The abandoned witch
There is nothing more unfortunate than to be a witch with no powers--or perhaps more accurately, a witch whose powers have yet to manifest.
This was not Summer’s fault. She wasn’t exactly born into it—although mama said that she had great power that lay just beneath her skin waiting to come out. It made Summer think about an errant hair or stray pimple; waiting to come out.
The circle didn’t want her, although mama sometimes allowed Summer to help her with small things like drying the herbs and mixing them for use in potions. But Summer was never allowed to sit in the circle with the others and when she asked why mama just said that she wasn’t born into it.
Mama and her sisters all had the talent—but they were born into it. Yasmine wasn’t her real mother and Bethsheba and Ona were not her real sisters. Sometimes people gazed upon her with her pale skin and long black hair that cascaded down the center of her back. They would take in her emerald green eyes and wonder why her mother and sisters were black when she was so obviously white.
People were idiots, Summer would think. Why did they think that family was only comprised of flesh and blood? Family was who loved and took care of you when your own family was nowhere to be found.
Summer’s real mother had lived in a small little house on John’s Island amidst swamp alligators and raccoons that came right up on the porch to eat the dog’s food. Summer remembered the pretty flowers and the thick forest with the water snakes that hung from the trees, and the strange willow trees that looked straight out of fairytale. What Summer didn’t remember is going to school or having friends. She was six and then seven and then eight and the only people she saw were her mother’s customers.
They would come at dusk with their money clutched in their fist and determined expressions on their faces because they knew that the strange white woman that lived in a shack on the water’s edge had a knack to make things happen.
She knew how to work the best gris gris—maybe because she was disconnected from the rest of the community and didn’t allow her own prejudices to interfere with who she worked magic for or against--or maybe her mysterious ways harkened to a darker magic that no one wanted to talk about.
By the time Summer was eight she knew the plants and the magic words and would help her mother with the most rudimentary spells. One morning Summer woke up and her mother wasn’t home. She went to the river and checked the traps and brought back the meat but her mother was still not around. Summer cooked breakfast—at eight she was old enough to make most of the meals.
Her mother; Autumn, did not return and for two terrifying weeks Summer wandered their small house and the surroundings that she so loved. She bathed in the river the way her mother would want her to and took care of the animals. People came for her mother’s magic but Summer hid. But they kept coming and then mama showed up.
Mama called her with a song. Summer peeked at her from where she was hiding from behind a tree. And Mama stood on the porch and in a beautiful light voice called out for the whereabouts of the pretty little bird. But mama was the pretty one. She was true Creole, a tantalizing mixture of Kiawah Indian, French and African. Her long hair fell in waves down her back and Summer remembered that she wore a long dress but was barefoot—yet no dirt seemed to have settled on her feet.
The song mama sang began to make Summer sleepy and before she knew it her feet were carrying her to the strange woman that stood singing on her porch. When mama’s hazel eyes rested upon Summer a broad smile touched her face. She lifted Summer into her arms as if she was a little baby and mama carried her home where she was to live from that moment forward.
It was Ona who brought her an understanding of what had really happened to Summer’s real mother. When Summer was twelve and Ona ten years old, the younger girl had whispered the things that no one had ever dare say aloud.
“Your mother is the plaything of a demon.”
“My mother?” Summer said, nearly forgetting that the two weren’t the same flesh and blood.
“Your white mother—the one who disappeared.”
Summer had looked at Ona with wide eyes. It was not exactly forbidden to speak about Summer’s mother, but such discussions were frowned upon by the family’s matriarch.
Ona continued, her dark eyes serious. “I heard them talking.” Them meant many different things depending on the context—But Summer knew that in this context ‘them’ meant the ladies of the circle; the witches group that they belonged to.
“They didn’t know I was home,” Ona continued. “I was supposed to be outside collecting herbs but I got thirsty. Miss Genevieve said that your mama got her goose cooked, dabbling in things she shouldn’t. And then mama said that no one deserved to be the plaything of a demon…”
Summer frowned images in her head of the many stray cats they sometime took care of that toyed with the captured mice or birds before killing and devouring them.
“Do you think my mother is still alive?”
Ona looked stricken. “Mama thinks so. But if she comes back will that mean you won’t be my sister anymore?”
“I don’t know,” Summer had answered honestly, tossing back one thick black braid. “Can we be sisters even if we don’t live together?”
Ona shrugged but then another thought struck her, “What if your mother is living in hell?”
Summer had never thought about that. An uneasy fear began to crawl over her skin.
“What if the demon comes back and makes you live with him and your mother?” Ona said--her small brown hands clutched in her lap.
Summer shook her head. “Mama won’t let that happen.”
Ona sighed and the tension began to recede from her small body. “You’re right. The circle won’t let anyone take you. But if mama hadn’t come to your house that day, maybe the demon would have come back for you.”
By the time Summer turned twenty, Bethsheba had gotten married and Ona had moved to North Carolina to attend college. Summer felt as if her life was at a stand still. Deciding that she would have to be the one to make something happen in her life she decided to visit the empty little house that she had lived in as a child.
No one went there, except maybe on Halloween night when teenagers dared each other to walk up on the porch and call her mother’s name three times before running screeching through the night at the hooting of an owl or the passionate squeal of a wildcat.
Summer had never gone back, at first because she was too young to make the trip by herself, and then later because she was too afraid of seeing the ghosts of what used to be.
Making up an excuse to go to the Farmer’s market, Summer borrowed the car and made the long trek to her old house. She didn’t like lying to her mother—it wasn’t something that she was accustomed to doing. Mama was a white witch, after all and knew things, so it was best to live your life without guile in dealings where she was concerned.
Summer was unable to explain what it is that she wanted but she knew that until she returned to the house, she would not be able to begin the process of putting her past behind her, or moving forward towards a future that was not haunted by her other’s disappearance.
The small house seemed no more than a shack to Summer as she pulled up into an overgrown drive-way. Old beer bottles and cans littered the front yard. However the door to the house remained closed and there was none of the expected graffiti or broken out windows seen in most abandoned homes. Folks around these parts respected the unseen forces even if they claimed not to always believe in them.
Summer wasn’t afraid of the things that prevented others from walking into the house. She didn’t expect Autumn’s ghost to come flying out. Her fear was the simple discovery that she did not belong anywhere.
The front door was locked and Summer hurried to an overgrown flower pot where the key lay nestled beneath it—even after all of these years. She used it to unlock the door and was met by the stifling stench of a closed up house—mildewed furniture, dust and the faint smell of past meals.
Coughing, Summer looked around, taking in the sight of the hazy images of dust covered surfaces. Little footprints of some long lost rodent marred the perfection of the dust covered hardwood floor.
For a long moment she just stood there taking in the sights, which conjured lost memories. How small the house looked, crowded with rickety furniture. An old velvet couch that had looked so grand when she was a child, now she clearly saw that it was threadbare with strategically placed laced doilies that attempted to hide some of the bigger holes.
Next to the sofa was a three-legged cocktail table that held a gaudy lamp with a stain-glassed lampshade. When she was a child she used to lay on the couch and stare at the lamp thinking that it looked like the jewelry of some of her mother’s richer customers. She would think of Miss Remy’s colorful rings whenever she gazed at the lamp and she would think that she and her mother were rich.
Summer’s feet moved the few steps to the shelf that held jars and small wooden boxes that contained her mother’s herbs, amulets and potions. There were spell books lining the shelves and when Summer opened a few of them they appeared to be handwritten by people who had died long before her mother had been born.
She saw one familiar book with a handmade cover. It was the book that her mother used to write in! Summer quickly snatched it off the shelf. It was covered in stiff leather, the stitching all hand done. When she opened it, it creaked as if the pages would fall to the floor.
She wondered if her mother had written it. Were these her spells? Summer carefully leafed through the pages noting the neat script and drawings of plants and herbs, or protective circles.
The writing wasn’t always easy to read and Summer imagined that it would be so for even someone who had more than her limited education. She had never taken well to schooling. She didn’t consider herself stupid but things did come harder since she was eight years old the first time that she ever stepped foot into a school building. It had taken Summer a long time to acclimate to the other children and book learning just never seemed to come easy. Summer was lucky to graduate with barely passing grades.
With a sigh she pressed the book to her chest, clutching it as if she was holding her long lost mother.
She felt saddened by the neglected house and for a moment she wanted to scrub everything down until it was just the way her mother had left it. Instead she moved from item to item, allowing her fingers to touch them—reacquainting herself with the things that at one time had been as familiar as the back of her hand.
Summer moved to the kitchen. All of the dishes had been neatly washed and put away and she opened each cabinet and examined the mismatched dishes and chipped glasses, memories of her past returning to her. She felt as if she was walking out of a fog as long forgotten memories returned to her.
She went to her mother’s room, the bed was still unmade and if not for the layers of dust she would have thought that her mother had jumped out of bed just that morning.
“Where are you?” She whispered. She left that room and walked to her old bedroom. Her twin-sized bed was neatly made up with faded sheets that had images of princesses. There were no toys in this bedroom but her belongings had been neatly lined on a bookshelf that contained things that had interested her as a child; several thumb size pieces of amber, the thighbone of a toad, a shiny black stone with white specks, a pen knife and several pieces of wood that she had tried to whittle into shapes of animals—but had turned out to be little more than malformed knots.
She sighed and wondered why she had come. This had been a bad idea. Suddenly she wanted to leave and never return. But her mother…the mystery of her mother’s disappearance was somewhere in this house.
Summer sat down at the kitchen table, ignoring the dust. This is where her mother had done most of her work with her clients. This table was the one piece of furniture that seemed to have any value. It had obviously been cut from a great tree—the type Summer could only guess. But the tabletop was thick and the rings of the tree that it had once been could be clearly seen even now through the layers of dust. She remembered that when polished the table shined and was as smooth as marble. She had loved tracing those rings with her fingers.
Ignoring the dust that poofed up in a plume, Summer sat the book down on the table top and beginning with page one she began to read.
She had to start somewhere.
Summer returned to the old house a few times over the course of the next two weeks to read the books. She didn’t dare bring them into mama’s house. She had no doubt that Yasmine’s keen awareness would pick up on the dark magic that had invaded the sanctity of her home.
These spell books were even harder to understand than her mother’s. The spell books were hand written and sometimes little more than chicken scratch. At times the ink was so faded that she had to hold it right next to the kerosene lamp in order to make out the words. Some pages were stained or cracked. But what she could make out was fascinating. There were stories of hell, but not a hell that she could have ever imagined. The hell described mirrored a world that was much like her own.
The drawings were amazing but frightening. They included images of monsters with fangs and talons but what intrigued her more was the fact that many of the demons looked like people except with red glowing eyes. Some demons had tails and horns, some were thin, heavy, beautiful or ugly just the same as humans.
The books described something that confused her. There was page after page describing a war between witches and demons. Demons seemed to despise witches in a way that didn’t match their desire to cause chaos for humans. If she understood what she was reading then demons enjoyed the idea of twisting a human’s soul, but they wanted witches dead.
That would contradict that her mother was a demon’s plaything. Her mother was probably dead. Unless Yasmine and the ladies of the witch’s circle knew something that she didn’t know…
She had to do something that she had avoided; Summer needed to confront Yasmine about her true mother.
TO BE CONTINUED...