Bigwood Falls, late summer…
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 go and make some almond brownies… and you can pick an ingredient you think will match.’
‘Well, it goes without saying…’
‘Like in a cheesecake? Hmm… We could try.’
‘Can we make gingerbread cookies too?’
‘I thought we would wait until Christmas for those, but if we have the time…’ She smiles at the little girl, ‘… why not?’
After experimenting baking cakes and cookies, cupcakes and pies the whole morning, Taïga goes upstairs to change for lunch – or at least to change the color of her dress! Meanwhile Mrs. Brown puts away the dirty dishes and starts the dishwasher, before mopping up the flour and traces of pastry on the floor. 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 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…
… until she’s slowly sinking 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 dancing into the kitchen in a new princess dress. She stops in her tracks, staring at the carbonized shape that once was Mrs. Brown.
Granny dashes into the kitchen, skidding to a halt on the wet floor, ‘Ohmygod! Mrs. Brown!’
She falls on her knees next to her housekeeper’s body, automatically searching the charred body for a pulse.
‘What happened, Granny?’
Taïga’s trembling voice draws Granny back to reality. Must cut the power!
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. Suddenly her eyes widens and she takes a step backwards. ‘Who are you?’
She continues backing away, staring with frightened eyes, until Granny reaches out and grabs her arm.
‘Taïga! What is it? Who are you talking to?’
Taïga looks at Granny as if awakened from a bad dream, ‘The black shadow with a… He scares me, Granny!’
What? She can see the Grim Reaper? He’s here?
‘Err… Don’t worry, 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. She’s not supposed to have a soul!
But looking at the body lying on the floor, she understands that 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…
Suddenly Taïga throws herself at Granny, tugging desperately at her for a hug, ‘He’s gone! And Mrs. Brown too! Oh, Granny…’
Granny does her best to console and comfort her grandchild, but it’s hard as she’s also broken by grief. She carries her granddaughter in her arms into the den where they sit down in an armchair, 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.’
‘Just rest a while, it will do you good.’ 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!
Taïga lies staring at the ceiling, thoughts of what she’d just seen haunting her. She grabs a t-shirt and a dress and quietly sneaks out of the house. Then, with tears still streaming down her face, she takes her bike and goes straight to the treehouse, and Derek and Teddy’s consoling arms.
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 usually falls 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’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 a long time by Taïga’s side, cradling her in her arms, until the little girl finally falls asleep. Granny feels better too, having her grandchild by her side, but sleep doesn’t come easy that night.
She saw the Reaper… Even I have never seen him… And she handles a wand though it’s not hers, nor is she yet 15. Who is her father? Has she got her powers from him? …
The following days are problematic.
Without Mrs. Brown to take care of the housework, Granny is at a loss about what to do. I’ve never cooked anything in my life… I can go on with hunger spells, but Taïga needs to eat real food… Shall I hire someone? No, I don’t want a snooty maid interfering with my life…
Taïga doesn’t mind about the food – as long as Granny doesn’t seem to care about her having ice-cream for breakfast. And lunch… and dinner!
But it was also Mrs. Brown who saw that the bills were paid on time… Without her, the bailiff’s feared truck is soon stationed in front of the Cove…
The bailiff walks through the Cove, assessing the furniture, the paintings – even the carpets. Granny doesn’t care, she just tells him to take whatever he feels appropriate.
He takes his time, and finally settles for a 19th century painting, worth a lot more than what is due…
Hehe… Stupid old lady. I can sell this off for a nice benefit…
He takes the painting, and after making Granny sign the necessary documents, he leaves with a smile on his face.
Granny doesn’t say anything, she just stands there, staring at the wall until she can hear the door close behind the loathsome figure.
Then she starts an incantation, waving her hands…
Some chanting and sizzling later, the painting is back on the wall!
Granny smiles. Stupid bailiff… he can come whenever he likes…
She’s interrupted by Taïga calling.
‘Granny! Mrs. Brown wants to talk to you!’
‘Yes, she’s right here. She says “you better pay the bills. The bailiff will get suspicious if he comes here again, and finds the Winslow Homer still on the wall.” Who is Winslow Homer, Granny?’
‘Eh… nobody. A painter, dear… Tell Mrs. Brown not to worry.’
She can see ghosts too! Oh my, oh my… I have to tell someone about all this. I wish I knew where my daughter was… I’ll call Missy, she’s the ghost expert…
That night, Granny casts a spell on Taïga…
You’ll sleep better if you don’t see any more ghosts…
Midnight can also see Mrs. Brown.
I liked it better when she didn’t float around doing nothing… I miss her homemade treats…
Granny spends the night exorcising the house…
… then she settles in her favorite armchair with Mrs. Brown’s recipe books. After yet another sleepless night, she decides to give cooking a try.
For a first attempt, it both looks and smells succulent! It might be because of a little magic… Not a spell on the food though, but on the stove!
Part I – End of Chapter 12