Copyright 2017 Evelyn Zinn. All rights reserved. All likenesses to real life places or personas is coincidental and should not be taken seriously.
The worst part about coming into work on a Thursday was that it was always Maxine on duty. This shrill spinster always had to have some kind of sound on. Some days it was thankfully 80’s, other days it was miserable news stations peddling a new outrage for their addicts. We started our blasted days at 4:30 in the forsaken butt crack of dawn. Noise, was the last thing my brain needed. The best thing was she always had the best coffee ready for me. Some days that woman would meet me at the door and wouldn’t let me finish coming inside until I had drank half the cup. Today, she even included dark chocolate milk in it.
That was my first clue that something was up.
I dug into my tasks quickly as for all I knew she was telling me it had been a bad morning and didn’t want to deal with anyone or anything. I didn’t speak for at least three hours. I think I even managed to super clean everything. At 8 AM sharp, we were ready to open and open we did to a line of folks. Many of whom I knew well enough to know I was better off staying at the fabric cutting table and not moving unless summoned.
Rosscoe always came in at 11:15 am sharp. Today she was five minutes early. Dear Diary… what the actual fuck?
She immediately hoped onto the second table and started cutting fabric.
“Please tell me it doesn’t look like Marcus is going to call out. We’re going to need someone on the shelves stocking asap. We’re almost out of black, red and orange anything.”
I shrugged as I finished measuring the last of a bolt of fabric. It was a lovely fall pattern on a dark grey background.
As I handed it off to Lady Oak, one of the oldest members of our local community, she leaned in as she took and winked at me.
“Think these young whippers snappers will ever learn the value of prints?”
I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear as she chuckled and headed to the register where Maxine was busy.
Lunch time was always 1 pm. Today it seemed like it was never going to happen. We always closed the store for an hour for lunch.
After getting caught up, we all met in the backroom.
“Did it become October and I missed it somehow because of a coma?” I asked.
“I see you haven’t heard.”
I raised an eyebrow while beginning to inhale a sandwich.
“Apparently, there are no sounds coming from the spirit world right now.”
Maxine didn’t pause but glanced in my direction not so subtly.
“WHA?!” I said with a mouthful.
“You’re the one that liked poking into that world,” Rosscoe teased in her baritone voice.
“Used to. Key words.”
Maxine just frowned and didn’t say anything. I don’t think Marcus or Rosscoe noticed her silence but let me tell you I sure did. Maxine is one of the most opinionated women in town. She’s the lady you’d expect to leading the local gossip… I mean uh… stitch and bitch and quilting group at the library on Mondays. Not a word. She just keep looking into her tea and thoughtfully running her thumb on the lip and handle.
Seven pm didn’t come soon enough. We sold a lot from the store today but sales like this usually only happened on Sabbats, Esbats, rare astronomical events and “OMG get this surplus out of our broom closest” sales. For a “New Age” store, we did a lot of crafting business. No not that kind of crafting, the other kind. We had the biggest selection of fabrics and threads be they yarn or sewing thread, in our county. So even though we had the “Spooky Room” most folks didn’t care because the “spooky” stuff was out of sight.
Thursdays were my long day. I opened and I closed. Days like today… took a good hour just to sweep the store. Then there was the whole putting bolts over two yards back on the shelf and then tagging anything under two yards and putting it into the color sorted bins. Maxine helped me.
Dear Diary…. Okay this went from weird to terrifying.
I finally stopped once we got through the cottons and had only the silks and satin’s left.
“Okay…. what is it?” I asked, my hands on my hips.
Maxine pulled herself onto the table and clasped her hands.
“Do you remember the puzzle I gave you when you were but a small child?”
Ah. I finally knew where she was going. I didn’t feel good about it but I was no longer terrified.
“Yeah. I finished when I was ten.”
Maxine looked at me startled.
“You’ve had that finished for the past seventeen years?”
I only nodded.
“You followed the clues didn’t you?”
“I finished making my map and lining up the landmarks. Yes, last night was the last night I followed the map on.”
Maxine gripped the table with both hands and leaned forward.
“I have good news and bad news.”
She turned white. I knew there was no gentle way of saying what I needed to so I just rushed into it like the idiot I can be at times.
“I found the chest. However, someone else had beaten me to it. It looked as though it had only been found that day but the chest was so badly rotted that the entire clasp was just wretched from it. The lock still intact. Now I need you to confirm something for me. The number of pieces of that puzzles were the number of journals I should have found right?”
“There was only one missing.”
Maxine looked at me perplexed.
“Are… you serious?” she asked me.
“Yes. I imagine it was the more ornate or most intact one of them all. It wasn’t the one that whoever it was should have taken. I think that one was the cookbook,” I said with a half laugh.
“Claudette… are you sure?”
“Yes my Crone.”
“Tried to disintegrate on me. I called a minion. I have it safe and everything in it is safe.”
“Then why is everything quiet?”
I thought for a moment.
I don’t know how I ended with always having Fridays off but I was not about to complain…other than my favorite spots always being too crowded to bother with. Between my favorite used book store and hipster craft joint in the snob side of town, Friday’s were the day I retreated to my refuge. I wasn’t alone today. Maxine asked to see the chest.
I wasn’t entirely sure it it was wise but I invited her out anyways. There was a joint buy not long ago that I got in on. I say not long ago but it’s been damn near ten years. I was seventeen and a small trust fund that I wanted to spend on something practical and I… became a part of a joint buy. Eighty acres of land with 7 other entities. Over time I’ve bought out all but two and we’ve pretty much laid out boundaries and a common area. I was sitting on twenty acres at this point and okay yeah, my cottage out there was the most stereotypical damn witch cottage on the planet. Right down to the field stone walls.
I spent a summer building this by myself. Sweating, bleeding, cussing and wondering. It was an amazing little cottage that I managed to make completely off grid by sheer dumb luck. An estate auction for the solar panels, a good friend in town for a few months for the wiring and another who was bored for the plumbing. I had it set up just right. Including a few chambers for things that needed…. sealed off by earth and rock and only to be lit by lantern and candle. However, I had another place of safety that I could put overly dangerous items. It frustrated the local game and fish department because they could never find the burning objects that appeared on the dam’s cameras.
Such was this chest. There was very old magic tied into it. It was made from Black Forest woods and painted with Italian oils. The hinges of metal were new compared to the wood, probably added after it reached North American shores. It was what was in inside that made it so valuable to the knowing eyes.
I watched as Maxine touched the lid reverently and whispered ancestor prayers. Her families ancient tongue never bother me like Rosscoe’s did but there was still something awful about standing there hearing it. Maxine had three children, but they all had grown up in the community. They knew the drama and preferred to be solitaries. Even then, I still got along with all of them and they had stuck this one on me. In exchange for working for me at the store for three weeks straight so that I could go see Glacier National Park finally. Her husband though had vanished into a world even more shadowy than that of the pagan community. She had woken up one day to find a box of paperwork and found out she was a rich woman. She never asked how and that has always been for the best in my opinion.
On the inside of the chest one could begin to see an age. There were runes. Pict spiralgraphs and hieroglyphs of an even older age. If you were like me, you could feel the working someone had done to start wearing down the chest just so that they could find it. They grabbed the wrong damn book though. I had to keep that mantra in my head. If I didn’t, I would become consumed with finding the lost book. The other journals were the important things. The keys.
One of the most poignant lessons an astute practitioner learns is to hide things in plain sight because you never know when the tides will cause the current to turn against you. I watched Maxine pull each book out and name it. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she made sure I spelled each name right. I watched her wrap each journal gently and gracefully in silk.
We had waited years to find this chest. I had taken each segment of the maps’ path a month at a time so as not to trigger any traps or let anyone know what I was doing. It wasn’t enough. I fully expected to scolded within an inch of my life.
Maxine with the last book turned and looked at me.
“You were right.”
I remained silent.
“The pieces needed will be in those remaining though. I’m confident in your abilities.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“My abilities? I’m not the one who wanted it found. I’m not the one whose been…kept in the dark… to the greater world surrounding our tourist town.”
Maxine sighed as she placed the bound volumes into a large duffel bag.
“It’s for your own good. This is the town that you will find needs the help the most right now, but in the future… once you’ve perfected your technique… you can let all this go and let it rest like it deserves.”
We pushed the very brittle and dry canoe out into the water with the chest. I lit it on fire and shoved it hard. Tomorrow the news channels would be a lit with the news of a flaming object off of the Army Corps of Engineers dam but none of the security cameras were working that night. How odd.
Friday wasn’t over yet for me. I got back to the studio apartment I live to find Marcus and his bottle of absinthe waiting. Marcus was the contact for the Voodoo group in this town. Me… I was the mutt. Everyone else talked to me and the Voodoo did too, only because they had to. Which in my mind, made me think them stuck up.
He offered me absinthe and I gave him information. The Voodoo had a stake in what was happening just as much as the Native spirits and ancestral spirits and gods did. It was okay that I was hated by some. I had stopped caring after a particularly blunt lesson in what I needed to be worried about.
“What all is there?”
“Pieces I don’t think were ever believed to have existed. Pieces no one human believed had been figured out.”
He looked at me over his goblet.
“Seriously. There are pieces here that if I said too much around anything, would get us both killed and even that little bit has me concerned.”
“Can’t be that bad. You’re an under the radar kind of gal.”
“Sometimes. There were family names that have been extinct for at least a hundred years. The amount of time and work it’s going to take to properly and respectively destroy these journals is…daunting.
“You’ll be fine. That said, are you still going through with it?”
“Hmmm? Oh hells yes. The balance of the spirit world is in danger and this could well be the only damn way to rectify it. Can we stop talking about this? I need to get a night of relaxation in.”
Marcus nodded and poured the rest of the bottle out between the two of us.
“Then we shall play games until dawn and drink until sober.”
Saturday hurt. I only closed on Saturday but after Friday this week, I just wanted to sleep and drink salt water. It wasn’t until after seeing why Absinthe is called Green Faery that Marcus and I called it a night. I’m just glad we had a friend in the area that could take Marcus home.
I woke up at eight after getting to bed at five. I looked at the wall and it spun. Nope. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I woke again at one pm. Checked my phone and saw Maxine laughing at me. ‘Relax, you don’t have to be here until six.’ Thank the Gods of Old and New.
I was up by four pm but still was almost late. Absinthe kiddies… it’s not meant for those of you who work the next day or babies and most of us are babies. Seriously. Especially when it comes to a drink that makes you high AND drunk.
I came in the back door just in time to hear an argument with Maxine and a male voice I didn’t know.
“You mean to tell me it’s been here all along?!” the male voice was veryangry.
“The map was distributed to everyone and had enchantments to lead everyone astray. You seriously think it’s been unraveled at this point just because the Spirit world is quiet right now?”
“Then what about the other chests found that made everything go quiet in those areas?”
I could mentally see this person start to turn red.
“That is irrelevant. This chest belongs-” “BELONGS TO NO ONE…. let alone you.”
Right there. That was my Maxine. The woman who had taught me to be soft spoken until it was time to snarl quietly. For those of you wondering a quiet snarl is damn terrifying.
“It belongs to… someone.”
“Only the Spirit World and Gods can deem whose worthy. Not us.”
The other person left in a huff. I leaned against the cold wall. The ugly of side of my world was rearing its head again. I had just been reminded why I was doing it. Maxine looked around the corner at me.
“Did you recognize his voice at all?”
“No. Who was that?”
“Out of the big city. Damn fool thinks just because he’s married into the family that he entitled to manage their affairs. He’s the secretary for one of the covens.”
She told me the name of one I didn’t recognize. Kinda glad too considering it was something Aspe. Who the hell names their coven after a snake that if not said very carefully sounds like ass? Either way, she assured me there were one of the oldest, descended from Spanish Mountain bloodlines.
“He did not sound spanish…or latin anything for that matter.”
“Heh, no that boy is city and black. I’ve heard rumors he’s doing everything he can to draw out the divorce because he wants to keep the family together for the kids sake, but refuses to walk away from Paganism until they’re 18.”
I blinked a couple of times as Maxine continued.
“It’s not uncommon for a married couple that isn’t very strong to end up being affected like that our community. It’s also no uncommon for both parents to practice with brooms until the kids of age and out of the house and can no longer be used as shields or weapons.”
I grimaced. Divorces were nasty messy businesses. All parties involved one always got fucked over for a couple of years afterwards. Especially kids.
“So he’s after the journals…”
“For reason only he knows,” Maxine finished my statement, shaking her head.
“He’s not the one to worry about it. It’s the three woman of the Templar’s Grove that we need to worry about.”
I froze. I had had four run ins with those women since starting to practice. They were cold, efficient and brutal when it came to punishing transgressions in the community, whether you were a known pagan or not. They had never liked me. Mostly because I wasn’t impressed by anything they had ever done.
“They would be most upset at what you’re going to do.”
“Ah… they’re one of those.”
Within the pagan community, once you dive into for more than a few years and aren’t just dabbling, you begin to find all sorts schisms. Including those who want to rip the walls between our world and the spirit world down. There are those who to create specific portals. There are those who want to ignore it completely. The grove grannies were most likely in the camp of ‘that’s the way it’s always been, so that is the way it’s going to stay, period’. Many practitioner’s didn’t realize how porous everything had become. It was dangerous.
The more sloppy work done, the more things that could slip through from the spirit world, the more things messed up in the human world. The sooner things got cleaned up, the better. However, preciseness was called for.
“Claudette, you’ve kept it under wraps were you live right?”
“Even if I haven’t, my lease is almost up anyways.”
“Do you remember the old Talbot’s place?”
“Yeah, I thought it had been torn down?”
“Yes, but I own the property as of two years ago. There’s a pre-fab house that they just finished building. It’s big enough for you and the work you’re going to be doing.”
I stared at Maxine.
“That’s an hour drive from any kind of backup.”
“Yes, but I’m planning on making my residence there and my circle for all their flaws, will have members out there daily. This is going to be the first year any of the gardens will have broken soil and it’s going to take a least until next year before the grounds are fully ready.”
“By which point in time, I’ll be done with this and won’t need to keep my head down so low,” I mused.
I walked with her just far enough out onto the store floor to continue the conversation as she locked the door. I was concerned someone might be watching the store to see if I was there. I was going to have to find a new job too.
“You’ll be the store secretary and work from the property via the fiber optic internet and run the online store.”
“How… how do you do that?!”
She started laughing.
It only took a week to get the house set up properly. It was the setting of wards, traps and other much more mundane things that seemed like they took forever. Whether I liked it or not, good wards are cast during the right moon phase. Which meant a lot of time on the telescope (which I didn’t mind) but also meant staying up or waking up at oddball damn hours to cast, which I minded greatly.
I had found an old in great shape trunk on CL and spent much of the time when not working on the website or doing other secretary things, working on sanding and refinishing it.
Maxine was over for that weekend, to help me finish unpacking and setting up. It wasn’t until we were done that I showed her the chest. She gave a low whistle and just barely touched it with her fingertips.
“Excellent choice in stain color. I believe you now when you say you’ll be able to hide it in plain sight…”she paused and studied the chest “Oh you clever girl.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“The protection and shielding spells you’ve literally worked into the piece. How?”
“45 hours of sanding and 12 hours of staining work.”
Maxine looked at me mouth agape.
“Are… you serious? That’s how you did it? Claudette you genius. You were already putting in the work so why not add the magic as you worked which would then just soak into the chest like the stain does.”
It was incredibly hard not to blush at the praise. The concept was a damn simple one and one I had stumbled across purely by accident. Unlike Maxine, I’d never had a real teacher for the magic. It was all trial and error. I think that’s why Maxine enjoyed my company so much. I wasn’t afraid to admit I done goofed on anything.
She looked at the walls that I had painted inside the house and at the small bits and pieces of artworks I had hung.
“You did the same with this space. That’s why you rolled your eyes at Rosscoe because it didn’t actually matter about the moon phase on the inside of the house.”
“I’ve never restricted myself in such manners. Imbueing as one works, is one of the fastest, most thorough and clean ways of working magic. With even a few minutes here and a few minutes there, one can weave a ritual symphony simply and efficiently.”
Maxine nodded as she thought over the implications and applications.
“Are you sure you don’t want to inherit my circle?”
She laughed long and hard at that. I was not the kind to function well in a big group of what were supposed to be close knit people. I had a few very close friends and then an outer circle of sorta close friends that numbered in the dozens but most of the time I didn’t invite the outer circle over for tea.
There were always jealousies or envies to guard against and the drama that could happen in a group always left me feeling depressed. Maxine usually only joked anymore about me taking over the group when she was ready to step down. Unless another fight had broken out between probates, then she’d rant and rave about how I was right, it wasn’t worth the loss of one’s hair color and ability to give a damn.
“When will the chest be ready?”
“Not for awhile yet. I still have to build the false walls and it looks like I’ll only be able to hide maybe eight journals in there. We have twenty six that need hidden.”
We headed into the kitchen to eat dinner. Maxine plopped herself down at the kitchen table and watched as I measured out two bowls of lamb stew. It was a few minutes before Maxine spoke again.
“How much of that stain do you have left?”
“How does a matching china cabinet and a couple of bookshelves sound?”
“Too bad because I have such sitting in Marcus’s garage. They’ll go nicely here and you’ll have a decent looking living room for a change. Besides what good are cliches if you can’t occasionally take advantage of them? ”
The back handed compliment triggered an involuntary eyeroll.
We changed the topic of conversation for the rest of the meal as Maxine filled me in how the community meeting of the local pagan representatives was a debacle. The spirit world was still deathly quiet and the many psychics who were legit were accusing the Wiccans of binding them, the Wiccans accusing the Asatrau of sealing off the city from anyone or anything spiritual of any kind, the Astrau accusing the Fey worshippers of cruel glamours and the Fey just rolling their eyes and in general sounds of disgust at everyone pointing fingers. Then there was everyone in between the different flavors of Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, South American, etc that tossing around some of the most outlandish conspiracy theories I’ve ever heard. I shuddered at some of them.
I never went to those meetings and never will. I was content outside of the general population and it was going to stay that way.
“I managed to open the oldest of the journals without the binding cracking into pieces,” I decided it was time to go back to talking about the business.
“How is it?”
“Exquisite. Sadly it from one of the extinct families.”
“Which one was that?”
I mentioned them and the immediate family members that were present during their last years.
“Explain to me how they went extinct again?”
“Like three of the other families. All sons were killed or so badly maimed in the Civil War that they never had kids. Any daughters went west, many dying along the way and those that made it out west never married. They found themselves content teaching or running shops with an uncle or widowed aunt.”
“You’ve traced the entire family then and know for a fact that there’s no one left to give the journal too?”
“Yeap. Unfortunately even if there was a descendant, they would have no idea what to do with the book. I’ve started disassembling the book so that I can go over each page more thoroughly. Rosscoe has leather blanks on order for me when I’m ready to rebind it.”
Maxine mused for a few moments.
“I’d say don’t rebind it. The papers are going to be so fragile that it might be more work than what it’s worth. Turn the leather blanks in large pockets, not bindings. It’ll be easier on the old books that way.”
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Each of the old journals was taking anywhere from a day to four or five days depending on its age. I’d had already gone through a full box of cotton gloves and was on the second box now. Maxine had moved into the second bedroom suite moving in officially with me and Rosscoe was living on site now as well. During one of the days at the store several weeks back, Maxine had fallen and busted her hip. It had been a huge blow to all of us as she seemed to be less herself now.
She was in her 60’s true, but to see a woman you once watched rope an errant bull that then decided to try and run her over and hit the brakes when it realized that she wasn’t backing down and meekly follow like a damn lamb, be brought low was painful. However since moving in with me, her spirits had started to begin to recover. She was an old country gal and when they found themselves abruptly stopped for whatever reason, it tended to take a while for them to come around.
Fall was in the air and we were having to finally turn the heat on at night. Maxine insisted she didn’t need it but I don’t think she’s realized I know she has two quilts and one of my afghans on her bed. The leaves were starting to turn color, the air crisp and ground slowly falling asleep for the coming winter. Halloween was just around the corner leading the holiday season ever closer and with it, Winter Solstice.
That was my deadline. It was a null moon. It was falling on a meteor shower that night and there were all sorts of little astrological goodies that Rosscoe kept raving about. I couldn’t care less. I was finding the clues and keys as needed and had figured out the last of the missing pieces with Maxine’s help.
It had been purely by accident. I was mixing together a batch of moon tea, going purely off smell this time as the last time I did by flavor and it wasn’t a success. As I was measuring out parts, I was explaining to Maxine the wall I had come up against.
“It’s all one hundred percent now laid out on a clear path. The only problem is the vessel or rather the delivery system. If I use what all these journals state is a surefire way I’m going to end up bringing everyone and their cousin down onto my head and this isn’t going to happen.”
Maxine paused from where she had been very slowly pulling out a binding stitch from her families ancestral journal.
“Is there anything from your hobbies that you could use to help yourself figure out a solution?”
“Not entirely. An overlay of all them perhaps.”
This had set me into thinking. It wouldn’t be the first time I had done what the snobs call low or common magic which is to say, prep everything a little at a time and then either burn, bury and drown the magic so that it enters the streams of the world.
If I used a large ceramic bowl, and covered the top with a dis-solvable in water substance that could give me the advantage I needed. Our lakes freeze over by Yule and the ice acts a nice little shield to keep anything from been found.
I hadn’t realized I had been thinking out loud.
“And you’ve stumbled on all this information on how to pull this all off by sheer accident and insane levels of curiosity?”
“I should be grateful you’ve not blown up this house yet shouldn’t I?” she said with a chuckle that sounded more like the Old Maxine.
“How’s the spirit world sounding?”
“It’s loud and chaotic again as it has been for the last several decades.”
“Not for much longer.”
I shoved the cork into the tea bottle.
“I suppose if one wanted to, they could hold it all hostage but how long?”
Maxine didn’t look up from her work.
“This may be why certain ones have tried so damn hard to a hold of it all. It would make them powerful.”
“But also hunted,” I plopped into the rocking chair Rosscoe had bought me as a house warming gift.
“I do think with the place we’re at with the journals, means we can take a break. Besides, I need your help in making a component for this.”
“Do you remember the knots you tied for the Bridge spell you cast several years back?”
Maxine started chuckling.
“I think I see where you’re going with this, but explain to me what you see in that mind of yours.”
I showed her the rough sketch and pointed out where I needed the knots to fall and why I wanted those knots in particular. As I explained my reasoning for each knot her eyes widened.
“You really are trying to cover all bases aren’t you?”
“Do you honestly think I could live with myself if I didn’t? For all I know, it’s the most logical explanation but all avenues must be accounted.”
“What happens when those who choose that second option start to make an impact?”
“The same thing that would happened once their bodies became too old to sustain. It’s staying their choice, I’m just empowering them to make it.”
“This is going to go over well with most anyone.”
I paused in my color selection for the cord.
“I don’t care. There are too many things going on in the Spirit World to just leave it alone. I won’t leave alone and I won’t abandon anything or anyone over there.”
“It’s because of that that my children choose you dear. They could see you shared the fire.”
“Have they been in contact?”
“Yes, they’re spending New Years here with us.”
Halloween was one of the quietest I had ever experienced. An advantage I found I liked living in the country. Everyone else was at the store for a party. I had the house to myself. Though it was not spent relaxing. I had not been able to find a ceramic pot that suited what I needed and so for the last two weeks, I had been elbow deep in clay.
I had to explain to Maxine and Rosscoe that no, we would not be building a kiln or painting the bowl. That was the spell would enter the water. The water over a period of time would dilute the clay down until there was nothing left and then the working would be begin to seep into the Worlds.
This night however saw me just practicing. There were five bowls made and they would be drying in the sun room for the next several days. I was just playing around. I needed it as the last couple of weeks had been nothing but prep. Keeping myself on task with the store duties had been hard. I wanted to finish everything and now.
“You’re as bad as your namesake.”
I paused and looked over at my rocking chair which was now moving slightly.
“You’re the last spirit I would expect.”
He chuckled and leaned forward.
“Yes I imagine. Since it was me that your mother hated so much. I suppose you barely remember your namesake though.”
“I remember she had fire brown hair.”
“Look fiery in the sun, but was really just brunette with our bloodlines natural highlights.”
I kept working.
“Why are you here grandfather?”
“Because I know what you’re going to do and I’m here to ask you to do me a favor in the spell of yours.”
He explained what he wanted. I had to admit I felt embarrassed to having forgotten that angle.
“I can add another ladder path cord.”
“No, it must be done with a very particular song. Do you remember the path finding song I taught?”
I smiled. Still to this day I would find myself humming that song if I was having a hard time with a decision.
“When you lay the bowl to rest… sing that song.”
“I can do that. Now can I ask you something grandfather?”
“Am I missing anything else?”
“Your father holds the answer to that question, but you won’t be seeing until the Sunday after Thanksgiving am I right?”
I nodded. I wasn’t on speaking terms with my mother as she had divorced my father because he wouldn’t yield the family journal to her. I only spoke to my father these days.
“It was her side of the family that gave you your ingenuity.”
“And fricking ego. Damn thing is harder to keep in check than hormones.”
“Only because you’re still young. Your raw ability comes from your namesake, my mother in law. Claudette darling, do you have time for a bit of history?”
I gestured to the clay I had just collapsed.
“I’m actually taking tonight off, so I’d say yes.”
A pipe appeared out of nowhere in his hand.
“Much of what you are seeking to clean up, as you know is from the dabblers and messy business of sloppy magic. Once many of the families who still carried a folk tradition or two reached the North American continent they picked a few things from the Native Americans that helped circle us back to be more tidy with our magic.”
“However there have always been those who refuse to listen to the lessons that have passed down to every magic user and they do as they wish or blindly follow a tradition. For a bunch of idiots who claim a broom, they sure as hell don’t know how to use one!”
“I’m sure grandmother appreciated that.”
“That woman would spend an exact of amount of time cleaning. You have no idea the weight that was lifted off of her shoulders when the news spread that Down’s Syndrome is genetic. The amount of freedom that has been given back to us by science is something to be grateful for. Sadly, you will continue to encounter those who can’t think past their precious little reputations or noses for that matter.”
He took a long drag on his pipe and thought for several moments.
“Did you recognize the magic on the chest?”
“It was old.”
“Too old to get a good read eh? Well, your great great grandfather, who was a BlackFoot but passed as white is who buried that chest. No, he’s not angry you found it but he does wish you had been able to pull everything together before finding it.”
“I was in a race against other individuals.”
“Yes, descendant of those who were too careless to learn. Which reminds me. How attached are you to those journals?”
“Good. You’re to build a pyre along with that bowl and burn them on the lake. The heat from it will melt the ice enough to drop the pages, which are old into the water causing them to disintegrate completely. The time of handing information over on a silver platter is over.”
“So there’s a consensus finally?”
“Yes and it’s that you’re nuts. However the ancestral councils have all agreed it’s time these whippersnappers start over.”
“That could start another Witch’s War. We all know how that last one ended.”
Grandfather took another long drag on his pipe.
“Are those journals accounted for?”
“Yes. They were some of the first I gleaned and then wrapped in ash, salt and sackcloth.”
“Good. They must be burned first. You’ll need to make a fire for each journal. This part you can have some fun with. Use some random configuration for the fires, the conspiracy nuts will eat up like home made candy.”
“Trying to tell me what you want next year?”
“It’d be nice.”
He paused and leaned forward again towards me.
“You’re probably going to need a new alarm clock.”
He was right of course. I may… or may not have thrown the damn thing across the room. Yes it was ten am but it had come too soon for my tastes. The others didn’t get back until noon. All but Maxine went to bed. We spent the next hour talking as I filled her in.
“I knew him, your grandfather. Sounds like the spirit world doesn’t change a person.”
The lake I chose was way out in deep countryside. Most of the roads to it were primitive roads and in the winter time were off limits to non-appropriate vehicles. I arrived two days before the solstice. There was no one else out here. I was alone and in two feet of snow. There was a very specific way that the fires had to be laid out and set up to catch fire by a mechanism controlled from the shore. This was the piece my dad had for me. A way to safely be off the ice.
It was eerie out here. There was no wind, no winter birdsong just cold crackling silence. I had to bring the firewood with because of the snow. It took most of the two days and almost all of Winter Solstice to get everything set up. The bowl had been set dead center. I had taken a rope and made a perfect circle around it so as to be able to place the firewood and journals as perfectly as possible so that they would crack the ice and send it all to the bottom.
Part of the work was just getting enough tinder and kindling ready. My mind wandered many times during this process back to the conversation my father and I had had. Apparently my mother had tried to rekindle the relationship with him but he wasn’t having any of it. He’d found a woman who loved many of the same things he did and had introduced him to a few new hobbies. Yes my father was a craft monkey just like me.
I showed him the chest, the shelves, the entire workshop that had sprung up over the course of this. He nodded approvingly and had told me to be expect a 3D printer to arrive in the springtime some time. I could use to start making things for the store on order instead of ordering online and waiting for it to ship and arrive.
I had everything except the kindling and tinder on the woodpiles. The wind had picked up for several hours on the day of the Solstice and I watched it from my truck camper anxiously. It looked as though the weather had decided to intervene but just in the last hour that I had left, the wind died to a standstill. I’d never mastered ice running quite like I did that night or have I since. I still busted my butt at least once getting back to shore, but didn’t hesitant to hit the switch.
With a pop twenty six piles of wood sparked and ignited. The gasoline soaked pages aided. I sat down on the shore and watched, singing the song my grandfather had told me to sing. After what only seemed a few minutes the fires broke into an almost perfect circle through the ice and the piece flipped over, the bowl sliding in the dark waters below.
I watched the cracks radiate in all directions and glanced at the night time sky. The stars seemed brighter and clearer for some reason.
The next morning found me packing camp quicker than I wanted to. We had another blizzard bearing down on us and I made it back home with ten minutes before it hit to spare. Maxine ordered me into the tub before I could even speak and had a hot meal ready for me once I was out.
I told about how it went all down and she smiled at me then gestured towards her spinning wheel.
“How long will it take for everything to complete?”
“Once the clay has dissolved in the water, it’ll take three years for everything to come to fruition and wrap itself up. Nice and gentle and no one will be able to ever trace that magic back to me.”
“Will it be enough?”
“Only time will tell.”
“Time. Time is one thing that has both hindered us and aided us.”
“At least it didn’t betray us with this.”
“That leaves the last journal.”
“I don’t think so. See the person who took it I narrowed down to two individuals. One of them has vanished completely the other is so far down on their luck that I think they’re a homeless person in Denver now. Either way, we don’t have to worry about them or that journal. I’m fairly certain it’s been lost, destroyed or used for joint wrappings. Either way, it’s not a concern we should be having.”
Maxine sat back down at the spinning wheel and began to finish the bobbin.
“What about the workshop?”
“Keep it. Keep making things with it. The store now has it’s own craftmans shop.”
Maxine started laughing.
“Yes, yes that it is a good use for it. We put it together to save our cousins in magic and we shall continue to use to support our local community. I think I like this practical way of thinking.”
In the ten years since the Great Nullification as it was so unimaginatively called by the communities at large, various enterprises fell apart across the globe. Hotels, old abandoned mental hospitals, restaurants, churches, etc reported lessening’s in the hauntings every year until about three years afterwards they reported zero activity. Old war battlegrounds ceased to be places were the dead wandered in vain. Places of atrocities held only the plaques and stories now. For the first time in several hundred years our world’s Spirit boundary was clear and rejuvenated.
I couldn’t have been more pleased. For a long time, spirits had been called to dance on demand but only the Gods of Old and New knew for how long exactly. Most people now after six or seven years only rolled their eyes at the psychics and the palm readers. To go talk to one of them was now purely for entertainment.
The awakening of many coma patients happened as well. Several described it as though they had been trapped and then a path, an epic journey that had brought them back. Some of them had even gone to write these journeys down and they truly are epic stories. Many though accepted the choice to finally be able to let go and move on.
And that thing my grandfather asked for? Well, that was making the path clear to find the one you hoped to after reaching the Spirit World. The last time I saw him, was a very clear vision of him finally being able to stay with Grandmother permanently and watching them move to the Beyond.
Many practitioner’s say it was like walking a giant dump for several years but soon it became the focus of many to clean up the place. Most I think mistakenly thought if they cared for the grounds the Spirits would come back. These days there are rather lovely gardens and small houses with no one in them. I still look around there at times and wonder why it had come to this to get them to take care of this place.
Most would never know. The Spirit world was once again now what it was in the distant past. Merely a place of roads and paths to the Beyond. What was the Beyond? Whatever the person choose. However the Spirits…were never coming back. Now one had to pull from the well that was inside themselves.
However, there had formed a new order since. Guardians for a lack of a better word. During the clean ups, many found horrible traps that had been laid years, decades, centuries ago by the greedy and the power hungry. Traps that sealed spirits of myth and humans alike. Many of the Guardians had been those who found these traps and bore the scares in the real world of having seemed to age a few years over night.
Ours was a thankless work. We kept an eye to ensure no more traps, no more quicksands, no more lost ones. We lead from the shadows if only to keep the majority distracted from the sins of our collective pasts and families lines. We all knew, those of us who walked this world in our dreams it would be a hard battle. To punish those who would seek an old entrapment meant dealing with them in the real world. That had to be subtle as well. The agreed on prediction was that we’d be able to keep it empty and clean and safe for those Passing on…but most likely only for a couple of centuries.
As for Maxine, myself, Rosscoe and Marcus in the real world not much changed. Maxine decided after her circle finally dissolved that it was time to treat herself. She took the kids and the grandkids on a Disney Cruise. Two of them back to back. One on the Atlantic and on the Pacific. Then her and Rosscoe went to Japan for two months and then South Korea and I think you get the picture. Her and Rosscoe traveled together for a good three or four years. Then Rosscoe came back and co-managed the store with me while Maxine just kept on exploring.
Marcus moved back to his home city and built a new business with his family, one that relied on the skill of storytelling. They tell the tales of old hauntings and speak a blessing to an unknown cause for things finally quieting down so that the living can live.
Me? I still live out on the property though these days with a proper farmhouse. Maxine let me do with what I wish with the place and because of it’s connection to the store (which is going as strong as ever) I started branching out a little bit. Maxine wasn’t happy about the news of the Alpaca herd but it’s been four years. I think she’s forgiven me by now. The workshop was ever busy and in the past couple of years, two apprentices joined me at the property, grandkids of Maxine.
We were ever kept busy now with mundane things now that the Spirit world no longer needed constant curtailing and tending. It was a wonderful thing really. The peace and quiet was a joy that many didn’t realize they had needed.
I was spending Halloween as I did every since then, quietly and out on the porch with a spinning wheel. With it, I could see everyone and how they were doing. Today I was checking on Maxine. She was hanging out in an old cafe somewhere and writing furiously on her laptop. She had take to travel blogging and was happier than a clam.
She paused for a moment and looked straight at me, winked and went back to work.
Yeap. Same old, same old.