I rolled down the window as we drove through the historic town of Salem, Massachusetts. Josh passed by the old buildings that lined the road as he slowed, coming to the town square. Tourists were standing with guides on the ghost hunting expeditions on the corners of the streets, listening to their tales of the gruesome history of the witch trials. The warm breeze drifted on the night air as we bounced along the roads towards the residential section, the old Victorian-styled homes within yards of each other.
“That’s the house,” Ashlin pointed from the back seat as Josh pulled over to the side of the road to park the vehicle.
“I can’t believe we actually made it here using this ancient piece of paper,” Ashlin said, waving the ragged map in front of her.
We hopped out of the car, doors slamming behind us as we walked around to the back to grab our duffel bags. Glancing up at the pale blue dwelling, its towers in stark contrast with the dark sky, its gothic architecture sent a chill up my spine. The house featured a wide wrap-around porch with ornate trim work and multiple gables. A witch window peaked out from one of the sides of the roof, rotated on its axis.
“Did you two ever use a window like that?” I directed towards Gabriel and Penelope. They smirked as I teased them about their heritage.
“Most certainly not,” Penelope shot back. “Besides, that’s a little small to get my broom through. Most uncomfortable.”
“Wait. You guys don’t actually fly on brooms, right?” Josh asked.
The others laughed while Josh still looked confused. Penelope finally answered, “Of course not. It’s a joke.”
“Are you nervous?” Gabriel asked as he placed his hand on my waist while slinging his duffel bag over his other shoulder.
“I’m more nervous about getting on the plane, to be honest,” I admitted. “I’ve never flown before.”
“Really?” Josh asked from beside me as he opened the little iron gate in front of the house for us to enter into the small front yard. We stepped onto a stone pathway that led to the front stairs leading to the porch.
“Never been outside Brimstone, remember?” Ashlin muttered for me.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. I keep forgetting you weren’t allowed to have any fun,” Josh commented as we ascended the stairs stepping under the overhang of the porch to the wooden front door.
I hesitated as I stood in front of the door, never having met my Aunt Helen before. Or, at least, not that I could remember. Raising my hand to knock, I heard the song of a doorbell ring throughout the inside of the home. I lowered my gaze to Ashlin, who had pressed the button near the door.
“What?” she asked as all our eyes turned to her. She shrugged as we waited for the door to open.
Footsteps could be heard shuffling on the other side, as a tall woman answered the door. She wore a long flowing floral dress that cinched at her waist with a drawstring. It hung loosely around her petite shoulders with a ruffled neckline. Her frame was slender like her face, tendrils of black hair falling from her loose bun. The gold bracelets jingled on her wrists as she ushered us through the doorway and over the threshold into her historic home.
Closing the door behind us as we stood in the parlor of her home, her dark brown eyes settled upon me before embracing me in a tight hug. Pushing me back, she clutched my shoulders as she looked me over before taking me into her arms once again.
“I’m so glad you made it,” she managed to say in between squeezing me to her chest. “Come, all of you. Take a seat in the den.”
Aunt Helen walked us to the left towards couches nestled in front of an old hearth that had a small fire burning within it. Large windows faced the road from the room, cars passing by on the street outside. Lamps lit the room, revealing tall ceilings with exposed wooden beams. An upright piano sat up against the wall near an archway that led into a kitchen area. A bookcase was in the other corner with a reading chair. The home looked as though it had mostly been untouched with time.
My friends took a seat on the couches as I chose to sit in an armchair by the fireplace. My Aunt took the position across from me with her back towards the parlor. A coffee table sat between all of us with a bowl of peppermints and several books on it. The warmth of the fire seeped into my bones as I dropped my duffel bag beside my chair.
“My mother said you would be the person to get us to where we needed to go?” I asked, not sure how to start the conversation.
Helen nodded. “That’s right. I haven’t seen you since you were a baby. I wanted to be there for you, but your mother needed everyone to think me dead.”
“What? That doesn’t sound like her. You’re her sister,” I started.
“It’s nothing personal. I volunteered for the job, so I would be around to help you when this happened,” Helen explained. “You see, Lucifer and I never saw eye to eye on anything, especially when it came to Lilith and you. Because of that, I was shunned within the demonic community which actually benefited us. Your mother and I found a way to fake my death, so I could watch over you and help you when the time came. Nowadays, I blend in with the witches around here. They consider me a valued human friend and even set up these wards for me around my home. If anyone with ill intentions ever came knocking on my door, the wards would all warn me.”
“But what if someone recognized you?” Ashlin asked.
“This newer generation of witches don’t know much about the demonic hierarchy. They’re more into crystals and herbs,” she answered.
“Yeah…she’s kind of right about that,” Penelope agreed. “I think you’re talking about white witches, Madam Helen.”
“Oh, reserve that ‘Madam’ stuff for my sister. It’s simply Helen to all of you,” she smiled. “And yes, white witches. Honestly, I never knew they existed until I came to this town. However, there are dark witches here as well.”
“We know,” Gabriel admitted. “The Bishop Coven is among them and while they may not recognize…Helen, they’ll definitely recognize us if we’re spotted.”
“You think they would turn me in?” I asked. While I understood that witches had their own codes and generally stayed out of demonic affairs, my situation involved their contracts with Lucifer, a decree I could quickly reverse, taking their power with it.
“It’s possible,” Penelope chimed in. “If there are bounty hunters after you, then there’s a chance there’s a price on your head, and everyone connected to Hell would know about it.”
“She’s right,” Helen said. “The white witches will have nothing to do with the bounty, but the Bishop Coven most certainly will.”
“You know them?” Penelope asked.
“I’ve seen them around from time to time, but they don’t know who I am. They think I’m one of those New Agers, so they typically leave me alone. I rarely see them in the stores I frequent around the shopping area,” Helen explained.
“It doesn’t matter, we’ll be out of here soon anyway. When’s our flight?” I inquired, eager to continue on.
“Flight?” Helen raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry, Honey, but you won’t be getting a plane to cross the pond.”
“What? But wouldn’t that be the quickest way?” Ebony asked, her tone mirroring our surprise.
“You would never make it past the security doors at the airport. Demons are everywhere. The closer you stay to your group with the fewer people involved, the better. Besides, we don’t need them knowing your destination,” Helen explained.
“Then what’s the next move?” I asked as I leaned forward in the chair.
“I have a friend who owns a tugboat docked at Pickering Wharf and is willing to get you across the Atlantic. Your mother already informed me of the general area you’re heading towards. My friend is currently gathering supplies for the journey, so you’ll have to stay put for a couple of days,” she finished.
“A couple of days?” I asked. “Here?”
“I’m not sure where else you’d go,” Helen replied. “I have rooms upstairs, but a few of you will have to bunk together. Just stay inside the house, and you should be fine.”
“Thanks, Aunt Helen,” I said as I stood from my chair, slinging my duffel bag over my shoulder.
“Is anyone hungry?” she asked. The whole group raised their hands simultaneously as Helen rose from her seat to walk into the kitchen. Pulling the old corded phone from the wall, she dialed some numbers to order pizza.
I ventured out on my own, entering the parlor to walk up the old wooden steps, resting my hand on the banister. At the top of the stairs, there was a hallway that extended in both directions.
“Let’s take the room at the end of the hall,” Gabriel declared as he approached me from behind, heading to the left.
I followed behind him as he pushed past me, opening a door and waiting for me to enter first. Walking through it, I glanced around the room at its bold crimson walls and canopied bed. Metal floor lamps were located in the corners of the room with a small sitting area around the fireplace opposite the bed. An old loveseat and two armchairs were nestled around a small coffee table over a tattered artisan rug.
Walking over to the bed, I sat down on the plush red comforter and placed my bag on the floor. Flopping back on the bed, I spread my arms out wide, loving the feeling of its softness against my back. I moaned as I felt the soreness of my spine relax, my vertebrae stretching deliciously, causing my back to crack.
“Sleeping on the ground didn’t do us any favors,” Gabriel commented as he threw his bag into one of the armchairs by the fire.
“This is my favorite room,” Helen said from the doorway as she followed everyone up.
“Is this your room? We didn’t know,” I rushed to say.
“Oh, no. Mine is downstairs. I needed a quick way out in case I was ever discovered, but this room was my second choice,” she answered. “The pizza is on its way, so it’ll be any minute now. Make yourselves comfortable, and we’ll all meet again downstairs. I’m sure you’ll hear the doorbell when it’s arrived.”
“Thank you, Helen. We’re grateful for your hospitality. I’m Gabriel, by the way, Kas’s boyfriend.”
“I know,” Helen said with a smile. “Lilith told me about all of Kas’s friends, including the man who holds her heart.”
“Oh,” he said, clearing his throat.
“No need to blush,” she assured. “Anyone who devotes their life to someone obviously loves them, dearly. I’m happy for you two.”
With that, Helen left us to be alone as Gabriel closed the door behind her.
“Did that fluster you?” I laughed.
“Well, this is my first time meeting your Aunt, so I was trying to make a good impression,” he admitted.
“This was my first time really meeting her, too,” I chuckled. “She seems nice enough.”
“Honestly, she makes me more nervous than your mother ever did,” he replied. “I can’t put my finger on it. She’s been very kind to all of us. It makes me wonder what horrors she committed in her previous life before she went underground.”
“I’m not sure. My mother rarely talked about her, but I assume she and my mother were in their own league within demonic society,” I answered, shrugging.
Gabriel sat down on the bed beside me, leaning on his side to face me while propping himself up with his elbow. “Maybe I’m just being a little jumpy. I can only imagine how nervous Penelope is with the Bishop Coven living around here.”
“She doesn’t have anything to worry about,” I assured. “It’s not like we’re going on any tours around here anytime soon. We just have to lay low for a couple of days, and we’ll be on a boat sailing across the ocean.”
“Tugboats don’t have sails,” Gabriel corrected with a smile.
“Probably for the best,” I sighed. “Even the wind is against me at this point.”
Gabriel reached over to tickle me as we heard the doorbell reverberate around the old home from downstairs. Sitting up on the bed, we got up to leave the room and followed the others towards the smell of the first real meal we had had since we left our old school.
Aunt Helen was setting the pizza boxes on the large oak kitchen table along with dinnerware. I walked over to help her set the table with plates and cups as the others took their seats. Ebony stood up to help pour our drinks as I took a seat and grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza from one of the boxes.
We ate in silence, swallowing large bites of food as we realized how hungry we all were. Once we started feeling full, I turned to my Aunt at the head of the table.
“So who’s this friend of yours with the boat?” I asked.
She set her drink down. “Her name is Maisie. She’s actually a rusalka and probably the most adept person I know when it comes to the seas and oceans. She and Misty had a tryst a time or two.”
“What? Misty had a girlfriend? He never told me about that,” I declared, surprised.
Aunt Helen laughed. “Mephistopheles was always a man of few words, but he was the best at protecting your mother and me when we were younger. It used to be the job of both him and Maisie. He looked after Lilith, and Maisie looked after me.”
“Mom had Misty look after me as soon as I was born,” I replied somberly, as I thought about leaving Misty behind at Brimstone. While he was assigned to looking after my mother, I missed his presence in my life. It had been more calming than I had given him credit for, and he was the first friend I ever had.
Helen reached over and took my hand in hers, her eyes twinkling. “Once you take your throne, you too will be assigned a demonic protector.”
“Sort of like when a witch is assigned a familiar?” Penelope asked.
“Exactly,” Helen stated. “Many times, they’re assigned by our parents, but I’m sure my sister wants you to choose your own.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought witch familiars were pets. I’m not a pet,” Josh declared.
“Of course you aren’t,” Helen said. “It’s a role that lesser demons volunteer for. Think of it as offering your services as a personal bodyguard and eventually becoming family. The ones who volunteer are very well off.”
“Do you two have familiars?” Ebony asked of Gabriel and Penelope.
“Not yet,” Penelope answered.
“What do you mean? Don’t you just go to a pet store and pick one out?” Josh inquired.
“While familiars do the witch’s bidding, they’re not regular animals. They’re creatures that glamor themselves as normal looking pets to fit in, but they’re extremely intelligent and often gather ingredients and information for witches. They have to find you,” I answered.
“I taught you well,” Penelope muttered as she smiled to herself.
“We haven’t been chosen yet,” Gabriel admitted.
“Why not?” Ashlin asked. “If anyone deserves a familiar, it’s you guys.”
“We have to prove ourselves,” Penelope replied.
“How?” Ashlin inquired.
“Not sure,” Gabriel answered. “Sometimes witches get familiars as soon as they’re initiated and other times it’s years later. Only the familiar is the one who knows when you’ve proven yourself.”
“Can you have more than one?” Ebony asked.
“No, it’s just the one. They’re territorial,” Penelope answered, sipping her drink.
Helen watched over the rim of her glass as we bickered among each other about familiars and demonic servants. Josh was insistent that he would never serve under another demon other than himself, while Ebony mulled over the idea of serving a higher purpose under an Archdemon. The debate became heated as we indulged in the last of the pizza.
It was a future none of us knew we even had, and yet, the idea of being able to make these types of choices motivated us to push forward. It was the thing we needed while we waited for the day to cross the ocean where more dangers were undoubtedly, eagerly awaiting us.