. They’ll probably come around but it’ll take a while.”
“Well, I’m not, I mean, it’s family money, not mine per se. Anyway I don’t plan to be here long, I just have to get this monstrosity fixed up so I can sell it.”
“Sell it?! You can’t sell it!” She felt the tingle in her nose that meant tears.
“What do I need with a twenty five-room mansion. My life is back in New Orleans, well, it was, it’s on hold for now, but, there’s some developer, they’re going to tear it down and relocate the graves in the backyard to the newer cemetery or something like that.”
“They can’t do that!”
Anastasia stared at her. “Uh, yes they can and they will as soon as I sign the paperwork.”
Zoey bit the inside of her cheek.
“I’m sorry, what is the house to you? Do you have some, stake in it that I don’t know about? I’m quite sure the attorney said I was the sole heir.”
Zoey looked down at her hands and blinked the tears away. “My dad is buried back there.” She searched for the right words. “I come here to, be with him. When I’m here, it’s the only time I feel close to him.”
Anastasia studied the girl for a long moment. “Goodness me, where are my manners, would you like to come in? I was just going to make some hot chocolate.”
She followed Anastasia up the porch steps, hopping over the missing planks by heart.
Anastasia flipped on light switches as she moved through the rooms. Zoey knew every inch of the old house, but all the tiny details that were lost in the cavernous gloom were on full display. Tonight, the full splendor of the crumbling wallpaper in the hall revealed itself: tiny baskets of cherries in pink and red, each with a white highlight that made them so juicy you could almost taste them.
Swirly flourishes were carved in all the door frames. In the formal dining room, the crystal chandeliers were sparkling, even though they were still covered in cobwebs. The ornate brass wall sconces that once held candles had been wired and were now holding bulbs shaped like candle flames.
Zoey followed Anastasia into the kitchen, one of her favorite rooms, with its high ceiling, long dinner table up against the bay window and barstools along the huge butcher block island. But instead of being covered in dust, the island was crowded with tiny colorful bottles, little wooden boxes, glass beakers full of bright liquids one was pink, another was filled with a thick green goop. The table held dishes and mugs and a cardboard box with “kitchen” scrawled across it. The huge, old farm sink was filled with dishes, and the tile countertops were crowded with smaller boxes. Even the enormous wood burning stove was covered in boxes. The only thing that was different was the gleaming-and-out-of-place modern refrigerator, with extra wide doors and a big freezer drawer on the bottom. The pristine black finish reflected the room like a mirror.
Anastasia headed through the kitchen toward the pantry. “Excuse the mess and watch your step. There are missing floorboards everywhere.”
Zoey sat down on one of the stools and the smallest cat she’d ever seen in her life trotted across the island and bumped its head against her hand. “Holy cow, is that, a kitten?”
“No, that’s Catkin. He’s just miniaturized.”
Anastasia set a tin of Hershey’s chocolate on the island. “Miniaturized. That bowl of pink stuff is the miniaturize spell.” She took a gallon of milk from the refrigerator. “I was able to do that one fine. But the invisibility spell is really giving me trouble.” She filled two mugs and walked into the pantry to heat them in the microwave.
Zoey frowned. “Are you joking? Or…?”
She came out and leaned on the island. “Oh, no, these bottles are from my Witchcraft Correspondence course, ‘Awaken Your Inner Witch in 90 Days!’ that I’m failing miserably, by the way.”
“Wait, you did a spell that actually shrunk your cat?”
“Yeah.” She handed a spiral notebook Zoey.
Southern California Chapter Salem Black Hat Society Spellbook.
“I’m supposed to make an invisibility spell by,” she checked the time on her cellphone, “oh Jesus, by now. There’s an initiation ceremony for the Salem Black Hat Society tonight. But-”
“That sounds so cool, can I come?”
“Well I won’t even be going if I can’t do the invisibly spell right.”
“Hold on. It’s a test, right?”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“Then they’re testing you. They’re not just going to give you the-”
“Wait a minute. Look at you, your black hair and green eyes, you look, like a LeDoux.”
“I am, my last name is LeDoux.”
“But I thought you said it was James, Johnson, something.”
“Jameson. My mom remarried when I was young, and my step-dad adopted me so, bye bye LeDoux.”
“Well that’s terrible!”
“It’s ok, I-”
“I didn’t mean it’s terrible that he adopted you I meant-”
“I kinda like that it’s my secret. It’s part of why I came here in the first place. After my dad, left or whatever, the house was the only thing that belonged to my family. I mean, sort of.”
~ END of EXCERPT ~
Excerpt of Jezebel Book One
The sign above the door said Cat’s Cauldron Witch Shop. Love Potions & Hexes for Exes, Tarot Card Readings, Past Lives & Seances was stenciled across the windows in block letters. My mom and I have driven past it a million times when we’re doing errands on Cahuenga, but we’re always in a hurry so I’ve never been inside.
I had a few minutes to kill before the 9:00pm bus so I checked out the window display – crystal clusters and cat’s eye scrying balls sat right up against the glass, hanging from a dried tree branch were necklaces with pentagrams, rune symbols, tiny spell bottles, triple moon goddess pendants and miniature cauldrons. Colorful glass bottles sat in a wood cabinet with labels like Toadstools, Love Potion No. 9, Ex Hex. An old broom hung on fishing wire to make it look like it was floating, and in the right light it probably looked pretty good, and then a huge spiderweb made of black yarn spanned the entire window.
I opened the door and went inside. The combination of hundreds of different kinds of incense and scented candles made the air almost unbreathable. A woman with long black hair, a black dress and black corset belt stood behind the counter with her back to me. A pillar candle slid across the countertop and into her hand.
The woman spun around.
“That was so cool – how did you do that.”
“Seriously, that was awesome.”
“Hello? I said we’re closed.”
“Tell me how you did that.”
“Made that candle move on its own.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do.”
“No – I don’t.”
“I saw it, lady.”
“Lady?! I’m 25, Jesus.” She came out from behind the counter and turned me toward the door. One of those hip scarves with the jangly thingies was layered over her skirt – like what my mom wears to her belly dancing class. But hers went all the way to her shin, the tassels brushing the floor – and it didn’t look cheap.
She pulled the door open and a little bell jingled above us.
“Well then I saw it – ma’am.”
“That’s even worse. Just – stop talking. You’re awful.”
She tried to push me out the door but I braced myself. “Look, I’m not going anywhere until you tell me how you did that.”
“Well I’m not going to tell you so – what – we’re just going to stand here and stare at each other all night?”
I brushed past her and the door swept shut, the little bell ringing. “I am the undefeated stare contest champion at Fairfax High.”
She rolled her eyes. “Trust me. I’ll win.”
I looked at her and blurred my eyes – my secret weapon.
A puff of air slammed into my face and I blinked. “Hey! That’s not fair.”
“Number one, life isn’t fair, number two – we didn’t set up any rules above the obvious staring part. So – I won.”
“Aw, look how adorable you are – you don’t know anything at all about how the world works.”
“Then teach me – like how you did that thing with the candle.”
“Oh my God, you’re super annoying – I’m sure a lot of people have told you that, right.”
“I promise I’ll be a good student.”
“Student. Uh, pass.”
I looked around. “Well – I could… Clean up around here. I mean, look at all these cobwebs.”
I reached up to brush one down and her hand caught my wrist.
“Don’t you dare touch those. Do you know how long it took to get them just right. Jesus.”
“I could sweep or I don’t know… Mail stuff?”
She raised an eyebrow. “I do have a shitload of packages that need to go out – online business is a pain in the ass. Worst invention ever.”
“Cool. And I can help with whatever else you need.”
“How are you with billing? Accounting stuff.”
“Well I mean I’ve never, you know, done that but I could-”
“I didn’t ask if you were a CPA, I just need someone to send emails to remind people they still haven’t paid me.”
“Oh yeah I could do that.”
“That could probably be a full time job in itself.”
“Do you have a computer back there?”
“No, that’s part of the problem.”
“Oh. Well I could bring my laptop.”
“I don’t know, we’ll see. Hold on – let me grab the boxes that need to go out.”
“Yeah now – they needed to go out yesterday.” She walked behind the counter and through a beaded curtain with an off-brand Jesus and his glowing sacred heart.
“I just mean – it’s 9 o’clock. The post office isn’t open.”
Her voice was muffled – like she was deep in the back room or behind a stack of boxes or something. “Well these have to go UPS. So just go in the morning, before school or whatever.”
While I waited, I looked around the shop. It was jam-packed with – stuff. The room was painted deep red and in every possible extra space there was something hanging on the wall – creepy African masks, a bunch of old witch brooms, large brass symbols that looked like they might be Chinese characters. Strands of christmas lights and a few spotlights did a terrible job of lighting the place up – I could barely read the words on a box of incense. A wide floor to ceiling bookshelf held candles of every shape and color, even black ones, another wall was covered with little baggies of – herbs I guess, hanging from skeleton finger wall hooks. Strange-looking old books were crammed between miniature metal statues in the smaller cabinets. Behind the counter, mason jars and hundreds of odd-shaped bottles sat on long wooden shelves. It looked like a spooky version of a bar I went into once, except these bottles looked like they could kill you.
She came out with a huge bag over her shoulder, rectangular boxes poking out in all directions.
She handed it to me and it hit the floor.
“Jesus kid! Those are delicate. Spell candles and shit.”
“What’s a spell candle?”
She went to the door and pulled it open, the overhead bell jingling. “Why don’t you go home, get that – fancy laptop of yours – and read up on spell candles and other stuff in witch shops.”
“Are you a witch, is that how you moved that candle without touching it? Did you use your mind?”
She shoved me out the door and locked it with a heavy click.
“Hey! Are these already paid for?”
I banged on the glass but she ignored me and disappeared behind Jesus.
What the hell. Who did this – lady – think she was? By the way, she didn’t seem 25 at all. She was grumpy and sour-faced like my mom’s friends, like she was 40 or something.
I shoved the door and it swung open – the little bell silent – and stood at the counter.
“Hey, lady! Are these packages already paid for?”
“Jesus H. Christ!”
She came through the beaded curtain with one hand on her heart. “I know I locked that door. How’d you get in here.”
She reached across the counter and grabbed my face, squishing up my cheeks and lips, and looked into each of my eyes, turned my face left and right and looked at – I don’t know what. Then she let go, kinda hard.
“Here. Here’s a $20. I’ll owe you the rest.”
“There are like 30 boxes!”
“I’m good for it… Especially if you can get a few people to pay what they owe me. Now git, I have to close up.” She turned and slipped through the beaded curtain.
“Hey what’s your name?”
She must have been deep in the back room again because I could barely hear her. “Lucretia!”
“I’m – Jezebel!”
I waited for her to say something like “Nice to meet you,” or “Thanks for helping out Jezebel,” but she was just banging around back there, so I left.
“You owe me $30.”
“Jesus, can’t you see I’m with a customer. Chill the f- out.”
Lucretia finished ringing the man up and I could swear she was like, batting her eyelashes and staring at him too long. He left, without a bag or anything.
“That guy had a wedding ring on.”
“You think I didn’t see that…”
“I had to put your mail on my mom’s credit card, which I’m only supposed to use for emergencies.”
“I’m good for it, kid, relax.”
“What did that guy pay for?”
“Gave him a reading.”
I must have been making a funny face or something because she rolled her eyes and pointed at the front of the shop. “It’s on the friggin’ windows – tarot card reading, past lives…”
“Can you really do that – see peoples’ past lives or their future or whatever?”
“Why would I be advertising it if I couldn’t do it.”
“It’s just that most of these – places – seem like a scam or something.”
“My family has had this store here since the 1930s. Back then we couldn’t be so blatant about the witchcraft aspect, but we’ve always done readings and sold spells. Except we did it back there.”
She nodded toward the back room.
“People don’t really want to know their future, they just want to feel good so I tell them – just a little bit about it.”
“But they’re paying you to tell them their future.”
“No – they’re paying me to make them feel better. For an adrenaline rush. For – hope. See the thing is – the future is in flux, as you can imagine, each time a person makes a different decision the direction changes, so I tell them something that will lead them toward what it is they are wanting. It’s people that create their own lives – they don’t know how powerful they really are. So I gently nudge them toward what they want. Which, by the way, is a bargain at $30 per session.”
“Speaking of…” I held my palm out.
“He paid with a credit card.”
“No he didn’t I saw you give him change.”
After banging around on the cash register, she slammed three ten dollar bills on the counter. “Good God, kid, you really are – horrible.”
She gave me a blank stare.
“It’s my name.”
“Your name is Jezebel.”
“Did your parents name you that?”
“I mean, it’s my middle name, but…”
“I thought people were still naming their kids Taylor and Kaylee and Brooklyn and shit. Jezebel’s a pretty bold choice.”
The bell over the door sounded and Liam came in, flicking his long black bangs out of his face with a shake of his head.
I gave him a quick hug. “I’m so glad you made it.”
“Well now who’s this?”
“Lucretia, this is Liam, my friend from school. Liam – Lucretia.”
“Hi.” He gave a little “Liam” wave.
“Well you two are a regular Addams family, aren’t you?”
“He’s going to help us automate your billing.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t recall saying you could invite all your fellow latchkey kids over.”
He pulled his backpack off. “It won’t take long.”
Behind the counter there were two doors, the one with the beaded curtain of Jesus and one to the right, obscured by sheer fabric with an exotic pattern – Indian maybe.
We went through Jesus and into the back room where I promptly tripped over a box.
“Watch your step, kid. You break it you buy it.”
“This place is a disaster.”
“No one asked you.”
Liam somehow managed to find a desk and a chair and cleared a space for his laptop.
“What’s the wifi password?”
“Um… I Put A Spell On You 123 – all one word.”
“We should tighten that up. You don’t want whole words in your password.”
Lucretia rolled her eyes.
“What email program.”
Liam and I both burst out laughing.
“Oh my God, Lucretia, that’s ancient – you have to move to another program. We should get her a Gmail account and migrate her emails.”
Liam already had web browsers open, clicking around the keyboard super fast. “In progress.”
Lucretia actually looked impressed.
“Ok I’ve set it up so that emails with a keyword like billing or a dollar amount, are sent every other day until the person clicks on the link and makes a payment either with a credit card or PayPal.”
“PayPal – I’ve already got you an account. So, take a look at this, you have a bunch of emails, yeah here’s another one, from people asking for help… See this one, this guy thinks he has a ghost or an evil ghost of his recently deceased wife. It’s in the house and is torturing him and his children. He’s in… Bel Air.”
I scanned the email. “Holy cow Lucretia! He’s offering you $2,000 to get rid of it.”
She leaned in. “What. Where.”
Liam pointed to the screen.
“Can you do that – get rid of an evil ghost?”
Her head turned toward me, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the screen. “Uh… Probably…?”
“Probably? I mean it sounds kinda dangerous.”
“Well, I’d just need-”
Liam interrupted her. “Typical Christian exorcism tools can be useful, a circle of protection is a must, binding spells, an accomplished witch or priest, the body of the deceased.”
She leaned closer to the screen. “How do you know that?”
“Just a quick search.”
“Damn. Maybe I should get one of those things.”
“Can we help him…? We totally should.”
“Oh no, there is no ‘we’ in this deal. What – are your parents gonna sign a waiver for you to hunt – ghosts with me?”
Ever the serious one, Liam looked at her. “My parents would.”
“And my parents don’t care. So that settles it. Tomorrow is Saturday… Liam, email him back and say we’ll be there at 5:00pm.”
His fingers zipped over the keyboard.
“Hey wait a minute – don’t go planning my Saturday night, I might – have plans.”
I looked at her. “Do you?”
“Well. No. Not this Saturday, but I do have – stuff – that I do – all the time.”
“What? Kid, he’s in Bel Air – we could have easily gotten 5 grand outta him.”
Liam opened each of the emails asking for Lucretia’s help in a new tab. “I don’t think you need to squeeze some millionaire for another $3,000 – look how much these people are offering you. I mean these emails alone – that’s about $30,000.”
“Holy shit. Are you serious.”
“Liam is always serious, Lu. Can I call you Lu?”
“Yeah, another one offering $4,000 here…”
“Oh my gosh – just think how many more people are going to need us once we start marketing your services.”
“Jesus, I can finally pay off those-”
She caught herself and gave me a sidelong glance but I saw the wheels in her head whirring.
“So – you’ll do it?”
“Kid – I have to. And don’t call me Lu.”
We were all crammed into Lucretia’s purple ’68 Firebird – which smelled like gasoline so bad you’d swear there was an open gas can in the car. I was in the front seat watching the map on my phone, Liam and Eddie and Bettie – the twins – were in the back. Bettie was totally into dark stuff, like me – we used to play the Ouija board all summer. Eddie would make fun of us, but he always ended up joining in. I think he loved the dark things too, he just tried to be cool for his stupid jock friends. Which was lame cuz they were assholes.
Eddie and Bettie were a year older than Liam and I – they just started Senior year – but they’ve lived down the block from us on Beverly forever, so I’ve known them pretty much my whole life.
I always had a little crush on Eddie. Ok, at one point it was a huge crush, but since he always ignored me, it fizzled out. The last few years he was always out with his friends so I never saw him when I was over at Bettie’s. But having him right there in the car, behind me… The butterflies came back, and hard, they were doing Olympic-level gymnastic floor routines from my ribcage to my bellybutton. My mind kept drifting back to that summer a few years ago when I’d see him come out of the shower, a towel just barely hanging onto his hips…
“Jesus kid!” Lucretia’s hand was snapping in front of my face.
“Which way – left or right?”
“Oh…” I looked at my phone. “Straight. That’s it.”
We headed toward the enormous gate which was adorned with metal flowers and golden lion heads – I mean, maybe it was brass, but it sure looked like gold. All the houses we had passed once we drove through the “Bel Air” arch were huge – like the size of my middle school – the whole school. I couldn’t imagine how one family could live in such a big house. And everything was perfectly shiny – the chrome on the cars, the marble pillars and brass light fixtures… As if the rain drops were never allowed to sit long enough to leave water marks.
Lucretia pulled up to the intercom and rolled down her window which squealed in various high pitches with every turn. She tapped on the screen.
“What the fuck – where are the buttons.”
Liam leaned forward, his face jammed between Lucretia’s headrest and the door frame. “Shh, it’s a video screen.” He spoke louder. “Lucretia to see Mr. Hawthorne.”
The gate opened painfully slow and we screeched up the steep driveway in first gear. I could tell Lucretia was embarrassed, but everyone was busy oohing and aahing at the orange sun dipping below the pacific.
Bettie leaned over Eddie as we went around yet another hairpin turn. “No way! You can see everything from here. Is that – the airport?”
Eddie tapped on the glass. “And check it out – Long Beach. Can you imagine looking at that view every day.”
“Hey – enough of the tourist bullshit.”
Everyone sat back and looked up at the giant mansion at the top of the winding driveway.
Lucretia cut the engine and jammed the parking break to the floor.
A butler in the full butler outfit, white tie dinner coat with tails, stood in the doorway, watching Liam, Eddie and Bettie squeeze out of the back seat rather ungracefully.
When we were all gathered at the door, he literally looked down his nose at us and flared his nostrils. “Right this way. Mr. Hawthorne is expecting you.”
The house was unbelievable – the entry was as big and grand as some of the museums my mom dragged me to, with an incredibly high vaulted ceiling and not one, but two, sweeping stair cases that led up to the 2nd floor. The carpet was white, I mean, who has white carpet, so impractical. The walls were white, the furniture was a shade just above white, eggshell maybe… And the art on the walls was even more impressive than the museums my mom dragged me to. Huge canvases in gold gilt frames, one of Monet’s water lilies that took up a whole wall. I recognized a few pieces by Dutch painters who were called masters of light – they had figured out how to reproduce the glow of light so perfectly that you could swear the painted candle flames would burn you if you reached out and touched them.
A handsome older man came down the stairway to our left. He looked like one of those models in magazine ads for expensive watches. You know, like they obviously have their shit together. He wore a full-on business suit, pressed and tailored to fit him perfectly, which clearly cost a small fortune. And I’m sure we must have stood out against all that white in our faded black clothes. I glanced at Lucretia and she was blushing and batting her eyelashes. So unprofessional.
I elbowed her.
He shook Lucretia’s hand and, of course, she hung on too long.
“Hello, I’m Marcus Hawthorne.”
“Lucretia Maeve. And my associates.” He nodded at each of us. “Any relation to Nathaniel?”
“No shit. That’s crazy cuz I was in Salem last year and you wouldn’t beli-”
I slammed my ankle against hers.
“I mean – how fascinating.”
“Thank you for coming. I was at a loss and didn’t know who to contact. A friend of a friend suggested you.”
“Well. I hope we can help.”
“Maria has tea for us in the sitting room. If you’ll follow me this way.”
I thought we were in the sitting room.
We followed him down the hall to another white room but this one had dark leather chairs and couches and had a thick slab cut from a huge tree trunk for a coffee table. A gorgeous maid, in a full French maid outfit, poured tea into tiny cups with saucers and handed one to each of us. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to drink tea from a cup and saucer, but it’s really awkward. I just set mine on the table and pretended to forget about it.
“I don’t know where to start – it’s been quite… Strange.”
“Don’t worry about that – strange is normal for us – just start at the beginning.”
“Well, Viv had been sick for some time. We knew it was close to the end, so she wanted to come back here to…” His voice caught in his throat. “She wanted to – die – here. With us… That day, the children and I were by her side. She couldn’t speak any longer, but the way she looked at me…” His eyes went red and glossy as he stared through the floor. “The fear, the regret, the agony. Leave the children. How could you do that. How could you let them go. Is it possible to accept something like that in your last moments, are you ever at peace with it, or does the pain of leaving them behind just stay with you until the moment you – die. Leaving the children… That’s what hurt the most – watching her – haunted – until that last moment. I wanted her to go in peace but… Her eyes – she was heartbroken – she begged, pleaded silently – don’t let me go, I’m not ready, not yet… And it was like she was desperate to tell me things. Things I already knew – we’d said our goodbyes but… I’ll never forget that look in her eyes…” He was quiet for a moment. “And when it was – time, she wouldn’t let go… She kept fighting for a breath of air, kept fighting to speak, kept fighting to hold onto my hand, kept fighting to stay – in her body. Here with us… Until… She couldn’t. Her hand slipped from mine and she was gone.”
Lucretia’s eyes were brimming with tears and I tried not to wipe my nose.
“Anyway. The gentlemen from the funeral home came and took her – and we began to organize the funeral. But that night… That’s when things started happening. At first it was nothing of consequence – an item would be moved. The children and I assumed each other had moved it, but then things started breaking – like a crystal vase full of flowers, or all the dishes from a cabinet. It was becoming dangerous. I don’t believe in things like ghosts but it was the children who convinced me that there was a some kind of spirit. They’d been saying it from the start.
“Two nights ago, my in-laws were here and the dinner table just exploded, food everywhere… It’s like its rage kept escalating. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is around 2:00am when the ghost or whatever hovers over the bed and says – horribly hateful things. Things I won’t even repeat. I know it’s not Viv – she would never do this to us. Never. But it’s as if the ghost knows everything Viv knew, twisting good memories into hideous things.”
Lucretia was nodding. He seemed to be done.
“Was your wife cremated.”
“We had a burial.”
“Well, that’s good at least. It sounds like you have a ghost for sure, but a dangerous ghost, like a wraith, or perhaps even a demon wraith. A wraith is a confused and angry spirit. They lash out because they can’t think things through. They have access to emotions but not to logic. A wraith is often the result of a murder. Some unfinished, unfair kind of thing. But the escalating violence sounds more like a demon wraith – a ghost which is possessed by a demon.
“You’re right – it’s not your wife any longer. A demon’s whole purpose is to cause havoc and if they’re able to get into a physical vessel, they can cause real chaos on the physical plane, here, this world that you know. Which is part of the reason demons are always trying to get in to bodies. Sometimes they are successful, you’ve seen serial killers, murderers or people with addictions that just don’t look human anymore… People of sound mind and body can usually keep them at bay. But vulnerable people – newborns, people transitioning into life or death, like your wife, are too weak to fight… The demons can get in. There’s good news and bad news. Which do you want first…”
“Bad I suppose.”
“We have to exhume your wife’s body.”
He went sort of pale. I think we all did.
“And have her here in the house for however long it takes to exorcise the demon from the ghost or spirit or whatever. You may want to send your kids away, depending on how old they are.”
“I’ll send them away immediately.”
“And the good news is – I’m confident we can get rid of it. I just can’t tell how long it will take.”
“I’ll need to take something of your wife’s, like a brush or a blanket that might have some of her hair on it.”
“Of course.” He nodded at Maria who hurried out of the room.
“It mostly comes out at night you said.”
“Ok, if it’s alright with you, we’ll be back tomorrow at midnight. You think you can get your wife’s body here by then?”
“Yes. Please do. I’ll make some calls.”
“I’d suggest you and your staff stay somewhere else tonight. It’s listening to us right now. It knows we’re coming so it will fight. It may even try to kill you tonight.”
Lucretia and I were behind the counter, I was extracting long strands of Vivian’s dark brown hair from her brush and sticking them to a piece of duct tape and Lucretia was rummaging through another box of books. Liam was sitting on the floor with his laptop, 10 pages deep in search results.
Eddie and Bettie had gone home after the visit with Mr. Hawthorne and were told to be back at the shop tomorrow night at 11:30pm.
“Fucking finally. Dr. Crowley’s Book of Demons.”
I leaned over her shoulder as she read aloud.
“To Banish a Demon Wraith… Many of the same rules apply to exorcising a demon from a wraith as exorcising a demon from a person. Crosses, holy water, verses from the Bible… But if you can ascertain the demon’s proper name, speaking it aloud will give you power over it. With such power you have a better chance of defeating the creature on the physical plane.
“Alternatively you could call the name of the Angel that has dominion over that particular demon, again, that is assuming you are able to ascertain the demon’s proper name. Should you succeed at calling the Angel, their fight will be on the astral plane. Only those with the sight will witness such a battle.
“If you don’t possess the sight, you will have to wait and see if the demon continues its abusive behavior. If so, you have not been successful at banishing your demon and should try something else.”
Liam looked up from his laptop. “Here – a forum of people who have used Dr. Crowley’s Book of Demons… I’ve got a few threads on banishing a demon wraith. This one guy says he used a salt circle, binding spells, a lists of demon names, major and minor, says the typical exorcism stuff didn’t work, but Carnelian helped him a ton.”
I looked at Lucretia. “Do we have all of that?”
“It’s at my house. Under stuff.”
Lucretia’s house was probably what I should have imagined, but didn’t. It was a beautiful purple Victorian that she had inherited, but everything was falling apart. The living room was livable, but every other room was Hoarder-Ville. But not like, disgusting piles of old lady hat boxes with dead kittens underneath, her place seemed to be full of important magical stuff going back quite a few generations. Whereas some people might keep grandma’s handmade quilt, Lucretia had grandma’s charmed binding box, dead aunt Marge’s Ouija board, great grandpa’s cabinet of magical oils, Uncle Jack’s wool cloak, someone’s full sized iron cauldron that now held umbrellas and walking canes.
“God bless it Lucretia – we’re going to have to organize all this…”
“We don’t have time for that. Come on.”
Liam and I followed her down the narrow hallway and watched as she pushed a door open. By pushed I mean, leaned her shoulder against it and pushed as hard as she could.
Once the door was open a bit, I could see what the issue was – black trash bags, full and round were piled up seven feet high, wall to wall.
“Did you toss bags in there and then just shut the door or something.”
“Well, don’t do that.”
Lucretia stood in the tiny island of hardwood floor and started tossing bags over her head. We piled them along one side of the hallway so they wouldn’t turn into a giant road block.
“Hey kid, can you get this box. It’s heavy.”
Liam squeezed by her, grabbed a large box and set it in the hall.
“Hey, hold my legs – I’m goin’ in.”
I poked my head around the door and Lucretia was on her knees like, swimming into the sea of blackness. It seemed moving that box made some sort of tunnel that led deeper into the pile. Either that or the whole thing was about to come down on her any minute.
I heard the rustling of trash bags, then she was backing out on her hands and knees.
She handed me two bags – one was like an ancient alligator purse thing that doctors used to carry, the other was a really heavy velvet drawstring bag.
Lucretia put a plate of Oreos on the coffee table as Liam sank into the couch and clicked around on his laptop.
I sat on the floor and pulled the thing out of the velvet bag. It reminded me of one of those salt lamps – it was a reddish-orange rock with crude edges – like someone hacked it into a rectangle with another rock.
“Is this a crystal?”
“Technically, yes but people usually call Carnelian a stone. There should be some more pieces in there.”
I set it on the table and scooped up a handful of smaller pieces. As I examined them, I realized they looked like they would fit into the crooks and cracks of the bigger stone.
It took me a minute, but I figured out where each piece fit.
When I put the last stone in, it started to glow. “Holy shit!”
“Well whadda you know.”
“That’s crazy Jez, how did you know to do that.”
“I don’t know I just – knew.”
Lucretia scraped the cream off one side of an Oreo with her teeth. “People use it to help develop their psychic ability, like clairvoyance and clairaudience but it can aid dowsing and psychometry. We’re gonna be using it for-”
I twisted a cookie apart. “What’s psychometry.”
“It’s when you touch an object and can read it – say you let me hold an old ring you’ve had in your family for generations, I could tell you a bit about each person that wore it.”
Liam actually looked up from his laptop. “That’s so cool.”
“It also helps the living transition to the spirit realm, so hopefully it’ll make this a little easier on Mrs. Hawthorne and give us a bit of psychic protection at the same time. But spirits can use it to transition into this realm too, so it’s not something to toy with.”
Lucretia popped half an Oreo in her mouth as she took the stuff out of the alligator bag. I recognized the pendulum, she showed me those at the shop, but this one looked like it was made of bone or something.
She pulled out six black pillar candles that looked like they’d seen a thing or two – dents, dings, gouges and glitter, and then held up an ancient-looking dagger. “Both of you – this athame is super sharp and has demon blood on it, so, off limits. Got it?”
“Wait a minute – were all those candles in that bag? There’s no way.”
She winked and pulled out a mass of silver chains. “It’s charmed. But how these goddamned necklaces end up tangled after they’ve been untangled boggles the mind.”
“What are they.”
“Amulets for protection. Are those little fingers of yours any good at undoing knots.”
“Yeah actually.” I took the pile of chains and began to unravel them.
“Here – a piece of Lavender Fluorite – keep it in your pocket at all times.”
I ran my thumb over the smooth stone as she pulled a silver wand out of the bag.
“Ooh that’s pretty. Can I see it.”
“Yes, but do not point it and flick your wrist. Just look at it.”
It was heavier than I expected, solid metal with a long pink crystal at the tip and molten metal spiraled around the base.
“You should put this in the store, people would go crazy for it.”
“First of all, there are some things that the general public shouldn’t be able to get their hands on at a witch shop. Second, that belonged to my great-great great grandmother Flora and still contains a lot of her power. Stuff like this has to stay hidden so they don’t get into the wrong hands.”
“I really want to flick it around.”
“Then you’d better give it back.”
She took two big L-shaped brass things out of the bag.
“What are those?”
“Dowsing rods…” She stood up and held one in each hand, waiting for the antennae part to stop swiveling around. “When you move closer to something they respond to the energy.”
As she came toward me, the brass antennae things opened up. “That’s your aura – see how big it is – about a foot around you. That’s good.”
She stepped back and the antennae returned to their parallel state.
“Whoa that’s crazy.”
“Think of something that really chaps your ass.”
Liam and I tried not to laugh then I thought for a second and nodded. She came toward me and the rods didn’t open up until they were really close.
“When you’re angry, your aura is small and tight. When you’re at peace, you’re in your power and your energy reaches out and connects with other energies. Here. You play with these. I can see auras.”
I looked at everything spread out on the coffee table. “So – what do we do with all this stuff?”
“Liam, can you transcribe a few copies of the binding incantation I earmarked in the Crowley book. There’s paper over there. And you – give me a hand in the kitchen.”
“They’re already queued in the cloud and will print as soon as I get home.”
“I’ll print 6, one for each of us and one for Mr. Hawthorne.”
She stood there blinking at him for a minute. “He’s like – a wizard or something. Ok, you, me, kitchen.”
I followed her to the kitchen which was also relatively uncluttered. She darted around taking little bottles out of every nook and weird cranny and set them on a silver tray.
“Grab the Holy Water – it’s in the fridge.”
“You keep Holy Water in your fridge.”
“Uh – yeah…? You have to or it goes bad.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“Then why do they have it just sitting out in churches.”
“You think they don’t change that out every night with new, refrigerated Holy Water?”
“Look kid – I’ve learned you have to refrigerate Holy Water the hard way. So just trust me ok?”
Lucretia carried the tray of bottles to the living room and I opened the fridge. A mason jar with Holy Water scribbled on the lid in Sharpie sat in the back corner.
“You have it in a mason jar? That seems sacrilegious somehow…”
“Jesus kid you’re like a dog with a bone. Just bring it in here.”
I set the Holy Water on the coffee table as Lucretia organized the bags of herbs and vials of oils we brought from the shop.
She held out her hand. “Hair.”
I grabbed my backpack and took out the ziplock baggie of Vivian’s hair.
“Now. I need the two of you to focus on me. Just relax and do your best to join my energy.”
She closed her eyes and Liam and I glanced at each other then closed our eyes. After a few seconds, I could like, feel her energy, I could feel mine mingling with hers – just like she said…
After we we did the energy thing, Lucretia muttered what sounded like Latin incantations over each bottle as she added a pinch of this, a dash of that, a dollop of this, a squeeze of that, but the last ingredient was always a strand of Vivian’s hair. She topped each one off with Holy Water and corked them.
“Blessed be… You guys say it too.”
“Good. Put those in the fridge – on the top shelf and put that jar back right where you found it – I can’t be downing a gulp of Holy Water when I get up in the middle of the night for a slug of vodka.”
I shook my head and carried the bottles to the kitchen.
“Hey, you know what, why don’t you bring me that vodka.”
When I handed her the jar, she had already kicked off her boots, pulled off her striped stockings, turned on the TV and jammed a pillow under her head.
“You want something to mix that with…?”
“I realize you’re too young to be hip to this, but it’s actually all that sugar in the mixers that gives you the hangover.” She tapped her head and pointed at me. “Think about it…”
“Whatever.” I grabbed my backpack and joined Liam outside.
As I closed the screen door, I heard her laughing. “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”
I got to the shop early because, let’s face it, Lucretia would probably need help organizing. Liam, Bettie and Eddie showed up right at 11:30pm.
Lucretia handed each of us a piece of paper. “Sign these.”
Eddie was the first one to finish reading it. “What the hell do you mean ‘Legal action will not be taken against Lucretia Maeve Dagger in the event of my death or maiming.’”
“Just what it says, Einstein.”
I could see this going very badly if I let Lucretia continue.
“She has a point. I mean it wouldn’t be her fault if some – demon wraith – shattered a vase and a – shard lodged in your jugular. I think we should sign it.”
“Of course you do – little Miss Brown Noser. You’d do anything your new mommy told you to.”
Well, ouch. He knew enough about my family to know that would hurt.
Lucretia draped her arm over my shoulder with a pen in her hand. “Actually young Jezebel is quite cantankerous, thank you very much.”
I took the pen, glared at Eddie, scribbled my name and handed the pen to Bettie.
“No Eddie – she’d do anything you tell her to.”
I elbowed Bettie – hard. “Not cool!”
Lucretia draped one of the amulets I had untangled over each person’s head. “Look – you’re all going to do exactly what I tell you, is that understood? This is an incredibly dangerous situation. And you’re all going to wear these – the last thing we need is for the demon to leave the ghost and slip into one of you.”
Bettie looked back and forth at me and Lucretia. “Can that – happen?”
I kicked Lucretia’s shin.
“But not if you keep this on.”
On the way to Bel Air, Lucretia told us how the night would hopefully go: we’d get the demon’s attention. We’d figure out what category of demon it was. We’d do our best to learn its proper name while keeping it from killing us. We’d call it’s proper name and it would have to do our bidding. Best case scenario, we’d get this done in one night and Vivian’s body could be back in the ground tomorrow.
Eddie put a cigarette in his – beautiful – lips and was about to light it when we all lunged at him.
Lucretia shook her head. “Jesus you guys, for the millionth time, it’s safe, it only smells like gas in here.”
Bettie took the lighter and put it in her pocket. “Better not – just in case.”
The view from Mr. Hawthorne’s mansion was just as impressive at night – the perfectly square grid of Los Angeles glittered with yellow and white street lights, a flicker of red or green every few blocks. And to the west, the vast blackness where the land met the sea.
Mr. Hawthorne came to the door before we even knocked.
“Thank you for coming, please come in.” Lucretia took his hand and looked into his eyes, definitely way too long, which I thought was especially inappropriate, given the circumstances. “My – the body is here. In the garage. I’ve sent everyone away.”
We followed Mr. Hawthorne through the house, all the expensive decor was gone – the priceless Monet painting, the gold gilt frames, all the vases and flowers… It had the feel of an open house – enough furniture to give you an idea of where you might place yours, but not enough furniture to tell if someone actually lived there.
We followed Mr. Hawthorne toward the garage, the crate of tiny bottles Eddie was carrying clinked with every step. He opened the door and turned on the light. Over Lucretia’s shoulder I could see Vivian’s body, on a gurney, covered by a sheet, only her face and neck visible. Bettie stopped in her tracks and squeaked out some horrified noise, but Eddie just shoved her into the garage.
Vivian’s dark hair was brushed back from her face. She looked at peace which reminded me of an ad for a day spa, except that her skin was blue with a hint of yellow – not pretty. At the same time, she also had kind of an angry expression – like the way the Mona Lisa is both smiling and not smiling at the same time.
But the stench. Oh man. It was a horrible mixture of chemicals and dead people – something I hope to never smell again. It was the kind of thing you still smelled even if you breathed through your mouth. And that was worse because then you kind of tasted it. I wanted to pull the collar of my shirt up over my nose, but out of respect for Mr. Hawthorne, I pretended to have an itch on my cheek and closed one nostril.
“We’ll need to get her up to her bedroom – is that where she kicked the bucket?”
Mr. Hawthorne frowned. “Yes.”
“Eddie, think you can manage?”
He jammed the crate of bottles into Bettie’s arms, went to the gurney and lifted Vivian’s body up. And the smell wafted even worse when she was moved. I made sure I was in front of Eddie as we headed upstairs.
A life-sized portrait of Vivian sitting in a dark leather chair towered over us as we reached the 3rd floor. Her shiny hair was pulled into a bun, her wind swept cheeks were pink and glowing and her blue eyes sparkled brighter than sapphires. I stopped to admire how the dips and folds of her flowing gown caught the light. Being that close to a painting, where you can see the individual brush strokes, usually breaks the illusion of reality, but this one was still flawless up close – like a photograph – like she might lean forward and reach out. As we headed to the bedroom, I felt like her sapphire eyes were still on me. Or maybe it wasn’t her, maybe it was the wraith.
Eddie set her on the bed and Mr. Hawthorne moved around, covering her with the sheet, but oh man, that smell.
Lucretia circled the room, checking the corners, peeking behind the drapes, looking under the bed… To Mr. Hawthorne’s credit, he never once gave her a weird look.
I unzipped my backpack and handed her the stone. She balanced it on Vivian’s breastbone then put a smaller stone on the pillow above her head. I almost said something, because I thought if she took a breath the heavy stone would topple, but then I realized – she wasn’t breathing.
“Jezebel, take the rest of the stones and put them in a circle around the edge of the room.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lucretia draping one of the amulets over Mr. Hawthorne’s head and lingering there, close to his face.
“Please do not take this off. Bettie, put the black spell candles on the vanity, the dresser, end tables – try to make them form a circle. Liam, pour a thick line of salt just outside the stones. Eddie, get this chair out of here, this footrest – anything that can fly through the air.”
After everyone did their part, Lucretia stepped into the circle. “Everyone in.”
I could have sworn I felt some kind of force when I hopped over the invisible boundary.
He sat down, opened his laptop and nodded.
“Well then… Let’s cut a bitch.” Her eyes flicked to Mr. Hawthorne. “Sorry – I meant the wraith, not-”
“No – I understand. So how do we call on the – thing.”
“Not 100% sure. Tell me what circumstances has triggered it so far.”
“Let’s see… I’m not sure – I usually just wake up to the children screaming or something shattering.”
“What about that dinner you had, with the family.”
“Oh right… Vivian’s parents were asking what my plans were – for the house. I told them I was considering selling.”
“Ok good. Repeat what you said at dinner.”
He was quiet for a moment then looked at Lucretia. “I’m thinking about selling it. It was Vivian who wanted to live up here. I could be just as happy at the beach, the kids could go to Brentwood Elementary… The kids and I don’t need such a big house. I was going to call Bruce and see what he thinks I-”
Suddenly there was this roaring, like there was a semi truck in the walls… The whole house surged and we were thrown to the ground. As we got up, all the lights went out – only the glow from the laptop lit Liam’s face.
Then the spell candles flickered to life one by one.
Bettie squeezed my arm. “Oh my god…”
“Shh!” Lucretia looked up into the dark corners of the room.
It was really still.
Like something bad’s about to happen still…
Then some kind of – form – materialized over the body. It was a woman, of sorts… Like a ghastly, decomposed version of Vivian with spiderwebs for hair. Its tattered white slip fluttered in the wind – but there was no wind. A chill slithered up my back and I realized the – thing – was looking right at me.