WAKING THE WITCH
The Witch of Cheyne Heath
Book 1 of 4
A witch’s daughter.
A murderous sorcerer.
A friend in desperate need of her power…
“A refreshing take on Urban Fantasy with unique magic and an engaging mystery.” ~ Fanfiaddict.com
For 30-year-old Gosha, magic is a four-letter word, but in her mother’s world of witchcraft, words have power—power Gosha will have to sacrifice everything to acquire.
When a devious sorcerer masquerading as a New Age guru murders her band’s guitarist, Mick Trash, Trash’s spirit haunts her, showing her visions of his last days and the monster that killed him, visions that are steadily killing her.
When she discovers her best friend, rock singer and recovering drug addict Miranda, may be the sorcerer’s next victim in his quest for immortality, Gosha must submit to her overbearing mother’s guilt-trips to be initiated into the Craft and trained as a witch if she is to save her oldest friend.
1980s alternative London can be a dangerous place for a novice in the Craft. With the clock ticking, Gosha must descend into a treacherous, clandestine world of magic and intrigue with only her wits, five spells, and her mother’s coven of chaotic busybodies to help her stop the sorcerer and his demonic minions from consuming Miranda’s life-force.
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READ AN EXCERPT
A ghost was the last thing Małgorzata Mierzejewska Armitage needed to see, but there it was in her camera viewfinder. At the frame’s edge, between the drum risers and the rack of Mick’s keyboards, a bare-footed toddler with grubby cheeks in a tattered pinafore fell forward on her hands and knees and bawled.
Gosha yanked the camera away from her face. No sign of the phantom to her naked eye. Johnny, the lead singer, draped across the drum riser with one hand pressed to his forehead and the other dangling to the floor in a melodramatic swoon, was the only other living person with her on the set. Everyone else was either in makeup, setting lights, or prepping camera and playback equipment. The set she’d stayed up till four in the morning every night for a month building was otherwise empty.
“Something wrong?” said Johnny.
‘Sigit Sigit’ Johnny, lead singer of Swish Brigade, a young New Wave band desperate to break through the chaff of all the other wannabe hit-makers of nineteen-eighty.
“No, no.” She lifted the camera. In the frame, the little girl sat back crying, reaching for a mother who, from the style of the girl’s dress, would have been dead a hundred years. “It all looks great.”
A memory of damp earth and the tickle of tiny insect legs swarming across her skin leaked out of her subconscious. She pushed it back down with all the other things she’d rather forget.
“Bugger,” she muttered. “Of course this would happen now.”
No matter how hard she pushed it away, witchcraft always seeped in and wrecked her life. It didn’t care that twenty crew members, a dozen dancers, four musicians, and one disgusting A&R man were watching and waiting for her to stumble.
If the phantom stayed in the viewfinder, it wouldn’t be a problem. It might register on the exposed film, but the set she’d built was made of several dense layers of tulle, satin, and glitter. No one would notice it. And even if they did, she’d built a career out of ethereal photography. She could make it work. If it appeared without the aid of the camera lens, then she’d be up ghost creek without a smudge stick. Where one phantom appeared, more always followed.
She turned her back on it and ran her fingers through her bob, tucking her hair behind her ears. Thank god she hadn’t teased it into its usual angry spikes this morning, no matter how much it might have boosted her confidence. She lived for fashion, but maintenance could be a nightmare.
“All right, Lord Byron.” She slapped her thigh to catch Johnny’s attention. “On your toes. Give me your best Marlene Dietrich.”
She snapped off a couple of shots, winding the film on with a satisfying clunk of the lever. At this point in her career, she could afford one of those motorized rigs that fire off a dozen shots a second, but she enjoyed taking one at a time, deliberating over each photo, far too much.
Johnny sat up, spread his knees, and rested his elbows on his thighs, one hand raised miming a cigarette held to his lips with two long, slender fingers.
“Falling in love again,” he crooned in a perfect German accent, raising an eyebrow and winking at the camera with a million-pound smirk.
In the viewfinder, the toddler recovered from its tantrum and pulled itself up on some piece of long-vanished furniture and tottered over to the drum riser, right between Johnny’s knees.
“Let’s try a few over there by the backdrop.”
Tall and skinny with long, elegant limbs, he twirled over to a dense wall of purple lamé textured with layers of colored scrim gauze and silver glitter and came to a halt chopping at the air with his hands.
“How about Emma Peel?”
He looked down his nose at her and pouted.
“Or Farrah Fawcett?”
His fingers curled into the shape of a gun.
She snapped off a few more shots. In the high-collared crushed velvet jacket she’d chosen for him he was an elegant, glam rock vampire. The makeup artist had done an adequate job recreating Gosha’s sketches. Not stellar. Gosha would have done a much better job herself, but she had too much else to think about this morning. Her first directing gig needed to go off without a hitch. She was sick of lying around drunk at the arts club bemoaning her obscurity alongside all the other undiscovered artistic geniuses of Cheyne Heath. She could do so much better than what passed for music videos lately on Top of the Pops.
She lowered her camera to fiddle with the aperture and the toddler materialized before her on the set. It rolled under the synth onto its back, its features contorted as tears streamed down its cheeks. It screamed out its distress, but no sound reached Gosha’s ears. She glanced around, but the crew continued setting lights, oblivious.
Deep in the pit of her abdomen a cramp twinged through her uterus.
Oh yes, she was in trouble. With the stress of prepping for the shoot, her period was late, and she’d hoped to be spared the monthly visit from her red-headed aunt and the curse of phantoms that accompanied it, but no such luck. Here it was. In two, maybe three, hours a phalanx of ghosts parading before her eyes would make it impossible to function. If she got her hands on the little pouch of countermeasures in her bag in the coat drop on the other side of this decrepit warehouse they were using as a soundstage in time and find somewhere secluded to use it, she’d be fine. Until then, she’d have to do her best not to let it ruin the shoot.
Where was Mick Trash, Johnny’s partner in crime?
A commotion erupted from the darkness beyond the set and Darren, the A&R man, marched toward her dragging the drummer and bass player with him by the scruff of their necks. The two boys were sweet lads and good musicians, but style icons they would never be. Gosha had kept their outfits simple and dressed them in fifties rocker gear: white t-shirts and leather jackets over jeans tight enough to tell their religion.
“What is this crap?” He thrust the lads toward her. “I said none of this queer shit.”
“Darren, darling.” She turned to face him head on. If she gave this arse an inch, he’d roll right over her. “We cleared all this with Melanie a week ago.”
Over his shoulder a woman in an unlaced corset and ragged skirts fell to her hands and knees coughing.
“Melanie’s off the project.” He sneered, his lip curling up to make the bristles of his thick mustache scrape obscenely on the perpetual cigarette clamped in one corner of his mouth. “Grayson isn’t happy with the direction the video’s going. He sent me down here to make sure you don’t make the lads look like a bunch of poofs.”
He took a deep drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke out of the corner of his mouth into Gosha’s face. In his Members Only jacket and flares, he’d be more at home outside Studio 54 picking up girls on the wrong side of the velvet rope than on her set. If she didn’t covet this job so, she would have punched the old lech in the face weeks ago for the filthy things he said to her.
“What are you talking about?” said Gosha with an innocent smile, knowing exactly to what he referred. Discussions about the band’s image had lasted for hours.
“Makeup!” He grabbed Keith’s chin and pulled it toward him. “You can’t have them in makeup. They look like a bunch of shirt-lifters.”
All they wore was eyeliner and a dusting of blush and eye shadow, even though Gosha wanted to push it much further.
“What the fuck?” said Johnny, storming over with Mick at his heels.
Behind them, Sally, her producer, stalked over to rescue her, six-inch stilettos tapping on the battered concrete floor, but Gosha gestured for her to stay back. Two women ganging up on Darren would only entrench him deeper.
“And that’s an absolute no.” Darren cocked his head at Johnny’s outfit. “Wardrobe!” He yelled out across the warehouse. “Get this whore’s dressing gown off him and put him in something that makes him look like a man.”
“Why did you fucking sign us?” Johnny flailed his hands in the arse’s face. “You’re ruining everything. We did your stupid fucking cover, and now you want to change who I am. Maybe you should have found a suburban eunuch down the shopping center to do your bidding.”
Mick wrapped an arm around him to hold him back.
They were an odd pair. Tall and lithe, Johnny towered over Mick, his German-Indonesian background endowing him with a striking mixture of reddish-brown skin, sharp cheekbones, and a square jaw. Small and intense, Mick’s curly hair spread out around his head like a mad scientist in a thunderstorm.
“Listen, ducky.” Darren thrust his cigarette at Johnny with one hand and picked tobacco off his tongue with the other. “I don’t give a fuck what you poofs do in your spare time. You can have a cock in every hole for all I care. I’m not prejudiced.” He stabbed the air with his cigarette for emphasis, each thrust in time with the throbbing pulse at the base of her skull that grew stronger the more bigoted shit poured out of his mouth. “I’m a progressive thinker, but you’ve got to appeal to the little girls if you want to be on Top of the Pops. If you want to make it on the charts, you’ve got to appeal to their mums. They’ve got to dream you’re more interested in their muffs than in their husbands’ cocks. And if you’ve got your little pansy hearts set on making it big in the States, look at what happened to that shirt-lifter Elton John. The slightest hint of perversion and they’ll sink you before you even get off the boat.”
He winked at Gosha.
“You know all about that, don’t you, love?”
She pursed her lips and clenched her jaw.
Johnny was ready to knock him down. Wiry like a greyhound, he could hold his own, but a fistfight wouldn’t do them any good. Mick held him back.
“Darren, sweetheart.” She smiled as she drew him to one side, away from the boys, and leaned in close. She loathed this man with a passion, but she wasn’t above using his own lusts against him. “I understand you. You and I think alike. We get this is a business, but these youngsters, these artists, are all about self-expression and creative truth. I speak their language. Let me talk to them. Let me have them do one your way, and if you like it, leave it in my hands. Deal?”
He leered at her breasts. A comforting weight in her hand, her camera could probably survive forced contact with this lecherous bastard’s skull. If not, she owned others.
“Your husband was right, luv. You are quite the scheming little minx, aren’t you? Yeah, you get them to butch it up and I’ll let you get on with it.”
What had her idiot husband, George, said? Sometimes it was like having an extra child, a randy, entitled narcissist.
“I know you’ll be satisfied. Why don’t you watch from over by the lunch table? There’s quite a spread.”
“I know I’d be satisfied by your spread.” He swatted her on the rear as she turned away.
She took a deep breath and contemplated changing her stance on non-violence.
“Don’t leave me here too long, darling,” he said as she walked back to the boys.
Mick and Johnny retreated to safety behind Mick’s keyboards, Mick’s artfully disorganized thatch of hair brushing against Johnny’s tight, glistening bob as they whispered frantically. The pair usually put up a good front when faced with a challenge, but Mick worried at the Celtic torc he always wore around his wrist, a sure sign he was freaking out.
“Okay, boys.” She picked her way across the tangle of electrical cables and strode to the middle of the set. “Gather round.”
Johnny and Mick looked up from their huddle as if having forgotten there was anyone else there. Kevin and Keith kicked around an empty beer can, oblivious to the elaborate bazaar ripped from the Arabian Nights she’d built for them.
“Oi!” She clapped her hands to get their attention. “Lads. Time is money. Get over here.”
All four hustled toward her like the good little suburban boys they were.
“Here’s the problem.” She leaned in so Darren wouldn’t hear. The lads huddled forward. “The man’s a pig, but he controls the purse strings. We have to appease him or we’re all in the shit, yes?”
Mick nodded, Kevin and Keith following along.
“I can’t do it,” said Johnny. “I just can’t. I didn’t get kicked to shit three times a week behind the cafeteria at school to go back in the closet.”
Behind him, the shimmering backdrop moved a little too fast for the lazy drift of air under the hot film lights that wafted through the vast warehouse. The mirage coalesced into the figure of a man in nineteen-fifties work overalls thumbing through a pornographic magazine. Gosha did her best to ignore it. Sometimes she could hold the phantoms at bay by sheer force of will.
“I’m not saying you should. Remember my presentation for the video?”
“Yeah,” said Mick. “It was gorgeous. And all this work you’ve done is amazing. But if Johnny can’t do his thing, what’s the point?”
“I agree with you one hundred percent, but sometimes an offering must be made. Do you trust me?”
All three looked to Johnny. It was an odd hierarchy. Some decisions they deferred to Johnny and some to Mick, and she hadn’t yet figured out how the responsibilities fell.
“Yeah,” said Johnny. “Yeah, I trust you.”
Relief spread across the back of her neck. Her plan was tricky. She was certain the record company would love what she intended if only they could see it fully realized. Even their pet pig, Darren, couldn’t turn up his nose. And if they did, she had three music journalist friends to leak the video to who would be happy to pressure them to release it.
“Good. Butch it up all the way. Take it as an acting challenge. Give him all the tired old rock-and-roll posturing. Get him salivating. Do it well enough, and he’ll leave us alone. I promise you no one will ever see the take.”
The same evil grin spread across all four young, fresh faces.
“Yeah,” said Mick. “We can do that.”
She stepped back from the huddle.
“Marie, dear! Wipe all this off them.”
The makeup artist, a sweet girl just out of cosmetology school, rushed over with a basket of supplies.
“Give them enough coverage that the lights don’t wash them out and leave it at that.”
The girl nodded and set to work as Gosha turned and winked at Darren. She waved him the ‘okay’ signal, but a finger and thumb curled into an ‘o’ was not the gesture she wanted to give him.
She cupped her hands to make herself heard in the cavernous space.
“Let’s get ready for the first take, please!”
The crew, up till now standing around watching the drama, sprung to life.
At the back of the warehouse, beyond the bustle of activity, Darren slumped against a pillar with a finger wedged up one nostril for a good dig. The ghostly figure of a woman hoisted one boob out of her corset in front of him and fed it to the swaddled baby in her arms. He stared right through it, oblivious.
“Fuck,” she whispered to herself and trotted over to the bag drop.
“You will love it, Darren,” she called out as she passed him.
He sneered and nodded as he removed his finger from his nose and licked the tip. Turning her back, she shuddered and picked up her bag. An amorphous, floppy sack from a stall in Kensington Market, it was magnificent and far too large to find anything in it. Digging past layers of camera equipment, film, sundry mundane items, and the odd child’s toy, she fished out the small glass vial of holy water from her kit. Even holding the bottle in her hand caused the pain in her temples to subside, though she never understood why. Her mother would know, but she wasn’t about to ask. Nothing came from the old witch without a price, and Gosha refused to keep paying when she ran away from home. All the tricks she’d learned to manage her condition she’d discovered by trial and error.
She couldn’t do her entire ritual out here in front of everyone, but perhaps a dash of holy water might keep the spirits at bay. If anyone saw her, they’d think she was applying cologne.
“We’re ready.” The assistant director shuffled over in battered sneakers and a worn Aerosmith t-shirt a size too small for his burly frame.
She dabbed a few drops of holy water behind each ear and felt a little better, the angry haze building behind her eyes cooling just enough that she could think.
She slipped the pouch of countermeasures out of her bag and stuffed it into the pocket of her jacket. One good thing about the Vivienne Westwood French Revolution dandy couture she’d put on this morning was an abundance of places to stash things.
She walked over to the camera, a gorgeous Arriflex she would have loved to take home with her.
“Arthur,” she whispered to the operator, “do me a favor? Forget to run the camera for this one, would you?”
“You got it, Gosha.”
She patted him on the shoulder. A veteran of the film business, Arthur was no stranger to on-set politics.
Johnny, Mick, and the others hit their marks, their faces wiped clean of offending cosmetics, Johnny’s magnificent coat replaced by a boring silk vest.
Forty people stared at her, waiting for her to call ‘action.’
She looked back at Darren, who gave her a thumbs up.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“Quiet on set!” shouted Gary, setting in motion a clockwork machine of human activity. “Lights!”
Five thousand watts of incandescence struck the plywood, chicken wire, fabric, and glitter, turning it into a shimmering wonderland.
“Speed,” the camera assistant called back, and a PA stepped in front of the lens to clap the slate.
Four loud electronic bleeps echoed across the empty warehouse.
“Action!” shouted Gosha. The dolly beneath her rolled back on thick rubber wheels as the first bars of synthesized bass and drums throbbed through her chest, taking her breath away.
She huddled over the Arriflex and peered through the viewfinder. Even hobbled, the band were brilliant. Johnny danced in an explosion of color as he strutted across the set, lip-syncing and gyrating to the backing track while Mick pounded at his rack of keyboards, a musical mad scientist with crazed hair and eyeliner, fused to his keyboard and guitar. The boys threw themselves into it like they were the Bay City Rollers on Saturday morning children’s TV. Johnny was Elvis Presley reborn, and Mick possessed all the bounce of a young Paul McCartney, the other two goofing around in the background like they were down the pub. It was charming, but she knew what they were capable of: sex and longing and danger. They’d go far, these boys.
Swish Brigade had come a long way since she first saw them play on a bill sandwiched between a man singing earnest protest songs to mangled chords on a cheap electric guitar, and a woman with an accordion performing off-key nineteen-sixties ballads. They blew the other performers away. Their music was seedy and futuristic, bridging the gap between punk and something much more subversive, and the crowd lapped them up. Johnny and Mick’s interpretation twisted the cheery pop of the obscure Dusty Springfield tune the record company was making them cover for their first single into a plaintive lament to sexual frustration.
The final bars of bleating synthesizers and distorted guitars faded away into echoes that bounced around the vast open space.
She swaggered over to Darren with a bravado she didn’t feel. Flashes of the dead flickered in and out around her, making it difficult to know what was real and what was a phantom.
“Well, Darren? Happy?”
“Yeah.” He did his best to play it cool, but he’d seen a taste of their charisma. The finished product would be a thousand times better.
“Lovely, darling.” She kissed him on both cheeks. “Now fuck off and let the elves turn shit into gold.” The promise of easy money was the only thing men like Darren understood. And profanity. They loved it when their sex objects talked filth. She did her best not to flinch when he patted her on the bottom as he left.
Darren handled meant one less problem to think about. She paused before heading back to the camera. Indistinct suggestions of shape and movement flickered in and out around her in the dim corners of the warehouse.
“He’s gone, Mrs. Armitage,” said a young PA, clutching her clipboard and walkie-talkie across her breasts like a shield against Darren’s unwanted gaze.
“Down the pub to get smashed, I’ve no doubt. Get me my handbag, would you?”
She strode back to the camera and clapped her hands.
“Let’s reset for another take. Lads, come with me!”
The PA brought over her bag as she led them to the makeup table.
“Marie, get Kevin and Keith back to the way they were. I’ll do the other two. Johnny, you first.”
She pulled her makeup kit from her bag and spread out the collection of pots and palettes and readied herself to take advantage of the sudden lack of supervision. Her initial proposal to the record company was a much more extreme look.
“Remember that first set of sketches I showed you?”
“With all the blocks of color?” Johnny’s face lit up at the memory.
“That’s how I’m going to make you up.”
He grinned and clapped his hands with glee.
Something clicked within and her world came into focus, the anxiety of having to prove herself melting away. At fourteen she had plucked up her courage and begged her mother to allow her to get a job in the village like all the other girls her age. If they hadn’t needed cash, her mother never would have allowed it, but witchcraft didn’t often pay in hard currency and there was only so much for which you could barter. The job of shopgirl at Mrs. Halliwell’s Boutique for Ladies of Distinction was much sought-after among the girls at school, but Gosha’s mother had cured Mrs. Halliwell’s chronic chest infection when a fleet of doctors failed. Gosha was hired as a general assistant on the spot. The first time Geraldine at the cosmetics counter had made her up Gosha was smitten by visions of Hollywood glamor. Of course, she had to wash it all off before she got home or her mother would have had a fit, but until then, Gosha’s evenings had been filled with alternating bouts of boredom and terror assisting her mother with complex and disgusting potions and charms for the many visitors to the kitchen. Now she had something to dream about.
Making an impact these days meant being bold. Bowie had just released a new video in full New Romantic drag turning the music world on its head. It was Swish Brigade’s bad luck to have signed with a record label more interested in mining tired pop styles from the sixties and seventies than letting artists like Johnny and Mick get on with it.
“There you go.” She dabbed a final coat of powder on his face. “What do you think?”
Blocks of iridescent purple covered his eyes and lips, while clouds of magenta blush contoured his cheekbones against moon-pale skin, the warpaint of an alien god.
“Amazing,” he whispered.
At sixteen, she stole a concoction from her mother’s pantry that gave her flu symptoms for two hours, long enough to convince the school nurse to send her home. Instead she caught the bus to the nearest cinema for a matinee of Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor. After that, she knew she wanted to work in movies and hatched a plan to get away from her mother. Even she would agree she was useless in the kitchen, scarcely any help at all, but she learned enough to concoct her own cosmetics: foundation, concealer, and blush with just enough witchcraft in them to wipe ten years of hard living off the face of any man or woman. Mrs. Halliwell snapped up everything she could produce. The Saturday after her final day of school, Gosha threw as many of her possessions as she dared into her satchel, said goodbye to her mother as if she were off to the shop, and hopped on the first train to London, a wad of pound notes in her pocket.
“Get your jacket back from wardrobe.” She shooed Johnny away. “Mick!”
His pale, round face emerged from the gloom. His makeup would be easier: asymmetrical tribal marks in purple, blue, and red.
“You all set?”
She tucked tissue paper around his collar to protect it from the pigment. He didn’t respond, his gaze a million miles away.
“Ground control to Mick?” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Everything okay?”
His face lit up as he looked at her.
“Oh, yes. Couldn’t be better.”
Two men in sweat-stained work shirts walked past, one in tears, the other with a comforting arm draped across his shoulders. They grew faint and dissipated into nothingness.
She should have known better than to shoot in Bosworth Grove. Most of the neighborhood had been abandoned since the seventies, leaving acres of industrial space empty for artists to colonize. Her one attempt at renting a studio here lasted a week. The pressure on her senses was too overpowering. Most months the episodes only came with her cycle, but the short corridor between Barnaby Chase and Stepbourne Canal had been one of the worst neighborhoods of London. Only Whitechapel was more notorious. Several hundred years of crime and misery left vestiges of shattered lives potent enough they could erupt into her awareness at any moment. If she stayed still and focused, she could sometimes keep the apparitions from erupting. She only hoped she hadn’t left it too long for her countermeasures to do any good.
It took another hour before the call for lunch. The band was brilliant, take after take. The crew made everything she had hoped for come to pass, but she couldn’t enjoy any of it. Despite her efforts at self-control, the phantoms intruded like cuttings of film projected on layers of scrim around her, transparent superimpositions spreading out and obscuring her connection to reality.
If her mother could see her this way, she’d be ecstatic.
“I told you so,” Gosh could hear her mother cackle in her Polish accent. “But you think you know better.”
But her mother’s way, cynical and mean, had filled Gosha’s childhood with horror, forcing them to flee Poland and take refuge in a small town miles from everyone she’d ever known, her one source of hope the train that chugged down the line toward London three times daily, four on Saturdays.
And now, when all her ambitions were coming to fruition, the occult threatened to suck her back into its stinking and corrupted claws.
She struggled through five more takes of the master shot and a few inserts before the call for lunch when she could slink away clutching her pouch of countermeasures. She found herself an abandoned corridor in the back of the warehouse, safe enough despite the worn and rotted floorboards buckling underneath her. The flickering and jarring of phantoms was minimal, and the decaying dividers gave enough cover to open her pouch and get to work.
Stashed in the bag were a hodgepodge of religious paraphernalia cobbled together over the years: a Jewish tefillin, a tiny leather box containing prayers from the Torah attached to a leather strap to wrap around one arm, a Catholic rosary for the other, a figurine of a Santeria orisha, and the phial of holy water from an Anglican church.
She had the tefillin strap wound halfway up her arm when a young production assistant stuck her head around the corner and got an eyeful of strangeness. The girl stammered apologies for intruding, her eyes bulging out of her head as she backed away.
Great, thought Gosha. Perhaps the girl will think I’m doing drugs. That would be easier to explain.
The phantoms first appeared around her eighteenth birthday, a year after running away from home and a decade before she and her mother had worked their way back to a cordial relationship. Without guidance, she was forced to find her own ways to keep them at bay. The power of religious paraphernalia to banish them was a chance discovery. Without her mother to ask, she’d never discovered why it worked. But she was inquisitive and adventurous. Since fleeing her mother’s oppression, Gosha never let ignorance stand in the way of a successful plan of attack. The beauty of living in a cosmopolitan city like London, and in a hub of international cultures like Cheyne Heath, was exposure to every imaginable color and creed. Time, curiosity and the willingness to look foolish was all it took to develop this little ritual.
Tefillin on one arm and rosary around the other, she held the little figurine and the phial of holy water as she recited a Jewish prayer, an ‘Our Father,’ and a ‘Hail Mary.’ She turned around three times counterclockwise and sprinkled the holy water over her head and to the four cardinal directions.
She believed in none of it, and her homespun ritual would be an affront to anyone of the faiths she was appropriating, but it did the trick. The jittery angst throbbing through her calmed and the flickering, disjointed apparitions faded, allowing her to go on working and give the job the attention it deserved. She closed her eyes for a moment to enjoy the quiet.
Feeling a little lighter in her bones, she unwrapped the tefillin and rosary and put everything back in the pouch, but the relief didn’t even last a minute. As she stepped back into the cavernous open space of the set, a dark streak smeared across her vision, an omen she’d experienced before.
Someone was about to die.