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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Penot is a writer and therapist who lives in Alabama with her children, husband, corgis, and other strange creatures. She is the author of Haunted North Alabama, Haunted Chattanooga and Circe.
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The Accidental Witch
Phaedra Michaels is a small town psychologist who is beginning to lose hope. Two of her patients at the local hospital in Dismal, Alabama have just killed themselves, she’s still reeling from her divorce and what turned out to be a disastrous marriage, and her father has died, leaving her without any notion of who her real mother is.
Just as Phaedra decides to commit herself to a serious drinking problem and an eating disorder, or two, a mysterious spell book arrives in the mail. Feeling desperate, Phaedra uses it to cast spells to save her fading patients. Suddenly, good things start happening. Phaedra’s patients begin to get better and she even starts dating the sexy doctor from the hospital.
Phaedra is so happy she doesn’t notice the small things that start to go wrong in Dismal, or the dark creatures slithering out of the shadows near her house. When Phaedra finally realizes her spells have attracted every card-carrying demon from hell, she has no choice but to accept help from a slightly nerdy, 500 year-old warlock with a penchant for wearing super hero T-shirts and a knack for getting under Phaedra’s skin. Now, if only she could get the hang of this witch thing, she might be able to save her town.
THE ACCIDENTAL WITCH
By Jessica Penot
A White Candle Love Spell
It is amazing how the most world-changing days can seem entirely mundane to begin with. Friday the 13th seemed no different than any other day to me. I woke up late, as always, and rushed to get dressed and make it to the car with my usual box of animal crackers and diet cola. I pulled my shoes on as I backed out of the driveway and ate while I drove to work.
I was late to work, but just early enough to not be noticed as late. The small hospital where I worked was a blip in a vast nowhere and the small psychiatric floor I worked on was a blip in a blip. I was a blip within a blip within a blip, making me practically nothing. I could’ve died in my sleep and the world would barely belch. I liked to think that I was good at what I did. I liked to think that even though I was a nothing, I made a difference in the patients’ lives. I was one of those deluded people that believed in saving the world one person at a time. I guess I still am. Certainly, I was one of the few people that actually cared about the patients. The management didn’t care that I cared. Management was too busy trying to balance the books and keep the floor profitable to care what the staff did with the patients. I could take all the patients outside and have them moo like cows and management wouldn’t care as long as I billed it as a recreational therapy group and got the proper reimbursement.
“Hey, Phaedra,” Millie said as I walked onto the locked portion of the floor. My keys jingled against my chest as I walked towards the nursing station. I was one of five therapists that covered the psychiatric floor. I never really saw the other five therapists because the hospital was too cheap to ever have more than one therapist working at a time, but I knew the other therapists existed somewhere out there in the same kind of way you know an atom exists without ever seeing it.
I smiled as I approached Millie. I was used to smiling when I didn’t mean it. That is what being a therapist is. It is putting your own feelings aside so that other people can find happiness. At least, that is what it is supposed to be. That is what I wanted it to be.
“Hey, girl,” I said. “How’s it lookin’ today?”
“All bullshit as always,” Millie said in her thick southern drawl.
Millie was one of those people who wasn’t happy unless she was complaining about something.
“Sorry about that,” I said with a small smirk. “What’s going on?”
“We have Kara Watson again,” Millie whined. “I swear if they admit that girl one more time, I’ll kill her myself. She’s just doin’ this for attention and she ain’t right for our floor.”
“What’s she doing for attention?” I asked
“She’s in there bangin’ her head on the wall and expecting me to care,” Millie said. “She shouldn’t be here.”
I couldn’t figure out who Millie thought would be right for the floor. It was like she didn’t really realize that the psychiatric floor was where crazy people were supposed to be. She thought that all the crazies that came and went through our doors acted out just to annoy her. All their suicide attempts and hallucinations were an elaborate ploy just to make her day shitty or get something from her. Although, I couldn’t imagine what anyone would want from Millie.
“I’ll go check on her,” I said with a smile.
I walked down the hall to room 101A where Kara Watson sat on her small white bed sobbing and slamming her head against the wall. Large tears bubbled down her plump cheeks and puddled on her bosom. Kara was more than plump. She was fat in that way that made other fat people look thin. The fat kind of rolled off her like dough.
“Hey, Ms. Kara,” I said as I pulled up a chair. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I don’t want to be alive,” she wept.
“But you were doing so well,” I said.
“There’s no reason for me to be alive. Why can’t you people just let me die?”
“You know we can’t do that,” I said.
“I got nothing to live for,” she said.
“You have yourself to live for,” I said. And that was a lot. A whole lot.
“Well, that ain’t much,” she snapped.
“Your little one wouldn’t want you to give up like this,” I whispered.
“I know,” she said. “I just miss them.”
“You still have a son and a husband and they need you,” I said. “You can’t give up. You have to keep fighting for them.”
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Kara said. “Nurse Ratchet is on a rampage this morning.”
I laughed. Kara always called Millie “Nurse Ratchet”. The patients hated a few of the nurses, but they hated Millie most of all. Many of the other nurses were curt and blunt and assumed the patients were all lying losers, but they did their job with professionalism. Millie, on the other hand, snarled at patients when they asked for any kind of help. She sat behind her desk typing notes and making the patients’ lives a living hell. I had no power to do anything about Millie, so I made my peace. Management didn’t care. They would have staffed the Devil himself if he was good at billing and paperwork. I had once asked my supervisor what to do when the patients complained about the nurses. She had told me to nod and smile. That was our official policy—Don’t complain, just nod and smile.
“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry about that. I noticed she was in a bad mood.”
“Does she have good moods?”
“No,” I said. “Listen, Kara, do me a favor, would you?”
Kara nodded and turned away from the wall. She looked at me with eyes bluer than the ocean. When I looked in her eyes, I could see through the fat and self-abuse to the woman underneath. I could see her as she used to be. I had seen the pictures. Before her twin daughters died, Kara had been lovely and thin and athletic, but years of depression had eroded that as surely as a river carves out a canyon.
“Make a list for me. Make a list of all the good things in life. Make a list of everything that’s even a little bit good.”
“I’ll see you in group? It starts in ten minutes.”
Kara nodded again.
I walked back out to the nurses’ station and looked through the charts. I checked to see which paperwork I needed to do and which patients needed individual sessions. It was going to be a long day. Bob had worked the weekend and he didn’t like to work with patients. He liked to sit behind the desk with the nurses and shoot the shit. Bob was a licensed counselor, but I couldn’t imagine why he’d gone into it. He seemed about as concerned about the patients as Millie. I hated working after him. It was like doing two days work in one day.
The floor was full. Every bed was taken. They always were. There weren’t enough psychiatric hospitals in Alabama, let alone rural Alabama. Mostly, unless your family was willing to commit you, you would slip through the cracks. The people on our floor, despite its flaws, were the lucky few. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Alabama. Those on our floor were the few that someone cared enough about to save or who were just lucky enough to attempt suicide on a day when we had beds open.
The morning support group was a crap shoot. It was one of those things that can sometimes reach people in such a profound way that it almost seems divine and can sometimes piss people off in such a horrible way that you just have to dodge the obscenities being flung in your general direction. The moment I walked into the group room, I could tell it was going to be a crap-dodging day. All our regulars were there. The regulars are the ones with the good insurance that the psychiatrists will directly admit because they have good insurance, or the ones that spend so much time driving the ER doctors crazy that the ER doctors force the psychiatrists to admit them under penalty of death. Ironically, these lucky few, the regulars that get help more than they deserve when others get no help, are usually the whiniest, most complaining, miserable people that can climb up out of the crazy bin.
“Good morning,” I said cheerfully to the group. I scanned the group quickly. Wayne Braselton was there. He was one of the regulars. Everyone knew everything about him. His wife had killed herself last year and his son had shot himself in the head a few days later. It is a strange coincidence that oftentimes the floor seems filled with the same types of people at the same time. Looking over the room, at least five of the people there had someone die on them in the last three years. Last week the group had been all rape or incest survivors and the week before, they’d been all Iraq war veterans. It came in waves and I never understood why, but in my heart, I believed it was fate.
“What are you doing back here, Wayne?” I asked directly.
Wayne just started sobbing. Big fat tears rolled down his face. “I just want to die now,” he said. “Why can’t I die?”
“Did you try to kill yourself again?” I asked.
“I took all my clonazepam,” he wailed. “I should be dead. Why aren’t I dead?”
Kara leaned over and put a hand on Wayne’s shoulder. “It gets easier,” Kara whispered.
“Really?” Wayne sobbed.
“Yeah,” Kara said.
“Wayne,” I said. “It’s not your time to die. I think you know that. You can’t change things, so you have to accept them. You have to accept them and work to make today a better day. So what goal can you set to make today a better day?”
“I don’t know,” Wayne said.
“What do you like doing, Wayne?” I asked.
“I like to play cards,” Wayne said.
“What do you think, Kara? Can you help Wayne accomplish his goal of playing cards today?”
Kara nodded enthusiastically.
“I just miss them,” Wayne said. “Every day I miss them.”
“I know you do, sweetie, but you know how you feel right now?” I said.
“Yeah,” He said.
“Do you want to make your daughter feel like you feel now? Do you want to leave her all alone?”
“No, I can’t do that,” he said firmly.
“Then you gotta get it together and accept that they are gone. You gotta play cards with Kara here today and keep your mind on the positive. Focus on everything good you got left in your life.”
Wayne nodded and I wrote a few notes before I looked at the person in the circle. It was Brenda Belhaven’s turn to talk. Morning group is supposed to be a time for patients to set daily goals and discuss their feelings, but as soon as Brenda Belhaven launched off into an unfortunate tirade, I knew there was gonna be no therapy for her.
“Ya’ll need to let us smoke,” she began. Shit. Brenda had been on the floor fourteen times and she kept coming back, so she obviously liked it. But all she ever did was yell about the no smoking policy.
“And let me tell you that nighttime nurse, Shaquella, is an evil bitch from Hell. I couldn’t sleep last night and I told her I was going to lose it if she didn’t call the doctor and get me something and she said she was gonna call the police on me if I didn’t go back to bed, so I had to sit up all night long in that damn bed. I haven’t slept in four days and that bitch won’t do a damn thing to help me . . .”
I cut her off. That’s my job. “What coping skills can you use to deal with this situation?” I asked.
“I can kick her ass,” Brenda said.
“And will that get you what you want?” I asked.
“No. But it sure will feel good.” The group laughed.
“Will it be worth it?”
“Hell no!” Brenda said.
“So what positive coping skills can you use to make this work to your advantage?”
So group went on in this manner. Sorrow and complaints lay at my feet like so many discarded socks. It was going to be a long day. I snuck into my office after group and took three ibuprofens. I put my head in my hands. There were three patients waiting for me in the ER and we had no beds. That meant I had to try to find someplace to stick them or try to sucker them into signing a no harm agreement, so we wouldn’t be liable if they did themselves off. I took a deep breath and sucked down a little more diet cola. The animal crackers had mixed with diet cola in my stomach to form a kind of cement. I felt sick, but that was an everyday thing. I should probably eat better.
I grabbed my clipboard and made my way down to the ER. I looked at the screen. Half the beds taken in the ER were psychiatric beds. I often found myself wondering what was wrong with the world. Why did everyone seem to want to die? People said it was the economy or tough times, but it just seemed like it was deeper than that. People in our little town were just getting sadder. Dismal wasn’t much, but it was my home and always had been and it broke my heart to see the people I’d grown up with giving up on life. Not everyone there was from Dismal. Beds were scarce and when there are no beds in their own towns, people came to where they thought there might be beds, so oftentimes we had people from all over Alabama and parts of Tennessee, but that was even more depressing, because that meant the problem wasn’t just with Dismal.
Dismal sounds like a terrible place to live. The name speaks of sorrow, but it wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, Dismal was a tourist destination. People came from all around to see Dismal’s Gorge just a mile north of the town. They came to see the largest canyon east of the Mississippi where the Dismalites lived, wrapped in a kind of supernatural infamy. At night, the canyon lights up with glowing creatures that line the canyon wall like stars. The Indians thought the Dismalites were like fairies that brought magic and good luck. In truth, they are the bioluminescent larval stage of a rare bug that only lives in Dismal’s Gorge. Once, they brought Dismal fame and travelers, but no one cares about bioluminescent slugs anymore and Disneyland is much better than Alabama, so Dismal, Alabama has slowly choked to death until it looked like its name, dismal.
I sighed and leaned onto the nurses’ station’s desk.
“Hey, girl,” I said and I winked at Diane.
“Hey. How you doing?” Diane, the charge nurse, asked.
“The usual,” I answered.
I laughed. I’d known Diane forever. She and I had been friends in high school. She was a tall, thin woman with high cheekbones and bright green eyes. Her skin was clear and white and her straight, black hair was cut short. She always wore bright red lipstick and scrubs with Halloween decorations on them. She wore the Halloween scrubs all year round. Even at Easter she’d be wearing cute little witch scrubs or black cat scrubs.
“Your boyfriend’s here,” Diane whispered.
“Would you shut up,” I said in a hiss.
“Oh, please, like everyone here doesn’t know you would kill to go out with Dr. McHotty.”
“His name is Dr. Becket, thank you very much, and everyone here does not know that.”
“Fine,” Diane said as she rolled her eyes at me.
At that moment, Dr. Becket stepped out of one of the ER rooms. Dr. Becket was perfect as far as I could tell. He was very tall and lean. He ran marathons and did triathlons and his build was sculpted into perfection by his religious physical regime. He had sandy blond hair that fell over his blue eyes making them seem even bluer. His skin was dark from the sun and when he smiled, my heart skipped a beat. He wasn’t just beautiful. He was perfect in every other way. He was nice when the other doctors were snarky. He cared about the patients. He was the medical director of the hospitalist group which meant he made more money than God. He liked to read. He was born in Wales and moved to the States when he was a boy. He had the subtlest hint of a Welsh accent that just drove me crazy.
Of course, every single woman in Dismal knew that Dr. Becket was perfect and a group of women swarmed him whenever he was present. They fluttered around him like groupies. They hung on his every word perpetually hoping that they would become Mrs. Dr. McHotty. All the pretty blonde nurses lingered where he walked, hoping he would look their way.
I had no hopes and I hated swarms, so I had no part in the other women’s behavior. I was realistic about myself. There was a time, in my early twenties, when I had been slim enough to be moderately attractive. I certainly had managed to attract the biggest losers around and managed to marry one of them. I had never been beautiful and after a horrible marriage and a terrible divorce, I had let my butt sag and had given up my exercise routine for a comfortable TV and Cheetos routine that seemed much less complicated. I also had no intentions of getting involved with any more men. I had dated enough to know that I had no sense when it came to men and if I started dating again, I would surely end up with a serial killer or child rapist.
Diane threw a chart at me, pulling away from my gawking. “You can wipe the drool from your face now,” she said.
“Ha ha,” I said.
“Bed three is hearing voices telling him to kill his mother,” Diane said. “Bed four will kill himself if we don’t give him hydrocodone and he is allergic to tramadol and buprenorphine. Bed six is a homeless fellow who wants to hang himself or find a warm bed.”
“Wonderful,” I said.
“I swear the crazy is contagious lately,” Diane said.
“We prefer the term mentally ill,” I answered.
“When’s your shift over?” she asked.
“Six,” I said. “Bob’s working the night shift.”
“You wanna get drinks when you’re off? “
“I think I’m going to need a beer or seven,” I said.
“Finnegan’s?” Diane said.
“Is there any place else?” I answered.
“Not that I would be caught dead in,” Diane responded.
I smiled at Diane and took the first chart from the pile. I drew a deep breath and walked in to room 8.
* * *
It was seven before I finally sat down at Finnegan’s. The greasy bar looked like it always looked. There was an assortment of college kids from the university campus and a few old bikers played pool in the corner. There were the locals sitting at one side of the bar looking like they would catch on fire if they mingled with any of the others.
I had a large Belgian ale in front of me. I went almost entirely unnoticed in my smoky corner of the bar until Diane walked in. She sauntered through the bar. Diane was gorgeous and not a single man in the bar missed her appeal. She was wearing a skin-tight tank top and skinny jeans that fit her so closely, she might have been naked. She had big breasts and a tiny waist. She looked like a gothic porn star. She smiled and sat down next to me and ordered a beer. She had her nose ring back in and in the tiny tank top, you could see all of her tattoos.
“You look like you’re in a funk,” Diane said as she lit a cigarette.
“How can you smoke those things? You’re a nurse. You should know better,” I said.
“How can you live on Cheetos and animal crackers?”
“So, how’s the house warming going?” Diane asked as she exhaled smoke.
“Okay,” I said. I had recently bought a house. It had been the largest commitment I had ever made in my life and I had chosen the house with the same wisdom I had used to choose my ex-husband. The saddest thing about it was that I knew it was a bad decision even as I’d made it. It was like I just couldn’t help myself. The house was old. It was so old, it had a name. It was called The Black Magnolia and ghost stories and legends hung off of it like the Spanish moss in the trees around it. The ghost stories and the disrepair hadn’t mattered, however. As soon as I had stepped into The Black Magnolia, I knew the house had to be mine. It wanted me and I wanted it and as there really wasn’t much else permanent in my life and as I had self-destructed in every other semi-reasonable way, I couldn’t think of a reason not to drive another nail into the coffin that was my life.
“Is it haunted?” Diane asked in a casual way.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I replied.
Diane cackled. She threw her head back and laughed like a witch. I had no idea what she was laughing about.
“What’s new with you?” I asked.
Diane stopped laughing and took a drink of her beer. “Same old, same old. I got a date with that radiologist.”
No surprises there. “Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. He asked me out for Friday night. He’s gonna drive me to Huntsville and take me to a real restaurant.”
“Isn’t he married?”
“If she were taking care of him right, he wouldn’t be leaving town with me, would he?” Diane said.
“Diane, if I didn’t love you so much, I would call you the biggest bitch I’d ever met.”
“I am the biggest bitch you ever met,” Diane said.
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. Diane laughed with me. She put her hand on my hand and her laughter faded to a smile.
“You know,” she whispered, “someday you are going to have to start loving yourself as much as you love your patients. You are going to have to take some of that good advice you give them.”
“Where did that come from?” I asked.
“You can’t stay out there in that old house by yourself forever. You have to forgive yourself and move on. There are other men.”
I laughed again. “I’m too old for that and I’m not pretty enough to keep up.”
“First of all, you are 33 not 63 and second of all, you are just as pretty as any other woman in this town. You just hide it under shaggy hair and baggy clothes.”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand,” I said.
“Listen, honey, if you had been as happy with old Johnny Boy as you think you were, you never would have cheated on him in the first place.”
“That’s not fair,” I said.
“You know it is. If you stop and think about it, you know it is. He was an ass and you deserved better and still do. He was just another surgeon with a god complex and you are just another woman with a doctor fetish.”
“I don’t have a fetish,” I said.
“Yes, you do, sugar, and it is time to get over that, too,” Diane said.
I smiled and put my hand on Diane’s. She didn’t understand. How could she? She still looked like a twenty-year-old goddess. Time had been kind to her. I didn’t blame myself for anything. I wasn’t wallowing in my guilt. I sure as hell wasn’t punishing myself. Being married to that cheating bastard, John, for ten years had been punishment enough. He hadn’t waited for the ink to dry on the marriage certificate to find another woman to spend his evenings with. As far as my Dr. Fetish, well hell, I had always worked in hospitals. Of course I wanted doctors. They’re what I saw every damn day and if I ever met a nice engineer, I certainly would give up doctors forever. But that was about as likely as my head spontaneously combusting seeing as there were no nice engineers in Dismal.
Sure, my hair was shaggy, but that was just my hair. I could spend two hours on it in the morning. I could wail on it with the straightener, but it would still look like a frizzy wedge of brown fluff and tying it back just seemed to encourage it to frizz even more. I wore baggy clothes because I’d put on 15 pounds since the divorce. I put on fifteen pounds because I ate bricks of raw cookie dough when I was depressed and drank at least two beers every night. We all have our negative coping skills.
Still, I smiled at Diane. I smiled at her because she meant well and I loved her. I loved her friendship and the fact that she thought her little intervention might change everything for me. It might make me decide to get my hair done and buy new clothes and date an electrician. She wanted to help me see the light. The problem was there just wasn’t any light to be seen and I was really looking.
“Shit,” Diane said looking at her watch. “I gotta go. I got a date.”
“Of course,” I said.
I stood up and paid the bill. I always paid the bill. I got in my BMW and headed home. The car was the one good thing John had given me. It was given to me in the settlement and I wasn’t going to pretend like I didn’t love it. I also got some money and I got to keep the engagement ring, which I hocked to pay the down payment on my house.
The house was outside of the city limits, down a lonely stretch of country road that meandered through the woods and into the mountains. Dismal was located in the foothills of the Appalachians. The mountains were small and old, and fog hung on them like tinsel in the mornings. Old trees grew tall, overshadowing the gravel road. I turned left into my long driveway. I owned all the land, too. The Black Magnolia, my house, sat on more than one hundred acres of land that had once been farmland. I pulled up to the front of my house and stepped out into the moonlight. Home crap home. It was a blessing that the lawn was overgrown and strangled with vines and kudzu. The overgrowth hid the ruined mansion that hid in the shadows of a forest of magnolia trees. There was no such thing as a black magnolia, but the shadows that hung over the ocean of magnolias wrapped them in darkness and made them appear black.
The house was enormous. It was an old Italianate style plantation house in red brick. It had five fireplaces and twenty rooms. There was an old barn in the back and several small cabins lined the property. They were in significant disrepair and had been the slave quarters of the old house. I stepped onto the white porch of my home and the wood groaned in angry protest. It was still light outside. The days were long in the summer. It was hot, and sweat had beaded on my chest just walking between my car and the house.
I opened the door and jumped when I saw that Lawson was still standing on a ladder in the huge foyer. He was the contractor I had hired to renovate the old house. He was installing a new light fixture in the foyer.
“Good Lord, Lawson,” I said. “What are you still doing here at this hour? You scared the crap out of me.”
“Sorry about that, ma’am. I didn’t mean to scare you. Just trying to get caught up. It took me longer than I thought it would to rewire the parlor and den. This place is a real mess,” he said.
I looked around at the peeling wallpaper and chipped banister. The house had once been a work of art. I could see that. It had looked like Tara from Gone with the Wind. Those days had passed years ago, and several fires and shitty patch jobs hadn’t helped any. The once classic façade had been mixed with gingerbread flourishes and modern windows. All of that had gone completely down the toilet when the last owners had abandoned it twenty years ago.
“I know,” I said. “Why are you here by yourself? Your crew didn’t stay to help you?”
“Nah,” he said with a wink. Lawson had once been a very handsome man, but years of hard drinking and smoking had completely eroded that. He didn’t seem aware of this, however, and he still acted like every woman on earth was just waiting to lie down and spread her legs for him.
“You know I ain’t superstitious,” he said. “But the other fellows don’t like being here at night.”
“It’s still daylight,” I said.
“That don’t matter,” he said. “They heard all the stories, you know?”
“I know,” I said.
I walked through the foyer to the large parlor and turned on the light. I practically giggled when the light flickered on. I looked up. I had gone to seventeen different antique stores to find all the fixtures for the house. They were all Victorian or older. The light that hung in the middle of the parlor was a red glass converted gas light and it was stunning. Pieces of crystal dangled from the ends of it. The parlor was perfect. Everything was, period. I had even managed to hang the wallpaper. It was red, too. This was my red room. An old Victorian sofa sat in one corner with two wing back armchairs with tulle print on either side of it. Everything was Eastlake style except the baby grand piano in the corner. I smiled. The parlor was done. Three rooms were done. I set my purse down on the sofa and collapsed into one of the arm chairs.
“If you don’t mind me askin’,” Lawson said. “Don’t you care about all those stories? Most ladies would be afraid of stories like that and you’re out here all by yourself.”
“There isn’t anything that died in this house that is scarier than my ex-husband,” I said.
Lawson laughed and climbed down from the ladder. He stood in the middle of the foyer and studied it. He was doing a good job and I could tell by the look on his face that he was proud of the job he was doing.
“We didn’t get to the upstairs today,” he said.
“That’s okay. I’ve got plenty of flashlights and that portable AC unit has a really long extension cord,” I said.
I had six portable air conditioners throughout the house. The southern heat was unbearable in the summer. I could live without running water and electricity, but I would have killed myself without the air conditioner. When I first moved in, there had been no electricity, but I had bought a generator and the air conditioners and just camped out.
“You got a package today,” Lawson said as he handed me a small box.
“Thanks,” I said as I took it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Dr. Michaels.”
I gave Lawson a hint of a smile and he grabbed his ladder and walked back to his truck. I sighed deeply and looked at the box in my hands. It was small and wrapped in brown paper and twine. I didn’t know people still wrapped packages like that. There was no return address. I couldn’t imagine anyone who would send me a package. My father had died last year. My step-mother hated me and my half sisters and brothers were just too lazy to go to a post office. They wouldn’t even call me or text me, so they would never send me anything. My real mom had run out on my dad and me when I was a baby. Everyone else in the family was dead. All my friends in Chicago had sided with my husband in the divorce, so I’d been left alone. Diane was my only friend. I couldn’t imagine who would send me anything.
I carefully pulled the twine and the brown paper fell off. Beneath the paper was a large, leather bound book. It looked like an old journal or recipe book. It was tied together with a red ribbon and the ribbon held numerous pieces of paper. I ran my hands over the smooth leather and read the title of the book. The title was simple. It simply said “Spells”.
I laughed and pulled the red ribbon that held the book together. The book fell open. Inside it was like a recipe book a mother would pass on to a daughter. There were old typed pages with handwritten notes in the margins. There were pages added with handwritten spells on them and drawings.
“What the fuck?” I said as I leafed through the old book. There were potions and summoning spells and candle spells. In-between pages, there were pressed flowers and herbs and some of the pages were stained with old candle wax.
I set the book down and went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. At least the kitchen was done. It looked like any other modern kitchen. It had granite counter tops and marble floors. I had spared no expense making it look like something that belonged in an old southern Mansion. I wanted the house to be perfect and I had Johnny Boy’s money to help me achieve that dream. The lights flickered when I entered. I would have to talk to Lawson about that in the morning. I took a beer out of the fridge and opened it. I had a sip of the beer and grabbed a roll of cookie dough. Armed with the cookie dough and beer, I returned to the book. The book had fallen on the ground and was opened to a page. I laughed again. The page it had opened to was love spells. That was just what I needed.
I sat down and ate and drank and leafed through the book. I stopped at a page with an interesting picture on it. The spell was an awakening spell. It awakened you to the supernatural world. I hesitated and looked at the script around it.
Something fell upstairs and the lights went out. I fumbled around and found the nearest flashlight and switched it on just as the lights flickered back on.
“Lawson, you asshole,” I said as I turned the flashlight off. “The wiring is done in the parlor, my ass.”
A sudden wave of fatigue washed over me and I picked up my mess and carted my sorry butt upstairs. I climbed into bed with my flashlight. I still had the book of spells. It had been so long since someone had given me something that I had forgotten what it felt like. I knew the book was more than weird. It bordered on creepy. A normal woman would probably burn the damn thing, but I wasn’t a normal woman. I was a lonely divorcee living in a house known to be haunted, but I loved it the way most people love their pets. I was the daughter of a man who had made it clear that he loathed me, with a step-mother who’d bought me toilet paper for Christmas. The creepy book was wonderful to me. It meant that someone out there, even if they were a freak, cared about me, and freak love was better than no love at all.
* * *
I knew something was wrong as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. There were two police cars out front. That was actually pretty standard for our unit. The police had to carry folks to the regional hospital for commitment often enough, but there was a quality about the air that morning told me that something was really wrong. It was hot. Even at 8 a.m. It was so damn hot, my shirt clung to my sweat-covered chest.
I walked into the hospital. We had our own little wing, so the six offices in the front were all the therapists’ and doctors’ offices. I could see the police had one of the night nurses, Shequella, in one of the empty offices. I moved past the office and unlocked my office door. I set my stuff down and turned to lock it again and returned to the psychiatric floor. The CEO was on the floor and she was talking with Amy, the Clinical Director.
“What happened?” I whispered.
“Kara and Wayne are dead,” Amy said coldly. She was trying hard to hide her anger. “They hatched some kind of scheme together and hung themselves from the bathroom door using each other’s weight as a counter balance.”
The impact of this information was like a punch in the face. I sat down.
“I just had sessions with them yesterday,” I whispered.
“I know,” Amy said
Jenna was the nurse that day and she was the polar opposite of Millie. She was so sweet, she made sugar look bitter. She was the nurse all the patients loved. She went out of her way to talk to everyone and make sure they were all right. She was always ready with a cheerful smile and a word of encouragement. Jenna was crying.
“I just can’t believe it,” Jenna said. “Ms. Kara was doing so much better this time.”
I nodded. I couldn’t believe it, either. I always had faith that Kara would get better. Time would heal her wounds and she would move on. I had spent so many hours sitting in my office with Kara that I couldn’t even count. I had always believed I was helping her. I was healing her, but I hadn’t done anything. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t save Wayne and if I couldn’t even do that, why was I even here?
“We are in a world of trouble,” Amy said. “Wayne’s daughter is here and she is very angry. She’s got a lawyer. Make no mistake, this in a sentinel event. We might all lose our jobs for this.”
“To hell with our jobs,” I said suddenly. “Two people died here and it was our fault. You knew that Shequella played on the Internet all damn night. How many complaints have we had about her? You know she doesn’t do fifteen-minute checks. I’m not even sure she does any checks. She just signs the paperwork, so it looks like she does. She won’t even talk to the patients when they ask for help. You should have fired her years ago.”
“Be quiet!” Amy said. “The nurses’ jobs aren’t any of your business and you can’t say anything like that to anyone again.”
“If this floor stops making money, Columbia Health Care will shut this wing down. If we get sued or have to hire more expensive staff, that will cost us money. Don’t you get it? We’ll all lose our jobs and the patients will lose the only psychiatric floor in the area. If you really care about the patients, you better realize that money is all that matters, because they’ll close us down the moment they think we cost them a cent more than we are worth.”
I opened my mouth to say something and then shut it. I had lost control. I knew what I thought didn’t matter. My opinion didn’t matter. I was powerless and unimportant and two people had died and there was never anything I could do to stop it. I couldn’t control the nurses or change the administration. I couldn’t make anyone care.
“You’re right,” I said meekly. “You’re right. I just really thought I had gotten through to Kara.”
“Maybe you should take the day off,” Amy said putting her hand on my shoulder. She was acting like she cared, but she really just wanted me and my radical opinions as far away from police and lawyers and administrators as she could get them. I’m not stupid enough to believe she would care one stitch about me if she didn’t see me as dangerous.
I nodded. I needed the day off.
“I’ll call Karen in to cover for you,” Amy said. Karen was a good choice. Karen had no opinions. Karen was all smiles and no brains.
I stepped into my office and grabbed my bag and fled to the car. I cranked the engine up and let the air conditioner blow the heat off me. I wanted to cry. I wanted to sob for them, but it wasn’t in me. I had cried all the tears I had left to cry a long time ago. I put the car into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot. I drove straight home.
Lawson and his crew were hard at work when I got back. He had ten men working with him. He was a general contractor and he had to subcontract out the plumbing, painting, etc. The house was filled with men. The old wallpaper in the foyer had been scraped away and a few men were putting down fresh paint. I turned around and walked away from the bedlam into the wilderness around The Black Magnolia.
There were three cemeteries on my property. The first cemetery was just past the old barn. I walked through the tall grass down a path that used to be a road. An old stone fence marked the remains of cotton fields and animal enclosures. I stepped into the first cemetery. It was the nicest. A stone angel guarded over the tombstones of all the plantation owners and their families. The tombstones were gray and covered with moss. They were large and lovely. They represented all the wealth and glory that the owners of the house had possessed.
I passed by these large, beautiful stones, and continued down a small trail, and over a wooden bridge. The woods grew thicker as I walked. Nature had reclaimed what had once been rich farmland. There were no signs of the old cotton fields. They’d all faded away. I kept walking deeper into the woods until I came to a ring of decaying wooden shacks. Just to the left of the shacks was the old slave cemetery. There were no epic stones or gothic angels in this tiny graveyard. In fact, the small hand-carved stones were hardly visible above the kudzu. I walked into the cemetery and cleared the kudzu away, exposing the stones. A cloud passed over the sun and a bird sang out in the distance. I shivered. I had one of my landscapers lug a stone bench out to the cemetery. He had looked at me like I was as crazy as a shit house rat. Maybe I was, but this place called to me. I had even cleared out the old slave cabins. I had swept the wooden floors and pulled the weeds out of the spaces in-between the floorboards. I had raked the ground and planted little yellow flowers in front of them.
I sat down on my little stone bench and sighed deeply. I had to wonder if anything I did made any difference. I had really believed I was reaching Kara. I had thought that she was doing better and I was some small part of that, but it had all been a lie. My entire life felt like a lie. It was one long, creeping lie. My marriage had been a lie. My career was a lie. That left me with nothing but an old house and three cemeteries.
The Black Magnolia had a story. It was a story that was told so many times, no one knew where it came from or if it was true. They said the old plantation owners had beaten their slaves. They had tortured them and locked them in the basement and let them die. After slavery was abolished, the remaining slaves had crept up the stairs in the dark of night and murdered their former masters in their sleep. They left them to choke on their own blood. The Ku Klux Klan found out about this and rounded up the slaves and hanged them from the old tree that loomed above me. The story was probably as much of a lie as my career, but at least it was a lie that lasted.
I stood up and began the long walk home. The smell of magnolias lingered in the air as I walked through the overgrown necropolises to find my way back home. By the time I got back, most of the crew had packed up for the night. A lonely painter was on the front porch painting the old columns. I smiled at him and he winked at me.
“Hey, lady,” he called to me. “What are you doing up here in this haunted house by yourself? Don’t you get scared?”
I looked at the little painter. I hadn’t seen him before. He was short and dark skinned. He spoke with an accent.
“Why? Do you think it’s haunted?” I asked.
“Everybody knows it is haunted,” he said. “That’s why no one buys it. It’s killed all of its owners.”
“You shouldn’t listen to gossip. Everyone in this town loves to gossip, but no one knows what they’re talking about. The last owner died of lung cancer.”
I straightened my hair and walked into my empty house and closed the door behind me. I looked up. There was light upstairs. They had finished the wiring. I looked down. The tile was finished. The house was coming together and that was enough to make me smile on the worst day. I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer and sat down at the table. A book was open on the table. It was the spell book. I finished my beer.
I would have to remember to remind the crew not to touch my stuff. I grabbed the remnants of a bottle of scotch I had beneath the sink and poured myself another drink and then another and one more for good measure. I was out of beer and I knew I had to have at least four drinks to make it through the night. I sat down in front of the spell book. The spell book was opened to a page that had been illuminated with gold hearts. The spell on the page was handwritten and illustrated. There was a picture of a white candle. The spell was labeled ‘A white candle love spell’. On any other day, I would have put the book away, but a desperate sorrow tugged at me and the four shots of scotch were beginning to soften my brain. “What the hell?” I thought the ritual would be therapeutic. I thought going through the motion would calm me down.
Conveniently, I had everything I needed for the spell. I went outside and picked a red rose from the many tangled bushes in the old garden. I gathered one of the small white candles I had used for the bathroom when there had been no electricity. I found a picture of Dr. Becket from one of the hospital’s newsletters and a note he had written to me about one of our shared patients. I put all of the items together in the middle of the kitchen table. I put my picture by Dr. Becket’s and looked at my little altar. I looked at Dr. Becket’s picture. I didn’t even know his first name.
Finally, I took a thorn from one of the roses and wrote “All my love come to me” three times on the small candle. I lit the candle and watched it burn. Time passed, and as the candle burned, I felt better. I felt my anxiety burn away with the melted wax. I couldn’t control everyone. Kara and Wayne had endured more than many people could. Death was a grim specter that offered no solace. It wasn’t my fault. The candle flickered as the sun set. The candle smelled like magnolias. I breathed in the wonderful smell and let it fill me. The moon rose over the horizon and the moonlight spilled in through the large kitchen window, bathing my altar in white light.
I rested my head on the table and I focused on the flickering light of the white candle. I looked at Dr. Becket’s picture. The last thing I needed was another man, but it would be nice just to be touched again. To feel skin against skin. To taste a man’s flesh. Let’s face it, it would be nice to get laid again. I hadn’t been with anyone since Blake. I had spent six months with Blake while I was still married to John. The saddest thing about the affair was that John never even noticed. Blake had been everything John wasn’t. He was a carpenter. He smelled like wood and sweat. He had never cared about appearances or money or image. He hadn’t wanted me to be anything I wasn’t. He had wanted solace. I guess I had wanted that, too. He just wanted my body and I was more than happy to give it to him. I fell asleep dreaming of being touched.
The sun was just rising when I woke up. I looked at the candle. It flickered one last time and went out. I scooped up all the wax and the altar and put it in a pillowcase and placed it under my pillow. I felt better already.
The Accidental Witch follows the evolution of Phaedra Michaels, a recently divorced woman who has returned to her small-home town. There she works as a Psychologist. The story opens with Phaedra being slightly frustrated with her life, From her job which she feels stifled from the top Administrators who seem to question ignore her repeated request and complaints for the resources which would better help her patients. She is frustrated with her fellow staff mates, a few who are downright rude to the patients. Phaedra is frustrated at first being alone, but slightly modified (in that area) when she begins a relationship with one of the staff doctors…although, in the back of her mind, she realizes something is missing from their relationship.
But things begin to turn around, when she receives a spell-book. Phaedra just for fun begins to thumb through and decides to perform one of the spells…which she isn’t prepared for when it actually works! So from there…life turns around for her, and after getting fired from her staff position, she sets up shop on her own. She discovers that it isn’t all luck, or just reciting a few lines from a dusty old book, Phaedra discovers she has a knack for it, real power!
But soon things become overwhelming and others are noticing the power she is emitting and in comes a 500 warlock, Fred who was sent to temper the new witch and to aid her in the darkness that was mistakenly unleashed through Phaedra’s actions.
Fred’s nerd-sexy ways attracts Phaedra as they begin to work together, although before she is able to enjoy what may be developing between them, and to enjoy meeting her birth mother who she had never known…danger begins to envelope Phaedra and her friends and she soon finds herself fighting for her life!
I really enjoyed The Accidental Witch, I was able to connect with Phaedra, she was a character which draws the reader in, appearing slightly vulnerable…almost broken in ways at the beginning. But it was very cool, seeing her gradual evolution into who she was as a person. I also related to the fact that Phaedra had lived life. She is shown to be in early thirties, a woman who has made mistakes, experienced loss, and failure. But never stopped showing compassion, and trying to give hope in any fashion she could to others. I liked Phaedra alot. It was so cool to see her grow in her powers, I found myself rooting for her. I LOVED her back and fort chatter with Fred! The author did a wonderful job with their banter. Fred had a sexy dry wit…he reminded me of a younger Giles (from Buffy The Vampire Slayer). He had this nerd-sexy way about him, but there were flashes of something more, underneath. I enjoyed Diane, steady stable an great support to Phaedra, I kept having the feeling there was more to her story.
The Accidental Witch had action, suspense…I HATED really Hated….Phaedra’s birth mother after getting to know her…but it’s okay…we find (as a reader) that everyone eventually hates her:)
I recommend this book who love fun, Paranormal, Suspense Reads!