Chapter Nine

Forgotten, by Abby Hall. 2019.

All night, Ada saw visions stumbling out from behind the dark curtains of sleep in her mind. She slept pleasantly, but uneasily. Still, when she awoke to the morning sun in Belèn’s guest bedroom, with Priddy snoring next to her and Maeve still slumbering, she let a heavy sigh blow past her lips. He hadn’t been able to haunt her.

The smell of something cooking drew Ada out the door and into the kitchen. She closed the door quietly. Her bare feet were cold on the black and white tiles of Belèn’s kitchen, but a wave of hot air encompassed her body as she moved toward the dining room table.

“Good morning!” Belèn said. She had an intricately striped apron, with what seemed like every shade of green, red, and blue running down the fabric vertically, over her silky nightgown. A spatula was in one hand, and a skillet full of what looked like scrambled eggs in the other. She quickly scooped some eggs out on three plates at the round, wooden table and untied her apron. “I finished your quilt last night. Let me show you how to fold it.”

The small woman vanished into the living room and returned holding a large rectangle of blanket so high that Ada couldn’t see the person behind it. Alternating white- and lavender-colored squares lined the outer edge of the quilt, with each corner a darker shade of purple. Inside the border was a patchwork of shades of purple, blue, and green arranged in diamond shapes that guided Ada’s eyes all around the quilt, nearly lulling her to sleep in her chair.

“First, fold it straight down like this, then across like this,” Belèn began to explain, pulling Ada from her reverie. “Fold here, then here, and remember to be intentional—you have the magic in you already, you just have to tug on it. “One more fold—really focus on it—and there.” Her brown, wrinkled hand presented a square of folded fabric four inches wide and four inches tall. It was incredibly small for the amount of blanket it contained, and Ada blinked in surprise, but graciously reached out both hands to accept the gift.

“Thank you,” she said, placing the quilt on her lap. “I really appreciate it, Belèn.”

“Think nothing of it, dear,” Belèn replied, winking. “I guarantee it will keep your bad dreams away.

The guest room door opened and out stepped Maeve, her hair springing up in all directions, carefree and coiled. Priddy stepped out behind her and shook out her fur as she made her way to sit on Ada’s feet. Maeve took a chair across the table with a yawn and, before Ada could see it happening, Belèn had filled all three plates on the table full of eggs, and three glass cups held orange juice with pulp that floated to the bottom.

A savory, rich smell wafted up from the eggs that made Ada salivate in anticipation for the food. On the road, they’d been eating store-bought sandwiches and peanut butter on crackers. They could spurge on a meal every so often thanks to the money Dole gave them, but having homemade food inside someone’s home felt magnificent beyond belief.

From the corner of her eye, Ada saw Priddy’s nose working the air, sniffing over and over. Her muscles tensed and she seemed to Ada to be holding herself from leaping on the table and devouring breakfast. Ada reached down and scratched the dark brown fur on the top of Priddy’s head, prompting her to relax her shoulders and let out a sigh. “Thank you, Ada.”

The room stood still for a second before Priddy whined in a high, guilty pitch.

“What—was that?” Maeve whispered, her dark eyes wide on her freckled face. Her voice slowly edged up into a near scream as she continued: “I swear I just heard—and yesterday, a fox—speaking—spoken—English—am I losing my mind?”

Belèn bounced calmly in her pale pink slippers. “Uh oh,” she said, and disappeared out of the room without another word. Ada felt abandoned for a moment.

“I’m sorry, Ada, I am!” Priddy whispered frantically, which led to Maeve clambering out of her chair and knocking over her cup of orange juice. “Oh, whoops. I’m sorry!” Maeve, of course, tripped over herself trying to get out of the room, but she ran directly into what looked to be a floating purple blanket. The blanket, a quilt made of squares of purple and cream, smelling heavily of lavender, enveloped Maeve’s body. Ada noticed it wasn’t floating; Belèn was simply to short to see standing behind it. She hugged Maeve in the blanket and scooted the girl back to her chair.

Maeve’s head popped slowly out from under the blanket. It rested now on her shoulders, and she slumped back in her chair comfortably, a small smile on her small mouth.

“She should be a bit calmer now,” Belèn said quietly as she got on her hands and knees to clean up the spilled juice from the floor. “Just don’t make any sudden movements or loud noises.”

“Your dog—she was talking,” Maeve said. Her voice was drawn out and smooth in the manner of hot chocolate running slowly down an ice cream sundae, moving quickly at first, but soon chilling.

Ada glanced from Belèn to Maeve and nodded. “Yes. I’m a witch, and my dog can talk.”

Maeve watched her for a moment before spitting out one loud laugh. She then continued to eat her breakfast. “Can I have some more juice, please?”

“Sure, dear,” Belèn replied. She was already pouring a fresh cup.

“I really am a witch,” Ada continued. “Priddy can talk, and so could that magic fox. That monster thing we saw in Michigan is after me because he gave me some powers, and I don’t want them anymore.”

Maeve simply shook her head with a smile and continues to eat, carefully, thoughtfully.

Belèn shrugged. Ada shrugged, too, and petted the dog. “I guess you’re free to talk now, Priddy.”

Priddy gave an excited yip and wagged her tail, dusting the floor in her sitting position. “I am so happy right now,” she said, her warm voice tight with energy.

Ada smiled and rested her hand on Priddy’s head. She used the other hand to scoop the eggs on her plate onto a fork. She took large bites, relishing in the hot meal. Between bites, she spoke, while Belèn sat across from her nibbling at her own food. “So, we’ll be leaving later today to meet someone across town.” Ada took a bite a swallowed. “I can’t remember his name, but Dole gave me his address. It’s in my notebook.” The thought of the first few pages of her notebook gave her a small shiver—notes like The foxes did this to us rang through her mind every time she saw the book, or the fox—but Ada pretended like she felt nothing.

“That one is an oddball.” Belèn pointed her fork to the left, in the direction that Ada assumed the other witch lived. “Most often, witches don’t live too near one another. It makes—” she waved the fork in the air—“strange things happen. A summer snow, an abnormally large gathering of cats—nothing awful. Aside from that, most witches sell magical goods, and the competition from others isn’t ideal. Witches move frequently, too, and especially if we aren’t aging.” She took a quick swig of juice and put the cup back down while smacking her lips. “That boy is like you—he’s a painter—but he hasn’t left the house he was born in a century ago.”

The old woman ate her breakfast with more smacking sounds from her thick, wrinkled lips. “He hasn’t had much of a problem since he lives even more isolated than I do. Plus, his house is haunted.”

Maeve laughed low and light, like someone had just told a joke she’d heard a million times before but still enjoyed.

“Odd or not, I need to speak with him.” Ada finished her food and washed her plate in the sink. She had two goals in meeting these witches, four in all, who had a pact with him. The first goal was to find a way out of the pact; did he have any weaknesses? Could she make the deal null and void? There was a danger in this question, she knew. The other witches might want to keep their deal and might be comfortable with the cost of their powers. She hoped not.

The second goal, Ada knew, was likely as urgent as the first, but Ada couldn’t be sure. She needed to figure out how to protect Maeve. Ada thought that, maybe, fulfilling the first goal would help the second, but, until she knew, it would be important to keep Priddy with Maeve at all times.

She wanted to seek out Ona and ask her more questions, but already it was odd that the fox was helping her. Ona had been so hostile and finnicky when she met her after waking up, but she seemed eager—in her own uninterested way—to help.

With a loud scraping sound, Belèn scooted back her chair and stood. “Well, get dressed, my friends. I’ll drive.”

~~~

Belèn’s truck idled on a dirt road in front of a large Victorian house. The house was a dusty blue that nearly blended in with the expansive background of sky spreading out for miles behind the pointed spires and dirty white trim along the roof.

The building was Gothic and elegant, but simple, with few adornments aside from the trim along the roof and windows, the wide turret with a pointed weather vane of two dancing children, and an unkempt, uneven-floored porch.

Ada’s hands were sweating. She stared at the imposing structure, fearful for who—and what—might be living within its walls.

“Like I said, I don’t know much about this fellow, but he’s never bothered me.” Belèn sniffed once and squinted toward the house. “I know for a fact that there are spirits inside.” She spoke the next words with a lowered voice, and ducked her head toward Ada, who sat in the middle of the truck’s bench. “It might be hard, you know, with her around.”

Ada looked over at Maeve. Her purple curls popped out over the calming quilt still on her shoulders, her eyes half-lidded and a gentle smile on her cracked lips as she petted Priddy on her lap. “It can’t be helped,” Ada said, but she reached over and pulled the blanket slowly off of Maeve’s shoulder. The girl scrunched her eyebrows and blinked as if waking up for the first time that day. “Maeve, we’re about to go into a—a witch’s house, and there might be some strange things inside. But you know you can go home, right? You can take Priddy with you, if you’re worried about the creatures.” Ada choked out the last offer and reached out a finger to trace Priddy’s nose lovingly.

“But, Ada,” Priddy whispered, lowering her head and slowly wagging her tail. “I’ll miss you.”

Maeve blinked hard and fast. She tensed under the dog but seemed to remember that she knew and accepted Priddy’s speaking. “I, uh—no, thanks. I’ll stay.” Her light brown cheeks turned maroon, and she looked away from Ada’s gaze. Ada looked to Belèn and both witches shrugged at each other.

“We’ll be on our way, then,” Ada said finally, reaching over the other passengers with one long arm to open the truck door. Priddy leaped onto the dry grass on the yard, and Maeve followed. Ada turned once to Belèn and took the old witch’s dark hand in hers. “Thank you for everything.”

Belèn winked with a twinkle in her eye and patted Ada’s hand. “You’re welcome, young one. Keep each other safe out there.”

With that, Ada climbed out of the truck with her green backpack on her shoulders and shut the door. Belèn’s truck chugged down the dirt road, turned around, and drove out of site toward the highway.

The wind whipped through Maeve’s hair as she took a deep breath. Clouds moved in slowly from behind the trio and loomed over the house for a moment, covering the white-blue sky and shadowing the sunlight. “Well, I’m terrified,” Maeve said finally.

“Don’t be scared,” Ada replied. She took deliberate, heavy steps toward the decrepit front door. There were no lights on in the windows, and when she noticed, a shudder ran through Ada. It was silly, she thought; they could have a candle, or a lamp, or maybe a few open windows for light. Still, as she reached for the door knocker with Priddy at her heel and Maeve at her elbows, Ada wanted to turn and walk away.

The wind blew hard and Ada turned to a rustling noise on her left. Taped to the doorframe was a piece of notebook paper. Ada pulled the paper off, taking a smidge of paint with her on the duct tape. Words were written in a thin, sprawling cursive, long and round like a loose curl of hair. Please, come in if you are Ada and friends.

With a tilt of her head, Ada showed the paper to Maeve. “It says to go on in. I guess we don’t have to knock.”

Ada held the paper in one hand and opened the door with the other. It wasn’t locked.

Inside, the foyer was dark, but her eyes quickly adjusted, and Ada could see stacks of brown boxes piled along the walls, all ripped open.

“These are all shipping boxes,” Maeve said, bending down to read the label on one. “For Hector Mellis.”

“That’s his name,” Ada whispered, afraid to disturb anything in the house by speaking too loudly.

A crash in the room to their left gave Ada a jolt. She locked eyes with pale-faced Maeve. Priddy leaned low toward the ground and growled. Ada took a deep breath and moved toward the sound. “Hello?” Her voice came out barely louder than the flame of a candle, so she cleared her throat and tried again.

“Oh!” Ada jumped when the vision of an old man appeared on the couch before her. He was bent down, picking something up—a pipe, she saw—and he stood to shake her hand. Ada was frozen in fear, and she heard Priddy growling behind her, but her hand stuck out involuntarily and the ghost took her shaking fingers in his. She could barely see through the man in front of her, just enough that it seemed like he was made of a thick mist. His hand felt solid on hers, but it left her skin prickling with cold. “Pardon me,” he said in a gruff voice from years of smoking the pipe in his other hand. “I didn’t mean to frighten you with my clumsiness. Prithee, may I inquire as to whether you are friends of my grandson?”

Ada nodded with a forced smile. She could hear Maeve breathing heavily behind her, but Priddy walked up cautiously and began smelling the man’s coattails and shiny shoes. His hair was slicked to one side, and he donned a wide, gray mustache across his thin face. The rest of him was equally thin, except for his belly which protruded a bit over his high pants.

“Ah, Hector has been expecting the lot of you, for sure; he prepped us all to guide you upstairs and to his bedroom and office, where he sits all day and paints or wallows in his sadness.” The old man laughed and hobbled back to the couch where he sat before. “You may call me Grandpa Mellis. Might I ask your names?”

The words stuck themselves to the back of Ada’s mouth, but she choked them out with a rush of adrenaline. “I’m Ada, sir. This is Priddy, and this is Maeve. We’re pleased to meet you.”

“Very pleased,” Maeve squeaked, holding her hands tightly together at her chest as she moved closer to Ada.

“Delighted,” Grandpa Mellis replied. He waved a hand, bending over as if in pain. “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t come to greet you all with such energy. I am an old man, and Time will be coming for me quite soon.”

The two women exchanged a nervous look. “No, it’s not a problem—”

Grandpa Mellis let out a cry and grabbed at his chest. He breathed heavily for a moment before keeling over onto the floor, his pipe rolling out of his hand.

Maeve screamed. Priddy ran forward, sniffing at the apparition. Ada’s heart was beating rapidly, and her brain sent signals to her feet that were intercepted by her fear.

A groan, and Grandpa Mellis stood back up to dust off his pants. He looked at the women, and then again. “Oh! I’m ever so sorry, dear children. That was just my death—a brutal, quick-killing heart attack.” With a hefty sigh of relief, Grandpa Mellis fell back into his seat on the couch. “Oh, blast,” he said, bending to pick up his pipe. “Some of us get more time between deaths than others. My rest period is relatively short. Something about the spell that didn’t quite pan out.” Ada and Maeve watched him with confused, frightened gazes. With her pink nose, Priddy continued to sniff the ghost, sometimes pressing her snout against his pants leg or his hand, but never seeming satisfied.

“Well, you best be getting upstairs to Hector. He will be able to explain more thoroughly. Watch the floorboard on your way; this house was built by my own hands, oh, a century and a half ago? But I died shortly after, and these hands haven’t been able to hold a hammer since.” Grandpa Mellis laughed.

They said their goodbyes and made their way to the staircase in the foyer. Maeve, quietly, reached for Ada’s hand, and it was shaking. Ada held her friend’s sweaty palm against hers. If she had seen such things before—as Adathis—she was not remembering them now, and the fear that coursed through her veins tried to tell her to flee.

Out of the silence, Priddy barked, and, a second later, a body fell to the floor on the landing between two staircases. “What in the hell?” Maeve yelled, jumping backward and pulling Ada’s arm hard with her.

Priddy barked more and smelled the body at their feet. The person seemed to be a teenage girl, her bright red, tightly curled hair fanned out over the head at the end of her oddly twisted neck. Blood dipped from her forehead between the strands, and her large blue eyes stared blankly upwards. Maeve heaved a cry that turned into a loud sob, but Ada put a hand to her shoulder. “Wait,” she said.

The eyes blinked after a moment, and the girl sat up, shaking her head. She pulled out a handkerchief from the long sleeve of a mid-calf gingham dress, with a lace panel across the chest and a collar that came halfway up her neck. She wore dark stockings and one dainty shoe; the other had fallen off in her descent down the stairs. She grabbed the shoe and let out a big breath of air.

“Sorry,” she said in a low, playful voice. “Bad timing, I suppose. You must be little Cousin Hector’s friends. Well, he isn’t so little these days, but I am the older cousin by three generations and nearly forty years, I would say. I expect you met my Uncle Josiah downstairs?” As she spoke, she walked back to the top of the stairs, sat, and put on her shoe.

“Yes,” Ada said, stumbling over her words. “Grandpa Mellis, right?”

“Oh, yes. He is Hector’s grandfather—great, great grandfather—but he was my uncle. I was staying with the family one summer when I tripped on my untied shoe and plummeted down the stairs.” The girl sat up straight and gasped suddenly. “How rude of me—I forgot to give you my name! I’m Millie Mellis, I am fifteen years old, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Ada went through introductions again, and when she looked at Maeve to introduce her, she saw tears on her friend’s cheeks. Still, Maeve smiled at the girl before them. They can’t have much a difference in age, Ada thought, glancing again at Maeve’s still-round cheeks and wrinkle-free skin. Even Ada had the occasional crow’s feet or forehead line after a long day or a bad night of sleep, and she was only supposed to be in her twenties—by appearance, of course. Ada tried to guess again at Maeve’s age, settling on something around eighteen or nineteen.

“May I pet your dog?” Millie asked, reaching out a hand toward Priddy, who sat at the bottom of the stairs.

“Sure, if she’s okay with it. Priddy, would you like some pets?”

Would I?” Priddy bounded up the stairs to receive ghostly pats and scratches from Millie, who giggled in delight.

She spoke between laughter. “I should warn you two to move up stairs soon, as well. I’ll be dying again in a few minutes.”

They shared another quick look and then hurried up the stairs to stand behind Millie. She turned, still sitting, to talk with them. “Hopefully we haven’t given you too much of a fright. We really are so happy to have visitors. Cousin Hector never invites guests.”

“Well, we’re happy to be here,” Ada said, almost believing herself. “We have some important questions for Hector about his painting.”

“Yes.” Millie scrunched her face in disgust. “His paintings. That ridiculous monster came here one day, you know—a whole group of them, really—and attacked poor Hector. I told him there was more to that demon than it seemed, but he didn’t listen to me.”

“You’re wise beyond your years,” Maeve mumbled, then, likely remembering how long Millie had truly existed, she blushed.

While Priddy leaned into her head scratches, Millie began to hum. “I know he is sad, and it was difficult growing up the way we did. Our family on our father’s sides—the Mellises—can speak with the deceased. It has been a gift and curse of ours for centuries. My father said our ancestors were always afraid to die, and they wanted to know as much about the afterlife as possible. They made a deal with the Underworld and became Greek seers, and then Christian mystics, and, later, we were called witches.”

“Is that why you are your uncle are ghosts?” Ada asked. She was afraid that the girl would throw herself down the stairs at any second, and her body was tense in anticipation.

“Not just Uncle Josiah and I are ghosts. There are three children, my cousins, in the cellar. Della, the youngest, was my age, but the three siblings died a few years before I did. That was when the family decided to try and keep us here as ghosts. My cousins were the first attempt, and their apparitions are generally fuzzy and out of tune with this plane because of it, but they are still down there. They trapped themselves down one winter night when playing and froze to death. Cousin Hector’s great grandfather was the only one who survived it, having to do with him being only a baby then.” Millie jolted suddenly and gently pushed Priddy off of her. “I warn you, friends, to turn around now. Hector is up the next flight, in the attic.”

Ada quickly grabbed Maeve and turned her toward the wall. They heard the rustle of a dress, a series of loud thuds, and then silence. Maeve closed her eyes tight and bit her lip as Ada led her up the next flight of stairs.

They were greeted by a closed white door covered in peeling paint. A note was taped to the outside on the same notebook paper as before: Please, knock, and then enter.

Ada’s knuckles met the door with a light tap three times. There was no answer. Ada pushed the door open.

A young West Virginian living in the chilly embrace of Washington State, I write for my soul and work for a living, or something like that. My stories are full of things I know that I do not know, like life and death and love, and always contain a pinch of folksy magic, whether that be in the Gothic of an empty forest or the fantasy of fictional creatures.

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