Night Shift Page 5

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“I hope this is the end of the trouble,” Fiji said after a short silence. “We all do. But you know it’s not.”

From her front porch, Fiji watched Manfred’s car begin moving. Since there was no one coming, he backed across Witch Light Road. She stayed outside for a few more minutes, looking at the crossroads. She half-expected to see another hapless soul staggering toward the center, some weapon of self-destruction in hand. But the only thing to see was Midnight’s one traffic light, resolutely following its pattern. The intersection of Witch Light Road and the Davy road was the reason Midnight was alive. The little community had been founded because of those roads, when they were just trails. Catty-cornered from where she stood, Fiji could see that the lights inside Gas N Go were still on, and someone was moving around inside. As she watched, the lights went out and a man emerged, locking the doors behind him. He walked north, to the house where the previous Gas N Go manager had lived. He moved quickly and lightly, though Fiji couldn’t tell anything more about him. Now she was curious about the new resident. She would have to bake something for him.

After a moment, Fiji went inside and opened a locked drawer under the counter in the shop. There was a curious selection of items in the drawer: a crumpled tissue, a lipstick, a napkin, a knife, an ink pen, a squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer, and other mundane items. All of them were used. To this odd group, she added a folded dollar bill that had fallen from Chuy’s pocket in the pawnshop. She put it on top of an index card already prepared with Chuy’s name. She slid the drawer closed very gently, and relocked it.

Instead of going to read in her bedroom, her original thought, Fiji returned to the window to look out at the traffic light and the pavement below it.

Fiji tried to detect something different about the intersection, but there was nothing visible, even to a witch.

But Fiji was sure this particular crossroad was exerting some malignant pull. She hoped it would not spread a pall over all the people who lived around it, but she could not believe they’d all escape it.

No coincidence in the world would allow for two people, who presumably did not know each other, to commit suicide in the same place within a few days. This crossroad was not a famous site like the Golden Gate Bridge or Niagara Falls. This was a place where two small roads crossed in a very small town not particularly close to anywhere notable.

Or was there? Wasn’t that the kind of cosmic joke that made regular people decide places were haunted, or cursed?

“Well,” she told her marmalade cat, Mr. Snuggly, who’d come to stand beside her, “I guess we’ll know soon.”

 

 

2

 

 

The next morning, Fiji was working in her yard, one of her favorite pastimes. Getting her fingers in the dirt, watering, planting good things and removing weeds, checking for bugs and harvesting herbs and tomatoes in season . . . these were all good things for a witch to do to keep in touch with the elements of earth, air, and water, and for a Fiji to do to keep herself grounded and content. The shop was fun for connecting with humans, but it wasn’t organic.

The Inquiring Mind stocked everything pertaining to “witchcraft lite,” as Fiji called it. She carried very little of what she thought of as the heavy-duty stuff, because there was very little local market for such things. She’d never met another real witch besides her great-aunt Mildred Loeffler, who had owned the cottage before her. Aunt Mildred had been a widow, obliged to support herself, and she’d done okay with selling herbal medicines out her back door and occasionally casting a spell or two for a few people. She had also been an excellent cook and had had a sporadic business as a caterer.

Fiji was thinking about Aunt Mildred that morning while she worked. She’d been a little rattled when Joe and Chuy admitted they saw Aunt Mildred around Midnight, all these years after her death. Fiji had to wonder what that meant in terms of Aunt Mildred’s soul. Did she dare to ask Joe or Chuy if Aunt Mildred was roaming the earth because she wasn’t fit for paradise? Did she herself even believe there was a heaven, or Hell?

On the whole, Fiji thought she did.

As she turned over the soil in the vegetable bed, Fiji wondered about the soul destination of Tabby Ann Masterson, the first suicide. Catholicism had always given suicide a really bad rap. For all Fiji knew, it was a counted a terrible sin in any religion. But how could you find out for sure? You couldn’t. What if you were in terrible pain and there was no hope for recovery? Would she ask someone to help her depart this earth? She chewed around the edges of that dilemma for a few minutes before abandoning the train of thought. No point wondering about something you can’t know, Fiji figured. At least Tabby Ann won’t pee on my porch again.

Though it might be fall in most of America, in Texas it was still summer, though the nights and mornings were cooler. Fiji was grateful for the early-morning temperature. Mr. Snuggly came to sit with her. He liked to watch her work, especially when she was working in the sun. Mr. Snuggly had caught a mouse the day before, and he couldn’t stop preening himself.

“Don’t tell me about that mouse again,” Fiji said.

The cat shot her an injured look.

“And don’t give me the look, either,” she said. “You’d think it was a lion, the way you go on about it.”

Mr. Snuggly said, “Fine. Next time I’ll let it chew on your bread.” He stalked off, tail upright and stiff, and located a sunny spot on the other side of her garden.

“What’s up with the cat?” Bobo Winthrop said. She’d heard his footsteps, so she wasn’t startled, but she kept her face down. She knew she had a habit of smiling too much when Bobo was around.

“Oh, he’s pissed off because I’m tired of listening to his story about killing the mouse,” Fiji said, pulling another weed and tossing it into her bucket. “I might be willing to hear about it again, if he hadn’t put the corpse in my shoe.”

Bobo laughed. He did it well, because it was natural for him. In the past few months she hadn’t seen him laugh enough. He’d been running; he was wearing an ancient sleeveless sweatshirt and even more ancient gym shorts. And he was sweating, though the air was pleasantly cool.

“Pull up a chair and tell me what you know,” Fiji suggested. She sat back on her haunches. Instead of getting a stadium chair from the porch, Bobo folded down onto the ground to sit with her. She sighed inwardly. Bobo was flexible and fit, the right weight for his height, though he was years older than her. “How old are you?” she asked abruptly, giving in to gravity and settling on the ground, too.

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