La Bruja

I remembered Sara  Abate.  She was an athletic girl with brown skin and pale eyes who wore her sable hair in a layered cascade down her back.  Looking back, there were so many things wrong with her whole story and who knows how many years  she was crying out for help.   Sara had always drifted on the edges of our social circles.  Never so far out as to be an outcast or even a loner, but never close enough that we got to know her.  Not that we were trying all that hard. Like many suburban kids in the nineties, our lives were a comfortable farce that we supported only because it was more assuring than the unknown.  However, it was not until a wet summer’s day many years later did I regret my childish oblivion.

       “Hi, Sara,” I stammered to the woman standing at my door. I tried to revive my old talent for wide smiles, but thirteen years of adulthood waylaid my efforts.

       “Melissa,” she nodded and I could tell that the millstone hanging around her neck was larger and older than my own. “May I come in?”

       “Oh!” I am sure she could tell I wanted to say no.  I hemmed a moment longer, but she did not withdraw her request. “Um walk with me to the store.” I grabbed my keys from a hook in the foyer and closed the door behind me.

       “Your wallet,” she said, her voice flat and calm.  I pretended not to hear and began to crowd her toward the elevator bank at the end of the corridor.   “What are you doing in Philly?” I wished my voice sounded lighter and more carefree, but all I could muster was shrill curiosity.

       “What do you remember about me?”. She gave me a look that dared me to bullshit.

       I took a chance anyway. “Sporty, kinda quiet, lived with your dad over by the junior high school”.

       A spasm of anger passed across her face then was gone.  “I need you to help me,” she said through gritted teeth.

       “Yeah ok,”  I said as one of the elevators opened, “I think you came to the wrong place.”  I flicked my fingers at the empty car and turned back down the hall.

       “You owe me, bitch,”  She shouted.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  A wild surge of anger rose from my stomach and choked my retort in my throat.

       “It’s just a small favor,” she said, her voice breaking.  There was a long silence in which the elevator closed and left and my anger turned to guilt.

       “I had nothing to do with that, Sara,” I did not turn around to face her, but I could hear her breathing become quick and shallow.  “That’s all behind us and I don’t want it in my new life.”

 

       “Your new life!” she squeaked, “Did you stop being Melissa Gonzales?”

       This time I turned around.  

“Sure did,” I sneered and flashed the glittering ring on my left hand.  

This set her off.  I backed down the hallway while she shrieked a string of obscenities and accusations at me. I made it to my apartment door just as the building security guard emerged from the elevators.  My neighbors peeked from their doorways as the guard forced the screaming woman into the stairwell.

       “What the hell was that?”  my next door neighbor, Kyle Andrews demanded once the door slammed shut.  He stormed to the middle of the hallway and waited for me to answer.

       “An old classmate,”  I smiled weakly.  His living room shared a wall with the small bedroom I used for my work.  I suspected that some of my ceremonies had caught his attention and that he was on the verge of reporting me to management.

       “This is a good building,” he said giving me a meaningful look,  “We’d like to keep it that way.”

       “What’s that supposed to mean?”  another one of my neighbors, Keisha Jones, Esq., asked, stepping out into the hall.

       “It’s ok,” I said waving her off. “It won’t happen again.”

       Kyle and the rest of our neighbors retreated to their apartments, leaving Keisha and I in the silent hall.  She closed her door and scurried over to me.

       “Are you ok?”  She whispered, we watched the end of the hall as if  a fire-breathing version of Sara might appear.

       “No,” I said and went into my home.

       “Well?”  Keisha asked, following close behind me.  Her eyes were alight with curiosity and concern.

       “A girl from back home,”  I said collapsing on the couch and trying to figure out how to explain Sara. “I don’t even know how she found me.”

       “Was any of what she said remotely true?”  Keisha went into attorney mode making me strain to remember what Sara had shouted. “I can’t have my favorite girl going down.”

       I looked up at Keisha and smiled.  Thanks to her patronage, I made almost as much as my husband.  In fact, she was the reason we were able to afford to be her neighbors.

       “Her father died of natural causes before we even got there,”  I mumbled thinking back to that night we all got bored and decided to prank the Abates, “but Sara said we scared him to death.”

       “Is that what happened?” Keisha asked, still in lawyer mode.

       “That’s what the coroner said,” I could hear the doubt in my voice.

       “But  you think otherwise?”

       “The star quarterback was with us that night,”  I said remembering Devon Smith’s sunburnt face as he reached down from atop the stone fence to help me over into Sara’s yard. “He had a big scholarship to A&M.”

       “If we give her the help she asks for, is she the type to go away?”  Keisha’s furrowed her brow.  I could tell she considering all outcomes.

       “She’s gone,”  I sighed, “Where would I even find her?”

       “That shouldn’t be too hard,” Keisha said and looked at her watch.  “Give me her full name and be ready for anything.”

 

 Two days later, Sara and Keisha were back at my door.

       “Come in,”  I said without a bit of welcome in my voice.

       “Thank you,” Sara’s demeanor was contrite and her eyes were peaceful.  We arranged ourselves on the living room furniture and waited for things to happen.

       “Ok Sara,”  Keisha said in her court voice, “How do you want Melissa to help you?”

       “Your husband works for City Oufittings,” she smiled shyly, “Get him to consider my designs for their housewares.“

       I stifled a laugh.

My husband hadn’t worked in the design department in years.

“That was a summer internship.” I said softly, “He’s in marketing now.”

       “Ah”. Her face fell a bit.

       “But I think I can still help.” Keisha shot me a crazed look, but there was no way I could explain. “Come with me.”

       I led them back to my workroom.The small bedroom was dim and the air laced with the fragrance of smoky resins.  The altars to the saints and spirits I served lined the wall.

       “What is this?” Sara asked breathlessly.  She paused at the door trying to make sense of what she saw.

        “Lie down,” I ordered and pointed to the cloth cover table in the center of the room. She hesitated, but Keisha herded her into the room.

I delighted in Sara’s obvious fear.  Keisha and I exchanged smirks as she struggled to heave her trembling body onto the table.  

As soon as she was on her back, I went to work placing five black candles on the table around Sara’s body.

       “Is this some kind of magic?”  Sara asked as I sprinkled black dog hair over her body.

       “Ok so you want to be a designer,” I purred as if I cared.

 Her whispered response was lost beneath the strike of a match. I touched the flame to a container of resin and inhaled the heady perfume.

The spirits in the room rustled as the sacred smoke wafted across their altars. Eagerly they poked and prodded my mind.  Who was this troubled woman? And why was she so angry with our faithful servant?  I held my peace until I was centered then called out to a single name.

       “Bothwa.”

       Keisha gasped as his stern presence filled the room. Bothwa was the oldest spirit in my pantheon.  Older than civilization and older than humans, he existed beyond the confines of any religion or moral system that I knew.  However, he was willing, effective, and absolute.  I only enlisted him for my most devastating work.  I called his name twice more then waited.

       He did not answer

       The spirit of mi abuelita, the curandera who passed her knowledge unto me, broke the silence and admonished me for my actions.

       I taught you better, mija!

       I pushed her back without an answer, knowing that she loved me too much to punish me for my insolence.  The other spirits remained silent in deference to Bothwa.  Finally a bone chilling cold filled the room; he was listening.

 

       “Bothwa,” I smiled, “I offer this woman, Sara Abate, as a sacrifice to you as a sign of my devotion and gratitude for all that you have done for me.”

       “Oh!”  Sara cried as the black candles around her flared into flaming columns.  She struggled to sit up, but Bothwa was already on her.  I watched with detached fascination as the deity toyed with Sara.  Her pale eyes grew wide with terror and I wondered in passing if she could actually see him.  

Sara lasted longer than most and it looked, for a moment,  as if Bothwa was trying to possess her.  A tinge of fear rippled through my gut.  I’d never dealt with an embodied god before.

       “Ahh!”  Sara gurgled and curled into the fetal position.  The sharp tang of blood wafted into my nose while the candles dissolved into puddles that dripped onto the floor.

       “I thank you for accepting this offering,”  I said.  Slowly, the cold subsided and I could sense Bothwa was pleased.  I turned to Keisha, who looked like she’d shit her pants several times.  “Call 911”

       “What?’  Keisha asked, her eyes wide and glassy.

       “Call 911,”  I repeated, “I think she had a seizure.”

       “Yeah, um ok,” Keisha said catching on.  Her trembling hand groped for the doorknob, but her eyes were still on Sara’s crumpled body.

 The paramedics arrived quickly followed by the police and then the detectives.  They moved uneasily in and out of my ceremony room as if they were not sure what they were seeing was real.

“So she came to you for a spell to get a job?”  the lead detective asked for the fifth time.  His voice was just as skeptical as it had been the first time he asked the question.  I nodded and kept up my mask of concern.  “And she didn’t tell you she had seizures?’

“Correct,” I furrowed my brow and placed a trembling hand over my mouth.

“And you sold her this service?”

“No,”  I said, keeping my eyes down, “she was an old friend of mine from high school.  I did it for her for free.”

“Mrs. Holden are you aware of the laws of our state?”  another detective asked, fingering the cuffs dangling from his waist.

“Laws protect the customer’s money, but they cannot decide the customer’s faith,” I gave him a proud look and turned to Keisha.

“Those laws don’t apply, detective,” she countered, “nothing of value was exchanged for the service.”

 The detective opened his mouth to speak again, but was silenced by a most unearthly screech.  We all looked over at Sara .  She had thrown off the paramedics and was trying to wriggle her way out of the gurney’s restraints.  At first the noise coming at her mouth sounded like nonsense, but soon I realized she was speaking Spanish, backwards.

I jumped to my feet, my eyes riveted on Sara.

“We have to get out of here,” I whispered to Keisha.

  “If she dies we’re taking you in, miss,” the second detective said gleefully.  He mistook my fear for guilt.

“It’s standard procedure,” the lead detective stated.  His voice was calm, but his green eyes moved frantically around the room, absorbing all of the details.  

“Where are you going?”  He asked, noticing our retreat.

“She is not safe,” I said, continuing to back out of the living area.  At my words, Keisha turned and flat out ran for the ceremony room.  

Suddenly, Sara stopped yelling and I ran for it, too.

 

The screams of the men were the worst.

Keisha and I held each other as Sara ravaged the livingroom.  I ran through the spirits and deities in my mind hoping to get a fix on who was in her body.  Who was bold enough to claim Bothwa’s offerings?  For a moment, the wrinkled face of mi abuelita flashed in my mind, but I shooed away the image, not wanting to deal with her guilt trip.

“She’s coming!”  Keisha squealed.  

We scurried to the back of the room and that is when I noticed something terribly wrong.

 We were alone.  The Iwa, my ancestors, and even the tiny animal spirits that followed me home were gone.

       “What’s wrong?”  Keisha grabbed my arm and studied my panic stricken face.  I composed myself and shoved away my fear.

       “We’re going to have to fight our way out,”  I said and handed her a ceremonial dagger from one of the altars.  It was her turn to look panicked.  She grasped the hilt and tested the heft.

       “Ok,” she said quietly, accepting her death.  She crossed herself, praying to her Christian god for the first time in many years.  .

I turned and rummaged through the remains of my power.  I grabbed a gilded machete and tucked a protection amulet into my pocket.  I doused myself in holy water and half-heartedly flung a bit in Keisha’s direction.  I wanted to keep the odds of survival stacked in my favor.

       The lock clicked with a metallic ring and I watched in absolute terror as the door swung open to reveal the blood drenched creature that had once been Sara .  I hoped it would speak so that we could perhaps bargain our way out, but there was nothing but silence.

       The attack was straightforward and swift, but I had a foolproof plan.  As the Sara cleared the central altar, I grabbed Keisha’s arm and flung her directly into the arms of death.

 

 I sprinted out of the room, out of the apartment, past curious neighbors and into the stopped emergency elevator.  Keisha’s screams followed me and for a moment I wanted to warn my neighbors to take cover, but I needed all the time I could get.

       It wasn’t until the heavy doors slid shut that I noticed a small figure in the far corner of the elevator.  The woman wore a simple cotton dress trimmed in colorful embroidery.  Her hands were wrinkled and bent and her hair hung in a silvery sheet over her shoulders.

       “Abuelita?!”  I squealed, recognizing the beautiful silver jewelry she wore.

       “Mija,” her voice was grave.  She walked over to me and I knelt to receive her blessings.

       “I have closed the way,” she said and took my face into her hands.  I looked into her eyes and to my horror they were dark and empty save for strange figures flashing around her orbs.  

“Why?” I mewled, but as I studied the images, I began to tremble.  A parade of souls I’d hexed or double crossed culminated with Sara arranging Keisha’s body on the central altar in my apartment then falling, lifeless, to the ground.

       The weight of their meaning crashed down me and I fell out of my grandmother’s grip.  As I lay trembling on the floor, it became obvious who took Sara from Bothwa.  I betrayed mi abuelita’s  teachings and so she took back all that she had given me: every spirit, every power, and now, my life.  When the doors opened, I did not resist the cops who rushed the elevator.

 

Hexed and Cursed

“The assailant has been identified as Melissa Holden, one of the apartment residents.”

Finley Tilden  heard the news anchor’s words and laughed.  The women sitting near her in the nail salon gave her disapproving looks.

Finley tried to suppress her mirth, but it bubbled out in sloppy snickers.

“That’s bad luck and disrespectful to the dead,” the woman painting Finley’s nails frowned.

“I’m just happy the murderer got caught,” Finley replied.

The manicurist looked doubtful but went back to work without another word.

“She was a real bitch,” Finley suddenly felt the urge to defend herself.  “She was

always doing dirty shit and getting away with it. She really deserved to get caught.”

“It’s sad either way,” one of her fellow customers said.   

Finley looked around at all of the disgusted faces in the shop and bit her tongue.   The old woman with the knee length silver hair was particularly unnerving .  She would wait until she was somewhere safe to celebrate her victory.

That safe place turned out to be the hotel room where her ex-husband, James Holden, hid from the media storm surrounding his current wife.  James and Finley were married one year before Melissa got her witchy claws into him and killed Finley’s dream.   All these years later, Melissa’s spell broke and James called Finely for assistance. It was messy and too many people perished, but the world was righted and Melissa was nearly out of the picture.
“Real love can’t be broken,” Finley whispered as she rolled over and kissed James.  He pulled her closer without rousing from sleep.  

 

A light tap on the door kept her from joining James in dreamland.  She sighed and snuggled into his chest, hoping the person moved on, but the knock came again.  

“Don’t open it,” James muttered when she slipped out of his hold. “Reporters and …”  His last thought melted into sleep.  

“I’ll send them away,” She answered as if to reassure him. Finley threw on one of the thick hotel robes and patted down her bedhead.

“Who is it?”  she asked softly, creeping to the door.

“Senora Gonzalez,” a woman answered. “I must speak with my son.”

“You have the wrong room,”  Finley replied, feeling slightly relieved. “There’s no Gonzalez here.”

“James Holden,” the stranger corrected, her voice strong and clear. “I must see my son!”

Finley did not answer.

“You will pay for what you have done, Finley Tilden” the woman continued, sounding as if she stood on the same side of the door as Finley.

Finley groped for the lightswitch, eyes wide with fear.  

“What is it?’ James asked, sitting up in bed as light flooded the room.  “What’s going on, Fin?”

Finley remained silent.  She pressed her eye to the peephole and could just make out the top of a gray-haired person.  For some reason, the old woman at the nail shop popped into her head.

“What!” James barked, feet hitting the floor.

She turned to answer him and let out a scream. A familiar silver-haired  woman stood at the foot of the bed.

 

“How did you get in!” Finley exclaimed.  She rattled the doorknob to assure herself the door was still locked.

“James, you were wronged by the women you love,” the woman said, ignoring Finley, “But you have no further part in this disaster.”

“A-a-abuelita?” he stuttered, his feet faltering as he approached her.

“Go home to your family,” she cooed as he knelt before her. “I promise you will not feel this pain in a season.  In a year, you will barely remember either of them.”

“No,” James shook his head. “This isn’t real.  I- I must be sick.”

Finely shuddered as a deep chill crept into the room. The old woman wrapped her arms around herself, but remained focused on James.  

“Very well,” she nodded, eyeing FInley.  “If that makes you move, then yes, you are sick and should leave for the hospital immediately.”

“Yes, I must be sick if I’m seeing you.” James gave a small hysterical laugh and got to his feet.  “Great advice from a dead woman!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, James, “ Finley stepped forward only to find herself pressed to the ground by a massive weight.  
James carried on gathering his things paying no heed to either woman. Once he was packed, he  left the room without so much as a  backwards glance.  

An unnatural silence settled over the room in which Finley heard the rasp of her breath in and out of her compressed lungs and nothing else.

“You too were wronged, Finley,” the old woman’s voice was very close to her ear. “But I will avenge the harm you brought to my blood.”

 

Finley Tilden was not a woman to cower in the face of power.  She opted for wit over brute strength of any sort.  That is how she moved through life and that is how she freed James.

“It was only fair,” she choked out the words, pushing back against the force holding her down.  

“On your feet,” the old woman said and the pressure dissipated.

Finley stumbled to her feet and pressed her back against the hotel door.  She and the woman sized each other up for a moment before she spoke.

“You’re her mom?”

“In a sense,” the woman nodded sending sparkles through her silver hair. “I raised her and taught her all that she knows.”

“Ah,” Finley saw an opening, “So this is all your fault.”

The woman looked stunned and Finley continued.
“You gave her the skills, but not the morals.  Were you dying?  Did she have to leave?  How did you skip the part about not ruining other people’s lives?”

“You are clever,” the woman smiled, “but your words will only delay my vengeance. Feel free to talk a bit more, we still have time.”

“That’s what your daughter said,” Finley let herself relax. The situation was already turning to her favor. “But we all know how that ended up.”

“I am not blinded by love,” the woman countered, gesturing to the empty bed. “Nor enraged by lust.”

“Aren’t you?”  Finley suppressed a smile. “Bloodlust on behalf of a loved one?”

“True,” The woman gave her a sad smile. “Unfortunately for you, that is our way.”

 

Finley opened her mouth to speak, but the woman cut her off.

“Bothwa!”  the woman called and spun in a slow circle causing her hair to fan out around her.  Its silvery beauty momentarily distracted Finley, but she was brought back into focus by the bitter cold engulfing the room.  

“What are you doing?” Finley’s words left white puffs of breath in their wake and her teeth chattered in the unnatural silence. “What is that name?”

“I am calling on the one who can make this right,” she continued to spin, uttering indecipherable words between calling the name. “Bothwa!”

“He’s already here,” Finley moaned and squeezed her eyes shut to keep out the images of endless death and destruction that suddenly filled her mind.

“Hush!” the woman stopped spinning and clapped her hands in a staccato pattern.  “Bothwa! Bothwa!”

Two disembodied thumps was the answer accompanied by an ear-popping vacuum noise.  

And there he was or at least what Finley’s brain comprehended Bothwa to be.  A tall, broad-shouldered man with a disturbing grey pallor and cold, dead eyes.

“I don’t deserve this,” Finley threw her shoulders back and confronted the entity. “I shouldn’t have to die just because her daughter was greedy.”

“Die?” Bothwa gave a hearty laugh exposing a mouth of broken yellowed teeth. “No, girl. Death is easy. Death will be a welcomed relief from what awaits you in my care.”  He laughed again and looked expectantly at the old woman.
The woman clasped her hands together, her brow furrowed in thought, but did not speak.

 

“If only you had used your words, Finley,” the woman sighed, her voice warbled with emotion. “Talked your way through to my daughter instead of casting against her.”

“See!”  Finley grew bolder. “ She all but admits it!”

“I do not care,”  Bothwa was impatient.  He paced the length of the room as he spoke. “A sacrifice was stolen from me and I will have its equal or better.”
He leveled a glare at ‘abuelita.’

Finley scoffed to herself, thinking she was far more valuable than that withered bait, Sara Abate.  

Abuelita shook her head and sighed again.

“There’s only one way to save your legacy, Abuelita Gonzales,” Finley said into the silence, then rethought her familiarity. “Ma’am.”

“I will not abandon Melissa,” Abuelita made a sour face. “Even though she was wrong, I will not leave her to an uncertain fate.”
“Well, one thing is for certain with Bothwa,” Finley dared to share a conspiratorial glance with the entity. “Melissa will learn her lesson.”

Abuelita gaped at Finley while Bothwa laughed aloud.  The sound of his mirth caused both women to shiver.   

Good, Finley thought, pushing through her fear. If they can conceive the idea, even if it repulses them, they can be convinced to accept it.

“It is the only way,” Finley reinforced, “Otherwise, you prove to Melissa that her actions have no consequences.”

“I- I can’t” Abuelita put her fingertips on her forehead as if to keep the idea from taking hold. “She is my heir, the keeper of our family’s legacy.  She is all that I have.”

 

““There is another,” Finley took a shot in the dark. “One who can see and hear you just as we do now.  As Melissa did once you passed.”

Finley waited, breath stilled, for the flicker of recognition to cross the other woman’s face.

“Jamie,” Abuelita whispered. It came with the gift of a small gasp. “Dear little Jamie.”

“Jamie. He can be taught,”  Finley moved in for the kill. “Everything you gave Melissa, you can give to him.”  She paused for dramatic effect.  “Plus one more lesson that you didn’t have this time.”

“I can’t,” Abuelita crossed her arms for emphasis. Her eyes were glassy and unseeing.  “This goes against the natural order of things. I won’t do this to Melissa.”

Finley did not speak. This was the final turn and the woman needed an enemy.  Someone to argue points against.  It might as well be herself.

Bothwa seemed to agree. His expressionless eyes stayed fixed the older woman as she muttered objections under her breath.   

“If I leave her to Bothwa,” Abuelita addressed them finally. “I do not deserve the honor of being anyone’s guide.”

Bothwa cast a terrifying grin at Finley, but she held up a finger for him to wait.

“But I have failed with her,” Abuelita put her head in her hands and sobbed. “I have failed her!”

“Don’t,” Bothwa seemed unnerved for the first time.

“Take me, Bothwa!” Abuelita cried, flinging herself blindly in his general direction. “I no longer deserve to walk between the worlds.”

 

Finley laughed.  
Loud and hard, sinking to her knees as her shoulders shook.

She didn’t want to laugh, not when her life was at stake and definitely not in front of this intimidating god-like being, but she couldn’t stop cracking up.   

“Sorry,” She snorted, trying to pull herself together.  “I’m so sorry!”

She took a look at the older woman, so overwrought and dramatic, and fell into another fit of giggles.

“Oh no!” she hid her face in the crook of her arm to muffle her laughter.  

“This is no longer entertaining,” Bothwa said, turning to the door.  “I will take Melissa and be done with this clan and your foolishness.”

“Wait!” Abuelita called, grabbing wildly at the air, but Bothwa was gone. Finely expected Abuelita, who she recognized as more spirit than flesh, to follow Bothwa, but the lady stayed.

Finley’s chuckles tapered off and ended with an amused huff.

A silence settled over the room.

“Aren’t you going to save Melissa?” Finley sniffed, wiping a tear from her eye.  She sat back on her heels and looked up at her visitor.

The woman stared, unresponsive, at the door.

“Right,” Finley shrugged and got to her feet. “Well, we’re done here.”

She opened the door and gestured to the hallway.

“Leave of your own free will, spirit,” Finley offered, “Or be banished.”

The old woman’s eyes came into focus and she pinned Finley with a murderous stare.

“Hurry up,” Finley snapped, tired of the day’s shenanigans. “I have to catch up with James.”

“Your pretty little pastel spells are good,”  The spirit raised her hand, palm outward.  “But only if no one is paying attention.”

“Yeah, ok,” Finley rolled her eyes and tried to recall the words to the banishment. “I see where Melissa picked up her attitude.”

Abuelita clinched her hand into a fist and Finley’s lifeless body clattered to the floor.

 

Abuelita sighed and stared at the body on the floor before her.  Someone would come down the hall soon enough, discover the death, and lay the blame at James’ feet.  She sighed again. This was not the outcome she intended.  James was a nice man who deserved something more, but it was not her job to protect him. Let his own gods and ancestors pull him back from that from that fate.

A small stab of regret made her shudder. If only she’d said no all those years ago when her own abuelita had shown her a tiny bird brought back to life.  

“No,” she shook her head. “I cannot regret that of all things.”  

She tossed her hair over her shoulder and  reached out into the world. Melissa was still alive, but barely.  Abuelita clicked her tongue in disgust. Bothwa wasted no time in pursuit of his prey.  

Fortunate for Melissa, he prefered to play with his food.

Abuelita flashed through the city to the hospital where Melissa shivered in the dim, chilly ICU.

“Abuelita!” she let out a strangled cry and tried to reach out with her right hand, but it was cuffed to the bed. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me.”

“No, mija,” Abuelita soothed her with a light touch. “I will see you through this.”  

“She’s a fun one,” Bothwa whispered from the shadows of the room.

“Your fun is over,” Abuelita’s said, her voice firm and sharp. “She is not a toy.”

Bothwa let out a silky, dark laugh.

 

Bothwa emerged from the corner and for the first time in forever, Abuelita felt the flutter of fear in her chest.  

The entity was just as large and intimidating as she had imagined, but his visual form brought heft to his presence.  It pressed outward and urged her to run or submit.  

From her bed, Melissa grunted and jerked on the cuff as if she, too,wanted to escape the room.  

Abuelita stood her ground.  

“My daughter is not a toy,” she spat, “She is not a sacrifice for you to torture as you see fit. You will return to the beyond and leave us in peace.”

“Your daughter owes me a sacrifice,” Bothwa smiled. “I’m not leaving without it.”

Melissa whined, her eyes filling with tears.

“Bothwa,” Abuelita was calm,“You were called to do her bidding, but you did no work.  You do not deserve the sacrifice.”

“You stole it from me!” Bothwa roared.  “She called on me! She gave the soul to me!  This was all for me!”

Melissa closed her eyes and let out a small sob.   

“Go, Bothwa,” Abuelita gestured a dismissal.

“You did not summon me, old woman,” Bothwa loomed over the hospital bed, causing Melissa to cower into the thin pillow. “And you cannot banish me.”

“I would not dishonor you with such a base action,” Abuelita moved between Bothwa and Melissa. “I am asking your to leave on your own.”

“Or what?” Bothwa asked and reached past the woman to put the pad of his thumb on Melissa’s forehead.

 

The scream arose from the tips of Melissa’s toes and gathered speed as it barreled through her being, up her spine, and banged around her throat.  She tried to hold it in, if only for the sake of her pride and dignity, but the pain was far beyond her tolerance. Her body and soul shattered under Bothwa’s touch.  

Shattered.

Melissa’s scream clawed out of her shredded throat and shattered the glass on the face of the bedside monitor.

The noise curled around the room and drowned out the soothing words Abuelita said as she rubbed Melissa’s arm.  

Nurses rushed the room and tried their best to save Melissa, but the world went black and only Abuelita’s bright spirit cast light into the darkness.

“No!” Abuelita cried and for a moment her light dimmed. “You must go back, mija”

“I don’t want to,” Melissa cowered at Abuelita’s feet.  The pain was gone.  It was gone and the happiness flooding her being was almost too much to endure.  “Let me stay here with you. I want to be with you forever.”

“You can stop Bothwa, but not from here,” Abuelita pulled her to her feet.

“He can have my body,” Melissa shivered at the memory of his touch. “I never want to be in it again.”

“He doesn’t want your body!”

“Oh!” Melissa gave a small sob.

“This is nothing but an incomplete work.  An open ceremony. An unfinished spell,” Abuelita shook Melissa’s shoulder with every sentence.  “Go back, end the rite, and send Bothwa back to the shadows.”

 

It took everything in Melissa to will her mouth shut and ending her ongoing scream.  Bothwa was still there, right beside the frantic nurses, leering at her and trying to inflict more pain.
“Stop it,”  she growled through gritted teeth, barely louder than the screeching machines.  

“Stay down, miss!”  A nurse pressed a splayed hand onto her chest, pinning her to the bed.  

“You can’t do this without my permission,” Melissa relaxed and focused on the spirit.

“That’s not your choice to make,”  the nurse snapped, thinking her words were for him. “Stay down so we can get you stable.”

She grinned.  Despite his power, Bothwa was no more than a spirit and she was a Bruja.  Spirits were hers to command.   Melissa expanded her presence and pressed the spirit back.

“Go!”  Melissa ordered, locking eyes with Bothwa. “This work is over and you are no longer needed.”

The nurses froze and the machines went dark, both held in thrall by Melissa’s power.

Only breath and heartbeats made a dent in the heavy silence.  

“You failed me, ancient one,”  Melissa’s voice grew stronger. “And what’s worse, you’ve endagered me.You are dismissed.”

“Your precious abuelita stole my offering,” Bothwa countered, pressing back. “She brought down your house.”

A sharp flare of pain rose up behind Melissa’s eyes at the memory of the betrayal, but she shook her head.  That was her fault. She disobeyed the rules that made up the foundation of the house she inherited.  

“Back, Bothwa,” Melissa sat up and pushed the nurse’s hand away. “Behind the veil until you are called again.”  

“You are not the only gate!” Bothwa hissed.  “You feeble witches are nothing but pawns in the game of the ancients.  We play you…”

“Silence!” Melissa shouted. “There is nothing more for you on this side. Obey the laws you ancients set and leave.”

“I will return,”  Bothwa retreated into the shadows until all but his eyes remained visible. “I will be unleashed by  you or some other petty power player and I will come for the offering that was taken from me.”

With that he was gone.

Melissa fell back onto the bed with a sigh of relief and the chaos restarted around her.  

The medical staff fussed a few minutes more before leaving her in peace.

“Good job,” Abuelita smiled from her perch in the corner.  

“Gracias,” Melissa returned the smile.  Technically, the door abuelita slipped through was closed and she should have gone back with Bothwa.  

“I’m sorry,” Melissa added when Abuelita did not come closer. “I let my fear lead me away from all you’d taught me.”

Abuelita’s smile faded.

“Please say something,” Melissa propped herself up on one elbow.

“This will all turn out just fine,”  Abuelita said at last.

Tears sprang into Melissa’s eyes and she reached out for the old woman.

“As long as you keep to path.” Abuelita pointed to the door.  

“James!” Melissa cried.

“Melissa?” the man sounded confused, as if could not remember how he turned up at the hospital.

Melissa looked to Abuelita, but she was gone.  In her stead she left peace and reassurance.  Melissa beckoned to her husband, certain that things would go her way.