FICTION: The Star Seed Witches Meet at Midnight by Patrice Sarath

The Star Seed Witches Meet at Midnight

By Patrice Sarath

Copyright 2021

All Rights Reserved

Cover Art from “Study of Witches Going to their Sabbath” by Luis Ricardo Falero from Wikimedia Commons

The Open 24 Hours sign was a beacon of red neon in the rainy predawn. Evelyn pulled into the lumpy parking lot in her old Volvo wagon next to Carol’s Honda. The Star Seed Café windows were foggy but she could see their table and three shadowy figures around it. Evelyn felt a pang. Was it just two years ago when they had been at full strength? Now there were just four left, and soon, they would dwindle even more.

They looked up at her when she came in, her frizzy gray hair a halo in the humidity.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” Margie said. She pulled out a chair from a nearby table. Evelyn sat, shrugging out of her raincoat. Water droplets flew. The ladies grimaced. Carol handed her a napkin, and she mopped at her face and hair, the thin paper soaked in seconds.

Ginger said, “Don’t drip on us, Ev. It’s cold in here. The A/C must be at sixty-five.”

Margie laughed. “That’s Ev for you, always making a mess.” She patted Evelyn’s hand. “Just teasing, Ev.”

“Are you?” Evelyn said. The other ladies looked between them. Ginger’s fingers twitched and Carol looked worried. The dislike between Margie and Evelyn was well known, and normally the witches fed off it, but sometimes the spark could get out of control, and nobody wanted a fight tonight.

Margie grunted, and took a sip of coffee. “Why y’all so jumpy? It’s not like you got work to do. Goddamn, I’m so tired I’m ready to take on the Dark One Himself.”

They all made the sign, even Evelyn. She knew what Margie meant. Margie’s shiftless son, his dirtbag wife, and three grandkids all lived with her, and she was the only one working, as a home health aide no less. She wiped grownup butts and she wiped cute baby butts, and she might have been younger than they were, but she was old and mean, brought on by exhaustion and devastation. Evelyn tried to feel sympathy, but Margie annoyed her sometimes.

“You want us to do something about that, Margie?” Carol said.

She meant about the son and daughter-in-law. It wasn’t a matter of cursing, or calling up the devil. It was a matter of inclination. Push them where they were already headed. Just a boost. That’s all. But there was the matter of the kids.

They might be witches, but babies were babies.

Margie smiled, a tired smile that gave her momentary dimples. “Nah. I got that covered.” Before anyone could ask what she meant by that, Margie added, “Besides, I have another thing that we can do something about.”

The waiter came by with Ev’s standing order, migas, sausage, and French toast, and poured her coffee. While she ate, Margie filled them in.

One of her clients was a sweet lady in her eighties, bed- and wheelchair-bound due to a stroke. “She’s still in there,” Margie said, “But there’s no connection. Nothing in or out.”

Her son was in his fifties, and he was doing his best to fleece his mother of everything. “He comes in when I’m there, and he just takes stuff. Just walks off with it. He’s taken furniture, the silver, the china, brazen as you please, and right in front of her, and she can’t do anything about it. I’ve seen her expression. He gives her a kiss and says real loud, ‘Thanks, Ma.’”

“Jesus Christ,” Carol said. They all nodded.

“Yeah, he’s a real piece of work. Thing is, he’s a moron, because he thinks he’s cleaning her out, but there’s a bigger score in the house.” She looked around and then leaned in, and they moved in around her, Evelyn trying not to chew too loud.

“I think her husband was stacking silver and it’s still there somewhere.”

She smiled at their reactions. Evelyn thought about what a silver cache could do. It was the difference between living off social security and getting ahead.

“After our divorce I found out Harold stacked silver,” Ginger said. “Ended up being all of ten grand when he was through, and he took it with him when I kicked him out.” She sucked up her last dregs of coffee. “Shame about the gas line.”

Even Carol smirked. All they did was work with inclinations, with moving things the way they wanted to go. Ol’ Harold’s new place was connected to an old Texas gas line, and who were they to stop the gas from expanding the fifty-year old line?

“So have you looked?” Ginger asked, with her toothless cackle.

“No,” Margie said. “I’m not gonna paw through Miss Jessica Bertram’s possessions the way her son does.” Her dimples appeared again, contrasting with her wolfish grin. “I’ll read her aura the way the Dark One intended.” They all made the sign. “Miss Jessica’s hiding something, and I’m getting a strong image of precious metals along with a wish for revenge.”

They all perked up. Revenge — the strongest inclination of them all. Margie was right. They could work with this.

#

That afternoon, Evelyn dropped off Margie at the Bertram house when her shift started. The Bertram house was a bit shabby; it needed paint, and the landscaping was straggly and overgrown. The driveway was cracked, and the garage door was crooked. Once, though, this mid-century bungalow had sheltered a family where Miss Jessica had kept this house and raised her children, including the son who was treating her like an ATM.

Evelyn waited for Margie to go inside, and a few more long minutes for when the morning shift aide, a tired woman in pink scrubs, came out. She was on the phone and headed to the bus stop without looking at Ev’s car.

More long minutes, and then the curtain shook. At the signal, Evelyn got out of the car and hurried up the steps.

Margie let her in. The house was dim and cool, the place clean and uncluttered. There was little furniture — the son again — but for marble-topped end tables that would have bracketed a couch, centered in front of a missing television. There were photos on the mantel: a wedding, the family in front of the house when it was new, a frightened child on Santa’s lap. Miss Jessica was in a wheelchair in the middle of the room.

Evelyn knew better than to deify an old lady, even an old helpless-looking one slumped to her right side. She was an old lady herself, and she was far from sweet. Maybe the Bertram son had good reason to hate and mistreat his mother. Maybe Miss Jessica was a right old bitch. But she also was irritated by middle-aged men who thought the world owed them something. Lord, save me from men with a chip on their shoulder, she thought, making the sign.

“Miss Jessica, this is my friend Evie,” Margie said. She didn’t use the loud childlike voice people often adopted when talking to the elderly. “Evie, this is Jessica Bertram.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Evie said. There was no reaction from Jessica Bertram. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Margie.” She cast around for something to sit on and ended up on one knee by the wheelchair. She could tell that getting up was going to be a pain. “She asked me to come visit with you today, because she thinks that maybe together we can help you.”

Was that a flicker of something around Miz Bertram’s eyes? Ev reached out and took the woman’s hand, limp and unresponsive. She caressed it, and with her gaze locked on Miz Bertram’s, she said, “Margie told me about your son.”

That was a reaction. The woman moaned, and a bit of drool dripped from the corner of her mouth. Margie dabbed gently. “So you see,” Ev went on, “We think he’s upset you. But if he hasn’t — if you’re okay with things — we can just go on the way we are, and Margie will keep taking care of you, and when he comes back for the rest of your stuff, well, it’s his inheritance anyway, right?”

There was no other reaction, but Miz Bertram’s eyes lost their unfocused expression. She sharpened. Oh yes, she’s in there, Ev thought, and she wants out. It was time. Ev nodded at Margie, Margie nodded back, and with one hand clasped on Miz Bertram’s, and her other clasped with Margie’s hand, she and Margie began to chant.

On the third go round, something snapped, and Ev felt her head jerk, as she was joined by another consciousness, speaking in mid-stream.

“No, I wasn’t a good mother,” Ev said, speaking Miz Bertram’s words. “I know that. I made mistakes, especially with Jimmy. But it breaks my heart. I didn’t think he was this angry. I didn’t think he could be this mean.” Ev’s voice broke. “I just don’t think I deserve this torture.”

Miz Bertram in Ev’s body got up, Evelyn feeling every bit of it as she rose from a kneeling position to her feet. She could feel the old woman’s pleasure at being able to move again and a deeper disinclination to let go. Evelyn fought the urge to resist Jessica Bertram, at least just yet. Sometimes the rider didn’t want to dismount and had to be thrown, but now was not the time. They needed to find out where the silver was. And she wasn’t worried yet. It would take a while for Miz Bertram to know her own strength.

“Miss Jessica, let me help you,” Margie said, taking Evelyn’s body by the arm and helping to balance her. “That’s right, sugar, you’re doing fine. Now, let me know when you feel like it’s too much.”

“Can I go outside?” Miz Bertram said, Ev’s voice wistful.

“If you aren’t too tired,” Margie said.

Jessica Bertram walking around her house, touching things, picking up photos and setting them down, caressing a loved bowl on the kitchen counter. Milk glass, still a collectible in some quarters — Jimmy Bertram obviously didn’t know it was worth anything, or just hadn’t had a chance to come for it.

“Do you want me to put that away for safekeeping?” Margie asked, and Jessica made Evelyn smile.

“Not yet. Not yet,” she said, and kept walking. Over the next half hour Jessica opened up the cedar chest, checked the closets, visited old photo albums, and finally sat at the kitchen table near the window looking out on the backyard. There were two mature oaks out there, a falling down toolshed, and an old greenhouse, the plastic smeared and stained by weather. The way she sat on the old paint-stained chair, it was clear that she had sat here many a time, having her Maxwell House, leafing through the Reader’s Digest or a ladies’ magazine.

She turned Ev’s body so she could see out the window, but also keep an eye on the front of the house.

“When the children went to school, it was my time,” she remembered. She ran a finger over the scarred wooden table. “Sometimes I sat here for hours, just daydreaming. I’d sit so long, they’d come home after school and I’d have to jump up and pretend I’d been busy all day. That’s the only thing keeping me sane in there.” She nodded her chin at her unmoving, slumped body. “I’ve had lots of practice. Sometimes I dreamed that I waved good-bye to the kids, and then got up and packed a suitcase and took off in the car.” She smiled. “That was a good one. I dreamed that one a lot.”

“Did the kids know?” Margie asked.

“I don’t think the kids knew anything. Children are so self-centered. My husband used to make fun of me — he always said it was just in fun — and after a while they all started to do it.” Now she sounded spiteful and self-satisfied. “So I stopped talking to them. I’d stare right through them. Ellen could be whining about something, and I would just look at her as if she was a cockroach. Jimmy begged me once to talk, just to please talk, and it gave me great pleasure to walk away.”

“I haven’t seen Ellen,” Margie observed.

“No, no, Ellen and I have been estranged for many decades now. She had her chance, but she took her father’s side in everything, and she has to lie in the bed that she made.”

She looked straight at Margie. Evelyn, deep inside, could see Margie’s jaded expression at what they were hearing. Apple, tree, Evelyn thought. And that clearly leaked through to Jessica, because Miz Bertram said with great resentment,

“So you think Jimmy’s spitefulness is because of me? I told you, I made mistakes, but he chose to steal from me. I didn’t teach him to be the kind of son who robs his mother. I didn’t teach my children to be snotty and disrespectful and hateful. I showed them nothing but love for many years, and when I grew tired of being the family joke, they didn’t like it, did they.” The deep bitterness burned Evelyn’s throat. She lifted a hand with great difficulty, and Margie recognized the sign.

“Miss Jessica, we’re going to put you back now, but we’ll let you out for another chat soon,” she said.

“Oh will you, eh? And what if I decide I don’t want to go ba–”

Evelyn snapped to, almost bouncing her head against the window. “Ow,” she said, rubbing her neck. She looked over at Miz Bertram, and then at Margie. They gathered at the kitchen sink where Jessica Bertram couldn’t see or hear them. They talked low.

“I don’t know,” Margie said. “I think I like him better now.”

“What do we do now?” Evelyn said. “I don’t want her back inside me.” She shuddered.

“Did you get anything about the silver?”

“Nothing. Just Chatty Cathy talking about her stellar parenting skills.”

The sound of the front door opening made them turn.

“Hey Ma!” Jimmy Bertram called. Margie and Evelyn gave each other deep looks and went into the living room to see the son kissing his mom on the cheek. He looked like his mother around the eyes and mouth. He was about Margie’s age, tall and bulky, gone to seed. His belly overflowed his jeans.

“Hi Margie!” Jimmy said. “Who’s your friend?”

“Hello, Mr. Bertram,” Margie said. “This is Evelyn. She’s learning the ropes and will be taking on a shift with your mother.”

“Well, Evelyn, don’t let my mother’s mild-mannered exterior fool you. She’s a live wire, right Ma?” he said, patting his mother’s shoulder with extravagant affection. The last pat jarred his mother’s unresponsive body. It was almost a smack.

“It must be hard for you, to see your mom in this way,” Evelyn said. “But we take good care of all of our patients. They’re like family.”

He laughed, a little too hard, like the pat. “That’s too bad. No, just joking,” he added, before they could even react. “Just joking. That’s the way we do it in the Bertram family. Everyone’s a joker. Especially Mom. She was a real kidder, back in the day.”

Evelyn couldn’t resist. “You’re a good son, to come by every day. Margie told me.”

Jimmy turned to look at her, really look at her. The avuncular act fell away. There was a hardness around his mouth that was more than just a resemblance to his mother’s facial structure, but an echo of her spitefulness and meanness. That anger and pent-up spite was the mother’s true legacy. That was the Bertram way all right.

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “Yeah. I see what’s going on. Well, all it takes is one phone call, ladies, and you two are out on your ass, so if you want to keep your shitty job, you’ll keep your opinions to yourselves.”

He went down the hall toward the bedrooms, and they could hear him rummaging around. They all three looked at each other, although it was hard to tell where Miss Jessica might be looking at any given moment. They were all still like that when he came out with a clock radio and a bedside lamp. He gave them all a glare but said nothing as he slammed the door behind him, getting the radio cord stuck in the door, and having to open up the door again so he could get out.

#

A day later, Margie and Evelyn and Jessica inside Evelyn sat around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating Nutter Butters. Evelyn wasn’t a fan, but Jessica had missed them. She raved over them, and the chance to drink coffee again. She asked for Maxwell House, but Evelyn put her foot down and they were drinking Starbucks.

“Why didn’t you just get a divorce?” Margie asked, as Jessica dunked her cookie in her latte. “I mean, I can understand it was the Fifties, but–”

“Sixties, by then. And no one got a divorce. Also, they were my children.” She made Evelyn shudder. “Can you imagine, if he remarried and they loved someone else?”

Evelyn was permeated with Jessica’s sickening spite. It had grown like a cancer, so that the feeling of being put upon had blotted out anything approaching love. She had loved the chance to reject her children over and over again, gotten addicted to it. Reveled in it, every rejection, every gotcha.

And that’s how we got here, she thought.

Miss Jessica snorted. “Your friend is awfully judgmental,” she said to Margie. With great deliberation she took another Nutter Butter, and stuffed it in her mouth, and then another, and another. Evelyn tried not to gag.

Margie rolled her eyes and took the package away.

“We’re trying to help,” she reminded her. “We’ll cut the connection if you don’t behave.”

Jessica made a face, as if she had eaten a turd instead of a cookie. “Well, I don’t know what you think you can do, Although I suppose you might kill him.” A wave of self-righteous satisfaction swept through her, so strong that again Evelyn felt the strange allure too. Jessica imagined herself as a mother who would have the spotlight for her grief. Confined to a wheelchair, her only son visiting her, and now gone…

“We don’t kill,” Margie said. “We push. Whatever happens, they do it to themselves. Is Jimmy inclined to anything?”

But Jessica didn’t want to talk about it, just thinking over and again about how she could mourn a dead son. The sympathy, the righteousness, finally the recognition she deserved.

When it was time to disconnect, she fought. Evelyn severed the link with a decisive snap, taking pleasure in shutting the old woman up in mid plaint. After she left the house, Evelyn drank a bottle of water and spit and spit until she got the cookie taste out of her mouth.

#

The whole thing was taking its toll. Miss Jessica was becoming harder to host. Her commitment to being wronged and getting even the most petty revenge, was both tiring and also weirdly attractive. Evelyn found herself at odd moments burning with random resentments.

The ladies met at Star Seed to chew over the situation. It was 2 am, and they were the only patrons. The cook was their waiter and cashier.

“I’m not going back,” Evelyn told them. “She’s narcissistic and dangerous.” She shuddered. “I’m not a delicate flower, but this isn’t worth it.”

“We’re close though,” Margie said. “When she’s not inside you, when it’s just us, I keep getting images of strongboxes.”

“Well, I’m not,” Evelyn said. “She just giggles over the fact that she mentally tortured her children when they were little.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Margie said. “I think you’re distracting her. Maybe try not to be so judge-y when she’s in there.”

“Oh, you try not judging her,” Evelyn said.

“I’m just saying, what are you doing in there? Just rummage around a little. That’s the whole point.”

 “She wants my body.” Evelyn’s voice was rising. They all looked at her, and she shushed, but she went on. “She’s getting harder to evict too.”

Carol raised a hand. “Ev, I trust your analysis. But from everything I’m hearing, is it possible we’ve got the wrong target? I mean, maybe we need to be working Jimmy, and pushing Jessica.”

It made sense. Jimmy knew something was up. Sure he was taking the household goods, but he ended up in the back rooms all the time, rummaging around. He knew there was something else.

“It’s harder to let a man in,” Evelyn said, but speculatively. “And doubtful he’ll tell us anything useful, if she won’t.”

“We’re not getting anything useful now,” Margie said. “Carol should be doing this.”

Her words fell into the sudden silence around the table. “Jesus, Margie,” Evelyn said, disgusted. Ginger made a sour noise through flaccid lips. Carol smiled, her dark eyes damp.

“Oh, don’t worry. She’s just saying what we’re all thinking.”

I wasn’t, Evelyn thought, even though she was. And then she had a sudden flash of something ugly, something spiteful. Sure, Carol gets to be the noble one, but she’s just like us. Hypocrite.

“I’ll do it,” Evelyn said. “I’ll ride Jimmy.”

“No,” Ginger said at once, her words both mushy and clear. “You already have a rapport with Miss Jessica. I’ll ride Jimmy, push him to confront her. You pick up on the strongbox.” She looked around at them, face like a wrinkled apple doll. “And once we learn where the money is, then –” She made a gesture, like reining in a horse. “Heigh-ho, Silver.”

They all looked around. It was quiet in the diner, and the cook was in the back, washing up. As one, they all smiled.

#

“Brought more friends, eh?” Jimmy said, as he came in to see his mother, Margie, Evelyn, and Ginger. Ginger smiled, a professional therapist’s smile, flashing perfect teeth, her frizzy hair calmed under an ash-blond bobbed wig, her lean form in a Dress Barn pantsuit. She stretched out her hand.

“Mr. Bertram, so nice to meet you. I’m from the home health agency, and Margie called me in to discuss what’s going on. As you know from the contract you signed, the agency is required to step in when there’s evidence of elder abuse.”

He grew red and closed in on her. “The only people abusing my mother are your aides! I’ve suspected for a long time that they’ve been stealing things from her house, and I have proof–”

Ginger reached out and touched his hand, tapping the inside of his wrist twice. At once, Jimmy fell still and silent.

At the same time, Evelyn opened herself up to Jessica.

“What’s happening? What’s going on?” Jessica demanded.

“Ginger here is a licensed therapist,” Margie said. “She’s going to facilitate a conversation between you and your son.” She sat back on one of the end tables. “And I’m going to listen.”

Evelyn and Jimmy faced off against one another. Jimmy was immobilized under Ginger’s influence. Only his lips moved.

“Well,” Jessica-Evelyn said. “Look at you.” The sarcasm came through loud and clear.

“What—what’s going on, Ma?” His voice – Ginger’s voice – was full of fear.

“These nice ladies want us to talk, I think, mother to son. Open up, tell family secrets. Don’t you, ladies? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

A twinge of panic shivered down Evelyn’s spine. Shit. Jessica Bertram wasn’t stupid.

“Why should I listen to anything you have to say?” Ginger’s voice came out of Jimmy’s mouth. “After freezing me out since I was ten years old.” Jessica turned Evelyn’s body, looking past him, archly ignoring her son. “Of course. Good old Mom, always got to stick it to me.”

Self-righteousness flooded through Evelyn.

“Do you think I wanted to? You gave me no choice,” Jessica said. “You and your sister — you, you — it was the only way to make you be respectful.”

“We were kids, Ma. We didn’t know what was going on. You made me and Ellen feel like shit.”

“Oh did you?” Jessica said. This was going all wrong, Evelyn thought. What was Ginger doing? She tried to reach out to Ginger, to Margie, but the old woman was having none of it, her spite and self-satisfaction a greasy river smothering Evelyn’s initiative. “How sad for you. You chose to disrespect your mother. Those were the consequences.

“You never talked to us! How could we know anything?” Jimmy was crying, Ginger’s voice thick with tears.

“Do you remember when I finally gave up?” Jessica said, with righteous tears of her own. “Your father tripped me coming out of the kitchen with a roast chicken. Then he laughed. And you and Ellen laughed, too. Your father took y’all out to dinner at Roy’s while I cleaned up.”

Jimmy was quiet for a long time. And then he said, in Ginger’s monotone, “We were so scared. It was all so wrong. When we came home that night, we tried to say we were sorry. But you turned away. We begged and begged you to forgive us. But you just didn’t say anything.”

“You wanted to be just like him. You got what you wanted.”

“We were scared, Ma. And you didn’t help us. You were like a ghost in the house.” He was crying. “I begged you, Ma. We both begged you.”

“Well, and see where it got y’all,” she said. “Not yet,” she added at Evelyn’s attempt to throw her. “I’m not done.”

“Don’t you see, Ma? We would have done anything for you, but you turned us both away.”

“You chose him,” Jessica said.

“You gave us no choice,” Jimmy said, echoing her words.

You wanted to go,” she said. There it was, the willingness to be hard done by, to be put upon, the sick need to be wronged. It was her world view, her identity. She wanted nothing more than to show the world how hurt she was.

Again, there was a long silence, so long that Evelyn began to wonder what was going on inside Jimmy’s head, and what had happened to Ginger. He finally sighed.

“Well, you’re wrong,” he said. “But this is where it ends. I’m not coming back.” His voice changed, became tired. “Let me go. You ladies can do what you want, but I want to go.”

“You think it’s that easy? You get to leave, just like that, and leave me here?”

“Let. Me. Go.” It was Ginger’s voice but it took on a rasp of desperation.

“NO! Don’t you dare leave me!” With a strength that took Evelyn by surprise, Jessica Bertram ran forward at her son’s immobile body, and pushed as hard as she could. Evelyn’s hands connected with Jimmy’s chest, and the body went over backwards, the back of his head landing on the marble-topped end table.

The sickening dull crunch was a sound Evelyn would never forget. Ginger jerked as Jimmy died, and she went to her knees. Evelyn struggled against Jessica, and this time the old lady was so shocked at what she had done that she left easily.

They looked at the dead man and his mother the murderer, who would never be charged with the crime, since she was wheelchair-bound and frail.

“We are so fucked,” Margie said.

#

The newspapers were full of the crime. Investigators found that Jimmy Bertram had been robbing his mother ever since her stroke, and that an unknown accomplice had come in and likely had a fight with him over her belongings. The only prints in the house were Margie’s, Jimmy’s, and Jessica’s, and the witches made sure that the investigators were inclined away from Margie, who “discovered” the body when she came on shift.

Investigators never found the silver, which was probably a good thing.

Carol went into hospice care and died, which wasn’t.

#

The witches kept meeting at Star Seed Café each week, Carol’s empty chair a silent reminder. Margie got a job cleaning office buildings, prowling dimly lit hallways with a rolling trash can and an attitude worse than usual. Ginger kept her teeth in, but still ate hardly anything and spoke less. They had asked her what happened, and she just shook her head, a little less witch-like and more just …tired. Maybe Jimmy’s last words had been Ginger’s after all.

Evelyn’s dreams had grown strange. She kept seeing children she didn’t have, a husband she didn’t know. She woke with a belly full of acid and strange resentments taking control over her at random moments. Something had to be done.

At the next Star Seed, Evelyn blew across her coffee, and said, “Hey Margie, whatever happened to Jessica anyway?”

Margie just snorted.

“She’s in assisted living over there on 45th St, where she should have been in the first place.”

So, Evelyn went to visit, a packet of Nutter Butters in hand. The administrators were glad to see poor Miss Jessica had a visitor so they let her in. Evelyn sat down with the old lady in her room, door closed, and held her hand. She began the chant, and in an instant she had company.

“What do you want?” Miss Jessica said resentfully. “You gonna give me those?” She made to grab the cookies, but Evelyn was strong, and kept her hand down. She knew better than to give Jessica Bertram even the slightest bit of control. She knew what the old woman could do.

“Not until you tell me where the silver is.”

There was a long silence. Then, a laugh. “Why should I tell you?”

“You want to get out of here, don’t you?”

#

The silver coins were in a strongbox in the backyard, inside the old greenhouse. The house, with a for sale sign out front, was vacant, waiting to be sold, knocked down, and the lot repurposed for a gigantic fourplex. Jessica-Evelyn found the key to the chain-link fence gate under the old flower pot, and they unlocked the gate and went into the greenhouse. It was dark and full of spiders, but Jessica told Evelyn where to dig, and the dirt, compacted though it was, came up after chipping away at it, and there was a box, buried shallowly. It was heavy, and it was full.

She made a half-hearted attempt to evict Jessica, but the old woman just laughed, and whispered her secrets in Evelyn’s ear.

#

The diner was hopping that night. Evelyn drove up in her little car and parked. It was a clear night, no rain, and bright lights of the café illuminated Margie and Ginger at their favorite table. There were a few more patrons; the university term was in session, so there were students studying or talking. All very normal.

Evelyn had come with a peace offering and plan — a pile of silver and a new recruit. But she saw Margie and Ginger, heads together, in close conversation, and her stomach burned.

They just had to start without us, she thought. They never wait. They’re probably talking about us right now. Well, maybe we’ll just give them the silent treatment. See what they think of that. Especially Margie. She thought about the strongbox in the trunk of her car. Who’s the smart one now, Margie?

With a thin smile, they got out of her car and went in to meet their friends.


Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season (Books I and II of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

Patrice is the author of numerous short stories that have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy of 2003 compiled by David Hartwell and Katherine Cramer. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse by Permuted Press.

Patrice is an avid horsewoman. She also enjoys bike-riding and hiking the woods and trails outside Austin.



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