Witching After Forty, book 8
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Ava Harper’s resume keeps getting updated. It started with witch, then necromancer, author, bookstore clerk, vampire wrangler, and most recent, medium. Yes, you heard that right, she can talk to ghosts.
New powers bring more responsibilities and things to add to the list of magic she needs to learn. Especially when Ava finds out her mother isn’t in a happy place.
What else can she do but try to rescue her mother from the in-between place she’s been suffering all these years?
That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. She’s going to need the help of all of her team, from her ghoul Alfred to her mischievous cat, Mr. Snoozerton—and his new girlfriend. And Olivia, her best friend, of course. She might even have to call her son home from college for this level of magic.
But Ava’s life wouldn’t be Ava’s life if things didn’t go a bit awry. Luci tries to help, but just infuriates all of them, as usual. Larry (the skeleton) is still hanging around, and he’s lost a finger bone, have you seen it?
It might be a lot of hullabaloo, but Ava is determined to figure it out and bring her mother home. And Drew, the town sheriff and Ava’s boyfriend is at her side every step of the way and almost every waking hour and sometimes sleeping hour. Could the sheriff be plotting something of his own and try to tame the necromancer/witch hybrid?
“Winnie?” I staggered forward, staring at Alfred’s dry, cracked lips and completely bamboozled that my Aunt Winifred’s voice had come out of it. “How?” I gasped.
That crazy fat cat had finally done it. He’d removed the string from Alfred’s lips and my aunt’s voice had come out.
Alfred looked down at Snoozer again and hissed. Snooze stood, twitched his tail, and walked slowly through the door into the kitchen.
This was impossible. My aunt was dead. I’d gone to her funeral, mourned for her, and carried her ashes home in an antique silver urn that had been blessed by the coven. How in the H-E-double hockey sticks was she inside a ghoul’s body?
At my side, Drew rubbed circles on my back but wisely didn’t comment. He was probably rethinking the whole dating a crazy necromancer. I was definitely rethinking being one. I hadn’t signed up for any of this. It wasn’t in the plan.
Alfred shuffled forward. Winnie did… no, the ghoul named Alfred with Winnie’s voice shuffled forward. I tensed, watching him…her intensely as she spoke again. “Oh, honey. I wanted to tell you. There’s so much you need to know.”
Oh, this was freaky. Alfred reached out a hand, and somehow I knew if the skin on his, uh, her face could move, Winnie would’ve looked remorseful.
Sam inched his way toward the door. “I’m going to go get Sammie from Grandma and Papa.”
Before I could demand that he stay, he disappeared into the house. Great. Coward!
I stared at Olivia with my brows raised, wondering if she too was about to desert me.
She grinned. “I’m staying. This is better than the town gossip at the hair salon.”
I rolled my eyes and almost told her to make popcorn and pull up a chair so she could enjoy it in comfort. But I refrained from being snarky with my BFF. I was tired. And grumpy. And in shock.
Focusing back on Winnie-Alfred, I asked, “So, who is Alfred? Was it ever him or was it always you?”
They dropped their hand. That was easier. Alfred-Winnie would be they…for now, at least.
“He’s in here, too,” they said in the female voice. Winnie said it like it was common knowledge. Which it was not. I didn’t know a thing about my dead aunt being raised in the body of a ghoul.
I held up my hand. “I need so many explanations.”
I was so glad Drew still had a hold of me because my behind would be on the floor.
They turned toward the house. “Well, sit. I’ll make breakfast while I explain. I need something to do with my hands.” Of course. Why wouldn’t they need to keep busy?
We all gathered in the kitchen, every eye trained on the ghoul. My entire family pressed against my back. My blood and not my blood, but still, all family.
If my eyes had been closed, I could’ve imagined it was really Winnie moving around, making pancakes and sausages. It had been all along. That broke my heart because I wanted nothing more than to run to her and wrap my arms around her. But I wasn’t doing it with her in Alfred’s body. Assuming that was Alfred’s body and not some other random guy. Oh, this was too much. I needed a drink. A good stiff one. Was it late enough for whiskey?
“That’s why Alfred’s pancakes taste like Winnie’s,” I whispered, dropping down into a chair at the table. “I just figured you’d found her recipe.”
They shook their head. “If you’d asked, I had a recipe all prepared to show you. I was a bit nervous that it would give me away, though.”
Yeah, it might have. Then again I’d been so busy with all the craziness going around. Training to raise the dead. Searching for dead children so I could shut down an illegal shifter fighting ring. Not to mention dealing with my new neighbor, Satan, aka Luci.
“I have unfinished business,” Winnie said as I closed my eyes again so I didn’t have to see her voice coming out of Alfred’s lips. And how was her voice so clear when his dried-out mouth wouldn’t possibly bend enough to allow them to really enunciate?
Another entry for the weird as heck file, alongside all my questions about Larry.
“But how’d you get in this body?” Olivia asked, taking the seat next to me at the table. Wallie sat silently beside her, still staring at Alfred in shock.
Drew sat on my other side and remained quiet as he watched and listened to the family drama unfolding.
A few seconds later Zoey and Larry took a seat beside Owen. Neither one said a word, just watched Alfred-Winnie make breakfast with wide eyes.
“Well, when I died, I haunted Bill until he agreed to raise me. But he wasn’t the most powerful necromancer. Because I had been cremated, instead of my own body being raised, I was shoved into Alfred and we both came up.” They shrugged and continued to cook.
Yeah, no big deal. They both came up.
Geez. Maybe I was a little shocky.
Bill, William Combs, had been a family friend and a necromancer. He’d died back in October, not long after I got into town. No, before you think that, I didn’t kill him. A rogue hunter by the name of Carmen who hated necromancers had. She’d also tried to kill Owen. That was how we met and how he became my mentor, friend, and roommate.
“But, he could’ve fixed you. And why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
“Bill? No, he couldn’t have. He wasn’t nearly strong enough.” They waved one hand at me dismissively. “Unfinished business. I was afraid you’d get in the way.”
Me? Get in the way? The way of what? She was being very dismissive of this. This was a huge freaking deal! “What’s your unfinished business?” I watched them put the first pancake in the hot pan, casual as you please.
“That’s for me to deal with,” they said. They turned and pointed the spatula at me. “But I tell you what, if you could figure out how to get me into my body, that’d be great. I saw what you did with Larry. He looks normal now! I want that.”
Blinking rapidly, my mind whirled with possibilities. Could I do that? Could I make a body out of her ashes? Winnie’s cremains were on the mantel in the living room, beside my mother and Yaya. What could I do with them? Was I that good? “I wouldn’t begin to know how to do it, though. With Larry, there’d already been a skeleton, like a guide.” Like painting in a color-by-number kit.
They slid a pancake off the skillet and handed it to Wallie, who was closer to them. “Might as well start eating while they’re hot.” Then they glanced at me. “Bill has all kinds of spells like that in his office,” they said.
“What about Alfred?” Zoey asked, ears just twitching away. “Can he talk?”
“Don’t burn my pancakes,” Winnie said in a stern voice. Then, they shook their head and looked around at us.
“It’s very nice to meet all of you properly,” Alfred said in a mouse-like, smoky voice. It was like a cartoon mouse trying to be sexy.
It was all I could do not to burst out laughing, and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, if I looked over at Olivia or Drew, or even the younger adults at the table, I’d lose it. I was too tired to keep it together. I was really surprised at my progress so far.
Don’t look at them.
“Are you happy about this situation?” I asked him in a strangled voice. Hey, I managed not to giggle.
The ghoul flipped the pancake. “I’m not unhappy. But I have to admit it would be nice to have my body back to myself. Perhaps if Winifred isn’t inside me, you could restore me the way you have the others.”
This was beginning to feel like I was going to have an army of ghouls that looked totally normal. Just another day in paradise. “I’m certainly willing to try,” I told Alfred. “And I’m sorry that you’re in this situation.”
He handed Zoey a plate with a pancake on it and then poured more batter into the pan. “It’s okay. I’ll let you talk to your aunt again. Nice to meet you.”
A few seconds later, they turned and looked at us. “So, are we going to get me my body?” Winnie asked.
“I guess,” I said slowly. “But if I can make a body out of cremains, what’s stopping me from raising any and everyone I want to?” I asked no one in particular. “And further, if I can figure out how to pull your spirit out of Alfred’s body and into your own, then I could move anyone around. I could make Olivia and Sam walk a day literally in one another’s shoes.”
Everyone snickered at that thought, even me.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Owen said. “Your power isn’t limitless.”
“Spirits at peace are untouchable,” Winnie said as she flipped the pancake. “Only spirits in the Inbetween are accessible to necromancers.”
“What about Larry?” I asked. “Where did he come from?”
“I was in the Inbetween,” he said. “Not at peace. I had unfinished business.”
Yes, Larry showed up at my door on Valentine’s Day wanting me to find his killer. I was getting ready for my first date with Drew when someone knocked on the door. Imagine my surprise when I opened it to a skeleton who could talk.
Now he was fleshed out and looked like a normal young man in his early twenties. After I raised Snooze’s girlfriend, Lucy-Fur and Larry saw that I healed her in the process, he asked me to try it on him. Make him a living being instead of an animated skeleton. And it had worked.
“Why am I so special?” I asked Winnie. “Do you know? Why am I able to have this many people raised without it draining my magic? Why do people keep telling me that I’m the most powerful necromancer in the world?”
I wasn’t sure they used those exact words, but it sounded good.
WinFred-Alfred stopped and turned to look at me. “You’re the last female witch of your bloodline on both sides. You have all the powers of your ancestors.”
She said it like it was so simple, but I wasn’t so sure it was. There was always a price that came with power. I didn’t want to owe any debts for something I hadn’t asked for.
“Um, okay,” Wallie said. “I get nothing?”
Winnie chuckled and shook her stiff head. “You get the same powers you would’ve had. But when the last female, me, died, the bulk of the Howe family power hit Ava. She already had her father’s power, though suppressed by her own choosing. Now the Howe family power just intensifies it.”
Wow. So that was why. It was nice to have an answer, finally.
“Men always get the short end of the stick,” Wallie muttered.
With my eyebrows raised and my best mom expression on my face, I turned to give my son some pertinent information about being a woman, but Olivia took care of it.
She slapped him upside the back of the head. “Don’t be an idiot, Wallie.”
I went back to the problem at hand. “If I can raise you, put your ashes back together and give you a body… And I was able to pull Larry out of the Inbetween… Why couldn’t I raise mom’s ashes and pull her out?” I asked.
Winnie’s eyes went sad. “We figured that out years ago. Bill and I tried. She’s in the Inbetween, but something is holding her there. I was there with her briefly until Bill got me out. Beth has unfinished business, but something in the curse Bevin put on her holds her there.”
We ran out of questions to ask, so we had breakfast, just thankful to be here with Winnie and to have a game plan and more information. My mind buzzed with new information while at the same time I found it hard to think with so little sleep. The trip home from Philly had taken longer than it needed to with being jerked onto a ghost train in the Inbetween. Jumping in and then out of the Inbetween had drained me.
“I’m exhausted,” I said after I finished my pancakes. “I’m napping.”
Oliva rose from her chair and patted my shoulder. “I’m going to snuggle my little Sammie. Call me when you wake up.”
I nodded and rose to my feet, yawning as I followed her to the door. Drew was close on my heels. When I turned, I slammed into him. His arms circled my waist, and I leaned forward, resting my head against his chest. He smelled so good and was warm. I wanted to burrow myself into his arms and sleep.
Before I realized what was happening, he scooped me up in his arms and carried me to my room. Then he removed my shoes and tucked me under the covers before kissing my forehead. “I’m going to check in at the station and then go home for a nap of my own. Call me if you need anything?”
I rested my palm on his cheek and smiled sleepily at him. “Thank you for being so amazing.” He really was the best.
He winked at me. “Any time.”
Then he left, closing my bedroom door on his way out. I laid there, listening to his footsteps fade down the stairs. When the front door opened and shut, I closed my eyes.
Just as I was about to drift off to sleep, my phone rang. By the ringtone, was Melody, my second in command with the coven. What did she want? Did she have a tracker on me to tell her the exact moment I fell asleep?
I answered with a graveled, “Hello.” At least I thought that was what I said.
“Hey, Ava, something strange is going on,” she said. “We found something on the beach that you need to see.”
“Okay,” I said, too exhausted to do it now. “Can it wait like three hours?” I asked. That would be enough time for me to get a bit of energy back, at least.
She hesitated. “Yeah, I think so. Come down to where we like to do our rituals on the beach as soon as you can.”
I hung up, sorry to make them wait, but I literally couldn’t convince my eyes to stay open. I had to grab a little sleep. After cracking my lids enough to set an alarm, I was out.