March 26, 2013

Magic Man

The Witches of Dark Root
(Novel to be released Summer, 2013)

Prologue: Magic Man
February, 2005

“Goodbye, Martha,” Maggie said, practically pushing the woman out of the store. “See you tomorrow.” Martha Silverton had finished her shopping an hour before but she was just getting started on her gossiping. Maggie couldn’t endure another evening of ‘who is doing what in Dark Root.’ It was bad enough when her mother did it, but listening to her mother’s friends drone on about the comings and goings of the locals was a whole new level of torture.

“Quick! Lock the door!” Maggie’s sister Eve said as she emerged from the back room, sucking on a piece of candy, “before any more of mother’s cronies drop in.” The two women had been working the store without their mother for the past year now, but their mother’s friends still insisted on coming by ‘just to check in’.

Maggie glanced out the window. Martha had found a new victim, a young woman who was about to enter the book store next door. With any luck the woman would occupy Martha’s attention for at least ten minutes, long enough for Maggie to finish closing the store and sneak away, unnoticed.

 “You need to order more peppermint,” Eve said. “We’re out.”

“You order peppermint,” Maggie replied. If Eve was going to eat all the supplies, she could order them as well. While Eve lectured Maggie on the many reasons her older sister was more suited for ordering – she was better at math because she was practically a boy, she had no social life and thus had more time for ordering - Maggie began dusting the hundreds of knickknacks that covered the shelves of Miss Sasha’s Magick Shoppe.  She stopped at a glass owl, a figurine that had been in her mother’s shop for as long as she could remember, and ran her fingers along the ridges of its wings. It was an ugly thing, with eyes that bulged and a beak that hooked, but Miss Sasha insisted that one day it would find a proper home. “I’m leaving first,” Maggie spoke to the figurine. The owl regarded her with large, knowing eyes. ‘I wouldn’t bet on that’, it seemed to answer.

Maggie finished dusting and then looked around for something else to do. She was torn between reading a stack of magazines Eve had smuggled in from the book store and checking out the new herbs they had ordered, to see if any of them looked smokable. It was almost six and that meant that soon she would have her freedom. She had planned a night of drinking at the local park and she had already secured the beer, thanks to a Lindsburg girl who was more than happy to purchase it in exchange for a love charm.  Maggie had gotten the better deal on that one. The beer was 8.99. The charm, made in India, cost her less than fifty cents. She glanced again at the clock, frustrated that it didn’t seem to move.

“I’ll close the blinds,” Eve volunteered. Maggie shrugged. Eve could do all the work if she wanted to.  “Maggie! Look!” Eve called her to the window. Maggie tossed the magazine onto a chair and joined her. Eve pointed directly across the street to Delilah’s Deli, at a man Maggie had never seen before.

“Who is he?” Eve asked. “I don’t recognize him at all.”

Maggie moved to get a better view, nudging Eve out of the way. Well, he isn’t from around here,” she said, and Eve clucked her tongue at the obvious statement. Of course he wasn’t from around here. His grey coat and khaki slacks identified him as a city person, not a man who spent much time skulking around the small, backwoods towns of Central Oregon.

“He’s handsome,” Eve said and Maggie silently agreed. Though daylight was turning to dusk Maggie could still make out a thick mane of wavy brown hair and the strong line of his jaw. He leaned forward, speaking to a gaunt young man who was listening attentively to every word.

“You can have the friend,” Eve said, waving her right hand dismissively. Maggie noticed the dreamy look on Eve’s face. She had probably already planned their wedding.

Delilah’s Deli was closing shop, its neon sign flickering on and off, like eyelids fluttering shut. The waitress filled ketchup bottles and swept around their booth but the stranger made no effort to hurry through his conversation. The other man continued listening, excitedly taking notes. Maggie wished she could read lips. Or minds.

                    “We have to find out what he’s doing here,” Eve said. “It’s just not natural.” Though the town teemed with tourists during the fall when the Haunted Dark Root Festival took place, it was rare to see anyone arrive in the off months. A tourist in February was practically unheard of.

                “Probably just passing through on his way to Salem and really wanted a sandwich. It happens.”

“Why do you have to take the fun out of everything?” Eve said, her eyes lighting up. “Maybe he is here for a reason.” She conjectured about his fabulous life as a scientist, an archeologist, or an astronaut. “Or maybe even a producer!” The last revelation worked her into frenzy and she pulled out her compact to check her appearance. Maggie wasn’t convinced that he was any of those things, but there was something special about the man. He had an energy that crackled and popped.

Unexpectedly, he turned in their direction. Eve ducked out of sight but Maggie stood her ground, locking gazes with the stranger.  His dark eyes stirred something inside her, jolting her awake. He blinked once, and then returned to the conversation with his friend.

                “We should bring him over.” Eve’s eyes flashed with mischief. Maggie watched her sister push a stepstool across the floor to gather oils and vials from a high shelf that ran the perimeter of the shop. Next, she collected an assortment of herbs from bins beneath the counter. “Candles! I need purple candles.” She was driven when she had a mission, not the same dreamy girl who sat behind the counter, talking about the wonderful things she would do one day while she ignored the customers.       

             “Like a fly to a spider,” Maggie said, shaking her head.  “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How about we just walk across the street and talk to him?”

Eve huffed. “Just because you’re too good for magic, doesn’t mean some of us don’t respect the craft.”

“I’m not against magic. I just think it’s a waste of time. Plus, I’m not sure most of it really works.”

“We can’t all be Wilders, can we?”

Maggie’s face reddened. Wilder was the term for a natural witch, one with thoughtless and reckless magic; a witch who had not yet learned to control her powers.  It was a derogatory word, rarely uttered in polite company. The light bulb buzzed overhead, threatening to burst, and Eve moved her gaze to the ceiling to prove her point.

“Calm down,” Eve said, placing her stack of objects on the counter and arranged them into neat piles. “I didn’t mean it.” She had been around her sister long enough to know when she had pushed things too far. “Casting spells is fun, Maggie, as long as we don’t have mom here, grading us like school kids. Now, where’s the book?” Eve scanned the room for their mother’s book of spells and incantations. Maggie shrugged, not offering to help. If Eve wanted to buy into their mother’s brainwashing, that was her choice, but Maggie was done with it.

“Ah, here it is,” Eve said, finding the small, leather-bound tome on a chair near the entrance, half buried under a magazine. It was dog-eared and musty; a rare book, their mother claimed, filled with spells that would have otherwise been lost to time had they not been carefully scribed onto those pages.  As a result, customers were permitted to read the book but were never allowed to borrow it. So protective of the book was Miss Sasha that only family members could remove it from the store without suffering a terrible curse. What the curse was, nobody knew, but Sasha Shante was a formidable witch and there was not a soul in Dark Root brave enough to take the chance.

Maggie regarded Eve as she went to work creating a concoction of vanilla, rose petals, and thyme - stirring the mixture with the quill from a dove - barely glancing at the open book beside her. Maggie guessed that Eve had committed the man-luring spell to heart. Eve looked up, while continuing to stir. “Wouldn’t it be exciting if we fell in love and he took me away from this Godforsaken town? Now that Merry is gone, there’s nothing to keep me here.”

At the mention of their missing sister’s name, Maggie grew irritated. “You really think you’re getting out before me?”

“Someone’s got to take care of mom. She’s not getting any younger. Besides,” Eve said, her eyes flickering towards the open window. “I have to get out of here. I am going to be a famous actress one day and I need to go to someplace like New York or Hollywood. I’ve read the tea leaves, Maggie. It’s my destiny.”

“You do dream big,” Maggie said, “but even if your spell works and you get him to wander over here, what makes you think he is going to fall in love with you?”

“Duh! Look!” Eve stopped working long enough to pose. With long, dark hair that fell to her waist, dimples so deep you could put dimes in them, and a body that was both thin and curvy, she was beautiful, almost exotic.

“And,” Eve continued, before Maggie could comment. “If for some reason that isn’t enough to snag him, one sip of my special tea and he will be buying me a ticket to London to study Shakespeare.” Eve winked and retreated into the back room, returning with a white porcelain cup and teapot. “You might not have dreams Maggie, but I do. I refuse to end up like you.” She opened the teapot and sprinkled something inside, tea leaves she had grown and cultivated herself, just for such an occasion.

Maggie was about to tell her that she had no intentions of staying here either, when the door opened and the man from across the street entered.  Maggie did a double take, wondering if Eve’s spell could have worked so quickly.          

“Well, hello there.” Eve said, startled. She dropped a cloth over her concoction and extended her hand. “Our shop is closed, but I’m brewing tea. Perhaps you’ll have a cup?” Eve slinked towards the man, her long hair swaying sensually around her.

                The man did a quick perusal of the room, taking in the candles, books, and oddities of the shop. His eyes rested momentarily on their mother’s book of spells before moving on.  He nodded, satisfied. He strode past Eve and stopped before Maggie, looking her up and down. “Actually,” he said when his eyes met hers, “Maggie Maddock. I’m here for you.”


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