A Familiar Tale

"Hey Grateful, why are zombies entered under Wayward Magic instead of Supernaturals?" Absent-mindedly, Michelle leaned back from the computer monitor, hands cradling the base of her head.


"Because they're animated dead bodies," I explained to my friend. "The body itself is natural, as opposed to ghouls or fairies who were born and raised Supers." I flipped to the next page in the Book of Light, which featured an eavesdropping spell that enchanted a bee to listen in and relay information to the spell caster. Sigh. As if a vampire wouldn't be suspicious of a bumblebee persistently circling its head. Still, an earlier reincarnation of myself thought this spell was important enough to put in the daddy of all grimoires. My book of magic had been with me for multiple lifetimes; I needed to trust in its wisdom. With a tap of the return key, I started a new database entry.

Michelle lifted her cup of coffee from the desk and took a deep swig. "But what about vampires and shifters? They were human once? Why are they under Supernatural?"

I stopped typing and gave it some thought. I'd only been the Monk's Hill Witch for two months. Magic and supernatural monsters were new to me too, even if I was a Hecate, a.k.a sorceress of the dead.

"I think it's because with zombies, someone else is pulling the strings. Whoever animates them controls them. They're soulless, for lack of a better word. Vampires and shifters can make their own decisions-well, as long as it meshes with the orders of their coven or pack leader."

"Hmm. Who controls the ones you've imprisoned in the cemetery?" She stood and walked to the window overlooking my front yard. The glass still sported the Anderson Windows sticker from when Rick replaced it two months ago after the vampire, Marcus, shattered it escaping us.

"The zombies? They're possessed by a type of vaporous demon from the underworld. In my last life, I sentenced them to hell for possessing humans. Of course, the demons were expunged from the human bodies, so...ah...they possess corpses to come out at night. They can't come out of the underworld without one. The fresh air is toxic to them."


I didn't want to be a bitch or anything, but I wished she'd get back to work. I'd slayed Marcus, but Julius was still out there. As vamps went, Marcus was child's play compared to Julius. I'd only met the vamp once, but once was enough. Julius was ancient, insidious, and had a following. I suspected Julius had killed my last incarnation, and now was growing his free coven to dangerous sizes in hopes history would repeat itself. The spells in the Book of Light offered my best hope for protecting myself against Julius, and this database promised fast and easy access on the move. The book itself wasn't going anywhere. The tome weighed hundreds of pounds.

I truly appreciated Michelle volunteering to help me with data entry, but when she got like this, questioning, it really slowed us down. We'd only put in about four hours. I wanted to get another hundred entries done before sunset and all the responsibilities that came with it.

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Thankfully, she walked back to my iMac and sat down. "At least we can work during the day now. Real, honest to goodness desks," she said, knocking on the wood.

I shrugged. I'd found two big desks at Elmer Bishop's estate sale for next to nothing, which was everything in my checking account. I butted them against each other and networked my new computer, a birthday gift from my dad, with my old laptop. We could both make entries to the same database. Plus, the Book of Light was large enough that if we opened it across the two desks, Michelle could enter one spell while I entered another. It was a nice set-up.

"Not that your magic isn't totally cool, Grateful. I mean, conjuring shit out of the ether is wicked awesome, but you have to admit, it's nice not to have them disappear when the sun comes up."

"Yeah." Unfortunately, the magic of my attic was tied to the night air and everything I conjured disappeared when the sun rose. It sucked, but I suppose everything has to have limits. Otherwise, I'd be conjuring myself a million dollars up here.

The soothing rhythm of vigorous typing filled the air between us...for all of thirty seconds.

"Did you hear about Logan?" Michelle asked, blowing away any delusions I'd had about her getting back to work.

"Hear what? I saw him at physical therapy yesterday. He's walking pretty well with a cane. Put some weight on too."

"He's starting back at Valentine's. Just a few days per week at first, but he's planning to work up to full-time."

Valentine's was Logan's pride and joy. He'd started the restaurant from scratch and it was one of Carlton City's best rated. In my opinion, Logan was lucky his assistant manager had kept the wheels on while he was missing. Another employee might have closed shop.

"That's good news," I said. "Logan needs somewhere to focus his energy."

"You mean on something other than you."

"No," I said defensively. "I mean on something other than the pain of his recovery." Logan had been in a coma for almost a month after a truck plowed into him on his bike. He'd been damaged bad enough to knock his soul out of his body and leave him unrecognizable to his rescuers. It was sheer coincidence he ended up in the hospital where I worked as a nurse and serendipity that I was the one who could put his soul back into his body. His recovery had been a long, hard journey.

"So, you're saying that Logan hasn't tried to rekindle those old romantic feelings now that he has a body?"

"What Logan felt when he was a ghost was just a misunderstood metaphysical attraction to me as his soul sorter."

"Nice story. How do you explain what you felt for him?"

"Logan knows I'm with Rick now."

"Yeah," she drawled. Her eyes drilled into me.

I wasn't sure what she wanted me to say. Rick was part of my job description. He was my caretaker, the immortal vessel for my soul between lifetimes. Hundreds of years ago, the first me, Isabella Lockhart, had made Rick her caretaker. At the moment of her death, she stored a piece of her soul inside of him, which he'd returned to her when she was reincarnated. I was a reincarnation of that same witch, and I'd taken back the immortal part of my soul from Rick in a ceremony that included blood, magic-and sex.

Pursuing anything with Logan didn't make sense for a number of reasons. Aside from the superhuman level of understanding it would require of him to allow me to continue to be the witch, having sex with Rick as needed, my feelings for him had changed since he was reunited with his body. As far as I was concerned, the night we shared when he was a ghost had been an accident. I was seeking comfort, and he'd accidentally slipped inside my body and given me an orgasm. Ancient history.

"Logan's my friend. That's all." To signal I was done with this particular avenue of conversation, I flattened my page with my palm and returned to typing vigorously on my laptop.

Michelle raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips inquisitively. "How is Caretaker Rick anyway? You guys still trying to start a fire by rubbing your crotches together?"

I fought a smile but only half of my mouth obeyed my command. "Nice, Michelle. You know, it's not like it's tawdry or anything. We have to do it. It strengthens our powers."

"Power sex. Right. He gets all charged up and you get..."

"Multiple orgasms and sometimes his blood."

"Yum." She grimaced.

"It heals me. Last week, we were bringing in a vamp we caught feeding on a human at a strip club in the city. The thing practically bit though my arm before I sentenced it to Hell. A little sip of Rick and the wound healed right up. It's nothing short of miraculous."

Michelle shook her head and took another gulp of coffee as if she could rinse the taste of blood from her mouth. The TMI convo was enough to make her turn back to her work. She focused on the page closest to her and poised her fingers over the keyboard.

"Hey, here's something interesting," she said.


"It's a spell to call a familiar."

"A what?"

Michelle scooted closer to the book and read to me. "Familiar, Spell to Call. A familiar can be summoned to amplify a Hecate's power by performing the following spell. A willing spirit will arrive in the form of an animal possessing those traits the current incarnation is deficient in and supporting optimum natural balance. Through mutual respect and bonding, a familiar can become a trusted and powerful companion."

"Cool. Like a black cat or what not."

"Or maybe you'll get an owl like Harry Potter!"

"Oh yeah, those things are wicked awesome." I stood and leaned over the book to get a good look at the spell.

Michelle tapped the yellowing page. "Hey, there are some notes here in the margin. Tabitha 1701, Abraham 1823, Gertrude 1898. Grateful, I think this is a list of past familiars. There's a half dozen here. Is that how many times you've lived before?"

I shrugged.

"Well? Are you going to do it?"

"Maybe. Does the spell look difficult?" I tried to read it through myself but Michelle's head was in the way. She was practically crawling into the page. My friend seriously needed glasses.

"You tell me. It says you have to meditate. Once your mind is clear, you make an offering in your silver bowl and a willing spirit will come to you."

"What kind of offering?"

"It doesn't specify."

"As long as it's not blood." I'd learned the hard way that blood, my own, was required to sort a human soul to the afterlife. When I'd put Logan back into his body, I had to slice my arm and bleed into my silver bowl to make his soul "stick." The cut itself healed magically, but the blood loss on top of the mystical effort involved left me exhausted.

"I guess it can be anything that's valuable to you," she said.

I nudged her out of the way and read through the spell myself. "Look, this symbol in the corner means I can do it during the day." I pointed to a yellow circle next to the title.

Michelle nodded and looked at me expectantly.

"It might be nice to have a pet," I said.

"Grateful, this isn't just a pet. This is a familiar, the perfect pet to balance you. It's like petmatch.com but better. This little guy will make you more powerful. Hell, all I've got at home is a pug with flatulence."

"You love Bosco."

She giggled. "He was an impulse buy that grew on me."

I sighed and plopped back into my chair. "I don't know, Michelle, do we have time for this? I really wanted to get more done today."

Tipping her head to the side, my friend folded her arms across her chest. "Really? The pages aren't numbered but this thing has to be five thousand long. We've been at it all month and have barely made a dent."

With attitude, I combed my fingers through my hair and rolled my eyes. "All the more reason to buckle down and get to work."

She jabbed her open hands toward the mammoth book. "Hello? It's going to take us a year to enter all of these spells. It's not like we don't both have full-time jobs. This is like moving a bucket of water with an eyedropper."

"Now you're exaggerating."

She folded her arms across her chest. "What's the rush anyway?"

Crossing the attic, I leaned against the window frame and watched the naked branches of the oak tree in my front yard twist in the late November wind. Less than six weeks until Christmas. I was sure Michelle had better things to do with her day off than enter spells into my database. My chest sank thinking about the burden I'd been to her the last several months. I was the reason she'd been possessed by a vampire, after all.

But I was in a hurry. Besides the danger of Julius's growing coven, and the fact that he probably wanted me dead, Julius said that Rick had lied to me, that I didn't need a Caretaker to regain my power. Julius was a vampire and almost certainly deceiving me. I had no reason to trust him. But ever since he'd said the words, I'd questioned my connection to Rick and the boundaries of my power. In my gut, I had the tiniest needling that Rick was keeping something from me. I'd tried time and time again to put the feeling aside, but it wouldn't leave me alone.

My past incarnation had the wherewithal to name a guardian of my magical attic, Prudence. She'd helped me learn about what I was. Unfortunately, when I accepted my role, Prudence moved on to her eternal reward. With her gone, if I couldn't trust Rick, the only source of power, protection, and information I had was the Book of Light. I was sure all of the answers I needed were within its pages.

I didn't want to trouble Michelle with all the details. She'd done enough to support me already. This was my boat to row. Besides, I was willing to bet obsessing about it was exactly what Julius wanted me to do.

"It could save my life, Michelle. The book weighs hundreds of pounds. This is the only way I can take it with me while I'm learning. I may need one of these spells in an emergency."

"Really?" She leaned across the book. "An eavesdropping bee is going to protect you against a vampire attack on the fly?"

"You've got a point," I mumbled. "But it's still my best hope."

Michelle rubbed her palms together. "I'm not saying the database isn't important, but it isn't everything. It's going to take time. No matter what you do, you're going to have to learn how to use this magic. There are no shortcuts."

I sighed. "You're right. This is just the workaholic in me coming out."

"Exactly. It will all get done eventually. A little a day and by the time you're thirty, you'll be done." With one arm, she hugged my shoulders playfully.

I suddenly felt compelled to entertain her. She'd earned it. "You wanna watch me summon a familiar, or what?"

"That's the spirit."

We jogged downstairs to look for something to offer the familiar's spirit. Unlike when Logan lived here, the house was a mess and there was nothing in my pantry but coffee grounds. I opened the refrigerator to check if food had mysteriously appeared there while I was in the attic. It hadn't. The contents consisted of a box of baking soda, a half empty bottle of ketchup, and the remains of Valentine's take-out from two weeks ago with dodgy looking fuzz growing under the lid. I tossed the take-out but grabbed the coffee grounds. Michelle appeared in front of me with a bottle of wine from the cellar.

"This should work," she said.

"Wine? Is that necessary?" I asked, not thrilled about wasting a bottle.

"The book said you needed an offering. The connotation is that you sacrifice something important to you. You don't want to use blood and there's nothing more important to you in this house than wine and coffee, except maybe me, and I'm not sitting in that bowl."

"Wine and coffee it is."

We returned to the attic, and I pulled out the wooden trunk containing my magical paraphernalia. On top was my blade, Nightshade. Made from the femur of the patron saint of cemetery workers, Nightshade could only be wielded by me. I set her aside to dig beneath her space in the trunk. Under her was a silver bowl, salt, candles, a few shrouds, and a bell. My predecessor had left the witchy toolkit, and I was becoming more comfortable with it day by day. I selected the bowl.

Cross-legged on the floor next to the wine and coffee, I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. I flexed my shoulders toward my ears, inhaled, then released the breath, slumping forward. I tried to relax as much as possible, concentrating on the flow of breath at the back of my throat. When a thought threatened at the corner of my consciousness, I pushed it aside.

They say when you enter deep meditation that you visualize a light of some sort moving toward you. I did. A green light that seemed flat at first until I reached it and then expanded into a tunnel. The light branched out and formed leaves. And then, in my clear mind, I was in a garden. Even though I logically knew my body was sitting in my attic meditating, I was physically there, nestled in blades of cool dewy grass with my bowl and offering beside me. The sun was warm upon my face, and the leaves of the plants rustled in the sweet-smelling breeze.

From a grove of trees, a naked woman stepped toward me. Large dark eyes and silky black hair contrasted sharply against the light that shone behind her head. She stopped just short of my bowl.

"Hecate," she said. "Welcome to my garden. Make your offering."

I wanted to know more about this woman and this place, but my intuition warned this was not the time to ask. Maybe it was the way her skin glowed like it was radioactive and the light broke around her torso. Reflexively I reached for the wine and poured half of it into the bowl. I sprinkled coffee over the top.

The woman laughed, a sound as pure and clear as a choir of bells. My eyes started to hurt so I looked away from her, back at the bowl. It was empty.

"Yes, I know who you seek, and I send him to you with my blessing. He is yours and will teach you what you need to know."

The woman opened her hand. A black butterfly bobbed toward me, growing fast and spreading out until it barreled into me. I somersaulted backwards from the impact, eyes closed against the onslaught. Everything-the garden, the woman-disappeared in a wash of darkness.

"Grateful!" A hand slapped my cheek. "Grateful, snap out of it!"

I opened my eyes to see Michelle hovering over me.

"D-did it work?" I stammered.

The corner of Michelle's mouth tugged upward. "Um, yeah. It worked."

"So what is it? A cat? An owl?"

"Maybe you should see for yourself," she said.

She helped me up to a sitting position. Behind my silver bowl was a huge black ball of feathers. I reached for it and a pair of beady black eyes popped open to peer at me. A large hooked beak snapped the air and two shiny black wings stretched on either side of a lissome black body.

"It's a crow," I said with distaste. On the spectrum of magical creatures, I hadn't expected a yard rat. The thing looked like something I'd shoo off the garbage cans.

Michelle took a step back. "That's not a crow, Grateful; it's a raven. And I think it just pooped on your floor."

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