“I can’t do this anymore, Riley. You know I love being with you, but there’s something very wrong here.” Eddie searches my face for an answer I don’t have, and then gently whispers, “I’m sorry.”
My chin quivers. I tell myself that I’m not going to cry. But when I hear those breakup words coming from the lips of yet another guy, tears instantly roll down my cheeks. Waiting on little hope that he’ll take it all back, I stare into Eddie’s eyes—or eye, to be exact. The other eye is purple black and swollen shut.
I avert my gaze, trying not to think about what happened to him, but it’s a little difficult when everywhere I look I see one of his injuries. He has a cast on his right arm from his fingers to his elbow. On his left arm, there are two large bandages covering badly scraped-up skin, and he has to lean on crutches due to a sprained ankle.
Eddie and I had only been dating for three weeks. We were enjoying our fifth date at Fenway Park, watching the Sox proudly pummel the Yankees. Even though it was an exciting game, we weren’t paying much attention because we were completely engrossed in conversation. That’s why neither of us saw the line-drive foul ball flying right at us. Of course, the fans around us did.
I heard a sudden flurry of commotion and looked up just as the guy directly in front of Eddie tried to catch the ball. He had it in his glove for a second or two, but then – WHAM! The baseball hit Eddie in the eye. Eddie tumbled back, over his seat, screaming in pain, and he twisted his ankle in the process. Adding insult to literal injury, a few crazed fans trampled his right arm as they dove to lay claim to the ball.
If this had been an isolated incident, Eddie wouldn’t be leaving. But from the moment I met him, there were problems. More accurately, there was a lot of bad luck we chose to ignore. On our first date, Eddie and I went to dinner and a movie. Everything was going remarkably well until the man sitting next to us spilled his ridiculously large soda in Eddie’s lap. On the second date, a distracted driver rear-ended Eddie’s brand new car. On the third date, some thug robbed him right after he withdrew money from an ATM. Surprisingly, nothing unpleasant happened on the fourth date, but Eddie thinks he was spared only because the God of Luck (or lack thereof) was saving his strength to serve him the whopper at Fenway Park.
I brush away my tears and look into Eddie’s eye again. I want to fight for Eddie. I want to tell him this little bit of bad luck will pass, that it has nothing to do with us and most definitely has nothing to do with me. But I know I’d be lying. It has everything to do with me. Eddie is the fourth guy to say goodbye to me for fear that I’m a bad luck magnet.
“I understand,” I barely manage to whisper. I try to swallow the lump in my throat, but it seems to grow with every passing second. Before I dissolve into a puddle of tears, I quickly kiss him goodbye. I try to look at him one last time, but his hair has fallen over his good eye.
He reaches up, forgetting he has on a cast, and conks himself in the head. “Ah!”
I grab for him before he stumbles back with his crutches, but I’m too late. He takes out a Starbucks cardboard display and falls into a group of people waiting in line. “Are you okay?” I say, rushing to his side as a couple of guys help to steady him back on his feet.
Eddie straightens himself out. “Don’t!” He levels his eye on me, shooting out his stiff arm to keep me from coming any closer. “Just…don’t.”
I take a step back and say nothing as I watch him struggle to make a seven-point turn. Once he’s finally headed in the right direction, he awkwardly hobbles out the door and away from me forever.
Ignoring all the dirty looks, I carry my cappuccino to a quiet table and sit down. I must figure out why my luck with men has taken an unexpected, unlucky detour. I pull my daily journal from my handbag and start thumbing through the pages, reviewing all of the “accidents” that happened to my dates.
My friends have always given me a hard time about my obsession with keeping a daily journal. But now, for once, my attention to detail is paying off. I might not know the why of my misfortune with men, but because of my journal, I know exactly when things started going so horribly wrong.
I take a slow sip of my cappuccino, staring at the date April 5. Why did I have to go to Scotland? Why did I have to end up in that town, that pub? If I hadn’t been there, none of this would be happening.
I make my living as an insurance agent, so I understand that bad things happen when a person is reckless, or ignores common sense, or isn’t paying attention to oncoming traffic because texting seems more important. But that’s not me. At all. And, dammit, I had planned that trip for so long!
It took exactly six years, eleven months, and twelve days to finally get to Scotland. And what did I get for my trouble? I got cursed by a witch! I know that sounds a little dramatic, but I assure you it’s not. I’m a realist. At least I was. Now I don’t know what I am. I’m currently questioning my belief system on an epic level because I have no logical explanation for my predicament. None that a realist would believe, anyway.
I take another sip of my cappuccino and continue to unravel the reason for this curse of mine. Was I in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was I destined to be there? I didn’t choose Scotland out of thin air. It goes all the way back to my high school graduation.
Because my parents didn’t have enough money to send me to college, their gift to me was a one-week trip of my choosing. I could go anywhere in the world. My friends wanted me to pick Cancun, but I couldn’t get Scotland out of my head. Maybe it was my Scottish ancestors calling to me, or maybe I just loved the sound of the Scottish brogue. Whatever the reason, I finally decided on Scotland.
Sadly, I was never able to tell my parents of my decision because, that same day, I learned my dad had run away with Sam, his mechanic. Little did any of us know that Sam was short for Samantha. She might have had skills as a mechanic, but she had no skill in picking a sugar daddy. For some reason, she thought my dad was loaded. He wasn’t.
I was twenty-one before I tried going to Scotland again. I was days away from booking my ticket when my then-roommate suddenly left town to join the circus. (No one was more surprised than I was to discover that Trina’s ability to walk on her hands while balancing a bowl of water with her feet would ever make her money.) Anyway, this circumstance forced me to use my vacation fund to cover her portion of our expenses. I put Scotland on hold once again.
After that, it took me three months to find a roommate. Carmen Reyes was in her senior year at Boston University, working toward a career as a financial analyst. Who better to share expenses with? She obviously had the whole budget thing down. Carmen moved in and was so good with numbers that she showed me how I could save ninety-five dollars a month!
Just when Scotland finally seemed within my reach, my job fell through. I bounced around the job market for two years before I landed my current position at First Rate Protection. Unlike the overused joke that goes around our office, we are not a prophylactic manufacturer. We’re a midsized insurance company that’s growing steadily each year. (You can see how the prophylactic jokes just keep coming into play.)
Anyway, as I mentioned, I’m an insurance agent and I work at the corporate office. Because First Rate prides itself on providing exceptional personal service, they expect their agents to handle everything for policyholders—from selling insurance, to helping file claims, to making sure claims are paid out in a timely manner. Since I was building my client list, I didn’t schedule a vacation in the first year. I worked fifteen months straight before I took time off. Then, at last, I was going to Scotland.
And so was Carmen. We’d been roommates and best friends for almost four years. Now that she was engaged, we knew that this trip could be her last before she immersed herself in all things wedding. With both of our expertise in preplanning, the two of us had everything booked and covered from the minute we stepped off the plane. Our entire ten-day vacation was truly a dream. Well, almost.
At first, it felt like good luck was following us. Case in point: our car rental reservation was for the cheapest economy car available, but somehow it had been given away to another MacGowan—a Rowena MacGowan. What could have been a costly disaster, turned out in our favor. Owning up to their mistake, the rental car company gave Carmen and me a roomy, standard size car equipped with automatic windows, a CD player, and a GPS for the same price as the tin can we’d paid for.
A similar thing happened when we arrived at our first bed and breakfast. Whomever took our reservation had mistakenly reserved a room with a queen-size bed instead of two doubles. Feeling horrible for the mix-up, the owners put us up in their largest en suite, which had two double beds and a breathtaking view of the Scottish countryside.
We even had good luck with the weather when we set out for a scenic drive on our second day. The expected rainstorm that was sure to ruin it, petered out right as we hopped in the car. Our trip ran so smoothly that we found ourselves ahead of schedule. We arrived early in Edinburgh and were able to take the last daily tour of the famous Edinburgh Castle. This allowed us to squeeze in a visit to the National Museum of Scotland the following morning before we went to the magnificent St. Giles Cathedral, with its richly colored stained glass windows and stunning crown spire.
Every day seemed more magical. The Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye were lovely and serene. Inverness was beautiful, as was Aberdeen, and our tour of Drum Castle was nothing but majestic. We tried to find the elusive Loch Ness Monster, but failed, so we moved on to exploring the haunting ruins of Urquhart Castle. All in all, the sights were breathtaking, the people were enchanting, and Scotland was everything I’d hoped for.
So, on the very last night, I couldn’t complain when it finally rained. Carmen and I had been sightseeing in the Highlands, and somehow the rain felt like part of the Scottish charm. What I did mind was our GPS conking out. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but we were out in the middle of nowhere, and I was sure we were lost. Not that I’m superstitious, because I’m not, but when three bad things suddenly occur in a row, it shoots up a serious red flag.
“I think we should turn around,” I said to Carmen as I stared at my phone.
“Why?” She raised her brows, seeming genuinely shocked that I would suggest such a thing. “Because of a little rain?”
“No. Because we don’t know where we are, and we can’t figure out where we are when the GPS isn’t working.” I showed her the dead screen on my phone.
“We sort of know.” She shrugged, putting her eyes back on the road. “By my calculations, we’re a little over an hour south of Inverness. Besides, have we had a bad day or even one bad moment yet?”
“No,” I grumbled. “But let’s not push it.”
Carmen slowed the car as we came to a fork in the road. She tossed her long black bangs out of her eyes and gazed at me. “Right or left?”
“I vote for option three.”
“Oh, come on,” she chided, smacking her gum. “You can’t throw out your sense of adventure on our last night in Scotland.”
“I got a bad feeling about this, like my adventure-with-Allie bad feeling.”
“You know, Allie from yoga? Remember, last fall, when we were supposed to go pumpkin picking?”
Carmen chuckled. “I forgot about that. You two were going to that big pumpkin patch up north.”
“Yeah, only we never made it there. She got off on the wrong exit. Then she wanted to stop to take pictures of the changing leaves. Before I knew it, we were walking further into the woods and got all turned around. Three hours later, I had to call nine-one-one.”
“And here you are, lost again,” she said brightly. “Right or left?”
“Right,” I groused as I closed my eyes and crossed my fingers.
“Right, it is!” she chirped, then turned onto a narrow, winding road. “I’m sure we’ll come across a small town any minute.”
But we didn’t. We drove another five minutes, and then another.
“I’ve seen that before.” Carmen pointed to an oddly familiar rectangular boulder.
I, too, began to take note of the landmarks. The two pastures on our left were bare of livestock, and there was a peculiar Scotch elm hanging over the road. Half of it was alive with budding flowers and the other half was dead with brittle, claw-like branches. We also passed, more than once, a crumbling stone fence halfway up a distant hill. There were no houses, or buildings, or cars, for that matter.
“This is weird. I feel like we’re going around in circles, yet at the same time, doesn’t it seem like it’s getting more desolate?” I asked, concern coloring my voice.
“A little.” Carmen glanced in her rearview mirror to see if there were any approaching cars. “It’s been at least ten minutes since we’ve passed another car.”
“We have to be heading in the wrong direction.”
“Maybe.” Carmen bit her lip, sitting board-straight, as if complete concentration would help her navigate the way back to Edinburgh. “I’ll turn around as soon as we get over this hill.”
When our car reached the top of the narrow, winding road, we spotted a quaint village nestled just below us. I glanced at the side of the road and spied a dilapidated wheelbarrow with a broken wooden handle and a flat tire. Next to it was a tiny, rusted sign swinging from one hinge. “Glenloch.” I scanned the map the rental company gave us. “I don’t see it on here.”
“Looks pretty old-world.” Carmen inched the car along the isolated road. “Maybe it’s too small to put on a map.”
We continued into Glenloch. It was dusk now, but still light enough for us to make out a tiny town center lined with shops that were already closed for the night. The rain had let up, so when we saw a pub, we pulled over.
“Clearly no nightlife here,” I commented, surprised to see the streets so empty.
We approached the entrance to McIntyre’s Pub, and as I reached for the door, Carmen grabbed the crook of my arm, pulling me back. “I’m not sure we should go in there,” she warned in a voice full of trepidation. “If the outside is any indication…” She trailed off, motioning to the large sections of peeling paint, the dreary, mud-splattered windows, and the scraps of waded newspapers collecting by the pub’s entrance.
I glanced up the street, hoping to see someone who could direct us toward Edinburgh, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. “We’ll get directions, then go.”
We entered the pub and everyone fell silent as their eyes locked on Carmen and me. I tensed up and glanced at Carmen who was anxiously looking around the establishment.
“It’s a small town,” I assured her.
“Right.” She forced a smile. “They probably do that when anyone enters. Norm!” she added, referencing the well-loved character from the old TV show, Cheers.
I chuckled, then surveyed the pub, noticing that no one had returned to their own conversations. Instead, they continued staring at us. In that moment, I felt a serious chill run over my skin—a chill that did not come from cold weather. Carmen sensed something too because she quietly muttered, “We need to go,” in Spanish.
But as I turned on my heels to leave, I heard an accented female voice, directed toward us. “Now, now,” the woman began, “ya don’t want ta be goin’ back out in dat rain.”
Her accent wasn’t Scottish, as I expected it to be, but more exotic in a tropical island sense. She sounded partly French, partly Jamaican. My gaze drifted to a tiny old woman tucked away in the corner just behind us. She had dark skin, a head full of elaborate, beaded braids, and deep-set cobalt eyes. There was something mesmerizing and dangerously seductive about her.
“Ya need ta stay awhile.” Her voice was smooth as warm honey, and though you’d think it was a suggestion out of concern, it felt like a threat.
At that moment, the rain returned, pounding violently against the roof. It reminded me of the pub scene in the horror movie classic, An American Werewolf in London. My heart began to beat faster and my joints stiffened, making it difficult to flee out the door.
“Sit where you want,” I suddenly heard from a sweet, redheaded woman who looked like she made homemade cookies year round.
The fear gripping me lessened, but my unease hadn’t. I made eye contact with Carmen who was chewing nervously her lower lip. “What do you want to do?” I asked.
She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could answer, a small group of patrons seated in the opposite corner of the pub burst out laughing, as if someone had told a joke. The welcoming Scottish voices we’d come to love over the past few days lilted through the air. Conversations resumed, and the tension dissolved into nothing. Relief flooded Carmen’s face. “I think our imaginations are getting the better of us.”
I chuckled. “Let’s sit over there.” I pointed to a corner table near the dartboard, and more importantly, the farthest available table from where the strange woman still sat. A few minutes later, we ordered two pints of beer, and before long, we were laughing at ourselves and our overactive imaginations.
Halfway through our pints, the heavy rain began pelting down in sheets. The owner of the pub stoked the fire, and none of us had any intention of leaving anytime soon. The owner, Simon, was the only bartender and the one waitress, his wife Anna, became frantic as everyone settled in for the evening, ordering dinner and more pints of beer.
I decided on the fish and chips while Carmen ordered the Sheppard’s Pie. The food was good, so we eventually switched over to tea, and shared a scrumptious plate of Scottish cream buns. “This is the best pub food I’ve ever tasted,” I said, popping the last bun into my mouth, then closing my eyes to savor the delicious whipped cream.
“It definitely rivals our faves in Boston.” Carmen poured the last of the tea in her cup, then dropped in two cubes of sugar.
“I think we can chalk this up as another amazing day on our amazing vacation.” I high-fived Carmen.
Simon rang a bell behind the bar, startling the hell out of us, and an abrupt silence fell over the pub.
I swiveled around in my seat. “What’s going on?” I asked no one in particular.
Anna emerged from the kitchen carrying a glass bowl filled with tiny pieces of folded paper and a jar full of coins. “Time for tonight’s drawin’. Everyone in?” She glanced at us and, noticing the questioning look on my face, added, “It’s our form of a wee lottery, dearie. For each pound you put in the pot, yer name goes into the drawin’. Every night, we pick a lucky winner.”
“Oh, how nice,” I replied. “How long have you been doing this?”
Her warm smile quickly vanished. “How long?” Anna nervously shifted from one foot to the other. “Well, let’s see. Ever since the lovely Kitabah came tae town,” she stated carefully with a plastered smile back on her face.
I felt the tension in the air as a few brave eyes drifted toward the strange woman near the door.
“Wi’ the rain, it’s a full house, Kitabah,” Anna reminded her. “I’m sure this is goin’ tae be yer lucky night.”
There was a roar of agreement, which left no doubt that the drawing was fixed.
“I find that tourists are often the lucky ones.” Anna rattled the jar of coins in my direction. “Would you care tae try yer luck?”
I glanced at Carmen who stared at me with a look somewhere between totally creeped out and absolute, sheer terror.
I turned back to Anna. “Uh, that’s okay,” I said. “We don’t want to decrease anyone else’s chances of winning.”
Then came the onslaught of insistent voices.
“Och, no! You wouldn’t be doin’ that.”
“Go on, you could win!”
“All are welcome.”
“Give it a go!”
Everyone’s excessive encouragement made me all the more wary.
Seeing my hesitation, a thin, old man sitting at the table next to us, leaned in and whispered, “We appreciate anyone addin’ tae the pot. If it’s big enough, maybe the witch’ll win and be on her way.”
Witch? Okay, now I was seriously creeped out, and it validated that feeling I had the second I walked into the pub. I clearly wasn’t the only one who thought this Kitabah woman was a little freaky. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was extorting money from these sweet people by threatening them with some spell or curse.
Anna was still staring at me, holding out the jar of money. She shook it again, her eyes desperately pleading with me to add to it.
I rose slowly, pulled out a silver pound from my front jeans pocket, and dropped it in the jar. “There you go,” I sang, trying to sound cheery, even though I had a sinking feeling that I’d just sealed my fate. Would I now be eaten by a werewolf? Or sucked dry by some ancient vampire? If he looks like Taylor Lautner or Robert Pattinson…well, there are worse ways to go.
“Does yer pal want tae play?” Anna asked, holding the jar out to Carmen.
“No, she does not,” Carmen answered decisively.
I heard a few gasps around the pub, so I hastily pulled out another silver pound for Carmen and dropped it into the jar. “That’s for my friend.”
Carmen let out an audible groan as I sank slowly into my chair.
“Whit’s yer name?” Anna tore off a piece of paper and grabbed a pen.
“Oh, that’s not necessary,” I nervously told her. “We’re just happy to see one of you win.”
“Do not upset the odds, girl,” said that voice I recognized, the one that sounded like the hiss of a serpent being carried on the back of the wind. “Your name,” Kitabah called to me. It felt more like a summons than a strong suggestion.
Carmen said something in Spanish that I couldn’t quite make out, though I’m certain I heard “God” and “help us” in her ramblings.
“Beth,” I blurted with feigned confidence.
Anna nodded, then scribbled down my fake name on the piece of paper and clandestinely showed it to me.
To my great relief, the name on the paper read: KITABAH.
“And yer name?” Anna asked, staring at Carmen.
Carmen locked eyes with Anna, and in a trembling voice replied, “Eva.”
Again, Anna nodded, wrote down “Kitabah,” and showed Carmen what name was really on the paper. But it didn’t seem to alleviate any of Carmen’s stress. Her hands were clasped together on top of the table, and she was staring into her empty glass—as if it were a wishing well that could magically transport her as far away as possible.
Whispers swirled around the pub as Anna folded the piece of paper, threw it in, and stirred the bowl filled with names. I was truly grateful that bowl did not contain my real name. Anna continued to mix up the little pieces of paper, and I realized that all the handwritten names probably said “Kitabah,” so was there really anything to worry about?
Anna reached in to grab a folded piece of paper but Kitabah, with her smooth, commanding voice demanded, “Let me.”
Audible gasps popped around the pub, and I could tell that this was a first. Kitabah rose slowly and slinked her way over to the bowl. For someone who undoubtedly instilled fear into everyone in that establishment, I was surprised to see that she stood to be only about four and a half feet tall.
Next to Kitabah, Anna towered over her, and I had a mental flash that Anna was about to play heroine. I was sure she’d make lightning-fast martial arts moves and tackle Kitabah to the ground before the rest of us could react. But, of course, that didn’t happen because this strange, exotic woman who seemed so tiny and so frail actually scared the hell out of these people—including me.
Anna’s hands visibly shook as she handed over the glass bowl. Kitabah stuck her boney, spindly fingers into the bowl. If I hadn’t been drinking that night, I would swear to you that the pieces of paper parted for her so that she could select the one and only name she was searching for, which happened to be on the very bottom of the bowl.
I sensed that everyone was holding their breath. It became so quiet in the pub that the crackling of the fire sounded like gunshots.
An excruciatingly long minute passed before Kitabah retrieved the chosen name. She methodically opened it and read, “Riley.”
I exploded with a strangled cry. Kitabah’s piercing eyes pinned me like some poisoned needle meant for a Voodoo doll as Carmen’s prayers in Spanish flowed freely from her mouth. “My…my name is…B…Beth,” I stammered, my mind reeling, trying to hold onto this lie as truth.
Even if Anna had heard Carmen call me Riley during the evening, I saw her write down Kitabah. How could she have known? Though I didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus, my eyes darted around the pub, certain there was another Riley who was too much of a coward to speak up. “Riley? Is there a Riley here?” I asked sweetly.
No one confessed. Of course. But even if there were another Riley, Kitabah was dead set on me. “My name is Beth,” I insisted, as if that would somehow make it true.
Kitabah’s lips curved up into a nauseating grin. Her mouth opened slowly, which made me want to shut my eyes and turn away. I all but expected spiders or roaches to come pouring out. That did not happen, but what she uttered was equally terrifying. She raised her skeletal arm, pointed to me, and proclaimed, “Liar!”
My entire body felt like jelly. My heart raced so fast I couldn’t hear it beating. The only reason I hadn’t passed out was because I was still sitting. “I don’t want the money,” I pleaded. “Take it,” I begged. “Anna, give her the money!”
Just as Anna picked up the jar of money and thrust it toward Kitabah, the power cut out. Someone screamed. The pub door crashed open, and Carmen and I reached for each other, certain we’d been thrown into some horror movie that was all too real.
Simon grumbled, hurrying to close the door against the lashing rain. The light from the fire illuminated part of the pub, but not enough for me to inspect the dark space around me. I had the heebie-jeebies, terrified Kitabah was beside me. I felt around frantically for my purse, found it, shoved my hand inside, and pulled out my cell. I stabbed the button for the flashlight. To my great relief, Kitabah wasn’t there.
“Keep yer heid and hang on a minute,” Anna calmly told everyone as she shuffled around to the other side of the bar. She and Simon dragged out candles and began to light them. Five minutes later, the lights snapped on.
“She’s gone!” shouted a man in the back. “The auld witch is gone!”
I had no doubt that the man identified her appropriately.
There seemed to be a collective exhale, and then all at once, a feverish murmur rose.
“Who was she?” I implored the man sitting next to us, but he just shook his head in reply and stared into his beer.
“I am so freaked out,” I whispered to Carmen.
“What do you want to do?” she asked me.
That was not an easy decision. We were sitting in a pub where we’d endured an off-the-charts weird experience, and now we had to decide whether to stay in the vortex of strange, or take our chances driving through desolate countryside in the dark with no idea how to get back to Edinburgh.
“Listen,” I said, straining to hear beyond the pub walls.
“The rain. It’s stopped.”
“Do you think Kitabah brought the rain?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
And just when I thought things were returning to normal, a young woman jumped up and shrieked, “She didnae take the money!”
All heads swiveled to look, and then the whole pub erupted. Everyone began speculating again about this strange woman and what her leaving the money behind meant.
“What the hell is going on here?” I demanded, unable to take another in-the-dark minute.
The customers in the pub all turned in unison and stared at me.
I let out a frustrated breath, forcing myself to remain calm. “Look, there’s obviously something weird going on with that woman and this lottery you’re all being forced to participate in. If you tell us the truth, maybe we can help.” (I must confess that I had absolutely no intention of helping to sort out any misgivings between Kitabah and these people—as lovely as they were. I just wanted someone to give me a logical, non-supernatural explanation for the night’s events.) Feeling confident that there really was a logical explanation, I waited for someone to speak up.
Finally, an elderly, weathered man sitting alone at the end of the bar said, “Kitabah’s a witch! Any dunderheid can see that for himself.”
“Och, aye,” the man sitting next to us agreed.
Not exactly the response I’d been hoping for.
“That’s pure rubbish,” a middle-aged woman sitting by the fire scolded. “She’s not a witch!” She got up and came over to Carmen and me. She looked a little out of place, wearing a business suit and high heels. “Dinnae mind these eejits. They’ve let the drink go to their heids,” she said loud enough for all to hear.
“Not so, Louise,” someone else fired back. “This is the handiwork of the devil, tae be sure.”
But Louise would not be deterred. “You all know this smells like the handiwork of the Cullen boys.”
A few in the pub mumbled in agreement.
“Who are the Cullen boys?” Carmen sat up in her chair, suddenly very interested in hearing something that made sense.
“They own the town just five kilometers south of here,” Louise explained. “They fancy themselves as a quaint Inverness, though they’re not. I’m the councillor of this town. Last year, before the tourism season began, we chose tae lower prices tae attract more visitors, whilst they raised theirs. Two weeks later, Kitabah showed up.”
“Makes sense,” I said. “Kill your competition by scaring away the tourists.”
“She’s a witch,” another woman insisted. “She walked by my garden and all the flowers were dead the next day.”
“By yer own hand,” the man sitting next to her interjected. “You’ve killed more over the years than you’ve planted.”
There was a roar of laughter. The woman tut-tutted in disgust as she crossed her arms and looked away, no longer interested in what her companion had to say on the matter.
“If she’s not a witch, then how can she disappear so quickly on lottery nights?” the man at the bar reminded everyone.
“She probably has someone workin’ wi’ her who’s messin’ wi’ our circuit board out back,” Simon reasoned.
“How is it that she never takes the money?” someone else asked.
“So she can make us fear her.” Louise took to the floor. “Do you remember, right before she showed up, we held our semi-annual meeting? Once again, we had a heated discussion about spending money tae fix up Glenloch, so that we could be competitive wi’ the nearby towns.”