The next morning is a quiet one in The Soricelle House, but the guesthouse is a different story. Gwen tends to Dean, who has a high fever, and keeps attempting to get out of bed. Rose stands near her grandmother biting her nails. What if Ben shows up unexpectedly again and Rose is with Dean? Again? How can she explain?
“He’s losing strength, quickly,” Rose says, taking a gnawed fingernail out of her mouth. “He’s dying and it’s all my fault.”
The guilt is causing Rose stomach cramps and headaches. She wonders if their recent encounter is helping keep Dean just strong enough to fight off whatever Magick is beginning to wreck his body, but even that thought isn’t enough to comfort her.
“Hush, child,” Gwen tells her. “We have leverage. Mortimer is probably sweating as much as Dean this morning. There’s hope.”
“Rose?” Dean asks, reaching into thin air. “Rose? Is that you?”
Rose hesitates, but takes his clammy hand into her own. “It’s me, Dean.”
“Rose… will you stay with me?”
“Drink this, dear,” Gwen tells him, tipping a liquid from a little jar into his barely parted lips.
His dark hair clings to his forehead, his skin shock-white beneath his tattoos. He has sweat so much it’s visible on the bed. He tries to drink, and sputters, and coughs.
“That’s it. Just swallow it down,” Gwen tells him. “Now rest.”
“What was that?” Rose asks, eyeing the little vial that still has half the serum inside.
It is liquid, but looks more like floating silver, moving on its own in the jar.
“Did I ever read you sleeping beauty?” Gwen asks her granddaughter, lowering Dean’s heavy head back onto the pillow.
“That’s what that witch slipped Briar Rose back in the day. Some say by spindle but I knew that witch and she wasn’t keen on blood.” Gwen stands and takes her Granddaughter’s other hand.
“I don’t want to leave him,” Rose says.
“He’s sleeping, dear. He’ll be sleeping until we get this sorted.”
Rose allows her grandmother to lead her out of the room.
Moments later Gwen begins making breakfast, instructing her family members with their tasks to speed the process along, when there comes a knock at the door. Gwen is the only one who doesn’t seem surprised. She wipes her hands on a dish towel and heads towards the entryway. She stands a yard or so away from the door and allows it to swing inward. There stands Mortimer, his eyes wide, his jaw set, forming an expression of intensity, fear, and frustration. His furrowed brow glistens in the late morning sunlight.
“Hello there,” Gwen says, cheerfully. “You must be the young man my daughters have been telling me about. Please… come in.”
It is a powerful thing to be invited into a witch’s home. In the same way the women would not have been able to enter Mortimer’s dreams had they not known his name, Mortimer gains some common ground by being invited into this magickal and mysterious place.
“I’ll make you some tea,” Gwen tells him. “Feel free to sit down.”
The girls would have been flabbergasted by Gwen’s behavior if they did not assume she must know something they don’t know (as is usually the case). She guides Mortimer into the kitchen and pulls out a chair at the table for him to sit down. He surprises everyone by doing so.
Iris glances at her sisters. She did not assume it would be so easy. One nightmare and he comes crawling into enemy camp? What’s really going on here?
Most everyone else is standing, Gwen shuffling about with the kettle. No one knows what to say. They just watch the man, his clergy robes slightly wrinkled today, his collar not quite in place.
“You have ruined me…” he states.
No one denies it.
“The High Priestess knows you infiltrated my dreams… She has removed me from my position and… I will be cast out of the The Order.”
“What does that entail?” Iris asks, wisely. She doesn’t tell the younger members of the family that generally being cast out of a coven or dark society means being cast off the earth, along with your family.
“My family is no longer safe… They have removed my powers and… I am helpless.” Mortimer’s icy blue eyes fill with tears. “I’m begging of you to help me save my wife and child. My own life means nothing. But they are in danger of the High Priestess’ unrelenting powers.”
“We will help you,” Camilla states.
Everyone turns to her in shock.
“Perhaps we should have a conversation - ” Iris begins.
“No. His wife and daughter aren’t to blame for this dipshit’s decisions. And can you really let them die with a clear conscience? We got into Mortimer’s dreams in the first place.” She shrugs as if this is the only clear solution.
Esme chimes in. “But if The Order is already hunting us… Do we really want to make them angrier?”
“I don’t give two shits about The Order,” Camilla says. “We’re witches. We’ve been around longer than any of this flimsy religious dogma. Come and get me, I say.”
“You never did watch your words,” Selene sighs. “But I guess I agree.”
“I agree too,” Rose says. “We have to help Dean. And Mortimer’s wife and daughter. And not to mention… they’re hunting other witches. The Sisterhood is in danger. We have to take them down, and if protecting some innocents happens to be a part of the process, I think I’m okay with that.”
“It seems to be decided,” Gwen says. “Here’s your tea, dear. It isn’t poisoned.”
“Thank… you…” Mortimer glances down at the tea before him, thinking this was an odd thing to have to clarify.
“So it was you… right? You did the whole town square thing?” Esme asks Mortimer as they all travel up the several flights of creaky stairs to the attic.
“Yes… I’m afraid it was a sloppy effort at making your town disown you and run you out.”
“It’s working,” Iris replies. “I have two calls from Patricia this morning insisting we go to the town meeting tomorrow night…”
“Well I do apologize,” Mortimer offers, shakily. “And I cannot thank you enough for helping me. I know I don’t deserve it.”
“No,” Camilla says. “You don’t.”
Once in the attic everyone finds a spot to sit or stand, wondering just what Gwen has up her flowing sleeves. She opens the family grimoire, and her own personal book of shadows, and begins thumbing through pages. “Let’s see… oh yes, it would be in my mother’s… we really must organize better.” She snaps her fingers and another book appears in her weathered hands. She begins to search those pages. “Yes, here they are… I see… Oh, of course… I remember now.”
She shuts the book with a snap. “To help your family we must first disguise you. We will fake your death. It’s pretty easy all in all. But we have to have somewhere to put your Energy if not in a human form. You can stay here in your new form but you must understand if you step foot off The Soricelle Land you will return to human form and The Order can and will immediately find you.”
“What are you going to turn me into…?” Mortimer asks, looking terrified.
“A cat, I think.”
The witches all nod their approval.
“That should give you the most comfortable experience. You’ll be aware you’re no longer human but as is the nature of felines you won’t really care too much. You’ll be able to communicate to some degree as well, and make your own decisions. I could take you to another magickal place to see your family… I would say you could live with them in feline form but I wouldn’t recommend it for the first few years. You’ll be safer apart at first.”
“But I’ll get to see my daughter sometimes? And my wife? Will they too be cats?”
Gwen chuckles at the nonsensical question. “No, no. Of course not. They will be people, but they’re going to live very far away, and under some enchantments. Do you agree to our terms?”
“Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. If it means my daughter and wife will be spared, yes. Do whatever you wish to me.”
“Alrighty then,” Gwen smiles at the man. “Drink your tea. It’ll calm your nerves. I need orange candles, five pieces of shungite, and a few sprigs of baby’s breath. Do we have any white feathers or baby bird bones?”
“We have powdered baby sparrow bones,” Camilla says. “I used some just the other day.”
The women begin to gather the ingredients; the baby’s breath from the kitchen where most of the herbs hang to dry, the bone powder from one of the many apothecary cabinets in the attic, the shungite from the sunroom, where gemstones surround the plants and charge in the soil, and the candles from a drawer marked ‘orange/auburn/gold’. Gwen places everything in a circle around Mortimer, who sits in the little wooden chair where they interrogated Dean not so long ago.
“Do you want us to do the spell, mother? How’s your back?” Iris asks.
“My back is fine, darling,” Gwen mutters. She gets up fairly easily from her hands and knees. “Alright, I need New Moon Water.”
“It’s in the fridge. I’ll go,” says Esme.
She has just retrieved the bottle of clear liquid when there’s a knock at the door. She peeks out to see Aimee standing on the porch, her face red and puffy. She opens the door.
“I can’t talk right now,” she tells her. “We’re in the middle of… something.”
“I just wanted to say how sorry I am,” Aimee tells her. “I made a mistake going back to Shayne and - ”
“I really can’t do this right now,” Esme says, feeling sorry for the girl, but also upset with her. “I’m sorry.” She shuts the door softly, leaving the girl to cry on the porch, and returns upstairs to her family.
“You okay?” Rose whispers.
Esme nods, handing over the ball jar filled with New Moon water.
Gwen pours the water into a silver goblet and hands it to Mortimer, then lights the candles in the same clockwise manner.
“Are you ready?” She asks Mortimer.
“I’m ready,” he nods.
She returns to the little table with the books atop and opens her mother’s grimoire.
Then she shuts her eyes and a box appears in her hands. It’s metal, and appears to have been plucked from the depths of a freezer (it was) a layer of ice having formed over the entire thing as if it had been there for years (it had). Ice crackles as Gwen uses magick to pop open the lid. Inside is a frozen, cloth covered object that looks suspiciously like a frozen cat carcass.
Without further adieu Gwen begins the Incantation.
“Release, release, this human form
Which you’ll embody nevermore
Unless the New Moon should allow
You’ll not revisit flesh and bone
Transition into something pure
To host you until furthermore
Unless the New Moon should allow
Release, release, and then transform.”
Gwen stops reading and stares at Mortimer. His eyes open and he looks confused. Nothing happened. Then he realizes he’s supposed to drink the moon water. Gwen rolls her eyes when he isn’t looking. He drinks all of it. It just tastes like ice cold water, despite the slightly metallic goblet. He swallows, and just when he is about to ask what they’re waiting for, it happens. His fingers are little toe beans on black paws, his tail swaying softly behind him. The goblet falls to the floor and rolls towards the edge of the circle. The candles flicker. The box with the frozen object inside is now empty.
“Comfortable?” Gwen asks.
Mortimer is actually pretty comfortable. But all he can think about is napping in that sunbeam over there by the window…
Gwen extinguishes the candles in a counterclockwise shape, then scratches Mortimer behind the ears. “Good kitty. I think I’ll call him Morty.”
Mortimer jumps from the chair and lands with a soft thud, sauntering over to a ray of sunlight, purring softly.
“Well, I’ll be off then,” Gwen says. “I’ve got to get his family settled at the sea-side cottage.”
“I’ll come help you, mom,” Selene offers. “Camilla and Iris can deal with Patricia without me. Are you alright with me going?” she asks Sasha, who nods. “We shouldn’t be gone long and everyone can help look after you.”
“I want to play with the kitty.”
Selene laughs. “Of course you do.”
“I suppose we do have quite a lot of damage control with the mortals,” Iris realizes. “But we need to warn The Sisterhood first and spread what we know. Everyone is at risk until everyone is informed.”
“I’ll start making calls,” Camilla says.
“I can help,” says Esme.
But before Esme makes a single call she returns to the porch. She can’t sense Aimee there, but what if she did stay? What if she’s sitting in one of the wicker rockers waiting to apologize? What if she finally came out to her parents and is ready to live a life of freedom and honesty? Esme lowers herself into one of the empty rockers for a moment, overcome with loneliness. Everyone in this house goes through lovers and friends so quickly, and here Esme is. The familiar ache for her parents returns.
The Soricelles believe her father to be dead, as most Soricelle fathers are, but her mother publicly abandoned the family long ago. Perhaps she’s still alive? Perhaps she’ll come home one day? It’s not likely, of course, not with the things her mother was getting into when she left. But Gwen never talked too much about her absent daughter because it made Esme sad. And who is Esme to grieve her parents when she has all these cousins and aunts and grandmothers and great aunts and so on? She’s lucky.
I am lucky, she tells herself, holding back tears. She just wishes she could hold the locket with her parents’ pictures in it. But even that’s gone. And now Aimee with it.
Rose is just as tired as if she had worked the whole day in the restaurant despite spending it sitting by Dean’s sickbed, turning a mortal into a cat, and now contacting every practicing witch they’d ever met.
It turns out trying to get ahold of witches is not terribly easy. The Soricelles have to use every form of communication, and at the end of the day they’re discussing the ethics to simply flying to each location and warning these women in person. It’s just, not all of these women were part of a coven, or even friendly towards coven members. Not all of these women lives near electricity or even post offices.
After getting hung up on a tenth time by a tenth witch with bad cell service and worse people skills Camilla slams her perfectly manicured hand down on the tabletop. “That’s IT! I’ve HAD IT with these backwoods, hillbilly, bitches. Fuck ’em all!”
“Watch your mouth,” Iris warns, sounding exactly like Gwen for a moment.
“I think we’ve got everyone we’re going to get,” Rose sighs, coming in from having sent several hand written letters flying through the air. “What time is it?”
“It’s late. We should rest. We don’t know when The High Priestess will decide to confront us and we should be ready to -”
The old phone on the kitchen wall rings. Rose is the only one still standing, so with a heavy arm she answers it. Her brow furrows. She imagined it would be a witch who missed their call, but it’s a pair of sisters who got the calls and thanked them for their warning earlier. Rose listens intently until their proposition is on the table.
“Let me call you back,” she tells them. Then, when the phone is returned to its usual spot she tells her mother what has been said.
“That was Rowena and Winnifred.”
“Those New Orleans sisters?” Camilla confirms.
“Yeah. They offered to help us. They say there is a woman near them sort of like the clockmaker. She practices her own magick and is crazy powerful. They said it might be a long-shot but we could ask for her help, and that they’ll take us to her if we want to go. They also said it’ll be a long, dangerous, journey, and there’s no telling whether she’s already helping the order.”
“We should go,” says Iris. “We owe it to The Sisterhood.”
Camilla nods. Esme nods. Rose gets to her feet.
“Mom, will you call them back? I have to go see Ben before we go to New Orleans.”
“We don’t have much time to spare, so be quick,” Iris tells her daughter, and picks up the antique phone again.
“I just want to say goodbye,” she mumbles.
Esme is struck by the weight of Rose’s quiet words. She doesn’t have anyone to say goodbye to anymore.
Rose drives fast, hopeful that annoying Officer Lopez isn’t waiting just around the S-Curve. But as is the usual occurrence, she gets lucky. She pulls into Ben’s mother’s neighborhood where there is a little white house with a white picket fence and a blue door. She parks hurriedly in Ben’s mother’s usual spot, and rushes up the steps, knocking before looking at her watch. The front door opens despite the late hour and Ben is standing there in his sweatpants and a blue teeshirt, his glasses the only thing not disheveled about him.
“Did I wake you?” Rose asks.
“Nah, I was just gaming. What’s up?”
She knows Ben has been in his own dorm room at school, thousands of miles away, but somehow it feels like he’s always been here, in this little white house, waiting for her to just come home.
“You okay?” he asks.
“We have to leave town. Now.”
“What? Are you serious? What’s going on? Come in.” He stands aside and gestures to the empty living room.
“We have to go see some distant relatives. It’s a family thing.”
“Isn’t it always…” he tries to lighten the mood despite her troubled expression.
“So what do you need? What can I do? Look after the place while you’re gone?”
“Camilla is asking Oliver to stay there.” Rose doesn’t know how she knows this. “I just came to… let you know.” Say goodbye. “So you wouldn’t wonder.” Just in case.
“Do you wanna hang out a bit? Watch a movie or something?”
“It’s like one in the morning,” Rose can’t help but laugh.
“Yeah well… my mom’s still visiting her sister. Just stay here tonight! You can take my bed if you want.”
“We’re leaving tonight. Soon. Like… now.”
The bleary tv casts a pastel colored glow upon the furniture and carpet of the little house. It casts the glow onto Rose’s face too, her eyes big and bright in the spotlight.
“You’re leaving now?” Ben repeats, incredulous.
“Rose… are you in some kind of trouble? Is this about Dean?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Dean - ”
“No, stop. Stop. I’ve been thinking a lot about that situation and I need to back off. You can keep yourself safe, and your grandma wouldn’t hire someone who might harm you. You don’t have to explain anything to me. We’re friends and we’ll always be friends. Nothing else - ”
She springs to her tiptoes to press her mouth against Ben’s, holding his face in her hands and kissing him solidly and abruptly.
Ben’s hands find their way to her waist as she lowers back down to flat feet. He leans in and kisses her again, and again. The tenderness of the warm, wet kisses sends butterflies flapping in Rose’s stomach. This isn’t like the kiss they shared on the beach. This is a kiss filled with not hope, but passion, and not wishing to knew each other better, but the realization that they know each other well. She leans against his body as he takes her face in his hands, tilting her head to the side and pressing himself to her.
Rose isn’t thinking about the time anymore, or how they’re getting to New Orleans, or when she needs to be back at The Soricelle House. She is backing up, intertwined with Ben, sitting him down on the sofa and crawling onto his lap. Her golden ringlets brush across his face and shoulders as she settles herself down, straddling him, and he can smell her shampoo, and wants to bathe in it. She kisses him deeply as he kisses her back, his hands tracing the curves of her sides and hips and ass, and sometimes softly caressing her face, where her cheeks have become pink with anticipation. She can feel him becoming hard against her and she lowers herself further onto his lap, aware of building moisture.
The strap to Rose’s tank top has fallen off her shoulder and Ben kisses the revealed skin, making his way up her neck. While doing so she slides a hand between his legs and grabs him, gently stroking the firm place she easily locates. He takes a breath, glancing at her hand, then into her eyes.
“Is this okay?” She asks.
“Yes,” he nods. “This is… very much okay.”
He plunges his tongue into her mouth, kissing her harder now, then his own hand is stroking her on top of her jean shorts. He uses a thumb to apply pressure, quickly giving up on the stiff fabric and undoing her button and zip to slide his fingers on top of her panties. She gasps when he finds her clit and begins massaging it and he smiles. Neither of them can quite believe they’re about to finally have sex but here it is, happening.
Rose peels off Ben’s shirt to reveal his toned chest and abdomen, and he peels her tank top up to reveal a white sports bra. Ben shifts so that Rose is off his lap and on the couch to wriggle out of his pajama pants. Then he crawls on top of her, holding the brunt of his weight off her. She twists out of her own jean shorts and enjoys the feeling of him through his boxers as he leans his hips into her own. She spreads her legs further so that he is laying between them, one of her manicured feet over the back of the couch and the other hooked around his torso. He kisses her neck and mouth, and when she peels off her sports bra he kisses her breasts.
Rose is the one that takes her own panties off and encourages Ben to remove his boxers. In the glow of the television screen she can see his erect penis, which is larger than she’d expected. She takes it into her hand and gently rubs the rounded, firm tip on her pussy, sliding it up and down the slippery gap and pausing at her clit to press harder. He is leaning over her, watching her hands, and then her face, and then her hands again. She inserts the tip of him into the wet opening and takes in a gasp of air. He bites his lip as she lets go. He slides the tip in and out for a moment, while she lays back and closes her eyes. Then slowly, he plunges every inch into her, as if reaching for the back of her vagina. She slides upwards a little, onto the pillows on the couch. She gasps, her eyes popping open once more to see a look of yearning on Ben’s handsome face. She stares into his eyes without hesitation as he gently removes himself from her only to dive deeper in. She wraps her arms and legs tightly around him, burying her face into his chest and curling into the euphoria that is quickly overtaking her. He smells like her Ben - like the Ben she knows and loves. And yet he feels completely new.
Ben reaches between her legs to stimulate her without removing himself from her. Her back is already arching, her mouth agape to try to get enough air. She tilts her hips when he does, watching the veins on his neck pulsate with effort.
“Oh my god,” Rose breathes, her eyes rolling back in her head with the sensation of Ben on top of her and inside of her and all over her.
“Rose,” he whispers into her hair, breathing her in. She feels so small beneath him and he’s partially worried he’ll crush her if he loses control, but he doesn’t realize she wants to be crushed by him - to be enveloped and overwhelmed and drowned in him.
He meets her eyes again when she lifts her head once more, and kisses her, and they’re both surprised by how intense it is to be so physically in sync with one another person, bodies and mouths and minds moving in unison. She also cannot shake the thought that she is heading for the mouth of danger later tonight, and there is danger here in Crescent Hollow, and making love might help protect Ben, if only just for a little while.
She is whimpering now, her nails leaving indents on his back and neck. She’s gasping for air.
“Oh fuck,” she realizes, her pussy tightening in the way it does just before erupting. “Oh, oh,” her thighs grasp Ben on either side of his figure, her knees tucking up towards their shoulders. Her toes curl. She falls silent, mouth agape.
Ben makes his own noise of surprise, and begins moving in such a way that tells Rose he’s getting close. He wears an expression of extreme effort, holding a handful of pillow behind Rose and pulling out at just the last moment. He shudders in relief as he cums onto her stomach, and she can’t look away, still absorbed by her own contractions of pleasure. She’s never imagined what Ben looks like when he cuts before, but of course it’s exactly like this. She is sweating and panting, flat on her back on his couch. He is panting too, but takes a moment to meet her eyes before getting up and wiping them both off. He dabs the fluid off her stomach with a sweet tenderness, admiring her naked body glistening beneath him. He smiles at her as she stretches out, her eyelids heavy with satisfaction.
“That was fun,” Ben smiles.
Rose nods. But what she wants to say is that was special or different or right.
“We’ve never done that before…” Ben can’t stop smiling.
But Rose feels it too. It’s like a dream. They’ve been friends forever and never even seen each other naked. And now… now everything is different. Now Rose is running off with her family to try to save the world as she knows it, and leaving behind a lover. Rose sits up and begins dressing again.
“What are you doing? Are you okay - was that okay?” Ben is asking, scrambling to his feet in a sudden panic.
“Yes, yes, it was perfect! But I have to go, remember?”
“Oh, right….” He stands before her in just his boxers as she pulls on her jean shorts and tank top and heads for the door.
Rose pauses, turning to kiss Ben one more hard, sweet, assured time. “I’ll see you soon.” She smiles.
His worried expression breaks into a hesitant smile and he lets go of her hand. “Be careful.”
“You too,” she winks.
“Well you took your sweet time,” Camilla notes when Rose comes racing through the front door.
“You need to pack, dear, and quickly,” Gwen tells her granddaughter. “Everyone else is ready.”
Rose does as her grandmother says, flinging items of clothing in her backpack and looping that onto her shoulders. She is the last one to join her family in the front lawn, wondering whose car they’ll be taking when she realizes they’re traveling by portal. The women managed to summon a gaping hole in the grass without her help, the edges sparkling with beams of light, the top of a staircase railing jutting from the void into the dark grass. Rose is tired, but the beauty of magick never ceases to amaze her. Oliver watches the glittery portal with wide eyes, Sasha right beside him. Morty rubs against a beam on the porch.
Rose hopes Dean really does stay asleep in their absence, like Gwen said he would. Esme traipses down the stairs after Selene, since Selene is the only family member who’s actually met the two witches they’re going to see - albeit briefly. Camilla is next, who gestures to Rose to follow. Iris is left at the top of the staircase, offering one final look around, and a nod of farewell to Oliver, Sasha, and Grandma Gwen before stepping into the cool, watery space where the stairs descend.
Gwen glances back to see her granddaughter following closely, and makes sure she reaches the first landing before closing the portal overhead. The silence engulfs the women like a heavy down blanket, and where the gaping hole lingered overhead moments before is a beige ceiling and dark crystal chandelier. The only visible light sifts through the tall, stained glass windows from what appears to be dusk outside. On the landing Rose could turn around and travel up the stairs two more flights, or down two more flights. They all follow Selene to the ground floor.
“Where are we going exactly?” Camilla whispers.
“I’ve been here before,” Selene says. “Esme? Wanna hit the lights? Welcome to New Orleans…”
Esme touches the tattoo on her wrist and the rooms surrounding them light up with a warm, soft glow. Everyone is surprised to find themselves standing in the entryway of a small museum. Paintings of 16th century farmhouses and dilapidated bayou shacks hang on the wall, while mannequins and wax figures wear tattered, ancient cloaks and dresses. Taxidermic butterflies and beetles are pinned to velvet backdrops in ornate frames, while glass cases hold bones and skulls of all kinds. Athames are presented on the walls and in their own glass cases, each with bronzed descriptions of to whom the tools belonged.
“It’s witchcraft,” Rose realizes, staring into the eyes of a pale woman who’d been captured in oil paints, about to be burned at the stake. The eyes that stare back are alarmingly realistic.
“It sure is. I did a guest tattooing stint across the way from here not too long ago and found some interesting clients in this place…” Selene says, spinning in a slow circle. “There were some interesting exhibits upstairs on menstruation and magick but Winnifred and Rowena should be here any minute.” She glances at a clock tattoo on her arm which is visibly ticking.
A clap of thunder makes Rose notice the rain, which is falling in sheets, as if being poured onto the panes from buckets just out of view.
“Any minute?” Camilla asks Selene after another moment has passed.
“Any minute…” says Selene, cupping her hands to the window and trying to peer through the bleary glass. The whole family leans in with Selene, as if gazing through her own eyes into the dusky waterfall.
“Oh stop it,” Camilla mutters, more interested in her fingernails. “You can’t see a cat’s asshole out there - ”
Suddenly, another clap of thunder startles everyone, vibrating the floor beneath the women. A strike of lightning illuminates the enormous room. A dark figure is cast against the window exactly where Selene peers out. She jumps back with a gasp. Someone is standing on the other side of the glass trying just as hard to look in. Selene rushes towards the front door of the museum, holding the deadbolt in her hands and glaring out the peephole into the stormy night.
“Should I kill the lights?” Esme asks.
“No,” says Selene, turning the lock and opening the door.
Onto the porch steps two women in colorful cloaks with the hoods pulled over their heads. They come under the awning and toss their hoods back before entering through the open doorway. Both women have extremely wild hair, though one has long and black curls and the other has a shorter, blue style. They both remove their soaked cloaks to reveal fabric heavy outfits, all lace and linen and rich purples and paisleys. The one with the longest hair steps forward, her grey eyes the same as her sister’s.
“Winifred!” Selene exclaims, hugging the woman. “And Rowena. It’s so good to see you both. How’ve you girls been?”
“Oh, dodging trouble for the most part,” the older sister, Winifred says in a thick New Orleans accent. “Unlike you girls, from the sound of it!”
Good natured introductions are made and the sisters ask after Selene’s daughter.
“Probably wise to leave her behind this go ’round,” Rowena says.
Winifred nudges her little sister’s arm. “Don’t frighten them. It’s not that eery of a place.”
“It is the eeriest place any soul has ever dreamed up,” Rowena says, her eyes enormous and gazing off into the distance.
Camilla raises her eyebrows in the silence, glancing over her shoulder to check and see if Rowena is actually looking at anything.
“We should be going,” Winifred says. “Everyone, I’m afraid it’ll be a bit of a wet walk, but we’re just around the corner.”
Winifred isn’t kidding about either of her promises. It is indeed a wet walk, yet they open a gate just on the other side of the block. The gate is wrought iron and taller than any two of them stacked vertically. Ivy and the torrential downpour obscure the view from the street, but as they make their way up the brick path, they wind through even more foliage towards the side of the white house towering before them. They enter into a tiled area filled with apothecary tables and hanging herbs and plants and remove their outer layers, drying the floor with absorbing spells as they travel deeper into the house. Rose smiles to see several cannabis plants thriving along the furthest wall. This room connects directly to an enormous kitchen where Winifred immediately begins making tea and Rowena stokes a grand fire using nothing but the flick of her bangle laden wrist.
“We have a few hours to kill before heading to where we need to be,” Winifred tells the women. “So I can brew up an energy drought for those of you who’d prefer that, but we also have plenty of clean beds upstairs to those more old fashioned souls.”
“I’d rather lie down,” Iris says, massaging her temples.
This leaves behind Camilla (who’s asked for twice the helping of drought because she likes the ‘tingles’), Esme, Rose, and Selene. Rowena and Winifred join the other witches in the glow of the dancing flames, sipping their cinnamon flavored liquid from cups that instantly warm their hands.
“So we’re going into the swamp?” Esme asks.
“Deep, deep into the swamp.”
“Have you had any trouble around here?” Rose asks. “The guy they sent after us was trying to turn our whole town against us. Honestly, it may have worked.”
“Oh, we always have trouble around here. But people respect magick in these parts, whether they dally in it or not. Too many old curses in the air to speak ill of the dark arts. But yes, I know for a fact we’re being watched. Several unwanted creatures have attempted to infiltrate the property. None have gotten in, but it’s a matter of time.”
Rowena finishes her sister’s thought. “When we got your call we weren’t at all surprised. I, for one, have foreseen great misadventures befalling our kind for some time…”
“You have The Sight?” Esme asks her. “Would you want to use it now? To foretell what might happen tonight?”
“It is no longer tonight. It is indeed tomorrow. But I wouldn’t mind dusting off the old crystal ball.”
“You don’t use a scrying bowl?” Selene asks.
“Oh, no, dear. I’m an air sign.”
Ten minutes later everyone has retired to an upstairs room not unlike the fantastical attic at The Soricelle House. They sit around a table where the only objects are a crystal ball and several candles burned so many times for so long they’ve melted wax onto the wood top. Esme turns on dim lights for everyone to get settled, by way of her tattoo (which she’s growing quite fond of), then turns them off again once everyone is settled. Gwen usually lights her candles for her bowl gazing or tarot reading in a careful pattern, but Rowena lights them all at once. The glow casts gold onto the cheekbones of every witch at the table, and turns Rowena’s crystal into something much darker and more mysterious than it had appeared to be in the light. Rowena stares into the sphere without moving for a long time, then shuts and reopens her eyes, then uses her fingers to twist the orb on it’s little stand, pivoting it every which way. Her fingernails look even longer from here.
Rose is used to having the visions of a seer spoken aloud, but no one in her immediate family crystal gazed every day, and of course, everyone’s practice is a little different. Another difference was the incense burning from each corner of the small room. By the time Rowena shakes her head and removes her hands from near the orb the room is thick with smoke, and giving everyone but these wild haired sisters headaches.
“I see a forked path ahead, but a decision will be made. I see… a great betrayal. And I see a battle, within one.”
Rose glances at Esme, whose eyes are watering from trying not to cough.
“No offense ladies, but can we unpack that downstairs?” Selene asks, waving a hand in front of her face.
“If you think it’s too much smoke, it must be excessive,” Winifred raises a brow playfully at Selene.
“What does that mean?” Esme asks her aunt.
By the time they settle once more around the fireplace Rowena has quite forgotten what she saw in the ball and can offer no deeper explanations.
“That is the thing with good seers,” Winifred begins, taking a long drink of her drought. “If it’s easy for the sights to get into their head, it’s easy for them to exit.”
Rowena nods, then blinks rapidly. “Sorry? Did someone ask me something?” She glances at her guests with a quizzical expression, then goes to stoke the fire, untroubled once again.
Winifred shakes her head slowly but offers no explanation or apology for her sister’s behavior, to which she has apparently grown accustomed.