On Sunday morning I woke up feeling like my head was packed with wet sand. Mary K. stuck her head in my door.
“Better get up. Church.”
My mom brushed past her into my room. “Get up, get up, you lazy pup,” she said. She threw open my curtains, flooding my room with bright autumn sunlight that pierced my eyeballs and stung the back of my head.
“Ugh,” I moaned, covering my face.
“Come on, we’ll be late,” said my mom. “Do you want waffles?”
I thought for a minute. “Sure.”
“I’ll put them in the toaster for you.”
I sat up in bed, wondering if this was what a hangover felt like. It all came back to me, everything that had happened last night, and I felt a rush of excitement.Wicca. It had been strange and amazing.True, today I felt physically awful, foggy-headed and sore, but still, last night had been one of the most exciting times of my whole life. And Cal. He was . . . incredible. Unusual.
I thought back to the moment when he looked at me so intensely. I thought at the time he’d been talking to me alone, but I later realized he wasn’t. Robbie had heard him banish loneliness, and Bree had, too. On the way home Bree had wondered aloud how a guy like Cal could possibly be lonely.
I swung my feet over to the chilly floor. It was really autumn, finally. My favorite time of year.The air is crisp; the leaves change color; the heat and exhaustion of summer are over. It’s cozier.
When I stood up, I swayed a bit, then clawed my way to the shower. I stepped under the wimpy, water-saving shower-head and turned it to hot. As the water streamed down on my head, I closed my eyes and leaned against the shower wall, shivering with headachy delight. Then something shifted almost imperceptibly, and suddenly I could hear each and every drop of water, feel each sliding rivulet on my skin, each tiny hair on my arms being weighted down by wetness. I opened my eyes and breathed in the steamy air, feeling my headache drain away. I stayed there, seeing the universe in my shower, until I heard Mary K. banging on the door.
“I’ll be out in a minute!” I said impatiently.
Fifteen minutes later I slid into the backseat of my dad’s Volvo, my wet hair sleeked into a long braid and making a damp patch on the back of my dress. I struggled into my jacket.
“What time did you go to bed, Morgan? Didn’t you get enough sleep last night?” my mom asked brightly. Everyone in my family except me is obnoxiously cheerful in the morning.
“I never get enough sleep.” I moaned.
“Isn’t it a beautiful morning?” my dad said. “When I got up, it was barely light. I drank my coffee on the back porch and watched the sun come up.”
I popped the top off a Diet Coke and took a life-giving sip. My mom turned around and made a mom face. “Honey, you should drink some orange juice in the morning.”
My dad chuckled. “That’s our owl.”
I’m a night owl, and they’re larks. I drank my soda, trying to swig it all down before we got to church. I thought about how lucky my parents are to have Mary K. because otherwise it would seem as if
of their children were total aliens. And then I thought how lucky they are to have
so that they’ll really appreciate Mary K. And then I thought how lucky I am to have
because I know they love me even though I’m so different from the three of them.
Our church is beautiful and almost 250 years old. It was one of the first Catholic churches in this area. The organist, Mrs. Lavender, was already playing when we walked in, and the smells of incense were as familiar and comforting to me as the smell of our laundry detergent.
As I passed through the huge wooden doors, the numbers 117, 45, and 89 entered my mind, as if someone had drawn them on the inside of my forehead. How weird, I thought. We sat down in our usual pew, with my mom between Mary K. and me so we wouldn’t cut up, even though we’re so old now that we wouldn’t cut up, anyway. We know about everyone who goes to our church, and I liked seeing them every week, seeing them change, feeling like part of something bigger than just my family.
Mrs. Lavender began to play the first hymn, and we stood as the processional trailed in, the altar boys and the choir, Father Hotchkiss and Deacon Benes, Joey Markovich carrying the heavy gold cross.
Mom opened her hymnal and began flipping pages. I glanced at the hymn board at the front of the church to see what number we should be on. The first hymn was number 117. I glanced at the next number—45. Followed by 89. The same three numbers that had popped into my brain as I first entered the church. I turned to the correct page and began singing, wondering how I had known those numbers.
That Sunday, Father Hotchkiss gave a sermon in which he equated one’s spiritual struggle with a football game. Father Hotchkiss is very big on football.
After church we stepped out in the bright sunlight again, and I blinked.
“Lunch at the Widow’s Diner?” said Dad, as usual, and we all agreed, as usual. It was just another Sunday, except that for some reason I had known the numbers of the three hymns we would sing before I had seen them.
>< “They keep records of their deeds and write them in their books of shadows. No mere mortal can read their unnatural codes, for their words are for their kind alone.”
—HIDDEN EVIL, Andrej Kwertowski, 1708> <
“Where are we going?” I asked. I had changed out of my Sunday dress into jeans and a sweatshirt. My headache was gone, and I felt fine.
“An occult bookstore,” Bree said, adjusting her rearview mirror.“Cal told me about it last night, and it sounded great.”
“Hey, speaking of occult, you know something weird?” I asked. “Today in church I knew the numbers for the hymns before I saw them on the board. Isn’t that bizarre?”
“What do you mean, you knew them?” Bree asked, heading out of town on Westwood.
“These numbers just popped into my head for no reason, and then when we got into church, they were up on the board.They were our hymn numbers,” I said.
weird,” said Bree, smiling. “Maybe you heard your mom mention them or something.”
My mom is on the women’s guild at church and sometimes changes the hymn numbers or polishes candlesticks or arranges the altar flowers.
I frowned, thinking back. “Maybe.”
Within minutes we were in Red Kill, the next town to our north. When I was little, I had been afraid of going to Red Kill. The name itself seemed to be a warning of something awful that had happened there or would happen there. But actually, a lot of towns in the Hudson River Valley have the word
in them—it’s an old Dutch word meaning “river.”
simply means “red river”—probably because the water was tinted from iron in the soil.
“I didn’t know Red Kill had an occult bookstore. Do you think they’ll have stuff about Wicca?” I asked.
“Yeah, Cal said they have a pretty good selection,” Bree answered. “I just want to check it out. After last night I’m really curious about Wicca. I felt so great afterward, like I just did yoga or had a massage or something.”
really intense,” I agreed. “But didn’t you feel yucky this morning?”
“No.” Bree looked at me. “You must be coming down with something.You looked awful on the way home from the circle last night.”
“Thanks, how comforting,” I said flatly.
Bree pushed my elbow playfully.“You know what I mean.”
We sat in silence for a couple of minutes.
“Hey, do you have plans tonight?” I asked her. “My aunt Eileen’s coming over for dinner.”
“Yeah? With her new girlfriend?”
“I think so.”
Bree and I wiggled our eyebrows at each other. My aunt Eileen, my mom’s younger sister, is gay. She and her longtime partner had broken up two years ago, so we were all happy she was finally dating again.
“In that case, I can definitely make dinner,” said Bree. “Look, here we are.” She parked Breezy at an angle against the curb, and we got out, walking past the Sit ’n’ Knit, Meyer’s Pharmacy, Goodstall’s Children’s Shoes, and a Baskin-Robbins. At the end of the row of stores, Bree looked up and said, “This must be the place.” She pushed against a heavy double-glass door.
Glancing down, I saw a five-pointed star within a circle painted on the sidewalk in purple—just like Cal’s silver pendant. Gold lettering on the glass door said Practical Magick, Supplies for Life. I wondered about the odd spelling of the word magic.
I felt a bit like Alice about to go down the rabbit hole, knowing that simply entering this store would somehow start me on a journey whose ending I couldn’t predict. And I found that idea irresistible. I took a deep breath and followed Bree inside.
The store was small and dim. Bree moved ahead, looking at things on the shelves while I hovered by the door and gave myself time to adjust after the bright autumn sunlight outside. The air was heavy with an unfamiliar incense, and I imagined that I could almost feel the coiling smoke brushing against me and winding around my legs.
After blinking a few times, I saw that the shop was long and narrow, with a very high ceiling. Wooden shelves that looked homemade lined the walls and divided the store into halves. The half I could see down was floor-to-ceiling books: old, leather-bound volumes, bright-covered modern paper-backs, cheesy pamphlets that looked like they had been photocopied at Kinko’s and stapled by hand. I read some of the hand-lettered category signs: Magick, Tarot, History, Womancraft, Healing, Herbs, Rituals, Scrying . . . and within each category there were subcategories. It was all very orderly, though it didn’t give that impression at first.
Just looking at the books’ spines, I felt that my mind was blooming like a flower. I hadn’t known books like this existed—ancient volumes describing magic and rituals. I was seeing a whole new world.
Bree wasn’t in sight, so I walked down the aisle and headed for the other side of the store. She was looking at candles. One large shelf unit was like candle mania. There were huge pillar candles; tiny little birthday-style candles; candles in the shape of people, men and women; nice dining-table tapers; star-shaped votives:You name it, this store had it.
“Oh my God.” I pointed to a candle in the shape of a life-size penis. At least I assumed it was life-size. I hadn’t seen one up close since Robbie had flashed my class in first grade.
Bree giggled. “Let’s get a bunch of these for tonight. They would make dinner really festive.”
I laughed. “My mom would keel over.”
Most of the other candles were pretty, hand dipped in graduating shades of color, some in earth tones, some in rainbow colors. A little rhyme came into my head:
Firelight, my soul is bright.
I didn’t know where it came from—probably some Mother Goose book I had when I was younger. It reminded me of how I had felt the night before, looking into the fire at the circle.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” I asked. Bree had moved to examine shelves of glass jars, each filled with herbs or powders. One section was called essential oils, with row after row of tiny dark brown glass vials. The air was heavy with scent there: jasmine, orange, patchouli, clove, cinnamon, rose.
“Not really,” Bree said, reading jar labels. “Just checking it out.”
“I think we should maybe get a book on the history of Wicca,” I suggested. “For starters, anyway.”
Bree looked at me. “You’re getting into this, huh?”
I nodded self-consciously. “I think it’s cool. I’m curious to learn more about it.”
Bree smiled at me. “You’re sure it’s not just a crush on Cal?”
Before I could answer, she was studying a small bottle and opening it. The scent of roses after a summer rain filled the air.
I was about to say that wasn’t it at all. Instead I stood there, staring at my clogs. I did have a crush on Cal. Though I knew better than anybody he was out of my league, I was drawn to him. What a pair we would make: Cal, the most beautiful person in the world, and Morgan, the girl who had never been on a date.
I stood still and silent in the aisle of Practical Magick, overwhelmed by a strange sense of longing. I longed for Cal, and I longed for . . . this. These books and these smells and these things. New emotions—passion; yearning; gnawing, inexplicable curiosity—were waking up inside me, and it was thrilling and threatening at the same time. One part of me wished they would go back to sleep.
I looked up to try to explain some of it to Bree, but now she was bent intently over the jewelry case, and I had no idea how to put my feelings into words.
As I was gazing blankly at the labels on the packets of incense, I felt a slight prickling on the back of my neck. I looked up and was startled by the intent gaze the store clerk had fastened on me.
The clerk was an older guy, maybe in his early thirties, but with short gray hair that made him appear older than he probably was. And he was looking at me with a focused, un-moving stare, as if I were a new kind of reptile, something incredibly interesting.