Ann Wuehler has written four novels: Aftermath: Boise, Idaho; Remarkable Women of Brokenheart Lane; House on Clark Boulevard; and Oregon Gothic. Her fifth novel, The Adventures of Grumpy Odin and Sexy Jesus, will be out later this year.

She has written many short stories. “Elbow and Bean” appears in the current Whistle Pig Literary Magazine. “Witch of the Highway” was in World of Myth Magazine. Her “Blood and Bread” will appear in Hellbound Book’s Toilet Zone 3, the Royal Flush, due in spring of 2022. Her “Sefi and Des” will be included in Brigid Gate’s Musings of the Muses. Her “Lilith’s Arm” just got an acceptance from Bag of Bones, to be included in their 2022 Annus Horribilis anthology. “The Cherry of Her Lips” will appear in Black Hare’s War anthology.


by Ann Wuehler


My grandmother led me into Blu’s tucked-away shop so I could speak to my dead dad.

My grandmother believes utterly and profoundly in the paranormal, that ghosts walk among us. That a God watches everything we do; tallies everything up and keeps a strict, exacting score of that everything. Of course she’s Catholic to the middle of her calcium pills-enriched bones. Her lucky red purse hung from her arm. She kept patting me.

So we entered Blu’s shop of wonders—even though I suspected it was actually a shop of scams that preyed on the grief-stricken. So American!

Blu had told my grandmother that she called forth the spirits of the dead to answer three questions from the living. Something like that. She invents ghost tales and gets paid for it. Winner in my book.

My dad kicked me out when I told him his son was actually his daughter. He did so out of fear and ignorance, but died not long after before he could realize I was still me; I had just stopped pretending in public, so to speak. Cameron, my dad, told me that he couldn’t accept me, but he didn’t hate me. I hung on to that with everything I had.

My grandmother had taken me in, not really understanding anything about me but I was her grandchild. Therefore, any edicts of the church went by the wayside. But Candace McCrae had always been a bit of a rebel. You could tell by her choice in purses: always a shade of red, in sizes ranging from evening clutch to overnight bags.

Blu stood behind the counter of her tiny shop, full of mystical-looking objects such as soy candles, decks of tarot cards and crystals. Her three-wick candle, called Spirit Mist, sold for thirty dollars. On sale. It smelled like peppermint and patchouli, as the lady did herself.

She had not gone overboard with her decorating. Simple murals had been hung up on the warm egg-yellow walls: witches enjoying the night sky. A snowy scene with various animals. A rabbit guarding a nest of eggs.

She even had signs up that promised a hundred percent, money-back guarantee if results did not live up to expectations.

Blu had to stand about five foot four, with dreadlocks to her bottom, her skin a freckled pale mocha hue, her eyes a brilliant large turquoise shade that had to be contacts. Her wares sat on neat shelves.

“You must be my three o’clocks. Tandy and Candace, I believe?” Blu brought out a forest green ledger, flipped to a page near the middle, her fingernails brutally short and not painted. The light glanced off the tiny studs she wore in each ear, a single pair. How novel in this day of twenty earrings to each ear! She tapped at what could possibly be a recipe for onion dip, before lifting her head, smiling at the both of us. “I am Lady Blu. You understand everything? Oh no, no. Pay me after.”

My grandmother tucked the hundred dollar bill away. “You can really get Cameron on the line. So to speak?” She had spritzed herself with her rose perfume.

Lady Blu glanced at me, in my pink sweater featuring a poodle, before turning her kindly persona’s warm squishy light on my grandmother’s anxious face. She even patted my grandmother’s hand, which lay upon the counter. A bowl of potpourri sent out lavender squirts into our nostrils. Sharp, medicinal lavender has never been a favorite scent of mine. “I will try, Mrs. McCrae. And this is Tandy?”

“Yes,” I said and when my grandmother glanced at the nearly naked witches frolicking on a moonlit night oil painting, I winked at Blu. She took a second, but winked back. It was a signal that we were both in on the scam to assure my grandmother she would speak to her dead son. If it could find closure for her, maybe she would stop fussing to me about it all the time

And so I was confident that everything would go smoothly, according to script.

As we sat at the little table, something brushed by my leg. Something caressed my hand, tugged at the hem of my poodle sweater. Nothing there. Cold little pinpricks ran up my spine. If this was scripted, it was extremely well-done.

It seemed shadowy in here. Blu glanced toward her door, her brow creasing. A clumsy, trying not to be obvious about it, look. I turned casually as if to check out the shelf of pricey soy candles near the door.

Just air. Just the door.

The scammer cleared her throat, cleared it quite hard. Then she was all business. “It’s nice to meet both of you. I’m having a sale on the rose quartz pendants. In that bowl. Three for twenty. Be sure to look at them afterwards. Now, take my hands and let’s begin.”

My grandmother’s face lit up, her eyes full of happy, fiery lights. I knew she had never gotten over Cameron’s death, and any chance to communicate with him meant the world to her.

I felt something press against my leg, heard a soft giggle. A child’s giggle, a sly prankster giggle. Something else tugged at my other side, like a hand clutching at the hem of my pink sweater, my vintage find from a high end thrift store in North Hollywood.

The repeat violation of my space, my person, made my skin crawl. How did Lady Blu accomplish this?

I could feel my skin flinching away from whatever fondled me. “Stop that,” I said. My grandmother stared at me, startled

“Get out of here,” Blu gestured at the air itself, her voice sharp, scaring me. “Leave her alone. Salt. Salt!”

My grandmother cleared her throat. “You ghosts mind her now.”

Running feet sounded all around us.

“I am so sorry.” Blu told us. “They’re all revved up for some reason! The veil must be extra thin right now. Just one of those days! Sorry.”

She bit at her lips, appearing to be trying to calm herself. Either this was part of it or she had managed to rip open some actual barrier between the living and the dead. My brain said it was an act, the rest of me said get the hell out of here.

Suddenly my mind whispered to me, Timothy, Timothy.

My dead name, before I transitioned. Timothy. I no longer used it.

“I think we need a salt circle,” Blu said.

She stood up, and yanked the curtain aside, giving us a portal into the other room which was her spirit realm, so to speak. The walls had been painted a rose-pink, and state fair blue-winning quilts had been tacked up. Four of them. Depictions of barn life, underwater life in a pond, forest life and city life. Quilts that should have been on the beds of presidents or heads of state.

A circle of pink salt had been poured, about three feet in diameter.  A simple nightstand type of table held a bowl and pestle and a tiny lime green-stoppered bottle, sat waiting to be used. A small orange jar oozed oily contents, as if vicious little fingers had swept it off the table. The room itself quite small but effectively eccentric. The quilts added that homey, comforting touch.

I tasted salt in my throat. Invisible feathers brushed against my cheek. Nothing there, nothing there at all.

My grandmother nodded at this hub of the otherworldly, her face gathering dark hollows beneath her cheekbones. Blu poured a bit of the gunk into the mortar from the lime green bottle, after popping the tiny cork. She scooped some of the oil off the floor, added that as well. A stench of burned fast-food oil, a whiff of cooked fish, a blast of rose room spray.

Blu came back to our table and sprinkled salt on the floor, encircling us. Something hissed in the center of that circle of pink salt. A snake waking up? A tiny dragon disturbed?

“Is that salt, dear?” my grandmother asked, even though it seemed obvious to me.

“It is, Mrs. McCrae. Himalayan salt. It has a purity to it that adds extra protections. Salt is said to keep away spirits and we do want them contained, not wandering around annoying people.” Blu squinted her eyes at the quilt depicting skyscrapers and a city park.

The quilt fluttered a bit as if something moved by it to go pout in the far corner. Now I had the ghost willies. Because there are ghosts here, I thought.

Stop that—my brain kicked in, impossibly arrogant and all-knowing.

All tricks, just all tricks. Nothing vicious or spiteful here but old memories that haunted me and my grandmother.

“I think it best that you ask the three questions, Mrs. McCrae, not Tandy here. You were his mother, after all. There’s often a deeper bond between mothers and sons. But you two can decide however you wish to attempt this.”

We three had gathered about the mortar and pestle, like three witches at the start of the Scottish play.

“I’ll do it,” my grandmother declared after a single look from me. “He might be able to scream at Tandy but I won’t stand for nonsense. Cameron never had much of a kind bone anywhere in him. That’s from his father, may Mother Mary rest his soul,” she genuflected, calling on her shield and protector, Mother Mary, a hapless virgin that she always called on in emergencies.

And then Blu spoke in a masculine voice, “Why, Candy, you still got those damn red purses?”

My grandmother raised a brow. “Mother Mary, protect us. I still have my red purses, you jackass husband. Where’s Cameron? We’re here for our son. I have nothing to say to you, Jerry.”

Blu had frozen, her hands white-knuckled testaments to Mr. McCrae doing a surprise guest spot in today’s proceedings. I saw her trying to breathe normally. Was Blu really surprised? My mind refused just yet to accept my dead grandfather had returned to needle my living grandmother.

“Too bad, Candy! I got some choice things to say. Who the hell are you?”   

“Tandy,” I said, and suddenly in my mind, I saw the rot of his body, the flesh turned black and liquefying, the stench of gone over meat, the stench of the dead that would never leave my nostrils and throat…that taste and smell of death itself, that slimy coating in my nose and on my tongue now.

I blurted out, “Hey, Lady Blu? I think we’ve had enough. Grandma, let’s just pay her and go.”

“Not until we speak to Cameron,” my grandmother answered.

A cloudy, misshapen bubble burst near me, splattering me and my grandmother with yellow goo. We cried out, tried to get it off us as he sent more of those bubbles out.

“Help us,” Blu clapped her hands together, more to catch something’s attention than anything else was all I could discern. More yellow goo-filled bubbles floated toward us.

A sinewy arm, not my grandfather’s, reached out, plucked the bubbles from the air, and squished them between the five-jointed fingers. My grandfather sent out a scream of rage at being so denied his fun. The floating arm went away.

“Shit.” Blu’s mouth seemed stuck on open, her back teeth had fillings. Business must be good if she could afford a dentist. “This isn’t me. I don’t know what the hell this is. I didn’t do this!”

She sounded genuine for the first time since we arrived, striking terror in my heart.

“Stop. Just stop!” Blu commanded, flinging out salt; flinging out her snake-oil liquids. “Get out of my shop. Get out!”

I could feel disembodied eyes watched us, blinking, blinking. I wanted to run; wanted to jump up, grab my grandmother, and flee this horrible shop and never return. But I was glued to my seat in panic.

Shadowy winged creatures showed up, popped into the circle from the inner edge of the salt barrier. They grabbed at the table; my grandmother whacked the air repeatedly with her red purse, calling on Mother Mary to protect and help her.

The black shadows, with wings that seemed borrowed from horror films and Christmas flicks alike, began to gather together, then dissipate.

“I am protected by Mother Mary,” my grandmother said. Everything went still. Everything. Dust fluttered before my eyes. I saw a crack in the wall above the city life quilt.

I could hear Lady Blu breathing in shallow sips; I could hear my own heartbeat in my ears. I could hear my grandmother’s ragged intakes and outtakes of air.

“Sorry,” my father said. I heard him distinctly from Blu’s mouth, his voice sonorous and deep, and then I knew this was real. So very real.

Monstrous dragging footsteps sounded from inside that circle of salt. Drag clop, drag clop. Over and over, louder now, a little bit louder now. “Comin’, Mom. Be there in just a minute, Mom.”

My grandmother nodded, and remained seated. Somehow she seemed calm. On the flip side, I was still terrified. My mouth turned down, my eyes turned wet. Lady Blu squeezed my hand, her turquoise eyes on me.

And then I saw him: my father. He had ragged wings, bones peeking through shredded flesh and limp gray-black feathers. His body had scales, his one arm wrapped in thorny vines, the
other arm ripped away, the bone shiny and splintered, sticking out yet. His feet had been smashed flat, as if someone had been trying to make flippers out of them. One had a chain wrapped about it.

He had a crown stuffed down on his balding head and a toothless mouth that opened far too wide, splitting his face, splitting it into obscene shapes that dripped black goo to the floor of Lady Blu’s shop. There were smells: a high stink of human shit…the stink of mass graves in high summer.

His suffering and his glee that he could yet hurt me. His suffering endured so he could hurt me just one more time.

Someone poured something sticky and strange into my hand.

Pink salt.

I threw it at my father, who melted away like used up oil down a drain. A slow melting, as he grinned with his toothless mouth, his remaining hand waving bye bye, bye bye. Arms around me, my grandmother’s light rose perfume, Lady Blu’s patchouli and green grass smell. Their strength flooding me until I did not see anything but quilts on the wall and my grandmother’s ruined red purse, yet clutched in her indomitable hand.

“It’s over,” Blu announced.

Grandma turned to me. “Did you hear him say he was sorry?”

When we left Blu’s shop, she locked the door behind us. Blu never opened those doors again.