Bruce Jenvey is the award-winning author of Angela’s Coven and other tales of the paranormal. Here is an excerpt from his soon to be released third book in the Cabbottown Witch series, The Ragtime Coven, telling the story of the coven through the days of WWI and the Prohibition Era.
The sounds of Aaron’s motorcycle had barely faded down the road when Aunt Maddy started hauling a large collection of jars and storage containers out of the back pantry. With the help of Andrea and Angela, it didn’t take long to bring all the pertinent stores out to the dining room table.
“Alright, ladies,” Aunt Maddy began, “It’s inventory time! What have we got? What’s still good? What are we missing?”
“I can’t thank you all enough for your help with this project,” Angela said as she set the last of the large sealed jars down on the table.
“Nonsense!” objected Celia. “This is what we do.”
“And to do it for family is certainly no hardship,” Evelyn added as she started shuffling through the smaller Mason jars at the far end nearest the windows.
“Our goal here,” clarified Aunt Maddy, “is to come up with a protective talisman for Aaron and we have got to do this before he leaves for Europe.”
“Are we even certain he’ll be drafted?” asked Andrea with a ray of hope.
“Don’t think with your head, girl,” Maddy corrected her. “Use your gift.”
“Use your ability as a Sensitive, sweetie,” Evelyn encouraged her in a less gruff tone than Maddy’s. “He’s young, he’s strong… smart. Even I can sense he’ll be among the first to go, and I’m a Finder.”
“No sorry about it,” Maddy stepped in again. “You may well be the best Sensitive I’ve ever seen, bar none. But you got to start drawing that card first instead of thinking things through like regular people. Here, try this. Sit down and close your eyes.” Andrea reluctantly took a seat next to Celia. “Now, they closed?”
“Yes, they’re closed…”
“Keep ‘em that way, now.” Maddy took one of the sealed jars from the center of the table and placed it in front of the younger woman. “Keep ‘em closed, and put your hands on this.” Andrea wrapped her hands around the Mason jar. Almost at once, a faint smile crossed her face. “What you got there, hon?”
“It’s… Milkweed Extract!”
“Mixed or straight up?”
“There’s Pudding Plant in there, too!”
“Exactly!” Maddy congratulated her. “Here’s another.” She traded the jars in front of Andrea.”
“This is… ground oak bark.”
“You’re not peeking now, are you?” Evelyn teased.
“Nope! Aunt Maddy’s right, I can feel it!”
“Well, try this one.” Maddy placed another sealed Mason jar before her.
“This is…” but Andrea’s face fell in confusion. “This is… Marinara sauce.”
“No it’s not,” Maddy objected. “That’s Egg Plant Puree with Sprig Weed in it.”
“No, it’s Marinara sauce!” Andrea insisted. She opened her eyes and looked at the label on the bottom of the jar. “See?”
“Well, how the heck did that get on the wrong shelf…” Maddy puzzled aloud as she took the jar from Andrea.
“Well,” Celia piped in, “That explains the other night’s lasagna disaster.”
“Hush up, Celia. At least you won’t have to worry about constipation for a month!”
Suddenly, Evelyn could no longer contain her laughter though she tried to stifle it with her hands. It was contagious around the table.
“It’s not that funny, Evelyn!” Maddy protested.
“Yes it is!” Evelyn laughed through the tears in her eyes. “Aaron had seconds!”
“Oh my God!” Angela put her hands over her own mouth as she laughed aloud. “He did!”
“Well then, he can thank me for two months. But we’ve got to go through all this stuff and see what’s good and what’s gone bad.”
“This jar of St. Isaac’s Root is cracked,” Celia announced, holding up one of the smaller containers. “Look, they’ve even started to turn that brownish-blue around the top edges.”
“Just toss that one right into the trash bin, there,” Maddy said with a furrowed brow.
“There’s something black growing in the bottom of this one.” Angela handed one of the smaller jars to Aunt Maddy.
“That’s okay, this is just some Queen Ann’s Lace seeds mixed in with Web Dew. It’s supposed to do that… but this one will be a couple years yet before it’s ripe.”
“A couple years?” Evelyn said in surprise.
“I told you guys it was a pretty weak harvest last fall. Probably because of the cold summer we had. It’ll get there, just taking its time.”
“But we don’t have a lot of time,” Angela said, biting her lip.
“Why are we going at it this way, Maddy?” Celia protested. “We’ve made talismans before.”
“And they’re all based on mustard seeds, too,” Maddy tried to explain.
“Best ones are,” Evelyn threw in.
“So why aren’t we going that route?” Andrea asked.
“Listen, Talisman 101 for all of you. A talisman works by repelling things, not by shielding or any kind of avoidance, it’s just a repellant, that’s all.”
“And mustard seeds are the best at that, right?” Celia’s patience was thinning.
“Yes, normally. But there’s a problem this time. The Germans have weaponized mustard seeds into their latest form of poison gas.” Looking at the blank looks around the table, Maddy continued. “Mustard gas is their latest, craziest way of killing each other in mass over there. I read all about it in the papers. It’s worse than anything they’ve used so far. Almost makes me think they’ve had someone like us helping them out, if you know what I mean.”
“None of our kind would ever do that!” Evelyn said indignantly.
“It’s a new world, Evelyn, you just never know. Anyway, we can’t make a talisman based on mustard seeds, not if it’s the same dang thing we’re trying to protect him from. It mostly likely would be useless.”
“Only most likely?” Celia questioned.
“What’s more than most? And anyway, it’s a risk I know we don’t want to take.” Maddy’s words brought silence around the table and tears to Angela’s eyes. It was Celia that spoke first, trying to lighten the moment and bring the focus back to their work.
“We could always send the Huns some of your Lasagna.” Celia’s words worked and a ripple of laughter rolled through the room.
“What about…” Evelyn’s smile suddenly faded away. “What about Golden Rod Buds?” At this very mention, Maddy’s face brightened and the twinkle returned to her eye.
“Yes! They got many of the same properties as Mustard seeds, but they aren’t from the same family at all!”
“And last year was a great year for Golden Rod,” Andrea interjected. “We were picking it for days.”
“And we’ve got lots of Druid Dust and Thistle Milk to go with it!” Maddy said as she quickly picked up and inspected several of the sealed jars. “Oakie Doakie, that’s our way in! Girls, put a couple fresh pots on to simmer, big ones, and start heating the water. Evelyn, you and Celia start measuring out the Golden Rod Buds from the dry bin in the pantry. And let’s clear this table in the process.”
With a clear direction to proceed, the women went to work and Aunt Maddy’s kitchen was busy indeed.
To read more from Bruce and get copies of the first two books in this powerful series, click here.
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