Chapter 1 – Raising Hell

I take the last sip of my overpriced latte, tasting notes of creamy vanilla with just a hint of bitter espresso hiding at the bottom of the cup as I pull down the long driveway. This is the only place I can go where I don’t have to bring Desmond with me. The only place where I feel safe besides home with Lucas. Second homes with extended families are special like that.
Spanish moss filters through the sunlight, spotlighting the various wildflowers blooming among the palmetto bushes. Red petals dance on the soft breeze. Rainbows, created by the crystals and glass tucked into wards placed in the various trees surrounding the property, shimmer on the grass. The Belcans’ eyes and ears. One of the best home security systems a witch can create.
“Auntie Bell! Auntie Anniebel!” Seraphina repeats from the back seat, bouncing as she sees the house and her favorite two witches on their rocking chairs, waiting patiently for us to arrive.
“That’s right, sweetheart. Surprise! We’re spending the weekend with them,” I tell my happy little girl. She’s peering out the window, her eyes growing large, eager to have her aunts spoil her. She loves to spend time here and explore the woods. I told her if she behaved on the car ride, no kicking the seat, no whining, just sitting and watching her cartoons, that we’d go somewhere extra fun. One of those white lies you tell your kids so they behave even though you already planned everything. Maybe the right word is manipulation. Does it really matter if it works?
Loud thumps come from Shuck’s wagging tail hitting the car seat.
“Puppy tail, stop! Mommy, Shuck’s hitting me. Stop!”
“Calm down. You’re going to wake your brother. Shuck will stop once we park the car.” My pup has been so good the entire car ride. He now lets me know when he needs a bathroom break, which makes long car rides easier.
“Stop puppy! Stop puppy! Stop puppy!” Seraphina squeals.
I hear Malak make a fussing noise as he wakes up slowly, like he always does, pauses, then lets out a shrilling cry. He hates to be woken up. The kid loves to sleep, which is a blessing with how active Seraphina has become. But if his slumber is disturbed, oh boy, watch out. He’s going to be one angry baby.
Well, there goes our almost perfect car ride. I guess as a mother of two, this is as relaxing as a car ride can get. At least I got to finish my latte in peace.
“Calm down. We’re here. We’re about to get out of the car,” I tell both screaming children. Mal has crocodile tears and I swear Seraphina started crying to copy him. She still doesn’t one hundred percent like having a brother yet, and hates when he gets attention for crying. She competes with him for it and becomes a copycat when she thinks it will favor her. “Seraphina, there’s no reason for you to be crying. Stop. You’re a big girl.”
She also hates being told she’s a big girl. Last week, she screamed that she’s a baby too and demanded to have a diaper put on. I reminded her that when she saw Malak’s first dirty diaper, she potty trained herself on the spot. She tried telling me it wasn’t true, then started to scream until she passed out. When she woke up, she forgot why she’d had a hissy fit, even if she was still grumpy. That little girl is going to be a terror during every childhood stage, I know it.
The mother and daughter witches leave their rocking chairs and make their way to the driveway to help carry everything in. Since we visit so often, I keep some clothes, diapers, and other kid stuff in a spare closet. Makes packing for the trip much easier.
As soon as I turn off the car, Bell opens Seraphina’s door and unhooks Shuck’s car harness. He bolts out of the car to pee, explore, and sniff everything. It’s his three favorite hobbies. He loves this place too.
“Well, hello to you too,” Bell says to Shuck as he races across the wildflower lawn. “How was the ride? Hit any traffic?”
“Nope, and it was almost peaceful,” I tell her.
“Hello, handsome man,” Annabel coos as she opens the car door and scoops Malak out of his car seat. “You and your temper. Let me guess, someone woke you up?”
“Shuck hitting me!” Seraphina cries as Bell unstraps her from her seat.
“He was hitting you?” Bell asks, laughing. “I didn’t know he had hands.”
Seraphina looks up at Bell, questioning why she’s standing up for the dog who hit her, and puts on her best pout.
“Do you think Shuck was really hurting you? He’s your best friend.”
Seraphina frowns and crosses her arms. “Tail hit me.”
“Bell, you might as well stop now. You’re not going to win. She’s bound to be a lawyer. I’ve given up arguing. Now I just let her tire herself out.” I hope being a lawyer is as evil as she’ll become.
“That’s one way to do it,” Annabel says while rocking Malak back to sleep. He loves the swaying motion.
I grab my backpack and the kids’ stowaway bag and follow the Belcans into their house. “Shuck, come on. Inside!”
He comes running out from some trees looking panicked. I’ve only seen that look on my pup’s face once before. He runs as fast as his paws can go. Barging out from the tree line is a black bear, growling and chasing Shuck.
Bell picks up Seraphina, who has completely forgotten how angry she was at the dog, and starts crying. “Shuck! Run! Bad bear! No hurt puppy! Bad bear!”
Shuck practically gallops across the lawn and hops up the porch as we climb the steps. The bear stops its charge halfway across the yard, lets out one last growl, and retreats into the woods.
“Bad bear. Bad bear. Time out,” Seraphina says, trying to angle her head so she can continue to glare at the bear.
“I’m sure the bear felt threatened by Shuck, or maybe Shuck scared it. The bear was only defending itself,” I tell her.
“Bad bear.” Seraphina keeps repeating that while staring out at where the bear went. Once inside the house, Bell puts her down and Seraphina runs to Shuck and wraps her arms around his neck. “Good dog. I love Shuck.”
The dog’s tail swings a mile a minute at the attention and possibly because he’s still terrified of the angry bear encounter. Either way, his tail is smacking her and she couldn’t care less. His eyes are glued to me as Seraphina tightens her hold, continuing to praise him.
Annabel heads into the bedroom where the portable crib is already setup and puts Mal to bed. Hopefully, in an hour, he’ll wake up on his own to be fed before passing out again. The kid eats, sleeps, and poops. That’s it. He hates doing anything else. When I give him toys, within ten minutes, he’s back to sleep. Forget tummy time. He has no interest in baby food. If it’s not breastmilk, he’s not interested. Sometimes I think he’s easier than Seraphina, who is a handful, but then again, I hope I’m not messing him up by not forcing him to do more baby exercises and making him eat solid food. Seraphina hit each milestone faster and is still growing at twice the rate of a normal kid. Mal seems to be growing twice as slow. The only pediatrician I trust told me not to worry and Lucas keeps telling me to calm down and let him be a baby. I’ve been trying not to worry, but how can I not when I’m his mother?
“I have dinner cooking for us. Mister Merrill will be over soon. And I made something extra special for my picky eater,” Annabel teases Seraphina, who changes what she likes to eat by the hour. Yesterday she woke up liking apples with peanut butter, but by noon she said they were yucky and threw them at the wall. When I told her she had to clean them up, she decided they were bad, but she still cleaned up her mess, as best as a two-and-a-half-year-old can.
“Mister Merrill will be joining us?” I tease Annabel.
“Yes, he will. He was happy to hear you were coming for a visit and wanted to see the little ones. And you, of course.”
“Seraphina, do you want to help me make honey biscuits?” Bell asks.
“Yum honey!” she yells as she runs into the kitchen.
“I’d take that as a yes. She’ll probably want to sample the honey too,” I tell Bell as she hurries behind my toddler.
“I’m sure she’ll try.”
Annabel stares at her daughter as she leaves the room. She whispers, “One day, she’ll make a wonderful mama. One day.”
“She will.” It dawns on me that I still know nothing about Bell’s father. I go to ask, but Annabel cuts me off with a glare.
“I’m not ready to talk about him. Not to anyone,” Annabel says with clenched fists.
I nod and drop the subject. Either he hurt her deeply or his void is impossible to fill. When she’s ready, she’ll talk. Maybe, when she’s ready, she’ll talk to Mister Merrill. He’s a great listener and can keep a secret. Even though they have an unclassified relationship, they’re still something, and I’m happy that she’s able to find some type of happiness.
“So dear, tell me, how has your meditation been going? Have you been envisioning your pool of power to use?”
“About that… when I go into my mind and find my power, it isn’t a pool or lake. It feels like a bottomless ocean. That the power is infinite.”
Annabel listens, takes a moment, then asks, “What does it look like?”
“The magic ocean? Endless. Endless green-silver water that shimmers with what looks like black glitter or like an oil slick reflecting light, making it look like a rainbow. It’s beautiful and terrifying.” I tremble, thinking of the last time I meditated that deeply. “There might be something living in it.”
Annabel cocks her head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“I saw ripples and a splash, like something was swimming in it.”
“That’s… well, that’s unusual. But if it were normal, I might be alarmed—being you and all. I think you should take time before supper to meditate, revisit that ocean, and discover what else you can see. Remember, it’s in you and can’t hurt you.” She says it with such confidence that I want to believe I’m safe in my own mind, but from what I saw the last time, I’m uncertain.
“I’ll try. You’ll watch the kids? It might take a half hour to an hour to get to the ocean.”
“I got everything under control. You do some self-work,” Annabel says, walking into the kitchen, leaving me alone.
I grab my yoga mat from the car and set it up on the back porch overlooking the river, the swamp, and the small family graveyard on the hill. Reeds and other vegetation stick out from the swamp muck. Frogs and insects sing their love songs. Bees buzz in the distance, a constant background noise since Annabel is a beekeeper. Her bees make delicious wildflower honey. I believe it’s their main source of income. As I stretch out, my back, chest, and shoulders crack, making a cringeworthy chorus of body aches, but it feels good after a long car ride.
After a few minutes of listening to the tranquil sounds of the swamp, allowing nature’s melody to center my thoughts, I close my eyes and explore my inner mind. Yeah, it’s weird. But oddly enough, it works.
My mind resembles a farm my parents raised me on. It’s really a collaboration of a bunch of farms from my childhood. There are rows of marijuana plants, each plant a doorway into a bad memory. My blueberry patch, which is where all my happy childhood memories are stored, is in a small fenced-in area, separating them from the marijuana. The shed in the backyard is where I keep all my memories of Jim and our time together. Every once in a while, I visit them. As I watch the memories unfold and see the look in Jim’s eye as ogles me, I know in my heart that we were in love. At least at one point in time.
The house is where all my current memories are kept. My family—Lucas, our kids, Melisa, my parents, the Belcans, anyone who means something to me currently—has their own room in my small-on-the-outside, large-on-the-inside house. The paint and style change depending on my mood, but seeing it always fills me with a joy that’s hard to describe. An odd sense of inner peace I never knew I could feel.
My mind is pretty well organized, which honestly surprises me since I feel scattered most of the time. I walk past my memory house and its property, including the blueberries and weed plants, and continue down the path in the woods. I’ve never gone off the path in fear of what lurks in the dense forest. There appears to be cement-like structures hiding behind thick vines and trees, but I don’t know what’s back there and I have a bad feeling that whatever those structures are, they can’t be good if they’ve been buried by my own subconscious. Continuing down the worn-down path, the tree line ends abruptly before what looks like a lake at first glance, but then you realize there’s no shore at the other end. It looks like one of the Great Lakes, except there are no waves crashing onto the shore. The only time I’ve seen a break in that stillness was when I saw that mystery thing moving.
Most of the time, the liquid looks like a thin sheet of glass covering all the greens, silver, and glittery black swirls, combining and plummeting into its mysterious depths. I sit down in the sand, inches from the magic’s edge and watch it, waiting for more signs of life. The air feels stale. There’s no wind. No vegetation or wildlife to give off any odor.
In my mind, I don’t need to breathe; however, I like to do the motion. The first time I realized I wasn’t breathing here, I had a panic attack and thought I had died. Since then, I just remind myself to do the movement every once in a while, and it helps keep me relaxed. It’s a tip Annabel gave me.
One thing I’ve never dared to do is touch the magic liquid. I sit and watch, trying to understand it, but I can’t bring myself to touch it. I think that deep down, I’m afraid of its raw power. The power locked away inside me. If it’s this big, what am I capable of? If I unleash this power, what will it do to me? The thing I saw in the lake; will that come out of me or is that me, deep down inside? Why would I lock that part of me away? What don’t I know, and do I want to know it?
Late at night, this is all I think about. What I am and what I’m made of. A mortal who can command angels and give birth to the Antichrist. Part of me wants to sit down and talk to my grandparents and find out what exactly they wanted me to do, but the other part of me wants nothing to do with the psychopaths. At the end of the day, all I want is answers. Answers no one has or wants to give freely.
It feels like it’s been only five minutes, but I know from experience that it has well been close to an hour. Time moves differently here. Sometimes slowly; other times it races by. You can lose days in your mind: if you aren’t careful.
I see a distant splash and jump to my feet, squinting. A few seconds go by before I see something slick and inky launch out of the water and dive back down. It almost looked like a swordfish with a long sharp point at its nose. I take a step forward and stop with my foot in the air, hovering over the magic liquid. The being leaps one more time, and I swear it appears more human than animal. I think I saw arms and feet.
A pull on my arm sends me back to my body and I wake up to Seraphina tugging on me like a rag doll.
“I told you Mommy is meditating. You can tell her after—oh well, it looks like you can tell her now,” Bell says with her arms crossed. “Child, one day I’m going to teach you patience. If it’s the last thing I do.”
“What’s going on, honey?” I ask my child, who never seems to stop bouncing.
“Mister Merrill here! Flowers!” she cries, shoving them under my nose.
“Did Mister Merrill bring you flowers? Lucky girl.” I have a feeling they might have been for Annabel.
She nods and helps pull me to my feet. She’s strong. The sun is just starting to dip behind the trees. I must have been in my mind for well over an hour. We follow behind Bell into the house, where Mister Merrill sits at the kitchen table under a bundle of drying rosemary which is attached to the ceiling with twine. He gets up as soon as I see him, being the gentleman he is.
“Miss Eve, it’s a wonder to see you and the little ones.” He takes off his hat and puts it under his arm. Usually, by this point, his hat is off and hanging on the special nail by the door.
“Everything alright?” I ask.
“Ah, just a shame. On the way here, I came across a big, gorgeous bear. Poor thing must’ve just died ’cause its cubs were still hanging about. Odd; there was no sign of injury or disease. Its poor heart must’ve gave out.”
“Oh, that’s horrible. What will happen to the cubs? Are there any local animal rescues?” I ask.
Annabel puts away her cell phone. “I just spoke to a local group who will take the cubs and raise them until they’re ready to be reintroduced back into the wild.”
“That’s good,” I say, thinking of the bear from earlier. “Do you think it was the same bear who chased Shuck?”
“Could be,” Annabel says, looking at Seraphina in the living room. She is coloring a picture. “Guess we’ll never know.”

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