“No!” I yelled. “You can’t kill me, I haven’t done anything.”
“But you will,” he said as he conjured a blue glowing orb in his hands. The energy contained in the orb pulsed and stretched out causing orange tentacles to spiral through it like an octopus reaching out in the depths of the ocean. It grew with each pulse until it was the size of a basketball, and then he threw it right at me.
It hit me square in the chest.
Even though there was no change to my outward appearance, I felt a shock the moment the energy hit my skin. I could feel fire pulsing within me and spreading slowly from my core to my limbs. I twisted and writhed in the chair. “This is how I’m going to die,” I thought, “unless I could do something about it.”
Thud… thud…thud. The tennis ball I was throwing against my bedroom wall sailed through the air as I caught it deftly after each bounce. I knew that the noise was going to annoy my mom. But I didn’t care. She sent me to my room because I would not stop begging… no, pleading her to bring me to a root doctor she knows that operates out in the swamps. Root doctors are conjurers. They’re able to work magic and perform spells and charms for a small fee. I just wanted him to take a look at me and tell me why I haven’t developed any magical powers yet, but mom is just as stubborn as I am.
We don’t look alike, but mom and I have the same attitude. You would think that we wouldn’t get along since we were both so tenacious, but our stubbornness brought us closer. One time we were trying to put together this shelf that we bought at the store and came packed up in a box. The directions were confusing and none of the parts were labeled, but we didn’t fight with each other. Instead we shoved all of our annoyance and frustrations towards the shelf and refused to give up until we had completely built it. Like our relationship, it wasn’t perfect, but it held together.
Today I had decided that I wouldn’t give up. I would beg mom until she gave in. I had even come up with a list of reasons why a visit to the root doctor might benefit me. Maybe my magic was dammed up somewhere in my body and there was a barrier that was keeping it from getting out (like the magical equivalent of constipation). A root doctor could lower the barrier to let my magic flow free. Or maybe my magic was somehow sealed, like in a bubble, and it could not break free. What if my magic was inside of me, but it didn’t know how to express itself? And maybe a root doctor could answer the scariest question of all—Will I ever be a witch?
All mom did was roll her eyes and once again remind me that everyone develops differently. “We all notice that our bodies are changing at different times,” she told me as though we were talking about puberty. But we weren’t talking about puberty. That had come years ago, and I had become even more awkward than I was before. We were talking about magic. Powers that could improve the world or destroy it. Spells that would bind people together or break them apart. Charms that could help people or hurt them. That is what we were talking about.
Coming from a magical family, I had waited my entire life for my magic to take hold. I have gone from waiting patiently to anxiously praying that something would happen. I knew that this was going to be what defined me as a person and made me feel complete. Mom said I was overreacting as though I was freaking out over a broken fingernail or a bad haircut. She didn’t understand just how important it was for me. I felt as though my world would end if I never became a witch. Living a normal life as a normal human would be torture.
I couldn’t calmly wait for this change to happen, because I knew that something was wrong. I could feel it.
Eventually she sent me up to my room, and in a small act of defiance I started throwing a tennis ball against the wall. That should aggravate her, I thought. Then maybe she would be able to see the desperation that was oozing from every pore on my body.
With each bounce of the ball, I concentrated and focused all of my energy on making the ball slow down. I did things like this all the time just to check and see if my magic had sprung up while I wasn’t thinking about it. When I would get bored in class I would lay my pencil down on the desk and try to concentrate on making it move. That was probably why I wasn’t an A student.
“Slow down”, I thought. “Cease. Yield. Stop! “
The ball just kept coming back towards me at the same speed as before. I sighed at my failed attempts, but decided to give it one more go. Closing my eyes, I threw the ball against the wall and tried to picture it hitting the wall and stopping in midair, but I was quickly interrupted when, like reality, it smacked me in the face.
“Urgh!” I shouted throwing the tennis ball across the room.
I sat up and walked across my bedroom to the big French doors that opened up to my own private balcony. Tourists and revelers were passing below me making their way to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. I had enough experience to know that these people were what kept this city thriving. The money they spent paid to fix the potholes in the streets after high water from hurricanes would sweep out part of the road and to clean the messes that some of the tourists and locals left behind after a night of partying.
I reached down into a bucket I kept on my balcony, selected a few Mardi Gras beads, separated them, and threw them down to the people passing by. Each Mardi Gras I saved some beads just for this. I might be in a rotten mood, but it wasn’t their fault and they deserved to have a good time.
I sat down in the big chair I kept out there and propped my feet up on the bannister. It was bad luck that I was just a normal teenager. It was a travesty that I was normal and lived in the most magical city in the United States.
People always say the witching hour is around 3:00 A.M. when most people are asleep, but in New Orleans it’s really at dusk. As the sun goes down, the sky starts turning a light shade of violet, and by the time it sets, the area surrounding the Superdome is engulfed in purple. There are big cities that may have amazing skylines due to their tall buildings and famous landmarks, but no other city boasts of a purple sky surrounding a giant gold dome.
And living in New Orleans is like living in a bag of jelly beans where each unique color and flavor represents a different culture and facet of life that all mix together to create a huge gumbo. We have things here that you can’t find today anywhere else in the country. There are shops, delis, street performers, street cars, five-star restaurants, hole in the wall eateries, horse drawn buggies, musicians, and artists all within walking distance of the Mississippi River. Little boys glue metal bottle tops to the bottom of their shoes and tap dance on the sidewalks collecting donations from onlookers just to spend their hard earned cash down the street on muffulettas. Men spray paint themselves completely silver and stand as still as a statue while the curious people roaming the streets approach them and try to get them to move. Jugglers get big crowds. Especially the guy who stand on a two-by-four that is balanced on ball while juggling knives around in the air.
Despite the fact that it was nearly impossible to build a city in the murky, wet swamplands, a lot of different cultures filled the city in the early days, and the result is a town heavily influenced with the cultures of France, Ireland, Spain, the Caribbean, and Africa. New Orleans became a thriving city and a mecca for all things strange and extraordinary. There are Voodoo shops where you can buy dolls and ju-ju bags that are basically just tourist traps; they don’t have any real magic.
But there are other places, behind the well-traveled, manicured roads that draw out the tourists where Voodoo and other magical arts are still practiced.
That’s why we live here. A long time ago, an ancestor of mine came to the newly founded America for religious freedom. She wanted to be able to practice magic without having to worry about being burned at the stake or stoned to death, and New Orleans is the kind of city that calls out to all people who are not quite ordinary. You hear it beckoning you, and then it gets under your skin. You know that you can’t leave, because you will never be as accepted as you are here.
And so my family settled here like fleas on a stray dog. Since then, witch after witch has been born in this town and has never left. Since my first ancestor came here, every family witch gives birth to only one child who also happens to be a girl. And that girl is given our family name of Marigny. There’s no written rule that says the child can’t be named after the father, but it just doesn’t feel right to even think of doing that after so many centuries of Marigny women have walked these streets.
Our Marigny family history starts with rumors. We allegedly had an ancestor in the 1700s who was accused of witchcraft in New Orleans. Since this did not happen often in this city, everyone stood up and took notice of what was happening. Luckily for us, it’s fairly easy for a witch to change someone’s mind. All it takes is a four-leaf clover, a sprig of mint, and a stone that was stepped on by the person you want to influence. Not only did she convince the magistrate that she wasn’t a witch, she threw in that she was royalty. Just like that the Duchess of Marigny was born. We dropped the title over time, and that’s where we got the surname Marigny from.
After that I’ve heard of another witch in the family in the 1850s that could control the weather. Her husband supposedly brought his mistress to Isle Derniere, an island retreat just below Louisiana, and she called up a Hurricane so strong that it leveled the island and destroyed every building and structure that it held. A storm surge had swept over the island leaving it completely under water. As the storm moved inland and the water receded, only two hundred of the four hundred people who were on the island had survived.
That shows how the magic in my family works. While we can create spells and enchantments that can do almost anything, we are each blessed with the power over one aspect of life. Because the rumored witch could control the weather, she wouldn’t need to do anything fancy. She just had to will it to happen. Now, for a really powerful spell, like a spell that could level an island with a hurricane, it takes a little more than sheer will. That witch would have had to perform some kind of ritual along with willing it to happen. And every witch in my family’s history has had that kind of power over something.
Our written history starts with Mahalia Marigny who was born in 1879. She was the first person in our family line to keep a written history of her life and the spells she created. She also wielded great power over money. She soon realized that for every single penny she spent, ten came back to her the next day. She was rich by her twentieth birthday, and her gift is what purchased the house we live in today and all of the antiques that fill it. She also socked enough away in the bank to take care of her family for generations to come.
She unfortunately dropped dead right in front of her daughter, Ysabeau, in 1912 at the age of 33. Ysabeau’s gift was that she could heal anyone with just a few good thoughts, but she couldn’t heal herself. She also dropped dead one day out of the blue. Noticing a pattern yet? While most witches live extremely long lives, in our family they tend to fizzle out like used fireworks.
Ysabeau’s daughter Mignon was born in 1925 and she had the coolest power of all. She could walk through time. History was her playground. She often went back and visited her grandmother, Mahalia, and together they wreaked havoc on the city. There’s a story written in the spell book of a time they performed street magic using baking soda and vinegar to create puffs of smoke causing a hundred people to gather around and watch. They even earned a couple bucks for their performance. Not surprisingly, one day when she was 38, Mignon fell dead on the street.
Her daughter Alma was my grandmother, and she kept such a detailed history of her life that we have records of her day to day movements. Her special gift was the power over people. She could control their thoughts, actions, and their bodies. It was a useful skill to have. She never had to endure an argument with anyone since she could just coerce them into her way of thinking. She also never had to worry about getting into trouble, of any kind, but especially not from police officers. How could they arrest her when she could just change their minds? She also came up with a lot of new and creative spells during the 1990s when she bought her first computer. After the first time the thing froze up, she concocted a mixture of various oils, lavender, the hair from a friendly dog, and a few encouraging words to turn the boxy, white computer into her best friend. After that it never froze, websites loaded quicker, and it started sending her little emails to have a nice day. My grandmother also has the distinction of living the longest out of all my female relatives. She lived to be fifty years old, but I bet you could never guess how she died. That’s right. She dropped dead in the middle of a supermarket. For the first time, an autopsy was conducted to see if doctors could pinpoint exactly what caused her demise, but they were not able to figure anything out. She seemed like a perfectly healthy woman, well, besides the fact that her heart wasn’t beating.
So, of course, my grandmother’s only child was my mother, Adelaide, and she has the special ability that allows her to control love. I don’t know too much about her abilities, because she wants me to only know the kind of love that happens naturally. I’ve never got to see her put a spell for love on anyone, but I’ve seen people after the fact who she has helped. They seem happy enough, but almost like they’re missing something. She can also make people fall out of love with someone. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while a person contacts her because they have a stalker or an ex who just won’t go away. Mom makes it so that these people forget all about the person they were once in love with.
That’s where I come into the story. I’m Belle Marigny, and I’m the latest girl born in the Marigny family.
Most kids goes through middle school and puberty wishing they were the same as everyone else, wanting to blend in and not stick out in a crowd except for me. I’m not wishing that I were an outcast or emo or anything like that, but I had always hoped that I would follow in the footprints of my magical family. I spent a long time wishing for my own magic to kick in, but I’ve never been one to get what I wish for.
Every year when I blow out the candles on my cake, I made a wish that I would come into my powers. Every shooting star I saw, I wished on. Wishbones in the Thanksgiving turkey? I always begged my mom to pull it with me so that I could get in one more wish.
Instead, I ended up a perfectly normal teenager, zits and all, and I’ve never, not even once, experienced magic of my own doing.
Everything about me is average. Literally. I’m five feet three inches tall which is the average height for a female. My hair is dark brown and straight as a nail. I have brown eyes and creamy pale skin. If you were to look up status quo in the dictionary, it would direct you to go to the word average, where my picture would be placed. I’ve never stood out in anything in my entire life. I wasn’t athletic or beautiful. I didn’t have a musical bone in my body, and my singing sounded like, well, a wailing cat. Even my grades were just average. So, as you can see, I’ve never triumphed at anything.
Necessity made me become a loner early on. When I was little, I had a lot of girlfriends that I could play with at school, but once we got to the sleepover age it became nearly impossible to maintain those relationships. Every girl who came to my house for the night showed up expecting a show of some kind. People around the city often gossiped about the powers in my family, so these girls came expecting to see real magic happening. They were always disappointed when the closest thing to magic to happen was my mom trying to act like a normal mom and making home-made chocolate chip cookies. I also went to a few sleepovers at other girl’s houses, but their moms treated me like I was a bomb that could explode magic at any moment. Breakables were moved to safer locations, flammable objects were stored in cupboards, and most of the electronics were unplugged. It was like they expected me to short circuit their house.
One of the benefits to being run-of-the-mill is that I have achieved loner status and it gave me the distinct ability to blend in to any crowd. I’m a fifteen year old human chameleon. I sit at a different lunch table each day and no one notices that I am there. I can stand in the middle of a circle and people look past me. I’m as interesting as vanilla ice cream in a specialty chocolate shop. In Louisiana, we use the word lagniappe to describe a little something extra, but I don’t even have any of that.
My mom, on the other hand, is ecstatic that I turned out normal. She has this crazy bucket list of all the things that I’ll get to do in my life since I won’t be hampered with magical powers. College at Tulane. Big family. Super-duper high power career. It may sound exciting to some people, but I see it as a form of failure.
I know she wants me to have all the things that she couldn’t have, but I would trade them all in a heartbeat to feel magic settling into my bones and see yellow sparks shoot out of my fingertips. No female in my family has ever gone to college even though they were smart enough and could easily afford it. You see, all witches are somewhat psychic. They can’t just take your hand and see your past, present, and future, but they do feel your emotions and sometimes your thoughts pop up in their heads if you standing close to each other. Sitting in an auditorium with a hundred other students would be a nightmare. It also runs in my family that all women only have one child which is always a daughter. I think she’s hoping to have about ten grandkids running around. And no woman in my family has ever had an actual career. They’ve had side jobs, mostly selling spells and reading palms in Jackson Square (which, by the way, is a total act and all for show) but not a nine to five. That’s her dream for me. A three piece suit, a gaggle of kids, and a degree to hang on the wall.
It only made matters worse that when I was five years old I sat on her lap and she told me about all the spells and stories in our family book causing me to wait with anticipation for the day I would get my powers. Then when I was ten she convinced me that I was just a late bloomer. Now I was fifteen and still without magic in the most magical city in the world.
It’s easy to see magic all around me since we live in a big house right by the French Quarter. We are close enough to see the large river boats moving past the levee and smell the rotten decay of Bourbon Street. I sometimes spend my weekends in Jackson Square sitting on an overturned plastic crate while my mom tells fortunes for twenty dollars a pop. But sometimes when she senses that a customer is having problems in the love department, she offers her special services for the low, low price of fifty bucks. In those cases, the customer would have to come back to the square at night and bring my mom an object belonging to the person they wanted the love spell put on, but I have never been allowed to go to these rendezvous.
I was devastated when my eighth birthday passed and I was still normal. For as far back as we could tell, all the women in my family had received their powers by the time they were eight. We had records dating back to my great-great-great grandmother to prove it.
That birthday was the beginning of the end for my childhood. I had to stop fantasizing about getting powers and join all of the other kids my age in the real word. There was no more wishing that I would one day fly or be able to move things with my mind. It was looking at the past successes of generations and knowing that the Marigny witches could be coming to a finish. It would be the end of an era that had started with the birth of this city.
“Belle…..Belle….. Earth to Belle. It’s your turn to read aloud,” Mr. Gregory unenthusiastically stated. I groaned and tried to find the spot on the page where we had just left off, but it was no use. I wasn’t paying the least bit attention in biology class.
I glanced up at him and had to hold in a laugh. I found it hilarious that my biology teacher, Mr. Gregory, resembled the frog we had to dissect at the beginning of the year. His head was bulbous, and he had jowls instead of a neck. From the top of his head to his shoulders sat a triangle making it look like his head and neck were one body part and not two. He also had a wide nose that covered most of his face. Sometimes it was hard to look at him and not see a toad.
“And where should I begin again?” I asked in my sweetest voice, hoping he would just tell me and not use this opportunity to teach the class a lesson on why it’s important to pay attention. Before he could answer, William Duplice turned around in front of me and pointed to a small chapter in the middle of the page. I murmured my thanks, embarrassed that the cutest guy in this class had to point it out to me, and sat up straight in my seat.
Sometimes I have trouble paying attention and my mind tends to wander when I have to focus on something for more than a few minutes. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just always preoccupied.
For example, there’s an attractive guy with flowing blonde hair with a gentle curl sitting right in front of me. He’s so close I count the freckles on his neck daily and imagine tracing them with my finger making tiny constellations. But I don’t want to let my “too cool for school” guard down and start staring at him and drooling on my desk. I also had one of the meanest girls in school sitting just a few desks away. She was a witch with a capital “b”, and I had so far escaped her wrath.
“Since you seem to know where we left off Mr. Duplice,” Mr. Gregory droned on, “why don’t you read?”
William’s steady voice filled the air as he started reading aloud. I sank back into my seat, glad for the intervention, but I didn’t miss the disappoined glance Mr. Gregory tossed my way.
Biology had to be my least favorite subject in school this year. I just couldn’t see the importance of learning this much information about the plant life cycle. Unless I somehow ended up becoming a scientist, I would never use this material outside of school. But history was a subject I could sink my teeth into. This year we were taking American history and I savored every day in that class. I specifically liked reading about the wars, especially World War I and World War II. We wouldn’t cover the Second World War until May, but I had already read ahead through most of the history book.
I walked through the hallway dodging jocks tossing a football and a big group of girls cheering them on when I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder. I spun around and saw William pushing his hair out of his eyes right behind me and smiling.
“Hey,” he said with a wickedly smooth smile, and I thought, Of course he’s the kind of guy who just taps you on the shoulder and says hey. He’s probably used to girls drooling all over him… and I vowed to not be one of them. This guy was dreamier than a heartthrob in an eighties teen movie and had the flipped up hair to prove it, but I was determined not to look like a complete fool in front of him.
“Hey, thanks for reading for me,” I offered, looking up into his eyes. They’re just eyes, I reminded myself, just large chocolate brown eyes… with little flakes of green scattered around the pupils… like grass on a warm spring day. No! I screamed in my head to break myself out of the upcoming daydream that would pull me out of my reality and into a make believe world where boys like him liked girls like me.
“No worries,” William said.
“Excuse me?” I asked. In all my potential daydreaming, I realized I had forgot that I was standing here almost having a conversation.
“Oh… I said no worries. You know. About reading for you, yeah?” he said again with a quizzical look. He probably thought I was a moron with the way this conversation was going. “So, I was wondering if I could text you later about the history assignment if I have any questions. I’m kinda confused by the whole thing, and, well, history seems to be your thing, you know?”
I know it sounds cliché, but I swear that my heart skipped a beat. I tried to breathe deeply, but I knew my face was probably turning red, betraying every emotion I felt at the moment. Was I sweating? Did I have some goofy smile on my face? On the inside I was freaking out harder than a tween at a boy band concert with backstage passes, but I knew I wanted to play this cool so I said, “Yeah, sure. Here, let me put my number in your phone.” I took his found out of his hand and saved my number in his contacts. I was decently surprised with myself that I didn’t drop it in the process. Maybe I could pull off this cool persona. “There you doe,” I said as I started to hand his phone back to him.
I gasped audibly as I pulled his phone tightly into my chest. “I mean go,” I stammered. “There you GO. Go, go, go, go, go.” Oh no! Now the words were just flowing out of my mouth without the least bit of thought behind them. It was at that moment that I knew that if my face wasn’t enflamed before, it most surely was now. “I’m sorry,” I apologized, “sometimes I’m just such a spaz.”
“Oh, that’s no big deal,” he said coolly. “I would ‘go, go, go, go, go’, but you seem to still have my phone.”
I looked down towards my chest with trepidation, and, surely enough, I was clutching his cell phone in a fist. I pushed the phone back into his hands with a smile before turning and walking away as fast as my legs could carry me.
I floated home after school with the pleasant thought that maybe he would text me with some question about the homework, but I was secretly hoping that any question he have would just be a guise because he was madly in love with me. Even though my mom seemed to be the master of love, I was a novice.
I walked straight into the house, kicked off my shoes by the front door, and dropped my bag on a chair at the kitchen table. There was a note there from mom. She had gone to the store, but it warned me not to eat a big snack because she wanted to make an ettouffe tonight. Obligingly, I grabbed an apple and went up to my room to do some work on the computer. I fired up the 1995 Macintosh that Grandmere Alma had spelled all those years ago and within a flash I had the history assignment open. The project was to create a timeline that showed major historical events that happened leading up to World War I, but not include any of the events that happened during the war. It was an easy one, in my opinion, and I started arranging little boxes on the screen.
Working uninterrupted for about twenty minutes, I had a good start, until I glanced down and to the right and spotted the framed photograph of my mom, dad, and I when I was two years old and got sidetracked. When I said earlier that I had never seen my mom perform love spells I was wrong. There was one love spell that I witnessed, but it was more of an unlove spell. I was only two years old when my dad realized that he couldn’t take being married to a witch. He had known for years what her powers were and how they worked, but he always had a sense of doubt within him that their love could have been magically sparked.
One day he decided that he couldn’t handle it anymore, and since he and mom apparently came to an agreement early on that if he wanted out she would charm him into not loving us and erase his memory of our time together, my mom agreed to make it happen. She gathered a few roots and herbs and stewed them on the stove to help his love for us fade. Then she took his shoes and filled them with four leaf clovers and basil leaves and wrapped them up in twine to help him walk away from us and have luck wherever he ended up. Once everything was done, he said his goodbyes and mom tearfully gave him back his shoes and had him drink the potion she brewed. In a whisper, she told him to love us no more and he only took one last look at us as he walked out the door.
I was too little to remember that day, so mom didn’t need to put a spell on me. “Small children are resilient and can handle almost anything,” she often reminded me when we talked about him. Even though I missed him, I never had the courage to look him up on the internet or try to find him. I knew that he had no memory of me or mom.
Without him in the house, there seemed like there was a hole where something was missing, but I could never put my finger on what it was exactly. I hadn’t really known life with a father, so it wasn’t as though I was missing his presence, but I think it was that I missed the idea of having a dad. We talked about him often so I knew that he loved to play in a football league on the weekends, and that he loved Italian food. I knew he was an accountant and that he liked to wear ties to work. I even knew that his foot size was ten and a half. Instead of memories of my dad, I had conversations about him with mom to fill in the hole.
For just a second, I started to pull up the internet browser so I could type his name in, but I chickened out before I even typed a letter. It would hurt more to know where he was and that he was out in the world having a life separate from me than from not knowing at all.
I stood up from the desk and walked back out of my room and headed down the stairs. I knew I needed a break away from my room and I thought that my mom might be back by now. Walking down the stairs I realized I could hear her talking in the kitchen and the rustle of plastic bags being moved around. I slowed my pace and peaked around the corner to see if she was talking to anyone else or to herself.
Standing in my kitchen holding a brown paper sack was a tall, pale man dressed in an old fashioned suit. It looked like the kind of suit you would find in the back of an old man’s closet, wrapped in plastic and gathering dust. His blond hair was long for a man’s and waved over his collar. He even wore a newsboy cap and it looked like he had an actual pocket watch on a chain placed in his pocket. He looked like he was in his mid-fourties, but he was dressed like he was in the 1900s. I stood back and tried to get a read on the situation.
“Really, it’s no trouble at all, Ms. Adelaide,” he said. He stood stiffly in the kitchen where his arms were full of grocery bags and mom was removing them from his person one by one.
“But it is,” she said, “you saved me from having to make an extra trip out to my car, and since I had to park all the way down the block I may have had a heatstroke by the time I got back.” That was mom. She was always dramatic about the South Louisiana heat. “You said your name is Bill, right? Do you live nearby?” she asked.
“Yes, Bill Daniels,” he replied as he sat the last two plastic bags down on the counter. “I’m staying at Hotel Monteleone for the week. I live up in New York, so I’m just a tourist.”
“And are you down for a convention or a festival?” she asked eyeing his clothing. I smirked. She must be thinking the same thing as me. He was dressed up more for Mardi Gras than a one hundred degree Wednesday afternoon.