Yvonne Navarro is the author of twenty-three published novels and a lot of short stories, articles and a reference dictionary. Her most recently published book is Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices (based in the Supernatural Universe). Her writing has won numerous awards, including a Bram Stoker Award. Lately she’s been really getting into painting and artwork. She lives way down in the southeastern corner of Arizona, fifteen miles from the Mexican border, is married to author Weston Ochse, and dotes on their rescued Great Danes. She has an I Want To Do list. It has about 4,274 projects on it and won’t stop growing. Her latest addition to that list is the completion of the Hummingbird Triathlon in Sierra Vista. She figured she’d would crawl over the finish line, then she read the rules don’t allow that. Check her Facebook page for updates.



by Yvonne Navarro

I wish I was back in the city, amid the noise of the traffic and people, the screams of dangerous children and the midnight gunfire. It is not really as quiet out here as people claim; there are small, insidious sounds that creep around doorways and wind their way into the ears of a woman alone in a big, dark house. The alone part doesn't bother me; this house does. It is not an old one, it is new. Barely a year old and cheap of construction, it moves with every ridiculous breeze and the creaks and moans it makes are only the pretentious lies of a character it does not have.

The house where I was born was two hundred years old and full of the family and its magic.  My mother is a white magic witch; I am a black magic one. Where she simpers and squeezes a living out of little potions of luck and love teas, I kill without hesitation. We have been apart for many years, our differences having finally sent me on my own after a nasty confrontation in the front parlor. I remember it grudgingly: it involved some trivial cheerleader who'd met an untimely and quite ugly death due to some rotted wood in the stands of the school's football stadium. There was a boy somewhere in the situation, too, and my mind's eye can still the sunwheat strands of his hair and the color of his eyes—that same incredible turquoise that television uses to tout tropical seas in vacation commercials.

But that's all old history, and life went on without the boy and his ladykiller smile and beachbum tan, and even without my mother. I found a new home and a job that while it wasn't the most interesting at least put food in my mouth and gave me the means to build a modest side living. At first, of course, it was nowhere near the grandiose lifestyle at which my mother had always hinted, but it was also without the slavish service and pseudo-smiles she gave her rich clients as she made stupid little spells and poultices to cure their petty ills. It took me a long time to cultivate it, but now mine is a life not only well-funded but rich in details and darkness, intrigue and the passion that comes with the receipt of an envelope of hundred dollar bills in exchange for a packet of carefully disguised hemlock meant for the espresso of an unfaithful spouse's lover.

But it is not without its own annoyances. I've had to move four times for one reason or another and have become too well-known to use the family name. I've yet to invent a spell that could rid me of my own reputation though I've managed a number of cloaking concoctions to buy me the time to relocate—after a while, I just get too tired to take on everyone. This house is a first for me and a kind of bitter surrender, a rental under a false name rather than a purchase of my own.  Cheap pre‑fab, like a new and flimsy cloak thrown carelessly over the shoulders in disregard of a familiar and snug‑fitting coat. I am as lost here as I was two decades ago when I stalked out of my mother's house and into the dusk of a Saturday Sabbath, as awkward in these freshly painted rooms as I was when I spun in indecision at the crossroads which offered me three different avenues of freedom and one path of return shame. Where would my life have led had I taken either of the other two?

More of the past, best left alone in favor of the here and now. This house moves again, laughing at me in a silent voice not unlike the shrill, uncontrolled pitch of a ghostbaby. No character, no maturity, no empathy. That same phantom toddler, emitting peal after peal of vicious laughter, all the more grating for its empty, evil innocence. I never could abide children.

It's time to bring the house some character.

Every dwelling has a spirit of its own, though most are silent and shy pulses, the metaphoric equivalent of the stars in another galaxy which are impossible for the human eye to detect without proper equipment. Like a newborn human, a dwelling has a soul and exists within the arms of its caretaker—the surrounding wood, brick and plaster—totally dependent on the decision of the outside forces as to whether it lives or dies. Most are "fed" and ultimately rooted by the energy of its occupants and live in harmonious anonymity, symbiotic human flesh and inert matter. Occasionally something richer rises from the house's depths, a presence that is vibrant and dark...and to me, so very preferable to the empty-headed, chuckling echoes that fill my tacky rental.

Despite my resolve, the loneliness has been getting to me the last few years. I've only been here for six months, yet counting the times I'd found myself staring into the space of one of the unfurnished rooms would be impossible, and there's no urge to decorate, or shop, or do any of the homey things that usually commandeer a woman's life when she relocates. I lied when I said I'd left the loss of my mother and the surrounding family, as well as the memory of the boy with the wheat-blond hair and turquoise eyes, in the past.

The pain of those partings still burns, even tonight as I light the seven dozen candles surrounding the pentagram I've drawn in blood on the inexpensive linoleum floor in the kitchen. If anyone misses the scrawny wirehair terrier I caught digging into my trash last night...well, they should have had a collar and i.d. tag on it. Then I would've let it be. Mixed with the dog's blood is a good portion of my own, drawn from a deep gash across my left wrist using the thorns of a rose bush that hasn't bloomed. The one at the side of the house did quite nicely—stupid landscapers, how could they have thought the thing would flower, placed as it was on the north side and only fifteen feet from the shading wall of another house? Scrawny stalks still boasting quarter inch barbs, a witch's choice of knives.

It took some long, hard thought to come to this decision. There were many angles to consider, not the least of which was that the house is a rental. The original dwelling spirit will stay with it for as long as the house exists. It can't ever be moved, and the only way to kill the spirit is to destroy—not to be confused with renovate—the house itself.

Actually, calling it a dwelling spirit and saying it's bound to the house isn't really accurate; as it matures, the spirit binds more to the ground on which the home is built—hence the seemingly spiritless multi-residence and office buildings that pepper the civilized world. One spirit divided by so many rooms is seldom felt, and only rarely will a phantom choose a particular room or group of rooms in which to brood. In truth, I don't care about the dwelling spirit of this place anyway. What really interests me is the possibility of adding a spirit.

I wrestled with so many questions! A human spirit—but whose? Dead? Or alive? Not such an impossibility, though it requires considerable more effort to accomplish. There was the trade-off to think about, too; I couldn't just snatch someone's spirit—or soul, if you prefer—and leave an empty body somewhere, sitting and drooling but still very much alive. It would be too easy for another to use the empty body as a tool for retribution. If I wanted a spirit from somewhere else, a living person in my vicinity would have to die so that the soul stolen from the original body could be replaced. All very tricky.

Oh, I do so love a challenge.

Despite my line of work, I don't relish slashing the throat of some dippy suburban housewife in the rear of Stratford Square Mall, or even giving some cheating husband what he really deserves for trying to pick me up at Carrington's bar. I'm just not into the bloody stuff that much, at least not in volume, and besides, those kinds of tricks are too easily traceable. I'm not so hard to spot or remember, with my nearly brick-colored mass of curls and dark emerald eyes. A stereotypical witch if there ever was one—bluebloods always look like that—and definitely the kind of looks the women in town found suspect from the moment I pushed my first grocery cart into Gorski's Food Store. 

I've gone for the plain look in this new town, a loose bun and no make-up, and have started to prefer it to the siren visage of previous years; besides, romantic relationships have proven disastrous for me time and time again, and I have no urge to try it here. Despite the passage of time and our differences, I've kept a quiet surveillance on the rest of my family. At forty, I've become at peace with the idea that the family's bloodline will have to be carried on by one of my sisters and my brother—a tall and randy double for Pierce Brosnan who'll have no trouble finding a willing bride once he settles down. I'm sure my mother will be pleased at the ensuing horde of grandchildren.

It's truly amazing how Father Time can gentle the most rebellious of attitudes. Even me—I'm not the same vehement and proud teenager who once screamed vile things at my mother and in return was told in no uncertain terms to choose between the light and dark ways. I chose the dark, which obviously has nothing to do with the slow erosion of the stubbornness in my spirit; as a woman—any woman—grows older, she learns to flex. After all, you can't fight the whole world, no matter how strong or right you are.

Pride, however...well, that can be a little tougher.

I'd give nearly anything to see my mother again in person, to hold her hand—now softened by twenty-some-odd years—and smell the scent of her beloved violet candy on each calm breath she exhales. Witches don't live forever, no matter what people think; maybe a little longer than ordinary humans, but certainly not the hundreds of years that foolish so-called experts prattle on about. Witching families are very close and my siblings will always eventually follow where my mother goes, myself having been something of an anomaly when I got the bright idea of self-banishment all those years ago. 

Now instinct compels me to return...yet I cannot. My sense of self, my me, has been built from strands woven through the long and twisted genealogy of my family tree, a span traceable backwards some eight hundred years. In each generation can be found the great-grandfather, aunt or third cousin with that barely noticed smidgen of stubbornness and pride—all of which seemingly coalesced in my own unsuspecting personality as a child.

As I gather the things I need to complete the spell that will bring a bit of life and love to this house, the realization that it is not my fault is comforting. A witch is physically like anyone else, and I had no more control over the RNA and DNA that structured my cells as an embryo than did the poor old drunk who scrounges in the dumpster behind the McDonald's at the intersection of Maple and Route 19—the grizzled unfortunate who will be my sacrifice. While bits of my character were formed as I grew and learned from the family, I did not choose to be obstinate, nor did I sit down and plan to be the sole, too-proud black sheep revolutionist in our family tree.  To have done so would have been akin to my own premeditated emotional murder. It is grossly unfair that I should have to spend my life as a punished outcast because of a ludicrous quirk of Mother Nature.

I try not to be bitter, but I cannot help the mirthless smile that slides across my lips and transforms them into a thin line. My mother, so forgiving of others, so lenient—why couldn't she have accepted me and the calling that was my somber inheritance? 

I could no more have mixed a salve to make someone's bored lover return than she could have conjured the spell that sent that conniving little cheerleader to her splintery—and I still believe well-deserved—death. I've spent countless hours brooding about it, and can only assume that it was the dead part that mother couldn't deal with, the actual taking of another's life. After all, she'd certainly turned a blind eye to my often less-than-savory learning process as I grew. 

I'd started as a toddler who turned frogs and garden snakes inside out to satisfy her curiosity, then grown to a young girl with a reputation for making...odd things happen to the school bullies when they stole her lunch or candy money. Not once did mother try to stop me or offer any of the white magic alternatives that came as second nature to her and the rest of the family. At times, I think she rather liked the idea of having a dark witch in the family line—as far as I know, I was the first—and presumed us therefore protected against the minor jealousies of other white magic families. Perhaps she dreamed of seeing me married to someone in a more powerful darkside family. Reflection makes me wonder if that, too, had something to do with our final blow-up—not only had I...eliminated was the word she used—a human being, I'd done it over a teenaged boy she'd never met, a worthless mortal who had no powers or potential.

The shaking drunkard is easy to entice into the back doors of my van with a bottle of sweet strawberry wine and the promise of more if he will just do a few simple odd jobs. He trusts me so readily—why in the world would I want to harm a drunkard? I am a woman besides, and though I am bigger, younger and stronger, he hauls himself into the vehicle without the slightest hesitation, that same old assumption of superiority with which all men seem to be born.

Killing him will be another easy task, and bloodless. The liquor he had already imbibed made him cooperative, and within a quarter hour of sending him into the basement to sweep out the old coal bin, the paralyzing herbs I'd shaken into the bottle of wine left him incapable of speech or resistance. I won't give a second thought to slipping a sheet of plastic from the dry cleaners over his head—This Is Not A Toy! —and suffocating him at the appropriate time; he won't be able to even twitch. 

As they track my steps around the basement, his eyes still move and are wide with fear and a clarity of thought he probably hasn't enjoyed in years. Odd how the optic muscles never seem to be affected by paralysis of the rest of the body. In any case, disposing of him will not be difficult; there are centuries old secrets that work much better than quicklime or burying and won't leave enough for even the most sophisticated forensics team to find. He should count himself blessed; ripping a soul free is a painful thing that my herbs will spare him, and he will not feel anything as he dies.

I am almost ready. The ingredients are gathered—after all these years I can find even the most elusive items—and the drunkard awaits within the dried-blood pentagram. The soul I steal from another and replace with the drunkard's will soon be slipping through the walls and rooms of my rental house; it is a simple transfer spell, really, and the soul I bring here will look for the body of the drunkard, but in the short time span of transference, the flow of oxygen to the man who is bound upright to an old wooden chair and whose stubble-rimmed mouth gapes at me will cease forever. Without a vessel within which to settle itself, a short quarter hour will see the new soul bound to this house—or rather, to me. 

Unlike the original dwelling spirit, the new spirit can be moved again and again, although as the conjurer, only I can do so—a fact which keeps me from the physical or spiritual revenge that might otherwise be inevitable.  Eventual discovery is a certainty, but it doesn't matter; I will change what I have done only if I move, and then only to take the soul with me.

The vagrant's soul will be deposited in the body of the other, but his spirit is a weak and incompetent thing, fleeting and sickly, and I don't expect the other's body will survive the shock of transference for more than a few hours.

It will be a sad time, but my pride will finally no longer matter and will truly become a thing of the past. I can go to my mother's funeral with my head held high, then return to the house and the sweetness of her company.

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