Authors: Ednah Walters
“Are you leaving early?” Hayden asked when I reached for my jacket and car keys.
“Going to see Aunt Genevieve for a little chat then heading to Slidell to pick up car parts,” I fibbed smoothly, not meeting Hayden’s eyes. Slidell was a fifteen-minute drive from Windfall.
“I thought you and your dad fixed your car days ago.”
“It’s still acting up. Just remember, we’re still on for tonight at Red Barn. No bailing out on me.” She sighed. “Zack is taking us.”
She rolled her eyes. “Is that supposed to make it bearable?”
“Hey, no rolling your eyes at
Zack. My cousin is hot.”
“Then date him,” she retorted.
“Ew. Sick Witch.”
“Lying Witch,” she retorted.
I made a face at her, but on the inside I wondered if she knew I’d just fibbed about going to Slidell. I sucked at lying. Since Monday, we’d dissected what happened to me and searched the Internet for more information on Hel—the place and the goddess. I was still not fully convinced any of it was real or that I’d visited her realm, but I’d read everything I could find online, which wasn’t much. I needed proof. I knew it was ridiculous that I refused to suspend belief when I was a Witch, but this was all new to me and I didn’t do well with new. I liked routine, just like my father. Magic became a routine because I was born into it and with it. Mythological gods and goddesses were exactly that. Mythical. Believing they were real was going to take a lot of convincing.
Hayden snapped her fingers in front of my face. “Are you listening?”
“What? Uh, sorry, I gotta go. Want me to say hi to Zack?”
She made a face. “I just told you he’d be here when I close.”
“You two dating behind my back?” I teased, stepping away from the display counter.
She threw me a disgusted look. “I’m fixing his computer. Your cousin needs a friend, not a girlfriend. You know, someone to drive him to the doctor after the father of his easy hookups catches him climbing out of her window and shoots his whore-mongering ass.”
My jaw dropped. Something must have happened between Monday night and today. They both loved horror movies and had sat side by side, laughing and sharing popcorn. I could have sworn their hands had even brushed a few times as they reached for the popcorn and no one had acted weird. Maybe the fact that she hadn’t been scared enough to jump into Zack’s arms was the problem. Horror movies used to be my cousin’s way of getting girls into his arms. That had stopped when he hit fourteen, shot up, and piled on muscles. Something about Hayden had him reverting back to cheap tricks, and it must have backfired on him.
“I’m sure Zack would be offended if you told him that,” I said.
“He wasn’t. I offered and he was graceful enough to accept.” Hayden grinned. “Besides, he’s not my type.”
I’d caught her checking him out too many times to believe that lie.
“Yeah, right. See you later.” I had a couple of hours to drive to New Orleans, talk to Babatunde, or Doctor B to his clients, and come back home before Hayden closed up the shop. On Fridays and Saturdays, TC closed at seven, which was late in Windfall. Doctor B’s and most shops in the French Quarter didn’t close until one in the morning. I had no plans of being his last client.
Hayden was still watching me when I entered my Ford. I waved, gunned the engine, and plugged my iPod into the audio system. My car purred like a kitten. Dad and I had worked on it the last few days, yet it was going to be my excuse for disappearing on everyone.
I called my aunt when I stopped by the ATM. “Can I change our meeting, Aunt Genevieve? I have to go to Slidell to pick up spare parts for my car. I’ll come over as soon as I’m done.”
“My shift starts at nine, so we have plenty of time. What did you want to talk to me about? Is this about Monday?”
“No. I’m doing a paper on hunger strike and its effect on a body. How long a person can last without food and water, and what to give them when they come out of it. Whether there’s a difference if they are in extremely cold environment versus regular or hot environment,” I added.
“Oh. Wow. I’ll see what I can dig up. I mean, I can tell you what I know off the top of my head, but if you want details...”
“Just a sec. Let me call you back.” Shoving the money in my jacket pocket, I got in my car and headed toward New Orleans, taking side roads and bypassing downtown Slidell. I called my aunt and listened to what she had to say. It wasn’t a long conversation. She’d have all the material I needed printed out, but I had a rough idea about what to buy.
My stomach hollowed out as I approached the Twin Span Bridge. My fear of water often made the drive across the bridge hard to bear. I hiked the volume on my MP3 player, sang along, and pretended there was no water under the bridge.
Friday evening used to be the worst time to drive to New Orleans. Luckily, the gridlock was gone since they replaced the old bridge and added more lanes. Still, so many people were headed into the city.
I sped across the bridge like an Indycar driver, but it took me longer to find a place to park when I reached the French Quarter. After driving around, I lucked out when someone pulled out of an outdoor parking lot. I took their spot, grabbed my backpack, stepped out of my car, and inhaled.
Oh, that felt good. The magic pulsed in the air, making my senses hum. I loved it. It was like being wrapped in a familiar cherished blanket or tethered to hundreds of Witches by an invisible thread. The tourists mingling with the locals were completely oblivious to it.
I pressed a hand on my car and mumbled a spell. My eyes met an elderly black woman walking by. She smiled knowingly as though she and I were sharing a little secret. She could tell what I was. I grinned back. I patted my car and hoped for the best. Chances were I’d just made it easier for thieves to find it. I really needed to work on my spells.
I pocketed my keys and the money I had withdrawn and headed down the street. The architecture of the Quarter never failed to wow me—decorative balconies and galleries, buildings with colorful hues. The displays on the windows were designed to attract attention. Voodoo dolls and masks, alters, beads, and Christmas lights in April. I soaked it all in.
I avoided Bourbon Street, using side streets with little shops selling trinkets to the tourists in the front while the real business took place in the back. Jazz and blues drifted from doorways. Street performers tried to outdo each other while artists showcased their handmade creations. As I got closer to my destination, the buildings became old and a bit rundown and the paint jobs chipped.
The unpretentious sign with Doctor B beckoned when I reached St. Catherine. Who’d think the most powerful Witch in New Orleans worked on this street? I slipped inside the store and a woman who could be anywhere between twenty and forty looked up and smiled. Her makeup was dramatic, her colorful Nigerian outfit and headscarf gorgeous.
“Welcome to Doctor B’s Shop,” she said in a heavy accent. Then she recognized me and laughed. “Celestia. What are you doing here?” The fake accent disappeared, replaced by her regular east coast American lilt. She came around the counter to give me a hug, then glanced behind me. “Where are the rest of you?”
I looked down at my legs and teased, “You mean only half of me is here?”
She chuckled. “Tammy and Hayden.”
“Back in Windfall. I need to see Doctor B, Shania,” I said.
She stopped smiling. “Oh, honey. My father is a busy man with many customers. What is it? Maybe I can help?”
“No. I need to see
.” I pulled out the money. “I’ll pay.”
“Put your money away.” She studied me and sighed. “Oh, baby girl. That’s a murky aura you have there. You are always so clear and balanced.” Another long look and a sigh followed. “Wait here.”
While she disappeared behind the shop, I walked around and studied the items in the store. It was easy to tell authentic pieces from fake ones. They felt different as though vibrating at different frequencies. Tourists entered the store and squealed as they gushed over their finds.
Shania came back and indicated the back of the store with her head. Gripping the straps of my backpack, I thanked her and slipped past the beaded curtains into a dark hallway. At the end of it was a red door.
I’d never been to this side of their shop. Whenever Hayden and I came with her mother, we often stayed behind and chatted with Shania or watched her charm customers with her fake accent. She was very knowledgeable about her work, and it showed. Their shop might not be on the busy Bourbon Street, but they got their share of visitors, most of them not tourists.
“Keep going until the last door. He’s waiting.”
I heard her slip back to her role of an African immigrant as she chatted with her customers. Shania was a hoot. I passed several doors before I reached the red one and knocked. A muffled “come in” reached me from inside and I pushed the door open.
The room looked like a regular office with a desk, a computer, and leather chairs in front of it. To the right was a round table with more leather chairs around it. It could be for séances or conferences. All that was missing were framed degrees and diplomas. Instead, there were black and white pictures of dignitaries and movie stars with the same tall black man. Some showed him younger and others with graying hair. Despite the pictures, I’d never seen him in the media. Maybe they met with him secretly, like people of my town and their visits to TC.
Must be Doctor B. I’d never met the man, but rumor had it he was a college graduate and filthy rich. Some even said he was a Wall Street broker with a firm and an entire floor full of employees somewhere in Manhattan. Tammy had refused to confirm it no matter how often Hayden and I asked. No one knew exactly where he lived, but he was the real deal. Some even said he was the most powerful Witch in New Orleans.
Nothing in the room screamed magic. There were no masks, altars, or voodoo dolls, yet the pulse of magic wound tightly in the center of the room. Maybe what I was seeing was an illusion. I squinted and tried to see past the glamour, but the room didn’t change. If the décor was an illusion to make me feel comfortable, then I was sure he had different settings for different clients.
A toilet flushed, then the sound of water running followed before a door I hadn’t noticed opened and a tall man walked out, drying his hand on a paper towel. His skin was smooth like melted dark chocolate with no wrinkles, making it hard to guess his age. But salt and pepper hair and a trimmed beard said he was much older than I would have guessed. A pair of horn-rimmed glasses sat on his face, giving him the look of a professor or a doctor. He wore a white suit, which was in sharp contrast with his dark skin. The suit looked tailor-made. It fit him too perfectly. Kind of like the prisoner at that castle.
“Celestia Devereaux,” he said in a deep baritone. He threw the wad of paper towel in a garbage can by the door and extended his hand to me, a smile transforming his serious face. “I’ve been expecting you.”
I shook his hand, not completely surprised by his announcement. “You saw visions of me coming here?”
“Yes. So young, yet so much is expected of you.”
“What do you mean?”
He let go of my hand and indicated the chair in front of the desk. Instead of sitting behind the desk, he propped his butt on the mahogany table, rested an elbow on his thigh, and clasped his hands. “Yes, I’ve seen your future, and no, I can’t explain it,” he added when I opened my mouth. “We live in troubled times, my child, and we are going to need you and the young man you seek.”
A chill shot up my spine. “You know about him?”
“Yes. I saw the two of you. The circumstances don’t matter, but you need him.”
I blew out air, relieved I wasn’t the only one who… Wait a minute. “What do you mean I need him?
Doctor B chuckled, his chest heaving. He was a big man, with more muscles than fat. “There are different needs.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“You recently traveled to the land of the spirits,” he said calmly. “Very few of us can do that, and even when we manage it, we need to channel our energy and the energy of others, and use spirit guides and familiars to help us along the way. You should be proud of yourself.”
That he knew about my recent trip bugged me a bit. What was I, an open book? “Do you know what happened before I came back?”
“No. Now you are annoyed with me. What did I do wrong?”
I sighed. “You seem to know everything about me.” Now I sounded sulky. “I mean, I feel exposed, like I have no secrets.”
“I saw one vision of you and the boy. However, I know you went to the land of the spirits of the dead because it changed your aura. Something touched you while you were there. It changed something in you.”
The only one who’d touched me was the guy. He’d made it to second base without my permission. “For better or for worse?”
“I don’t know. Time will tell.”
And now he was ignorant. How convenient. He opened his mouth, and I beat him to it. “No, I’m not mad. Just confused. I need your help.”
He shook his head. “You don’t.”