“I hate you! You stupid, dumb, plant…argh!”
Never underestimate the tenacity of the kudzu vine. The doggedness of this invasive species of plant from Japan, introduced to the United States in the late eighteen-hundreds, is legendary. Some joker convinced Southern farmers at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia that using this vine as a preventative measure to soil erosion, and as a food source for their animals, would be a stellar idea. It was a bad idea…a very, unbelievably bad idea.
“I can’t believe I am going to be bested by a lousy weed that grows a foot a day. This is ridiculous! How is anyone supposed to win against this beast? I saw a large mound at the end of my street that I assumed was solid earth, but Donald Murray informed me it was Mr. Peterson’s old shed. The vines ate it!”
Lorcan Reid, my friend, and landlord – he’s letting me use an empty warehouse he owns next door to his mechanic shop for my art studio - just stood there laughing at me. He wasn’t doing it out loud, mind you, his back was turned away from me, but I could see his mirth in the way his shoulders were shaking. That, and the fact that I noticed redness creeping up his neck to his ears as he struggled to hold it all in.
“It’s not funny!”
I stomped my foot for emphasis, which was just too much for him to take, I guessed, because he guffawed, bending over, hands on his knees from the effort. I was not joining him in his merriment. Wheezing in between replying to me, Lorcan managed to straighten up, but not stop the flow of happy tears from running down his face.
“That explains what happened to old Mr. Peterson, then.” He barked out another laugh, trying to contain himself.
This was getting old.
“Oh, please! Nice try, mister. He moved to Boca Raton to be with his daughter and grandkids. Stop trying to trick me. I know better than falling for your shenanigans even though I’ve barely been here for two months.”
Turning away from Lorcan, I sniffed, insulted, and let him know it by making a “hmph” sound, then trudged over to my worktable to try a more significant sized lopper. Dennis Carter, over at the hardware store, told me it was the biggest one they carried. I suspected he was only saying this to try and prevent my early demise. You see, I had already managed to drop the smaller one I owned on my noggin. It narrowly missed snipping my nose off in the process. However, it did give me a fat lip, and I spent a week looking like Billy Idol sneering into the camera in one of his videos from the eighties.
“Why don’t you wait until this weekend, and I can round up a few guys to help me tackle it for you? You are so stubborn.”
I know he means well, but I have been patiently waiting for him and his buddies to do just that for two weeks now, ever since I told him I’d rent the place on the day he surprised me with his offer. Lorcan Reid, an exceptional mechanic and all-around nice guy, brought me here while still recuperating from a nasty incident that laid me out in the hospital for a couple of days a few weeks ago. I barely managed to survive with my life, having tussled with a psychotic woman and her deranged son. The son I managed to zap to Kingdom Come, but his mom walloped me on the back of my head, hog-tied me and if it wasn’t for my great-grandmother using her witchy powers and a church lady friend bearing a shotgun, I might not be here telling my tale right now.
Oh, yes, the witchy stuff. My name is Lily Sweet, and I am a witch.
Yeah, go figure.
I had no clue they existed either until I moved to Sweet Briar, Georgia. I was born in Sweet Briar but have recently returned. I had no prior knowledge of this town or its residents, many of whom are witches…and related to me in one way or another. I spent the better part of my life in the Catskill area of New York State, thinking I was a regular old human. Long story short, my mother was in hiding, trying to keep me safe from what she perceived as crazed witches trying to get at me for my dark magic abilities. It was the machinations of the very woman we managed to best a few weeks ago.
Donna Fredricks is now living in the witch prison our Council has tucked away in some unknown location, and may she rot there. The Council is the head organization for all things witchy in our world.
Yes, I killed her son defending my life. No, I do not regret it. It has taken me up to this point to accept that there are bad people out there, and it was my job to remove them when and if they crossed my path. My great-grandmother Adriana, herself a powerful witch, put it to me this way: “Either be what you were meant to be, Karma in witch form or try to deny it and have some crazed, evil whack job like Donna find you in a dark alley someday and make you a victim.” She has a unique way with words, my granny. She also may very well be in her hundredth year, so those words do come with a certain amount of hubris attached to them.
I grew up not knowing I was a witch, or that I was born in Georgia for that matter and had a massive Scot-Irish and Italian family waiting for me here. It had forever been just me and my mother Jessica Croy Sweet against the rest of the world until all that changed upon her death from cancer this past summer. She left me a package of information via her attorney that started me on a journey of discovery, which resulted in my permanent move down south. It left me no choice but to embrace all things witch.
As for the dark witch moniker, I had no idea I was that either. And let me stop right here and mention that this does not mean I am evil…although I can be quite wicked when the occasion calls for it. Basically, I am genuinely a nice person but don’t come at me with your evil plans for world domination, you might find yourself six feet under. Especially if your schemes involve hurting the defenseless, causing my Karma button to ignite in justifiable righteousness. I get cranky around evil asshats.
For most of my life, I had my magical abilities blocked by enchanted earrings, which impeded my powers and hid me from detection by others of my kind. It sounds surreal, I know, but I kid you not. That all changed once I removed the earrings I had donned since about three years old and put on an ancient familial ring that channeled the magic of hundreds of my predecessors through me. You can imagine how surprised I was when blue sparks started shooting out of my fingertips, allowing me to obliterate anyone who ticked me off.
I even managed to levitate my great grandmother and pull her towards me in our very first witch lesson a few weeks ago, although we haven’t had time to dedicate more to my learning how to control these powers. I haven’t been able to do anything remotely like that since. I did all of this with one magical ring on…I haven’t even tried putting on any of the other ancient pieces of jewelry mom left me. I wondered if I would morph into this super powerful dark witch to be reckoned with when and if I did.
Lorcan should worry more.
“I can’t wait that long! I want to enjoy this warehouse with those lousy vines gone, allowing the sunlight to shine in the windows again. The light is going to be fantastic. I just know it. And if we wait any longer, autumn will turn into winter, and then spring will arrive, and I suspect the humidity will start cranking up way early in this state. I almost melted when I arrived here in September! I want to be all set up and running before that weather comes around again!”
One hundred and twenty degrees in the Mojave Desert was no match for seventy degrees in Georgia with ninety-five percent humidity, trust me.
“Ok, let me see if I can call the cavalry and get the gang here first thing in the morning, please? I don’t want you getting hurt, since we just got you all healed up. The cleric witches over at the hospital are probably sick of your whining anyway.”
I threw a roll of paper towels at him. They bonked off his head then rolled off, leaving a bountiful trail behind. He just snickered again.
“As for hot and humid. Remind me to take you to Nichols Pond up on the border between Georgia and North Carolina this summer. It’s a tranquil place, and the water is always cold and refreshing. Huge flat rocks surround the pond on one end, great for jumping off into the turquoise water. It’s rumored to be bottomless. The other end is just about level to the ground and makes for easy wading in. Of course, there is the curse of the Grey Lady to consider…not to mention the glowing lights. That may stop you from wanting to jump in and have a swim.”
I peered up at Lorcan, skeptically, refusing to take the bait, but then his next words chilled me to the bone and had me agreeing that I might just pass on a dip in those waters, despite being a dark witch.
“My grandfather, Malcolm, went there to test its merit as a possible fishing hole and swore he saw a woman’s body floating just under the surface, all bluish-grey. When he got to the edge to see if he could reach her to determine if she was beyond help, she opened her eyes and bared a sharp set of teeth at him then sunk into its murky blue depths. He never went back there again, and won’t speak of it, no matter how much we begged him.
“As for the lights? Well, you need to go see for yourself. There is an otherworldly luminosity that sometimes comes up from the depths giving the place an eerie glow. Some people insist its quartz crystals under the water reflecting the light above, others insist its fairy magic and caution all to stay away from the place. It doesn't stop the teens from hanging out, getting up to what the youth of the world are forever getting up to, but not too many folks are caught skinny-dipping there if you know what I mean."
Oh, I knew what he meant, but I suddenly couldn’t find my voice, because I was now picturing Lorcan, naked, getting ready to dive into the cold waters of Nichols Pond, and any words I might have uttered got stuck in my throat.
What was that all about?
Later that day, I walked back to June’s Emporium, the store named after the proprietress and my mom’s best friend back before we ran away, and I felt my tummy grumbling.
The Carter’s, June and her husband Dennis; he of the hardware store I mentioned, which was just next door, lived above that building, while I lived above the Emporium in an apartment I rented from them. Their son Jake was one of the first residents I met in Sweet Briar. He is a defense attorney for our town and drives a Mercedes. Yeah, I know. He’s also a sandy-haired hunk that knows he looks good in Armani suits and cufflinks. He no longer lives with mom and dad, having a place just around the corner from his practice.
I’m staying with the Carter’s until I figured out what I wanted to do to the house that belonged to my parents, which I inherited. My idea was to get my place of business up and running first and see if my art started selling before I took on any expensive renovations. The house could wait…really. That’s what I kept telling myself, anyway.
My art wasn’t for everyone. Basically, I would go around finding other people’s junk. From salvage yard oddities, remnant pieces from renovation shops, yard sales, industrial sites, and their ilk, to items found tossed on the side of the road; all were part of my hunting grounds. I would find stuff I thought I could turn into interesting art pieces, some to stare at and enjoy, others that had a purpose, like windchimes or whirligigs.
I had an affinity for all things Disney, and Tinkerbell was one of my favorite characters. Therefore, between what I did and my love of the feisty little fairy, I decided to name my shop Found Things. Lorcan was the only one, so far, to get the reference to Tink. Thinking about him now, I knew I would have to drill him further on this glowing lights and Grey Lady thing lurking in that pond. That was too hair-raising a story to just let go without further probing. It certainly creeped me out, which made me return to the other item on my mind.
If I was being honest with myself, and I’m not, I was suddenly afraid of what more I might find at my home. Therefore, I conveniently became too busy with the warehouse to “worry” about taking on the renovations…or move in ahead of them. I still hadn’t found any further instructions that my mom supposedly left for me. She wrote in her final papers that I would find such articles in my new home.
No discoveries, no further instruction.
Unless…well…I did find a small wooden box that had a dagger, a cat collar and a note with a map drawn on the opposite side of it. After my initial excitement over finding these objects inside the box, I became apprehensive and cautious. You see, I cannot explain how my mother, who hardly left my side my entire life, managed to hide these effects in the house, let alone leave said items for me to discover. How did she manage this? Who did she work with as her accomplice? Because there was no way she could have left me for a long trip to get down here…and that means she did not act alone. Someone in this town had to have helped her. If I knew them, this suggested they were lying to me and everyone here, and I needed to figure out why.
Then there is the note I found, asking me to help find him or her. Who wrote it? And why did I feel such a sad longing to aid whomever this person was? I studied that map until my eyes bled but didn’t know what it meant. As for the other items…was that a cat collar, and why leave it for me? And the map and dagger? Let’s just say I chose to ignore that element more than everything else, particularly upon closer inspection of the blade. I surmised it had what appeared to be dried blood on it. And yeah…no thanks…I just finished being laid out at the hospital, I needed time to heal and ruminate a bit. I did mention the map in a roundabout way to my Aunt Iona, trying to ascertain if there were any family stories of missing treasure or hidden documents that a map would be needed to find. I realized too late that my cousin Douglas was in the next room and blushed furiously as he howled in incredulity at my query.
Aunt Iona assured me, albeit gently, and with the good grace not to laugh in my face, that no, there was most definitely no tales of treasure lost to be found in this family. When they questioned why I asked, I made up a trifling account about how my mother used to say there were abundant places of magic to discover where she was born…then would clam up when I asked for more clarity on the matter. My aunt assumed it was a way for Jessica, my mom, to tell me about our witchy ways without genuinely telling me anything. I never hinted I’d found any such objects to anyone again. Especially when I saw the glint of interest behind the jocularity in cousin Douglas’ eyes!
My stomach complained once more, loudly, so I glanced over at Joe’s Diner, which was quickly becoming my favorite place in the entire world for a tasty gourmet meal. Don’t let the word diner fool you. Joe Brooks, owner and chef extraordinaire, made dishes so incredible from his own recipes that any fancy restaurant in Atlanta would kill to have him as their head chef. Joe wanted nothing to do with working for anyone but himself. Which was good for him…and great for our town.
Changing direction, I walked over and opened the door, the smells coming from inside already making my mouth water. I wandered over to my favorite booth and noticed a new waitress, yet another college kid, taking the place of my nemesis, Donna. Yep. She worked at Joe’s by day and killed the town’s residents by night…well, not all of them, just the two. But it was two too many.
“Well, look who walked in Joe, looking for your meatloaf.”
Sheila Polk, the remaining waitress who used to work with Donna, gave me a big welcoming smile and handed me a menu. “Do I even need to give you one, or are you already resigned to having whatever Joe tells you is his best today?”
“I think you gave that away when you mentioned the meatloaf, no?”
Sheila nodded yes and asked if I wanted sweet tea with that. The south is known for the best and sweetest tea in the world, and just once, I’d love to shock everyone within earshot by asking for it unsweetened. I think the fallout from that would take months for me to recover from, so I told her yes and awaited my meal.
I had just finished scanning my phone to see if I had any messages, when Joe, himself, came out with two plates heaping with meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans, setting one in front of me, and the other on the opposite side of the table.
“Two? As much as I love your meatloaf, Joe, I don’t think I’d be able to get two plates inside my tummy…not for lack of trying. Why did you bring the second out for me?”
“Who said it was for you, kid?” Joe’s eyes were dancing in delight.
“Well, who is it for then?” I asked, smiling up at the good-humored chef that I had grown very fond of.
“It’s for me, squirt. Now quit talking and go get me a slice of blueberry pie for dessert, Joe; I’m starving!”
I turned my head towards the door just as my paternal great-grandmother, Adriana Dolce swept in. Don’t let the last name fool you. Her son, my grandfather, decided to change his family surname, Dolce, the Italian word for sweet, to our last name, hence my moniker.
My eyes bugged out, not because my granny was here and about to eat a giant plate of food washing it down with blueberry pie. No, I was rendered speechless, because she was dressed from head to toe in a pointy witch hat, spider-web cape, and black gown that went down to the ground just covering a pair of witchy boots.
Oh, this was going to be good.