No post this week, guys. Please enjoy this short story instead.
I know a lot of witches these days are real out in the open about it. They go online and share spells like recipes, post pictures of their alters. There’s about a hundred Facebook groups for witches. That’s great and all, really. I’m super happy for everyone who can be so open with their craft.
That isn’t me. I mean, I would love for it to be me, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have any problem getting right out there with the rest of them, openly buying sage at the farmer’s market and filling my home with witchy goodness.
I have a calling, that’s the problem. You see, I was abandoned by my mother when I was four. There was a man, but it’s a cop out to say that was why. There was a bottle, and that was always the reason.
But I don’t waste a lot of time worrying about her. I was adopted by my uncle, a great witch and a great man. Only problem was, he was in Japan at the time. While he hustled to get himself back to the states and start the adoption process, I was in foster care.
And this foster lady, man, she was the best. She was the absolute best person I have ever, and I mean ever known. Her name was Birdie, and she just scooped me up and took me right into her home. Because of her, I was able to stay safe, happy and cared for until Uncle Howard was able to come get me.
Birdie passed on a few years ago. I could never thank her enough for what she did for me, though I sure tried while she was alive. When she started getting sick, she started getting me involved in the foster care program. And, I mean, what was I going to do, say no?
But I’ll tell you right now, no one lets you be a foster mom if you’re a witch. Even Uncle Howard didn’t tell them he was a witch until they were all done checking up on him.
“I know it’s not fair,” he explained to me. “But lots of things aren’t fair. The mundanes just aren’t in a position to understand. Our eyes are open farther than theirs, so we must be wiser. Especially if you’ve got to adopt a child. My lord, is that a struggle. Those people will criticize you for wearing the wrong color socks.”
So you can understand. My practice was in the closet, my alter and tools literally in the tiny closet of my bedroom. But so help me, I was going to be a force for good in children’s lives.
And so it’s gone for years, until a few weeks ago. When I got a call late in the afternoon about a little boy.
“His mother was in a terrible car accident, and didn’t make it. He was at his sitter’s for a few days, but of course they can’t keep him forever,” explained Esther, one of the better caseworkers. Some of them were far too aggressive, dropping children off who had no business being away from loving parents. Esther was never that sort. She just didn’t seem to have an ounce of emotion in her except for disdain. I swear, I’ve never seen the woman smile, not once.
“Bring him right over,” I said, casting a look at my kitchen counter. I had been intending to put together a honey jar spell, but that wasn’t happening now. I made a dash to get things put away and picked up, lighting a candle in the living room for strength as I went.
Soon enough Esther was there, with a little boy with dark hair, a crop of freckles, and a look of distance in his eyes.
“This is Douglas,” Esther said, handing me a suitcase of the boy’s things. “Douglas, this is Wendy. She’s going to be looking after you for a little while.”
The boy, Douglas, looked me up and down. I gave him the smile I’ve done my best to master over the years. It’s not too happy, since of course most kids aren’t here under good circumstances. But it was, I hope, comforting.
“Come on in, Douglas. We’ll get you all settled,” I said, holding my hand out to him. He took it.
Some kids are a handful right from the start, loud and screaming. They’re scared, and they react like animals backed into a corner.
Some, like Douglas, are silent as a tomb. Those are the ones who worry me. Sadness and grief are a poison. We’ve got to draw them out, suck them away from flesh and soul before they start to rot.
Esther nodded. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow,” she said, and reached out to shake my hand with her own gloved one. What a weird woman.
With Esther gone, I closed the door, and started the business of tending to Douglas. He was standing very still in the middle of my living room, looking around. “Want to see your room?” I asked. He nodded, but still said nothing.
Even if he was silent, he was agreeable. We put away his things, a few changes of clothes and some toys. Tucked in the front of his suitcase was a stack of origami paper. This was a surprise. Even more of a surprise was when he snatched the stack away before I could touch it and set it reverently by his bed.
“Do you do origami?” I asked. “Like paper folding?”
He nodded. Apparently that was all the interaction we were going to have for awhile.
It was a quiet afternoon that melted into evening. Douglas was sort of like a very polite, very obedient ghost. He sat in his room until I asked him to help me with dinner. Then he ate well enough, and sat on the couch to watch tv with me. We watched a movie, and he didn’t say a word.
After a shower I got Douglas into bed. “I want you to know that you’re going to be safe here for as long as you need to be,” I said. “And you can talk to me about anything. Trust me, you can’t tell me anything weirder than I’ve heard before.”
Douglas nodded, his dinner plate eyes never leaving my face.
“I was in foster care when I was little,” I said.
“Okay, well let me know if you need anything. My bedroom is just on the other side of the living room. Sleep well.”
He nodded, and pulled the covers up to his chin.
I left the door open just a crack, and left the living room light on. I was feeling off kilter. I know it was only the first night. I also knew that healing whatever was broken in him wasn’t really my job. My job was to keep him safe, well fed and cared for until the state figured out where he was going.
Still, he was so sad. He hadn’t been abandoned by a distant mother. His mother, who had presumably loved him very much, had died.
Feeling uncomfortable to the point of itchiness, I decided there was nothing for it but to do a quick cleansing. I grabbed my palo santo, and started cleansing. With a twist of my finger I sent the smoke through the whole apartment, except Douglas’s room. I didn’t normally use magic to move smoke, but I didn’t want him to hear me walking all around the place. It might make him nervous.
A few minutes after I started, though, Douglas popped his head out of the door. He looked around, as though excited.
I tucked the burning wood behind my back. “Just lighting some incense. Sorry, does it bother you?”
His face deflated. Slowly he shook his head, and went back into his room.
I have a habit on the first day I have a new kid of waking up and getting them to help me put together breakfast. It’s not just food, even waffles with strawberries and chocolate chips, that gets a kid to warm up to me. It’s the act of cooking together.
When I approached the bedroom door, I didn’t hear anything. I gave a little knock, having learned better a long time ago than to just throw open a door.
But after waiting a few minutes, I didn’t hear anything. Worried, I opened the door.
Douglas was sitting in the middle of the room, and I saw why he’d had all of the origami paper. It was scattered around him, some folded into pieces and some waiting to be touched. He must have been up all night, playing with it. And as I opened the door, the air was full of paper birds. Cranes, blue jays, any sort of bird that could be folded into paper, fluttering around Douglas’s head.
How had I not sensed it?
At the sight of me, Douglas dropped the birds. They all fell onto the ground with soft, pattering sounds. He looked at me, terrified.
“It’s okay,” I said, kneeling down. “It’s okay. You’re a witch, aren’t you?”
Still, Douglas said nothing. His eyes looked like they might pop right out of his head, looking at me.
“Don’t be afraid, I am too.” The words popped out of my mouth before I even knew I was going to say them. But as the words were out now, I couldn’t take them back. So I decided to prove myself instead. I lifted the closest bird to me in the air, and fluttered it around him. I even got it close enough to peck his nose.
To my surprise and relief, he laughed.
Then, he spoke. “I thought my mom was here last night. I thought I could smell her.”
“The palo santo,” I said. “I was cleansing the house.”
He nodded. “She’s not gonna come get me, is she? I really miss her.”
“No, Douglas, I’m sorry. She’s gone. But you can talk to her.”
Carefully I gathered the young witch in my arms. We went out, and collected things that reminded him of his mother.
A sample of the perfume she wore.
A leaf from the park they’d played at together.
A stone from the driveway of the dental office she’d worked at.
All of these things we put on my alter together, and we lit a candle. “Now,” I said, “she can hear you. Go ahead and talk to her.”
I stepped away, letting him have some privacy.
There was a knock on the door before he was finished. I went to see who it was, and felt my chest tighten.
It was Esther. And the closet that held my alter was wide open, with Douglas perched in front of it.
There was nothing else for it, I couldn’t very well pretend I wasn’t hope. So I opened the door.
Esther stepped in, looking around. “Good afternoon. I brought some of Douglas’s clothes. Where is he?”
“He’s, um,” I stammered, but she’d already brushed past me. And right into my room.
There sat Douglas, giggling. He had a paper crane floating in front of him. “I’m getting really good at them,” he said.
“I, I can explain what’s going on,” I said, rushing behind her.
“Explain what?” Esther asked. She turned to me, and smiled. For the first time, I noticed a gold chain around her neck. It led to a tiny, moon pendant.
“If you have anything to explain, it’s what took you so long. Young lady, how many witches did I need to send into your house before you started teaching them the right way?”