Most guys don’t look at me that way. For one thing, I’m usually with either Bree or Mary K. Bree is straight-up gorgeous, and Mary K. is totally cute. I’d heard that a guy in my class, Bakker Blackburn, was thinking about asking her out. Already Mom and Dad had started instituting rules about dating and going steady and all that stuff—rules they hadn’t needed to worry about with me.
I turned my back to the clerk. Had he mistaken me for someone he knew? Finally Bree came up and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Find anything interesting?”
“Yeah, this,” I said, pointing to a package of incense called Love Me Tonight.
Bree smiled. “Ooh, baby.”
Laughing, we headed for the bookshelves and started reading titles. There was a whole shelf of books labeled Books of Shadows. One by one I opened them, and they were all completely blank, like journals. Some were like cheap notebooks; some were fancier, with marbled endpapers and deckle-edged leaves; and some were bound in gold-stamped leather, oversize and heavy. I felt sudden distaste for the girlish, pink vinyl-covered journal I’d been keeping since ninth grade.
Fifteen minutes later Bree had chosen a couple of Wiccan reference books, and I had settled on one about a woman who had suddenly discovered Wicca when she was in her thirties and how it had changed her life. It seemed to explain Wicca in a personal way. The books were kind of expensive, and I don’t have Bree’s access to parental credit, so I was getting only one.
We headed to the counter.
“This it for you?” the store clerk asked Bree.
“Uh-huh.” Bree dug in her purse for her wallet. “We can swap books when we’re finished,” she said to me.
“Good idea,” I said.
“Do you have everything you need for Samhain?” the clerk asked.
“Samhain?” Bree looked up.
“One of the biggest Wiccan festivals,” the clerk said and pointed to a poster tacked to the wall with rusty thumb-tacks. It depicted a large purple wheel. At the top it said The Witches’ Sabbats. At eight points around the wheel were the names of Wiccan celebrations and their dates. Mabon appeared at nine o’clock on the wheel. At about ten-thirty was the word
October 31. My eyes scanned the wheel, fascinated. Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon, Samhain. The very words were strange and also somehow familiar and poetic-sounding to me.
Tapping it with his finger, the clerk said, “Get your black and orange candles now.”
“Oh, right,” Bree said, nodding.
“If you need more information, there are a couple of great books about our festivals, sabbats, and esbats,” said the clerk. He was speaking to Bree but looking at me. I was dying for the books but didn’t have enough money with me.
“Hang on—let me get them.” Bree followed him back to the bookshelves to get the ones he recommended.
I heard a lightbulb flickering overhead and felt the spiral of incense smoke rising above its little stand. As I stood there, it seemed as if everything around me was actually vibrating, almost. As if it was full of energy, like a beehive. I blinked and shook my head. My hair suddenly felt heavy. I wished Cal were there.
The clerk returned while Bree continued browsing. He stared at me.The silence was so awkward I broke it. “Why is magic spelled with a K here?” I heard myself asking him
“To distinguish it from illusionary magic,” he responded, as though it was very strange of me not to know this.
He went right back to his silent stare. “What’s your name?” he finally asked me in a soft voice.
I looked at him. “Um, Morgan.Why?”
“I mean, who are you?” Though soft, the soft voice was quietly insistent.
Who am I?
I frowned at him.What did he want me to say? “I’m a junior at Widow’s Vale,” I offered awkwardly.
The clerk looked puzzled, as if he were asking me a question in English and I was insisting on answering in Spanish.
Bree came back, holding a book called
Sabbats: Past and Present,
by Sarah Morningstar.
“I’ll get this, too,” she said, sliding it onto the counter. The clerk silently rang it up.
Then, as Bree took her paper bag, he said to me, “You might be interested in one of our history books.” He reached for it beneath the worn wooden counter.
It’s black, I thought, and he pulled out a black-covered paperback. Its title was
The Seven Great Clans: Origins of Witchcraft Examined
I stared at the book, tempted to blurt out, “That’s mine!” But of course it wasn’t mine—I had never seen it before. I wondered why it seemed so familiar.
“It’s practically required reading,” the clerk said, looking at me. “It’s important to know about blood witches,” he went on. “You never know when you might meet one.”
I nodded quickly. “I’ll take it,” I said, and fished out my wallet. Buying it cleaned me out entirely.
When I had bought my books, we took our bags and stepped again into the sunny day. Bree slipped on her sunglasses and instantly looked like a celebrity going incognito.
“What a cool place, huh?”
“Very cool,” I said, though for me that didn’t express even a tiny part of the emotions storming in my chest.
> < “In many villages, innocents turn to their local witch as a healer, midwife, and sorceress. I say, better to submit to the will of God, for death must come to all in time.”
—Mother Clare Michael, from a letter to her niece, 1824 > <
“Morgan! Mary K.!” my mom called from downstairs. “Eileen’s here!”
I rolled off my bed, marked my place in the book, and put it on my desk next to my journal, trying to pull myself back into the regular world. I was blown away by what I had been reading—about Wicca’s roots in pre-Christian Europe thousands and thousands of years ago.
My brain still felt glazed as I padded downstairs in my socks just as my dad came in the front door with bags of food from Kabob Palace, Widow’s Vale’s only Middle Eastern restaurant. The smell of falafel and hummus started bringing me back to my senses.
I went into the living room, where the rest of the group was already gathered.
“Hi, Aunt Eileen,” I said, and hugged her hello.
“Hi, sweetie,” she said. “I’d like you to meet my friend, Paula Steen.”
Paula stood up as I turned toward her, a smile already on my face. The first impression I had was of animals, as if Paula were covered with animals. I stopped dead and blinked. I mean, I saw
She was a bit taller than I am, with sandy hair down to her shoulders and wide, pale green eyes. But I also saw dogs and cats and birds and rabbits all around her. It was weird and scary, and I felt an instant of panic.
“Hi, Morgan,” Paula said, her voice friendly. “Um, are you okay?”
“I’m seeing animals,” I said faintly, wondering if I should sit down and put my head between my knees.
Paula laughed. “I guess I can never quite get all the fur off,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m a vet,” she explained, “and I just came from a Sunday clinic.” She looked down at her skirt and jacket. “I thought with enough masking tape, I might be presentable.”
“Oh, you are!” I said, feeling stupid. “You look fine.” I shook my head and blinked a couple of times, and all the weird afterimages were gone. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Maybe you’re psychic,” Paula suggested easily, as if she were suggesting that maybe I was a vegetarian or a Democrat.
“Or maybe she’s just a weirdo,” Mary K. said brightly, and I aimed a kick at her leg.
The doorbell rang, and I ran to get it.
“What’s she like?” whispered Bree, stepping into the foyer.
a freak,” I whispered back as Bree hung her jacket on a peg.
“You can explain later,” she said and followed me into the living room to meet Paula.
“Okay!” my mom announced a few minutes later. “Why don’t you all come in and sit down? Food’s ready.”
Once we were seated and served, I thought back to what I had said. Why had I seen those images of animals? Why did I say anything?
In spite of my weirdness, dinner was great. I liked Paula right away. She was warm and funny and obviously crazy about Aunt Eileen. I was happy to have Bree there, talking to everyone and teasing Mary K. She felt like one of us, one of our family. Once she told me that she loves coming to our house for dinner because it feels like a real family. At her house it’s usually just her and her dad. Or just her, eating alone.
As I was helping myself to more tabouli, I looked up and absently said, “Oh, Mom—it’s Ms. Fiorello.”
“What?” my mom asked, dipping her pita bread into some hummus. Just then the phone rang. Mom got up to answer it. She talked in the kitchen for a minute, then hung up and came to sit back down. She looked at me.
“It was Betty Fiorello,” she said. “Had she told you she was going to call?”
I shook my head and applied myself to my tabouli.
Bree and Mary K. started humming the theme from
psychic!” Aunt Eileen laughed. “Quick, who’s going to win the play-offs for the World Series?”
I laughed self-consciously. “Sorry. Nothing’s coming to me.”
Dinner went on, and Mary K. teased me about my supernatural brain powers. A couple of times I felt my mother’s eyes on me.
Maybe since I had been in the circle, since I had banished limitations, something inside me was opening up. I didn’t know whether to feel glad or terrified. I wanted to talk to Bree about it, but she had to get home right after dinner.
“Bye, Mr. and Mrs. Rowlands,” Bree said, putting on her jacket. “Thanks for dinner—it was great. Nice meeting you, Paula.”
Later, after Aunt Eileen and Paula left, I went upstairs and did my calculus homework. I called Bree, but she was watching a football game with her dad and said she’d talk to me the next day.
Around eleven I got a weird urge to call Cal and tell him what was going on with me. Luckily I realized how completely insane this was and let the urge pass. I fell asleep with my face against the pages of
The Seven Great Clans
“Welcome to Rowlands Airlines,” I intoned on Monday morning as Mary K. slid into the car, trying to hold her cardboard tray level so the scrambled eggs didn’t slide into her lap. “Please fasten your seat belts and keep your seat in its upright and locked position.”
Mary K. giggled and took a bite of her sausage patty. “Looks like rain,” she said, chewing.
“I hope it does rain so Mr. Herndon won’t clean his stupid gutters,” I said, steering with my knees so I could open a soda.
Mary K. paused, her eyes narrowed. “Um, okaaay,” she said in an exaggerated soothing tone. “I hope so,
.” She continued chewing, giving me a sidelong glance. “Are we back to
I tried to laugh, but I was puzzled by my own words. The Herndons were an old couple who lived three houses down. I hardly ever thought about them.
“Maybe you’re metamorphosing into a higher being,” my sister suggested, opening a small carton of orange juice. She took a deep swig, then wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Her straight, shiny, russet-colored hair swung in a perfect bell to her shoulders, and she looked pretty and feminine, like my mom.
“I’m already a superior being,” I reminded her.
“I said higher, not superior,” Mary K. said.
I took another drink and sighed, feeling my brain cells waking up. Another one of these and I would feel ready to face the day. Cal would be at school. Just the idea that I would see Cal soon, be able to talk to him, made me so pleasantly nervous that my hands tightened on the steering wheel.
“Um, Morgan?” Mary K.’s voice was tentative.
“Call me old-fashioned, but it’s traditional to stop for red lights.”
I snapped to attention, leaning forward, tensed to brake. Looking back quickly, I saw that I had just breezed through the intersection of St. Mary’s and Dimson, right through a red light.At this hour of the morning there was always traffic. It was amazing we hadn’t gotten into an accident—no one had even honked.
“Jeez, Mare, I’m sorry,” I said, clutching the steering wheel. “I was daydreaming. Sorry. I’ll be more careful.”
“That would be good,” she said calmly. She scooped up the last of her scrambled eggs and shoved the tray into my car’s trash bag.
We managed to get to school without my killing us, and I found a great parking spot practically right outside the building. Mary K. was immediately surrounded by a gaggle of friends who ran over to greet her. Mary K. had arrived: The party could begin.
I saw Bree and Robbie hanging out not by the stoners, not by the nerds, not by the cool kids, but in a completely new area around the old cement benches that face each other across the brick path by the east-side door. Raven was there, Jenna and Matt, Beth, Ethan, Alessandra, Todd, Suzanne, Sharon, and Cal. Everyone who had done the circle Saturday night. My heart started a slow, dull pound.