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It was on week two of owning my new witch shop that the first review came in.


Rating: 1/5 stars.


Not the worst thing to happen to me that day. No, that would be the dead body in my bathtub, but that wouldn’t come until later.

I stared at my phone while lying on my brand-new and suspiciously cheap bed, the early morning light seeping through the equally new and equally cheap lacy curtains. It tinted my freshly painted bedroom above the shop in hues of lovely butter yellows and soft oranges. A cozy, happy atmosphere I couldn’t enjoy through the huge single star burned into my retinas. With a hard, valiant swallow, I scrolled to the next paragraph.


Unbelievable! Have been a loyal customer for twenty years and now nothing is available?!! What happened to the old owner? Do yourself a favor and skip this tea shop. The new owner is very rude. Horrible, horrible service.


The reviewer might’ve been anonymous, but I knew exactly who had posted it. I remembered the encounter like it was yesterday.

Because it had been yesterday.

The old woman hadn’t taken kindly to my offer of a special blend of chamomile and had been insistent I produce her “usual.” When asked what exactly her “usual” was, she’d waved her hand and said, “You know, girl. The usual. Goodness gracious, do you even know what you’re doing? Where is Bagley?”

After informing her that Ms. Bagley was dead and I had taken over the shop, she had grumbled some more, told me to get my act together, and stormed out.

With my tea.

Without paying.

Deciding that chasing after a dear old lady in the busy streets of Olmeda would not reflect well on the shop, I had chosen not to engage in pursuit.

Another reread of the review had the downward curve of my mouth dipping further. I should’ve gone after her. Then I’d at least have my six bucks. Now all I had was a one-star average, a profit balance digging its way toward the center of the earth, and a looming deadline to make the shop work within six months.

Or else it went to another witch.

Since it had been a minor miracle it had gone to me in the first place, there was no way I wasn’t making a success of it. Opportunities like these did not come to average witches like me. Official witch shops were rare and went to popular witches, the ones with established witch families to back them up. The ones who had passed their internships with flying colors.

The reminder of my own internship produced another wince.

Too much wincing, I decided. Too many unhappy thoughts. This was not the way of the Oakes-Avery witches.

Filled with resolve, I jumped off the bed and approached my DIY dresser, where I kept Grandma’s spellbook. Placing my hand on the cover brought immediate calm, and I felt the dredges of sadness abandon their clinging hooks on my soul.

Visualization was everything in my business.

Eyes closed, I inhaled deeply, and said, loud and clear, “Be the witch you want to be.”

Affirmations might not be spells, but just because they invoked no magic didn’t mean they didn’t work. As Grandma liked to say, it’s all in the intention, not the power.

Which was excellent, since my power wasn’t exactly high on the scale. More like bottom fifteen percent. But it was there, and I had Grandma to thank for it.

My fingers traced the lovely embroidery on the spellbook’s cover—begonias, chrysanthemums, and blue stars on a beautiful shade of green reflected in the dyed streak of my blond hair. As far as spellbooks went, this one wasn’t overly thick or full of powerful spells worth protecting under lock and key, but it was the most important thing in my possession. That was why I kept it in my bedroom rather than down in the shop like any other witch might.

Carefully, reverently, I opened the book to the first page, empty but for a short list of names written in Grandma’s beautiful script—a family tree of sorts. There at the bottom was her name, Hazel Oakes, birth year, death year, followed by mine, Hope Avery, birth year, no death date.

I wasn’t sure if the absence of my father’s name meant magic had skipped him, if he had turned out to be a mage instead of a witch, or if he’d cut all ties with Grandma the way he had with me and Mom after she’d remarried.

Why waste precious paper space on someone who wasn’t interested?

At the bottom of the page, Grandma had drawn five small icons, one for each point of the pentagram—spirit, air, earth, water, and fire.

The only difference between a witch and a mage was which element they wielded. For witches, it was spirit that allowed us to imbue our magic into potions and spells. Those with an affinity to the other four elements—mages—were left hurling fireballs and things like that. Impressive, if you were into that stuff, but not nearly as useful.

After that first page, Grandma had written down simple spells, made illustrations and notes of different plants, and left plenty of space for me to keep up the records. This was no old book passed down through the centuries, and the family tree was no show of ancient lineage, but Grandma had started it, and by the Mother, I would keep it going.

All heirlooms had to start at some point.

Not for the first time, I wondered whatever had happened to Ms. Bagley’s spellbook. The witch had no heirs to inherit it, or the shop would have gone to them instead of to the Council of Witches to be handed down to someone else.

Had whoever packed her possessions given the spellbook to the Council? Did the Council keep a library of dead witches’ spellbooks? Did they have someone in charge of going through each spellbook and copying down useful spells before throwing the tomes into a fire?

With humanity at large being ignorant of the paranormal world, one couldn’t be too careful.

My phone’s ringtone interrupted my mental meandering, and I read the time with unease. I needed to get moving or I was going to be late to open the shop. Not that it mattered with my average of one client a day, but the Council frowned on things like that during the probation period, and the one-star review was bad enough already.

“Hi, Vicky,” I said into the phone. Yanking open a drawer, I pulled out some underwear.

“Hope,” Vicky answered with a twinge of unhappiness. “I just saw the review. Are you okay?”

Moving across the country meant leaving friends and family behind, but Vicky had been there on opening day with a plate of cupcakes and a bottle of hot cocoa, ready to welcome me to Olmeda. While I’d done my best to swallow the hot beverage on an already sweltering August day, she’d eagerly told me all about her one-woman carriage tour business and how we businesswomen had to stick together. As someone who had occasionally worked at the shop in the past, she’d felt it was her duty to welcome me into the neighborhood.

She had been the only one. And for that, she was now my new best friend, even if she had no idea about the paranormal side of the world.

“Of course,” I chirped, grabbing a T-shirt off a pile in the closet.

“You sound happy.” Hesitancy filled her voice, as if she was unsure I had actually seen the one star or the content of the review.

“It’s my first review. Now the floodgates are open and more will follow. You know how people love to be contrary on the internet. Soon I’ll have a bunch of five stars just to show that old biddy. You know what they say,” I added, my spirits truly buoying—by the Mother, I was so right! “Bad news at dawn means the day can only improve.”

“Who says that?”

“My grandma.”

“I thought she was dead. Rest in peace. She sounds like a lovely person,” Vicky added in a rush.

“She is.” I gave the spellbook another loving glance. “But her spirit remains with me.” As did some of her affirmations. The saying, though—that one I remembered from my childhood days spent with her.

“People do love to show others they’re wrong,” Vicky admitted with a tinkling laugh. “You might be onto something. I approve.”

She had a lovely voice and a sunny disposition that made my affirmations look like highways to hell. It was no wonder her tours did brisk business. No “horrible service” in her reviews. They were all “wonderful guide” and “I learned so much” and “I had so much fun, I’m bringing my family next time!”

I, for one, couldn’t imagine my family having any fun on any tour, especially one involving a wagon and a mule. I loved my mom and stepdad and stepsister to death, but they had the sense of wonder of a brick. They’d only leave their comfort zones if I physically threw them across the line.

To say my parents hadn’t understood my need to come take care of the shop would be an understatement. Magic was hidden from them, like it was from most of the world, so, as far as they knew, their daughter had moved far away to take care of some random tea shop. A terrible time for the service industry, Mom had told me, and wouldn’t I rather stick to my five-year plan of expanding my online trinkets shop.

(The five-year plan had been going as well as my witch internship had gone; that is to say, not spectacularly well.)

It had been my sister who reminded them I was twenty-six, and it was time for me to fly the coop. She would know, being twenty-nine, married, with one kid and a manager position at a prestigious firm. We might not be blood related, but Nicole was the absolute best sister anyone could have.

“How are you going to celebrate?” Vicky asked.

I pondered this during the few seconds it took me to grab a pair of jeans and add it to the pile of clothes on my free arm. “A single red velvet cupcake from Fairy Circle Cakes. One, for the star. Red, for the mess.”

“Mess?” she asked hesitantly.

“From my heart being stabbed repeatedly by each word in the review.”

She laughed. “Don’t make me laugh. People are looking at me funny.”

“It’s my secret power,” I agreed. That first day, I’d thought the Council had sent Vicky to congratulate me, but it turned out she knew nothing about the paranormal world. Sure, she’d worked at the shop at some point, but like in most magical-world-adjacent establishments, most of the clientele were normal people, and the magic part more of a side business. While a witch shop had an important role in the local magical community—the reason they were overseen by the Council—no business could survive on only spells and potions.

“Want me to pick up the cupcake?” she asked.

“That’s all right. It’s good for me to visit the local places.”

One day, I swore to myself. One day I’d crack Fairy Cakes’ owner’s icy exterior and she’d smile at me the way she smiled at every other customer.

I left my bedroom and headed for the bathroom. Pushing the door open with my foot, I felt determination fill me like heady wine. One day, I’d get her to give me one of her discount coupons. It might take a thousand cupcakes, but one day—

I let out a startled squawk and dropped the underwear, the T-shirt, the jeans, and the phone.

There was a stranger in my bathtub.

And he was dead.



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The man was sprawled in my bathtub, dressed in a light blue suit, arms awkwardly thrown over his chest and one leg hanging over the edge, his lips a bluish tint matching the color of his clothes.

I didn’t know who he was, and I hadn’t put him there, so I did the only sensible thing—I rushed down the two flights of stairs, fought to unlock the front door of the shop, and ran out into the street screaming for help.

A jogger ran past me, giving me a wide berth.

Ignoring him, I waved my arms in desperation at an approaching delivery truck. “Stop!”

It chugged right on. Didn’t even slow down.

Cursing, I searched the street. This early in the morning on a Saturday, it was sleepy and empty. Old, quaint shops lined my sidewalk, and a series of Victorian mansions with lush, iron-fenced front yards filled the opposite side. I noticed a man walking a huge dog and a small one, and I hurried across the street to intercept him.

He was tall, broad-shouldered, dressed for a hot summer day in black. Black jeans, black T-shirt, black boots. Black metal buckle on his belt. It matched his shoulder-length dark brown hair and the dark expression in his green eyes as he studied me warily. Definite power vibes.

The contrast between the wall of macho goth and the small white fluffy dog at his feet panting happily at me would’ve made me explode into giggles any other morning, but even Grandma didn’t have a saying to save this occasion.

“Help,” I pleaded. “Call the police.”

The large dog huffed—some sort of shaggy wolf. That, or a pony. The man tightened his grip on the leash and it fell silent again.

“Police,” I repeated, starting to wonder if the words coming out of my mouth didn’t fit the ones forming inside my brain. “Call them, please!”

The man looked me up and down, saying nothing, and definitely not bringing his phone out.

I followed his gaze and realized I was only wearing my oversized sleeping tee. Not the most shocking thing to appear in the streets of Olmeda, I was sure, and I certainly wasn’t going back alone inside to get dressed, grab my phone, or even breathe.

“Sir, please,” I tried once again. Third time is the charm and all that. “Call the police—there’s a dead body in my bathtub.”

His gaze moved from me to the row of shops, then returned, a gleam of speculation entering his eyes.

He made no move to bring out his phone.

I was about to pivot and go find someone else when he finally spoke. “Shouldn’t you call an ambulance?”

“A what?”

He appeared less than impressed by my surprise. Derision joined the speculation on his face. “An ambulance. For this supposed body.”

Supposed body? Oh, he was not going there. “The police will send an ambulance, won’t they?” I asked sweetly.

He watched me impassively, not impressed by my tone, either. Or the tightening of my mouth, or the crossing of my arms. The small white fluffy dog lifted to put its paws on my leg and I reached down automatically to scratch its ears.

What was I doing?

“Forget it,” I muttered, stepping away.

“Where is your phone?” he asked, tugging on the small dog’s leash. It returned to the big dog’s side with a happy yip.

“I dropped it. In the bathroom. By the bathtub. With the body.” Ass, I added silently, turning on my heel and stalking away. Carefully. Now that the adrenaline was ebbing, I felt every pebble on the ground prick my naked feet. And I didn’t even want to think about what else littered the street. Crossing my fingers that the street cleaners had come that morning, I made my way back to the shops and knocked on the one next to mine.

After a minute or so, a woman peered through the blinds.

I knocked harder.

“It’s Hope from the shop next door,” I said loudly. “Help!”

Giggles from a passerby erupted behind me. I ignored them and focused with laser intensity on the woman on the other side of the glass door. I didn’t know her name—she hadn’t bothered to introduce herself, although her boss had. She was a full-time worker at Mr. Lewis’s antiques shop, the Corner Rose, and part of the magical community. Or so Mr. Lewis had claimed at the time, since the woman had yet to do anything but look at me with suspicion.

Grudgingly, she opened the door a slit. Today she wore her tight black curls free, held back by beaded hair clips. Huge mosaic silver earrings dangled from her ears, twinkling in the morning sunlight.

“I need a phone to call the police,” I said tersely. At this rate, I was going to have to walk all the way to the precinct. “Please.”

She took stock of my oversized tee, the state of my hair, and the expression on my face that told her I was so done with this day. Then she glanced over my shoulder, and I twisted my neck to follow. The man with the dogs was still standing on the other side of the street like a black hole of empathy and neighborly charm.

I returned my attention to the woman. She didn’t look any more willing to let me use a phone. What was wrong with these people? Had someone put a beware, radioactive sign on me?

Surreptitiously, I touched my back. Nope. Just the fabric of my sleep tee and a couple of tiny holes.

“What is going on?” a gravelly voice asked from inside the shop—Mr. Lewis.

With a scrunch of her nose, the woman turned to answer. “It’s the Tea Cauldron’s owner. Says she needs a phone.”

Oh, for the love of that was holy. “Help,” I shouted, standing on my tiptoes to be heard over the woman. “I need a phone!”

Mr. Lewis appeared behind the woman, a tall and dignified gentleman in his late fifties or sixties wearing a cream summer suit. His black hair was cropped short, and almost completely gray.

“Druscilla,” he exclaimed, scandalized. “Let her in.”

Druscilla’s expression soured, but she opened the door wide enough for me to squeeze by—sideways.

I gave her a polite smile and a sweet “Thank you,” because honey catches more flies than vinegar—which, not only was a lie, but who the heck wanted to catch flies anyway.

The one time I’d come to introduce myself, the shop’s dark and gloomy atmosphere had me itching to go back into the summer sun, but today it simply matched my mood.

Druscilla led me to the counter while Mr. Lewis cooed like a mother hen and handed me their landline phone. “Here.”

Finally. The yellowed plastic of the phone all but glowed with divine promise. I dialed before Druscilla changed her mind and explained my predicament to the police operator. I was assured an officer would be on the way.

Goal achieved, I put the receiver down with a happy sigh. Grandma was right—it was no longer dawn and things were looking up.

I allowed Mr. Lewis to fuss while we waited for the police to show up but wished I hadn’t accepted the cardigan he put around my shoulders to “protect me from the morning chill.” The day was already hot, and the thing smelled of dust and having been stuck in a drawer in an attic for the last fifty years, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to refuse the offer. Not with the lines of worry creasing his forehead and the look of outrage on my behalf shining in his eyes.

My gaze landed on the man with the dogs, still standing on the far sidewalk like he had nowhere else to go. Yeah, I told him mentally with an arch of my brows. This is how you treat someone in need. Watch and learn.

Dude didn’t even blink.

Some days, I really regretted being a nice witch. Putting curses on people was not what my and Grandma’s magic was about—not to mention it was highly illegal—but in times like these, I couldn’t help but entertain the idea. I wouldn’t do anything major, of course, but maybe a touch of indigestion? A little bleach on his wardrobe contents?

The thought of doing that made me feel immediately contrite. How would I like it if someone messed up my things only because I was having a bad day and was a little—or very—rude?

Ugh. Having a conscience sucked.

“They’re here, dear,” Mr. Lewis said, squeezing my arm. The pressure made a fresh wave of damp mothball aroma waft into my nose, and I hurried to take off the cardigan and hand it back.

“Thank you so much, Mr. Lewis,” I said with true feeling. “I really appreciate the help.”

He smiled, giving his older face a charming look. A true silver fox. “Of course, dear.”

The police cruiser came to a stop in front of my shop, and a policewoman stepped out of the car. I recognized her as the one who paid me a visit on moving day. According to the Council, Officer Nadine Brooks was one of the law enforcement personnel in town who was part of our secret magical community, and she’d do her best to attend to any police matters having anything to do with witches, mages, shifters, and any other kind of paranormal creature. I didn’t consider finding a body in a bathtub something paranormal-y, but I supposed my address had been flagged as a place potentially involving magic. That might also explain why she’d come alone instead of in the usual pair.

I rushed forward to offer my hand. “Hello, Officer Brooks.” I’d pondered what kind of magical creature she was, but it was impolite to ask. Something told me she wasn’t a witch. A demon, perhaps? She didn’t give off shifter vibes.

She ignored my hand, choosing to eye the small two-story building that served as my shop and newly inherited residence. “You know,” she said in the irritated tone that told of interrupted breakfasts, “in all thirty-five years your predecessor was in charge of this shop, we didn’t receive a single call.”

Since she didn’t look a day over thirty, I wanted to ask how she knew that for a fact, but I wisely kept my mouth shut.

At my lack of retort, she shook her head with disgust. “All right. What’s the problem?”

I wriggled my hands together. Now that the police were here, the severity of the situation hit me anew. A body. In my bathtub! “I woke up this morning and found a body in my bathtub.”

“A body?”

“Yes, a man. I think he’s dead.”

“You think he’s dead?”


“Are you sure?”

I remembered his lax pose, the white of his skin, the blue tint of his lips. “Pretty sure.”

“Did you check?”

The notion of touching the body made me recoil. “No. I ran out to call for help.”

“You know this man? Is he a friend?”

“No. I’ve never seen him before.”

She peered at me intently. “Are you sure?”


Officer Brooks scanned the shop’s front with its glass door and the two lovely, arched, multipaned windows on each side. Cozy, inviting, perhaps more fitting a sleepy town in television’s Maine than the scorching August tourist streets of Old Olmeda.

No matter. That was why I had introduced iced tea to the menu. Besides, witchy vibes never went out of style.

“Let’s take a look,” she finally said. “Door is open?”

“Yes. The bathroom is on the second floor to the left of the stairs.”

She opened the front door, one hand on her holster, and peeked inside. The sight of the gun made me swallow hard. In a world of spells and magic, human firearms were a rarity. They were loud and traceable and called for unwanted attention. If there was one thing every paranormal agreed, no matter how law-abiding or criminal, was that our magic must remain secret, hidden away from the general public. And a good ward would slow a shifter or berserker a lot more than a bullet.

“This is Officer Brooks with the Olmeda police department,” she shouted into the empty shop. “Anyone here?”

We—the growing gathering of bystanders and I—held our collective breath.

Someone’s phone rang loudly in the ensuing silence.

“Sorry,” a man said. “Go on.”

Officer Brooks shook her head and went inside the shop. I followed a few steps behind.

As always, the sight of the shop filled my chest with indescribable happiness. To a newcomer, it might not look like much, but to me it was perfect. A perfect mahogany counter on one side, two perfect tables with a perfect bench running the length of the wall ending in a perfect corner with a couple of perfect shelves filled with various knickknacks, tarot sets, and books on Wicca, herbs, and crystals—all for sale. At the end of the counter, an archway led into the back area of the first floor—a tiny bathroom, a small kitchen, a storeroom, and the door into the small backyard.

Small but perfect. It had all I needed—a kitchen with space to make potions, a backyard to grow herbs, and enough seats in the front to make the shop a refuge from the bustling street outside.

“Hello?” Officer Brooks called again at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the living quarters. Not waiting for an answer, she took the steps. Again, I followed a few moments behind.

“Stay here,” she commanded on the U-turn landing.

I froze, hands held tight against my chest, and watched her take the second flight of stairs. I heard the thudding of her boots against the worn but lovely hardwood floors above as she walked back and forth. After a couple of minutes, she appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Miss Avery?”


“There is no body up here.”



Copyright © 2023 by Isa Medina