Chapter 1I peer out the window. Megan kneels in the dirt, tending to her peonies. Annika sits on a sunny patch of grass, writing spells in her Book of Shadows. Lila leans against an oak tree, moving her mouth silently. Behind me, Oliver waters his succulents, and Sal organizes his spices.
Oh, how they’ve all grown. Annika went from being irresponsible and rude to being polite and selfless; Megan went from being sickly and scared to being strong and brave. Lila used to be terrified of the presences she could feel in the room, but now she’s become friends with them. Ollie used to only have one plant, but now he has forty-six. Sal used to only know how to make grilled cheese, and now he’s filled five journals with his recipes.
I hear a knock at the door, and startle.
“I’ll get it,” calls Ollie, and opens the door. “Never mind, it’s Karen. You deal with her.” He walks away, and I go to the open door.
“Hi, Indigo!” Karen smiles an obviously fake smile. Today, she’s wearing a denim skirt, with her long blonde hair back in a braid. “I was just wondering what you know about the new neighbors.”
“I- what?” I sigh. “I don’t know anything about them. I didn’t even know we had new neighbors.”
“Oh,” Karen says, her smile fading a bit. “I just figured you knew something about them, because you have so much in common.”
I look past her, across the street. Sure enough, there’s a moving truck there. The back door is open, and from what I can see, everything in the truck is black. An intense cold chill jolts through me, and I shiver. Karen jumps.
“What do you mean, we ‘have so much in common?’” I ask, my voice tinged with bitterness.
Karen takes a tiny step back. “Well, obviously you’re part of the same - cult - or whatever you people call it.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “For the last time, Karen - I’m not part of a cult. You don’t have to be scared of me. And I’ve never seen those people before in my life.”
“Okay…” Karen looks unconvinced. “Well, I’m definitely not going to let my kids have any contact with them. I want my kids to get into heaven.”
“Goodbye, Karen,” I say, shutting the door before she can go on her tirade about how I’m “ruining my kids” and how “they’re all going to hell.”
I turn around and bump right into Lila. Her chest is heaving. “I-I-I-Indigo!” She grabs my hand and holds it tightly. She’s trembling violently.
She hugs me, hard. “I- I- I felt- I felt a presence. It was a bad presence! It wanted to- to hurt me!” Her shoulders shake.
I hug her back. “And I felt a chill. I think it’s the new neighbors.”
Annika steps into the kitchen and closes the porch door behind her. She’s frowning. “Bad energy,” she says. “The sun clouded over.”
The porch door opens and closes, and Megan walks over to me. BAD PEOPLE, she signs. FLOWER DROOP.
Lila steps away, and looks up at me with her unseeing eyes.
“Who- who- who were th-those people?” Lila asks, still shaking slightly.
“I don’t know, but I don’t like them,” I say. “Still, I don’t think they’re anyone we should be too concerned about. They’re probably just rebels, who think they can talk to demons or something. It’ll be fine.”
BAD PEOPLE, Megan signs again. Lila shivers.
I sigh. “Look - if you’re all so adamant that these people are evil, why don’t we go over there and see? Sal can bake some cookies, and we’ll welcome them to the neighborhood. Sound good?”
The girls hesitate, but then they nod.
Sal opens the oven and pulls out a tray of steaming cookies. “Way ahead of you there, Indigo. I noticed the moving van hours ago. I even baked a light and acceptance charm into these cookies.”
Sal, Annika, Megan, Lila, Ollie, and I all walk across the street and knock on the new neighbors’ door.
Immediately, the door opens, and I see a teenager - clothed in all black - standing there.
A chill settles deep inside my bones.
“She said you would come,” says the boy.
“Who said we w-would come?” Lila says, gripping my hand. “W-what’s wrong? Why am I so c-cold?”
The boy doesn’t answer. His gaze fixes on the cookie container in Sal’s hands, and he steps back and covers his head. All of a sudden, the container explodes, sending bits of cookies flying in every direction. Everyone - except for the boy - screams, but Sal screams loudest of all. His palms are patched with black and red.
“My hands! My hands!” He presses them to his thighs. “Shit, my hands!”
Lila backs into me. “What happened to Sal’s hands?!” Her voice is shrill.
Megan signs BOY BAD over and over again.
“The sun went back in the clouds again,” remarked Annika.
“I- I’m going to get some aloe.” Ollie turns and runs back to our house.
The boy stands up. “Don’t try to bring your tricks and spells anywhere near this lair again.” He slams the door in our faces.
“Come on, kids,” I say, gently herding them all towards our house and into the kitchen.
Ollie is waiting with aloe vera gel, and he carefully applies it to Sal’s burns. Sal hisses through clenched teeth as Ollie wraps bandages around his hands.
“What’s all the commotion?”
I look up and see Renee halfway down the staircase. “Renee! Where have you been?”
“I was working on a painting of the Muses.” She wipes her palms on her paint-splattered overalls and comes over to Sal. “Ouch, that looks bad. Was it the new neighbors?”
“Yeah! How did you know?” I ask.
“Alex told me something was up with them.” Renee starts to go back upstairs. “I’m going to finish my painting. Come get me if there are any new developments!”
“Wait!” Annika calls. “Send Alex down here!”
“Okay!” Renee yells back.
There’s some muffled talking, and Alex walks down the stairs. “What’s up? Renee told me what happened to Sal’s hands. Sounds painful.”
I glare at him. “You knew something was up with the new neighbors.”
Alex’s eyes widen and he takes a step back. “Yeah… I did a tarot spread this morning when I saw the moving truck, and the cards told me something was up with them.” He edges away, but I grab his shoulder.
“Why didn’t you warn us?!”
Alex raises his hands defensively. “Sorry! I was about to, but I saw you were talking to Karen, and I didn’t want to interrupt! You know I’m her least favorite!”
I sigh. He’s right. Ever since Karen had seen him using tarot cards that one time, she’d hated him - apparently the lord is the only being allowed to do divination. “Okay, that makes sense.” I rub my temple. “Listen - why don’t you go and use your pendulum, see what else you can find out about the new neighbors? And Lila, can you go ask the spirits what they know?”
Alex and Lila nod, and go off in separate directions.
I make my way to my bedroom and lie down on my bed. Before I know it, I’m drifting off to sleep…