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        Next door neighbor’s a big ole bitch. I put snakes in her lawn, salt on her bluebonnets, curse on her creaky porch step. She’s still got the guts to sit out there and read. Ooooh, I read for hours, ooooh, I match my dress to my headwrap. One of them snakes even came running back when she stared it down. 

        She smells like Mrs. More, rank, that’s for sure, but that’s a witch lady. She’s real regal, baking in the sun like some kinda love crystal. Uppity bitch. Mrs. is more beautiful, a better practitioner, more customers. Heard that, Neighbor? More customers! I once saw a crone stumble into her place, teeth missing, probably begging for her youth back. In this business, there’s no business in the impossible. 

        Still, Mrs. told me to spy on her. Mrs. ain’t too into covens. “Riddle, baby, listen up. Put that down, no, no, not that, THAT, you fool! As I was sayin, these women got to understand: I work alone.” She’s cool like that. If Neighbor thinks she can just plop down and set up across from us, I hope she know a good spell to turn her water fountain back from oil. 

        Mrs. don’t allow me in her room during sessions. Says it’s real personal, outside energy might screw with it. I’m hoping one day I can know as much as she do about the craft. Only thing is, if I can’t come in, I can’t learn. Mrs. is clearly testing me, I can just hear her now after she figures out I passed. “Riddle, one of these days you gonna be a great practitioner. But, no great practitioner come without struggle! You’re ready to be my ritual assistant. Hold this mugwort,” she’d say. And I would be the proudest mugwort holder there is. 

        I got my ear to the door. Man client came in, that’s rare. He’s crying. Something something my daughter needs something something. There’s a gust from inside that rattles the door, smacking me like I've been bad for listening. I wish I knew what Mrs. was telling him. He gets louder, wailing like a lyrebird, until it gets so quiet I can count the ba-bumps of my blood. Another job well done, typical Mrs. 

        Mrs.’s bells start up their twinkling, and she must be doing a ritual for him. Sick daughter, gotta be. Bells for purifying, of course! Either my nose is fooling me or I smell burning cypress. Genius! 

        Someone knocks at the front door. I jump when Mrs. yells for one of us to get it. Mabel, Mrs.’s possum—lays on the couch and talks mean to everybody—can’t answer it, so I’m talking to this young girl about a haircut.

        “Girl, we are not a hairdresser’s! Take your butt elsewhere,” I say. I’m trying to close the door on her, but she keep insisting on a haircut. 

        “Probably just an inch or two off. Ugh, last time I went into town for one, the bitch gave me layers, bangs, and a blowout. The hell is so hard about an inch or two off?” I’m about to yell “We are not a hairdresser’s, girl!” again (extra loud so Mrs. can hear it) but I see Neighbor reading on her porch. No, no, no! She’s been listening! “Just an inch or two off? Hell, that’s easy! What’s your name, girl? Come back here tomorrow,” I’m looking at Neighbor while I say it to make sure she knows business over here is booming. 

        Neighbor licks her finger and turns her page. A tumbleweed might as well danced across the porch with its boots clicking on each step and smacked her in the face. “Riddle, who was that?” Mrs. comes out of her session in a rush. 

        “New customer, Mrs.…Mrs., if it would be alright, I was thinking I could take this one.” “Whatever it is, it’s far beyond your skill set.” 

        “Well, ma’am, I think it’s just a regular haircut. We got some shears—”

        “Riddle! I’ll handle this! This could be some advanced magick. You write down that name?”

        “Ma’am, I really think she thinks we’re a hairdresser’s—” 

        “Riddle! Her name!” 

        Mabel is wheezing a laugh like she’s not a rodent and I don’t got two hands.
        I say Yes, Mrs. before she leave to fix herself some lunch. 

        “Ha! Ha!” Mabel is sprawled out on top of the dip her hairy ass left in the couch. “You ain’t ever gettin a job, Tiddley!” 

        “You don’t know nothin, rodent! You’re just a familiar!” 

        “Least she give me free food, heh, when the last time Mrs. Mo shared some crawfish with you?” 

        “I’m doing a big job for her right now!” 

        “Riiiight, almost forgot. Watchin Erykah Badu over there.” 

        “She could be a disturbance to business! I’m keeping an eye on it for Mrs. Sit on your butt and laugh all you want, I don’t care.” 

        Mrs. hollers from the kitchen. “Mabel, get in here! Lunch ready!” 

        Mabel laughs in my face again. “Yes, Mrs. Mo!” 


        Today, I’m taking the bus into town for something Mrs. needs. Mrs. got a car, but it ain’t moved in years. Sometimes, it feels like Mrs. ain’t moved in years. The practice been the same since I got there. Same old spells, sobbing Sallies, stupid stink of possum on all the furniture, sitting around waiting for her to give me something other than an incantation for washin drawers. I’m gonna bust Neighbor outta here for good, show Mrs. I’m not just an apprentice.

        I spend an extra hour looking round for the vodou woman Mrs. told me to buy a drum from. The shop blended in with the damn wall, then she acted like she didn’t know nothing about a drum til I slipped her some cash. Errands like this make me moody. On the bus, sweatin and scowlin at the summer school children and their jingly bookbags and puny war cries. Neighbor’s on our porch when I get back. 

        “Get the hell off Mrs. Monet’s property!” I smack my feet on the ground from asphalt to grass. The drum makes me feel kinda small, covering my whole torso, so I lift it over my head.
        “Scuse me, you work for Mrs. Monet?” She says descending the stairs. She’s a tall woman with a noble tilt to her head. Don’t know if I could reach that high to beat her with the drum. “I live across the street.” 

        “This is private property. Get to.” I say with a sniff. 

        “I seen yuh out here in the yard for hours the other day. Real hot day too.”
        “Mrs. is probably just inside. I’ll go get her to show you out.” 

        “I’m Tia,” she says. “Tia Foster, if you remember me.” 

        “I don’t remember you, not even a little.” 

        She laughs. Her four necklaces and two pearly hoop earrings clink together in a tinier laugh. “That’s okay. I remember you. I moved in a week before Beltane. I was at Mrs. Monet’s bonfire. You was roasting marshmallows for her and that little critter.” 

        “You been here since April?!” 

        “I’ve been keeping quiet though. Building a client base before I start up.” The mention of business shoves me out of her halting molasses stare. “Don’t see why you set up cross from Mrs. Monet. She’ll have you running back to wherever you came from.”
        “I’m sure I can handle my own.” She smiles, looking down on me. If she bent a little more, I could pop her with the drum. “What’s your name then, child?” My feet sink into the damp grass. Lord, I’m getting shorter! “Yuh don’t gotta tell me now, but I want to invite you over to eat on Saturday.” 

        “I’m busy Saturday—” 

        “I know about Mrs. Monet. She…like to keep to herself, right? Don’t like teamwork too much. I get it. So, come over Saturday. I’ll feed yuh, and we can practice whatever you been wanting to practice with Mrs. Monet.” 

        Hell she know about Mrs.? These young witches think cause their ancestors come from Barbados and they wear nose rings and tattoo their gods on their arms they know everything. “Riddle!” Neighbor turns her head back toward Mrs.’s house. “Riddle! Riiiddddle! Stop wasting time out there! I need that drum immediately!” 

        I make to run up the porch, but Neighbor stops me with a Hey! She slows me down with those eyes, a crocodile peering out the water not wanting to reveal yet that it is in fact a hungry monster. Think about it, Riddle


        So, I do. Not serious, just between the little things in the day. Boiling the sweat out of the shirt Mrs. gave me from a client to make sweat soup or something to cure her sweating problem. The girl comes in for her haircut. Mrs. makes a big fuss about whether the girl should do locs or braids. The girl tries to tell her just an inch or two off please. Mrs. ain’t hearing a word. I stand there for hours, giving her tools to tease and touch the hair, only for Mrs. to say “Hmmmmmm. Come back tomorrow!” When night comes, the garden needs tending to with a rusty pair of shears and a flickery headlamp. Neighbor watches me with a smile. She’s leaned back in her chair, glowing orange in her porch light, tasting her dark red wine slowly instead of downing it, heading inside, and leaving me the hell alone. 

        I make Andromeda trapped up in last night’s sky promise today’ll be better. Mrs. just tired lately, overworked. No way she’ll forget our big day. I’m bouncing around the bedroom in my fancy green cloak. I iron it daily, keep it in a dust cover and all, for this day. Gotta look extra nice for Mrs. 

        “Mornin, Mabel,” I say with dislike at breakfast. 

        She makes some clicking noise and shoves her nose into her plate. Dirty animal. When I take charge round here, she gonna be the first thing to go. Replace her with a well-mannered toad. 

        “Mrs. in?” I pity the rodent. Mrs. got her after we had ourselves our agreement 10 years back. She don’t have a clue. 

        Mabel is itching her belly. “Out.” 

        “No thing. When’s she coming back?” 

        “Shut it, Tiddley. Tryna eat.” 

         I slam my fist on the table. Everything’s so old in this house, the chandelier shakes overhead. “Watch that mouth with me, girl! Tomorrow is no cousin of today!”
        “Crazy.” She helps herself to the blueberry pancakes I made Mrs. “She coming when she coming.”
        Mabel’s no good. I phone Mrs. instead. No answer. Phone her again. You’ve reached Mrs. Monet. Press ‘1’ for new consultations. ‘2’ for pickup, drop-off, and returning customers. ‘3’ if you got demons. And don’t go calling three times in a row. I’m busy, goddamnit! I’ll wait, got plenty of chores to do anyhow.

        She don’t show til morning the next day. Strolls in with six paper bags in her arms and a mean look. I stand behind the door, just watch. 

        “Riddle, come help me with these bags,” she says from the second porch step. I watch. “Riddle! Stop actin scary! Help me with these bags!” 

        Mrs. hustles up the step and kicks open the door with her sandal. “I won’t have you embarrassin me out there front of all the neighbors.” It’s old Mr. Rice alone watering his grass and trying to stare at the sun. “When I say do somethin, you best do it.” 

        “Mrs. Monet, you remember what yesterday was?” 


        “Yesterday. You had somethin important lined up.” 

        “Yesterday…” Her mouth drops open. I knew she wouldn’t forget! “That young girl wantin the haircut! Damn. Call her back later. We could still squeeze a few hundred outta her.”
        “No, Mrs. Monet! It was the 10-year anniversary of our promise! You promised I’d be a witch by now!” 

        She twists her brows all up. “Now, you know these things take time. And, mind you, dedication. When’s the last time I saw you sit down and study the books? How bout takin initiative? Just a minute ago you were refusin to help me up the stairs.” 

        “But, Mrs., you won’t let me! I do study, I do! That shit’s worthless without real hands-on work.” 

        “Lord. I don’t got time to argue with a storyteller,” She says, looking down on me. I hunch down out of instinct. “If excuses all you got to offer, it’s gonna be another 10-year anniversary in your future.”
        “Please, Mrs., I didn’t mean to—”
        “No, no, I had enough. Either apologize or leave this house.” Apologize? For what? For the groceries? For raising my voice? For remembering our promise? “Well, go on.” I’m looking at my feet, how they blend in nice with the dark wood, wondering if they’d get cold sleeping outside at night.
        “I…I’m sorry, Mrs. Monet.” 

       “Good.” She turns and goes to the kitchen, the bags still a mess on the floor.


        It’s only bout the hottest day it’s been all summer. Mrs. sent me outside to learn a lesson about respect. Don’t know how watering her magnolias and checking the tomatoes for blight gonna teach me that. 

        Neighbor’s posted out front like it’s her duty. All slow smiles and dainty eye closing like she’s an artifact of nature. I’d kill for a fan, or some homemade limeade, or a place to sit. Mrs. told me don’t come back in until the sun’s down. 

        It’s two hours before Neighbor stands in her yard and calls me over. 

        “Hey!” I’m ignoring her. “Riddle! Yuh wanna come in and cool off? I’ll make you somethin to drink.” 

        Mrs. laughs real hard from inside. Probably with Mabel, the lazy little bitch.
        “Alright,” I say and toss the watering can down. 

        All that time I spent stomping around in her backyard, snatching worms out the muddy grass I flooded with Mrs.'s hose, I never thought I’d go inside Neighbor’s house. That squealing step ain’t fixed yet, and I grind my heel into it, hoping to hear a snap. She breezes in the door with the rest of her ridiculous yellow dress. I rush in and close the door quick, maybe the end of it’ll get caught in the jamb. The downstairs looks exactly like Mrs.’s, like any old Creole townhouse—dust floating in and out of the funneled-in sunlight from the big windows, the grand staircase that needs some handiwork and a fresh carpet, three claw-torn couches. Then, I’m looking around for a cat or a weasel, or worse, a possum. Cause if Neighbor’s got a Mabel of her own, I shoulda come better prepared. 

        Neighbor’s fixing tea, screwing up the scents of the house. I’m sniffing for possum, praying for cat, but the lady’s set off a jasmine and praline cookie bomb in the kitchen. I peek under the couches, gagging when I see a half-eaten fish. Something Mabel would do. Neighbor’s back, finds me hunched on one of the velvety armrests with my bare feet gripping like fingers. Height advantage. 

       “You got a cat?” I say. I’m getting the possum itch. 

        She’s stuck between a frown and tossing me out. “Yes.” 

        Good. “Do it talk?” 

        Neighbor looks sympathetic. The steam from the tea kettle frizzes up the strands of hair hanging out her bonnet. Why she’s drinking that in the summer, I’ll never know. “I want to talk about your situation over at Mrs. Monet’s.” 

        “Situation?” She must know about the spying. 

        “Yes. How much is she payin you, Riddle?” 

        “Payin me? Ha!” Neighbor knows nothing. “She’s the greatest practitioner below and to the right ‘o the Mississippi. Her presence is payment enough.” 

        She sets her tea down, staring at me until my eyes get all hot and watery from not blinking. Feels like being on trial with Marie Laveau’s great-great hippie granddaughter who apparently don’t own a bra. 

        “Riddle, you ever practiced before? She ever let you practice?” I wanna remind her about that honeysuckle out front I turned half-rotten last week, but she’s freaking me out with her smothering, fuzzy blanket smile. “I hope you feel safe here. You talk about Mrs. Monet all you want here, child.” 

        We stare at each other for a while, her with that twitchy mouth and me holding the cup and taking a sip. 

        The sun is starting to set, and the sunlight that warmed up the tops of my feet before has dipped below the ground. A bubble of the old house’s drafty chill wraps my feet up, and I’m hoping to be back at Mrs.’s soon, spending time alone with the bag of patterned socks she let me keep from a client who didn’t have no money but knew how to knit from hell and back. Which apparently ain’t that far; Mrs. said the underworld’s in the Caribbean. It really should be back at her house, the way she making me live over there. 

        “Right, well, I best get going then.” I say, walking fast to the door. 

        “Bye, Riddle. Come round anytime. And…” That smile again. “You really should start saying no to her.” 



        Nothing real’s a miracle, but shit if I know what to call it. Neighbor and I’ve been talking. Saying morning when I leave the house, curling my lips up to mimic that creepy ass smile of hers. It’s a little bit of a relief. Home’s been tough this last week. Mrs. ignoring me except when there’s cleaning to do. Mabel sitting on her stinky blanket throne, yapping orders. She knows about the deal, it’s always Tiddles, you really thought you had it, didn’t cha! every time she bored now. I had to clip her nails and scrub her teeth last night while she rattled off the things I was doing wrong. Otherwise, it was hit the streets.
        Neighbor's dying to have me over again. She sneaks it in every few talks. She sees me leave at nine in the morning and come back when the crickets half through their second symphony. I don’t know where she get all that time from, sitting on her porch like a flytrap smiling until the next meal. 

        She don’t know the crisis I’m in. I go into town to find work, anything. I can’t work for the vodou practitioners, I don’t know enough about possession, they said. Teach me, I said. They shut me out their doors. 

        The white Wiccans don’t even want me. I know all about nature, the sympathy of the cosmos, those little love spells they like so much. Not enough “practical experience.” I would’ve thought they were students of Mrs. if I didn’t see their High Priestess in the corner, her face twisted up with contempt. All these witches are good-for-nothings. 

       I’m bout ready to call it and catch the bus back when this tall man come talks to me. He was leaned up against the wall of this rundown-looking business, pushed himself into a pep step to catch up with me. 

       “Youngin, you find what you need?” 

        He’s got a gap between his front teeth, wearing purple silk, his neck stuck from looking down. 

        “And what’s that you think I need?” I wasn’t in the mood. 

        “Answers.” He smiled like a devil. 

        He was a diviner. Real familiar with that Cameroonian spider divination. Told me it’d work just fine with a bucket of crabs.
        “No, no, no, not all at once, aish. Start with one. And I say the question, not you,” he said, crouched over the crab pot. I was asking too many questions for him. For $40 in a weedy little backyard overrun with chickens and fire ants, I’m askin all the questions I want. 

        Mrs. was the first question. The crab grabbed the leaf quick, get the hell out of that house, Riddle. What about me being a witch? The crab shook its claws. The man threw another in the pot for a better answer, it just shook its claws. 

        “Ehh, I’d forget about that if I were you.” 

        “Man, shut up.” 

        He looked angry then but still wanted the money bad. I asked about Neighbor last. Do I go live with her? The crabs fought to snatch up the leaf and move it towards the stone. “Guess that’s a yes.” He put the lid on the pot, carrying it out the backyard like a briefcase. 

        So, I’m over at Neighbor’s for the fourth time. I left Mrs.’s a couple days ago. She swears she kicked me out and broke my spirit, but I walked out on my own just fine. I’m getting more comfortable at Neighbor’s. She’s always offering me stuff. Oh, put yuh feet up. Have some sweet bread. Take another. Wrap up in this blanket. I’m suspicious, but the crabs said I should keep on seeing her, so I put my feet up. For now. 

        “Lemme see what you workin on,” Neighbor says, jingling her way over. “Oooh, divination. You interested in that?” 

        “A bit.” 

        “It’s a good practice. Tough. Tough, though.” 

        I suck my teeth at her. Heard that one before. That’s too tough, Riddle. That’ll take years, Riddle. You can’t even stir the pot right, Riddle.
        Neighbor don’t look too offended. She smiles, sympathetic and touched, like I’m a stray cat she brought in that started hacking up hairballs on her carpet but she still find me cute somehow. I ain’t told her about the big fight with Mrs. yet, so she don’t know I’m closer to a stray than she mighta thought. 

        “Lemme guess, it’ll take 15 years and my left lung?” I shake the sheep knuckle dice in my hands, thinking what’d she do if I threw them down and broke them. 

        She laughs. “You can learn your stuff in a few months if yuh try.” 

        “Really?” I sit up now from my slump on the couch. 

        “Yeah, really.” Her hands take over mine. She smells like sandalwood and smoke. “See this side. It’s all numbered. 1, 2, 3, 4.” She covers the 2 with her painted fingernail. “Little ones use this for games. Little questions, too.” 

        “Like what?” 

        “Do he like me, should I go school today, is she backstabbin me. Like that.”
        I’m frowning now. So, little kid shit. “Teach me something real,” I say. 

        She laughs again, loud in my ear, probably reaching the upstairs. “This is real, child. Keep dem in your pocket. Good to have on you.” Neighbor sees I’m givin her a look. “I teach you more serious divination next time. Stuff kings used. Promise.” 

        I ain’t too keen on the word promise as of late, but I wanna see what the kings was up to.


        It’s moving fast. I visit Neighbor about every day. Spending nights on the couch too with that scraggly orange cat. I never ate so much food in my life. 

        On Saturdays, she meets up with her little group. She just disappears into the woods behind her house like a drifting fae. It’s dead quiet in that house. Something comes over me, making me wanna sleep for hours, warming up under the big windows. I’m eating yesterday’s leftovers, flipping through some ritual books she left out. She hasn’t gotten around to teaching me too much. Basics, but better than whatever Mrs. was spewing. 

        Me and the cat jump when the wind chimes at the door smack together, the metallic sound that makes your teeth grit. That definitely ain’t the wind. A shadow stands outside. I only see it through the little foggy glass tiles at the top and sides of the door. It’s moving all around, bending up down, trying to look in. The cat already ran upstairs. 

        “Tia.” A woman's voice. “Tia. Tia. TIA!” Wicked-sounding bitch. “Is it finished?” I’m not moving a bit. 

        “Tia, I know you’re in there. I can hear your…you know what, you just let me know when you’re all finished, and I’ll swing back around.” 

        Must be that business she was building up back in May. 


        I’m sick this week. Been laid up in bed for days. It’s a strange thing living with Neighbor like this. She knocks on the door, bringing me lamb soup and taking the chicken feet out the Saturday soup when I told her I won’t eat chicken cause they’re sacred, instead of fussing and dumping it down the drain like Mrs. did. I was nervous about it too. Last time I complained about food, I had to start making my own. 

        She’s got a sweet voice. She knows I’m pissed about missing out on my studying. Just when stuff’s coming together, I get taken right out. She sings all morning, street festival songs, the kind about beautiful women and the shine of the sea. The lady’s been singing all week from her kitchen, entertaining me, I think. When I was feverish, her voice stretched out wide, hanging over my head hours after she stopped. I felt like I solved something real important. Her voice was this answer that only took 15 years of precious, precious lifeblood to find. I must’ve laughed in that bed, would have raised my hands to wipe my tears if I had the strength to. I must’ve said “Ah!” and rolled to my side, content enough to finally let my mind sink under the mattress and break the fever. 

        I can’t remember what I found out. Maybe that ditching Mrs. was the best thing I could’ve done. Well, I didn’t have to. Neighbor came up with her Saturday soup, no chicken, dearheart, sorry bout last time, and I called her Tia for the first time. 

        Tia told me take it slow. She means well, but I’m done with the waiting shit. Nothing I hate more than wasting time. I’m rifling through the dresser drawers, tossing bags of herbs, oil bottles, old scarves, and gold rings on the bed. Garbage. She must keep all the good shit in her room. 

        There’s a ceramic olive oil lamp on a high shelf in the closet. I jump up and down til I reach it. It hits the floor with a loud clink, and I’m frozen, waiting for her to run up and ask what’s wrong. She don’t even holler up. Guess she’s not home again. 

        A corner of the lamp fell off. I kick it under the dresser, I’ll tell her it was broke when I found it if she ask. I don’t have the time to do the whole fasting bathing praying ritual. I hold my breath for a minute and tell whatever god listening that’ll just have to do. The oil smells funny, it sure ain’t olive oil, but it’ll do. 

        After I light the lamp, I don’t know what to ask. 

       “Great god o’ the future, hear me now!” Scrap that. “Whatever question’s on my mind that I don’t know about, answer it.” The flame crouches down. “Hey! Hey!” It wobbles like an old geezer about to pass out at a summer fair round noon. “Alright, hold on, damnit!” I can’t feel its heat on my nose anymore. “Tia’s good for me, right?”
        The flame’s young again, spinning up high like a tornado, trying to lick the ceiling. “Jesus!” I duck down to the rough wood floor, tearing my knees up a little. Damnit! I didn’t say what was yes and what was no, and now I got a house fire on my hands! 

        “Riddle, you all right up there?!” Tia hustles up the stairs and knocks on the door. “I just got in, something wrong?” 

        “Yeah, Miss, your lamp’s lost it!” I’m starting to smell burning. 

        “...My lamp?” 

        Soon as she come in, the fire puts itself out, bringing the room back to the drafty cold of the rest of her house. 

        “Child, what happened to your eyebrows?” 


        Tia tucked me in real tight, the sheets squishing me down til my chest can’t breathe a whole breath. Said get your rest, that fever does crazy things to the brain. She sang some syrupy melody before leaving. The words started off clear. Come let me tell you bout my friend Joe. He spends all day sitting by the radio. Tell him to come but he won’t go. Ring-a-ling, ring-a-ling. You hear the sirens sing. Run for cover the walls are tumbling down. I’m out, dropping down into sleep like a raindrop, rushing to bust apart on the ground. 

        I’m dreaming about Tia. She’s a kind lady. A great teacher. She sure do know how to cook. Real caring like an auntie. Mrs. can’t even measure up. I never knew a witch to be so kind. I wanna live with her forever. She’s the best witch I ever knew. The best witch I ever knew… Forever? That don’t sound like something I’d say. 

        I’m not asleep no more. I hear a circle of women hanging over me. My eyes won’t open, but I smell Tia’s loud perfume. 

        “Only took you all summer. Where’s their eyebrows?” one says, poking my eyelid.
        “Stop dat, Cicely. You’ll wake dem up,” another says. 

        “After tonight, it’s finished? I have some work that need to be done.” The lady who rang the wind chimes. 

        “Quiet.” Tia says, her voice not so sweet. “This one is tough to crack. Monet sucked all the workin blood out.” 

        “God, I hate that Monet. She always takin all the good henchers. This one’s her fourth.”

        “Dat bitch is so damn lazy.” 

        “Quiet.” Tia says before thumping me between the eyes and setting me back to sleep. 


        This is my last breakfast at Neighbor’s. 

        “Riddle, baby, how’s that porridge? Eat it up.” 

        I’m nodding, clearing out the bowl with a smile. Spell can’t work if you don’t let it.
        “Aw.” Neighbor jingles her bracelets. The cheap gold filled kind. “You seem in a good mood. Why don’t we head to the woods today? Teach yuh a few things.” 

        “Sure thing, Miss.” 

        She can’t hold in that nasty ole smile. 


        Neighbor’s on the dirt, a bit of blood trickling out her head. Somebody had to do it. I sit back on my heels, the shovel she gave me to start digging for her burial rituals a couple feet off. She really was a pretty lady. Prettier than Mrs. Only thing is the prettier the witch, the sneakier she think she is. She thought she had me made. She thought I'd just follow her blind, chop another 10 years off my life to do her and her friends' goddamn dishes, and say "Okay!" to it all with a smile. She got less brains than Mrs., and Mrs. is stupider than a stick bug. 

        I never been to this part of the woods before. I sit next to her another quarter hour, deciding what I’m gonna do with Mrs. With the shovel, I trace some symbols around her, make it look like a couple witch killers got her. I hate em too, but business is business. 

        Today is my favorite kind of day. The sun winning its fight with the treetops, the wind forgetting to show up for work, the ground a firm mush under my feet, the kind that comes after a week of rain sealed up by two hot days. Heading to the left feels good, so I wander, the shovel dragging behind me. Two months ago, I woulda been sweating my curfew. Nothing was worse than Mrs. yelling at me loud enough to shake the neighborhood, asking me where I been, telling me to empty my bag, my pockets, my socks. Telling me she could have a replacement real easy. You should be lucky to live under her roof, Riddle. You are lucky, Riddle. 

        I take my time coming back. Not a lick of irritation under my skin. Can’t remember the last time I haven’t been angry, angry, angry, rush, rush, rush. Like wanting to rip somebody’s head off for laughing too loud or standing in my way on the street. I mean, I’d probably still do that, but at least the anger’s my own now. 

        There’s this little stump sitting in the gap between two trees. Look like they’ve been alive for centuries. They droop a little, bending forward, searching for the soul who cut their little brother down. They call me over. 

        “Is it time?” I ask. 

        In the still summer, a leaf floats down on top of my bare feet. Well, if you say so.

        I hear Mrs. hollering before I see her. It slipped me she’s setting up for Lammas, all cranky about it like she’s really been fasting the whole time. There’s others like me in the yard. Short, cloaks hitting too high on the ankle, halfway to hunchback. I straighten up. Mrs. don’t even notice me yet, so I go into Neighbor’s house. Unlocked like I remember. House is clearly in mourning, the curtains opening and closing like crazy. It’s already evening, dark inside like it is outside. It don’t matter to me. I kick one of the couches hard, and the curtains hold themselves like a trembling pair of hands. Yeah, how do you think I feel. 

        Before I’m gone, I let her little cat out. It wasn’t no Mabel, but I’m sure she still plucked the poor thing for a clump of hair every few potions and passed it off as premature balding. Run free, little thing, I wanna say, but it’s a cat. A cat who hightailed it straight under Mrs.’s porch. Leading a horse to water and whatever the hell. 

        I must blend in with her new team of minions. She notices me standing idle in the middle of the yard, not breaking my back like the rest of em to please her. 

        “Riddle! Hell you been?”


Tori Ingram

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