The growl from the guys, working in the backroom, likely means that they’ve discovered a donation that is more trash than charity. I’ve been working in this thrift store for the past few years, the one behind the Piggly Wiggly, that raises money for the no-kill animal shelter. It isn’t like this was my life aspiration, but when I visited the shelter in search of a canine companion, the sad, sweet faces of the too many dogs broke my heart.
I started volunteering just one day a week, which quickly morphed into being offered a very low paying, full time position as the store’s general manager. I wasn’t looking for a full time position, but this felt right, in a way that nothing else had in a very long time. The bonus is that I get to help keep these beautiful animals alive, ready to join the people who will love them fur-ever.
“So what treasure did you find this time,” I ask Stan, the lead volunteer.
“You are not going to believe this, but it is an actual bag of trash. Smelly, disgusting garbage,” he says.
Well, this is a new one. We’ve had a lot of unappetizing things donated, but never actual garbage. “I’m sure someone accidentally got it mixed up with bags meant for donation,” I say. “Let me take it out to the dumpster. Why don’t you take a break, and I’ll do a little peaking to make sure you don’t encounter any more surprises,” I say.
Once the guys are out of the warehouse I turn to the stack of plastic bags and tentatively open each one. It’s important that I keep volunteers, and I do what I can to make their jobs a little easier. I am relieved to discover that the bag of trash was an anomaly. All have been sorted except the last bag. I lift it to find a beautiful brass box, the size of a large shoe box, hiding underneath.
It is beautiful, engraved with exotic designs and what look like initials on the top. It’s hard to make out what the initials are, but maybe if I clean it up, they will reveal themselves. I always keep an eye out for things that might have some real value; every dollar counts for charities.
The box is heavier than expected, the metal cold, with the exception of the bottom where some kind of paper is attached. Maybe it is a maker’s tag or something that will help me discover if it is valuable. I turn the box over and nearly drop it when I see what is written on the envelope taped to it.
I look around the warehouse, suddenly uncomfortable, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I hustle to my office and shut the door. I start toward my desk, then pause and turn back to lock the door. It may be nothing, but it doesn’t feel like nothing. It feels very much like something.
I lay the box upside down on my desk, step back and blow out the breath I’ve been holding for the past few minutes. I don’t know if I want to open the envelope, or if I want to just put the box back where I found it and pretend I never saw it. The problem with that plan is, what’s inside won’t be ignored, not for long. Of that I'm sure.
What’s written on the envelope is not English, not even a language that anyone else would have understood, but it clearly says my name. It is my Craft name, written in Theban Script, the language of ancient witches. The language of a life I left behind years ago. I’ve never seen this box before, but of one thing I am certain, it would not be here unless something awful has happened.
I gently remove the delicate parchment paper from the envelope, and with trepidation, I read my mother’s last words to me.
My darling daughter,
If you are reading this letter, you know it means I am now on another plane, gone from your physical world. I want you to know that I never blamed you for leaving, for wanting a life of your own, you were born to a modern world.
I hope by now you realize your strength is extraordinary, one that the world requires in order to survive. It is a sacrifice, and I know I ask much of you, but you are one of the few left who are powerful enough to commune with the heavens, earth and nature alike.
I’m sorry I am not there to guide you to step into your rightful place in our world. I’ve left you my most valuable possession; one which will lead you to the delegation of High Priestesses. The ones who will teach you, what I am unable to, and help you hone your craft. Time is of the essence, my darling.
You will find this box locked. Remember what you learned as a young girl. You know the words, recall the feeling, the energy. You can do this. I have faith in you.
My hand trembles as I fold the parchment and slip it back into the envelope. I’d been the one to leave, to choose to be 'normal' instead of taking my place beside my mother at the head of the Order of the Cosmos. It never occurred to me that I might never see my mother again. She seemed invisible, and I hadn’t meant to stay away for so long.
I run my fingers over the lock, the box now sits upright on my desk, and suddenly a familiar feeling runs through my fingertips. A gathering of the energy required to perform magic. I quell it before it gets too strong.
This is a bit of information you won’t find on one of those internet sites claiming to teach people how to do witchcraft. No, this is power one is born with, one that cannot be created, no matter how many rituals one participates in, or spells one learns. Most participants in the Order do not have natural magic, but it is their collective energy that supports the magic of the ancient lines, making it more powerful. These participants are sought out, taught to bind energy together, to create a reservoir that keeps natural magic alive.
All of a sudden I wonder who put the box in the warehouse. Maybe they were still close, watching. I need to go somewhere safe, where prying eyes won’t accidentally see what's inside. I nestle the box in my canvas shopping bag, gather my things and head to the floor of the store.
“I need to leave. I have a family emergency. Can you lock up for me tonight,” I ask the cashier on duty.
“Sure. I hope everything is ok,” she says.
With a slight smile I say, “I’m sure it will be fine, but I may need to go home for a couple of days. Could you cover for me?”
“I’m so sorry. I just realized, I don’t even know where you are from,” she says, her words fading as the door closes behind me. I give a slight wave as I walk away, sure she can see me through the glass door.
Inside my car I put the bag with the box on the seat next to me. I don’t want it out of my sight. I’m not comfortable with what might be inside and there is no way I’m putting it behind me. It does not take long to reach my home, every traffic light magically turning green, one of the elements of my magic I use regularly.
At home I encircle the lock with the fingertips of my right hand, gathering magical energy, and whisper the appropriate incantation. I hear a tiny click and lift the lid, just a little bit, because I’m not sure what I will find inside.
My training was rather basic as a child and I haven't practiced anything beyond simple, mundane spells, like changing traffic lights. Nothing scurries out, and I smell only the familiar scent of old texts, giving me the confidence to lift the lid all the way. Nestled inside a bed of red satin is a large, leather bound book. I'd heard about this as a child, but I’ve never actually seen it before.
I try to lift it out of the brass box, but it won’t budge. Hmm, obviously a spell has bound the text to the box. I close my eyes and think. The answer must be there or my mother would have left me more, something to show me what to do next. Deeper and deeper I slide into a trance, looking through the dark corners of my mind, but am startled out of this state when my mother suddenly appears.
How in the heck did that happen? I was picturing all the hallways, and doors where information hides, when I found my mother was standing before me. Is seemed so real that it scared me for a moment. I hadn’t been prepared to see her and grief wells up in my throat. My heart is beating a little too fast to slip back into my mind right now. I make myself a cup of tea and try to calm my nerves.
Once again, I make myself comfortable and begin to wander through the hallways of my mind, now looking for my mother. She steps out of an open doorway, smiling, arms outstretched. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she says.
“How are you here? Is this real or just a figment of my imagination,” I ask.
“You already know the answer to that question, my darling girl. It is so good to see you,” she says.
I step into her waiting arms and feel her squeeze me tight. It feels real. I can’t explain how this is happening, but I don’t care in this moment. I sink into her arms. “I’ve missed you so much,” I say.
“I’ve missed you too, darling.”
“I’m so sorry I waited too long. I always thought we would have more time,” I say.
“I know. I understand. You had to follow your heart, and I wanted you to have that freedom. But it is time to return home. The world needs you more now than you can even begin to imagine,” she says.
“How, momma. How do I go home and face everyone I said I never wanted to see again,” I ask.
“You just do. You may have left a mess, but you have a responsibility now, and the Order knows. Go back and do the work,” she says.
“I can’t get the book out of the box, momma. I don’t think I’m worthy,” I say.
“Ah, you had fear in your heart when you touched it," she says, laying her hand over my heart, "The book only responds to love. Look at me. Look in my eyes. Do you see it?"
Looking very closely at her face, I see something I’ve never noticed before and it humbles me. It is as if I can see the entire world, all times, all moments, absolutely everything, surrounded by love.
“Yes, momma. I see the love in your eyes. I see the whole Universe in your eyes,” I say, warmed in a way that is not of this world, but feels like perfection.
“Take that love with you. Feel it coursing through every fiber of your being and there will be no resistance to anything you do. It’s time for you to go,” she says, gently squeezing both of my hands.
Then she is gone and I’m alone in the hallway of my mind. I open my eyes and I’m alone, in my own kitchen, the box sitting open on my table.
I touch my heart, feeling all the love I saw in my mother’s eyes, and gently lift the book out of the box. A bright, golden light surrounds the pages, blinding me for a moment. The book falls open and I see the path back to the Order. I see everything. I don’t understand, not yet. But I will, very soon.