The Whimsy Witch Who Wasn’t – Donna Augustine

Dead leaves blew across the ground, looking like small creatures scuttling by, spying on the neighborhood, its occupants, its tourists. The wind whistled and howled, and I would’ve sworn it was saying, “Tippi.” “Shut up,” I told it. Of course, the wind ignored me and continued to call my name. A tingle spread over my flesh like a low current was charging my body. It felt so real, as if I could reach out my hand and touch the magic. I ignored it the way I always did. Most of me was sane, even if I had a toe or two over the line. I could attest to this because whenever I did do something crazy, I knew enough to hide it. True crazy was when you had no idea. One day, I might completely succumb to my mother’s sickness, but for now, I still knew none of it was real. It hadn’t always been that way, though. When I’d been a child, I’d look around and think that there was something more lurking beyond the visible. My mother would tell me it was all real. Believing her, I’d hide in the closet, waiting for gremlins to come and fetch me in the dark of the night.

I’d wake looking for monsters under the bed she swore were real. But that was all in the past. I wasn’t a child anymore and had ceased to be one way before most people. I shoved the bad memories from my mind as best I could and got on with what I was here for. I took the cupcake out of the small pink-dotted box from my mother’s favorite bakery and put the candle on it. Shielding it from the wind, I lit it and placed it down. “Happy birthday, Mom.” Silence greeted me. I’d pretty much expected it. Although she had told me if she ever died, she’d find a way to talk to me from the other side, I didn’t fault her for failing.

It was hard to talk when you were six feet under. If there was anyone who might’ve been able to achieve it, though, it would’ve been her. As far as mothers, she hadn’t been the best. I didn’t blame her entirely. Mental illness didn’t make it easy. Refusing to get help made it worse. “So, we haven’t seen each other in a long while,” I said, filling the silence. Our onesided conversations were actually an improvement on the ones we’d had when she was alive. There was one conversation we needed to have that I would’ve dreaded if she were still around. As it were, I still wasn’t looking forward to it.

I reached my hand behind me, to the top of my spine, right below my neck, the skin sore. “I guess I should tell you I got rid of it. Or almost. The doctor said after this last treatment, it should fade completely in the next few weeks.” Silence. That in itself proved she couldn’t communicate from beyond. “I know what you want to say, but it’s not true. None of it,” I told her. I’d never wanted it. Had cried every time she’d refreshed it.

Now it was gone, this thing most people would’ve called child abuse, and I somehow felt guilty. “Hey!” someone yelled. I jumped, thinking she’d figured out a way after all, before realizing the voice was nothing like hers. I looked about the cemetery, and a twenty-something girl with long locks of purple and blond hair walked toward me. I’d noticed her roaming around before and assumed she was looking for a grave. “Do you have some salt on you? Mine leaked, and I don’t have enough to make the jump. I’ve only got a couple of grains, and I don’t want to end up in Greenland or something.” “Salt?” I looked up at her from where I was sitting cross-legged in front of my mother’s grave. Who went around asking people in a cemetery for salt? “Yeah, for the jump?” she said, mirroring my look of confusion. “Why do you need salt to jump?” Now this was crazy.

I’d thought spending ten dollars on a cupcake, which would never be eaten for a birthday party of one, had been the strangest thing I’d do today. This conversation was quickly topping it. People like this were the reason I could claim sanity. “How else would I do it? Do you know a way to jump without it?” She leaned over a little, as if I had the secret to the universe. “Wait, you’re not a…” She leaned closer, staring awkwardly at me. “Or are you?” “Am I what?” I asked. “What are you doing here?” she asked, looking about the place. “It’s a cemetery. I’m visiting. What are you doing?” The more I said, the farther her jaw dropped and the bigger her eyes opened.

“Whoa. This place is so weird.” She shook her head and took off, jogging away from me. This was turning out to be a stranger than normal day, which was fitting, considering what my mother had been like. I looked down at my watch and stood up, wiping the dirt from my pants. “Sorry to cut your party short, Mom, but I gotta go. I’ll try to stop by again in a…” I didn’t know when I’d be back. I hated coming here. Would probably always dread it. “I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I will be.

” I had a hard time making promises to the dead, just in case they were listening. That would have to do. I leaned down and blew out the candle. “Enjoy your cupcake.” I gave the top of her flat tombstone a pat, the way I used to give her hand a pat when I’d visit her at the asylum. I opened the door to the shop and Loris called out from the back, “Welcome to Magic, Mayhem and Mischief. Be right with you.” “It’s just me,” I called back, slipping out of my jacket. A head full of white hair popped up from behind the one of many shelves that held merchandise and partitioned off different areas. “Oh, good! I was worried about when you’d be in.

I need to run some errands.” For some reason I’d yet to figure out in my three years working here, Loris seemed to always assume I’d be late. I was there before her nearly every day and opened up the shop. The thing that kept it from being annoying was that she was always so happy to see me, as if grateful and surprised I showed up at all. She walked around the counter, her colorful skirt and scarves sashaying around her. I pulled off my dark grey hat and tucked some black strands back into their bun. I’d barely gotten myself together when Loris was giving me her usual morning hug. She was big on hugs, love, happiness, and pretty much everything light and bright. I, on the other hand, grinned and bore it. “Bun again?” Loris asked, her fingers tapping on it, as if it were a little monster attached to my head.

“Yes,” I said, as we went through our typical morning ritual, which was every day but Monday, when the shop was closed. “How are you going to find a boyfriend if you don’t ever doll yourself up a bit? Put some shadow on those…” She squinted, trying to decide what to call the color of eyes that had greys, greens, and amber. “Whatever that eye color is, you should do something with them.” I tucked my purse under the counter. “I’m not trying to find a boyfriend, and you know that.” She knew because I’d told her yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. “Well, what if one is looking for you? How’s he supposed to find you?” “Maybe I don’t want to be found?” I didn’t wear black and grey because I wanted to stand out. I wore colors that blended into the shadows, where I liked to hide. She lifted her shoulders and said, “Okay, I guess I’ll leave it be.” “Thank you.

” She never let it be. Ever. That wasn’t Loris. What was going on? Why was she standing still? Oh no. Not again. “What?” I asked, knowing it was something I wouldn’t want to hear. “I’ve got a favor to ask.” Loris gave her biggest grin, which meant it was going to be a bad one. “I need another body at a séance tonight.” “Loris…” I groaned, already knowing I’d say yes because I always said yes.

I couldn’t say no to Loris. When no one else would give me the time of day, she’d given me a job. She’d helped me find a place to live. If it wasn’t for Loris, I might’ve been living in a box in the alley. “I know you hate them, but I really need you this time. The client is coming by herself, and I don’t like two-person séances. They’re very awkward.” “I hate séances,” I said, because it deserved to be mentioned at least once more before I caved, and we both knew I would. She walked over and patted my arm. “It’s all right to be cautious.

There are things in the universe that no one knows about, but I’m confident in what I’m doing. It will be fine.” The saddest part of this was that she believed what she was saying. None of that was why I hated séances. What I truly hated was the sadness that typically came with them, people trying to talk to their lost loved ones. The whole thing brought me down. I really needed to find a different job. This place had been perfect when I was fifteen and everyone else wanted to run my paperwork. Now? I could go somewhere else. Except who would take care of Loris? She needed me more than I needed her at this point.

Every person that walked in the door tried to scam her, and I was often the only one who stopped them. “You’ll do it for me?” She was holding her hands together in front of her. “Fine. If you really need me.” That problem solved, she was in motion again, heading to the register and taking out money. “We’re out of rue. I’ve got to go down the street and see if Amanda has any. Although she’ll probably lie, and then I’ll have to go beg Meg, who’ll tell me how I do everything wrong.” Amanda and Meg had competing magic shops the next block over, which could only happen in Salem, or perhaps New Orleans. Although I’d never been more than a hundred miles from here, so I couldn’t really be sure.

“You don’t have any in the deliveries?” I asked, pointing at the boxes, knowing that Amanda and Meg would both overcharge her. “I didn’t order any. Didn’t realize how low I was,” she said. “Don’t pay more than…” I gave up, as she was already gone. A strong gust of wind held the door open longer than it should, blowing in all sorts of leaves and debris with it. I’d have to sweep it out, but that could wait until later. First I had to go through the bills and see if she’d paid anyone too much while I was gone. It was easier to rake people over the coals when their crimes were fresh than later in the day, when the dirty deed would be buried under a mountain of other sins. This was why I hated coming in late. The vultures all seemed to know when I was gone.

I grabbed a ceremonial knife from the desk and started slicing open the various boxes, unpacking deliveries, and matching them to receipts, thinking of how awful the séance would be tonight. If there was crying, I’d have to leave, even if just for long bathroom breaks. I sliced another box open, and the candles in the place flickered with the gust of wind from the door opening. A man stood right within the door, taller than average but not monstrously so. His shoulders were square, his eyes deeply set in a chiseled face that might’ve been a little too angular to be called common. Some might even think he had a handsome face, if he didn’t seem slightly off-putting in his intensity. He might’ve been in his late twenties or thirties, but his stare felt like he’d seen it all. Except perhaps for me? There was definitely a look of shock as he took me in. I ran a hand over my face, wondering if there was some chocolate on my face from the taste of icing I’d had. I looked down at my fingers.

Nothing there. “Can I help you?” I asked. He didn’t answer. He scanned the room with eyes so grey they seemed nearly silver in contrast to the darkness of his skin and brows, until they settled on the counter, where a single black feather lay. I hadn’t noticed it, but it must’ve blown in when Loris left. The more he stared at it, the more I wanted it away from me. The feeling didn’t make a lot of sense, but I just wanted the thing gone. I leaned down and blew it off the counter. It drifted off and then was taken up by a draft in the room until it circled back and landed in front of me. I blew on it again, and it wouldn’t budge.

The less it moved, the more I wanted it gone. I had to forget the feather. I’d deal with that after I figured out what this guy wanted. “Are you looking for something?” I asked. He still didn’t answer as his stare landed on me. He walked closer and picked up the stray feather. Between it being my mother’s birthday, the unsettling girl in the cemetery, and the now-looming séance, my nerves were on overload. This guy standing silently in the room, no matter how attractive, was working the last one I had. He scanned me again, and for all his good looks, I was getting a little nervous with the perusal and the way he wasn’t talking. Although I got the strange impression he was more stunned than aggressive.

“If it’s the feather you want, take it and go. It’s not one of ours.” We did carry a line of feathers, but they were much fancier than this common crow one. “Is there anyone else here?” he asked. Perhaps I’d ruled out “aggressive” too hastily. “Yes. There’s a few people in the back,” I said. I dropped my hand below the counter, blindly digging around until I touched my phone. “You’re lying, and not very well.” He held up the feather.

“When did this get here? Was someone else here when it arrived?” “I think you need to leave.” He edged closer. I was glad the counter was between us as I stepped back, taking my phone with me. “Tell me everyone who was here when the feather arrived.” He leaned his hands on the counter, his broad shoulder blocking out the rest of the light as the room grew darker. “How did you get the feather?” “You need to leave right now.” He reached forward lightning fast, grabbing my wrist in a firm grip. The phone I’d picked up dropped to the floor, and even with the excess fabric of my sweater, I couldn’t pull free. “Who was here when this came?” he asked. What the hell was he talking about? We got some whackos in here, but this man was insane.

He made my mother look normal. “You need to get your hand off me, now.” “Answer me.” “It was just me and the owner, I think.” He dropped his hand, and I scrambled to the floor to retrieve my phone. I tried to dial nine-one-one, but the screen wouldn’t light up. Should I make a run for it? “You need to leave or I’m calling the police.” I held my phone so he couldn’t see the black screen of my dead phone. He shook his head before turning and walking out. I sagged in relief as the door swung shut behind him.

.

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