Witch' s Mystic Woods: A Coon Hollow Coven Tale
Chapter One: Lockwoods' Antiques & Collectibles
Larena thumbed through the stack of Monday’s mail and selected one curious letter. Hmm, addressed to Irene Lockwood, return address from Hasselwell Law Office. A lawyer?
Still squinting at the envelope, she stomped a light coating of snow from her boots and creaked open the back door of the farmhouse. In the kitchen, she tossed the rest of the mail onto the old butcher block table, which pretended to be under stress with a customary groan. She gave it a loving pat and examined the letter.
Larena used a nickname instead of her given name. Addressed to Irene, the mail could belong to either her or her mother. Normally, she’d listen for a clue from the paper to decide. She strained to hear even a choked whisper from the tortured pine pulp, but too much chemical processing had left the envelope mute.
Larena slit the flap with her finger, and a whoosh swept her honey-colored braid behind her shoulder. Obviously drafted on better grade paper, the letter inside spoke to her. She had no further doubt. Although the correspondence was addressed to her mother, the writer intended the content for her and her older brother Emery.
She set the letter down a moment and poured herself some coffee. With the cup’s delicate handle in one hand, Larena used her other hand to hold up the letter, then gasped.
Some of the coffee splattered. Oh, damn. Larena set down the cup and swept a cloth off the counter to wipe the small splashes on the floor. Did she read that letter right? When finished, she picked up the paper again and read more carefully, eyes bulging.
“The Kilfoyle Corporation wishes to purchase the entire five acres of the Lockwoods’ land for the sum of $500,000…”
Why in the world would Clement Kilfoyle’s estate want to purchase all of our property?
She sat down on a stool next to the butcher-block table to digest the news. Larena never expected to receive a letter from the Michael Hasselwell law firm in response to the sympathy card she sent two weeks ago after Clem’s passing.
The Kilfoyle farm sat adjacent to the Lockwood home and antique shop in a narrow valley of Coon Hollow. Clement survived his wife by more than a decade, and the couple had been childless. He kept to himself, and so did the Lockwood witches. The line between their properties marked the boundary of Coon Hollow Coven.
She huffed her breath out and considered what that much money could do. During the six years after Dad passed and her brother’s move to New Hampshire right after, she and Mom struggled with the antique store. And now, it barely chugged along since Mom’s memory loss had progressed to advanced dementia.
Larena ran the shop, attended auctions, refinished antiques, balanced the books, and kept the house, all by herself. She barely made ends meet while eking out the token fee for Betty, a neighboring witch from down the road, who watched Mom during work hours. At twenty-six, how did I become so burdened with responsibility—the store, Mom, and her illness? But fate had heaped all of it upon her, and she loved her Mom. With shaking hands, she clutched the page as if it were a guaranteed winning lottery ticket.
Her mother coughed from the dining room, which served as her make-shift bedroom since stairs had become insurmountable nine months ago.
Before attending to Mom, Larena skimmed the rest of the letter. She halted on the words “eminent domain,” and backed up to read, “If this offer is not accepted, upon death of the last-named person on the present deed, Irene May Lockwood, wife surviving Louie Lockwood, the Kilfoyle Corporation shall invoke eminent domain and take the Lockwood property to exercise functions of public character.” Larena’s eyes jumped across the words, unable to comprehend. She looked away to steady herself before returning to the letter. “At that time, payment of the above-mentioned compensation will be made to her heirs.” She scrunched her brows which elicited a stab of pain across her forehead. What? Does this mean I have no choice? Where will I go?
The rustling in the other room grew louder, so Larena went to help. “Are you ready to go out to the parlor and wait for Betty?”
Her mother looked up blankly from where her dwindled body had been settled into her wheelchair. Mom’s feeble hand held up a jingling set of old keys. She held onto them all the time, giving her a sense of comfort and security like a child with her teddy bear. “Ready. Ready for Betty. Are you Betty? Ready,” her mother stammered in a sing-song tone.
Larena maneuvered the chair to the bay window in the other room. She locked the wheels to keep it stable in case Mom tried to stand, then returned her attention to the intrusive legal notice.
Her mother’s gaze moved from the birds at the feeder outside to the letter. She strained toward it, her hand trembling as much as Larena’s. “What’s that? What you got?”
“Just a bill.” Unable to reread without distraction, Larena tucked the page into her purse, then placed it on top of the china cabinet out of her mom’s reach. The cupboard let out a crackling moan, as if it understood the content. She eyed the cherry piece, desperate to ask what additional meaning it might have grasped but afraid to worry her mother. Both that and studying the letter would have to wait.
Mom absently slurred Larena’s words like a mantra, “Just a bill. Yes. Just a bill. Just a bill.”
Larena checked her watch and kissed her mother’s soft, pale cheek. “It’s almost eight-thirty. Betty will be here soon. You can work on that new puzzle together. Won’t that be fun? Betty’s great with puzzles.”
Mom’s eyes sparked with a sudden glimmer of recognition, and Larena wondered if she had triggered a memory that opened her mom’s mind. Oh, how she wished for a key to unlock her mother’s entombed thoughts. She missed the mom she could depend on. She missed when they laughed together. Their roles were now reversed. Larena needed to be the mother, instead of the daughter. Larena’s brother helped very little with the medical bills. She felt like they were on a deserted island, abandoned and alone.
She shoved aside her own needs and met her mother’s gaze to encourage and appreciate whatever lucidity hid behind those aging pale blue eyes.
Mom mumbled, “Bein’ great don’t matter. Bein’ willin’ does.” She pressed her gray head against the windowpane. Her warm breath collecting on the cold glass seemed to startle her. She let out a grunt and experimented with the process, blowing new clouded spots.
Betty’s long, brown sedan pulled into the driveway that served both house and shop. Her car’s white-walled tires crunched on the ice-dusted gravel. She turned under the tree with the feeder. The engine purred, then cut without sputtering like Larena’s old delivery truck.
The Coven Council’s regulations to keep a 1930’s lifestyle in Coon Hollow felt like wearing shackles. Larena owned a nice Econoline van, which she used for distant trips to estate sales. But within the coven, she had to drive a lousy 1935 Box-Truck, which always needed repairs. The Coven feared their witchcraft might change if they went modern, but all it did for Larena was cost her money.
The Council ruling didn’t matter so much with her clothing since she liked to sew and knit, adding magic she’d inherited from her mother. Larena’s creations suited her own taste, which pushed the limits of acceptance but still wasn’t modern—her own unique style. As the only family of witches in the coven capable of calling up the magic in wood, a tree mystic or forest sage, she’d always been comfortable standing out from the crowd. Dad had taught her to be proud of her heritage, as well as how to turn a buck with the rare ability he’d passed to Larena. At least the odd Council requirement did bring a steady stream of customers to their shop. It was often filled with witches who needed approved antique home furnishings charmed with ways to bring luck, good fortune, health, new babies, marriage, and whatever else a person desired.
Larena patted her mother’s arm, then gathered her purse and moved into the mudroom, where she tossed on a heavy hand-knit sweater from the bench. She met Betty at the back door and held it open. “Mom’s eager to do that jigsaw puzzle with you.”
“Mornin’. Glad to hear she’s chipper today,” the chunky woman huffed, out of breath from the short walk and steep steps. In her mid-sixties without family nearby and kept close to home by high blood pressure, Betty appreciated the company while looking after Irene. And Larena appreciated Betty’s patience. It took a lot of both to deal with Mom sometimes.
“If the shop’s quiet at dinner hour, I’ll come back and eat with you all. Don’t count on it, though. We’re getting nearer Christmas, and there’ll likely be customers, even on a Monday night. At least I hope so, anyway.”
Betty swiped a chin-length strand of iron gray from her face. “Gimme a call, an’ I’ll have a plate ready for you if you have to stay at the store.” She pulled off her horn-rimmed glasses and frowned at the lenses fogged with condensing warm inside air, then squinted at Larena. “Oh, did you hear that Sibeal Soot and Tyne Tynker won the two Council seats in Saturday’s election?”
“No, I hadn’t. I heard talk about Sibeal and wondered.”
Betty’s thin silver brows arched. “I did, too. Not sure what to make of it. Sibeal’s always been an odd bird and not one to like being on the sidelines, ’specially since her best friend Adara Tabard vanished.”
“Things sure have changed fast since Logan took the job of high priest away from Adara—all for the better. Was the Council vote close?”
“It was; Sibeal won by only two percent. Tyne was an easy win.”
Larena nodded and called toward the parlor, “Bye, Mom.” After waiting for the weak but cherished goodbye, Larena headed along the cracked sidewalk toward the shop. On the driveway, she paused to look back at the bay window and waved, already missing what was left of Mom. Larena hoped no more would be lost to the dreaded illness during this extra-long work day.
Although Mom liked Betty, weekends were hard, extended weekends harder. Stress from changing their routine made her worse. Larena shivered but not from the cold. This first weekend of December had begun a new store schedule. She kept late night hours Friday and Monday, in addition to longer hours on Saturdays and Sundays, to catch more of the Christmas trade. This time of year, tourists by the thousands visited the numerous artists’ galleries in nearby Bentbone. With that village only a half-mile away, Lockwoods’ Antiques & Collectibles took in its fair share. On these evenings, she closed at nine, too late to have dinner with Mom or see her to bed. Larena sighed. She’d give anything to be able to close up early and be with her, but that wouldn’t pay the bills. Now with the new Christmas hours, the house would be dark and quiet when she returned home.
During early stages of the illness, Larena seldom slept since Mom roamed the house at all hours encountering newly forgotten and potentially dangerous objects. Now she slept long, in a fitful daze, unless fully roused by nightmares, leaving Larena alone and lonely, almost missing the miserable chaos of Mom’s early dementia. Lately, most nights Larena welcomed setting an alarm to check on Mom, helping her to the bathroom, or even cleaning up any accidents. If not for those times and the limited bits of communication with the wooden furniture that’d known Larena since she was a child, she might go crazy.
A car turned into the drive. A potential customer. But Larena couldn’t tear herself away from looking back at Mom in the farmhouse bay window. She seldom registered Larena by name, although an unspoken warmth still seemed connect them. Larena lived for glimpses of that bond.
Betty appeared in the window and wrapped an arm around Mom’s shoulder. They both waved, Mom following Betty’s lead. Warmth surged through the void in Larena’s heart. Betty’s kindness meant a lot.
Larena turned and scurried the hundred feet to the shop’s door. Keys in hand, she nodded to the driver, now parked in the store lot. The fancy black Studebaker, with its chrome polished to a high shine, belonged to Sibeal Soot, one of the two coven seers and newly elected Coven Council member. She had money, and Larena hoped this visit would score a big sale.
She’d voted for Sibeal in the Council election. After Larena cast her ballot, she heard a group of women in a heated discussion outside the Council meeting building. Some claimed Sibeal had threatened a new healer, Grammy Flora’s granddaughter, by killing her cat. Another woman scoffed and said that the girl didn’t know her magic and probably poisoned the cat by accident. Larena needed to get back to her shop that day and couldn’t stay long, but the conversation stuck with her. Now facing Sibeal on her doorstep, Larena felt at a disadvantage. Shame on me for not informing myself about the candidates.
Sibeal Soot stepped out, her thin lips crinkled into a twisted smile. She wore a long black knit skirt that pouched at her belly, even past a good attempt at camouflage with a tailored black wool jacket. Sibeal’s trademark white rounded Peter Pan collar highlighted her strange, off-kilter head. It was much narrower from ear to ear than front to back, and her pointed nose thrust forward from close-set beady eyes. Only her hair, uncontrollable salt and pepper curls that slipped from her bun, offered any softness. Why Sibeal dressed to draw attention to her face, Larena didn’t know. Maybe the woman prided herself on her uniqueness, something Larena admired.
“Hi, Ms. Soot. What can I do for you today?” Larena asked, her voice bright.
“Hi, Larena. I’m here on official Coven Council business. You do know that I’m now on the Council?” the seer rasped with a high-pitched nasal voice. Her dark eyes flashed across Larena, but she continued without waiting for her to answer. “We have a new public attraction in the works, a new shoppin’ area that’ll boost revenue for the coven.”
“How’s that different than the coven’s Saturday market?” Larena stood straighter. This new opportunity might give her another way to earn money.
“For one thing, it needs to be closer to Bentbone to bring in more of the tourist trade.” Sibeal blew on her hands and rubbed them together.
Larena unlocked the heavy planked door, pulled it open a foot, and looked back to invite the seer in from the cold.
But before Larena could offer, Sibeal blurted, “And I’m thinkin’ your property’s best suited—what with its location so close to town. And it’s a large building, old with plenty of charm, that can be divided into small booth stores.”
“What?” Larena’s jaw dropped and she let the door shut. The bells that hung on the inside jangled like the thoughts in her mind. “You intend to lease stores inside my shop?”
Sibeal’s mouth curled at the corners. “The Kilfoyle Corporation’s law firm said they’d contacted you and asked me to help smooth over the transition.”
“What transition?” Larena’s voice wavered. “I don’t want any part of this. It’s my family’s land, our store. You can’t take it.”
The seer pursed her lips and shook her head. “Of course, you’ll be able to keep your business.”
Larena planted her back against the door, as if to protect the building. “I’m not selling.”
“Accordin’ to the lawyers, you don’t have a say. Your mama’s in charge.”
“I haven’t heard anything about this from High Priest Logan.”
Sibeal wrinkled her long nose. “If you’re wantin’ to keep your business here on the property, I can arrange to have a favorable lease drawn up. But that’s only if you don’t fight the eminent domain, which I wouldn’t do.” Several strands of hair crackled with static electricity as they worked loose from her bun. Her eyes narrowed and bored into Larena. “Them lawyers mean business. And so do I. They have an eye for what’s right for the coven. I’m glad to have their guidance. There’s big things I can help this coven achieve.”
Larena stared at Sibeal, dumbfounded. Though she didn’t want to believe, it seemed clear the old witch was using her new position on the Council for her own advantage. Larena had respected this woman. As an Earth witch, Larena didn’t possess half the skills of Sibeal, a learned woman from a wealthy family. Larena envied them; she didn’t have their advantages. Although she did have her dad and uncles, now all gone, who taught her the magic of listening and communicating with trees and their wood. All she had was her family. That was slipping away. She needed this five acres of their magic and memories and didn’t care about what was right for the coven. Very few had stepped up to help Larena cope.
What Mom had said a few minutes ago shot through Larena’s mind. A shortened, twisted version of one of the mottos her mother always followed. Life’s not about whether you’ve stood near the great, but whether you’ve sat with the broken.
Larena flattened her palms to the door, the dense oak solid at her back and silently asked it, “Will you stand with me?”
“Till the end,” the door answered with a creak that shuddered along the front wall of the barn-like building.
“I won’t sell,” Larena declared, head high.
“Best you change your mind soon…or you’ll lose this property and plenty more,” Sibeal hurled the words one at a time at Larena’s face. The seer paused, her pulled-down nose almost touching her creased lips. She huffed and stomped to her car.
Larena clutched her keys to her chest and watched the sleek sedan glide away. She wouldn’t stand with people who called themselves great, and like hell she wasn’t going to be broken. She owed her parents, who’d worked hard building this business, more than that. Selling it now might destroy what little remained of her mother.
© Copyright 2017 Marsha A. Moore. All rights reserved.