His body lies upon the old stone altar, draped with a thick white cloth. His face is smooth and relaxed in death; his skin still holds its summer tan.
The flames of the floating white candles flicker in the warm breeze, causing a halo of light to shine around his smooth blond hair. He looks like a little boy sleeping.
I really should sense the Goddess' presence here, but my heart only feels dry and empty. I experience no comfort despite being surrounded by my family and friends. I should be glad that my brother Matthew has finally found some semblance of peace – even if it is in death.
The candles settle back onto the ground as my aunt Charlotte ends the somber ceremony.
"The Goddess is taking you back now, Matthew. Her womb is the ground that will now take your body. Your body is a seed now, a source of other lives. May you be born again at the same time as those you knew and loved in this life. May you know them and love them again…"
My father, along with Evander, Hawk, and David, wrap Matthew's body in the burial cloth before lowering him into the grave.
The circle is dismantled and I step back, watching the rest of the coven drop their flower offerings on top of Matthew's body, murmuring their final blessings and goodbyes. I clutch the white chrysanthemum in my hand, unable to join in the custom myself.
My parents' grief is palpable. They weep openly for the loss of their firstborn child. Tears glisten on the faces of the other coven members, too. But no tears fall from my eyes, for I do not miss my brother at all.
I begin to walk briskly away from the sun-dappled clearing, fighting the urge to bolt like a startled mare. Charlotte and Hawk call after me, but I don't look back. I am afraid my true feelings will be written all over my face.
I hated my brother, and I am happy he is dead.
I am a witch, but I seldom speak this aloud. The drownings and hangings of my kind in the past, acts once thought to be cruel and barbaric, are reappearing. As more and more of us, and those like us, are being persecuted for stepping into the sunlight, others find it far easier to disappear back into the shadows.
And here I sit at work, three days after my brother's funeral, struggling to hide my revulsion as I overhear two young officers chuckle as they discuss the front page story of this morning's paper. "…a 'hate crime'? Bullshit! It's not like anybody was hurt," Constable Skirvin comments. His partner, Herrera, nods in agreement. "Yeah. And only the window was broken. I bet the spray paint comes off real easy when you have a magic wand!"
They shut their mouths quickly, though, as Deputy Chief Bill Verona ambles into the station. Verona has been a cop for over fifteen years and does not take kindly to idle gossip. "Don't you two yahoos have reports to file?" He grabs the newspaper from Skirvin's hand, and the two men mutter apologies before going back to their desks.
Verona places the newspaper in front of me before pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot next to the reception desk. "Ready for a busy day?" he asks me as he rips open a sugar packet.
I smile. "The busier the better, sir." And it's true. The more interview transcripts that come in, the more tickets that need to be filed, the more mundane paperwork that needs to be done will help keep my mind off of more important, darker things.
The Deputy Chief takes a large gulp of his coffee and gestures toward the newspaper. "Awful, that," he comments. "What happened at the occult store on Oak Street… Doesn't a relative of yours own it?"
"Yes, sir," I reply, meeting his curious blue gaze. "My cousin Abigail and her son own The Candle Wick. They're extremely upset over what happened the other night. Are there any leads at all?"
Verona looks down into his coffee cup. "It's too early to say. I'll have Constable Holt update you when he has more information," he replies vaguely. "Give your family my regards."
As Verona retreats to his office, I sigh quietly and toss the newspaper into the nearby recycle bin. Abigail's store had been vandalized at some point on Sunday night. When she and Michael had arrived to open The Candle Wick, they found the front window broken, and graffiti all over the signage and the door. A huge red X had been sprayed over the pentagram on the front door, and huge rocks were scattered all over the floor. Destroyed books, candles, crystals and herbs also littered the floor. Abigail and Michael were shaken and angry; the coven came together to clean up and then cleanse the space. As Michael and others swept up the glass, Charlotte and I burned sage and whispered protective prayers. Some passersby eyed us suspiciously, while a few sympathetic neighbours stopped to help out.
This was the third occult store to be vandalized in the Vancouver area in the past month, but the police denied any kind of connection between them. A small group of teenagers were given a slap on the wrist after being charged with the first break-in. The other cases have been put on the back-burner, but I refuse to see my cousin's fall off the radar, too.
I pick up a sheaf of old memos and leave the reception desk. The paper shredder is on the other side of the bullpen, next to the photocopier. I stop beside Constable Holt's desk, one of ten scuffed relics in this part of the station, and prop my hip along the edge.
Holt is on the phone, and he holds up one finger to me as he wraps up the call. "Uh-huh. Okay. I'll fax that over right away… Let me know when you've looked it over. …Sure thing… 'Bye." He hangs up and smiles, his gaze lingering on my cleavage. "What can I do for you, Emrys?"
Biting my lip, I say, "I heard about what happened at that store the other night. Do you know who did it?"
He taps his pen against the desktop and frowns. "What store?"
"The occult shop on Oak Street. Wasn't it vandalized?"
"Oh, right. The store with all the devil shit inside," Holt says, rolling his eyes. "It was probably just a bunch of kids. No big deal."
I straighten up and step away from his desk. "My cousin owns that 'devil shit,' you know. It's going to cost thousands of dollars to fix the storefront and replace what was damaged inside." I smile icily. "I'm so relieved to know you're taking the case so seriously."
"I,uh – well, –" Holt stammers. It's satisfying to watch the normally laidback officer squirm. "I take all of my cases seriously. You can be sure I'll do everything I can to find out who the vandals are," he states, lamely trying to cover his ass.
I shake my head before carrying my armful of paper to the shredder. As I feed the machine one sheet at a time, I wonder if Constable Holt's computer password is as easy to crack as he was.
My day is done at four o'clock. I shrug on a thin sweater over my sundress and wave goodbye to the dispatchers as I head out the door. I live a couple blocks from the station, in a small apartment not far from my parents' house. The members of my coven live fairly close to one another, which is both a blessing and a curse.
The streets are hectic as people make their way home. I move easily through the crowds on the sidewalk, relishing the feel of the late afternoon sun on my skin. I am supposed to have dinner with my parents, along with aunt Charlotte and uncle Evander tonight, but I don't know if I can emotionally bear it. On one hand, I know it's my duty as a daughter to help my parents through their grief over my brother, but how can I face them when all I want to do is dance on Matthew's grave?
As I mull it over, a cold shiver suddenly runs down my spine, causing me to lose my footing. I stumble slightly and catch myself against a nearby light post. Bracing myself with one hand, I fix my shoe and glance around warily. What the hell was that?
A man wearing a brown bomber jacket immediately catches my eye, because he's trying too hard to act casually. He's leaning up against the brick façade of a bakery, about two meters away, pretending to read the newspaper. I carry on walking, keeping a tight grip on my purse, ready to pull out the small canister of pepper spray I keep in an outer pocket. I know thefts happen all the time in broad daylight, especially when the sidewalks are busy, but I sure as hell don't intend on letting it happen to me.
Every so often, I glance into the shop windows along the street, catching glimpses of Bomber Jacket each time. He's trying to be stealthy, but he's clearly never followed anyone before. I change course abruptly and pause beneath the striped awning of a flower boutique, picking up a cone of roses to smell as I watch the crowds continue to stream by on the sidewalk. Barely five seconds pass before Bomber Jacket walks past. He carefully avoids eye contact with me, and I stay where I am until I see him cross the street and head in the opposite direction.
I put the flowers back, and continue on my way home. My mind buzzes with questions.
Who was following me?
Better yet, why was he following me?
A/N: Here we go! I haven't published a story in a while, so I'm a bit rusty. I hope you'll stick with me, Dear Reader, and let me know what you think!