Chili Cauldron Curse – Lynn Cahoon

Mia Malone stood in front of the Magic Springs Food Bank, staring into the crowded space and trying not to breathe. For a small Idaho town, the powers that be had set the food bank up in a great space. However, the lack of attention to the place over the summer showed. Boxes filled the open floor plan. Metal shelving units sat empty, lined up against the wall. And somewhere, the smell of rotting fruit was making the building almost uninhabitable. She turned to her grandmother, Mary Alice Carpenter, who was holding a napkin over her nose. “Something went bad somewhere.” Mia knew she was stating the obvious but she couldn’t stop the words from coming out. “How long has this food been here?” “It’s been a warm summer. The Lodge trucks stop by every week and make a drop.” Tasha Newton sighed. She stood between Mia and Grans, and ran a hand through her graying hair. “It was just me when school closed and I wasn’t able to be here every week. I tried to keep up with it, but the parents of the school kids were our primary clients.

Once they went out on summer vacation, I guess they forgot we had the supplies here. My hip replacement kept me from being here at all for the last month.” Mia didn’t have a year to fix the problems at the Magic Springs Food Bank. She had exactly a week before she was expected back at her job as head caterer for a restaurant in Boise. The only reason she’d been able take this amount of time off was her boss—and boyfriend, Isaac Adams— knew the favor was for Grans. Apparently, her boyfriend was either afraid of her grandmother or really in love with her. “Okay then. We’ve got some work to do before school starts again.” “I can help with the boxes.” Grans offered.

Mia looked at the two women with her. Tasha had to be in her late sixties, if Mia was being generous. Grans, well, she didn’t discuss her age, but Mia’s mom had let it slip that her last birthday had been the big seven-oh. “I called Christina and she’ll be here tomorrow. Isaac and Roxanne are picking her up at the airport and then she’ll drive up here. So, I have muscle coming.” “I’m sure Roxanne will have some words of wisdom for her wayward daughter. That woman.” Grans didn’t have much good to say about Isaac and Christina’s mother, Roxanne Adams. For that matter, Mia didn’t either.

Mia nodded to the small office. “Why don’t you two go and make some flyers for the chili cookoff on Saturday? I think we need to let people know we’re here. And then you can be in charge of getting them out to the community while Christina and I get things organized. I think we need to do an inventory of what we currently have, then a received date. That way you can easily rotate stock to make sure nothing goes bad.” Mia looked at the jeans and tank she’d dressed in today. The Goddess had guided her well in her clothing choice because she was going to be filthy by the time she left for Grans’s tonight. “Well, if you think you’re okay here alone.” Grans darted to the office, not waiting for a response. Tasha quickly followed, shutting the foul smell out with the slam of the door.

“Great, don’t ask for help. You can do everything by yourself.” She took a deep breath. Coughing, she didn’t control her hand quickly enough. With a flick of the wrist and a quickly whispered spell, she wasn’t affected by the smell anymore. She knew it was still there, she just didn’t have to suffer through it. She rarely used her magic for her own comfort, but she thought the Goddess might just give her this one without a cost. Or She would, if She could smell the room. Mia sat her tote and jacket on a table near the door. She pulled out a notebook and a pen, then headed to the first stack of boxes.

She’d gather like items together, first. Then she’d try to estimate what she had so she could start stacking the food in groups. Magic Springs, Idaho, was just north of Boise and near Sun Valley. The ski lodge had been built in the sixties and catered to the rich and famous, then and now. The problem was, people who worked in the area didn’t always have the money for basics like food and school supplies. Especially in the larger families. Her grandmother was on the local sorority who supported several community outreach programs like the food bank. Unfortunately, they hadn’t taken responsibility for the program until last week, when Tasha had called for help. Mia loved her grandmother, but looking at this mess, she thought this time Grans might have bitten off more than she could chew. She started opening boxes, making notes, then moving boxes to their designated areas.

Fruits, vegetables, meats, soups, snacks, and paper products—they all had their own section. From the amount of peanut butter and jelly she’d unpacked, she might make that a section of its own near the snacks. And there were random other items bagged up like paper plates, cups, personal items, and lots of paper towels. She glanced up at the already divided areas and tried to see where she could make a section of household products as well as personal care items. No wonder Tasha had become overwhelmed. She pulled out a package of diapers. And there was another section she needed to set up, baby items. She rocked back on her heels, ready to call it a day. If she could just get rid of that smell, this wouldn’t be such a bad job. She glanced around the stacks of boxes still needing to be sorted.

She decided to take a chance. Maybe karma wouldn’t kick her in the butt for taking the easy way out, at least not this time. She was working for charity. She took a deep breath and almost choked on the smell. Her protection against the stink had already faded. She should have dealt with the issue and not just taken the easy way out. Grans was right, she really needed to work harder on her craft. That did it. She closed her eyes, prepared her spell to find the rotten produce, and then exhaled with the words. “Inveniet foetidus.

” A glow came from the back of the room and she could see the offending box. And, as an added benefit, her spell had covered up the gagging odor in the room. She cleared a way to the leaking box, shoved it in a trash bag without even opening it, running the bag outside to the dumpster in the alley. Ten minutes later, she’d sprayed and cleaned the area, putting the used paper towels in another bag, and when she’d taken that out, the odor was gone. Not just hidden, but gone. “Thank the Goddess.” Mia went back to her charts and lists and broke open another box that this time, held canned green beans. A noise came from the front door and she looked up to see Pricilla Powers enter the warehouse. Pricilla was one of Grans’s friends from the local coven, and had tried to recruit Mia after finding out Mia wasn’t practicing in Boise. A fake smile curved the newcomer’s lips.

“Mia! So nice to see you again. I didn’t know you were up from town.” Boise wasn’t that far away from Magic Springs, but everyone here seemed to think it wasn’t drivable in a few hours. They also thought Boise was filled with traffic and crime and all sorts of big city vices. Really, the opposite was true. Boise was the biggest little town there was. “Good afternoon, Pricilla. I’d get up but I’m a mess. I’ve been cleaning for the last few hours. A hot bath is on my list as soon as I’m back at Grans.

She’s in the office.” “Oh, I came to help.” Pricilla stepped closer in her three-inch-high heels and what Mia would call a Sunday dress. The ruffles on the bodice bounced as she walked. Not quite a work outfit. “It’s crazy dusty back here. I hate to see you get that lovely dress dirty.” Or break a nail. Mia pointed to the office. “I’m sure Grans and Tasha could use some help with the flyers they’re developing.

I believe they’re having trouble with the software.” “I guess I’m being called to help the technologically challenged.” The smile she put on her face reminded Mia of a snake slithering around the woman’s face. She sniffed the air. “Besides, since you’re using magic to get the warehouse in shape, I’m sure it won’t take much longer.” Mia opened her mouth to respond, but then clamped it shut. She watched as Pricilla clacked her way to the office and disappeared inside. She’d been called out. Mia tried not to use magic to solve everyday issues, but desperate times called for desperate measures. “What a witch.

” Mia mumbled, as she returned to moving the box of green beans. As she moved through the boxes, she thought of the dishes that could be made with the food. She didn’t often use canned food at the restaurant, but at home, she took a few shortcuts. Not like Isaac was home much anymore to notice. She thought of their last conversation when she told him she was taking a week off to help Grans with the food drive. He’d seemed relieved, happy for her to be out of town. Maybe he was feeling the stress of the relationship too. When she got back, she’d cook a nice dinner, and they’d talk this out. They were so busy, they never saw each other anymore. Something else nagged at her, but she pushed the thought away.

She could fix this. Lost in her plans to repair her broken relationship, she didn’t notice her grandmother’s presence until she touched her hand. Then Mia almost dropped a box of spaghetti on her own foot. “Sorry dear, I thought you’d heard me walk up.” Grans took the box that was slipping off the top of the pile Mia held in her arms. “Let’s sit this down and go home. I’ve ordered food from the Lodge and James will send someone to deliver it while we put our feet up.” Mia nodded to the shelf nearest them. “Just sit these over there. I’m going to have to figure out everything we have before I can assign shelves.

And we need to set up a rotation system so the oldest food gets given out first. I can’t believe she’s run this by herself for so long without setting up systems.” “Tasha was doing the best she could dear.” Grans looked over at the woman who stood by the door with Pricilla. “And her heart was in the right place.” “I know. I’m tired. And grumpy. And starving. And all I want is a bath.

” Mia sat the pasta on the shelf and looked at her grandmother. “What? I know that look. What did I say wrong? Don’t tell me you invited people over tonight.” Grans took her arm and patted it as they walked. “Of course not. The party isn’t until Friday night. We’ve got too much to do before then. It’s just that you’re going to have to settle for a shower. My tub is filled with a potion I’m trying out.” “You made a potion in your bathtub?” Mia rubbed the side of her face.

She was almost afraid to go home with Grans. Who knew what other experiments she’d find growing in the house? “Don’t look at me like that. It’s not one you ingest, it’s completely topical.” Grans rolled her eyes. “Sometimes dear, you treat me like I’m a senile old lady or something.” Mia bit her lip, trying not to remind her grandmother that she might not be senile, but she was old. Instead, she changed the subject. “Thanks for letting me bring Mr. Darcy. He and Isaac just don’t get along.

” “Mr. Darcy is welcome anytime. It will be nice having a cat around the house. I’ve been lonely since Grey left last winter. I’ve been thinking of calling for another familiar, but I’m still heartbroken.” Grans sniffed. “It’s hard to replace someone who was in your life for over twenty years.” “I know.” Mia decided that one thing she would do before she left was take Grans to the local shelter. If she saw a cat, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from falling in love with it.

And Mia didn’t like to think about Grans being alone up here. “Stop worrying about me. I can feel it coming off you in waves. I’m surprised you didn’t bring Gloria.” Her grandmother paused when they reached the door. Gloria was Mia’s kitchen witch doll that she’d had since she was a child. She felt the call of the doll across the miles as she thought about her. “I really wasn’t planning on doing any spells here. I didn’t think I’d need her.” Her grandmother glanced around the warehouse, making it clear that she, too, knew exactly what magic Mia had performed.

Tasha interrupted the moment before Grans could say anything. “Thank you for coming today. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here.” Grans leaned over and kissed Tasha on the cheek. “Did Pricilla already leave? I didn’t even get to say goodbye.” “You and Pricilla are only okay together in short spurts. I’m surprised no one sniped at the other since we were in the office for more than a few minutes.” Tasha leaned in and kissed Mia on the cheek. “Thanks for all you’ve done today. I hate to make you come back tomorrow.

” “You’re not making me. I want to come.” Mia smiled and nodded to the stacks. “I’ll be here at eight if that’s not too early.” “Here’s the extra key.” Tasha handed Mia a single door key on a piece of yellow yarn. “You come and go whenever you like.” “Thanks.” Mia moved toward the door, following Grans. “My—friend will be here tomorrow to help.

” When they got outside, Grans paused at her car door and looked at Mia. “You almost called Christina something else. Like your sister-in-law? Don’t tell me this thing with Isaac is actually serious.” “I thought you liked him?” Mia stared at her, sadness almost overwhelming her. She was tired. That’s all. That’s why she felt like she was going to burst into tears at any moment. “It’s time you accepted that Isaac isn’t the one. You’d be better off with a rodeo clown or a sanitation worker, or even a too-busy real estate mogul, not that there’s anything wrong with any of those professions. He’s just not your soul mate.

” Grans climbed into her Mini Cooper. “I’ll see you at the house. I’ll make you a cup of tea so you can relax.” Mia watched her grandmother’s car as it left the small parking lot. She’d never heard Grans say a bad word about Isaac. Now, he’s not the one? Shaking her head, she moved to her car. The distance between her and Isaac suddenly seemed even wider. If Grans didn’t believe in them, how could she ever expect them to make it? She pushed the thoughts away as she climbed wearily into her car. All she needed right now was a bath. No, shower first, she corrected herself.

Then food. Then sleep. Tomorrow would be better.

.

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