“Why did we have to open so early today? We usually open at nine! Whose idea was it to offer an early bird hour before that, for dealers only?” I grumbled to myself, rolling out of bed and hitting the tiny bathroom in my Class C recreational vehicle. My cat, Bob, a tuxedo feline of the extra rotund variety, chirped his sympathies. I noticed he didn’t move from his spot on the pillow next to mine.
I rushed through my morning ablutions, grabbing the last piece of breakfast quiche in my equally tiny refrigerator, wolfing it down with a cup of tepid coffee—I definitely needed a new coffee machine. Then added more kibble to Bob’s dish.
Some people enjoy the stability of living your life in the town where you were born. From birth onward, you live, work, play, learn, worship, raise a family, grow old and die in a community where you know your friends and neighbors. And family is close by, if not within walking distance.
I am not one of those people.
Don't get me wrong. When the holidays roll around, or I'm in the mood for my Aunt Morwena's famous chili, I'm OK with it. Or if I want to meet with cousins to catch up on family news, going back home to Mystic Valley, North Carolina, is just what I need.
For about two weeks.
Then I’m ready to hit the road, living the nomadic life.
I'm a loner and used to fight with my sister constantly because she was always my shadow. When I would have instead played a solitary game or read a book, she wanted to drag me outside to play with others. We are twins. Not identical, although people insisted we were because, quite frankly, we looked exactly alike. However, I am a flaming redhead, and Ellie was raven-haired.
My name is Maggie Isla Fortune. And Ellie? Ellie Skye Fortune. I was born first, a full ten minutes into the world before they managed to get Ellie out, and I never let her forget it. She forever played the little sister card and got most of the attention. I was OK with that because, yeah, I am not needy. She used to complain loudly any time I'd say that. Insisting she wasn't deprived of attention—just enthusiastic and outgoing, while I was a boring old fuddy-duddy.
I’m not quite sure where she picked up that oldie but goodie, but I can assure you, I am very much a fuddy-duddy.
Ellie was the life of the party, of that there was no doubt. She had so many friends, I used to run next door to Aunt Morwena's house to escape the noise they would create. But they usually found me and dragged me into their games with Ellie leading the charge. I'd protest, but in actuality, as long as she was in that crowd, I'd be fine.
Ellie told me once that if she only had me for company she'd go insane. I don't think insanity has set in yet, but talk about irony! If we flipped the situation, I'd be better suited to what our life is like now. Why?
Well, unfortunately, Ellie is dead.
I know. Whenever I think about it, I feel sad and guilty and wish I could fix everything back to the way it used to be. Trust me, Ellie agrees daily.
Oh! I’m not assuming this, as if she’s letting me know somehow from the great beyond. Ellie tells me in person, er, spirit, every day.
You see, Ellie is a ghost.
I am not too astounded by this because my entire family comes from an ancient line of powerful witches and mystics. Our reality is paranormal. Although no one in my family believed me when I first told them Ellie was still among the living—just in a floating transparent kind of way.
Yes, witches believe in ghosts, but few of us can see them—it’s a rare talent. I can sense them in objects or places, but until Ellie died, I never saw them. Now? All the time. My family doesn't want to hear this because only dark witches have that particular talent, and we don't have many in my family. And last I heard, nope, I’m not a dark witch. And while we don’t shun them, my family tends to mistrust them. So, I'm not sure why this has happened. Maybe it’s a twin thing.
I only know of one close to my age, my cousin, Lily Sweet. When we visited a few weeks back, Lily could not only see Ellie but could speak with her. You can imagine how stunned we were to realize someone else could interact with Ellie in her spooky state. I don't shun dark witches. I think they are fantastic!
“Bob! Leave that alone! It’s my last coffee filter.”
Bob, unhappy with his diet dry kibble, decided to play head games with me. He didn’t think I could see him pawing at the filter. Last week, he did the exact same thing and managed to swipe not only a filter but my Jeep keys into his water dish. He wants real food. Sighing, I tossed him the last of my quiche. Bob always wins.
“You’re lucky I’m not a dark witch. I’d turn you into a goldfish.”
Cousin Lily has been estranged from the family for a long time and only recently returned. She didn't even know she was a witch growing up! Can you imagine that? I can't conceive how it must have felt discovering to have magical ability so late. I was practically born doing magic, which is rare for our kind. Usually, most young witchlings come into their magical powers around puberty. Not me! My psychic talent manifested when I was three, and it freaked my mother out something awful. Can you imagine how difficult it was trying to raise a child who knew what you were thinking?
All the time?
My power intensifies if I touch something or someone.
Ellie can read auras and make suggestions—mind-bending if you will. She had a promising career going as an antique appraiser and used her talent to keep disgruntled customers from causing trouble. You have no idea how many people think their ten-dollar teacup is worth thousands. Ellie would have been running the family business with my dad by now had she not gotten murdered. Yes, murdered. Some evil monster killed my sister and his capture hasn't occurred yet. Another irony considering what I do for a living.
You see, I belong to a traveling group of paranormal monster-hunters posing as antique appraisers of the outré and unusual. Seriously. Even though we operate in a human world, any bizarre, mystical, or magical item that needs to be appraised, traded, auctioned, exorcised of evil, or destroyed if it’s a lost cause, winds up in our caravan of misfits. The Antiques and Mystic Uniques Caravan is my baby. Being part of this highly-classified group comes with many perks, especially when we keep up our quota. And trust me, we get the job done.
Last week, I found two ghosts living in the bottom of a dining room credenza and an imp inside a Barbie doll—something that happens more often than most people realize! Another time, a plethora of fairy-folk took over a lamp—they would light it up and shut it off at will, even with a burned-out lightbulb! I also dealt with a genie, of all things. No. He wasn’t in a lamp—he turned himself into a rocking chair and resided in a nursing home. He kept getting frisky any time a sweet old lady would sit down on him—he has a thing for younger women. What? He was over two thousand years old! We finally convinced him to move on or the Biodag would have come for him. They keep our paranormal world running smoothly among all the different Breed—supernatural beings.
The paranormal world has a central organization called The Order of Origin which makes all the laws and keeps the many different Breed, the term used to differentiate us from humans, from running amok. Based in Scotland, it is who the Biodag have to answer to. They are kind of like magical police officers. My group is part of the organization but a separate entity.
We hide in the open operating within my family's business of antiques. The Fortunes are world-renowned antique dealers and travel the globe buying, selling, and appraising the most priceless items. My group tags along with the leading auction house as a dealer of oddities, as I mentioned. When humans come to our tent, we appraise their hundred-year-old puppet or tarot card deck purported to be from the first Romanian gypsy troupe or what have you. But paranormals would seek us out for the magical and mystical artifacts—or to remove an entity from a desired object.
No one wants to bring a demon home hidden in an old truck or vase. Trust me, getting them out of your house can be a real pill.
Occasionally we made mistakes; hey, we were only human!.
OK, so even those in the Breed can mess up. I still cringe when I recall the time we inadvertently let an entire army of demented pixies out of their prison and into the world. No, they aren't imaginary beings ascribed to books. Let's just say it took us weeks to round them all up again, and we averted war.
They tend to go for shiny buttons, and who knew there really was one at the president's disposal. Ok, it’s not an actual button, but the pixies moved the hierarchy of command forward with a bit of their mischief. Thankfully, we nabbed the last one before all hell broke loose.
Yeah. I live in a world of freaks and I love it.
However, our primary purpose was to seek out the evil in every town we visited and dispose of them before they could wreak havoc on society. Or continue to, anyway. Loosely regarded as the CIA of the magical world, we operated in stealth since no one knew who we were. Supernatural beings were aware we existed, but I suspect they thought we showed up looking like the cast of Men in Black. They would hardly expect the oddball, ragtag group of merry mischief-makers to be monster-hunters. We appraised antiques for heaven’s sake!
And since our job was so dangerous, I kept my family at arm's reach. Dad knew that we were something more than just dealers, but he chose not to ask too many questions knowing his sister had it under control.
Aunt Morwena knows because she was the past leader—I took over when she retired. She recruited me the same year Ellie went into trade with my dad. Ellie, the outgoing one, preferred to be at the home base to stay close to family and friends and was the head of operations there. Had I not been in training, off on one of my distant travels, I might have been here when someone attacked Ellie. Aunt Morwena ordered me not to think such thoughts, but I still feel like I let Ellie down despite her arguing to the contrary.
Guilt made me a better undercover evil-hunting operative. Trust me. Someday I’d use what I’ve learned on the job to track down and nab the one who made her a ghost. We are a team of ten, with Ellie as our eleventh honorary member—it’s not like she has anything else to do.
I’m just glad my crew can see her. We are not sure why this is, but it makes things easy in my world not to have to explain why I speak to the air next to me and nod when it replies. I'm the only one who can hear her though. Ellie uses the talents she was born with as a witch, and it comes in handy when we need someone invisible to do reconnaissance for us. We hope to have her back in her corporeal form someday and would figure out what to do about losing our stealth weapon if and when that time comes.
“There you are! I thought I smelled coffee.”
Ellie came floating into the RV and hovered by the kitchen sink.
“You fed Bob something naughty again. I can tell. He has a look of supreme smugness on his furry face,” Ellie scolded.
“I can’t help it! I swear he’s part beagle with those sad eyes of his! I’m a bad cat mommy.”
“You’re not a bad mommy. You’re just a sucker. Bob has you wrapped around his tiny cat paw,” Ellie laughed.
“Yeah, well, that’s the only thing tiny about him!”
Bob was not amused and wandered into the kitchenette to hunt for crumbs then jumped up on the counter where he curled up in the sink, ready for a nap.
“I’m sorry. I polished off the quiche and needed more coffee. It’s going to be a long day and...”
“Sis,” Ellie stopped my rambling, “please stop. You know I can’t eat anything. Now I’m going to head over to our tent and wait for you there. But you need to stop letting that guilty look cross your face every time I mention food. Surely I’m not so petty as to complain when you eat or drink around me. It’s all good.”
No. It was not all good. Ellie deserved her life back and I wanted to be the one to give it to her. Why do I think I can bring her back? Because I’m a Fortune. And we always get what we want. Well, that, and the fact that Ellie isn’t technically one hundred percent dead. Instead, she’s housed back at the family compound.
Let me explain.
My family of Fortunes, Muirs, and Lupus is vast. Two sisters, Margaret and Moira Muir were both born in Scotland. Margaret married Reginald Croy, and Moira married Robert Fortune. Regie and Moira were our grandparents. The Croys had Iona, Jessica, and Adelaide and they are our Georgia cousins, along with Lily. The Fortunes had Morwena, our aunt, and William, our dad.
Dad is a man of the world. Well-traveled due to a bad case of wanderlust—hence our caravan of sorts—he grew the family business into an empire. Dad met and married our mother, Tassa Lupu, and had us. My mother was Romanian but born in Scotland. Her mother was half Romanian and half Scot. Both of her parents would go back and forth across Europe. They are Romani people—gypsies. Although some consider that title vulgar, we don’t and use the word often to describe our clan.
Mom embraced her Scot roots and gave us Gaelic names: Eilidh—Ellie, and Magaidh, or Maggie.
With our parents joining cultures, it was almost natural that we took up the gypsy lifestyle. Ellie and I are American. Our parents settled in North Carolina for a time and had us, then started getting that itch again. Our business became more mobile, and my dad got to travel the world once more. Our mom got to get away from her people, which caused trouble when she moved to North Carolina. We don’t know much about our Romanian side, except both of mom’s parents died young. And she ran off with my dad partially because she fell in love with him, but also to escape her Lupu family—apparently, not a nice bunch. Mom never spoke about them.
We lost our mom five years ago to cancer.
Most of the Fortune side of the family has psychic ability and are witches. I have photoscopic tendencies, as did Ellie. We can touch items and know much about them by holding them, like provenance and past ownership. We also have retrocognitive abilities—I can hold onto an object and be thrust back in time, seeing the people and places involved with the piece I am holding. I tend to walk around wearing gloves so I could remain here in the present. You can imagine how sought out I am in our paranormal antique world. My witchy abilities are strong, and I can hold my own, though I rarely like to use magic.
One day this item showed up. We don’t know who brought it, but he left a note with instructions for us to find the piece’s provenance and left a large chunk of gold as payment. We suspected he was Romanian because they usually deal in gold or jewels and not cash. It was a small statue of a crouching wolf.
The minute Ellie touched it she knew very dark magic was at play. She saw a man holding the statue in one hand and using a sword to stab another through the heart, effectively murdering him—then running off with the piece. She could only describe the man who died because it was as if she was seeing through the eyes of the murderer. When the man came to pick up the little wolf statue, he remained in shadows, disguising himself and making my father suspicious. My dad, convinced he was with the murderer, threatened to call the Biodag, so the man ran off, never to be seen again.
We thought everything would be fine, but one day Ellie was alone at our home base in Mystic Valley, and the man returned. He found Ellie by herself and grabbed her, demanding the return of the statue. We are unsure of what Breed we were dealing with, but he drained Ellie of her powers. When she refused to help and threatened to scream, he slammed horribly vile dark magic into her. When we came back from our outing, we found her dead, and the statue gone.
Well, I say dead because Ellie had no pulse, no beating heart, and was for all intents and purposes dead. But her body would not decompose! It remained as if in a trancelike state—like a coma. She looked like a lifeless, beautiful doll. My family didn’t know what to make of this. They feared burying her in case this was some kind of weird magic that could be reversed. So they encased Ellie in a glass coffin, like Snow White, where she remains to this day. Safely tucked at our home base with guardians watching over her. Indeed, my Aunt Morwena barely ever leaves her home and guards the basement door like Cerberus guarding the entrance to the underworld.
About four weeks after Ellie ‘passed,’ she showed up in ghost form and nearly scared me out of my skin. There you have it. With most of my family refusing to believe my ability to see and hear Ellie, we just got back to our way of life.
However, we’re on a mission, my entire crew that is, to find the man that did this and bring him to justice. Maybe it will release the hold he has on Ellie’s spirit so she can move on to her next life, or perhaps come back to life again. We scour the earth hoping to find someone wise in our world who may know what kind of dark magic consumes her.
Lily promised to ask her great-grandmother, Adriana—on her father’s side of the family, to see if she had possible answers. But they are dealing with their own family drama, which leaves little time for ours. Hopefully, Lily will clear up her mess so she can help us.
We shall see.
Right now, I was hoping for one more cup of joe before starting my day. With Ellie whisking away, leaving me to my thoughts, I knew I had to get a move on, or I’d be late. I filled my carafe and went to grab a muffin that I’d hidden in the cabinet knowing I’d shove it in my face the second Ellie was gone. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the door of my RV crashed open, startling me out of my reverie.
Bob just opened one eye then rolled over.
“Are you going to spend the morning daydreaming? Or will you help us set up the tents? We open soon, you know.”
Ah! Nathara. Lovely. Unlike my cousin, Lily. Nathara was a dark witch that I did not find fascinating. As a matter of fact, I disliked her so much I would prefer to punch her in the nose. Daily. The last thing I needed was for her to mess with me first thing in the morning.
“I was communing with nature and centering myself, as you well know. I need to do this before handling so many items, or I will go mad.”
“All I see is someone staring into a cup of coffee. But if that’s what you call centering. Plus, you are already mental, so what other excuse will you use?”
Grr. Did I mention I dislike Nathara?