Authors: Constance Barker
Witching the Night Away
Copyright 2016 Constance Barker
All rights reserved.
Similarities to real people, places or events are purely coincidental.
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Wendy knew that she had to be careful; the geas she’d accepted from Bailey’s mother was strong magic, organic and adaptable like most witches’ magic was. She couldn’t even attempt to make hints or leave anything lying around that might have ultimately led to anyone finding out about the girl’s mother. Not intentionally. Nonetheless, she took Bailey to the bakery.
It wasn’t her idea. They walked by it regularly when Wendy picked Bailey up from school, and every time they did Bailey stared wistfully at the place. She’d asked if they could go in more than a few times, and on each occasion Wendy made some excuse not to allow it. She’d spoil her dinner. Sugar was bad for her teeth. Wouldn’t it be more fun to bake cupcakes at home? They had to get home in time to surprise Daddy, didn’t they? Bailey accepted these counter arguments with grace, trusting her mother’s wisdom on the matter. At first.
It became more and more difficult to come up with new reasons the older Bailey got. She became more clever, and more willful to boot. She would save the cupcake until after dinner. Sugar wouldn’t rot her teeth if she brushed them afterward. Yes, they could make cupcakes at home—but they still went out to dinner occasionally, didn’t they? Daddy wouldn’t be home until after eight; he was never home until the late evening, and they weren’t risking anything by dropping by the bakery for a few minutes.
In a way, Wendy was proud of her little girl for thinking things through, reasoning out her arguments instead of throwing a tantrum like so many other children her age might have. On the other hand, it was only a matter of time before she was too smart to keep in the dark. Wendy and Ryan had agreed, well before Bailey was old enough to walk much less ask questions, that they would one day tell her she was adopted. Bailey would figure it out one day anyway; she figured everything out eventually. But Wendy wasn’t in a hurry to break that news or confront those questions.
Having a cupcake probably wouldn’t trigger them.
So one day, when Bailey looking longingly at the customers sitting around the porch of the Grovey Goodies bakery asked if they could stop in just this once—Wendy agreed.
Bailey was always an optimistic, happy child but when she realized they were finally going to go inside the strange little Dutch cottage from which wafted all the most tantalizing smells a little girl had probably ever encountered at one time, Bailey squealed with delight, and bolted along the walkway to the porch and up, into the bakery. It solved one problem, at least; Wendy couldn’t have led Bailey into the bakery intentionally if she’d been inclined to in the first place.
She followed her daughter, and found her inside, nose pressed to a display case.
Her mother—her real mother—was watching her with blatant wonder and trepidation. She was her little girl, grown and vocal, desperate for a taste of something she probably didn’t yet realize wasn’t, in fact, a pastry at all. She and Wendy saw one another, and exchanged a nod—casual, social. Two people in a small town that, of course, knew one another’s names, had seen each other around.
She was one of three women who ran the bakery. They’d inherited it from three other women who had started the place back in the sixties but who were almost never seen around town anymore. They were still here, though. Those women would never leave. Neither would these three, either. That was the way of witches. Mostly. Martha had been looking antsy lately; maybe her recent celebrity was beginning to go to her head. That, though, was none of Wendy’s business.
“Bailey, dear,” Wendy said, pulling the little girl gently away from the glass, “don’t get your prints on the glass. Do you know what you want?”
One of the other women in the shop leaned over the counter and smiled. “Well, if it isn’t Bailey Robinson! Look how grown up you are.” She gasped, and pointed, one hand over her mouth. “And look! That red hair of yours! It just so happens that all little girls with red hair get a free cupcake on the first Wednesday of March on the leap year. How fortuitous for you.”
Bailey seemed to do the math on this for a moment, and then, confirming for herself that it was indeed a leap year, and that it was indeed the first Wednesday of March, she lit up as if she had won the lottery. She looked to her mother—to Wendy—for guidance. “Which one should I get?”
Wendy hesitated. She wanted to point out one that Bailey’s mother had made—each of the women had rather clear style that set their goods apart from the other—but was unable to utter the words. Very thorough magic indeed. So instead, she passed the decision over to the girl at the counter. “What would you recommend?”
She thought about this a moment, eying Bailey up. “Well, let’s see then… you’re about three foot… eight or nine inches tall. Freckles, yes… turn around for me.” She whirled a finger, and Bailey did as she was asked. “Three jumping jacks?” Bailey did them, grinning with her gap-toothed smile where she’d lost one of her front teeth recently. “And, which tooth is that missing? Left or right?”
“Left!” Bailey announced. “Three days ago. Look, the other one is already coming in!” She tilted her head back, mouth gaping wide, and pointed at the tiny crown of a ‘big girl’ tooth only just breaking the gum. All three of the women crowded in to see and approve.
“Well, based on that,” one of the women said, “I believe I would have to recommend one of the specials.”
“The specials?” Another of the women gasped. “Are you sure? She is only a little thing.”
“She’s right,” the third said. “It’ll be far too delicious for her. She isn’t ready.”
Bailey was entranced immediately. She became solemn as she placed her fingertips on the edge of the counter and pulled herself up. “I’m not very big,” she said, “but I am ready. I’m ready for everything.”
Wendy and Bailey’s birth mother exchanged another look that neither could hold for more than a heartbeat.
“Well,” one of the women said softly, “perhaps you are, and perhaps you aren’t. There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? Bring this little girl… the special.”
It was a masterwork of pastry art, one of the periodic one-of-a-kind items that had made Grovey Goodies so wildly popular in the region. A yellow cake base, it was explained, with just a hint of lemon zest, mint, and, incongruously, basil. An experiment, one of the women explained. The frosting was a fluffy arrangement of chocolate and vanilla, swirled and shaped with precision into a perfect little peak. The sprinkles were, it was explained, only the finest and rarest sprinkles, handpicked from the bunch. That, Wendy decided, wasn’t likely true, but Bailey took it very seriously.
She didn’t eat it right away. She considered it from one angle and then the other, sniffed it like some connoisseur slowly approaching a glass of wine. After making some comments on the beauty and smell, she finally bit into it. Wendy, and the three women, held their breath waiting for the final verdict.
It wasn’t given in words. Instead, Bailey sighed as a smile broke across her lips—dotted with crumbs and frosting—and she gave the highest praise of which she was capable. A thumbs up.
A small cheer went up to the success, and Bailey was promised a special treat if ever she should return. She could be, one of the women suggested, their special cupcake tester; a one-girl focus group. Bailey accepted the honor, and promised to give her honest opinion each and every time, no matter what. Wendy didn’t doubt for a moment that she would.
They left when Bailey finished the treat, and Wendy tried to look back and give the girl’s birth mother anything she could—reassurance, pride, gratitude. But perhaps the magic sensed in that some desire to acknowledge her relationship to Bailey because she found herself unable to turn around as they pushed through the front door and headed home.
One day, though, Wendy knew, Bailey would have a chance to know her mother. As sharp and determined as Bailey was about everything else, it was only a matter of time. Wendy only hoped she would be there to see it, and to help smooth over what would almost certainly be a painful reunion. Nothing stayed hidden forever. Especially not from Bailey.
Bailey sat by herself at the center of the first cave, after a long day of tours, trying to meditate. Aria, one of the three witches of the Coven for which, it turned out, Coven Grove was aptly named, had insisted that it was easy.
Either she’d lied, or just been wrong. Whatever the truth was, the fact for Bailey was that meditation was quite possibly the most difficult thing she’d every attempted. That, or it was the easiest, and she was doing it successfully already. It was impossible to tell.
“You just have to sit, and clear your mind, and be receptive,” Aria had said, days ago, when Bailey had first begun trying. “The goal is to have a still mind that’s focused on a single thing.”
“Try doing sums until you can’t anymore,” Francis had recommended.
“Just relax.” That was the extent of Chloe’s advice.
Only Francis had come forward to admit that she never really got all that mumbo-jumbo new age nonsense in the first place, though she did side with Aria on the fact that if mastered it really did make a difference with some kinds of magic.
To Bailey, it felt a great deal like one of those tasks she always heard in ancient proverbs; the sort that don’t actually accomplish anything themselves, but which, in the act of doing them, the student earns some valuable insight into life, or enlightenment, or… something. Proverbs and Parables were usually well-crafted stories; not actual tasks a person undertook.
But whether she believed in meditation or not or even understood what precisely she was supposed to get out of it, she had to admit—she’d connected to the caves before, and they had given her magic, responded to her need. All of that was something of a blur these weeks later, but she remembered that she’d sunk into some kind of a trance at the time but hadn’t been able to do it again. Granted, she’d had Aiden with her doing his own kind of magic. Maybe that was the key.
She couldn’t rely on him forever, though, and she certainly needed to form her own bond with the caves as the other witches did. So, she meditated.
Deep breath in, slow breath out. In and out. Ignoring the itch on the tip of her nose. Overlooking the numbness in her legs that were crossed underneath her. She resolutely paid no attention to the stiffness in her lower back. Her stomach growled, and she ignored that, too. And wasn’t it funny that stomachs growled? In a way, it was like having a small animal in your belly, one that had a mind of its own, and moods independent of yours. Maybe it did. Perhaps there was some magical theory in that regard, some discussion of occult anatomy that assigned a sort of demi-mind to the stomach. Possibly each of the organs. Aiden would probably have some sort of equation that laid out the ratio of these demi-minds to the… what would you call it? Over mind? She’d have to ask him. Maybe it was an entirely knew approach to mind-body magic. Perhaps together they would change the way the magical world looked at wellness and—
Bailey groaned, and nearly flopped back onto the stone floor as though it were soft enough to do that on. Instead, she took a slow-motion fall as she stretched her numbing legs out. It was useless. Maybe Aria had some special talent for meditation. Whatever it was, Bailey clearly didn’t have it. What she did have was a nagging case of unable-to-stop-thinking-about-Aiden-Rivers.
One way or another, her train of thought always seemed to stop at his station and be detained there. It didn’t help that she worked with him on a regular basis. With her running the tours of the Seven Caves—Coven Grove’s single claim to fame and tourist attraction—and him running, well, her… daily encounters were inevitable, unavoidable, and almost always peppered with tension that Bailey wasn’t entirely certain existed only in her own head.
She sighed, and pushed herself to her feet, ready to call it a day.
When she turned, she nearly jumped out of her skin. At the entrance to the cave was a wiry, furry little monster with a mushroom shaped head and long whiskers, peering at her with wide, reflective eyes.
The creature resolved itself quickly into no creature at all, but a slight little man with coke-bottle glasses, a bona fide safari hat, and a chest length bushy white beard that curled up at the corners of his lips and was just wiry enough to stick out at odd angles in places. Bailey exhaled, one hand over her hammering heart. “Oh, my,” she said apologetically. She’d squealed a bit when he startled her. “I’m so sorry; I… didn’t hear you come in. Um, the tours are over for the day, I’m afraid.”
“Yes,” the man said. “I realize this, of course; I attended the first tour of the day, in fact.” He had an almost comically British accent, so affected that she couldn’t imagine it was real.
She’d seen something like eighty people after the first tour. It wasn’t a wonder she didn’t recognize him although she did, now that he mentioned it, vaguely recall that hat from the morning shift. His name was… “Ah, of course. Owen, wasn’t it?” She cheated a little, barely brushing his mind with hers.
“Quite right,” Owen said, stepping toward her. He extended a hand. “Professor Owen Turner. A pleasure to meet you. Formally, that is.”
She took his hand and shook it, surprised. “Professor of…?”
“I am an archaeologist, my dear,” The Professor said, “Plumbing the depths of mankind’s storied history for those long forgotten gems and gold nuggets of truth and wisdom thought to be lost for all time.”
He said it earnestly, without a hint of humor, so Bailey carefully schooled her reaction. “I see. I’m pleased to meet you.” She glanced around the cave and back to him. “Would you like to arrange a private tour… tomorrow?”
“I have express permission from Mr. Aiden Rivers to examine the caves at my leisure this evening,” he announced. “However, I did find your all-too-brief symposium on the mythological idiosyncrasies of the cave drawings to be delightfully elucidative and erudite.”
Bailey reeled a moment before she cleared her throat and smiled politely. “Thank you,” she said simply. “So… why are you here?”
“Well I should think that would be easily apprehensible,” Owen said. “I’m here, of course, to catalog the drawings on the cave walls. It’s something of a pet project of mine, you see.”
Of course, it was obvious. The confusion of the surprise, the man’s presence, and Aiden’s agreement to let him poke around on the caves, all gradually cleared away from Bailey’s mind and she was embarrassed at having asked. What else would have drawn an archaeologist to the Caves?
She smiled at him, ready to make her exit then, and leave him too it. Best of luck. The Caves had a way of avoiding scrutiny. “Just be sure to let us all know what you find,” she said brightly, and began to leave.
“I do have just a few, small inquiries, if you find it convenient to indulge my curiosity for some small length of time,” Owen said when Bailey had gotten no more than a few steps past him.
She would have been lying to herself and anyone that noticed for Bailey to say that she wasn’t just a little bit piqued and flattered by the request. She led the cave tours for a reason—no one in town knew the caves like she did. Not even the coven, at least from an outsider, academic perspective. Even before Bailey had learned about her magic, and its roots in the Seven Caves, she’d been fascinated by them and spent years of her childhood imagining herself the intrepid investigator whose destiny it was to unlock their mysteries.
“I have some time,” she said. “What do you want to know?”
“My particular interest,” Owen said, “is whether you happen to know of any local folklore concerned the caves and the, shall we say, denizens of the imagination that might be associated with them.” He looked at her over his wide rimmed glasses.
Denizens, Bailey thought. Like herself? Like witches? A wizard, like Aiden, perhaps? She adjusted her estimation of the man, but his mind hadn’t evidenced any protections like the ones that kept her out of Aiden’s mind unless he invited her. No, he seemed normal enough. As normal as an archaeologist probably was, anyway.
“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with any such ‘denizens’,” Bailey admitted carefully. “Can you be more specific?”
“Of course,” he told her, “Forgive my apparent incertitude. I have in mind particular figurations regarding such things as ghost stories, urban myths about disappearances, phantom music or the fair folk, called faeries, or spirits, and so one.”
“Faeries?” Bailey repeated. “Most of the cultural roots of the region are Native American. The Caves don’t really figure into their mythology, which is strange in and of itself.” It was a thing she’d wondered about before. Francis, however, had explained that the Tribes had been just as secretive about magic inside their own society as any European society had been about theirs. When it came to the unknown, she said, all humans tended to get a little nervous.
“I most certainly agree,” Owen said, excited. He stared at the paintings on the walls of the first cave. An old desire stirred in Bailey’s chest. She imagined telling him the truth about the caves, being the person that revealed that secret to him. She liked him, she realized. Not just because he had complimented her, but also perhaps because he was a kind of childhood dream come to life.
“There is a story,” she realized. She’d heard it once, as a child. They’d had a cultural festival in town, and part of it had been a series of stories, local legends from the descendants of the Northwestern Tribes, as well as stories the settlers from the eastern United States had brought with them when they came. One of them, though, was related to the caves. Or, at least, to the area.
“Do tell, please,” Owen said. He watched her attentively, hands clasped behind his back.
“Well I think it’s probably a variation,” she said. “Something brought over by the first settlers to push west. But, it’s about a young man who wants to marry the mayor’s daughter. He performs a series of tasks—three instruments. He plays her a fiddle, a flute, and a horn. Her father, however, turns him down all three times.”
In the telling, details began to surface. “On the full moon of the fourth day, the young man goes down to the seaside—like I said, I think it’s a variation, that could mean the Caves,” she said, and Owen waved her on patiently. “He goes to the seaside, and he throws three stones into the ocean. And something like an ocean spirit, I suppose—it isn’t clear in the story—comes to him and gives him a pipe promising that if he plays the pipe for the girl she’ll fall in love with him.
“Well, the story goes that he returns to the Mayor’s house and plays the pipe for the girl, and she does fall in love. She comes dancing out of the house, and to his surprise, the pipe continues to play. They’re so caught up in the song and the joy of the moment that they both start dancing.” Ah. Perhaps she had forgotten the story on purpose. She grimaced when she recalled the ending. “They… danced into the sea, and were never seen again. It wasn’t a very happy story.”
“No,” Owen agreed. “True faery tales rarely are. It’s all so fascinating. Do you want to know why?”
Bailey could think of dozens of reasons, but wondered what Owen’s was. “Sure.”
He smiled at her, and then gazed around at the interior of the First Cave. “Because,” he said slowly, “I’ve explored over a dozen caves just like this one across the world, and every one of them has a similar story buried in the local folklore. Every single one. Now, isn’t that interesting?”