Yvonne looked at the silver framed photograph that sat on top of Althea’s herb chest. “You look so different with your hair short,” she said, without taking her eyes off the picture.
Althea ran a finger over one edge of the frame. “That’s my Mama. I got her face and Jonquil claimed her wilds.”
“Are you three close?”
“In a sense.” Althea picked up the picture, and put it back down in what seemed like the same movement. “She went to the Summerlands after birthing Jonquil.” She smiled, but her face didn’t brighten. “Fate’s bittersweet like that. Taking away treasures, replacing them with other joys, and fully expecting us to keep on keeping on.”
“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said. She knew what it was like to lose family. Before having her Cedrus, his father had been her entire world. Ash had been gone for six years, but every now and then the loss hurt her as much as it did on the day he died. She was going to share her pain with Althea, but the voices of the dead broke her thoughts.
“Hurt… protection… tell!” They shrieked, in the same jagged chorus that had been trying to conquer Yvonne’s sanity ever since she was a teenager.
Althea was staring at her. “Are you all right?” she said.
“Yes,” Yvonne said, thinking, I won’t let them break me. She would go home, and that would be that. The dead would not ruin this connection for her or for her son. “I need to go,” she said. “Maybe you could show me the rest of the apartment later. After Cedrus and Jonquil come back?”
“What is that?” Althea looked over her shoulder, and took a couple of steps to stand next to Yvonne. In a calmer voice, she addressed an empty spot in the kitchen. “I know you aren’t evil,” she said, “no malevolence can enter my home.” She raised a hand when Yvonne tried to move away. “But your disposition will mean very little to me if you disturb anyone under my protection. Leave now, or I’ll do something we’ll both hate.”
“You can hear them.” Yvonne’s voice shook.
“No, I can’t,” Althea said.
“But you talked to them. I saw you. I heard you talking to them.” She began to cry. It’s starting again, she thought. The dead were going to take away the first friend she had made in six years. Yvonne stepped back from Althea. “I just—”
“I can’t hear or see the dead.” Althea put a hand on Yvonne’s left arm. “But my kitchen is full of thick, oily emotions that aren’t yours or mine. That’s how I knew someone else was here, and how I know he or she didn’t listen to me.” With those words, Althea turned towards her herb chest and yanked the door open. She grabbed dragon’s blood, rosemary, and two unlabeled jars. “Banishment is cruel magic,” she said, “I don’t care for it. But no one, living or dead, will terrorize my friends. Not in my presence.” Her jaw tightened. “Not in my home.”
Althea moved too fast, scooping a bit of this and a pinch of that into her hand. Yvonne was having a hard time following her actions, and the cacophony of the dead emphasized her inability to focus.
“Third Eye… hurt… her… luck!” The coarse wails continued to push on the inside of Yvonne’s forehead and temples.
Armed with a fistful of banishment, Althea stopped in the middle of her kitchen. “I wish I didn’t have to do this.” She rubbed her clenched fist over her heart, blew on it, and began to chant.
Yvonne saw Althea’s lips moving, but the dead kept her from hearing anything other than their screeches. She watched as Althea’s pupils dilated, the dark of the eyes spreading over the white. When the black-eyed woman raised her fist, the voices of the dead burst through Yvonne’s lips. “You were my protection, my first, my Third Eye. Let her be our love and luck.”
Althea didn’t lower her fist, but she stood very still, her eyes fixed on Yvonne’s open mouth. “What was that?” she said.
“I don’t know.” Yvonne began to sob. “I never know what they mean or what they want.”
Althea relaxed her arm. “Can you recall what they said? The exact words?” She walked closer to Yvonne.
“Yes.” Yvonne nodded, and repeated the words of the dead. “They also said random things, ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’. I felt like they thought you would get hurt if you…” She pointed at Althea’s fist. “If you did whatever it was you were getting ready to do with that.”
Althea wrapped her arms around Yvonne’s trembling shoulders. “Shhh,” she said, “You’ll be okay.” Without letting go of Yvonne, Althea glanced at the floor. Yvonne followed her gaze. The picture of Althea’s mother had fallen from the herb chest. The silver coating was melting off the frame, oozing onto the kitchen’s woodened floor. The image shimmered like a heat mirage.
Yvonne looked up when she felt Althea’s fingers crawling over the back of her neck and through the hair on the back of her head. The sight of black eyes so close to her face made her pull back. But Althea had grabbed a handful of her hair, and Yvonne couldn’t move her head. She panicked. “What are you doing?” Yvonne fought to get free, but Althea’s grip was too strong.
“I’m sorry,” Althea said. Then she was rubbing the contents of her hand on Yvonne’s forehead, shouting, “With earth and will I banish you from her thoughts!”
Yvonne heard her mouth screamed the mind-breaking agony of the dead, as she collapsed to the floor, taking Althea down with her.
viaThe Whacky Broomstick