All My Witches – Amanda M. Lee

Don’t make me come out there!” I glared at the door that separated The Overlook’s kitchen from the dining room, my temper flaring as I pictured what sat on the other side. Or rather, who. I could practically see her. She would be sitting in her recliner, a mug of coffee on the counter, her feet buried under a blanket, a plate of cookies on her lap and her eyes trained on the small television where she preferred to watch her stories when it was cold. Most people would find it an adorable sight, a grandmotherly figure cuddling up to spend her afternoon lost in a fantasy world. I know better. I know her. “Don’t make me come in there!” I shot back, my temper getting the better of me. That’s right. I, Bay Winchester, am officially out of patience. Under normal circumstances, I’m the one calling off my cousin Thistle when she decides to move on Aunt Tillie. These battles are generally an attempt to make the woman come to heel, or act like a normal great-aunt. You know, stop selling pot or threatening to curse us within an inch of our lives. I was feeling something different today, although I couldn’t put a name to it. “I’ll make you wish you’d never been born if you don’t shut your mouth,” Aunt Tillie barked.

I couldn’t see her but that didn’t make the sound of her voice any less grating. “I already wish you hadn’t been born, so we’re almost there, you little witch.” My eyes flashed as I moved to push myself to a standing position, but my mother stilled me with a hand to my shoulder. Winnie Winchester was used to the endless fights. That didn’t mean she liked them. “You need to let it go.” Mom was calm, her face reflecting a serenity that I couldn’t possibly share. “You’re making things worse.” My eyebrows flew up my forehead. “I’m making things worse?” How was that even possible? Aunt Tillie is the queen of making things worse.

“She’s the one who said … well, you heard what she said.” “I did,” Mom confirmed. “That’s hardly the worst thing she’s said this week. Heck, it’s not even the worst thing she’s said today. Before you showed up, Aunt Tillie told Twila she was going to buy one of those ball gags used for … um, sex games … and make her wear it if she didn’t stop trying to talk to her. “Twila had no idea what she was talking about, so she looked it up on the internet,” she continued. “Then she started screaming and carrying on – just like you are right now – and now we have to call a computer technician because I’m pretty sure Twila downloaded a virus from one of those sex sites.” I pressed my lips together, unsure if I wanted to join forces with Twila and call Aunt Tillie on her crap or simply burst out laughing because imagining Twila’s reaction to all the porn would keep me entertained for weeks to come. Finally, I merely shrugged. “Aunt Tillie is evil.

” It was a simple statement, appropriately dark and pointed. Mom didn’t look bothered by my assessment. “She is,” Mom agreed. “But in this particular case, you’re the one in the wrong. She’s in there minding her own business … .” I balked. “She’s not minding her own business. She never minds her own business. She pretends to mind her own business while really taking an invisible needle the size of my arm and poking people with it when she thinks they’re not looking. That’s not minding her business.

” Mom pressed the tip of her tongue to her top lip as she debated how to answer. I didn’t give her a chance. “That woman is up to no good,” I added. “She’s plotting the downfall of civilization. In fact … yeah, I’ve given it some thought and I know this is true. I’m pretty sure she traveled through time and took down the Roman Empire. Also, there’s a very good chance she’s the one who crashed Amelia Earhart’s plane. Oh … and you know that thing in Roanoke? Totally her.” Mom made a derisive sound in the back of her throat. “I’m so glad your head is in a good place.

I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to know that you’re not unbalanced … or potentially psychotic … or frustratingly stubborn … at all.” I didn’t care. “She’s evil,” I repeated. “That’s hardly news.” “Who is evil?” My cousin Thistle asked as she breezed into the room. Her hair, which was four different colors this week (she was trying something new), was covered with snow. Thistle learned to be evil at Aunt Tillie’s knee, so she brushed off the snow as she stood next to me and the bulk of it landed in my lap. “Do you want me to make you eat dirt?” I challenged, narrowing my eyes. Instead of reacting out of fear, which is what I was going for, Thistle merely snorted. “You’re in a mood.

” “She’s completely in a mood,” Mom agreed, unbothered by the fact that she was talking about me as if I wasn’t even there. “I think it’s because Brian is at the newspaper office today and tomorrow to pack up the rest of his stuff. Bay feels she can’t be there, because it’s uncomfortable for both of them.” “I’m right here,” I reminded my mother. “I could hardly forget.” Mom gave my shoulder a sympathetic pat. “You’re channeling Aunt Tillie today, so it’s not as if your personality is small enough to overlook.” Oh, well, that just did it. “That is the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me.” Thistle let loose with a smirk and a chuckle as she poured herself a mug of coffee and settled at the rectangular table.

She was a few seats down from me – which I was convinced was on purpose so she could easily escape when she said something to irritate me – and she looked ready to start poking about in an effort to enrage. She definitely gets that from Aunt Tillie. I, on the other hand, am nothing like the woman. I’m not evil. Yes, I’m a witch. I’m not a diabolical one, though. I leave that to Aunt Tillie and Thistle. “You’re clearly agitated,” Thistle said after studying me for a beat. “Are you nervous about being the owner of the newspaper?” I’d been getting this question from family members and people on the street ever since news went public that I was buying The Whistler, Hemlock Cove’s lone newspaper. Brian Kelly was the grandson of the man who’d hired me, but the younger Kelly’s efforts to turn The Whistler into something it wasn’t – mainly a multimillion-dollar profit machine – failed.

He finally tried to fire me, and the advertisers turned on him, resulting in me purchasing the newspaper (with a little help from my friends, family and boyfriend) while he prepared to slink out of town with nothing but a few thousand dollars and a chip on his shoulder. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly a comfortable environment at the office these days. I was still a week away from closing on the property thanks to an error in the initial paperwork. Brian refused to hang out anywhere else because he was keen to punish me for stealing his birthright. That’s how he termed it once, mind you. I’m not the one who came up with that lovely complaint. Wait … what were we talking about again? “I’m not nervous about owning the paper,” I shot back. “I’m annoyed with Aunt Tillie. There’s a difference.” “Oh, there’s definitely a difference,” Thistle agreed.

“What did that old shrew do now?” “Thistle!” Mom extended a warning finger. “You cannot talk about your great-aunt that way.” Thistle was blasé. She was used to Mom scolding her and didn’t care in the least. In fact, now that she was living away from the family property and only visiting the inn our mothers owned a few times a week, her brashness had grown incrementally. “Why not? It’s not as if she hasn’t earned it.” “She’s still your elder.” “Oh, did you just call her elderly?” Thistle’s eyes flashed. “She won’t like that.” “I most certainly didn’t call her elderly,” Mom shot back.

She knew very well what Aunt Tillie would think about being called the E-word. To Aunt Tillie, that word was worse than every other word, including the C-word (which would be “crone” in this instance). It was only an option when she tried lying to the cops or getting out of jury duty. “If you even think of … .” Thistle didn’t care to let Mom finish her threat, instead raising her voice so it would carry into the kitchen. “Did you hear that, Aunt Tillie? Winnie just called you ‘elderly.’ You should get out here and kick her butt.” Mom’s eyes flashed. “You’re in so much trouble,” she hissed. Thistle shrugged, unbothered.

“She’s also thinking of having T-shirts made up with a reminder that you’re elderly so people won’t forget. We’re looking through the family albums to find a photograph of you now.” “I will kill you!” Mom was on her feet, her eyes trained on Thistle. “You are going to regret saying that.” Instead of storming into the kitchen to deny the charge, Mom turned in the opposite direction and breezed through the door that separated the dining room from the rest of the inn. I watched her go with a mixture of amusement and curiosity before turning my attention to a smug-looking Thistle. “That was mean.” “I’m fine with that.” “She’ll make you pay.” “I’m fine with that, too.

” Thistle sipped her coffee. “I’m bored, so at least this will serve as a form of entertainment.” She had a point. “Is it still snowing?” I asked, shifting on my chair. “The weather forecaster is predicting at least a foot of snow overnight.” Thistle scowled. “Yeah, and it’s getting rough out there. The road between town and the inn hasn’t been plowed. It’s almost impassable.” We live in northern Lower Michigan, so snow in January shouldn’t be a big thing.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t cause for concern occasionally. “Really?” I rolled my neck. “Landon is on his way over here right now. He’s coming from Elk Rapids. Those side roads will be a mess.” Thistle took pity on me. “Don’t worry about Landon. He’s an FBI agent. He knows what he’s doing. I’m sure he wouldn’t risk the roads if he didn’t think he could make it home.

” In addition to being an FBI agent, Landon Michaels was my boyfriend … and kind of my roommate … and most definitely the person who made me smile the most. He’d moved into the family guesthouse, located on the edge of the property, several weeks before. Now that Thistle was preparing to move out and was spending more time with her boyfriend Marcus at what would soon be their new house, we had the run of the place. It was still a work in progress, but things had been going well. “I’m sure he’s fine, too.” I forced a weak smile. “What are you doing here tonight? I would’ve thought you’d stick close to town rather than risk the roads.” “We’re in a bind,” Thistle explained, sobering. “The new furnace Marcus installed went out. He’s not sure why, but he can’t get in there to look at it until it warms up.

” “Which means you’re staying here for the night,” I mused. It was early in the week, so The Overlook wasn’t teeming with guests. “I would’ve suggested staying with you at the guesthouse, but you’ve already turned my old room into your office,” Thistle said dryly. “I don’t want to return to the place where I’ve been so callously replaced.” There was no way I was rising to that bait. “You left.” “And you took over in five minutes flat.” “I created an office for myself,” I clarified. “Landon took Clove’s old room as his office and I took yours as mine. You knew it was going to happen.

” “I did know it was going to happen. I just didn’t know it was going to happen that quickly.” “We didn’t really have a choice. With Brian walking around the newspaper office sighing and glaring all the time, I needed a place to work that wasn’t under that roof.” “I get it.” Thistle held up her hands. “I was just messing with you. What’s Brian’s deal, though? Why can’t he just get out and leave you to it? It’s as if he’s dragging his feet.” “I think he’s had second thoughts about the sale, but he knows better than to try to back out because he’s afraid of Landon and Chief Terry,” I explained. “Chief Terry kind of arranged for the sale to happen in the first place by rallying the shop owners when Brian tried to fire me.

He’s the reason I can buy the newspaper in the first place.” “He’s a good guy.” Thistle smiled. “I would’ve paid big money to see Brian’s face when Chief Terry took him on. I bet he didn’t even see it coming.” “I don’t think Chief Terry was happy that day.” “Oh, I bet he was ticked.” Thistle smiled at the thought. “I bet he made Brian’s knees shake and there was probably a little bit of pee that shook loose. Chief Terry is a big guy, and Brian is a coward.

” I made a face. “Yeah, let’s not focus on the pee, shall we?” Thistle chuckled. “It was just a thought.” She leaned back in her chair and fixed me with a serious look. “Why do you look as if you’re about to declare war?” The question caught me off guard. “I’m perfectly calm.” “No, you’re agitated. What were you doing when I got here?” “Nothing.” “Bull. You were doing something.

” “I don’t know why I even bother to answer your questions when I know you’re simply going to call me a liar,” I grumbled. “You only believe what you want to believe.” “I also happen to know you,” Thistle pointed out. “You’re ticked off about something.” She chewed her bottom lip as she debated. “You’re angry with Aunt Tillie. I know that much. I caught that part of the conversation when I was coming in. What did she do to you?” Now that was a loaded question. Aunt Tillie had done so many things to me over the course of my life that I’d lost count.

“She’s evil.” I returned to my sulking with a glower on my face. “That woman is completely and totally evil.” Thistle chuckled, legitimately amused. “You’re preaching to the choir, sister. I’ve been singing that particular song since I was six months old and learned how to speak.” I snorted. “You didn’t learn to speak when you were six months old.” “I did so.” “You did not.

” “I did so.” Thistle’s eyes flashed. “I was very advanced for my age.” “I’m older than you and was there,” I reminded her. “You didn’t start speaking when you were six months old. In fact, if I remember correctly, you didn’t start until you were two, and instead spent an entire year grunting and pointing rather than talking because you were lazy.” Thistle furrowed her brow. “You take that back.” “It’s the truth.” “Take it back anyway,” Thistle barked.

“Fine. I take it back. You started talking at six months. You were a prodigy and we were all in awe.” “That’s better.” Thistle crossed her arms over her chest and stared me down. “I think you of all people should know that I had no choice but to start speaking early because I needed to protect myself – and therefore all of you as well – against Aunt Tillie.” “And speaking early did that for you?” Thistle nodded without hesitation. “I didn’t just speak. I uttered my first countercurse.

It was a powerful one, and that’s how Aunt Tillie knew she’d met her match. I was a prodigy.” She was completely full of crap. Her first word had been “cookie” and I remembered very well because she was so delayed compared to Clove and me that everyone started clapping when she finally spit out the word. Twila (her mother) had been worried that Thistle was developmentally delayed, but it turned out she was simply lazy. “I guess that’s why you and Aunt Tillie have never gotten along,” I drawled. “She’s afraid of you because you’re a prodigy.” “Exactly.” “Uh-huh.” I pursed my lips.

“You realize that I recognize you’re full of crap, right?” Thistle scorched me with a look. “Don’t make me force you to eat dirt.” “There’s too much snow outside to find dirt.” “Oh, I’ll make an exception.” “Because you’re a prodigy.” Thistle extended a warning finger. “If you keep this up, you’ll be dead to me for the rest of the night.” “Why is that a concern? It’s hardly the first time.” “Yes, but you need me,” Thistle supplied. “You need me to help you plot against Aunt Tillie.

I heard you whining when I got here. You want to mess with that old bat, but you need help doing it.” She wasn’t wrong, still … . “What did you have in mind?” This time the look that crossed Thistle’s face was diabolical. “I’m so happy you asked.” Uh-oh. I’d clearly woken the beast. I tilted my head to the side, debating whether or not I cared that she was probably going to take things too far during our revenge plot. Ultimately I couldn’t work myself up even a little at the prospect. “What have you got in mind?” “You’re going to love this.

” She was right. I loved it. H ow awesome would it be to be able to send your kids up to the attic for five years and have them pop out as fully-functioning adults? That’s how it works on soaps, and I think it sounds heavenly. – Marnie after being stuck babysitting the girls for an entire weekend

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