Bigwood Falls, late summer…
Taïga lets go of the comic book she was reading and scrambles to her feet. She leans out of the window to see who’s coming, but it’s only Derek.
‘He had to help dad with something. Are you coming or not?’
‘Where are we going?’
Derek brandishes a fishing rod and a paper bag. ‘Fishing.’
Taïga scrambles down their newly acquired fireman’s pole, landing on her butt. Derek can’t help himself, he just has to laugh at her offended expression. ‘You’re supposed to slide down and land on your feet, you know.’
‘Really?’ She brushes off her jeans, glaring at him, challenging him to continue. ‘What’s in the bag?’
They set off through the forest, heading for a little lake not very far from the treehouse.
‘First we have to find just the right spot,’ Derek says, jumping up onto a big rock at the edge of the water with catlike grace.
‘Why does it have to be so high up? Can’t we stay here on the shore?’
‘Scared of heights now?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Well. You can see the fish better from up here, obviously!’ Derek says with a wide gesture, turning around so quick he loses his balance. He waves his arms bending over backwards and Taïga screams in fright.
‘Prank!’ He grins and strikes a pose, getting ready to jump down again.
‘I hate you!’
‘I know.’ He lands on the soft ground, picking up the telescopic fishing rod and starting to put it together.
Taïga is looking out over the calm little lake. ‘Do you think we can swim here? It looks nice.’
‘It’s too deep, Mr. Bumbleby says.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yeah. If it was a good swimming place, there would be kids all over it.’
‘You’re right… Are you gonna show me how to fish or not?’
‘Yep. First you’ll put a worm on the hook-’
‘Are you crazy?’ She stares at him, shaking her head.
Derek snickers. ‘Nah. I’ve got an artificial thing dad made. It’s one of his inventions and it’s better than live bait.’ He dangles something looking like a little tropical fish in front of Taïga’s nose.
‘It’s kind of cute, reminds me of a rainbow. But do you seriously mean there are fish in there that eats other fish? Like some kinda cannibals?’
‘Sure. And they’re quite big, too. With lots of spiky teeth…’ He illustrates fangs with his fingers, making her shy away.
‘I think I’ll just watch…’ She settles with a book out of the way, but where she still has a good view of Derek fishing. She’s curious about the cannibal fish in there, but at the same time she doesn’t want him to catch anything remotely dangerous. Spiky teeth. Ugh.
Derek has brought Chinese takeaway – Taïga’s favorite shrimp salad and Hot Beef Chow Mein for himself. But it isn’t very hot when they finally decide to eat, at least not the temperature. Derek grimaces, picking shrimps from Taïga.
‘OK. I said we’ll share, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting all the shrimps,’ she protests.
‘It’s my reward,’ he says popping another shrimp into his mouth.
‘For what? You haven’t caught anything.’
They continue bickering throughout the meal, and afterwards they lay back in the warm sun, watching the clouds. The air is warm and rich with smells of the forest, the water is clucking against the rock and the humming of insects are competing with the song of the birds. It doesn’t take long before Taïga falls asleep.
Derek eases his hand under her head and she reaches out a little drowsily and grabs his hand. He doesn’t dare moving in case he wakes her. Utterly carefully he plants a kiss on her head, breathing in the sweet scent of her shampoo. He wonders if she’s too young to have a boyfriend. Some of the guys on the team are seeing girls, and Serena has clearly made him understand that she’s interested. But Taïga is only nine. He can’t be the boyfriend of a nine year old girl, can he? Even if she’s far more interesting than those in his class. He yawns. They have all the time in the world. He’ll start dating her when she’s fifteen. That is a good age. Almost adult. And he’ll have his driving license and a nice car or even better, a motorcycle, to take her on grown-up dates…
An hour later…
Taïga wakes up before Derek does, wondering why she’s feeling so uneasy. The rumbling of thunder in the distance answers her question. She hates thunderstorms, being unmeasurably scared of the lightning.
‘The sound is only there to enhance the outbursts of electrical power,’ her mom used to say. ‘It can’t hurt you, but is a fair warning of what is to come.’
She watches Derek sleep, willing him to wake up. After a while she gets bored and starts cleaning up. She doesn’t dare touching the complicated fishing rod, though. She returns next to the sleeping boy. How can he sleep with all that ruckus going on? What if he’s dead? He doesn’t seem to breathe. She leans down, putting her ear to his chest. His heart is beating at a steady rhythm, which calms her somewhat. She’ll count to ten, then she’ll wake him…
It has been raining hard the whole night, and the downpour doesn’t seem to relish in the morning. The bad weather is keeping Taïga indoors so Mrs. Brown has promised to let the little girl help her bake.
‘But why can’t I put everything I like in the same cookie dough?’
‘Because you won’t be able to recognize the different flavors when there are too many of them! And some flavors just don’t marry well… Let’s make some almond brownies and you can pick an ingredient you think will match.’
‘Well, it goes without saying…’
‘Cream cheese, then, like in a cheesecake? Hmm… I’m not so sure, but we could try.’
‘Can we make gingerbread cookies too?’ Taïga kneels down to get a better look when Mrs. Brown checks the cookies in the oven. It’s her first pastries made all by herself and she’s eager to see the result.
‘I thought we were supposed to wait until Christmas for those, but if we have the time, why not?’ Mrs. Brown smiles down at the little girl. ‘And these look succulent.’
They bake until lunch and afterwards they continue what they had started in the morning.
‘I’ll help you with the dishes, Mrs. Brown,’ Taïga offers, pulling up a footstool to the sink.
‘You’re very kind, dear. But at lunch you left the water running, so I prefer doing the washing up myself this time. I’ll put them into the dishwasher afterwards anyway.’
‘Why do you wash them first? Granny bought the machine so you wouldn’t have to do it anymore.’
‘I just rinse them so the dough won’t clog the machine.’
‘But you are squirting soap all over them. And scrubbing. That’s washing-’
Mrs. Brown frowns, ‘Why don’t you take off your apron and go and wash your hands?’
‘I can wash them here.’ She reaches for the tap, but Mrs. Brown gently steers her away.
‘Hurry now to do as you were told. You’ll be back soon enough for a glass of milk and a cookie or two.’
Taïga’s face lights up in a broad grin. ‘I’ll have one of each kind I made.’
‘That might be too many. We’ll see… Now off you go!’
After experimenting recipes, baking cakes and cookies, cupcakes and pies the whole morning, Taïga reluctantly leaves the kitchen to clean up a little. She gets distracted by Minuit and follows the cat into the winter garden instead of heading straight to the bathroom. She’s not really dirty anyway, and she’s persuaded Minuit would love to lick some cookie dough off her fingers.
Mrs. Brown efficiently cleans the large plastic recipients they’ve used before charging them into the new dishwasher. With a satisfied sigh, she pushes the start button and makes sure the machine hums to life before mopping up the flour and traces of pastry on the floor. Singing to herself, she fills a glass with cold milk and puts an assortment of cookies on a plate. She’ll have a cup of tea herself, and maybe a cookie or two…
She’s happy about the bad weather which has forced the little girl to stay at home for once. She’ll make bacon and spinach tomorrow for lunch, Taïga loves that and-‘
The dishwasher hiccups to a halt, leaking water onto the floor. Vapor rises from it when she opens the door to check what’s wrong.
Maybe something’s stuck?
But it seems to be loaded all right. She dries her hands on her apron. She really doesn’t want to do all these dishes by hand…
Kneeling in front of the leaking machine, she removes the front panel and reaches in to disconnect the power source…
Suddenly she’s lifted up from the wet floor by an intense pain cutting right through to the core of her. Her mouth opens in a soundless scream.
She shakes and trembles for what seems like an eternity, electricity licking her members like small blue Christmas lights, hissing and buzzing like an angry bee hive…
… until she slowly sinks to the floor, a burnt heap of human flesh run through by blue, sizzling pain.
Her body racks in spasms, her muscles involuntarily contracting a last time and then there is no more pain.
Only silence and a horrible stench.
Taïga comes rushing into the kitchen, sliding and almost falling on the wet tiles. Mrs. Brown is lying next to the dishwasher in fetal position, and Taïga thinks that she must have fallen on the slippery floor. But why is she sparkling? She blinks and the faint glimmering is gone.
‘So that’s why Minuit set off in such a hurry! Are you OK, Mrs. Brown? I’ve washed my hands and shaken the flour from my T-shirt, so I’m clean. Not squeaky clean, of course. Why don’t you answer, Mrs. Brown, don’t play scary like this.’
But Mrs. Brown doesn’t budge. Minuit is licking her old face, mewing strangely.
She leans over the old woman’s shoulder, staring at the sunken shape that once was Mrs. Brown.
Granny dashes into the kitchen, skidding to a halt on the wet floor. ‘Oh, Lord have mercy! Mrs. Brown!’
She falls on her knees next to the housekeeper’s inanimate form, automatically searching the charred body for a pulse.
‘Oh, no. This can’t be happening,’ she whispers, closing her burning eyelids for a few seconds, trying to catch her breath and think straight.
‘Is she OK? Did she hurt her head?’
Taïga’s trembling voice draws Granny back to reality. She staggers to her feet. ‘Must cut the power,’ she mumbles, fumbling for Taïga behind her back. She can’t seem to detach her eyes from Mrs. Brown’s body.
‘What happened, Granny?’ Taïga tugs at her arm, and she steels herself, turning towards the young girl.
She puts her hands on Taïga’s shoulders and steers her away from the puddle, ‘Get out of the kitchen, Taïga. I’ll take care of this…’
‘Will you fix her, Granny?’
Her grandmother hesitates, ‘There has been an accident, Taïga… I’m afraid I’m not powerful enough to fix Mrs. Brown. She’s gone…’
‘Does that mean she’s… d-d-dead?’ Taïga stammers, her lower lip trembling.
‘No. I mean, yes. She has stopped functioning.’
Taïga looks at her questioningly, and Granny starts again. Now is decidedly not the moment to start talking about robots, no matter how advanced. ‘Err… I’m afraid she has left us. She’s… She’s…’ Granny realizes she can’t utter the dreaded words, as if in saying them she would personally seal Mrs. Brown’s fate.
Stammering she’s trying to find the right words, when her granddaughter’s eyes suddenly widen and she takes a step backwards, fixing the fridge. Minuit reacts too. Hissing and spluttering, the cat shies away from the corner of the kitchen that is inexorably filling with billowing dark smoke.
‘Granny. The smoke… Fire…’ she whispers, but a part of her brain is telling her that this kind of smoke isn’t born out of fire.
‘What fire?’ Granny looks around her. What if the dishwasher has started some electrical short-circuit in the walls? The Cove is old and would probably burn down in a matter of hours. But there’s no sign of smoke. She sniffs the air, but she can only smell cookies and soap. ‘Don’t worry about fire, dear. There’s no risk, but I’ll call the fire department anyway, and the Sheriff. And the doctor. Of course, I mustn’t forget the doctor…’
Granny rambles on, but Taïga doesn’t listen. Entranced, she watches the smoke climbing upwards like a slow-moving whirlwind, solidifying and becoming a menacing dark silhouette.
Immobile, he stands looking down at Mrs. Brown. Taïga dares hardly breathe in fear. Her eyes keep darting to the sharp blade mounted on a wooden stick he’s holding in his pale hand which looks old and very dangerous. Taïga recognizes it being a scythe from history lessons at school. What if he’s some kind of psychopath? He sure looks dangerous. Could she outrun him? She realizes she can’t seem to move at all, her feet are stuck to the floor as if the thin layer of water were glue.
With a smooth movement, the dark shadow lowers the menacing looking weapon it holds firmly clutched with long pale skeleton fingers. It cuts through the air with a swooshing sound and Taïga gasps in fright.
‘Don’t you dare hurt Mrs. Brown…’ she croaks, regretting her words as they are leaving her mouth.
The dark shadow turns ominously towards Taïga in slow motion and she finds herself staring into impenetrable darkness. She swallows hard, regretting that she had drawn his attention. She fumbles for Granny’s hand, but her grandmother is busy blowing her nose and ranting nervously about burials and death certificates.
‘I… I… I just don’t want you to hurt her.’ Taïga stops, listening to the hissing voice filling her head. ‘I don’t know. I swear I don’t know.’ Her voice is barely a whisper.
The gaping hole, where there should have been a face, is pulling her towards it and she has to fight hard to succeed in backing behind Granny’s back. She has a feeling that keeping the old witch between herself and the frightening dark silhouette won’t stop it if it decides to have at her.
Granny looks bewildered around the kitchen. Minuit hisses again, her back arched and her eyes narrow slits. Granny’s skin prickles a little, but apart from that, there’s nothing that gives away the presence of something supernatural. She turns towards her granddaughter. The poor girl seems to have a break-down.
‘Nononono… Not Mom. Please, not Mom,’ Taïga whimpers. She continues backing away, staring with frightened eyes at something only she and the hissing cat can see.
Granny reaches out and grabs her arm, tilting Taïga’s chin upwards she forces the girl to meet her eyes.
‘Taïga, what is it? Don’t worry about your mother – she’s young and healthy, she won’t die… She just needed some time to think about… err… Things. She’ll come back for you.’
Taïga looks at Granny as if awakened from a bad dream. ‘The black shadow- The hood without a face- He scares me, Granny.’
What? She can see the Grim Reaper? He’s here?
She falls on her knees in front of her pale grandchild, drying her tears. ‘Err… Don’t be scared, Taïga. He’s the Reaper, and he’s here to- Ahem… Harvest Mrs. Brown’s, err… soul. He won’t harm you.’ At least I hope he won’t. And Mrs. Brown was a robot, for God’s sake! She’s not supposed to have a soul.
But looking at the body lying on the floor, she finally understands what she has refused to see until now. Mrs. Brown isn’t a robot anymore. Her artificial skin would have melted away, showing the electrical circuits, and she was waterproof and insulated after all!
No, something must have happened along the way… A Pinocchio syndrome? Never heard of… But then again she really seemed human and concerned ever since she started spending so much time with Taïga…
Granny does her best to console and comfort her grandchild, but it’s hard as she’s also broken by grief. And there’s so much to do, so many phone calls to make, not to mention the paperwork. She shudders at the bare thought.
She stands up, gently shooing her granddaughter out of the kitchen. ‘All this water is dangerous. I’ll have to cut the electricity before there’s another accident. You should go to your room, Taïga. I have to take care of… Of Mrs. Brown here…’
But the living is most important now. Taïga is standing forlorn in the hall, her thin shoulders shivering with grief. Granny clears her throat, unsure of what to do. Mrs. Brown would have known…
Suddenly Taïga throws herself at Granny, tugging desperately at her for a hug, ‘She’s gone! Oh, Granny. I don’t want her to be dead…’
She carries her granddaughter in her arms into the den where they sit down on the couch, Taïga on her lap. She tries to explain what happened to Mrs. Brown, about the dangers of electricity, and gradually the little girls stops crying.
They reminisce about all the good things about the old housekeeper and Granny recalls some funny anecdotes that makes Taïga laugh through her tears.
Granny tries to get some answers about what the little girl really saw in the kitchen, but Taïga clams up like a mussel. Not wanting to put too much pressure on her grandchild, she accompanies her to her room, putting her to bed.
‘But I don’t want to sleep, Granny. It’s the middle of the afternoon.’ And the Reaper might come back, she adds to herself.
‘Just rest a while, it will do you good. There will be a lot of people coming and going, and it’s better if you stay out of the way.’ She kisses Taïga on her forehead and backs out of the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Better leave it be for a while yet. But seeing the Grim Reaper is something normally out of reach of a Grey witch. Out of reach of any witch her age! Now I shall have to call the doctor about Mrs. Brown’s body. And father Munch…
She fumbles for a handkerchief and noisily blows her nose, fighting the darn tears.
Taïga lies staring at the ceiling, thoughts of what she’d just seen haunting her. There’s no way she could sleep after what happened. She pulls her dress on and grabs her Converse shoes, quietly sneaking out of the house.
Granny doesn’t hear Taïga, she is too busy downstairs. Seeing Mrs. Brown lying in a puddle of water was too much to bear, so she decided to move her body from the inundated kitchen floor to the couch in the living room. She doesn’t dare using magic to transport her as the doctor will soon arrive and it’s better not to take any risks. That’s why she hauls the housekeeper’s body, holding her in a firm grip under the arms.
‘I know. I’m sorry. It’s not very comfortable but what if someone arrives? You must surely see I would have a hard time explaining a levitation… I will already have to explain why I moved your body, but it isn’t a bloody crime scene, is it? It was an accident! Goddammit! Why did you do this to me!?!’
The old housekeeper was skinny, but her inert body is heavy nevertheless. Huffing and puffing, Granny pulls the body a short distance, then she has to stop, massaging her aching back before starting again. Hot tears of frustration and sadness are freely flowing down her wrinkled cheeks when she realizes she can’t make it to the living room but has to leave her old friend on the floor in the hall.
‘I tried, but my darn sciatica is back!’
The doorbell rings insistently, announcing the arrival of Bigwood Falls’ one and only doctor.
With tears still streaming down her face, Taïga takes her bike and goes straight to the treehouse, hoping to find Derek and Teddy there. Hiccupping she tells them about Mrs. Brown, seeking solace in their shared grief and consoling hugs.
It has been quite a while since Granny last read Taïga to sleep, but tonight she takes out the old spell book and settles on the bed next to her granddaughter. She realizes she has missed these moments of complicity with the little girl who, since the beginning of the summer, has usually fallen asleep like a log after a day of playing in the woods. She clears her throat, searching for something suitable to take their minds of today’s tragic event, but she can see Taïga isn’t listening.
When it’s time to leave, her granddaughter reaches for her hand, ‘Granny, I don’t feel well. I think I’m ill.’
Granny touches her granddaughter’s smooth forehead. ‘You don’t seem to have a temperature, dear. Maybe you should change your pj’s? Flannel is warm in summer after all.’
‘I’m… I’m afraid… Can I sleep with you tonight?’
Granny hesitates just for a second, taken aback by the question, ‘Of course, dear child. Just bring your pillow…’
She sits cradling Taïga in her arms until the traumatized girl finally falls asleep. Granny feels slightly better having her grandchild by her side, but sleep doesn’t come easy that night.
Her thoughts wander as she lays awake in the darkness, listening to the young girl’s regular breathing. She saw the Reaper. Even Granny herself has never seen him. And she handles a wand even though it is not hers. That’s normally impossible. A wand is very personal – you get it at fifteen, at the initiation rite, and it grows with you. She mustn’t forget that her granddaughter is still just a child. Even if some witches can be considered precocious, having bursts of magic in their teens, around their fifteenth birthday. So why is this happening to Taïga? Who is her father? Has she got her unusual powers from him? Or could it be the prophecy? Granny can’t help but wonder. Lady Ravendancer used her powers at the same age as Taïga… If only she had someone she could talk to, but now her only confident is gone – forever…
The following days are problematic.
Without Mrs. Brown to take care of the housework, Granny is at a loss about what to do. She has never cooked anything in her life and she has never had to worry about material things. She can use hunger spells, at least for a while, but a child needs to eat real food. She thinks about hiring someone, but settles against it. She doesn’t want a snooty maid interfering with her life…
Taïga is unaware of her grandmother’s preoccupations. She doesn’t mind the food – as long as Granny doesn’t seem to care about her having ice-cream for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner!
It was also Mrs. Brown who saw that the bills were paid on time… Granny has lived on the money inherited after Shasta’s father’s death, and haven’t listened to Mrs. Brown’s boring ranting about the vanishing resources. The Cove is old and has requested some major repair work the last twenty years; new windows to the winter garden and a partly replaced roof after a tree fell during the Hanukkah Eve windstorm of 2006. Add the inundation of the cellar a few years ago, when Granny had had to contract quite a big loan that still wasn’t reimbursed.
Without Mrs. Brown sweet-talking the banker, the repo man’s feared truck is soon stationed in front of the Cove.
The repo man walks through the old house, assessing the furniture, the paintings – even the carpets. He asks for TV’s, computers and technological devices, but after Granny pointed out the old TV, he just shook his head.
‘We’d have to pay to get rid of that. It’s not even vintage. This painting looks interesting though…’ He bends over and scrutinizes the signature. ‘Is it real?’
‘Real? Of course it’s real,’ Granny says, a little miffed. ‘It’s “Son of Man” by Belgian painter René Magritte.’
‘Who is he?’
‘‘Was. He was one of the more prominent surrealist painters of his era.’
‘Oh. Era, you said. Is it old?’
‘Err… 1963 or 1964, I think. It was a gift of a very dear friend. He gave it to me in Paris, in 1973, I believe…’ Granny rambles on about her stay in Paris and Magnus Darkling who had gifted her the valuable painting.
Neither of them can see, nor hear, the spirit of Mrs. Brown, who heatedly tries to make Granny shut up about the value of the painting. But to no avail. The repoman listens to Granny’s analysis of the significance of the man with the bowler hat whose face is hidden by a tasty green apple. He scrutinizes the painting, calculating in his head.
‘Excuse me, ma’am. I can’t take the TV, but maybe the painting will do,’ he says, throwing a glance at Granny. ‘I just have to make a quick call.’
‘Of course.’ Granny bites her lip. She hates the painting. It was Mrs. Brown’s favorite, though. She even had a mug with its effigy. Granny rolls her eyes. She had intended to gift the painting to the old housekeeper, but now she’s gone. She clears her throat. It doesn’t serve any good thinking about the past. It’s better if the repoman takes it and disappears before he wanders into her bedroom and sets eye on the Degas…
She leaves the repoman to his phone call, humming to herself as she heads downstairs. The painting is well worth around four million dollars and that should cover the mortgage… and some.
Mrs. Brown is furious. She listens in on the shady repoman’s hushed but enthusiastic conversation with an art dealer and quickly understands Granny is being ripped off. He has no intention to register anything, already booking a flight to the Caiman Islands.
Why can’t anybody hear her? She stabs her finger on his chest, but her arm passes right through him, not making him stop for an instant. She concentrates on Granny, quickly appearing in the kitchen where the old witch is preparing a cup of tea. Aargh. She completely ruins it, adding too many spoons directly into the water. And, of course, she can’t hear her.
She blocks the passage but the repoman just walks right through her with her cherished painting under his arm and his cell glued to his ear. Granny just waves him off. Doesn’t she understand she should at least sign some kind of release form? Mrs. Brown tries to follow him, but she can’t even seem to pass the threshold.
She can hear him chuckle as he’s loading the valuable painting into the truck, but why can’t Granny?
‘Hehe… Stupid old lady. I will sell this off for a nice benefit. Pina Coladas and lazy days in the sun, here I come!’
Granny isolates herself in her study, happily unaware of Mrs. Brown who continues harassing her about the painting.
Sleep doesn’t come easy, and after tossing and turning she decides to try to find an easy recipe in one of Mrs. Brown’s cook books. She settles in the winter garden with “The Joy of Cooking” and is soon completely absorbed in the instructions on how to cook hearty delicious meals.
Mumbling to herself, she turns the worn pages, ‘It can’t be healthy for a growing child to live on ice-cream alone – even if she doesn’t complain.’
Mrs. Brown nods in agreement, settling on the sofa next to Granny.
She spends the night reading, unaware of her old housekeeper’s presence…
After a sleepless night, she decides to give cooking a try. Yawning, Taïga enters the kitchen but stops in her tracks, staring at Granny who slams the door to the fridge shut, almost cutting Mrs. Brown in half.
‘What? I’ve decided it’s time to get something healthy for breakfast.’ Granny opens the door to the fridge again and rummages around. Taïga stares at the translucent figure hovering in the fridge. Or on it. She swallows.
‘Are you still here? And what are you wearing?’ Granny stares at the young girl who blinks.
‘Err… It’s my Indian dress,’ she answers absentmindedly, her eyes glued to the fridge. And Mrs. Brown.
‘Well. It’s way too short. Looks more like a… a tunic than a dress.’ She shoos the child out of the kitchen. ‘Now let me cook in peace…’
Taïga changes out of her old, too short, dress into shorts and a t-shirt and runs back downstairs. Was it really Mrs. Brown? She has to be sure…
She storms into the kitchen where Granny is struggling with something undefinable in a frying pan. She’s muttering to herself, sucking on her finger where she has cut herself.
‘It’s impossible! This was supposed to be an easy enough recipe.’ She discards the burnt slices of bacon into the bin, jumping back when the hot oil splashes onto the floor.
‘Oil! Since when do you add oil to bacon!?!’ Mrs. Brown reappears, gesticulating and trying to take the frying pan from Granny’s hands but only succeeding in passing her own hands right through her. Taïga stares wide-eyed at her Grandmother with Mrs. Brown’s hands protruding through her chest.
‘What?’ her grandmother sneers, trying to look like she’s got the situation covered.
‘I don’t think I can take it much longer! No one can see me, let alone hear me and-’ Mrs. Brown wails.
‘I can see you! And hear you, too.’ Taïga peeps.
‘Of course you can see me. I’m standing right in front of you. And if you have not turned deaf, I bet you hear me perfectly when I say: Get. Out. Of. My. Kitchen.’ Granny puts her hands on her hips, still holding the dripping frying pan in her hands.
‘But Granny! It’s Mrs. Brown – she wants to talk to you!’
‘Mrs. Brown?’ Granny looks around the kitchen.
‘Yes, she’s right here. She says “you’d better put the frying pan in the sink before you totally ruin your dress.” And she adds that you shouldn’t have let the repoman leave with- Who? Oh. Magritte. Who is Magritte, Granny?’
Granny can feel the blood drain from her face. ‘Eh… nobody. A painter, dear… Tell Mrs. Brown not to worry. I have it all figured out.’ She turns her back on Taïga, slamming down the frying pan into the sink. The wretched child can see ghosts! Oh my, oh my… First the Reaper and now this. I have to tell someone…. I wish I knew where my daughter were… No, wait. I’ll call Missy, she’s the ghost expert.
She dries her hands on her already stained skirt. ‘Well. Of course I can see Mrs. Brown. I just wanted to err… try how to cuisine. Now she is here, maybe she can be a little useful and tell me how to make… err… grilled cheese sandwiches.’ She raises an eyebrow and looks to her right.
Taïga point to her left. ‘She standing right here, Granny.’
‘Yes. Right. So… Where do we start?’
Granny is soon busying herself over a heap of ingredients while Taïga is sitting on the counter next to the old stove reading from one of the cookbooks and chatting with the old housekeeper.
‘Why can’t I touch you? Is it because you are transparent? I can see things through you, Mrs. Brown. Will it hurt if I walk through you? Can you walk through me?’ She nods and giggles.
The sandwiches are soon ready and for a first attempt, they both look and smell succulent. Proudly Granny holds out the dish to Taïga. ‘Here. Eat.’
‘But Granny. There are at least five sandwiches and they are huge! I don’t know if I can eat more than one.’
‘Hmpff.’ Granny takes the dish and helps her granddaughter down from the counter. ‘We’ll have one each now, and when we get hungry again later, we’ll eat again. Until there are no more sandwiches left.’
‘Oh. Mrs. Brown says we can freeze them and microwave them later.’
‘I heard what she said,’ Granny lies. ‘And I was thinking the same thing.’ They settle outside on the stairs with their food and a jug of lemonade. Not exactly healthy, but on their way there.
Taïga spends the rest of the day with Mrs. Brown while Granny stays in the vicinity, within hearing distance. She can’t see Mrs. Brown, but the old housekeeper can both see and hear her… With a last glance over her shoulder, she heads upstairs to her study where she’s sure she has Grandmother Ailey’s old Ouija-board.
After searching absolutely everywhere, she has to admit that the old Ouija-board is lost. She had never used it herself, but both she and her sister had loved it when Grandmother Ailey took it out so they could communicate with their dead mother. What if Glinda had been present in the house with them? Granny can’t help but shudder. She hopes not. The dead should rest. A spirit staying between worlds, like Mrs. Brown, was a spirit who would someday start causing trouble…
That night, Granny casts a spell on Taïga.
‘You’ll sleep better if you don’t see any more ghosts…’
As soon as her granddaughter is safely asleep upstairs, Granny starts on exorcising the house. She goes from room to room, chanting and dotting each door and window with blessed olive oil. She brandishes a skull rattle filled with burning rosemary and sage, the perfumed smoke escaping from its hollow eyes. Finally there’s only the downstairs living room left.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Brown. I know you can hear me, and I just hope that you know this is for your own good. I’m only trying to help you get to the other side. You’re probably thinking about Taïga, but I can assure you it’s better for her, too.’
Granny sighs, continuing with a slightly trembling voice, ‘So for our friendship’s sake, I don’t want you to transform into a poltergeist, forever a prisoner between these walls, your goodness evaporating until there’s only darkness left…’ She blinks away a tear. ‘You were a dear friend, Mrs. Brown. And in death you became what you always had wanted, a real person. I… I… Well. You must have seen the light. Let’s get this over with.’ Angrily she wipes the tears away from her cheeks.
Taïga’s high pitched voice reaches Granny’s through her incantations, but she doesn’t waver. This must be done now. She continues the chanting with a firm voice, uttering the last words in a hurried whisper.
Now. Is the spirit still here? Looking at Taïga’s chocked face peering through the wooden railing at her, she gathers that Mrs. Brown is definitely gone.
‘Granny! She’s gone!’ The little girl jumps down the last steps of the stairs and rushes into the living room. ‘I can’t see her anymore! Where is she?’ Taïga looks desperately around her, trying to catch sight of Mrs. Brown.
Granny falls on her knees in front of the distressed child. ‘Taïga. Listen to me.’
Slowly Taïga calms down, clutching to Granny’s forearms. ‘But I can’t… I…’
‘Shush, now. Mrs. Brown is in a better place now. When Mrs. Brown died, her spirit detached itself from her body and were supposed to return to the spirit world. Sometimes, the spirit doesn’t want to leave, because it thinks it has something left to do-’
‘Like teaching you to cook?’ Taïga snivels.
‘Yes. Like teaching me to cook… I think she finally understood that I will do my best, taking care of you…’
‘So she left us because she knows we will be all right?’
‘We could say that, yes.’
‘But I don’t feel all right, Granny.’
‘I know. I know…’ She pulls her grandchild closer, absentmindedly stroking her hair and whispering soothing words until the girl’s thin shoulders have stopped shaking erratically. Thoughts are running through the old witch’s mind.
I put a spell on her, so how on earth did she wake up?
Part I – End of Chapter 12