Authors: Harper Lin
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A HISS-TORY OF MAGIC Copyright © 2015 by Harper Lin.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.
definitely should not be writing
this down. It’s private. Not secret—no. I didn’t do anything wrong—at least, not in my opinion. It’s been crazy and surreal. You would think that as a witch, I would be used to this kind of thing by now.
As I said, this whole experience is personal, for me alone to deal with, but I really need to let it out, you know? I can’t just keep pretending that my life is normal, especially ever since this new hot mess blew up—literally.
I’m trying to make sense of all this, but I don’t know where to begin, and my cat keeps trying to use my open notebook as a bed when the cat bed is right there in the corner. Now he’s using my wrist as a pillow.
I’m thirty-three years old, and I don’t know half of what I should about my own family.
That’s the word I’m looking for. Detective Williams just calls it a “case” and files it away neatly, but I think his partner knows a mystery when he sees one.
My entire life has been a mystery. I don’t know how to explain to myself the secrets that my family has kept all these years… let alone untangling them for nonwitches.
Also, there’s the mystery of Ted Lanier and his vegan poutine, which tasted better than the real thing—why didn’t we appreciate him more back when he was still with us?
What about the mystery of Min Park? How could he have changed so much as a person? He felt like both the old friend I had known, whom I could spend hours playing games with, and an entirely different person at the same time. Do millionaire entrepreneurs play video games?
The biggest mystery of all is my family. Some mysteries should remain hidden in the mists. This is “the wonderful town of Wonder Falls,” after all.
My cousin and soul sister Bea could describe Wonder Falls better than I ever could. She’s a lot more like her hippie mother than she thinks, and she’s always getting on me to stop and smell the flowers blooming in the crisp Canadian springtime, to go with her on camping and fishing trips by the lake, and to see the waterfalls that the lake runs into.
The waterfalls are magnificent. Of course, they’re big. Loud. Damp, eventually. There are three of them, and they generate enough electricity to power the whole town. Tourists come for miles just to look. As for me—well, I live close enough that I’ve just gotten used to them.
No, no, scratch that. I was getting nostalgic about the way things used to be. Actually, I might never look at the falls the same way ever again.
My name is Cath Greenstone, and I’m a witch.
All the women in the Greenstone family line are witches.
Bea’s hippie mother—my Aunt Astrid—owns the best café in town, the Brew-Ha-Ha. Bea and I grew up learning how to run it, and—I write this with all the love in the world for my beautiful and wise Aunt Astrid, who took me in after my parents died—Bea and I both think we’d run it a little differently than Aunt Astrid has.
The fact that we’re witches is supposed to be a big secret, but Aunt Astrid is convinced that the best way to go about things is to hide in plain sight. She does fortune-telling for customers, and she talks a lot about the way “mystical energy” moves through the Universe. Yes, Aunt Astrid uses a capital U, and you can practically hear it when she pronounces the word.
Most of the time, I fear she’s daring people to discover us. On a good day—and we’d been having so many good days until the fire—it’s reassuring to know that Aunt Astrid has been a witch for longer than all the years Bea and I have spent on this earth combined.
Aunt Astrid can see the future, which is probably the best magical talent a witch can have because a muddy future can be dangerous and painful.
Speaking of “dangerous and painful,” Bea’s got injury and illness covered with
witchy magical talent, which is more easily concealed. People just assume that Bea’s a naturally touchy-feely person. Then when they heal quickly, they don’t make the connection that Bea had a hand in it and just assume they were going to get healthy again anyway.
It helps to know how the human body works, of course, so Bea’s done a lot of reading on that. She’s really smart, and she loves to study. She could have left Wonder Falls to go to university and come back with half a dozen Nobel Prizes, never mind a medical degree. Instead, she married Jake and took his name.
I didn’t mean that to sound judgmental. Bea’s not just my family—she’s my best friend. Did I mention she was smart? I wasn’t exaggerating. Well, as long as she’s happy, I know her talents aren’t going to waste.
Jake’s a good guy, and everyone in town can’t help but like him. He’s a good detective too, at least for the quiet, small town of Wonder Falls. However, he hasn’t detected that the Greenstone heritage involves magic powers and, therefore, his wife is a witch.
I can communicate with animals, especially cats. I was scared of my own special magical talent at first. Now that I’m older, I really appreciate being able to communicate with Treacle, who’s become my best friend, next to Bea.
My skill certainly came in handy on the night of the fire.
reacle is a street cat
. I picked him up from the animal shelter run by old Murray Willis. Treacle has a scar on his forehead, probably from a fight with another animal. It has healed into a shiny white welt in the shape of a star, and I doubt fur is ever going to grow over it again.
Whatever incident caused the big scar hasn’t stopped Treacle from wandering at night. Neither has the fact that I took him in. I would’ve preferred that he didn’t wander, but it’s what he likes to do. Also, he’s a black cat, so I worry that he’ll find himself under the wheel of a car belonging to a driver that can’t see him in the dark.
He’d call me if it happened. Not with a phone—I mean he’d call out to my mind, and distance wouldn’t matter. We’ve got a telepathic bond now, and the communication is getting stronger all the time, but I still worry.
Treacle doesn’t speak Human. I speak Cat. It’s more of a mind-to-mind magical communication using ideas and images, not so much actual words. That’s how I accidentally taught Treacle how to unbolt the cat door.
You’d think I’d have an easier time communicating mind-to-mind with humans because I’m human myself, but even with Bea, it doesn’t come naturally—or at all, except under special circumstances. On the rare occasions that telepathic communication with women does work, I need several days to recover. Yes, magic can take a lot out of you. That’s something they rarely depict in movies.
Anyway, that was how I knew where Treacle was the night he saw the Brew-Ha-Ha on fire. He got scared and bounded all the way back home at full speed.
When it was barely dawn, whatever I’d been dreaming was interrupted by a fiery nightmare as Treacle shouted into my mind, but I only woke up when he leapt onto the bed and started nipping at my face.
A full understanding of what had happened bypassed my conscious mind and got my instincts going. I jumped out of bed and grabbed the phone on the nightstand.
I was barely awake, completely panicking, and I almost let slip to the 9-1-1 dispatcher that I’d learned about the fire from my cat.
I cleared my throat of its early-morning roughness, shook off the just-woken-up mist from my mind, and tried again. “I can see it from my window,” I lied. “That’s my aunt’s café, for sure, on fire. No, it hasn’t spread to any other building yet, but please hurry.”
I gave them the address of the café as I stretched the phone cord across the room, straining to reach into my closet to grab something to wear. The line snapped from its socket just as I finished talking.
Treacle nuzzled my ankle then pressed his head into it, purring anxiously.
“Do you think they got it?” I wavered between calling the dispatcher back and getting dressed.
Treacle pawed and nosed the closet door ajar and said,
“I can ask Marshmallow what’s going on.”
Marshmallow was Aunt Astrid’s cat, a Maine Coon. They had a bond, just as Bea and Peanut Butter had a bond. Marshmallow could even do some magic. When it came to communicating with the cats, however, it was pretty ordinary guesswork between human and cat for Aunt Astrid and Bea. The cats could talk with each other, and I could talk to the cats.
When they’ve bonded, as Treacle had with Marshmallow, then distance doesn’t matter. So Treacle didn’t need to go over to Aunt Astrid’s place to check with Marshmallow and then come back to help me decide what to do.
Having a network of minds and being able to communicate instantly can be handy at times, as you might imagine. Although I’m a witch, I’m also a human, so if I do it too much or if I do it with someone whom I haven’t formed strong bonds with, then I get headaches. Sometimes my attempts fail, and I only end up receiving mental static, or whichever animal I’m sending my thoughts to just doesn’t understand clearly.
Treacle sent to my mind an image of Aunt Astrid in her bedroom. She was fully dressed except for shoes. The image was from the height of Aunt Astrid’s ankle, looking up—Marshmallow’s point of view.
Aunt Astrid’s pear-shaped, slightly overweight figure was very well suited to her billowing drawstring peasant tops and gypsy skirts. Her hair had always been wispy and had never darkened from the dishwater blond of her younger days, although it was beginning to thin. She refused to dye over the pale streaks of gray.
That morning, she’d styled her hair into a French braid, but the locks still loosely framed her face like an ethereal halo. Aunt Astrid had a friendly face. The wrinkles around her mouth and blue eyes bespoke a lifetime of smiling and laughter—in spite of many tragedies.
I felt the ghost of a shift under my elbow as Aunt Astrid eased a pair of canvas flats out from under the giant Maine Coon. She brushed some strands of fur from the shoes before slipping her feet into them.
“You need another grooming,” Aunt Astrid said to Marshmallow. “Just as well that there won’t be any work today, I suppose, just dealing with the firemen. I’ll be back soon.”
The image faded. Aunt Astrid knew about the fire.
Treacle leapt to the windowsill, flicked his tail, and meowed. He didn’t like fires. I wondered right then if that had something to do with how he’d gotten that star-shaped scar on his forehead. Treacle didn’t want to think about it to himself, let alone to me. The fire at the Brew-Ha-Ha had spoiled his morning, and he just wanted to take a nap.
“I might as well go since I’m already up. It will just be insurance stuff and renovating the place, then,” I said to myself. “No need to wake Bea, too.”
I relaxed too soon, thinking that one of the perks of having an oracular aunt was being able to get a heads-up at times like that. As I said, I don’t know half of what I should by now about magic. Every time you think you’re in control of your powers or your circumstances, something comes at you from left field.
Nothing could have prepared my family for that morning.
n a bench
across the street from the Brew-Ha-Ha, I sat myself down beside Aunt Astrid. Wordlessly, Aunt Astrid nudged a paper bag toward me. I uncapped a large thermos I’d brought, poured some strong black tea into the cap, and passed it to Aunt Astrid. Then I poured myself some tea in the smaller, nested plastic cup that came with the thermos, and I reached into the paper bag for one of Astrid’s homemade maple bran muffins. Aunt Astrid sipped her tea and sighed. I rubbed my eyes with the back of one hand and stifled a yawn.
Between the bench and the café, a fire truck’s siren wailed in the otherwise peaceful morning. The warm glow of the dawn light had stiff competition from the pillars of lurid flames.
Wonder Falls was so small I recognized most of the firefighters even though I didn’t know all of them personally. Gillian Hyllis, the one shouting orders to coordinate the firefighting effort, had come from a family of elitist academics, whom she’d disappointed by following her passion into a more practical profession. Reuben Connors, who rushed to the scene without his gear, was an actual disappointment to the profession.
At the fire hydrant, lining up the hose, was one quarter of the town’s support group for divorced fathers and one third of the town’s support group for alcoholism recovery, Wayne Walter. I only knew him by name because he had the distinction of attending both groups. From the look of his hosing skills, he was on the ball. That was good to see. Gossip can be vicious, but I think most townsfolk, like me, were silently rooting for him to get his life back on track.
What a relief to see that most of the Wonder Falls fire brigade were in their best shape and getting their jobs done despite generally being unused to having to do them.
Eventually, some of our regular customers passed by and stopped to watch the fire. Some chatted with the firefighters, asking them for details. A few approached Aunt Astrid and me at the bench.
“…all right, there?” The wiry, petite woman spoke so softly that I caught only the end of her sentence.
I managed a smile. “No need to worry about us, Mrs. Park.”
“If there’s anything you need…”
I’d know where to reach her. We lived in a small town.
That didn’t mean everybody was friendly, however. After Mrs. Park wandered off, another figure cut into my line of vision. She had a loud, wheedling voice and smelled of artificial jasmine.
“I had a meeting scheduled here for later this morning!” she huffed.
A skittish part of me remembered my sixth grade again, and I flinched back a bit from the verbal bludgeon of entitlement that was Darla Castellan. Some schoolyard bullies never grew up. I remembered the names she used to call me and how she could manipulate the other kids into following her lead.
Aunt Astrid seemed to have woken up a bit. “I know,” she exclaimed. “This is so inconvenient for everybody.” She repeated, as a not-so-subtle reminder, “Everybody!”
Darla folded her arms over her chest. “Well, what are you going to do now?”
I took a gulp of tea and shrugged. “Apologize for the inconvenience?”
“And thank you for your continued patronage after we restore the Brew-Ha-Ha,” Aunt Astrid said dryly. “It will take a few days.”
Part of the café roof collapsed, sending firefighters scurrying to herd the spectators away, to a safer distance.
“Weeks,” Aunt Astrid corrected. “A month, at the most.”
“Continued patronage,” Darla scoffed, “is an awfully big presumption.” She stormed off in a huff. When she decided to snub or shun somebody, she meant it.
“Genius,” I said, clinking Aunt Astrid’s teacup with mine.
The residents of Wonder Falls loved the Brew-Ha-Ha—the location, the architecture (so we’d keep it as close to the original as possible when rebuilding the place, I thought), the impeccably polite staff, and the baked goods only a genuine French chef could make.
“Oh!” I gasped and realized aloud, “I should have called Ted!” Ted was our baker and cook. He came in to work at the crack of dawn, before everyone else.
“I left him a message on his answering machine,” Aunt Astrid assured me. “I told him not to come in today and that we’ll handle everything.”
Another voice—from behind us, high, sweet, and raspy—added, “I wish I knew that! I called him just now too, but he’s not answering.”
It was Bea. Her dark-red hair was naturally styled in glossy waves. She’d inherited that from her father, along with the dark eyes. Our maternal grandfather must have been the one responsible for Bea’s flawless, almost olive complexion.
“Good morning! I mean, better morning from now on.” Bea put an arm around both of us and peered up at the building. “How did this happen?”
The fire had already been extinguished. I caught sight of Jake across the road, shaking hands with one of the firefighters. He glanced toward the three of us and gave something between a wave and a salute. He wasn’t usually so cold, but I reasoned that I’d never seen Jake in action, so maybe he steeled up for his police work.
“Well,” Aunt Astrid said, “I had a vision of the fire months ago, and since then, I’ve been so careful. After closing up, I’d see to it that Ted turned the gas off. Everything that had plugs in the wall sockets, I’d unplug myself.” She heaved a sigh of resignation. “Sometimes, the future that I see is fixed.”
“I refuse to believe that,” Bea declared. More quietly, she suggested, “Senior moment yesterday, maybe?”
Aunt Astrid gave a deep belly laugh as I exclaimed, “Bea!”
“Mother knows what I mean. You could have told us. We would have helped. That’s all I meant!”
“I don’t have senior moments, Bea. I have ascended moments of omniscience.”
“You mean precognition.”
As they chatted, I watched as Jake intentionally stood between Gillian and a man I hadn’t seen before. He couldn’t have just been a visitor in town, judging from how Jake and the firefighter were both acting so tense. The strange man’s strikingly handsome face was ruined by a squint when he turned and caught my eye. I returned his glower with an expression of confused stubbornness. Still, I didn’t look away. Jake gave him a sharp word, and the strange man broke eye contact with me to acknowledge the argument he was almost having with Jake.
“That’s Blake Samberg. He studied forensics in Boston,” Bea told me. “He’s Jake’s new partner, been so these past two and a half weeks.”
Aunt Astrid hummed as she considered the two men. “They seem to be getting along.”
“Jake complains a lot about how on edge Blake is. City slickers, you know.” Bea rolled her eyes. “I bet he’s accusing the firefighters of arson. He calls it his gut, but really he’s just conditioned to be extra suspicious of absolutely everybody else in the world.”
“What a shame,” I said. “He’s cute.”
Bea drawled, “Give it time.” She waggled her eyebrows at me. “Either he’ll have you on edge too, or—”
“Wonder Falls will mellow him out.” Aunt Astrid finished, confidently. She handed the thermos cap back to me and carefully folded up the empty paper bag.
As the fire truck began to pull away, Blake and Jake entered the ruins of the café, and Bea urged us off the bench to gather materials for the cleanup. She had the keys to her minivan, where the cleaning supplies waited.
The sun should’ve been up at that time of the morning, but the light from the overcast sky wasn’t brightening the scene very much. “I hope it doesn’t rain. The Brew-Ha-Ha doesn’t have a roof anymore.”
“Not over the customer area. We can go check on the kitchen.” Aunt Astrid stood up to go, and Bea and I followed.
We went around back and met Jake on his way out.
“Don’t go in there.” Jake’s voice was stern, his expression worried, with a hint of panic.
Bea looked confused for a moment. “What, do you think I had so much sentimental attachment to this café?” she asked with a laugh. “These things happen, sweetheart. We just do our best with whatever happens in business.” Then she moved toward the kitchen anyway.
Jake interrupted her with a grappling sort of hug, trying to turn his wife away.
He was too late. Bea saw something inside the kitchen and screamed.
Blake strode up to the back entrance and blocked the way through.
“What is it?” I demanded of him.
Aunt Astrid handed me her broom and put her hands on her hips. “What is going on here?”
“This is a crime scene. Please”—Blake gestured toward the sidewalk—“wait here until we can call for backup.” His voice was hoarse and deeper than I’d expected for someone with such a clean-cut look.
Aunt Astrid and I exchanged startled looks.
Some troubled teenager left rude vandalism that survived the building fire.
Bea, still in Jake’s embrace, sobbed. She wouldn’t have shed tears over a bit of vandalism.
“Wh—who was that?” she asked.
“We don’t know yet,” Jake answered at the same time that Blake said, “Théodore Lanier.”
“Damn it, Samberg!”
I’d never heard Jake swear before.
“Ted?” I could barely get the name out. My nerves trembled with the looming sensation of something gone very, very wrong. “Théodore’s his full name, Théodore Lanier.” It’s supposed to be pronounced “lan-YAY” in that Frenchy way, where the R is silent. “He’s our baker. What about him?”
Blake turned to me again. “If the driver’s license belonged to the body, ma’am, then it could very well be that Ted… is dead.”
Aunt Astrid gasped in horror.
“There’s a body in there, burnt to a crisp. Your baker’s been roasted,” Blake deadpanned.
Jake’s jaw dropped. Bea released a wailing sob.
“Mr. Lanier”—Blake mispronounced the name “LANE-ee-yur”—“could now be that body that’s layin’ ’ere.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and held up my palm toward Blake, to stop him. “I’ve got the gist of it, yeah! Detective… Punster, is it?”
“Do you think I have a sense of humor?” Blake growled the question, seeming offended.
I seethed. “I’ll take any explanation other than the answer that this is really happening.”
“We’ve got procedures to follow now,” Jake said. “Samberg’s right, at least on the point that this is a crime scene. We need backup to investigate before we know more.”
He rubbed Bea’s arm to comfort her. They walked back to the police car, and the rest of us followed.
I didn’t notice it then, but Marshmallow must have darted from the alleyway at that moment and followed us.