"That's Clara," the child's voice whispered from behind, "She's a witch."
Maggie looked up to see the woman with long black hair wearing an orange jogging suit, balancing herself on a cane as she walked down the sidewalk.
"And just how do you know?" Maggie asked looking over her shoulder at the red-haired freckle faced girl pointing across the street.
"I snuck in her house once."
"And what did you find?"
"A million burning candles, a hundred potion bottles and six black cats."
"My goodness. I guess Clara really is a witch." Maggie held back a chuckle. "So, what's your name?"
"Jennifer," the little girl stated, " but everyone around here calls me Jenny."
"Well, Jenny, nice to meet you." Maggie turned around and extended her hand. "My name is Magdalene, and everyone calls me Maggie."
Jenny took two steps back and stuffed her hands into the pockets of the faded blue jeans she wore. "My Dad said I should never talk to strangers."
"Your Dad must be smart," Maggie said dropping her arm and plopping back on the bench, "Why aren't you in school today?"
"My Dad says I'm too smart for school." Jenny skipped around to the front of the bench and planted herself next to Maggie. "I do my studies at home."
"So where’s your dad?"
"At work on the docks in Greenport. He's always home by dark."
"And your mom?"
"I don't have a mom, but I have a snake."
"Yes." Jenny glanced at her watch. "And Viper is probably hungry right about now." Jenny skipped off down the sidewalk.
Maggie's cell phone vibrated in her pocket. "I'm getting lunch now."
"I want pizza." Daniel whined on the other end of the line.
"I already ordered burgers."
"Dad would have gotten pizza. I hate burgers almost as much as I hate this place."
"I know you miss dad, but it will get better. I'll order pizza tonight." Maggie held the phone to her ear as she walked towards the restaurant. "See you soon."
Maggie stuffed the phone back in her pocket and walked through the doorway to Jack D's. It was a bayside restaurant and bar who served some of the best food in town Maggie had been told. Two gray haired men, one with a beard, stood behind the counter.
"You visiting?" The bearded one asked.
"I just moved here two days ago."
"Well Johnson Bay welcomes you Miss." He tipped his hat.
"Is my ticket ready? Its number twenty-five."
"You didn't say your name?" the bearded one asked as he handed her the order.
"It’s Maggie." She answered sliding her card into the machine on the counter.
"I'm Ernest, but folks in these parts call me Big E.” He handed her the receipt. “I see you met Jenny.”
She nodded and picked up her bag by the handles.
“That Jenny has a wild imagination.” Big E grinned revealing one gold front tooth.
"Nice to meet you. Gotta run before the food gets cold."
“I’m starving." Daniel said snagging a plate from his mom. "I thought you would never get here."
Maggie unwrapped her burger and took a bite. “You know you have to start school soon."
"I'm not going." He said without expression and bit down on his burger.
"You can't just stay home. You're twelve."
"I'm almost thirteen." He tossed a fry in his mouth nearly missing and smudged ketchup on his chin.
"Thirteen-year-old kids go to school.” She handed him a napkin. "And day after tomorrow you will start."
He took one last bite of his burger and tossed the rest of it in the trash. "Dad wouldn't make me go to this school."
"Daniel...." she called out as he stomped down the hall to his room.
It will get better, she thought. She opened her mouth for another bite when three solid knocks landed on her front door.
She placed her burger on the napkin and walked to the front. She opened the door a few inches and saw Clara holding a pie on the porch. A black cat paced around her feet.
"May I help you?" Maggie asked through the cracked door.
"I'm Clara, your new neighbor, two houses down." She handed Maggie the pie. "I hope you like lemon."
"I'm Maggie." She opened the door and took the pie. "Is that your cat?"
"Yes." Clara leaned over and picked up the cat stirring around her feet. "Her name is Hexi"
"It's German." Clara patted Hexi on her head. "Do you have a pet?"
"No," Maggie answered, "I do well to take care of myself and Daniel."
"My twelve-year-old son."
"And your husband?" Clara eyed the ring on Maggie’s finger.
"I'm widowed." Maggie answered looking down at the diamond. "It’s just me and Daniel."
"I'll let you get back to Daniel." Clara placed Hexi at her feet. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," Maggie replied.
Clara hobbled down the steps with Hexi at her heels.
Maggie closed the door and placed the pie on the table.
"Who was that?" Daniel lifted the aluminum foil from the pie for a peek.
"A neighbor." She pushed his hand away from the pie and pressed the foil back down. "Don't eat that."
"Why?" Daniel whined. "I love lemon pie."
"I'll make you one tomorrow." She grabbed the pie and tossed it in the already overflowing trash can. "And take this trash out!"
"Ugh." Daniel stomped across the kitchen. "Dad would let me eat pie."
"Just do what I say." Maggie wagged her finger. "And now."
Daniel snatched the bag from the can. Carrying it, he stomped across the kitchen to the door. Walking towards the street to deposit it, he was sure he could smell the lemon pie. It was his favorite, he thought, why would she just throw it away?
He placed the bag on the sidewalk and looked inside. The foil covered pie laid right on the top. He pulled out the pie, lifted the foil and took a whiff. The aroma of tartness and sweetness filled his nose. He scooped out a hefty sized bite.
"No!" Jenny yelled from several yards away. "Don’t eat that."
"Why?" Daniel's hands froze at the sound of her voice.
"It's witch food." Jenny said stepping closer. "Poison."
"No such thing as witches." Daniel answered holding the scoop of pie.
Jenny’s eyes widened. "You’ve never seen a witch?"
"How old are you little girl?"
"Eleven." She placed both hands on her hips. "And I'm not a little girl. I’m Jenny and who are you?"
"Daniel and I like lemon pie." He stuffed the large scoop into his mouth.
"You're stupid." Jenny snatched the remaining pie from his hand. "Now you might die."
"Give that back!”
Jenny tossed it into the untied bag, and it landed face down.
"You ruined my pie!" He growled at her.
"Good!" She flipped around on her heels and marched away. "You're probably still gonna die!"
Daniel sighed. A perfectly good pie ruined by a bratty little girl he didn't even know. He hated this place even more. He tied the black bag and slung it into the pickup can.
He pounced up the front steps two at a time and pushed open the front door. "Mom!"
"Back here." Sitting at the small wooden desk in her bedroom, Maggie looked up from her computer when he walked through the door.
"I met the dumbest girl ever."
"Yes, outside on the sidewalk." He rolled his eyes. "And she believes in witches. I hate this place."
“Is her name Jenny?”
"How'd you know?"
"Moms know everything." She raised her brow. "And it’s not nice to call people dumb."
"But she called me stupid."
"That wasn’t very nice." She looked back down at her computer screen.
"When you go to the store," he said turning around to leave, "Don't forget the stuff to make lemon pie!"
Hours passed while Maggie worked at the small desk in her bedroom. Maggie looked at her watch, it was half past two in the afternoon. Daniel hadn’t made a sound in hours, she thought as she stood to check on her son,
Maggie walked into Daniel’s bedroom. “Are you sleeping?”
"No." He rolled over and groaned. "But I feel just horrible."
"What's wrong?" She stepped closer to his bed and felt his forehead. "You have fever."
“My stomach hurts, really bad." He moaned and tossed a pillow over his face.
"I’ll run to the drug store. Be back shortly."
Maggie grabbed her purse and headed out for the short walk to the pharmacy.
“Where ya going?” Jenny sprinted to catch up and walk beside her.
“Headed to the pharmacy. Daniel is sick.”
“I’m not surprised.” Jenny tossed a rock in the air and caught it. “I told him it was poison.”
“What was poison?”
“The witch pie he ate this morning.”
“You mean the lemon pie Clara brought over? I threw that away!”
“Gotta go,” Jenny said tossing the rock into the grass.
Maggie pushed open the door to the drugstore.
“I need something for fever and stomachache for my twelve-year-old son.”
“I have just the thing,” the bald man behind the counter answered. He turned around and searched through the bottles on the shelves. “So, you know Jenny?”
“I just met her today.”
“That Jenny has a wild imagination.”
Three taps sounded from Daniel’s bedroom window. He tossed the pillow off his face to look outside. The red-haired girl he met this morning waved from the other side of the glass. Groaning, he rolled over and closed his eyes. Tap, tap, tap. Three more taps on the window. Daniel flung his pillow to the floor and sat up. He leaned over and raised the window just a hair.
“Go away. I’m sick!” he said.
“I told you it was poison. You wouldn’t listen.”
“There are no such things as witches.”
“Wanna bet? Let me in and when you feel better, I’ll show you everything.”
Daniel opened the window several more inches. “I’ll let you in this time, but next time use the door like a normal person.”
Jenny crawled inside and plopped on the bed beside him. “I brought the potion.”
“The potion to ward off the poison you ate this morning.” She reached in her pocket and revealed a small red bottle. “It tastes like strawberry.”
“How would you know?”
“Smell it.” She held out her hand offering it to Daniel.
“No, and I’m not drinking it either. You can forget it.” Daniel pushed her hand back.
“Okay,” she said crawling across the bed towards the window, “Then die. I don’t care.”
“I’m not going to die.”
“You probably will but look at it this way.” She turned to face him. “You’ll be dead, so you’ll never really know.”
“Fine, I’ll take a whiff.” He reached for the bottle and Jenny shoved it into the palm of his hand.
Daniel twisted off the top and held the open bottle just under his nostrils. “It does smell just like strawberries.”
“I told you. Now drink it and when you feel better, I’ll take you to Clara’s house.”
“The witch who brought the lemon pie!”
“So, there is a witch who bakes lemon pie and lives in a normal brick house down the street.” Daniel laughed out loud.
Jenny stomped her foot. “Witches are people and can cook you know. They brew potions all the time.”
“Okay, I’ll drink it, but you better not be lying.” He lifted the potion and guzzled it smacking his lips together before tossing the empty bottle in the trash.
“Gotta go. I hear your mom coming.” Jenny crawled back out the window and Daniel closed it just before his mom opened the bedroom door.
“Well at least you’re sitting up in the bed now.” She placed the bag from the drugstore on his nightstand. “Take this medicine. The pharmacist said you’d feel better soon.”
Daniel peeked in the brown paper sack and pulled out a clear bottle first. He twisted off the cap, lifted it to his nose and sniffed. Rotten cherries, he thought as he raised it to his lips. Tap, Tap, Tap on the window. He again opened the window just an inch.
“Don’t take that medicine. It’ll mess up the potion.”
“Are you serious?”
“Trust me. Besides, don’t you feel better?”
“You know,” Daniel said tilting his head to the side, “I think I do.”
“Told you!” Jenny took a couple of steps back from the window. “I’ll be up by Jack D’s. Come find me when you get out of bed.”
Daniel got out of bed, slipped on his sneakers and headed towards the front door.
“Daniel!” His mother called from her bedroom, “Where are you going?”
“I thought you were sick.”
“I feel better.”
“Well, I guess the pharmacist was right.”
Daniel skipped down the steps off the porch and strolled down the sidewalk towards town to find this place called Jack D’s.
“Already feeling better, I see” Jenny seemed to appear by his side.
“I was looking for you.”
“Well, here I am.” Jenny patted herself on the chest. “Ready to go?”
“To the witch’s house?”
“No silly, first to the coffee shop.” Jenny glanced at her watch. “Clara should be there just about right now. We have to make sure the coast is clear.”
Following her down the sidewalk, Daniel stumbled when Jenny made an abrupt stop. “Look over there.” She pointed to the end of the street near the corner.
“At what? All I see is a tall man with a beard walking with his bike that has a flat tire.”
“That’s not a man.” Jenny spoke in a matter-of-fact tone.
“He looks like a man.”
“Big E is a warlock. And a warlock of the worst kind.”
“So now we have witches and warlocks?” He rolled his eyes in disbelief.
They continued their walk and when they neared the coffee shop, Jenny said, “Follow me.”
Daniel followed her into the bushes lined along the side of the shop.
Standing on her tip toes, she peeked in a window. “Come look.”
Stepping beside her at the window, he peered inside. “Is she the one dressed in orange with the cane?”
“Keep your voice down.” Jenny said with one finger over her lips, “Clara has the best hearing.”
Daniel whispered, “What’s she doing?”
Dropping down from her tip toes, Jenny answered, “Looking for the newcomers. Let’s go!”
Jenny took off in a sprint down the sidewalk waving for Daniel to follow.
“It’s not far.” She said over her shoulder. “But hurry. We have twenty minutes at best.”
They stopped running and now out of breath, Daniel exclaimed in disappointment, “This is just a normal brick house.”
“Just wait.” She dashed behind the house, and he followed.
She moved a chair from the porch to the grass and placed it just under a window. “Come look.”
Daniel stepped onto the chair and balanced himself. He leaned in and peered inside. “Black cats everywhere.”
“At least a half dozen.” Jenny watched the street like a hawk for any sign of Clara’s return. “But Hexi is her favorite.”
“I see a huge black pot with candles in a circle all around it.” Daniel peered in the window with widened eyes. “And books, so many books, everywhere.”
“Not just books! Her magic spell books.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve been inside, but no time for that today. Clara will be back any minute and smell us.”
“She can smell us?”
“Yes, especially the newcomers. Witches have the best sense of smell.”
Daniel walked along side Jenny down the sidewalk. “Do you go to school?”
“No,” she answered stuffing her hands in her pockets.
“My mom is making me start in two days. I don’t want to go.”
“I wish I could go to school, but Dad won’t let me.”
“Dad says I’m too smart. I do my studies at home.”
“I’ve never heard of someone being too smart for school. What does your mom say?” he asked when they reached his house.
“I don’t have a mom.”
“I don’t have a dad and I miss him. Sometimes my mom drives me crazy.”
“You’re lucky. I wish I had a mom.”
“Where’s your mom?”
“She left when I was three.” Jenny stared down at the cracks in the concrete. “I wish I had a mom like yours.”
Daniel’s face appeared puzzled. “You do?”
“Your mom sends you to school and gets you medicine when you’re sick. She makes sure you have food and takes care of you. No one takes care of me, except me.”
“So where’s your dad?”
“Working on the docks. He gets home about dark and it’s almost dark now. I should go.”
“Thanks for the potion and showing me Clara’s house. I’ve never seen a witch before.”
“Have you seen a pet snake?”
“Tomorrow meet me up by Jack D’s. I’ll take you to meet Viper.”
“Deal,” he said opening the front door.
“Mom!” Daniel ran through the house and plopped into her lap. “Thanks.”
“Thanks for what?” Maggie laughed. “Where’s my son?”
“It’s me, Daniel.” He wrapped his arms around her. “I never say thank you for everything you do.”
“And just what do I do?” she asked hugging him back.
“You feed me, send me to school and take care of me even when I complain about everything.”
“This doesn’t sound like the same child that walked out my door earlier. What’d you do today?”
“I made a new friend.” He leapt from her lap. “Oh, and I’ve decided I love it here. I don’t want to leave anymore.”
“Just this morning you hated it. Remember?”
“Now I want to stay. There are witches, warlocks, snakes and everything.”
“You made friends with Jenny.”
Maggie mumbled under her breath, “Jenny just has a wild imagination.”