Written with Kerry Adrienne
Some family secrets are best left buried.
Ophelia Hunt travels to her family’s ancestral home in Savannah, Georgia, to help her beloved grandmother get her affairs in order. To destress, she spends the day shopping, ending up at an antique store near the river. A hand-blown glass jar, shoved behind other trinkets and baubles, catches her eye. Unable to shake the strong feeling she’s meant to have the old jar, she buys it and sets it on her grandmother’s mantel.
As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, strange things begin to happen. Objects move on their own, doors open and slam closed, and a man’s whispers call out in the darkness. Are Gram’s old stories of family curses and ghosts real, or is Ophelia cracking under the stress of dealing with her grandmother’s finances and last wishes?
Anatoli La Croix has spent the last century cursed to exist in spirit form, locked inside a glass jar. When the beautiful and magickal Ophelia purchases the jar, he discovers he’s able to escape his confinement for short periods. For the first time in a century, he has hope. Could the beautiful witch be the one to break his curse? Or will she provoke the evil spirit that imprisoned him and bring dark magick’s wrath down on them both?
Ophelia Hunt tugged her leather jacket tighter as the fall wind off the Savannah River sent a chill through her. She walked a little faster, boot heels clicking on the bricked sidewalk. Savannah usually wasn’t cold. Summers had always been hot when growing up and she’d come close to not even bringing a jacket on her trip home this time.
Good thing she’d decided to toss it in her luggage. It was nearly the end of October and she didn’t know how long she’d be in Savannah and fall would soon turn to brisk days and cool nights.
Her gramma’s idea to take a day’s break from sorting through stuff at the house had been a good one, but Ophelia was tired of walking and sight-seeing. The quaint shops along the river were always fun to poke around in, but she hadn’t bought anything and she was ready to head home. To Gramma’s house, the old farmhouse filled with family memories.
She paused at the sidewalk’s railing and watched the river roll by, the wind sweeping her long hair up and over her head in a tangle. She tugged her locks into place and stared into the water. The current a muddy brown, sometimes deep green, she’d always imagined it hid secrets of the past beneath its swirling surface. A tributary ran by her family’s home farther inland but the Savannah River was wide near the port and she’d always loved being on the river walk.
In the harbor section of the river, cargo ships chugged by the promenade where she’d spent many days watching the vessels go by when she was younger. They sailed in from ports of call around the world and brought every type of goods from cars to food.
She used to daydream about what the port looked like over a hundred years ago when ocean shipping was the main way things came into the country. Bananas from South America and silk from China arriving on triple-masted schooners with billowing sails that seemed to reach the clouds. What an amazing sight it must have been to see such treasures float into America on wind power alone. Now, items were locked away in rusty shipping containers on big metal boats motoring under powerful engines.
Still, a sight to behold.
She’d spent her high school summers ship watching instead of dating, which had suited her grandmother just fine. Ophelia tucked fly-away hair behind her ear.
She’d left for college and not really looked back. She’d become a big-city girl and forgotten about her roots. At least, that’s what it felt like. A pang of guilt stabbed her heart. Her gramma had never said a word about it, but Ophelia knew.
“One more stop then I need to get back to Gramma’s.” She stuck her hands in her pockets and turned to the row of storefronts that filled a weathered warehouse facing the river. “She’ll be wanting supper.” And I need to spend more time with her while I can.
She scanned the shops. A candy store, stationery boutique, toy store, and an antiques thrift shop. Any would be interesting.
Benjamin’s Antiques and Oddities. Perfect. His quaint showroom had been in the same location since she was a child, and even before that. She set off toward the building, autumn leaves swirling at her feet. Ben knew her grandmother and would likely ask how things were. It’d be good to talk to someone about the situation.
Coming home to take care of her grandmother’s things before she died was not exactly a fun task, though she got to spend time with her favorite person. With her parents having died in a car crash when she was little, her grandmother had been both parents and grandparents, paying for college and becoming both mentor and confidant.
They’d only had each other.
Ophelia smiled. So many happy memories. She really should have come home more often. After she left for college, she’d been so busy, especially once she’d gotten her job.
She tugged at the heavy door to the shop and it opened, sending the bell on the doorframe ringing. She stepped up the two worn oak steps and let the door close behind her. Dusty age hit her nose and she held her breath a moment to keep from sneezing.
“Welcome to Benjamin’s!” The voice crackled from somewhere deeper in the store. “If we ain’t got it, you don’t need it.”
“Hi, Ben.” Ophelia lowered her hand from her nose and made her way around the tall piles of stuff at the front of the store so she could see Ben. She waved.
“Well, I’ll be…” His face lit up as recognition set in. “Oooophelia Hunt. I haven’t seen you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.”
She laughed. “I don’t think it’s been that long. But hello. It’s good to see you.”
He’d certainly changed, though she couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t old. He’d always had white hair. Now he had less of it. And he was shorter than he used to be, or maybe more stooped over. More wrinkles but still a sweet face. And his eyes were the kindest blue she’d ever seen.
Yes, Ben was a nice man—maybe a bit dramatic, but always charming. It’d only been maybe four or five years since she’d seen him on a rare visit home over the holidays.
“How’s Betty doin’? I haven’t seen her down here on the promenade in a long time.” He leaned on the counter. His voice had grown serious, like he knew what he was about to hear.
She studied her fingertips then met his gaze. “She’s dying, Ben.”
“We’re all dying.”
“You know what I mean. She doesn’t have long. I’m here to help set her estate in order.” She held back her tears. It was a hard job. She had thought it would help to tell someone else—maybe she’d been wrong.
Ben shook his head. “I’m sorry to hear that news, Ophelia. I really am. She’s a good one—a real upstanding woman. Always has been.” He paused to stare into the store then snapped his gaze back to Ophelia. “Time marches on, even in Savannah. Even for witches.”
“Don’t start that mess now.” Ophelia scowled. “She’s no witch. There’s no such thing.”
Ben held up his hand. “Sorry. I know you don’t believe. I’d have thought all that college education would have taught you about real things. But what do I know?”
Ophelia sighed. She shouldn’t be cross with Ben. He always talked about witches and magick and spells and curses. It was part of his spiel and maybe he really did believe it. “I don’t know what I’ll do without her.”
Ben stared into Ophelia’s eyes for a moment. “We all move on and the next generation has to step up and take the lead. One day it’ll be your turn, just how it is.” He scratched the back of his head. “I’m real sorry you’re hurtin’, though. We old ones gotta make room for the new ones. It’s life’s way.”
“I suppose.” She rubbed her nose. He was so practical in some ways and so wacky in others. Probably why she was always drawn to talk to him.
“What are you doing down here on the river today? She send you for somethin’?”
Ophelia looked around at the shelves of dusty wares. Pots and ceramics, old lamps and so much more. “She insisted I take a break today. A mental health day of sorts. So, I’m shopping.”
“Sounds like her.” He laughed. “You go right ahead and look around and see if there’s anything that tickles your fancy. I’ll be right here, taking up space,” he picked up the newspaper and rattled it, “doing the crossword,” he picked up a pen and clicked it, “in ink.”
She nodded, holding back a grin. “Perfect. If I need some help, I’ll holler.” She winced. Back in the south a few days and she was deep in her accent again. If her boss heard her, she’d never hear the end of it.
“You do that. Bet you find just what you’re looking for. Betty sent you for a reason.”
“Oh, I’m not looking for anything.” She smiled.
“We’re all looking for something.” He winked. “‘Bout time you acknowledge that. Sooner the better.”
“Whatever you say,” she replied with a smile as she moved toward the aisles. She remembered Ben was a talker but never so philosophical. Must be her mood. Finalizing her grandmother’s things—both her material and financial affairs weighed heavily on her mind and there was still so much to do.
She reached up and lifted a clear purple vase from the shelf. The thin glass covered in a layer of sticky dust was probably beautiful in the sunlight when it was clean, and perfect for a handful of daisies. She considered it briefly then set it back. She never picked fresh flowers in Boston. There were none to pick. And she certainly never bought any fresh flowers there. No time.
She headed toward the back of the store, past a row of brass figurines and china teacups of every color. A rack of old picture frames crowded a bin and she flipped through them aimlessly. Her mind wasn’t really on shopping, but on the host of things she still needed to go through at her grandmother’s house. After all, everything in the house was being left to her.
She’d convinced herself to head home when a flash caught her eye from a shelf of clear glass in the very back of the store. Like a beacon amongst the dirty glassware, the object flashed again and she moved closer. She peered behind the stack of mismatched carafes and glasses at the culprit and carefully pulled it out.
What the heck?
It was an old bottle with air bubbles within the glass itself from being handmade, stoppered, and about ten inches tall with a partial label stuck to it, hand-written. She turned it in her hands. Somewhat teardrop shaped and fluted, it had a narrow neck and larger base. It was empty but covered in dust and soot. The cork in the top was tightly stuck inside and singed like it had been in a fire.
“Hmm.” How had the dirty bottle caught a reflection of light? And where did the light come from? There were no windows to let the sun into the back of the store. She examined the bottle closely.
The label was scorched, partly burned off, and she couldn’t make out any words other than “Anatoli.” A name, perhaps? Maybe it was an olive oil bottle or something that had been in a kitchen fire. There were a few words below the presumed name, but the label was so charred, she couldn’t tell in the dim light of the store. Interesting, but nothing she had a use for.
She started to put the bottle back.
As she did, a flash hit her like a slap, zapping her arm to the shoulder. She suddenly needed to have the bottle. Why, she didn’t know. But something about the bottle, something…
Need wasn’t the word. She had to have the bottle.
She hurried to the counter, never having felt so ridiculous, yet so sure of anything.
The bottle was hers. It belonged to her.
Whatever the cost, whatever the reason, she wasn’t leaving the store without it.
“Hi, Ben. I want to buy this.” She set the bottle on the large wooden counter. It teetered a second and she grabbed it and righted it before it could tip over.
Ben looked up from his crossword, pen in hand, and froze. “Are you sure, missy?” He peered up at her, his blue eyes clouding over for a brief second then clearing. “This is no ordinary bottle. I can’t sell it to just anyone. Why do you want it?”
“Oh, Ben, I have to have it. I have to.” She heard herself and couldn’t believe it. Why was she acting like a child?
“Do you know what this is?” His voice grew low and he set the pen and newspaper down.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course, I know what it is. It’s an old bottle. A hand-blown one from the looks of it.” She sensed her own impatience but couldn’t do anything about it. She had to own the bottle and Ben was taking too long to tell her she could have it. “It looks like it was in a fire. Maybe a kitchen fire. It looks like it might have held oil or cooking sherry.”
He shook his head. “This bottle belonged to Francois Beaumont.”
The front door opened, the bell rang, and then the door slammed. Ophelia watched, but no one came in. A chill raced over her and she turned back to Ben. “No one came in.”
“What the hell, Ben?”
“I can’t explain that.” His eyes widened. “The door does that sometimes. And I agree, you need the bottle. Get it out of my store.”
“Who’s Francois Beaumont?”
“Betty never told you?”
“Not that I remember.” Unease coated her throat like fuzz.
“He was the greatest warlock that ever lived in Savannah. Betty knew him. Died fifty years ago this Halloween in a blaze that wiped out his house.”
“You and your witches,” Ophelia scoffed. “What does that have to do with this bottle?”
“You’re drawn to it, aren’t you? Gotta have it. You know that bottle has been in my shop for almost fifty years and no one has ever brought it to my counter? No one!” He banged his fist on the counter and Ophelia jumped as the bottle wobbled. “A blaze was the only thing that could kill Francois. The only thing. Ask Betty. She knows and it’s high time she tells you.”
“Leave my grandmother out of this. She’s ill. She needs rest and relaxation, not fairy tales and drama.”
“It called to you, didn’t it?” Ben’s eyes almost glowed blue. “Tell me the truth, Ophelia. I have to know for sure. I know it will pick the right person.”
“It was hidden behind other glassware.” She pushed it toward him.
“It called to you.”
“Bottles don’t talk.” She crossed her arms. “It flashed.”
“I knew it! It was his. See the scorched paper? This bottle was found in the ruins of the fire.”
“So, it was in a fire. That doesn’t mean it belonged to a warlock.” She shuddered. “Can you ring it up? I need to get back to my grandmother’s.”
“Of course. Betty knew Francois, better than most. Maybe she’ll tell you what happened.”
“If I get the chance, I’ll ask her.”
“Don’t you want to know what the bottle is?”
Ben smiled a smile that was so dramatic, Ophelia almost ran. But she couldn’t leave the bottle behind.
“Okay, but please hurry.”
“Legend has it…”
She rolled her eyes, immediately feeling guilty. Ben was lonely. He couldn’t help himself.
“Legend has it,” he spoke more loudly, “that Francois captured young men’s souls and trapped them in bottles, binding them with dark magick to prolong his own life. Over a thousand broken bottles were found in the basement of his burned down mansion, many with names of men who lived in Savannah or went missing passing through. Only this one bottle was intact. I brought it here. It’s remained sealed.”
Ophelia knew her mouth was open but couldn’t close it. Everything was so bizarre, like some huge Halloween trick. “Why haven’t you opened it?”
“Only the right person can, of course. The person who can save the soul inside.” Ben turned to the antique cash register and rang up the price. “That will be one dollar.”
“One dollar? Seriously?”
“Would you like to put a value on someone’s soul?”